Thursday, December 14, 2023

50 Years Ago: Oil — The Prize in the Middle East (2005)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fahoud is the name of the spot in the Arabian desert that is the centre of the drama being played out with repercussions throughout the Eastern Mediterranean lands, and Fahoud spells oil. Mr. Noel Barber, correspondent of the Daily Mail told the story in the issues of 31 October and 7 November.
"A year ago no white man had ever been there. Today, under the lea of a great escarpment — with the nearest natural water-hole more than 100 miles away — there lies a small cluster of huts and tents, and by the side an airstrip. It is Fahoud, a name you can find on no map. In it live a sturdy band of lonely men, Britain's advance force in the war for oil that daily gathers momentum in the Middle East . . . Fahoud pinpoints the struggle for oil being fought by vast concerns in Wall Street and the City, by diplomats in Geneva, and in clashes between troops patrolling the tenuous desert boundaries. It is the battle between the Saudis and the British, between America and Britain for mastery in the world's richest oilfield." - (Daily Mail, 7/11/55).
As Noel Barber says of his report: "It is a story that might have been written 60 years ago, when 'outposts of Empire' were fashionable."

He points out that British and American interests clash. American oil companies are closely connected with the ownership and development of the concession oil fields in Saudi Arabia, while British companies, and the British Government, are associated with the Aden Protectorate, the Sultan of Muscat and the Sheikh Abu Zhabi. After attempts to settle the dispute by arbitration had broken down, Sir Anthony Eden announced in the House of Commons on 26 October that "native troops, commanded by British officers, had reoccupied the Buraini Oasis after a skirmish with Saudi Arabian forces who marched in three years ago." (Daily Mail, 31/10/55).

[From article by 'H', Socialist Standard, December 1955]

At Home and Abroad . . . (1971)

The Home and Abroad Column from the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Review December 1971

At Home

It is impossible to sympathise with the howls of frustrated rage over the cynical semantics of the Compton report on the interrogation methods of the British in Northern Ireland. The military correspondent of the Daily Telegraph pointed out that the methods employed were also used on some British shock troops, with the idea of training them to resist pressure if they were ever captured. This was of course a poor attempt at justifying the methods used by the British but it did underline the fact that brutal interrogation is widely used, on all sides, in war. And anyone who really expected the inquiry to come up with anything other than a whitewash themselves need some sort of interrogation but on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Cynical semantics have also been used by government spokesmen about two of their most pressing problems. When he addressed the well-fed Institute of Directors at their annual conference, Chancellor of the Exchequer Barber forgot all about the mounting unemployment and claimed that we are about to experience the biggest boom for years, that the economy is expanding and that price restraint is working. Perhaps he was drunk—the directors always enjoy a good lunch, with a small bottle of wine. Shortly afterwards Barber’s colleague Peter Walker, not to be outdone, was burbling out the same stale old promises about housing which we have been hearing for so long. His new Housing Bill, he said, is the most important reform in the field this century and then, like housing ministers before him, he made the ritual promise about slums. Walker, who lives in a posh house himself, reckons that he will have cleared the slums up in ten years. There is no mitigating evidence, that he was drunk.


Never before have the protests about Bomb tests been taken as high as those about America’s latest one underneath the island of Amchitka. If this indicates a heightening of the energy of the protesters, it also hints that their unrealistic hysteria is becoming acute. Surely they didn’t expect the Supreme Court to rule that human interests should come before those of the American ruling class? To overturn every priority, every assumption, upon which capitalism everywhere works? Perhaps in future they will realise the order of things under capitalism and then begin working against the system instead of against one of its effects.

Meanwhile, another of the world’s nuclear powers—and one where there is no opportunity to protest against its Bomb tests—was finally allowed to join the club. China’s entry into the United Nations, although a big diplomatic defeat for Nixon, showed the contempt with which the UN (which, we may remember, was once going to be the means to a securely peaceful world) is treated by the world powers. In the old days America would never have allowed such a defeat. For after all the fine words and the lies about it, the United Nations is little more than an international gangsters’ club. It is fitting that the latest recruit to the top league of international capitalism should at last be welcomed into it—bombs and all.


Despite the recent upheaval in the Labour Party over the Common Market, it was a fairly safe bet that Jenkins would beat Foot for the Deputy Leadership. Most of the press applauded the vote, as a sign that Labour is still interested in men of principle and honesty. In its present depression, Labour could do with a new hope; even the problems which the Tories are finding in trying to run British capitalism have not yet erased the memories of those six gloomy years of Labour rule. So once again we have a rising star, who is going to lead us to yet another promised land. In this one incident we have all the history of capitalist politics; promise and disillusionment, confidence and panic, hope and despair. This wearying process goes on year in and year out, with each successive leader being hailed as the answer to our problems then quickly exposed for a futile trickster. And none of them, yet, has been honest enough to admit it.

