Sunday, December 31, 2023

Vietnam-again? (1972)

From the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

If one war can be more depraved and dehumanising than another, then only in these terms is there a winner in Vietnam. For more than thirty years, virtually non-stop, Vietnam has been ravaged by the modern military hardware of rival armies. Back in 1941 the Japanese; then the British, then the French, the Vietnamese themselves, and finally the Americans. The wholesale slaughter and destruction, and the indifference to human suffering has been common to them all. The lying and hypocrisy of the politicians on all sides has been outstripped only by their gory deeds.

In the name of peace, the war steadily escalated for eight years. In the name of freedom, brutal dictators were installed and people whose “freedom” was denied burned themselves alive in protest. In the name of democracy, elections were suspended. In the name of liberation, many hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been blown to pieces or burned alive with napalm. On the ideological pretence of stemming “communism” every conceivable horror and outrage has been practised. Regardless of how many Vietnamese were killed in the process, they had to be “saved”. The utter ruthlessness of governments purporting to be champions of the “free” world could hardly be surpassed by those of police-state dictatorships.

Humiliation & Protest
America has suffered the humiliation of having to bring members of her armed forces to trial, accused of atrocities against the people they were supposed to be defending, while those atrocities were condoned by the then deputy leader of British Labour government. We have witnessed the spectacle of returning military personnel denouncing the war and their own brutal conduct. The American Army has had to face the desertion of tens of thousands of its men, while the scale of drug-taking was so vast among those who remained in the war, it had to be virtually ignored.

There have been massive demonstrations against the war, throughout America’s largest cities, with the added irony that the same coercive State apparatus which carried on the war was frequently used against the demonstrators. In Britain, as in other parts of the world, there were also demonstrations. The British “left” which organised the protests here were not opposed to the war as such, but were anti-America, and favoured a Northern victory. They dragged out all the anti-working-class arguments about national independence and home-rule to justify their support for the bloody butchers on the other side. As with CND before them, the protest reached fever pitch and then fizzled out. Since October 1968 there has been hardly a peep out of them. Such movements inevitably dissipate the enthusiasm of the workers who support them. Capitalism mocks all such limited objectives when its vital interests are at stake. The tragedy is that this same enthusiasm coupled with Socialist ideas could rid the world of the scourge of capitalism itself.

Amazing Gracey
As the misery and the bombing drag on towards the end of another year, it is worth remembering that it was the post-war British Labour government who restarted the war after taking over from the Japanese in 1945. In September of that year 20,000 British troops arrived, and General Gracey was set up as military dictator.

Despite the fact that the Vietminh (the forerunners of today’s Vietcong) had control of Saigon, the Labour government co-operated with the French ruling class, who wanted their colony back. The Labour government helped ship back French troops. General Gracey closed down the press and used the Japanese army to post a proclamation saying: “I hereby warn all wrongdoers, especially looters and saboteurs of public property and those carrying out similar activities, that they will be summarily shot.”

After arming former French prisoners who immediately started shooting up the Vietminh, Gracey disarmed them, and used Japanese forces to put down the guerrilla war he had sparked off. He ordered British troops: “Always use the maximum force to ensure wiping out any hostiles we may meet”. Like the Americans, the British had no way of knowing “hostiles” from innocent people. A British and Japanese military operation followed before the British left it to the French to continue the slaughter in March 1946. It was thus that “liberation” came to the people of Vietnam. Even the great American butcher General MacArthur (who wanted to use A-bombs in Korea) condemned as “ignoble” the conduct of the British Labour government in Indo-China.

With Friends Like These …
The French government carried on the war for eight years with financial aid from America, and the active support of the French Communist Party, whose deputies consistently voted for increased arms expenditure, in full knowledge that the arms were being used for killing their own “comrades” in Indochina. During 1946 Charles Tillon, a Communist, was in fact Minister for Armaments. These same deputies including Thorez, the C.P. Vice-Premier, voted unanimous congratulations to General Leclere after the bombardment of Haiphong where 6,000 civilians were killed.

