Friday, September 15, 2023

Violence at School: Contradictions in the classroom (2003)

From the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every ruling class has a two-faced attitude to violence. When the members of a ruling class think their interests require it, they will use violence of a most extreme kind, dealing out death and injuries to “enemy” soldiers and civilians, and destruction to “enemy” cities. The American and British invasion of Iraq is a recent example. In its own territory, however, a ruling class will often aim at preventing physical violence. The more non-violent its own home society is, the fewer interruptions there will be to the steady production of surplus value for the ruling class – the more peaceful will be the labours of the waged and salaried workers for the benefit of the owning class.

Children, of course, learn much more from example (when they see how adults behave) than precept (when adults tell children how to behave). So they will probably grow up to be more docile workers in capitalism’s factories and offices if they are not beaten at home or school. That, at any rate, is how the British ruling class sees it, and thus there has been a “statutory ban on the infliction of corporal punishment in schools” (Times, 18 December 2002).

Shortly afterwards the same Government which had kindly stopped teachers hitting children joined with America to attack Iraq, with the result that some thousands of adults, and children, were killed or badly injured: like Ali Abbas, the boy whose family was killed, while he was left with many burns and no arms. It is also the same Government that locks up families who have come here without official permission – such as the Kurdish Ay family, a mother and four children, who were kept imprisoned for over a year before being forcibly sent out of the country (Independent on Sunday, 22 June, Times 15 August). (The father of the family, sent back to Turkey despite Turkey’s repression of the Kurds, has not been heard of since.)
 
The banning of corporal punishment didn’t please everybody. Some devout Christians felt that the Act took away their religious freedom. A number of “independent schools providing a Christian education based on biblical observance” (Times, 18 December 2002), supported by parents of children at the schools, went to court to establish their right to continue beating their pupils. They argued that the law took away their religious liberty to hit children, and so broke the European Convention on Human Rights, which established that “everyone has the right to freedom of . . . religion”. (Why shouldn’t children claim to belong to a religion that outlaws physical violence? And shouldn’t their right not to be hit take precedence over adults’ “rights” to hit them?) The schools asserted that “physical discipline” was “an integral part of the teaching and education of their children, whether in school or in the home”, and “citations from the Book of Proverbs were provided in support of the claimants’ beliefs, those being regarded as biblical precepts”. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments, so the Christian schoolteachers will sadly not be able to thump their scholars. They won’t be able to bring back the days the present writer can recall – when the Scripture teacher lost his temper with a boy who could not remember the next verse in the Bible passage the class was supposed to memorize, and attempted to knock it into his pupil physically – “The next verse, you blockhead, is ‘God is love’!”, whack! “God is love!” whack! – and so on.

But of course teachers are in many ways the first line of capitalism’s propaganda army: at least they are the first organized part of that army that many of us come across. So they cannot avoid the many inconsistencies and contradictions which are inherent in capitalist propaganda. I remember standing in the school playground in the thirties, in the rain, facing the flag on Empire Day, while the headteacher explained to us how lucky the other countries in the British Empire were that Britain was ruling over them. Then, when the war broke out in 1939, the head explained that we had to go to war to prevent one country ruling over other countries. What was very good when “we” did it was all wrong when others did it.

At the same time the teachers (although they would have indignantly refused to accept that they were part of “the working class”), were – as workers – under the constant strain of having to produce results in order to justify their salaries. One “Assembly”, at the beginning of morning school, when we had a religious service, as required by law, ended with the headmaster praying piously “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us . . . Amen”. Then his face became red with anger, and he shouted – “I saw some boys out of my window yesterday playing round my car, and they deliberately scratched it! Who was it? Who was it? I’ll get them!” When the miserable miscreants had been terrorized into owning up, they were sent to the head’s study to be caned immediately after Assembly, and the head clearly had no idea that there was any discrepancy between praying “as we forgive them that trespass against us”, in theory, and his rampant desire for revenge, in practice.

It is strange that it is only the more vulnerable members of the human race, children, who are supposed to gain from being beaten. Why did not these Christian schools claim that the headmaster could beat the house-masters, and the house-masters beat the ordinary teachers? Or why shouldn’t all the teachers beat the parents who haven’t paid their bills on time? It is quite true that texts from the Book of Proverbs advocate the beating of children, but there is no reason to stop there. If these Christian schools insist on following biblical instructions, why don’t they insist on their right to execute from time to time some unfortunate eccentric old woman, on the ground that the Bible (Book of Exodus, chapter 22, verse 18) says “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”? Not to mention another half-dozen denunciations of witches and witchcraft in the Bible. And don’t say there aren’t any witches: how could the Bible mention witches, and lay down what ought to happen to them, if there weren’t any?
Alwyn Edgar

Class notions and social conditioning (2003)

From the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

In capitalist society there is a massive emphasis on the individual. It is held up that we are all individuals and in complete control of our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The more benevolent propagators of this belief mean that everyone is a individual in a society of individuals, and that we can all work together for the benefit of all. This is closer to reality than the “individuality” that the ideologists of capitalism believe in. They propagate the world as a “dog-eat-dog” society where the strongest individual “justly” gets ahead by trampling on the others, as we see when capitalists boast of their successes. Often capitalists will put these down to their superior intellect or “strength of character”, claiming that everyone can live the lifestyle that they live if they work hard enough. That raises the question of what exactly the working class is doing if it isn’t hard work.