Honesty is a word very foreign to the Communist Party, whose recent national congress came well up to the expectations of those who always look to the Communists to provide some hilarious political double acts. This year, of course, they had to talk about Northern Ireland, and to hammer out a typical reformist line. They showed a touching concern for the catholic minority, then took the line that the best thing to happen was for the British troops, whose methods have been under such fire, to stay there. This was typical of the confusion and the trickery of the Communist Party, who as usual are dabbling their hands in the blood of the workers in the hope of fishing up a few miserable scraps of ignorant support.

Blogger's Note:
See the article, 'Northern Ireland: The Gentle Art of Interrogation ', from the same issue of the Socialist Standard.

Doing the Splits (1971)

From the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

How seriously should we take the splits in the Labour and Conservative parties over the Common Market ? Is there likely to be some massive realignment of capitalist politics, with Roy Jenkins leading a coalition of Liberals and pro-Market Labourites in a new party ? Will the great machine of capitalist politics suffer irreparable damage, or can we still sleep of nights secure in the knowledge that it will continue to deceive, coerce and exploit us ?

To begin with, nobody should allow themselves to think that the splits have anything to do with principles. Of course all members of the capitalist parties say their political allegiance is based on principle, but issues like the Common Market, which they say are also matters of fundamental principle, cross the party lines so that George Brown agrees with Heath, Wilson with Enoch Powell and so on. This shows how flexible are the “principles” of our parties and it tells us something about their splits.

One notable, but not unusual, feature of the splits over the Common Market is that both the big parties are suffering at the same time. This makes it difficult for either of them to adopt the attitude of pious shock which they affect when only the other side is split. Then they can say that such disputes are evidence of their opponents’ irresponsibility. When they themselves are divided on some issue they claim that this goes to show what a lively lot they are, vibrant with debate yet tolerant and united enough to contain the argument and apply it for the benefit of all those voters outside. This is all part of the jolly game of politics.

In this country, it is the Labour Party who have become famous for their splits, very often splashing them into the public eye. This has tended to promote the idea that the Tories are more stable and united but there is some evidence that this is not true. Since the 1929 Labour government, the Labour Party have had only four leaders—Lansbury, Attlee, Gaitskell and now Wilson—and of these Lansbury was never more than a caretaker after the defection of MacDonald. During the same period the Tories have had seven leaders —Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Home and Heath—and in almost every case they have changed to the accompaniment of a public dispute.

At the same time, behind those gentlemanly Tory facades, there have been fierce splits over matters of policy. For example, Macmillan was much occupied with persuading his party to move out of the Edwardian era (which he was said to personify) and to accept the decline of the British Commonwealth. This seemed to be no more than accepting the obvious and the inevitable, but Macmillan was bitterly fought by a strong section of the Tories headed by Lord Salisbury, who always looked and spoke and thought like an archetypal Tory backwoodsman. For Salisbury, the final blow was the surrender of independence to Cyprus and he resigned to snipe at the Tories for their policies on the old Empire and to mumble about the shocking treatment being handed out to our kith and kin in Rhodesia.

Life was no more placid for the Tories before the war. They were split on the best method of dealing with the rebirth of German capitalism; when that matter was settled in the forties they found scapegoats for their own doubts and disunity in Baldwin and Chamberlain. Of these two, Chamberlain always kept a pretty firm grip on his party, at least until the end, but Baldwin’s career at the top was almost continual turmoil, as he was under constant attack.

The Labour Party do not have the Tories’ reputation of the party of gentlemen and usually conduct their rows like public house brawls. Perhaps that is why they are so famous for their splits, which have very often blinded the voters to the fact that Labour is always solidly united on the basic issue of trying for power to run British capitalism. Their most damaging split, in 1931, was not on any fundamental issue; they were united in the opinion that the working class had to suffer in some way during that time of crisis for British capitalism. None of them ever suggested Socialism as a way out of the whole sorry mess.

