Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Mixed Media: Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern

There was a major retrospective of the work of Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern in 2014. He is acknowledged as the inventor of 'Pop Art' which he described as 'popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business.'

The exhibition reconstructs his installation Fun House, originally shown as part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s 1956 show This Is Tomorrow. It incorporates film, music, distorted architecture, op art and Hollywood film imagery and pin-ups such as Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, and Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. It is an homage to 'Americana', as well as a celebration of the new youth and 'pop' culture of 1950s capitalism.

In his 1956 collage Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? Hamilton has a muscle-man provocatively holding a lolly with the word POP and a woman with bare breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by emblems of the affluence of 1950s capitalism from a vacuum cleaner to a large canned ham. Capitalism is portrayed as 'cool', it was riding high in its 'golden age' of the post-war economic boom, the reformists believed capitalism could work in the interests of the working class, and Macmillan proclaimed 'people have never had it so good.' Hamilton particularly admired the German electrical company Braun and its Chief Design Officer Dieter Rams whose 'consumer products came to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézannes', and in 1964 he began to base works on Braun's marketing images.

After the failure of Keynesian capitalism in the 1970s, Hamilton was horrified by the 1980s capitalist restructuring under Thatcher, and the reintroduction of unfettered free market capitalism. His 1984 installation Treatment Room is inspired by the bleak, clinical style of the capitalist state reflected in the DHSS office or NHS hospital waiting room. A TV monitor where the X-ray machine would be repeats footage of Thatcher from the 1983 Tory Party Conference. His War Games (1991-92) used TV news footage of the 1991 Gulf War which portrayed the war as a sport for viewers and reminds us of the BBC Newsnight coverage with Peter Snow's sandpit and models. Later Hamilton portrays 'war criminal' Tony Blair as a gun-toting cowboy against a backdrop of military inferno in Shock and Awe (2010).

The Hamilton retrospective has some salutary lessons: you cannot 'reform' capitalism to work in the interests of the working class, and war is endemic to capitalism due to competition between capitalist groups for raw materials such as oil in the Middle East.
Steve Clayton

Mixed Media: ‘Kill Your Darlings’ (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kill Your Darlings by Austin Bunn

Director John Krokidas and writer Austin Bunn’s 2013 film Kill Your Darlings draws on Jack Kerouac’s novel Vanity of Duluoz, portraying the early years (1943-44) of the ‘Beat Generation’ in New York City of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), William Burroughs (Ben Foster), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

We meet Allen Ginsberg at home in New Jersey with his poet father Louis and his mother Naomi. Louis was a socialist, his parents had been active in the Yiddish Arbeiter Circle, and he went with his father to lectures by Eugene Debs, IWW founder and Socialist Party of America Presidential candidate. Louis named his first son after Debs: ‘He was magnificent. All the ironies of the capitalist system came blazing forth. He was a brilliant man.’ Allen’s mother was a member of the Communist Party.

Allen goes to Columbia University studying to be a Labor Lawyer, meets Lucien Carr (‘blond, eighteen, of fantastic male beauty’ (Vanity of Duluoz), William Burroughs (Harvard educated St Louis patrician), and Jack Kerouac, ‘the stocky Breton with blue eyes and coal black hair’ (Gerald Nicosia, 1983), football player, poet, Merchant Marine, and originator of ‘First Thought Best Thought.’ Jack and Lucien liked to sing together folk songs, Leadbelly’s country blues, communist work songs, and with Ginsberg and Burroughs ‘they would have Dostoyevskian confrontations, endure horrors out of Kafka’ (Nicosia). Their artistic endeavours are inspired by Yeats, Whitman, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, the pleasures and wild sensations of marijuana, alcohol, Benzedrine and the Bebop Jazz music revolution of Charlie Parker (Bird).

Kerouac was a ‘Canuck’, a French-Canadian from the textile manufacturing mill-town of Lowell in Massachusetts, 13 miles north of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Ann Charters described Lowell as ‘poor, dirty and rundown, both working-class and obstinately bourgeois, belligerently provincial.’ In the 1920s and 1930s Lowell entered economic decline when companies relocated to the South where labour was cheaper, and in 1931 Harpers Magazine called it a ‘depressed industrial desert.’

Kerouac’s first language was ‘joual’ the French of the ‘Canucks’, a dialect of working-class Quebec French, and he would overcome the handicaps of his working-class ‘Canuck’ origins to become the greatest writer since James Joyce, ‘not even 72 hours a week of underpaid mill work could keep these people in their place’ wrote Nicosia. Ginsberg overcame being a ‘spindly Jewish kid with horn-rimmed glasses’ (Vanity of Duluoz) to become the poetical heir to William Blake, a 1960s Counter-Cultural guru and New Left icon. As Dave Kammerer says in the film ‘under the right circumstances he might change the world.’
Steve Clayton

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Material World: Pacific but not peaceful (2014)

The Material World Column from the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last year the California-based Oakland Institute revealed the escalation of land grabs in Papua New Guinea (PNG) over the past decade, amounting to 5.5 million hectares, or 12 percent of the country, due to fraudulent manipulation of Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs), government administered schemes whereby customary owners lease their land to the state for a title which can be used for leasing to a third party. SABLs have been exploited by international logging companies, aided by corrupt state offi cials, resulting in rising deforestation, and many customary owners losing control of their traditional lands. Offi cial catch-phrases of ‘freeing up land for development’, have masked ‘daylight robbery, the betrayal of people’s constitutional protections and the loss of heritage and land for millions of Papua New Guineans’ says the institute’s report, On Our Land.

Customary tenure applies to 80-90 percent of land in Pacific Island states. Unwritten customary law determines land and inheritance rights for members of clans or extended families. Traditional tenure plays a vital role in the Southwest Pacific countries where the formal sector provides as little as 15 percent of employment, and most people are reliant on subsistence and small-holder agriculture for livelihoods and income. Evidence suggests that, in PNG, small-holder fresh food producers can earn more substantial incomes than people in formal employment. A 2008 study of women roadside sellers in Madang province concluded that 50 percent earned more than three times the minimum wage.

Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) in Vanuatu claims that customary tenure is a ‘system of sharing’ that ‘caters for everyone’s needs.’ he said. ‘Land in most Pacific countries is for public access for survival and not fenced off by the legal system.’ MILDA’s commitment to protect Melanesian values, which promote long-term sustainable land use, includes opposition to customary land registration or leasing, perceived as serving the interests of foreign and local elite. ‘People can register their land and still remain poor,’ Simo said.

However, in the 21st Century land is subject to increasing global economic pressures, the greater dependence of islanders on the cash economy, rapid population growth and urbanisation. Many Pacific Island states are grappling with identifying effective land dispute resolution mechanisms. Reconciling tenure security under informal customary law and modern judicial legal systems presents ongoing challenges. Proliferating disputes between customary groups, and with external parties, over rightful land ownership, development benefits and environmental damage remain a factor in continued rural impoverishment.

Maria Linibi, president of the PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation, agrees that better land administration is required, but rejects easier options for foreign investors or the state to acquire customary land. ‘Customary land ownership to our livelihoods, income and food security is very important because without it we would not survive,’ Linibi declared.

Factors in landowner distrust of state land reform include state corruption and failure of large export oriented projects to raise human development or living standards for the majority of Pacific Islanders.