This kind of individuality, of getting ahead and to hell with anyone else, is in direct conflict with humans as social animals, and we can see the disastrous effect it can have. The world of miserable alienation that capitalism has created is a abomination to the irrefutable fact that humans are social creatures and function best within a form of collective community. It is often argued by socialists that this was the case far back in the mists of history, where humanity existed in a state of “primitive communism”, as in small groups of hunter-gatherers that would share the produce of their collective labour. Later, private property developed as a ruling class emerged for the first time. This new class had to defend its hold over the majority class, and in ancient society this was usually by means of a combination of superstition and violence. When the ancient world dwindled with the collapse of the Roman Empire, a new social/economic system emerged, feudalism. Feudalism is essentially a system where a feudal authority would demand payment of some form for protection against another rival authority. In time, another class – the ancestors of today’s capitalists – emerged to challenge the feudal aristocracy, and swept them away in a series of bloody revolutions, by necessity enlisting the help of the oppressed class. This led to modern capitalism. Always, the notions of the ruling class tended to become the notions of those it subjugated.

The current ruling class have cultivated such ideas as nationalism, propagating the illusion that we live in a society with a collective social interest. The more enlightened among them probably saw the effects of separating and alienating people from each other and their labour, and so stepped up the spreading of beliefs like nationalism in order to try and convince people that they were not so exploited as they really were, and that everyone had a common interest.

Nationalism is a relatively new concept for social control, since in feudal times religion was the principle method of control over the majority. The newly emerging capitalist class in Europe and later Russia had to shake the religious institutions that held sway in partnership with the aristocracy. This was sped up with the introduction of real scientific ideas, however this was not always enough to drive such ridiculous falsehoods from the minds of the people. A good example of this was just after the Russian revolution. This is generally held up as a socialist revolution, but what is clear to anyone who breaks through this misconception is that the Bolsheviks performed the role of introducing capitalist relations into Russia, and setting themselves up as a form of state bourgeoisie. Since the Russian church was a powerful ally of the Tsarist system, it had to be toppled from a position of power.

In modern capitalism, since the workers own no means of production in reality or practice, they may revolt against the unnatural separation of human from human and labour from labour, so the illusion of working collectively for the benefit of a larger community i.e. the nation, had to be propagated. To do this requires a steady flow of social conditioning and manipulation. This conditioning wouldn’t take root if people knew it was conditioning, the same way as false propaganda wouldn’t have the desired effect if people were to know they were being lied to.

It cannot be argued that the material world has no effect on the person as if every thought they have had has come from them and them alone. Human behaviour is defined by surrounding material and social conditions. Take a baby from London and raise it with a hill tribe in central Asia and it will act like one of them and follow their moral code. Take a baby from the same hill tribe and raise it in London and it will act like a Londoner, go to school, go to work, go shopping and follow the English moral code. It would be plausible to even go as far to say the idea of “individuality” cannot exist in the true sense of the word, since we are all affected by each other and the world we create, thus linked by our social nature. To be an individual in the sense that you were completely separate and define your own existence away from your species is entirely unworkable.

The representatives of the capitalist class insightful enough to understand the aspects governing human behaviour are only too eager to spread the ideas of individual “free will”, patriotism etc, as they see people coming to understand their material surroundings and the effect it has on human behaviour as a threat to the position of the ruling class. After all, if we understand each other and why people behave like they do, why would be bother with the continued existence of a minority class that conditions the majority with a worldview suited to majority exploitation?

On the whole it isn’t that calculated, because we know too well that the capitalist class have a great deal of trouble controlling the social/economic system their predecessors created. The philanthropists and reformists among them are, as always, deluding themselves by thinking that the system can somehow be turned into a society where meaning and genuine collectiveness can flourish. Often the case is that some reforms are granted, as a way of quashing worker militancy while still maintaining the capitalist class in a advantageous position. However, reforms have failed to bring comfort and meaning to most of the world’s population since the entire capitalist machine is geared towards a minority living off a majority. How can human thought and development be free to flourish when the material world that is inseparably tied to human thought is controlled by some untouchable alien power that does such horrific things as creating scarcity on purpose and making workers massacre each other for nothing but the interests of one or other ruling minority?

In our day, the capitalist class has naturally attempted to blanket the workers with its own class outlook, that of individuals and character strength determining positions of power, and that anyone who is clever enough can get to the top. While it is possible for a worker to leap up and join the capitalist class, the same way as a capitalist can be cast down into the workers, this is a extremely rare occurrence. In class society there has to be a ruling class, and a subjugated class, and since we live in capitalism, talk of “moving towards a classless society” is nothing but twaddle. The only way to truly move towards a classless society is for the subjugated majority class itself to throw off the hindering notions and ideas placed on it from its rulers, and then put a final end to the rulers, forever.
Dan Read

Russian billionaire won, workers nil (2003)

A couple of arseholes.
From the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The sale of Chelsea Football Club to the second richest man in Russia made a good story for the tabloids – and even the broadsheets. “From Russia with £3.4bn” and “Tycoon buys club with loose change” were typical headlines.