On the other side, Ho Chi Minh wasted no time proving himself at least as treacherous and murderous as his adversaries. After running phony elections in January 1946, where 70 seats were promised to non-Communists (provided they did not compete in the election) he spent the next ten months liquidating 202 out of 444 elected representatives. The Vietminh carried out wholesale murder of opponents, in particular Trotskyists. One popular Trotskyist leader Ta Tu Thau, had three trials and three acquittals before he was shot. As a result of Cardinal Spellman’s campaign of propaganda half a million Catholics left North Vietnam in the mid-1950’s. This helped create serious food shortages, which led to peasant uprisings in late 1956. Ho Chi Minn’s army crushed the “rebels” and killed or deported 6,000 farmers.

. . . who needs the Enemy?
The Chinese ruling class whilst pouring military aid into the North and conducting a propaganda war against “American Imperialism” has supplied steel for American army and air bases. The Russian bosses have done much the same thing, trading with both sides, and there have been the usual hypocritical accusations and counter-accusations hurled between the Chinese and Rusian rulers.

If Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon have been the wililng tools of American capitalism in prosecuting the war, (backed up by Wilson and Heath on behalf of British capitalism) Mao Tse Tung, Brezhnev and Ho Chi Minh were as soaked in the blood of the working class as their western counterparts.

Wilson’s Labour government supplied some of the napalm which American forces used to burn alive so many thousands of men, women, and children. They also trained South Vietnamese forces and built bases for the U.S. air force.

Workers Have no Country
If anyone doubts that the sordid economic motives of capitalism lie behind the war in Vietnam, the U.S. News and World Report for the 16 April 1954 said: “One of the world’s richest areas is open to the winner in Indo-China — tin, rubber, rice, key strategic raw materials are what the war is really about” (quoted in Solidarity Pamphlet, The Rape of Vietnam, from which other material in this article has been taken).

The fact that the world has absorbed the emotional shock waves of the war in Vietnam, and a generation has lived with the stock-piling of H-bombs, is a measure of the terrifying extent of capitalism’s conditioning. It is also a damning indictment of this system of society.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties including the World Socialist Party of the U.S. have consistently opposed all wars. Taking our stand on the basis of the interests of the world’s working class, we condemned the two world wars as thieves’-quarrels of rival capitalist classes. We declared that no war is worth the shedding of a single drop of workers’ blood. We re-affirm that attitude. Vietnam is likewise a thieves’ war. The workers and peasants own no country on either side. They will find themselves as firmly shackled to the juggernaut of exploitation, whoever emerges as their new masters. Neither can “peace” be long secure, for fresh conflicts and future wars are inseparable from continuing capitalism. Vast air bases and thousands of planes stand in readiness to continue the war, despite the much-trumpeted withdrawal of ground forces. More than three million dead for nothing. And how many more millions will be slaughtered before the working class gets rid of the slaughter-house, remains a very open question.
Harry Baldwin

The Freeze and After (1972)

From the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the myths of our age is that wages are sometimes restricted and sometimes not. Wages are always restricted; it is only the method that changes. Unless wage rates are kept down to levels which leave a margin of profit for the employer he intensifies the search for ways to reduce his total wages bill by getting more output from each worker; failing which he stops production and stands workers off.

The government always plays a part in this. It stands behind the employers, backing them up to deal with strikes and other manifestations of working-class discontent. But the government’s role is not always in the same form. It sometimes includes direct intervention through the imposition of controls on wages and prices. Generally this is when conditions favour the workers in pressing for wage increases. This happened in two world wars when unemployment had practically disappeared. By contrast, nobody talked about a prices and incomes policy between the wars when there were two million unemployed, markets were failing and bankruptcies soaring, prices were tumbling and workers were completely unable to prevent wages falling with them.

Promises, Promises
Since 1945 there have been half a dozen attempts by Labour and Tory governments to impose controls, starting with the “Wage Restraint” of the Attlee Labour Government imposed in September 1948. They have been variously named but all conform to the same general pattern. They were all excused as emergency measures called for by unforeseen circumstances, they were all claimed to be needed to prevent prices from rising and British exports being priced out of world markets with consequent increase of unemployment, and all were in contradiction with the election programmes of the Labour and Tory parties. Mr. Wilson rightly chided Heath with having abandoned his election pledges but seems to have forgotten that the freeze imposed by his own government in July 1966 came only four months after the Labour Party election programme had said “our purpose is not to dictate prices, wages and salaries”.