Having survived the debacle in 1931, Labour had a comparatively tranquil time until they came to power after the war, when the group which eventually became known as the Bevanites were constantly rocking the boat, which was in any case leaky and unstable. Here again the splits were never on fundamentals but were always over the best—often, quite openly, the most vote catching — methods of running British capitalism. In the end, at the Brighton conference of 1957, Bevan shocked many of the followers to whom he was a new Messiah by publicly making his peace with Gaitskell. The conference was debating nuclear armaments and Bevan, who was supposed to be the man who would guide us all to Socialism, argued that British capitalism needed these arms to protect its position against the other capitalist powers and that failure to recognise this would be electorally disastrous.

At that time the Labour Party, in the aftermath of Suez, were smelling the approach of power. In the event the Tories hung on and when the election came in 1959 Labour’s defeat threw them into another uproar of dispute, with the Gaitskellites arguing that the party’s traditional policies (or rather their traditional propaganda, because the policies were so easily ignored by governments) should be abandoned. This was to be, not because the policies were not socialist, not even that they went against working class interests under capitalism. It was simply that they lost the party votes. The next couple of years saw another row, this time over nuclear weapons, until Wilson came along and settled the whole matter by running British capitalism with a single-minded concern for the interests of the ruling class, while assuring everybody that he was doing something entirely different.

It very often happens, that a split reveals a future leader—sometimes in the role of peacemaker, like Wilson, sometimes as a man of honesty. In this Common Market split in the Labour Party, Roy Jenkins has come into prominence; he has been a consistent supporter of British capitalism joining Europe and perhaps one explanation of all the coverage he has had recently is the publicity boys’ surprise at finding a politician who says the same thing on more than one occasion.

It is distinctly pathetic, to see the Labour Party putting so much faith in Jenkins, perhaps as an overreaction to the exposure of Wilson as a tawdry trickster. They were once similarly hopeful about Wilson, as they were about all the many leaders who disappointed them before. Once again they are ignoring facts; the records show that Jenkins is no less cynical, no less a vote-grabbing politician, than the rest. For example, in a book he wrote in 1959 — The Labour Case — he avowed that Labour’s policies could be carried out “. . . without any question of an increase in the tax burden. On the contrary, they should leave room for substantial reductions.”

Apart from the fact that Jenkins was here descending in his anxiety to grab votes for his party, to pandering to the ignorance of workers who think the level of taxation affects their material interests, it is clear now that he was making another of those empty politicians’ promises. The Wilson government based a lot of their policies on steeply increased taxation—and Jenkins, as Chancellor of the Exchequer for about two years, was directly responsible for a lot of it. He was the inspiration for a lot of the Wilson government’s attacks on workers’ living standards, frequently lecturing us from the television screen on our spendthrift ways which were causing such terrible poverty among the grouse moors and the slums of Park Lane and Eaton Square. In a recent debate in the Commons (see The Guardian, 10 November 1971) he denounced unemployment just as if his government was not in power when it first became a serious problem and attacked the Tories for their ". . . silly little argument . . . that unemployment was an inevitable result of wage claims, and that those responsible must just take the consequences.” Yet this is what he said when he was Chancellor, at a union conference which was debating a motion condemning an incomes policy backed by legal sanctions:
An uncontrolled wages situation could undermine the Government’s central purpose, by putting back into people’s hands the purchasing power that the Budget had siphoned off . . . (The Times 25/4/69).
Jenkins is said to be a “liberal”, yet he did not resign over the racist laws passed by the Wilson government, which outdid the Tories in pandering to working class colour prejudice. He supported the reintroduction of prescription charges — much higher than the Tory charges which Labour had stopped; the raising of the school leaving age, the end of free school milk, the cuts in the housing programme. He was prominent in a government which kept the British nuclear weaponry. And that is only part of the list of anti-working class acts for which honest Roy, martyr to his conscience, must take his full share of responsibility.

So if the Labour Party decide to put their faith in Jenkins as yet another new saviour, they will be as bitterly disappointed as they were with Wilson, MacDonald and the rest. Jenkins may look and speak like a stern, unbending schoolmaster but what he actually is, is an ambitious capitalist politician. His function is to get power to run the affairs of the British capitalist class and to carry this out he is quite ready to join in the deception and the trickery which make an essential part of capitalist politics.

When the uproar over the Common Market has died down and workers who have been so fascinated by it, and who have been deceived into taking sides, have settled back into their proper, lowly place in capitalist society another incident will have been written into the history of politics. Then the whole futile business can start all over again.