There were some spicy elements in the story. The price of Chelsea FC – a mere £140m – would have enabled Roman Abramovich easily to buy also Manchester Utd, Real Madrid and Juventus. The buyer is a youthful 36; his casual dress and unshaven appearance is not that of your archetypal billionaire. On top of that he is a foreigner, mysterious, somewhat reclusive and therefore of dubious character. Also a bit of a paradox: MP for a remote and poverty-stricken area in Siberia, spending one week a month there, the rest of his time on a vast estate in a heavily guarded area strictly off limits to the Russian public because the new wealthy live there.

Abramovich is interesting not so much for his foray into football, but as an exemplar of changes in Russia in the last few years which have made that country a leading player on the stage of world capitalism. In August 1998 there was a financial crash, the rouble was devalued, and international credit dried up after some defaults in payments. In the Yeltsin era businesses had been privatised in opaque deals which (according to the Guardian of 3 July) “make Britain’s privatisation fat cats look like lean models of self-denial by comparison.”

Astute businessmen like Abramovich were able to become extremely rich extremely fast by exploiting the laws which allowed companies to trade on the huge difference between Russian and western prices for raw materials. Abramovich’s businesses, which included oil, television and aluminium companies, grew in number and complexity. His companies are nested within companies within other companies, many of them outside Russia. His British interests are controlled by a holding company, Millhouse.

More can be learned about contemporary Russian capitalism from the 5 July 2000 issue of Worldlink, the magazine of the World Economic Forum. This magazine enables workers employed to help run capitalism in the interests of one set of exploiters to talk to workers employed to help run the same system in the interests of other exploiters. Apparently, things are looking up for Russian capitalists, especially those with political connections (Abramovich is said to be a close friend of President Putin). Earlier Russia had “poor” banking and tax systems. Now “liberal currency regulation allows enterprises and individuals to keep their money in good international banks instead.”

What do the Russian workers think of this new system compared with old-style “communism” (state capitalism)? Many of them are worse off and certainly not sharing in the prosperity of the privileged few. Insofar as there is a political opposition in Russia, it is centred on the old Communist Party beliefs. But, as Worldlink is happy to report: “The communists now only insist on more state enterprises and more state financing . . . Both the right and the left have come to their senses and settled for a normal market economy.”

No wonder Blair and Putin shake hands when they meet, no doubt congratulating each other on the success of the system – for themselves and their cronies. The workers have yet to realise that there is an alternative and to act together to bring it about.
Stan Parker

The Liberian crisis in perspective (2003)

From the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century rendered slaves in America redundant. Mechanised production methods turned slave labour into a fetter on production and consequently a drag on the profits of slave owners. To solve the problem, the slave owners and their representatives (US government) formed an NGO called the American Colonisation Society whose task was to ship slaves to their original home of Africa. This is how the American slaves came to be dumped in present-day Liberia.

Today this small country is deeply embroiled in a senseless internecine war that has seen thousands killed and many more maimed or displaced; this mainly because of the abundant natural resources found there. The Guinea Coast of West Africa has recently been found to be replete with oil deposits and natural gas and Liberia is said to possess one of the largest reserves of these. It is also generously endowed with precious minerals (gold, diamonds and quite recently 8 kymbalyte sites have been discovered). Its dense forest cover harbours timber, rubber, etc in addition there are abundant maritime resources.

Some people unfortunately seek to explain the problem in Liberia as being tribal in character. But like the ones in Congo, Ivory Coast and indeed all conflicts the world over, the tribal/ethnic element is a mere smokescreen. The real causes are found in the economic interests of the warlords and their sponsors and financiers in the big business community.

The wealth and resources of the region are owned and controlled by western business companies and the local leadership to the exclusion of the people. However, bereft of any revolutionary solution to this state of affairs, some seek to constitute themselves into a force that would replace the puppet local leadership and in turn control these resources not in the interests of the masses but for themselves. Thus they aspire to shift the balance of forces in favour mainly of new capitalist groups abroad that are also seeking to break the monopoly of the existing (mostly ex-colonial) business companies. But as the whole sordid affair resolves around personal monetary interests and profits, the alliances are not always as sincere and smooth as expected and loyalties easily shift. In an interview Charles Taylor granted Baffour Ankomah, the editor of New African magazine on 20 June 2002, this particular Liberian leader said “during the war there was full co-operation between me and Washington, and then we got into a different phase. And God willing, we’ve got to get back to the original place where I want to do business with America, I want to engage it”.

Arms industry
Prominent among the business interests deeply involved in the Liberian crisis and indeed all wars are those in the arms industry. Arms dealers do not only find warlords great partners, they actually instigate them and then stoke the fires of conflict. Even where countries are under UN arms embargo, the sanctions are circumvented through various means the most common being done through forging the end-user certificate. In the case of Liberia a 64-page UN report released at the end of October 2002 revealed that Liberia clandestinely bought and received more than 200 tons of weapons between June and August 2002 in spite of the 1992 UN arms embargo which was strengthened in 2001.

As for the rebels, it is no secret that weapons are openly sold to them by the almighty gunrunners, sometimes with the tacit connivance of UN “in the field”.