None of the post-war “freezes” completely prevented some increases of wages and prices. Nearly all were followed by a bigger rate of increase, with wages rising slightly more than prices. From the employers’ point of view the most successful freeze was the first, the Labour Government wage restraint from September 1948 to October 1950 which kept wage increases appreciably below the rise of the cost of living. As a method of preventing prices from rising the freezes, individually and collectively, have been a complete failure, for the rate of price increase in 1971 was higher than at any time since 1945.

Trying to Manage
In 1944 the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties all committed themselves to a three-point policy of stable prices, full employment and steady growth of production. Critics of government policy have often pointed out that at no time has a Labour or Tory government succeeded in getting all three together; it remained for Heath in 1972 to fall down on all three at the same time — a million unemployed, fast-rising prices and near-stagnant production.

The imposition of the present freeze was surrounded with loud recriminations between Heath and Wilson, all of it signifying nothing because this one does not differ from past Labour Government freezes except in minor details and reflects the same erroneous theories which are shared by the Labour and trade-union leaders with most of the Tory leaders. (The Times cynically commented that “it is their business to criticize each other”.) The Labour Party motion of dissent in the House of Commons on November 8 did not condemn capitalism and offer an alternative, but blamed the highest unemployment since the ‘thirties and a massive increase in the cost of living on “mismanagement of the economy” by the Tory government. The chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr. Douglas Houghton MP, who in 1967 was boasting of the success of the Wilson government in making “modern capitalism work”, attacked the Tories this time not on the ground that they are running capitalism but on the ground that they are not “managing” it properly: they have, he said, “left capitalism unbridled”.

Guess the Answer
The completely erroneous theories held by the political and trade-union leaders since the three-party declaration in 1944 are that capitalism can be managed in a way to secure permanent full employment, with a more or less stable price level. On full employment, the TUC in 1970 declared:
“Maintenance of full employment is chiefly the responsibility of the government. All political parties, the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC accept that this should be the case. There is agreement that the necessary techniques are available to sustain full employment . . . “ (TUC pamphlet, Automation and Technical Change)
On stable prices, Mr. Wilson in 1957 wrote:
“Ever since the Coalition Government’s White Paper all major parties have been committed on Keynesian lines to using the Budget as a means of avoiding undue inflation or deflation.” (Labour Party pamphlet, Remedies for Inflation)
At the beginning none of them said anything about wage and price freezes, but already in 1957 Mr. Wilson was saying that: “For a Labour government no less than for the Conservatives, success or failure in the battle against inflation would depend on its ability to secure an understanding with the unions which would make wage restraint possible”. For the unions it was either you agree “voluntarily” to restraint or you have it imposed.

Act of Iniquity
Much of the conflict between the Labour Party and the unions on the one side and the Heath government on the other about the failure of the consultations which preceded the present freeze concerned the question of the Industrial Relations Act. The Labour-trade union side argued that if the Government would suspend the Act it would make agreement easier.

It is to the point here to recall the case made against the Act in 1970 by Vic Feather, General Secretary of the TUC. It was not that the Act would depress wages but that it would encourage competitive wage claims between workers and push wages up too much. “This Bill would create a wage drift of a kind the country could not afford, either now or at any time in the future.” (Report of a trade union conference, Sunday Times, 13 December 1970).

What has happened is that the policy held by all of them has proved quite fallacious and they do not know what to do next. What the TUC described as “the necessary techniques … to sustain full employment” meant in practice “pumping more money into the economy”, which they imagined would lead to expanded production and full employment but which is a sure specific for putting up prices. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Barber, has complained, he wants to pump more money in the belief that production will then expand but at the same time wants to “curb the money supply” to stop prices going up.

Marx was right. Capitalism goes through its phases of expansion with low unemployment on one hand, depression with heavier unemployment on the other, in spite of government financial and budgetary policies. The only remedy is to replace capitalism with Socialism.