Tories Again Steal Labour’s Clothes (1971)

From the December 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1957 the Labour Party Conference adopted a new pensions policy to which they gave the grandiose title of “National Superannuation”. Under their proposals, said their policy statement.
“there would be two elements in the State pension, a flat-rate element and a graded element. Every insured worker, including those in approved private schemes, would be entitled to receive the flat-rate element, as they do now, whereas only those covered by National Superannuation would receive the new graded element. Thus everyone in the country, when they reach the approved age, would draw (1) a flat-rate pension and (2) a graded pension, due to him either from an occupational scheme or from National Superannuation.”
Employers were to contribute more towards the cost of National Superannuation than the workers and some of the money was to be invested in stocks and shares.

At that time, neither pensions nor contributions were related to earnings (or “graded”): everybody paid the same National Insurance stamp and got the same pension, while those who had no income apart from this pittance had to resort to National Assistance.

Labour had hoped that this vague but superficially attractive promise of “Half Pay on Retirement” (as Richard Crossman once unwisely put it) would win them the next election. Imagine their dismay when the Tories announced in the election year of 1959 that they were to introduce earnings-related pensions themselves. This State Graduated Pension Scheme was denounced by the Labour Party, with some justice, as the “Tory swindle”. It is still going and pays a man the princely pension of 2½p a week for every £7.50 he pays in! Even the Tories recognise that it has been an utter failure and now propose to abolish it (and swindle its victims even more by not protecting them against inflation).

Elected to power in 1964, Labour set to work on their National Superannuation Scheme. They didn’t exactly give this matter any priority as it was not until 1969 that the details—to apply from April 1972—were announced. Even then, what emerged was somewhat different from the original 1957 policy. Instead of two State pensions, one flat-rate and one earnings-related, there was to be only one earnings-related State pension; employers and workers were to pay the same; the money was not to be invested in stocks and shares; and only the lowest paid were to get half-pay on retirement (a big deal that would have been, seeing they could hardly live on full pay).

Grossman’s National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill was still going through Parliament in June last year when the Labour government was kicked out. The Tories had criticised the Bill as too complicated, but had promised their own reform of pensions. Their alternative plan was published in September in the White Paper Strategy for Pensions. What is interesting about these proposals is their amazing similarity to Labour’s 1957 plan. The passage quoted earlier could well have been Sir Keith Joseph explaining the new Tory proposals.

The Tories propose a basic flat-rate pension from the State (like the present below-the-poverty-line £6 a week) which everybody will get and an earnings-related pension either from a private scheme or from the “State Reserve Scheme”. It is this Reserve Scheme that bears the resemblance to Labour’s original National Superannuation. For not only will employers pay more towards it than workers but its funds will be invested in stocks and shares. When Labour had proposed this in 1957 it was greeted by howls of “back-door nationalisation” by the Tories. Now, apparently, they have changed their minds and done what not even Crossman dared to do.

The Tory plan also involves another measure which might have been expected to come from a Labour government: there will be earnings-related contributions for the basic flat-rate pension. In other words, the higher paid will pay more than the lower paid but will only get the same pension.

Labour would have claimed that this was part of some plan to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. It is nothing of the sort since the fortunes of the wealthy are to be left untouched. It is really only redistributing income from the not-so-poor to the poor, a redistribution of poverty amongst the working class. Labour’s bill would have had a similar effect and this in fact is all most social reforms can amount to under capitalism.

That the Tories can introduce reforms originally proposed by Labour is a further proof that the two parties are basically the same. They are both committed to capitalism and are both trying to solve its problems without upsetting the profit motive. So it is hardly surprising that they both come up with similar reforms.

The present need to reform State pensions is the result of the failure of the previous Labour/Tory pensions policy. Nearly thirty years ago now, they were both agreed on another plan to “abolish want in old age” —the Beveridge Report. The recommendations of this Report were embodied in the National Insurance Scheme set up in 1948 and still extant. Today this Scheme provides on retirement a miserable pittance which, even the government’s own White Paper admits, is about £2 below the poverty line so that one in three pensioners are forced to apply for means-tested National Assistance or “supplementary benefit” as it is now cynically called.

Anyway, earnings-related pensions are only supposed to abolish—some time next century, according to the government’s own figures — destitution in old age. Poverty, in the sense of being deprived of control over the means of production and its products, is the normal condition of the class of wage and salary earners, during their working lives just as much as during retirement. It is only because they are poor that workers need doles to protect them from destitution in old age.

We doubt, however, if the new reforms will ensure that no old worker falls below the poverty line, especially since the Tory proposals, like Labour’s Bill, envisage the continuation of the modern Poor Law known as the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Poverty, and in some cases destitution, in old age will be the lot of the working class as long as capitalism lasts no matter how many social reforms are made.
Adam Buick