The immediate cause of the carnage is that the US, UK, Guinea and Sierra Leonean Kamajors (traditional hunter/warriors) have ganged up with a few Liberian rebels called LURD to cause havoc. The idea is to wage a proxy rebel war, get the Liberians to become fed up and rise up against the government. This fact was revealed by a confidential report of an Ecowas Military Mission to Liberia dated 14 June 2002.

When Charles Taylor “escaped” from prison in the US and went to Liberia and launched his rebel war in December 1989, he was in the good books of the US capitalists. The reason for his incarceration was an alleged embezzlement of some $900,000 which Samuel Doe’s government accused him of. At that time Taylor was the Director General of the state-owned General Services Agency. But at the same time Doe’s dictatorial rule had become so unpopular that change was imminent. The Americans knew this and actually needed a replacement. Thus the apparent orchestration of the jailbreak by the US authorities. He flew to Ghana from Boston but was immediately arrested by the Ghanaian authorities, as they believed it was impossible for an African to escape from a top security prison in the US. Needless to say the Americans in all likelihood got the Ghanaians to set him free. But before he captured Monrovia after years of fighting, he had a falling out with the Americans. It is believed that NPLF rebel fighters had cornered and wiped out President Doe’s Israeli commandos and the Israeli government vehemently protested to the US. And that was it.

That partly explains the breaking away from Taylor of Prince Y Johnson to form the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). It is interesting to note that no sooner had the UN Special Court on Sierra Leone been constituted than Prince Johnson intimated from his exile home in Nigeria that Liberians including Taylor be brought in to face war crime charges. This sour relation with US drew Taylor more and more close to the French capitalists who looted Liberian timber and other resources in return for an unflinching and consistent support in the war effort.

But things got worse with the Americans when Taylor began castigating the US for not having done anything meaningful to Liberia throughout its life as an American satellite state. He claimed for instance that the 1926 Firestone factory was only set up to rip off Liberian rubber and that Lamco situated at Bomi Hills only succeeded in creating a deep hole in the ground as the iron was depleted. But the straw to break the camel’s back was Taylor’s rejection of Dick Cheney’s Halliburton oil deals. Desmond Davies, editor of West Africa magazine writes in the 26th May – 1st June 2002 issue:
“Liberia is another country in which Halliburton (once operated by US vice president Dick Cheney) was keen to do business. This may come as a surprise, given the antagonistic stance the Bush administration has taken towards President Charles Taylor’s government. But Halliburton knows how to apply pressure on embattled governments in the hope of getting concessions."
It seems that a couple of years ago Halliburton’s representatives made Charles Taylor an offer he could not refuse: “give us oil-drilling rights and we will help remove the international pariah status of the Liberian government”. (By the way, there is oil in Liberia as in the case of neighbouring Sierra Leone.) Taylor, who was keen to see UN sanctions removed, agreed and Halliburton was asked to draw up an agreement.

The company’s representatives duly returned with an agreement. But one wise head at the Central Bank in Monrovia asked for a second opinion. The agreement was referred to a Canadian oil lawyer, who is based in the US, to go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

After serious perusal of the agreement, the lawyer came back with his verdict: the deal was not in the interest of Liberia and, therefore, the government should not sign. That was it. And that’s how Taylor came up with “Liberia is not for sale”.

Given the failure of Halliburton to secure a deal in Liberia, it is not surprising that the US administration wants to see the back of Taylor.

In fact as far back as 1997 when Taylor won the elections CNN’s Diplomatic Licence programme “predicted” that his government would not last a year or six months. So desperate was the US in seeing Taylor out that while he was away attending the peace talks in Ghana last June the US embassy in Monrovia unsuccessfully attempted to oust him through vice president Blah.

UN experts (under US control), who in spite of the untold suffering and the countless deaths, recently described the effect of the UN sanctions on the people as “negligible”, explicitly expressed that the crisis in Liberia is according to the agenda of the powers that be. The UN also showed its involvement in the affair when it demanded financial reports how Liberia spends its income.

In November 2002 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf admitted in an interview with a local newspaper the Analyst that the opposition was not prepared to assume leadership. And yet the US, as reported by Radio France International on 6 August, is pushing for Johnson-Sirleaf to step in as interim president when Taylor is finally pushed away. On the other hand it was clear at the Ecowas-led summit in Ghana that both rebel groups (LURD and MODEL) do not have any know-how to deal with the issues that go beyond waging a war of terror. They do not have a political agenda, not a policy document to guide them.

But perhaps the last card for the US is the indictment by David M Crane, the American chief prosecutor of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Americans feared that the peace talks in Ghana could abate or even halt hostilities altogether in Liberia. In that case general election, due to be held in October 2003 would go ahead peacefully. Now, in spite of Taylor’s “problems” (which many Liberians seem to understand were imposed by some outside forces) he would win. So to forestall such an unwanted possibility, the indictment that was judicially approved on 7 March was finally slapped on Taylor on 4 June in time to prevent cessation of the massacres.