Dreadful Prospect
In the meantime, fearful of the explosion that could occur if inflation is carried on extremes, the view has been gathering support among economists and business men that the government should stop inflation whatever the consequences. The Tory politicians on the other hand recoil from this because one consequence could be that they lose the next election. So they put their trust in the hope that British capitalism now, after several false starts, is on the way to recovery from the depression.

They have another fear. There is one Tory politician who never accepted the Keynesian nonsense and who wants to go back to the old-style policy of letting capitalism take its course, with the unions “free” to make which wage claims they choose and businesses “free” to go bankrupt if they can’t survive. Some commentators have begun to speculate on the possibility that if Heath’s hopes of industrial recovery are not speedily fulfilled, Enoch Powell will get the leadership of the Tory Party.
Edgar Hardcastle

An Open Letter to Dave Douglass (1972)

From the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

I see from the News of the World for November 15th that you are the editor of the Trotskyist magazine ‘Mineworkers Internationale’, and that you have published articles addressing the miners on union policy.

You appear to have upset the editor of the News of the World, and the officials of the Communist Party, who say that you are getting the “sane militants” (the C.P.) a bad name.

You wrote (apparently) in one issue of your magazine
“The only long-term justice for the workers will be under a system which they themselves control—a Socialist system.”
“Launch the General Strike immediately and occupy the factories, docks, railways without charging, capture the supermarkets and food wholesalers and distribute the food free.”
Hard Enough
And you claim to work for the overthrow of Capitalism.

One can sympathise with your indignation with your exploitation and the fact, as you say, “that Capitalists are making a fortune out of my sweat, discomfort and forfeiture of human dignity”. Fair enough!

But, Dave boy, indignation is not enough! In this business (the class struggle) brains are more important than heart, because our enemy, the Capitalist, is immensely powerful, and helped by a large staff of cunning labour leaders and T.U. Officials.

And I’m going to tell you straight out, that your stuff is doing more harm than good.

First “seize the pits” or “the Supermarkets”, or “the railways”, is rubbish. The workers have a difficult enough job trying seize half-a-pound of steak on a Friday night, without you try to feed them this baloney.

You must begin to learn that the control of the public apparatus of production and distribution is political, not industrial. It is maintained by the Government of the day, if necessary by armed force, although the workers don’t show much evidence of doing any “seizing”, do they? Could it be they’ve too much sense?

The Wrong Interests
Neither are you doing any good trying to cod the miners into taking action for “workers’ control”. The workers will never control Capitalism. What determines class control is ownership, and that ownership is legalised and maintained through Parliament, by the Government of the day, backed by an electoral majority.

It is no business of trade unions to try to usurp the job of a political party. Control of the whole of industry is a political matter concerning the whole capitalist class. The strongest, most militant trade union in the world can do nothing about it and won’t want to, anyway, because people join unions to look after the trade interests, not class interests.

Dave, I’m sorry, but your other stuff urging the miners on strike last year to do as much damage as possible is nonsense too. This is a hang-over from early Russian days when the isolated Bolsheviks sought to create as much dissension abroad as possible, for political propaganda materials.

Strike What For?
I now come to what, for me, is the most stupid and ridiculous nonsense of all. “Launch the General Strike and occupy the factories”. Are you really in your right mind, mate? Don’t you know that whenever the workers have occupied factories, after a few weeks with the wives bringing meals and drinks, they have unoccupied them again?

The capitalists will always beat you at this game; they own everything; they can retire to the Hilton or the country, and starve you out. In fact, the French authorities have said they approve of the strikers occupying the factory because “It keeps the place clean”.

And lastly, the General Strike! What stupid bloody rubbish. First of all, General Strikes for industrial ends are difficult enough, because workers’ action on such a scale concerns the whole capitalist class who have shown repeatedly, all over the world, that they will not hesitate if necessary, to crush strikes by armed force.

But even worse, you are urging a General Strike for “Workers’ Control”, which because you are not clear about it, you call a “Socialist system”.

A Socialist system will and must abolish classes! What are you on about? Will there be wage-workers under Trotskyist “Socialism” then ?

But, worst of all, you are trying to control trade unionists in General Strikes for political purposes — and this is disastrous.