‘The prevalence of fraud and corruption within the land administration system [of PNG] means that titles can be easily issued, tampered with or destroyed,’ Aidwatch reported in 2010. Their report added that formal land titles were ‘a recipe for failure’ in countries where local landowners are not empowered with education and legal knowledge. Thus, in PNG, where rural illiteracy is as high as 85 percent, ‘top-down’ land leasing programmes have the potential to exacerbate inequality.

This problem of land-grabbing, of course, is not unique to the Pacific but is taking place in many parts of the world: in Africa, Asia and South America. It is a process that Marxists call primitive capital accumulation (the economist David Harvey opts to use the term ‘accumulation by dispossession’ because he finds it odd to call an ongoing process ‘primitive’) and which in English history is known as the Enclosures – common land being either privatised or nationalised. Primitive accumulation is a historical process whereby a separation is created between producers and their means of production or subsistence, i.e. their land. Subsequently, the producers without means of production are left with little choice but to join the industrial army working in urban factories while, freeing up the land and resources for commodity production and capital accumulation.

Land acquisition is increasingly occurring across the globe over the last few years as capitalism further integrates the peasant economy more fully into its world-system. Development banks have identified large sections of sub-Saharan African countries as unused and ‘reserved’ for investment. Yet, as investors acquired the land they met resistance from peasants that were already using such land for their livelihoods. Communal land is being turned into capital and indigenous peoples transformed into wage labour: 
‘In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short force, play the greatest part … As a matter of fact, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic’ (Marx, Capital Vol 1)

Sourced from:

News in Review: Business as usual (1966)

The News in Review column from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Business as usual

The first job of a new Labour government, after the victory champagne has been drunk and the rosettes put away with all the other mementoes of an election campaign which was full of hasty promises, is to assure everybody that nothing will be done to disturb the capitalist social system which the millions who voted Labour—not to mention the other millions who voted Conservative, Liberal, etc—so ardently support.

So it was that on the first Sunday after the election Mr. Harold Lever, who is. Labour MP for Manchester Cheetham, rushed into print in The Observer.

He opened his article like this:
Labour’s decisive victory has aroused anxiety in the City and large areas of the business world. In my view all these fears are unjustified and need to be promptly dispelled . . .
Mr. Lever then commenced to tick off, one by one, the fears which these business men who have not taken the trouble to observe a Labour government in action might unreasonably have thought about what Mr. Wilson will do to capitalism.

Nationalisation? Clause Four? Economic planning? Taxation? Investment incentives? The Labour Member dealt with them all, and ended on a justifiably hopeful note:
It is to be hoped that we will enter this difficult period without damaging and needless misunderstandings between Labour and the world of business.
Now this must have been very bracing to any capitalist who troubled to read it. And his satisfaction must have been even higher if he also read an article on the following day by William Davis, the Financial Editor of The Guardian, which reviewed the prospects for profits under a Labour government, and ended with the conclusion:
Looking ahead two or three years . . . there is good reason to believe that the upward trend in dividends will be resumed.
There should be no need to point out that trade unionists, whose unions often do so much to help Labour get power, cannot look to the immediate future with the same optimism as businessmen. And no Labour MP has yet tried to assure them on this point.

Hypocrisy over Rhodesia

As the world knows, Mr. Harold Wilson is having quite a fight with the Smith government in Rhodesia.

Mr. Wilson takes his stand (in public, at any rate) on moral grounds. The Smith government, he says, offends against all accepted standards of conduct by its racialist policies. He also complains for the benefit of those who are not impressed by an attack on racialism, that Mr. Smith is a rebel against the Queen.

The world also knows that the British government has tried to impose a blockade on Rhodesia and that there have been attempts, of varying success, to break the blockade.

There need be no surprise that these attempts are justified also by moral arguments, although of a different kind from those of Mr. Wilson.

The blockade runners talk about the freedom of the seas, and about the sanctity of commerce. This is just as Rhodesia's situation is a grand opening for a free-lance oil company and shipping magnate to make some money. This is the basic reason for the attempts at breaking the embargo; the justification comes after.

What of the future? Speculation has its dangers, but the chances are that Mr. Smith will find plenty of other companies willing to cash in on the situation and run the risks of defying the embargo.

Probably, too, there will be undercover outlets for Rhodesia’s tobacco duce, to replace those closed by the sanctions programme.

International trade is a matter of profit and loss and while it can be influenced for a time by political considerations the basic conditions of capitalism will in the end dominate.

Mr. Wilson has publicly said that he would win an easy victory in Rhodesia. He would not be the first leader of capitalism to fail lo understand the basic realities of a situation he is trying to control.

Prison reform

One of the problems which capitalism faces over sending people to prison for offending against the system’s property laws is that while they are inside they may forget what it means lo be docile, industrious members of the working class.

To discourage this, there is a veritable army of probation officers, welfare societies, clergymen and other soul-savers who are only too willing to help the released prisoner back into capitalist society.

They remind him that he is after all a worker; they talk about his making a constructive contribution to society; they spare no effort to find him a job and so help him from one form of imprisonment into another.

Now the reformers are going even further.

An electrical component firm in the Midlands, is collaborating with the authorities of a new prison there to get the convicts working on the assembly of their products.

The firm is not, of course, doing this purely as a money making venture; they claim that it is a social experiment.

The prisoners will be able to earn at most 11s. a week at this work—for a full time, forty hour week on piecework.

This is the first time a closed prison in Britain has undertaken work of this kind. The governor has made it clear that the assembly line in the prison will be just like one in a factory outside:
We shall encourage prisoners to produce as much as possible as efficiently as possible.
Thus the prisoners will have no excuse for feeling unsettled when they are let out at the end of their sentence. The disciplines, the exploitation — and the life will have continued while they were inside.

Presumably this is intended to make the men more amenable to their lot under capitalism. Has any reformer considered whether it may have the opposite effect?

How do you like your leaders? (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there was one thing the General Election was supposed to be about it was leadership. Not just any leadership, but leadership of the tough, courageous, forthright variety which any politician worth his salt always exudes as he looks the television camera straight in the lens.

The Labour Party won the election to some extent on this issue. Their message, repeated again and again, was simple. In thirteen years the Conservatives had not provided leadership. In seventeen months Labour had given us firm government. Perhaps we didn’t agree with everything they had done but at least they had done it. We had had a taste of government with guts—and this had taught us that Labour Government Worked.(Did any Labour voter remember that this was the party which once claimed to stand for Socialism?) It was all summed up in the manifesto Time For Decision:
This is a Government that governs: it does not flop along from crisis to crisis as the Tories did, for so much of their thirteen years.
In face of this propaganda, what choice had Mr. Heath but to try to appear even firmer, even more pugnacious, than Mr. Wilson? He chose to make a frontal attack. Labour, he said, had talked about our problems but this was not enough. We needed to deal with the balance of payments, the Common Market, the burden of poverty among the old and the sick. What was needed was Action not Words. The theme was taken up eagerly by many a Tory candidate who later found that a preoccupation with Action can have some disastrous results at the polls.

It was taken up, too, in the press, which was also looking for determined leadership. In one of the unlikeliest partnerships of the election, the Daily Mirror dressed down its readers by reprinting an editorial from The Times which gave a number of reasons for the weakness of the £, among them “. . . because no government has the courage to face the British people with the truth.”

From all sides, then, there was a demand for leaders with courage, determination, vigour. It would have been surprising if this had not been reflected in the votes; when they were counted it turned out that over 13 million people had voted for firm government from the Labour Party; almost 11⅜ million had plumped for action from the Conservatives.

What is the reason for this general acceptance that firm government is essential and beneficial? The vast majority of the voters believe that we shall always need leaders who are supposed to be cleverer than the rest of us to take control of our affairs, to tell us how much we should earn, how hard we should work, when we should go to war, who we should love and who we should hate—and of course for whom we should vote.

Having accepted this notion, it follows dial the workers should want their leaders to be cast in a certain mould. Toughness is not always essential; Stanley Baldwin once won a famous election victory on the promise of Tranquility. The tough image becomes a vote catcher when the conditions of British capitalism require a special effort from the working class; in wartime or when a government is appealing, as it is now, for restraint in wage claims and for harder work.

It does not follow from this that tough, courageous leaders are always approved of. Let us go back for a moment to The Times, complaining that
. . . the world sees Mr. George Brown’s union—the largest in the country—defying the system on which the Government’s economic policy rests;
Now it is clearly an act of some courage, and considerable resolution for the Transport and General Workers’ Union to defy the government over the Incomes Policy. But The Times and the Daily Mirror are not applauding. We are accustomed to the attacks which are made upon unions firm enough to press home a wage claim. And the greater the determination which is applied in the claim—if a strike is called and is carried out with what the Labour Party calls, in another context, guts—the more furious are the attacks and the greater the impatience which many other workers express against the strikers.

A political leader who does his job with what the press judges to be resolution is headlined as a public hero. A trade union official who does his job in the same way is lampooned as a national enemy.

Clearly there is more to this leadership business than The Times is eager to reveal. The British press, and the British working class, like to see their leaders throwing their weight around in the world and consider that it is part of a natural order of things that they should do so. But what is their attitude to foreign leaders who do the same?

What, for example, did they think about Stalin when he was showing them all what ruthlessness and determination really meant? Was Castro a universal hero, when he displayed courage and single-mindedness in Cuba’s dispute with the United States? At another time and place the leader of a small country standing up to a large one can be good for a load of congratulation from the British press. Then what about de Gaulle who, although he is a politician of proven physical bravery and obvious determination, is popularly regarded in Britain as a stubborn, power-silly old man?

The truth of the matter is that it all depends on the interests of a country’s ruling class. This is what determines the propaganda which is pumped out, day after day, at the working class all over the world and which contributes to their delusions about leaders and many other issues. The British working class like their leaders to appear strong. So do the Cubans. And the French. And the rest of the working class in other countries.

This can be extended beyond the working class. Sir Paul Chambers, the Chairman of ICI. complained bitterly at his company’s Annual General Meeting last month about the competition which they are meeting from rival firms abroad. First he referred to what he called the “running sore" of competition from American-produced polymers which, he said, are “dumped” on the British market with the assistance of a relaxed tariff policy. Then he expanded his field to cover all the ‘science based ’ industries.
The danger is that the vigorous export policies adopted by American companies, with the full support of their Government. together with the very great advantages of their large internal market, will result, in a progressive transfer of manufacture in such industries to the United Stales. There is clear evidence of this already in industries such as aircraft manufacture and computers . . .
Sir Paul is the man who once claimed that ICI’s salesmen fought “like tigers” all over the world. Yet he complains when a foreign industry shows its claws. His words contribute to the idea that all strength, all commercial enterprise, can be confined to one country and that if rivals abroad show the same tendencies they must be resisted by adjusting import duties, or by ganging up with other countries. (Later in his speech Sir Paul was advocating making . . . the whole of EEC and EFTA a single market free of internal barriers for these industries.”)

ICI’s chairman knows perhaps better than most people that capitalism is not a gentle business. It is a system in which savage tigers survive more than sensitive fawns. Every capitalist nation wants its leaders to be firm and strong and clever, but if they were in fact all like that there would be a massive international stalemate in which they all outfoxed each other and so revealed their mutual futility. And that is something which ICI, for one, would not like.

In any case, what is a strong leader worth? First of all, how strong is he? Sir Paul Chambers is one of industry’s tough guys but he can do little more than complain about the jungle which he sends his tigers out to fight in. American chemical firms, he says, have a large enough home market to give them an incentive to invest in a massive plant. To get at a comparable market, the British industry must have access to Europe. But standing in the way are what he called “. . . all the other issues of the enlargement of the Common Market to include Britain . . ." Sir Paul did not think that these issues were insurmountable, yet up to now they have beaten the strongest of British industrialists.

Let us return now to the politicians. Mr. Wilson has promised firm action to defeat one of his government's biggest problems—inflation. Yet despite all the assurances inflation continues: according to the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury (House of Commons, 23/2/66) the £ of October 1964, when Labour came into power, was worth about 18s. 11d. in January 1966. What can strong government do about this? The Labour Party finds itself running British capitalism with a substantial problem of labour shortage, particularly in certain key industries. (In the election campaign Mr. Wilson actually claimed the credit for this!) In this situation Labour are acting in exactly the same way as (he Tories—they are appealing to the working class not to exploit their strength, they are threateningly brandishing legal penalties, they are promising firm and decisive action but in the end they are puffing up an already inflated currency. This is not necessarily weak government but neither is it strong government. It is simply running capitalism as the system says it must be run.

This leaves us with the final question. What benefits do leaders bring to the people who put them there? The workers vote for leadership in millions yet after centuries of it the problems of capitalism remain. Indeed, every election is an opportunity for leaders to claim that they are the men we have been waiting for; they can solve our problems—which in itself shows that the problems are still there, and that the previous “solutions” to them have failed.

It is not enough to discard one set of leaders for another; we must prepare ourselves with the knowledge that leaders are irrelevant to the advance of society. At the moment thirteen million people in this country have said that they know Labour Government Works. Which is nothing less than thirteen million people saying that they are not yet prepared to think for themselves.

The Passing Show: May Day, May Day (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day, May Day

Definitions: (1) A radio distress signal, repeated at rapid intervals, for ships at sea. (2) A working class distress signal, repeated at yearly intervals. It's the second definition which concerns us. You want me to justify it? Of course it’s not the way that Labourites and other left wingers will look at it when they assemble once again this year for their processions. To them it will be a fine opportunity to make the usual protestations of “solidarity’’, “peace”, “progress" and so on, with workers abroad which, for all the fire and eloquence with which they may be delivered, will be vague, empty, and not worth the ink that's used to print them in the next day’s newspapers.

May Day demonstrations began with the passing of a resolution by the Second International Working Men’s Association in 1889 to set aside the First of May as a workers holiday, so that mass demonstrations could be made to affirm the international solidarity of labour. But solidarity for what? Workers may have avowed such solidarity in 1889, but there was precious little of it in 1914, except perhaps in the only place where nationality didn’t count—in the grave. It has been the same story many times since then to some extent or another, yet down the years the farce of the May Day ritual has been observed.

But a “distress signal” I called it. Well, take a look at some of the things they will be talking about this time. Vietnam? Wages? The Bomb? Pensions? Housing? A superficial conclusion might be that the scope of May Day has broadened since the early days, yet really all these issues can be put under the headings of War and The Poverty of Labour, both inseparable from capitalism and very distressing indeed. Taken collectively they represent a massive S.O.S., a cry for help from a working class floundering in a sea of bewilderment. But the orators who thump the tubs in Hyde Park and elsewhere are just as ignorant as the listening crowds of the way to answer the cry. There is a lifeline which is there for the grasping, but it cannot be thrown by such as the Labour and Communist Parties; it is the lifeline of Socialist knowledge. When the working class have reached out for that, in no time at all they can haul themselves high, dry and safe, to a new world.

Sing, Bing

The wheel has turned a full cycle and Mr. Geoffrey Bing, Q.C. is back in Britain again. This is the man who was once Labour MP for Hornchurch and who climbed aboard the Ghanaian bandwagon when it began to roll some years ago, becoming Dr. Nkrumah’s principal legal adviser. He wasn't the only one to support that vicious and repressive regime of course, but although the two press interviews he gave at the end of March were noteworthy for the evasiveness of his replies to questions, at least he did say something. The other individuals and organisations in this country who hailed the new state, and incidentally sneered at us for refusing it our blessing, have all been conspicuously silent.

Now, what did our ex-Labour hero have lo say when he got back home? If we accept his version at its face value, whoever was to blame for the disturbing things that went on during Nkrumah's reign, it was certainly not Mr. Bing. He was “not there” when the notorious Preventive Detention Bill was announced in the Ghana Parliament. He was “ill” at the time of Nkrumah’s removal of the Chief Justice, and so on . . . He didn’t say what he was doing in November 1963, when the Preventive Detention Act was amended to increase considerably the government’s already harsh powers. He does seem to have learned, though, how unpleasant prison can be (“the actual physical conditions of prisons in Ghana are deplorable”), and how nasty it is to be “manhandled by soldiers” (his wife had that experience). Perhaps some of the five-year detainees could have told him all about those sorts of things if they’d been let out in time. However, that’s the snag with supporting dictatorships; the boomerang sometimes hits you before you have time to get out of the way.

“I have supported ideas and not individuals,” said Mr. Bing on March 28 in a final disclaimer. Ah, yes. Thats the crux of the whole matter, and if Mr. Bing had not said it, we would have had to say it for him. indeed he has supported ideas, and always the wrong ones just like every other Labour MP. True, not every member of his former party would be a deliberate supporter of dictatorships just like that, but so long as capitalism lasts, there is always the threat of it sometime, somewhere. And no capitalist politician can ever be entirely above suspicion in that respect. Even the best of intentions are derided and destroyed in the capitalist jungle, so that the democrat of today (perhaps without realising it at the time) is often a trainee for the dictatorship of tomorrow.

This is where we came in

Take heart, Lord Robens and others Who supported nationalisation of the mines in 1947. You think you have problems with falling coal demand and competition from oil? Well, so have others: this time it’s the West German coal owners who are running into trouble and are actually being paid by their government to take pits out of production. On March 17th, The Guardian described the Bonn government’s actions as “. . . measures . . . designed to help the coal industry to adjust itself to the realities of industrial life.” Which is a nice way of saying “no profit—no production”, no matter if some people do go short of warmth this winter. Incidentally, it does illustrate one point contrary to Tory claims; and that is that the profitability of an industry is not realty affected by whether it’s nationalised. It’s the current market conditions that count.

But don’t get too shocked or surprised at the news from Germany, will you. Governments often act in this way. A few years back, the British textile industry got the treatment, and before that American agriculture. Yet there are plenty of ill clothed and ill fed people around, aren’t there? Profit is the raison d'etre as far as capitalism is concerned, not human need.


“Just because you caught me polishing my Rolls-Royce doesn’t mean I’m a Tory. I'll vote Labour.” (Man at Morden Hill. Guardian report 16.3.66.)

‘‘While we act to suppress the ugly activities, if anyone dies we shall not be bothered." (Indian Premier Mrs. Gandhi. 16.3.66.)

"He (the Tory) must persuade a substantial mass of the voters . . . to identify the defence of their own interests and values with the defence of privileges which are—and are likely to remain—beyond their reach." (Why I am voting Tory, by Henry Fairlie. Observer 20.3.66.)

"A Conservative speculative builder in Cambourne this weekend described Mr. Wilson as "the nearest thing we’ve had to Churchill." (Peter Jenkins, Guardian 21.3.66.)

"I have a feeling that . . . voters are getting much more shrewd.' (Leonard Beaton. Guardian 30.3.66.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

New pamphlet on Racism (1966)

Party News from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new Socialist Party pamphlet, entitled The Problem of Racism, is published this month. The previous pamphlet on this subject, The Racial Problem, published in 1947 has been out of print for some time. The Problem of Racism is not just a revision; it is a completely new pamphlet. In 1947 it was the Jewish Question that was prominent. Today it is the Colour Question. This change is taken into account in the new pamphlet which examines the colour question in Britain, America, South Africa and Rhodesia. There are chapters too on the scientific theory of race, the historical origins of racist theories and on African nationalism.

There is one unfortunate error. The reference on page 41 to Guyana should, of course, be to Guinea.

Pamphlet obtainable from Socialist Party, (Dept. SR), 52 Clapham High St, London. SW4. Price 1/6.

Obituary: Robert MacNamara (1966)

Obituary from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

We greatly regret to announce the death of Robert MacNamara of the Glasgow Branch. He died at home in Glasgow on Saturday 2nd April 1966. Our comrade MacNamara was a member of the Branch for about forty years. Throughout his membership he was always a very active person and seldom, if ever, was absent from the Branch or propaganda meetings, etc. Over the past three years his illness confined him at home and therefore, ended his active participation in Party affairs. But despite his illness he never lost his enthusiasm or his keen interest. He was always delighted to have visits from members and hear any news and discuss activities.

He joined Glasgow Branch shortly after its formation and was, therefore, almost a foundation member. From this point onward he got down to intensive and systematic study of the Socialist case. He acquired an extensive knowledge of Marxism, economically, historically and philosophically. In the early days political conflict was widespread, keen and all too frequently, very hostile. We often had the united opposition of Labourites, I.LP.’ers and CP.’ers. Jail Square, West Regent Street were, in these days, the local political “duelling” grounds. He was a constant attender and could be found there almost any evening, winter or summer. In such discussion he would be either putting over the Socialist case or exposing the fallacies and absurdities of the opposition. Having an excellent understanding of the Socialist case and also, of the opposition’s cases, he was a highly competent propagandist. But in all cases he exercised tact and consideration and was never provocative or abusive.

The Party could do with many more MacNamaras. We have too few and his loss is therefore, much greater. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife and family, their kind and careful attention during his illness was comforting.
John Higgins

The Law and Homosexuality (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the election out of the way, Wolfenden ― or rather his famous report ― may get back into the news again. This document, presented to Parliament in September 1957 after more than three years of painstaking work, called forth at that time a mixed public response of support and violent opposition. The government of the time fairly quickly implemented the committee’s main recommendations on prostitution (incidentally with a resultant increase in call-girls and a more highly organised poncing system), but did not make any move concerning the law on male homosexuality.

Public opinion was against any change, said Home Secretary R. A. Butler in the Commons debate of November 26th, 1958, as if capitalist politicians are not capable of trying to ignore public opinion when they think it will serve their purposes to do so. It is just conceivable that homosexuality could have become an election issue in 1959 but the greater likelihood is that for one reason or another the majority of the government did not favour change, and so the matter was dropped. However, one effect of Wolfenden since then has been to bring this controversial question more into the forum of public discussion ― press, radio and TV ― which has continued on and off ever since.

In May last year, Lord Arran managed to get a second reading in the Lords for his Bill to make private homosexual acts between consenting male adults no longer a criminal offence. But a similar measure introduced into the Commons a fortnight later by Labour MP Leo Abse was defeated, the opposition to it having been led by that self styled guardian of our moral welfare and champion of intolerance Sir Cyril Osborne, Tory MP for Louth. However, not long before the election, a Bill on the same lines was sponsored by the Tory Humphrey Berkeley and managed to survive a second reading.

It seems in fact that parliamentary opinion is turning in favour of changing a law which has not had the intended effect and has, by the very nature of its provisions, proved just about unworkable. And after all, there is nothing which brings capitalist legality into contempt more than an unworkable law. As the Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, said on the matter:
“As a lawyer, I am prejudiced because I do not like law which cannot be enforced and we cannot ever enforce laws about what people do by consent in private. Those who are caught are the unlucky few.” (Guardian 13.5.65.)
The present set up had its origins in 1885, when during the committee stage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, The Liberal MP Labouchère moved his notorious clause creating the new offence between males, whether or not adult, consenting or in private, and by a stroke of the Parliamentary pen, made the lot of the male homosexual less tolerable than it had been for many years. Labouchère’s clause was passed without debate, and became section 11 of the new Act, providing punishments which were savage even by Capitalism’s standards. The maximum penalties still range from a £5 fine for “Bye Law indecencies” to life imprisonment for buggery.

No wonder that furtiveness and secrecy entered the homosexuals life in greater measure ― and there was a still uglier aspect rearing its head. In the storm of controversy that followed the publication of the new regulations, one judge called them “the blackmailer’s charter”, a name which has stuck and which seems to have been justified by subsequent events. Moreover, the dubious conduct of the police in securing some of their convictions has been a source of fierce contention among lawyers ever since. Only in May last year, Montgomery Hyde was citing recent examples of this in a series of articles in The People.

Not always the same attitude towards homosexuality has prevailed. Aymer Roberts says: “As we turn the pages of history we discern alternately the acceptance and admiration of homosexuality and then later its attempted suppression” (Forbidden Freedom). In feudal Britain, there were times when, along with fornication and adultery, sexual inversion was punishable by the most painful death. Indeed, as late as the seventeenth century, Lord Castlehaven was beheaded for it on Tower Hill. Such was the fear expressed through Christian dogma and supported by the church, of any practice which was thought to be a threat to the marriage institution.

The number of male homosexuals in Britain is not precisely known; estimates have varied between 500,000 and one million. But whatever the number, there is no doubt that for many the strain of trying to live within a set of general social rules ― not just the law ― which aim at their rejection, is very great. As Dr. Eustace Chesser has pointed out:
“The sense of guilt and nervous strain felt by many homosexuals today is due largely to social disapproval . . . Public opinion can be as punitive as the law.” (Live and Let Live.)
So the homosexual, it seems, has a difference which rapidly becomes a social handicap, but he is forced to wage a long and not altogether successful battle for society’s acceptance. Hence the mental conflicts, the nervous breakdowns, and sometimes the suicides.

Probably that is why the condition has been thought of as an illness ― two separate states have been confused and placed under one heading, but Wolfenden has rejected such a view, as have many leading medicos. According to Dr. Neustattor for instance, “It is not an illness or a disease . . . but simply a variation.” (Albany Trust Winter Talks, 1962-63). So if it can’t be called an illness, it is hardly a question of “curing” it neither has punishment stamped it out. Hence the proposal once more to bring English law into line with that of other countries, and as far as adults are concerned anyway, leave them well alone.

Nor should we forget that times have changed considerably since Labouchère’s days. It is not without significance that the reformers are anxious to convince people of the usefulness ― potential or otherwise ― of the homosexual to capitalist industry.
“It should not be beyond our capabilities to devise some method of control which will enable each homosexual to lead … a more useful life, and this in the final analysis must be a benefit to the whole community. (Albany Trust Winter Talks. 1962-63.)”

“A substantial minority of men in every class of society, being made free from fear of the criminal law, would be better able to play a constructive part in the life of the community. (Pamphlet by The Homosexual Law Reform Society.)
And of course, this is one of the salient propaganda features of the movement for reform of the law. The reformers want to fit the homosexual into existing society without additional stigma; they do not aim at a basic change in society itself.

The same criticism can be made of all such movements, wherever they are. In his book ‘The Homosexual Revolution’, R. E. L. Masters says that the homosexuals in U.S.A. have managed to start official organisations to voice their grievances and demands for law reform, the main associations being Daughters of Bilitas for women, and The Mattachine Society for men. He alleges that the problems of blackmail, police persecution and harassment, etc., are much greater there than in Britain, which may be the reason for the rise of these more vociferous protective clubs. He gives a list of “the movement’s” demands, which apart from the fact that some people might think them too sweeping, are all aimed at making the homosexual acceptable as a citizen of capitalist society. The very first of these is a plea that “the homosexual, male or female, should be permitted like any other citizen, to serve his or her country as a member of any branch of its armed forces.” (The present U.S. law forbids this.) A doubtful privilege indeed ― losing your life on a battlefield as a result of the very struggles you have waged to make it worth ― living.

When the law is eventually changed, then, a minority will be released from the shadow of vindictive penalties (although only in one provision of Wolfenden is this so; his proposal for the under twenty-ones is that the penalties be retained and in some cases even increased), but this will not be the end of the homosexual’s problems. Apart from the backlog of fear, ignorance and prejudice which will impinge on his life still, the legal change will at most be an offer to absorb him, so to speak, more easily into the present set up. Which will mean, if he is a worker (and most homosexuals certainly are), that the grey day-to-day existence and struggles to make a living will still be there.
Eddie Critchfield

The Gnomes of London (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the end of March discussions, began between the British and Rumanian governments over various debts owed to British capitalists by Rumania. These discussions, of course, didn't involve the interests of workers either in Britain or in Rumania but they are interesting in so far as they show how capitalism works as an international system.

In the past the City was more the centre of international finance than it is today. Foreign governments and companies used the capital market of London to raise funds. The Rumanian government was no exception. The capitalists expected a price for the use of their capital and got it in the form of interest on the bonds. Up to the Second World War the Rumanian government “met its obligations”, i.e., the capitalists got their share of the exploitation of workers in Rumania, as contracted. In the war, however, Rumania was an ally of the Axis Powers and this source of interest dried up in 1941. Ever since, the owners of Rumanian bonds have been clamouring for compensation. Although Rumania was on the losing side in the war most of these debts have yet to be paid. After the war Rumania fell into the hands of Russian State capitalism and was along with the other States of Eastern Europe, ruthlessly plundered to build up Russian industry and military might. In addition, many foreign-owned industries were nationalised without compensation.

After the death of Stalin the native Rumanian exploiting class began to complain about having to send so large a share of the loot they got from exploiting workers in Rumania to their masters in Russia. They sought to sell their products for as high a price as possible on the world market. The capitalists who had loaned money to previous Rumanian governments saw their chance. Ably aided by the Council of Foreign Bond Holders, they exerted pressure to see that before being allowed favourable trading terms Rumania paid up. In 1960 an Anglo-Rumanian Financial Agreement was signed, under which Rumania agreed to pay £l¼m. to settle certain debts. A further clause said that the settlement of the remaining debts should be discussed in 1966. Hence the recent talks.

Rumanian bonds are still traded on the London Stock Exchange and quoted in the Stock Exchange Daily Official List. For instance, 4 per cent Consols exchange at about £13 for £100 nominal stock. So do 4 per cent External Loan 1922 and 7 per cent Monopolies Institute 1929. Considering that some foreign bonds, like the Chinese 4½ per cent 1898, exchange at only 40s, this shows that some capitalists think there's a comparatively good chance that their government can get something out of the Rumanian government as a price for access to the world market.

A glance at the list of foreign bonds quoted in the Official List gives a panorama of the past glories of British Imperialism. Russian, Chinese, Hungarian, Greek and South American bonds exchange for little or nothing. Interesting items are the Baltic bonds issued by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during their short period of political independence between the world wars. In 1940 they were grabbed by Russia and another source of interest dried up. Yet now these bonds exchange at what seems the surprisingly high price of £50-60. The reason for this is that although Russia got the land and industry of these countries unfortunately for them the gold reserves were kept in London. Talks between Britain and Russia over the division of the property of these former States still go on. The last round finished in April. These Baltic bonds are a better buy than those of Tsarist Russia (also still traded) which are never likely to be paid. 

Russia and Rumania are not the only States negotiating with Britain over debts. Last August a delegation from Hungary was in London to discuss Hungarian bonds (now exchanging at about £14). Poland settled most of its debts in 1955, paying £40 for £100 face value. In 1960 Yugoslavia agreed to pay interest on some pre-war bonds. Thus on June 15 the interest on its 5 per cent Sterling Fund Bonds 1936 is due. Greece has also been forced to pay up.

The States of Eastern Europe in recent years have been gaining a degree of independence of Russia. Their privileged rulers now no longer have to share so much of the loot with those of Russia—-instead they are having to share it with capitalists in Britain, France and elsewhere! This is the price of “independence”. It is no accident that Yugoslavia has been forced to pay the most, precisely because it has achieved the most independence of Russia. In capitalism might is right and capitalists and their governments always drive a hard bargain. Incidentally, the Labour government in the person of junior Minister Walter Padley has been just as zealous in pursuing the interests of foreign bondholders as previous governments—thus showing their attempts to stir up xenophobia by talk of “the gnomes of Zurich” to be the hypocrisy it is.

Finally, it looks as if British capitalists are again moving in on the workers in Rumania. In March last year Lazards, the merchant bankers, signed an agreement with the State Bank of Rumania for a loan of £2m. from three British banks to build two cargo ships. This loan is to be repaid over a ten year period after delivery of the ships. At 5½ per cent rate of interest.
Adam Buick

Obituary: Neil Gillies (1966)

Obituary from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

We sadly learned of the sudden death of our Comrade Neil Gillies and extend to his relatives a sincere sympathy. Although he had been ill over recent years, it was hoped that with due care he had overcome his illness. Joining Marylebone Branch in March 1946 he transferred to Bloomsbury Branch in 19S1 and had been a regular attender at all branch meetings and always supported party meetings and activity. Although not a speaker or writer, his support to other comrades generally was always welcome.

On the evening on which he was taken ill, he had been at the Hampstead Committee Rooms helping with the Election work and was his usual smiling and kindly self. He died the next morning. Neil will be sadly missed by us all who knew him.

50 Years Ago: The Easter Rising (1966)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A grave armed revolt in Dublin against English rule is raging at the time of writing. It is a revolt doomed from the outset, both because of the futility of its Nationalist aims, and the utter hopelessness of such a revolt against the mighty organised force of the political State. It is, apart from the fact that Socialism is worth fighting for. yet another illustration (if such were needed) that the organised Socialist conquest of political power plays into the hands of the oppressor and strengthens the chains that fetter us.

Such a revolt, however, is the natural result of centuries of alien oppression; which has forced the ideas of Irishmen into Nationalist channels and blinded them to its futility. And it is at the same time a fitting commentary on the perfervid declarations of the British champions of “honour" and “righteousness" that “they" are lighting, above all, for “the rights of small Nationalities".

From the Socialist Standard, May 1916.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Editorial: A May Day message (1981)

Editorial from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is 1981, although it may as well be 1881 People are still living in slums, starvation still afflicts millions of the earth's inhabitants, children still cry out for the good things in life which their parents' poverty denies them; old people still die of the cold n winter; tramps still sleep on the Embankment, squalor and insecurity are still a daily reality for many. The times may be changing, but the stench of decay still contaminates our society as much as it did any Victorian city. The sickness of capitalism has shown no signs of responding to any miracle cures.

The cause of social problems is class  division. Our message is directed solely at the majority class: those who own little more than their labour power, which they must sell for a price called a wage or salary in order to live. The working class runs society from top to bottom. but they do not receive the benefits of their labour. The means of wealth production and distribution — the land, factories, mines, offices, newspapers — are owned by a minority, the capitalist class, who receive rent, interest and profit as a result. The two classes have no interests in common — the gain of one is the loss of the other. The political aim of the capitalist class, and all the parties which stand for capitalism, is to ensure that the workers are prepared to lose so that the capitalists may gain. “Don’t go on strike" they tell us. "Fight in our wars to defend our markets, obey our laws, follow our morals and, above all, don’t listen to those socialists because they want to steal our wealth." Millions of workers are taken in by this propaganda. They make profits for the capitalists. they build palaces and mansions for them, they sing their national anthems, they even fight and die in their armies.

Socialists stand for a system of society it which the means of wealth production and distribution are owned and controlled by the whole community. Instead of producing wealth for the profit of the few, wealth in socialism will be produced solely for human use. There will be no buying and selling, but free access for all people to the abundant wealth which society can produce. In a socialist society food will be produced to eat. houses to live in. clothes to wear.

In advocating this sane alternative to the economic anarchy of capitalism, socialists are accused of all sorts of sins. We are called Utopians because we want what has never before happened. Human history is an unceasing record of changes which have never before happened, but those with a conservative outlook (both of the Right and Left) imagine that society has reached its final stage and that we must be stuck with capitalism for evermore. We are called extremists because we dare to advocate real social democracy, rather than the dictatorship of the rich and the powerful. We are told that we are merely envious of the wealth of others because we object to a system where the wealth producers are impoverished while privileged scroungers sit in their country estates and moan about how lazy the workers are. We are said to be attempting to steal from the capitalists rewards and wealth that which we are not entitled to, when the truth is the reverse: it is the capitalists who are a robber class, living off the legally stolen profits which they obtain by exploiting the workers. We are accused of all these things by the capitalists and their gullible or bribed defenders. But we still continue to wholly oppose the profit system and still we urge workers everywhere to organise politically for the establishment of a social system that will cater for their needs.

Millions of workers are taken in by their masters' propaganda. They learn it at school. They read it in the press. They see it on TV. They sing about it in the churches. They are lectured on it by the politicians. Those who have seen through the capitalist con trick are still very few. But our numbers will grow, for we are aided in our propaganda by capitalism, which throws up endless contradictions for workers to face. Experience of capitalism drags workers out of the fog of acquiescence into the movement of resistance. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is fuelled by capitalism. The system is an ungrateful ally: you may he loyal to it. but it will not bother about you if the needs of profit so dictate. Under capitalism, needs come a poor second to profits. It is this antagonism of class interests, between capitalists and workers, robbers and robbed, which makes socialism an urgent necessity.

It is 1981, and we are still stuck with the same system and many of the same problems as in 1881. In the intervening period, millions have starved to the death. Millions have been sacrificed to the god of profit on the battlefields of the world. Our environment has become dangerously polluted. Millions have faced, and do still face, the poverty of the dole queue. Machinery of destruction has been invented which would have been unthinkable in 1881. Some call this progress.

Yet progress has happened. In 1981 we do possess the technological knowhow to create enough wealth to provide for the needs of the entire world population. Even in 1881 this was possible, but today the immensity of technological knowledge is such that human labour could be made pleasurable and efficient by the use of new technology. In 1881 there was no Socialist Party in Britain. Today there is. Our message is a simple one: Join Us.

Socialists are against all War (1981)

From the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest From these arise the national rivalries and hatreds, the fears and armaments which may at any time provoke war on a terrifying scale.”
from The Socialist Party and War (1951 edition)
In the years which have passed since the first nuclear bombs dropped, the horror of war which once produced pacifism now often results in protests against nuclear weapons. But pacifist movements failed to prevent or even limit wars; CND and the European Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (END) can do no better. A no doubt agreeable and time-consuming occupation for diplomats, the Geneva “peace" and "disarmament" talks drag on for decades and at least keep these people from doing too much actual damage. But the results of their endless labours are hardly reassuring

After World War 1 the League of Nations was set up, with the aim of preventing any future war. It failed. After World War II the Unitcd Nations was established. Since then, there has not been one single year of world peace: Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Malaysia. Kenya, the Congo, the Indo-Pakistan wars. Nigeria, the Sudan, Chile, Bogota, Ethiopia, and many other conflicts have raged. Not all wars are "news": till recently, how many of us were familiar with the situation in El Salvador?

Before the First World War, European stares lined up in two opposing alliances, but the apparently formidable equation of the Triple Alliance against the Triple Entente did not prevent war in 1914. Today the USA and Russia use a balance of nuclear power — Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) — to deter the use of nuclear weapons, and their well-advertised possession of these weapons to deter head-on "conventional" war. This policy does not however prevent conflict breaking out: what happens is that the two superpowers fight their wars by proxy, in “small far away countries".

Civil Defence Farce
If CND appeals to the optimists. Civil Defence has attractions only for masochists, pessimists and humourists prepared to crouch under a table with children. buckets, baked beans and a fire extinguisher and play Scrabble for several weeks. After a nuclear attack, food shortages would be acute: "If you saw a frog running about you would have to wash it down to get rid of active dust, cook it (alive?) and eat it." [1] As a letter-writer asked, "How far underground with two weeks' supplies of beans under your arm can you get in 3.6 minutes?" [2]

The Government argues that to provide shelters for all would be too expensive: £60,000 million for 10 million households is compared with £5,000,000,000 for Trident missiles. Some people are now buying or building their own shelters but there are problems here too. As the New Scientist commented, "the new breed of nuclear entrepreneurs unfortunately . . . includes few experts, and prospective buyers should bear in mind the ancient common law rule of caveat emptor. If a bomb shelter is ever put to the test and proves to he defective, the aggrieved party is unlikely to be able to resort to consumer legislation ” [3] One DIY hack-garden shelter-builder described another problem: "I hope all the neighbours build them—we would feel awful if they were hanging on our manhole cover to be let in”. [4] The New Scientist found that shelters cost anything from £1500, jerrybuilt, to £30,000 de luxe.

Survivors will need to be both rich and ruthless, equally capable of shutting out their neighbours, eating frogs, and conducting mass cremations. Or they could all be scientologists: L. Ron Hubbard claims that taking niacin and “auditing" in a Purification Rundown will ensure that scientologists can survive where humans can’t.

"Queensberry Rules" for war
What about attempts to control or limit war? International agreements such as Hague Conventions and Geneva Protocols have, among other things, banned certain weapons such as poison gas and tried to control the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war and protect the sanctity of property in anti-looting laws. Such agreements are not observed in practice. Mountbatten, with considerable experience of military operations in two World Wars, said: “I know how impossible it is to pursue military operations in accordance with fixed plans and agreements”. [5] 

In World War II saturation bombing of cities caused a terrible Massacre of Innocents: civilian populations were primary military targets as they still are. Prisoners of war and non-combatants were used as slaves in German industry and agriculture and by the Japanese and Russians. German firms such as Krupp, the arms manufacturers, looted from conquered lands, as, later, did the Americans, the British, French and Russians.

In the nuclear age, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has been an abject flop. It is useless to attempt a list of states with a nuclear capability: it would soon be out of date. We can however examine the 1972 SALT I agreement and assess its effect. Each superpower had about 10 times as many warheads 6 years after SALT I as they had 6 years before. This they call progress.

The CND Argument
SALT II, would probably mean a maximum of 2,500 MIRVed missiles, including 820 MIRVed ICBMs. [7] It has been estimated that to destroy effectively all buildings in London would require only 242 50KT (Kiloton) warheads, and to destroy all Moscow only 141 such warheads would be needed. [8]

Yet SALT II is supported by the so-called Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:
CND is wholly behind the ratification of SALT II, the continuance of detente and of negotiations about intermediate nuclear systems. [9]
CND propaganda relies on emotion, on the belief that nuclear weapons am unique in their effects by focussing on the consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Is this argument valid? The immediate effects of nuclear bombs are fire, blast and radiation sickness; their longterm effects are cancer and genetic damage. The view that these can only be caused by nuclear weapons is false.

CND themselves compared the resulting fire from an A-bomb with the Hamburg, Tokyo and Dresden firestorms, caused by thousands of incendiary bombs. "The fires all joined together to make a single holocaust or "fire storm". These huge pillars of fire caused winds of up to 150 mph . . . to rush in towards the burning area . . . People caught in the street were soon burned to death. The fate of people in fireproof shelters was not much better. The air that they breathed had to come in from the street, and the temperature of that air was 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, or nearly as hot as molten glass. This forced some people to rush out of the shelters into the flames outside. Others were killed by carbon monoxide . . . The fires burned for days and some areas were so hot that they could not he entered for weeks. Even then, the insides of some shelters burst into flames when they were forced open, and some were even red-hot." [10]

The long-term toxic effects of a nuclear bomb are cancer and genetic damage, but these are not caused by nuclear weapons alone. Similar effects have come from the chemical dioxin, both in a military context when it was used under the name of Agent Orange, [11] and when released accidentally, as at Seveso and in the USA at Love Canal. Napalm burns are horrific, as are those caused by radiation.

Suicide !
The Doomsday argument asserts that a nuclear war would be a suicidal catastrophe. As Mountbatten said, "in the event of a nuclear war, there will he no chances, there will be no survivors all will be obliterated". [12] This argument seems convincing enough except that a similar view was held by preceding generations in pre-nuclear times. Witness the appeal by the King of Belgium and other heads of state in August 1939
Beneath our very eyes the camps are forming and a tearful struggle is being prepared in Europe. Is our continent to commit suicide in a terrifying war at the end of which no nation could call itself victor or vanquished, but in which the spiritual and material values created by centuries of civilisation would founder? War psychosis is invading every home, and although conscious of the unimaginable catastrophe which a conflagration would mean for all mankind, public opinion abandons itself more and more to the idea that we are inevitably to be dragged into it . . . We can only hope that those in whose hands rests the fate of the world will . . . give effect to the desires which they have so often expressed that the disputes which separate them shall be settled in peace, and thereby avoid the catastrophe which threatens humanity”.  [13]
Why do we have wars and armed forces at all? It appears impossible to prevent war, and futile to attempt to limit wars. Wcemust, if we are to do anything practical about war, first understand why wars happen.

Common Myths
  1. Overpopulation—but after 1945 the confrontation between America and Russia was between what would be regarded as two under populated states.
  2. Hunger. A consequence of war or preparation for war, not usually a cause of war. In 1914 and 1939 Germany had full granaries.
  3. Lunatic leaders. But these, like the "sane" ones, depend for their power on support: even dictators have to be loved.
  4. "Merchants of death": the left-wing scapegoat theory, blaming war on the arms trade from which private firms (Krupp. Lockheed, Vickers) profit. But most arms trade is now government business, and in any case, such dealers only fish in troubled waters.
  5. Humans are basically aggressive and violent. Irrelevant, also untrue. Why do states need conscription to coerce people into their armed forces?
  6. “Just wars" — for. example for the “defence of democracy". Wc must distinguish between the actual cause of war and the propaganda used to whip up support for it. Always, both sides claim that they are in the right. God inevitably hedges his bets, if you believe the sky-pilots. As examples of this type of argument. in 1940 MP's of all parties were of one mind: we must "wage war against monstrous tyranny" (Churchill), this was a “war for liberty" (Lees-Smith, Lab.); and we must "preserve our liberties” (Percy Harris, Lib.). [15] At the same time, the Defence of the Realm Act muzzled opponents, and internment for political reasons became a tool of the "voluntary totalitarianism" freely accepted by those liberty-loving MPs. Then as now, governments tried to keep military matters away from public and democratic discussion. 1940 — "Is it becoming the practice of ministers to make their important announcements on the wireless? That is bad enough, but when they do not even make them on the wireless which addresses the people at home, hut make them on the Overseas wireless at three o'clock in the morning, that . . . is not fair to the House of Commons” [16]. 1980 — over the decision, announced without prior discussion, to buy the Trident Missile System. Mrs Thatcher was asked: “On such a momentous decision, is it right to put a fait accompli to the House of Commons?’’ Her reply: “we have to do just that” [17].
  7. Defend our country. A bogus plea: workers have no country to defend..No “nation” is a single group each nation is divided into two opposing classes, into owners and non-owners. The working class have never won a war yet: they only tight them in their masters’ interests.
The real cause
Why do wars happen. What are they fought about? Certainly not ideals or ideology: Stalin allied Russia with Nazi Germany and later with Britain and America. The USA trades with “Red” China. It is economic interest which creates wars and which forces governments to prepare for war As John Nott, Minister of Defence, argued in favour of Reagan's Rapid Deployment Force “We have crucial minerals and in fact our oil supplies to defend" [18]. Callaghan, when leader of the Opposition, also said “We must welcome the intention of President Carter to set up a task force of 100,000 men which could move quickly into position, if only because of the utter dependence of the West on oil" [19].

It is not our economic interests which are at stake We — the working class — control only one commodity, have only one financial asset at out disposal: our ability to work. We live by hiring ourselves out, renting our lives, veiling our mental and physical skills to the employing class for wages or salaries.

Those whose interests are at stake are our employers, the exploiting class. Theirs are the oilfields of the Gulf States, the mineral resources of Southern Africa, the capital investments, trade and markets which no capitalist government can afford to ignore. It is their sordid, commercial competition which leads to conflict and war.

Just as in the High Street supermarkets compete against one another, so in the international market companies and State enterprises compete for lucrative markets and access to vital and profitable raw material and mineral resources. This never-ending competition periodically erupts into armed conflict. Peaceful conquest by means of sales drives and takeover bids develops into more than mere “trade war”.

In boom times, with expanding demand, production is increased on all sides, capital flows in, new companies are formed, new factories built, more salesmen are hired. Profits are good, and politicians re-discover that “free trade’’ is the only proper way to run the system. But if for any reason the markets are full and demand ceases to match the supply, salesmen are forced to travel to remote regions and companies more and more resort to “unfair” trading practices, such as “dumping”. The casualty rate in this trade war is seen in the bankruptcy figures, and heard in howls of boardroom anguish as dividends are cut

Capitalist production is carried on with a view to profiting from the surplus value created by workers value over and above what they receive as wages or salaries. It is for this prize — surplus value — that oil wells are opened up, that factories, farms and mines are operated, and Wimpy Bars compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chinese takeaways with Pizza palaces.

Our society is characterised by two forms of warfare: economic competition and class war — the exploitation of those who have to sell their labour power in order to live, thereby enriching those who live off our unpaid labour. This class war also has casualties: millions die from poverty, hunger or disease each year. Battles take place, as last year in South Africa, where a demonstration of black workers was gunned down by police, leaving more than 40 killed and over 300 injured. Next day the Police Commission- [missing line] ed at all costs and no mercy will be shown ”. [20]

Usually this war is waged silently, with employers forcing wage-cuts and workers resisting the drop in their living standards. A hundred years ago it was the same: “William M. Evarts, our accomplished Secretary' of State,. . . (said) that our working men must accept lower wages in the future . . . (due to) the much higher rates per day which . . . cannot be permanently maintained when we are exporting largely of domestic manufactures in competition with the products of the cheap labor of Europe”. [21]

By paying workers less, employers hope to be able to sell their products cheaper than their rivals’, so grabbing a larger share of the market. Selling more, they would obtain more surplus value and so more capital, in time becoming stronger than their competitors. All this at the expense of us, the have-nots.

In the present recession, with many industries laying off workers and cutting back production, some governments hope that arms exports will compensate for their declining trade in other sectors: tanks for cars. In technology, government investment leans heavily towards the military. In advanced laser technology, for instance, VULCAN — a civilian laser — cost the Science Research Council only £2 million, while HELEN — developed at Aldermaston for military research — cost £7 million [22]. Last year Russia made 89 space launches: only 8 payloads were non-military. America launched 12 satellites, 10 of which were Defence Department jobs [23].

Capitalist society generates war, because it is based on competition. To wage war successfully, governments pour huge resources into the production of the most horrendous weapons; they then compete in exporting this advanced technology to other — potential rival — governments. The economic competition periodically explodes into military conflicts. No amount of petitions and protests by pacifists and CNDers can alter the fact that this is how this society works. Such protests leave untouched the root cause of war, the competitive nature of capitalist society, based on the exploitation of the working class. This is the problem that working people have to understand, and to sidetrack them from this understanding is to do them a grave disservice.
Charmian Skelton

[1] Times, 14/2/80.
[2] Guardian, 29/7/80.
[3] New Scientist, 24/7/80.
[4] Woking News and Mail, 31 /7/80.
[5] Speech, 11 May 1979. printed in How to Survive the Nuclear Age, Ecology Party '80.
[6] World War III. ed S Bidwell 1978 (Hamlyn). Figures for America may be underestimated and those for Russia overestimated by CIA, the agency mainly responsible for such "statistics". A MIRVed missile carries a number of independently-targetable warheads.
[7] World War III, p 14.
[8] Science Fact, rd Prof F. George, Topaz 1977. 10 such warheads = one Poseidon missile.
[9] Guardian, 24/7/80 letter from Bruce Kent, General Secretary of CND.
[10] CND, Civil Defence and Nuclear War. quoted in Civil Defence by P. Bolsover. CND 1980.
[11] New Statesman, 22/8/80: an illustrated article about South Vietnamese children born deformed, without a brain, no eyes and so on.
[12] As 5, above.
[13] H.M.S.O. Cmnd 6106 (1939). Appeal by the King of the Belgians and other Heads of State of the Oslo Group. Our emphasis
[14] As 5. above.
[15] Penguin Hansard, 13/5/40.
[16] Ditto, 5/11/40
[17] New Scientist, 31/7/80.
[18] Weekend World, ITV. 8/3/81.
[19] Hansard, 28/1/80 quoted in Protest and Survive, by E. P. Thompson.
[20] BBC News, 18/6/80. Our emphasis
[21] Scientific American, February 1880.
[22] Financial Times, 5/3/81.
[23] Guardian, 19/3/81.