Finally it was instructive to hear the South African authorities claiming rather naively that the stepping down of Taylor would be an example of an African solution to an African problem. But what else could they say as loyal sycophantic servants of US-led capitalist interests? The problem in Liberia is not African; it is not western; it is a global, profits-making issue! It is big business. But above all the solution is not Taylor stepping down. It is the profit system getting out.
Suhuyini

Greasy Pole: All at Sea (2003)

The Greasy Pole column from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was 20 June 1966 and Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister extraordinaire, was addressing the House of Commons. It was not a good time for him. His government were in panic after the discrediting of their beguiling prospectus about the effortless erection of an all-embracing, sustainable prosperity. (What, you may ask, is new?) But Wilson was a past master at wriggling out of such situations, often by diverting attention onto scapegoats. For example there were the gnomes of Zurich – financiers operating in Switzerland where, apart from boringly making clocks, they concerned themselves with manipulating the currency markets so as to do something which Wilson called “selling sterling short”. Then there were people who had to keep their eye on the clocks so as to be in work on time, who did not have enough sterling to worry about whether it was sold short or long but who, because they were putting up a fight against the government’s attempts to depress their living standards, were called “wreckers”. In fact they were motivated by a constructive desire to stop the government wrecking their modest expectations of life under Labour’s capitalism – in employment, wages, housing and medical care.

When he got to his feet that day Wilson had another scapegoat to brandish. This was a vision as scary as any currency gnome for it was one of a “tightly-knit group of politically motivated men” who were bent on undermining all the government’s efforts to realise their prospectus. Anyone hearing those words might have been excused for thinking that Wilson was warning people about himself because it would have been difficult to think of anyone more politically motivated – a more passionate and artful exponent of the underhand arts of political manipulation – than himself. And while it would not have been true to describe his Cabinet colleagues as “tightly knit” (because, typically, they were in persistent intrigue against each other) they included quite a few – Jim Callaghan, Richard Crossman, Denis Healey – who were sharply talented in playing the political game.

Strike
But of course politicians do not make a habit of criticising themselves, or apologising for their mistakes and broken promises. When Wilson talked about politically motivated men he was not denouncing his fellow tricksters in the Cabinet; he was talking about the executive of the National Union of Seamen, who were in the throes of a strike which had lasted a month and which was seen by the government as a fundamental challenge to one of their most important policies. Soon after they came to power the Wilson government had changed their line about introducing prosperity for everyone; it was now necessary to postpone the great day when all our problems would be solved. Meanwhile it was necessary for us to go through a time of austerity, which included voluntary restrictions on pay (used in this way the word “voluntary” means that unless a policy is accepted readily it will be imposed). This was a common policy of governments at that time, whether Tory or Labour and the degree of austerity varied. When the seamen were on strike the norm for rises had been fixed at 3.5 percent. The seamen were struggling for a reduction in their working week which would have amounted to a 17 percent pay rise. Crossman thought that the shipowners would have settled for that but the government – notably prominent ex-trade unionists like George Brown and Ray Gunter – considered the pay policy too important to be compromised. (Crossman also thought that, for a time, Wilson wanted to smash the seamen’s union). It was a bitter dispute, which at any rate clarified beyond doubt for even the blindest and most ardent Labour supporter where their government stood and what its purpose was in power.

Among the tightly-knit politically motivated men in the gallery of the Commons listening to Wilson that day was a young man by the name of John Prescott. A few years before he had been a steward on a posh liner – something which the corpulent and sterile Tory MP Nicholas Soames relentlessly enjoys reminding him of by calling at him across the floor of the House: “A whisky and soda for me, Giovanni and a gin and tonic for my friend”; (this is an example of what passes for humour in the Mother of Parliaments). In 1966 Prescott had recently come ashore to work as an official of the NUS. He was a union militant, who had been blacklisted by three shipping lines and had once been sacked by the captain of the Mauretania, who was forced to re-employ him when the rest of the crew walked out. Prescott was particularly active in the strike; “We fight a good fight,” he declared, “and we are proud to ask for the solidarity and support of the labour movement at this critical time”. And he offered the kind of analysis of the background to the strike which would not find favour with a Labour minister:
“. . . behind the Government, in its resistance to our just demands, stand the International Banks, the financial powers which really direct the Government’s anti-wages policy . . .”
Those were the days when he was building the reputation which still persuades desperate, disgruntled Labour supporters to look to him as the true conscience of their party. He still manages to excite and console them, in spite of his two Jaguars and his concern for the integrity of his wife’s hairdo on a windy conference sea front, for he is the minister who raged about Tony Blair thinking he was “fucking Jesus Christ” and who had a punch-up with a man who threw an egg at him during an election campaign.

Flags of Convenience
The seamen’s strike was about pay and conditions in an industry which, because of its peculiar nature, can make many of its workers vulnerable to a harsher degree of exploitation. There is, to begin with, the danger. There is the lack of security of employment. There is the separation from home, for long periods. There is the close, confined living conditions on board. There is the discipline, which can at times be almost military. These are some of the factors which have worked against effective trade unions and allowed the owners to boost their profits by employing the ruse of Flags of Convenience – registering their ships in countries which offer low or no taxes, where there may be a laxer attitude towards environmental issues as well as those of health and safety on board and where it is possible to recruit lower paid and more compliant crews by tapping into a supply of cheap labour abroad. Under Flags of Convenience it has been known for a ship to be taken through a process of registration and leasing in several countries, so complex that in the end it is difficult to tell who owns it and is responsible for paying the crew’s wages. This set-up may be very lucrative for the maritime lawyers and the accountants but not so welcome for the crew.

In his former life as a trade unionist Prescott was always clear about what needed to be done, and what he intended to do, about protecting the welfare of his fellow workers. He declared the same kind of concerns when he began to climb the greasy pole. In his party’s published maritime policy he assured sailors that a Labour government would “ensure that seafarers are protected by all relevant UK employment law” and in 1996 he told the Seafarers Conference of the RMT: “We want to ensure that this trade uses British ships with British crews, working in good conditions . . . we must not allow exemptions to deny seafarers their rights as in the past.” But it has turned out that Prescott was just as ready to go back on promises as the Labour ministers he had so emphatically denounced during the 1966 strike. In June this year the government introduced new regulations which encouraged British ship owners to take on sailors from abroad at pay rates much lower than the national wage – sometimes at rates as low as two pounds an hour. About 60 percent of the workforce on British ships are from abroad; a union spokesman said the present situation on recruitment is such that “John Prescott would be very lucky to get a job as a bar steward on any ship based in Hull. Certainly all the catering jobs are being taken by Poles or Portuguese”. The minister responsible for piloting the regulations through Parliament excused the policy of encouraging the ship owners to search out cheaper labour by assuring us that low pay was alright for workers from countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, Poland or Portugal because they were “well off” by wage standards in their home country. It sounded almost as attractive for the employers as the Flags of Convenience.

MPs Angry
Naturally the proposed regulations brought forth a spasm of protest from Labour MPs, as if we are not accustomed by now to such futile posturing while the government carries on the day to day organisation of British capitalism, looking after the profits of the ruling class in whatever industry. Since 1929 every Labour government has come into office or power promising to learn from, and to avoid, the mistakes of their predecessors but in practice they have operated in roughly the same way. Prescott once put it like this :
“The goodwill of the bankers, the ill-will of the working class. How familiar a story that is of Labour Governments, when we cast our minds back to Ramsay MacDonald and the 1929-31 government”(Not Wanted On Voyage;The Seamen’s Reply, with Charlie Hodgins, June 1966).
But now he is a member of a government which is performing just like those who were discredited in the past. Blair’s government are as ruthless in running the capitalist system, under which workers are exploited for the enrichment of the employing class and to solidify the ruling status of that class. And one of its most ardent defenders is the man who came up from being a ship’s steward to trade union militant to Labour MP to Deputy Prime Minister. There may be sailors who were na├»ve enough to believe that to have people like Prescott in the seats of power would improve their life prospects. They should have learned a bitter lesson.
Ivan

A Devil’s Chaplain (2003)

Book Review from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Devil’s Chaplain by Richard Dawkins (Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2003)

The ironic title of this collection of essays comes from a letter Darwin wrote to a friend commenting on his own work, Origin of the Species: “What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write . . .” Most of the essays here concern Darwin’s intellectual legacy. Dawkins is probably the world’s foremost advocate of Darwinism – or as he prefers to call it, “Neo-Darwinism.” His uncompromising defence of scientific method and scorn for irrationally held beliefs has earned Dawkins some notoriety, and some reviewers of this book have been dismayed by what they perceive as his arrogance. But what is offensive to some is refreshingly outspoken to others.

The core of Darwinism, argues Dawkins, is the “theory that evolution is guided in adaptively nonrandom directions by the nonrandom survival of small random hereditary changes.” Several of the essays here defend and expand on that theory. But at the same time as Dawkins supports Darwinism as a science, he states “I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.” This corrects the impression which may have been given to some by his earlier book The Selfish Gene that we are all somehow prisoners of our genes. He denies ever holding a belief in genetic determinism in the sense that genes determine social behaviour.

Dawkins’s withering criticism is mainly directed at religion and associated beliefs. Yet it is important to realise that Dawkins is not being gratuitous; where irrational beliefs affect us all they should be subject to the closest scrutiny. Dawkins tells the story of a TV debate he had with a cleric (later elevated to the House of Lords). The cleric refused to shake hands with any women in the studio for fear that they might be menstruating and so be, in religious terms, “unclean.” Dawkins’s comment is typical Dawkinsism: “They took the insult more graciously than I would have, and with the ‘respect’ always bestowed on religious prejudice – but no other kind of prejudice”. Dawkins is an honorary member of the Rationalist Press Association, and it’s safe to say he is no socialist, though he did come out publicly against the recent Gulf War.
Lew Higgins

Party News: Ukraine (2003)

Party News from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this column in March we reported that a party had been formed in the Ukraine with the same object and declaration of principles as us,

It now turns out that a hoax was involved, part of an elaborate scam to extract money from political groups in  Europe and North America to finance the activities of a Trotskyist group in the Ukraine (a sister organisation of Militant in this country in the so-called "Committee for a Workers International"). Members of this group would contact groups in the West by email feigning agreement with the latter's political positions. Money sent ended up in the coffers of the Trotskyist group. At least ten groups seem to have been taken in by this scam including, besides ourselves, the SLP of America, the Socialist Studies group, and various rival Trotskyist outfits to Militant.

We know that vanguardist groups resort to underhand tactics as a matter of principle but this is a particularly devious example.

Letter: Reply from Labour Party (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
A member of the Labour Party’s media team has sent the following reply to the article “Has the Labour Party Lost its Way ?” in last month’s issue:
The Labour Party claims to be a Democratic Socialist Party and as I am sure you know, Social Democacy has never, ever, claimed to be “revolutionary”, but “reformist”. This means to work within the existing socio/political system etc. etc.

The article explains that quite clearly and anyone who has been around the Labour Movement for any number of years would appreciate that the present Labour Govenment is following the Social Democratic path

What’s new?
Terry White, 
Communications Unit, Labour Party

50 Years Ago: Who are the Victors in Korea? (2003)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Korean Armistice
After three years of war—the last two years of it accompanied by bargaining between the leaders of the two sides—an armistice has been signed in Korea. As the smoke drifts away from the last shell and the last bomb, as the last wounded are taken to hospital and the last dead are buried, the conflict is continued in the statements put out by each side. The boastfulness of the United Nations leaders claiming that the war has ended in a victory for them is equalled only by the boastfulness of the Russian and Chinese Governments claiming the same thing. But what are the real results of the war? Who has gained, and who has lost?

The balance-sheet
On the Soviet side the war was fought by the soldiers of China and North Korea. On the United Nations side, the troops were supplied by South Korea, the United States, and sixteen other nations. One has only to read the casualty-lists to know that the peoples of these countries, at any rate, lost by the war. The Commonwealth countries lost one thousand dead and five times that number wounded and prisoners. The Americans had twenty-three thousand dead, and more than a hundred thousand wounded. The casualties of the Chinese and North Korean armies have been estimated at two million (Times, 28-7-53). As for North Korean people, they were subjected to one of the heaviest bombardments of modern times by American planes; and of the ten million North Koreans at the beginning of the war, John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State, now calculates that one in three have died as a result of the war (Times, 28-7-53). It is difficult to find an estimate of the South Korean casualties, but they can scarcely be low, since the original South Korean Army was largely destroyed in the first North Korean advance; and towards the end of the war the South Korean Army, reconstituted by the Americans, was holding three-quarters of the line and was bearing the brunt of repeated Chinese attacks. Altogether, some five million people at the very least, must have died in the Korean peninsula as the result of the war.

The Socialist attitude
To Socialists, Korea is a demonstration of the brutality of capitalist states struggling among themselves; a reminder that war is the only final arbiter of the differences which are inevitable under capitalism; and a foretaste of what is in store if the rulers of each side decide on another “big” war.

(From an article by A.W.E., Socialist Standard, September 1953)

Houses off the Conveyor Belt (1944)

From the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

The need to resort to a more rapid technique of building, in face of the unprecedented shortage of housing facing us at the end of the war, has occupied the minds of our ruling class, its government and technical advisers, for some considerable time. Houses made in standardised sections, mass produced in factories and rapidly assembled on the site, were being considered. We who may have to live in them have been duly warned of what to expect by articles and reports in the daily papers. Most of these seemed anxious to assure us that the only thing wrong with prefabrication was the name, and that houses built by this method could be every bit as good as houses built by the more traditional methods (our emphasis).

The under-current of support and opposition by various sectional interests need not concern us here. The fact is that the Government has now decided to build factory-made temporary houses during a two years’ period after the war in the hope of weathering the storm which will occur on demobilisation.

Socialists are not concerned with what could be the advantages of prefabrication as viewed in an economic and social vacuum. We do, however, consider it necessary to point out some important aspects of the question as they exist under capitalism.

In announcing the Government’s decision. Lord Portal, Minister of Works, stated that these pre-fabricated houses would be “publicly owned” and licensed for only ten years. (Speech in House of Lords, News-Chronicle, 9.2.44.)

It follows therefore that an attempt will be made to produce these houses at a cost to some extent related to their limited life. Experience so far in this country and America has not shown that by means of factory methods any reduction in cost can be achieved which is at all commensurate with this reduced life.

We can therefore expect a reduction in those standards, such as they are, to which we have been accustomed in new housing. Moreover, the mere issue of a licence is no guarantee that at the end of ten years these houses will be pulled down. If alternative accommodation is not available, it will not be an unprecedented occurrence if the State extends the licence on what would be, after all, in spite of the words “publicly owned” its own houses. Having in mind the halting development of housing programmes after the last war, and the fact that the economic conditions which produced scarcity prices and subsidy cuts will be the same, it seems reasonable to doubt whether sufficient permanent houses will be available at the end of the ten years’ period. The slums of to-morrow may only differ from those of yesterday in the fact that they will be prefabricated.

With regard to prefabrication in general and as applied to ordinary houses, one of the main arguments put forward in its favour has been the fact that cost of production could be considerably reduced if mass production on a sufficient scale were achieved. Experts write as if this would be of some advantage to the occupiers. Some go as far as suggesting that the money saved would be spent on improved equipment or better standards of accommodation.

Let the workers have no illusions. Improved housing will not come by these means. If the cost of housing, and therefore rents can be generally reduced, this will only give our employers an excuse to reduce wages.

The official attitude is well expressed in the following extract from the Report of the Departmental Committee on Housing (Ministry of Health, 1933): —
“In arriving at the suggested figures of subsidy we have had regard to existing levels of cost. We are, however, far from accepting the position that no further economies can be made in planning and construction of working class dwellings. . . . We consider that the position should be reviewed at frequent intervals with a view to reduction of the subsidy. …” (p. 27).
And how would this reduction in cost of production be achieved? By the replacement of skilled labour by unskilled, with its consequent reduction in wages. By a reduction in building time, and therefore of the number of workers required.

In a recent conference report, architects and builders expressed themselves as being “deeply concerned, both as to the future of the industry and conditions with regard to wages and employment if factory operatives and unskilled labour should supplant their building technique and the work of the craftsmen.” (The Architects Journal. 27.1 44, p. 90.)

Reduced building costs means to the workers lower wages and more unemployment. Just as the introduction of factory methods and machinery have always done.

Under Socialism an improvement in building methods would mean better buildings and more leisure—not so under capitalism,
John Moore

Tory Reform—The Old, Old Story (1944)

From the June 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

A group of Conservative Members of Parliament, over forty of them, have drawn up a Statement, and formed themselves into the Tory Reform Committee. As a result, they say, of joint work on a number of separate issues, like the Beveridge Report, Post-War Reconstruction, the Catering Bill, Civil Aviation, War Pensions, Education, and so on, they have found “that there exists among us a common outlook on the principles which should govern the conduct of political affairs.”

We are therefore dealing with a considered written statement by an influential group of prominent Tory M.P.s—(Forward! by the right; a Statement by the Tory Reform Committee)—giving some indication of their estimate of the shape of things to come, and their reaction to them.

They start off with what will probably be the main theme of the Armistice and post-war years : —
“The spirit of National Unity, developed in war and consecrated on the battlefields, must be preserved in the period of reconstruction.

The chief task of statesmanship will be to maintain that unity, and carry that spirit on into the years of peace.

There must be give and take between all classes of the community, between employers and workers … if the national objectives are to be obtained.” (p. 2.)
We can certainly agree with Viscount Hinchingbrooke there. As usual, we the workers will give, and they, the Tory employers—will take.

We are very promptly informed in the next point what the spirit of national unity is for : —
“The standard of living of this country can only be restored and improved if maximum production is regarded as the joint responsibility of capital, management and labour, working as partners.” (p. 3.)
The next bit is almost word for word what we read in Mr. Arthur Deakin’s articles in the Transport Workers’ Record : —
“We consider that a man who invests his skill and labour in an industry should feel an interest in and exercise an influence over that industry, equal in degree, if not in kind, to that exercised by the man who invests his savings.” (p. 3.)
So that’s where the Hon. W. W. Astor and Sir Alfred Beit got their wealth—they saved it up.
“To this end we welcome the extension of Production Committees.” (p. 3.)
After saying that Trade Unions will help in the future towards “increased efficiency,” they pronounce against the retention of war-time controls—”management must be given full and unhampered freedom.”

Two further great reforms are income-tax collection on current earnings and “a prosperous agriculture.” Then comes Compulsory Military Service.
“We regard Compulsory Military Service as an essential part of our democratic system.” (p. 4.)
The reason for Compulsory Military Service (Conscription) is given in the next spasm : —
The Principle of Empire Unity.

“Only as a United Commonwealth can we play our proper part with America, Russia and China in any international organisation which may be devised for world security. (p. 5.)

It will no longer be sufficient to say that each part of the Empire is primarily responsible for its own local defence unless at the same time adequate Imperial forces of all arms are so disposed throughout the world that they can be moved in sufficient time to defend any threatened points. (p. 5.)
“We recognise the need to ensure that British industry is at least as well equipped as that of its industrial rivals,” they say.

They require the maintenance of high standards of “industrial efficiency” (p. 8). They hold a substantial increase in our export trade to be essential “if this country is ever to regain the standard of living to which it has been accustomed.” which can only be achieved “if industry is enterprising in the quest for markets” (p. 9). They want the birth-rate to be increased (Family Allowances).
"There must be “state ownership of certain monopolies,” and a revival of “a widespread healthy and vigorous private enterprise.” (p. 10.)
A point for the Labour Party : —
“The nationalisation of the Bank of England would therefore make no practical difference.” (p. 12.)
Finally, they say on Demobilisation and Resettlement : —
“At the end of the last war, carefully prepared plans had to be abandoned because the Services did not understand, and therefore would not accept them. (p. 14.)
Summing up.
No Socialist ever expected the Conservative Party, not oven its Reform Committee, to have any proposals whatever for the solution of to-day’s social problem.

We have cited the actual written words of their own publication on policy, to show that their only possible idea at the conclusion of this war is to start all over again, still more scientifically, with Conscription, the Beveridge Report, increased efficiency, better education, greater export trade, larger share of the market, increased armaments—the same old game of a dog chasing its own tail, which leaves the worker in the same position as before.

Stupid workers who are led away by this sort of rubbish, or the feeble imitation of it called the Labour Party, or the I.L.P., cannot expect anything else than hard work, low wages and insecurity until the next war, when a new Tory Reform Committee will issue “the old, old story that is ever new.”
Horatio.