If you claim that all the workers (or a lot of them) are militants, anxious to overthrow Capitalism, why have they got to lose their wages (and some of them, their personal freedom) in General Strikes?

Consciousness Wanted
If they want a General Strike why do they vote for Tory and Labour parties?

If the workers are Socialists, they have a perfectly safe and sane method of abolishing Capitalism, which also happens (as time will show) to be the only possible method — the ballot box.

It is for this reason that the Socialist Party of Great Britain will never support calls for General Strikes for political purposes. People like you, Dave, may feel very strongly, but you haven’t thought very much.

Socialists, in their capacity as trade unionists, because we are exploited like you, and have to join them, say to their fellow workers : Political action is for political parties! Trade union political independence at all costs!

Socialism will be established by a class political party, not the T.U.C., or any trade union.

It Can be Done
Let trade unions mind their own business, the interests of their members.

Let the affairs of the union be run democratically, by the rank-and-file vote, make strikes short and sharp. Procrastination is the death of strikes.

And, lastly, some advice to you, by one who has been right through the Leninist mill himself.

Forget all your Trotskyist dreamworld; it never was right. Look where the Leninist “boring from within” the trade unions has landed the C.P. The very nominees the Communist factions have got “elected” as officials have at times been the first to kick out Communists.

Study Socialism! Get clear on the necessity of conscious political actions by the workers, organised in a political party to take political power, to abolish capitalist control; and replace it by “democratic control”.

This is the road of Success, to Victory.

What you are doing now will only spread apathy as a result of bitter disappointment.

Forget Trotsky, and remember Marx!
Yours for Socialism,

11 November 1972.

Letter: More about Rents (1972)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Editorial Committee is slipping. The reason why Glasgow people won their rent strike had nothing to do with house building having ceased. There had been housing shortage before the war, as indeed there still is, but the tenants did not and do not effectively challenge the landlords as they did in 1915 when the landlords tried to put up the rents; it seemed to them quite a natural thing to do since the butchers, grocers, etc. were all putting up their prices. People had to have food but, as they discovered, they did not have to pay the landlords; indeed, there was a decided advantage in not doing so, they had more money to spend in the shops. That is what forced the Government to step in and save the rent system.

If tenants could not be forced to pay rent in 1915 it is obvious they could not be forced to pay rent today if they stood together and refused to do so.

The Editorial Committee also assume that if tenants refuse to pay rent it will enable the non-landlord members of the capitalist class to reduce wages by that amount. Why? If, by combined action, the workers free themselves against the burden of rents they will find themselves strong enough to refuse to accept reduced wages; in fact, they would rapidly, having realised their strength, demand increased wages, finally making profit taking impossible and so ending the capitalist system. This is the reply to the last paragraph in the Committee’s reply to me; it shows them what the working class would achieve by first of all destroying the landlord class. Certainly, every household would be better off by spending money for themselves instead of giving it to the rent collector.

It is quite likely that I am about the oldest reader of “Socialist Standard” still alive. I started in 1907, I used buy it off “Hutch” ‘a member of the Tooting S.P.G.B., after that I got it in Charing Cross Road and now that I am a refugee on the South Coast I get it by post direct from Clapham. I have always read it to the great advantage of my faith in Socialism. It is only on this matter of rents that I have found the S.P.G.B. not agreeing to any working class struggle. I am well aware that, at the same time, they warn the struggle can’t succeed until all the workers of the World become Socialists which, of course, is absurd. For instance, in Bulgaria today the workers pay no rent or rates or suffer any deduction from their pay for pensions. Why? Because the Bulgarian State owns 80 per cent of all productive work, the present remaining 20 per cent is covered by a very small income tax.
Tom Braddock,
East Preston.

The questions referred to here arise from the article Why Must the Rent Go Up ? in the Socialist Standard for January this year. Tom Braddock’s first letter disputing the Socialist Party’s attitude to rent control appeared, with our reply, in the July issue.

