Monday, October 2, 2023

Letters: Democratic rights (1990)

Letters to the Editors from the October 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democratic rights

Dear Editors.

In the Socialist Standard (September 1989) you wrote that the Socialist Party of Great Britain “wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights against the powers of suppression”.

I fail to see how democratic rights can be achieved within the framework of world capitalism. The capitalist system, state or private, East or West, is not democratic. It is a form of class dictatorship, with a minority capitalist class in power and control over the exploitable working class majority.

The capitalist class cannot be in the business of handing out democratic rights and risk losing control, but they do when necessary and under pressure make concessions and legislate reforms. Governments which are the executive committees of the capitalist class call these overtures and reforms "democratic rights". Which is a lie, because they are civil rights dressed up to make capitalism look better and they can easily be rescinded.

Socialists should not ignore civil rights. Some can be appreciated and be useful and all are part of social understanding. They do not however lead to democratic rights. Only a socialist society can produce democratic rights.

A sane system of society or real democracy. real communism or real socialism, all have the same meaning and intent which could materialise about the same time.

The only democratic right achievable under capitalism could take place when the working class through a workable majority captures the political apparatus of the capitalist class to gain political control, so that the working class is able to replace capitalism with socialism.

From this premise a democratic right can only be established by a majority, in the interests of a majority.
John F. Ahrens 
Vancouver, Canada

Our correspondent is confusing political democracy and a democratic society.

Capitalism is not and can never be a democratic society because, as he says, it is based on class power and privilege, social inequality, and exploitation. A real democracy, where everybody would have an equal say in decision-making about all aspects of social life, including and in fact particularly the production and distribution of wealth, is only possible in a classless society of common ownership.

Capitalism can, however, accommodate a limited degree of political democracy in the sense of allowing every adult equal voting rights to decide who shall occupy various political posts at national and local level. Political democracy is by definition confined to a very limited sphere of decision-making and even here can never be complete as it is distorted by the social inequality that is at the basis of capitalism: those with money can and do pay to get more publicity for their views and views that favour them. As in Animal Farm, under capitalist political democracy "all are equal but some are more equal than others".

Despite these limitations and distortions the existence of political democracy under capitalism—and the various “democratic rights” that accompany it such as freedom of speech, publication, organisation, and assembly—is an advantage for the working class as it provides the best framework under capitalism for the socialist movement to organise and grow. This is why the Socialist Party supports the struggles of workers living under political dictatorships to obtain "democratic rights" as before the war in fascist countries and recently in East Europe.

The Pope and King Billy


The article The Lies That Kill' (Socialist Standard, July 1990) on the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in Northern Ireland was topical. However, it did the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain no good to rehash historical error, even if it is convenient.

The comment on the third paragraph on the second page of the article which refers to the Treaty (or league) powers, of which the Pope was the head, that armed, provisioned and financed King Billy when he landed in Ireland has no historical fact. Even the way the historical myth is written is out of the normal context. It is normally associated with the landing in England in 1688 when the Pope Innocent XI was on the Papal Throne but this is erroneous too (see page 202, New Cambridge Modern History, Vol VI).

While it is a popular tale to abuse the Orange conception of the Battle of the Boyne the Pope did not have a Te Deum sung in St Peter's to mark William's victory. Indeed Pope Alexander was disturbed at the report that a Te Deum was sung in Austria where the Hapsburgs ruled—one of William's allies on the continent.
David Boyce 
Hamilton, Scotland.

If the purpose of David Boyce's remonstrance is historical accuracy, then is argument is worthy of examination. If it is intended to refute the contention in the article that the fictions, lies and historical rubbish that the opposing sides in Northern Ireland use to deceive the working class, then it is less worthy.

It is less worthy because, however valid the two points he makes may be, they represent a small part of our indictment of the viciously anti-working class and anti-democratic Orange Order. This organisation has consistently promoted the lie that Unionism and Orangeism represent a shield for workers who are protestants. It has. by its fascist-like posturings and its triumphalism, promoted hatred and division within the working class. It was founded on the lie of class collaboration and its contemporary existence epitomises the hypocrisy and distortion that forms one side of the substance of the lies that in Northern Ireland today bring death and destruction.

Mr Boyce raises two objections to the article: (1) That there is no basis in fact for the contention that King Billy was armed, provisioned and financed by the Treaty or League powers: (2) That the story of a Te Deum being sung in Rome in celebration of William's victory is a popular myth.

For his second contention he offers no evidence beyond his personal claim. Even so, it can be accepted that definitive evidence is impossible to find. James Connolly made the claim in Labour. Nationality and Religion and The Reconquest of Ireland and cited as one of his authorities the protestant historian, the Reverend Robert Murray's Revolutionary Ireland and Its Settlement. Among other historians who have backed Connolly are Beresford Ellis in History of the Irish Working Class and Klopp in The Fall of the House of Stuart. The latter cites Avaux and Macpherson as his authorities for reporting that the Catholic Austrian Court had ordered public prayers for the success of King Billy's expedition in Ireland.

Mr Boyce supports his first contention by a reference to Volume VI of the New Cambridge Modern History. The substance of the particular article is the English Revolution in which there is a footnote quoting a Von Pastor:
It has been said that Innocent XI supported or had some knowledge of the expedition. but the documents generally adduced for this are forgeries. It was impossible for Innocent to associate himself in any way with a Protestant against a Catholic prince.
None of the more prominent Irish and Anglo-Irish historians, past and present, support Von Pastor's contention that it was impossible for a Pope to support “a Protestant against a Catholic prince". Most of these writers make generous use of continental European historians and some of the latter say that Innocent XI was referred to as "the Protestant Pope” because of his close identification with William of Orange. Murray quoted Koch and Schoell's Histoire abrégé des traités de paix as follows:
The Pope supported the Imperial Alliance, for he aimed at the humiliation of France and he cared little whether this was brought about by Roman Catholic or Protestant means. Instead of a religious crusade headed by the Pope and the Emperor, Louis is met with the Grand Alliance, signed at Vienna, between William as Stadholder of Holland and Leopold, on 12th May 1689 against the policy of France. William bound himself to secure Germany against future aggression by Louis and Leopold undertook to support William from attack in Holland. England and Spain were also to join this League.
Mr Boyce must accept the factual evidence for the Grand Alliance, whose existence effectively refutes Von Pastor's version of events.

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