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.