On the question of what happened in Glasgow in 1915 having “nothing to do with house building having ceased”, we quote from Housing Finance and Development by A. J. Merrett and Allen Sykes (Longmans, 1965). In the opening chapter they say:
“House building virtually ceased with the advent of war and rents began to rise, particularly in munitions-producing areas. This provoked an outcry such that in 1915 the government passed the first rent restriction Act — the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915. It froze the rents of all unfurnished tenancies (approximately 85 per cent of the total) below certain limits at the August 1914 level, and landlords were virtually forbidden to evict protected tenants save for obvious defaults such as non-payment of rent.”
This passage also makes clear that Braddock’s assertion in his second paragraph is untrue. It is correct only in the technical sense that — of course — tenants could not be forced to pay rent raised above the level permitted by their wages, i.e. to produce money they had not got. The alternative to the 1915 Act would have been for the government to let wages go up to meet increasing rents; instead, the Act restrained wage demands by keeping rents low — and provided also that workers, in Glasgow or anywhere else, were forced to pay them. Braddock appears not to realize that this “blow against landlords”, as he called it in his previous letter, was struck not by the workers but by the government in the wider interests of capitalism.

Second, our reply did not say that the non-payment of rent would enable employers “to reduce wages by that amount”. Wage cuts have not operated for a number of years. What happens nowadays is that pay increases endeavour to keep up with the cost of living, and where part of the cost of living is artificially held down by subsidies or controls the effect is to check the pressure for pay increases. Braddock must have read, of late, that the Labour Party wants the new rent rises postponed for just this reason: that the keeping down of rents is essential to make “an incomes policy” — that is, wage restraint — work.

Last — leaving aside the remarks about Bulgaria, which show more confusion than is possible to deal with in a short reply — Tom Braddock says the contention that the majority of workers in the developed countries must become Socialists or “the struggle can’t succeed” is absurd. It is nothing like as absurd as the urging that what workers should continue with is rent strikes and attempts to reform capitalism. This sort of “struggle” has been going on for more than a century without the workers’ position in society changing; and we are asked to support more of the same thing!
Editorial Committee.

Blogger's Note:
Not sure what happened with the fact checking for the Editorial Committee's reply to Tom Braddock's letter but the article Why Must the Rent Go Up ? actually appeared in the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard, not the January issue and Tom Braddock's first reply to that article appeared in the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard, not the July issue.

Letter: The Belgian “Socialist” Party (1972)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following from a correspondent in Belgium and reproduce it without necessarily subscribing to viewpoints conveyed in parts of it.
The Belgian Social-Democrats are going through a crisis at the moment. Every election they lose votes to the nationalist parties (Flemish nationalists and Walloon nationalists). The most important reason for the decline of the party is the ideological turn to the right of their leaders. They want to reform the party into a pragmatic “centre-party”, after the example of the “Sozialistische Partei Deutschlands” (SPD).

The Social-Democrat Ministers in the present government are nearly avowedly capitalist. Henri Simonet, theoretician of the right-wing and Minister of Economic Affairs, is a supporter of free trade. He only wants a few reforms, so that the capitalist system works “at its best”. In opposition to his policy are the left-wingers (mainly “Young Socialists”) and the Trade Unions. They want a turn to the left; that means, in their opinions, nationalisation of the basic industries under workers’ control. So in fact they want state capitalism.

The majority of the left wing is in favour of the so-called “revolutionary-reformism”, an idea of the French “Marxist” Andre Gorz. They believe that by struggling for reforms the workers will become socialists. In their opinion the B.S.P., reformed into a new vanguard party, will lead the masses gradually to the “inevitable” socialist revolution.

But among the left-wingers there are a few who are in practice in favour of world socialism. They want to give the workers a socialist consciousness, so that the workers can make their own revolution in future. Of course, those who are in practice for world socialism constitute a very small minority in the left wing. But, most important: there are socialists in Belgium.

In March 1973, an Ideological Congress will be held. There are only two possibilities: either the Congress will be in favour of a “centre-party” which can win the votes of the middle class, or the Congress will be in favour of the nationalisation of basic industry. It’s almost sure the right-wingers will be in the majority. For real socialists it doesn’t make any difference: in practice the party will always support capitalism.

There is only one alternative: to unite all socialists in a new real socialist party; only then the establishment of Socialism will become possible in future.
Dirk Wouters, 
Mechelen, Belgium.

SPGB Meetings (1972)

Party News from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard