Against all Fatherlands
Today the concept of fatherland is accepted and respected by all, from the extreme right to the bourgeois extreme left, from the petty bourgeoisie to the proletariat disarmed by sixty years of counter-revolution. British and Irish, Hungarians and Rumanians, Serbians and Albanians butcher one another for the fatherland, as much as to remain in "civil" and democratic Europe. In the lands of the Armenians and Azeris, it’s in the name of love of the fatherland that pregnant women have been disemboweled and the fetuses extracted from their torn bellies. The aforesaid love of the fatherland is spewed by the priests of all religions: even Their Holiness John Paul II, while chewing over the hypocrisy of the council Vatican II, has reaffirmed many times that there is such a thing as a just war: that in defence of the fatherland. It would be comical, if it weren’t tragic, to verify that in this way he has legitimised all the armies that have torn "his” Poland apart: in fact, who could deny that German soldiers in the two imperialist World Wars of this century were moved by love of the German fatherland, or that those of the Tsar or of Stalin were moved by love of the Russian fatherland? Naturally, we wouldn’t expect anything different from one who has blessed all armies and all wars, with a single exception: the class war.
If those who call themselves Christians were to be in the least coherent with their own principles, they could only line themselves up on our side to expel the capitalist merchants from the temple of the human species. It was Jesus and not Marx who said that one cannot be in the service of two masters – God and Money – at the same time. As materialists, we can substitute the expression "the human species" for the term "God", and for the remainder we have no problem approving the phrase in full. Those "Christians" who accept this system based on the exploitation of man by man, and on the adoration of the god Money, are worthy heirs of the Pharisees. On the other hand, we communists, with our materialist vision of the world, may consider ourselves – with good, dialectical reason – as the historical heirs of original Christianity: even if for nothing more than its position in favour of the oppressed.
At present, only the big bourgeoisie has a truly international vision. It makes use of patriotism to keep the eternal henchmen, the petty bourgeoisie, at their posts, and to keep the eternal enemy, the proletariat, in chains; but as soon as its interests and its profits are at stake, it’s ready to make fun of the much- adored fatherland. History is full of examples of this kind of thing.
The Paris Commune of 1871, which was not bowed in the presence of the German army – the latter had already brought the French Empire of Napoleon III to its knees – was destroyed by the army of the French Republic, the expression of the national bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie, facing the danger posed by a proletarian power manifested for the first time, on the one hand spoke of a struggle to the last drop of blood (proletarian blood, naturally) for the defence of the fatherland; on the other hand, it agreed with the German Empire to surrender, in order to allow itself free play against the only true enemy of the bourgeoisie: the proletariat. From Germany, the French government obtained the release of thousands of its soldiers taken prisoner, who could thus be employed to massacre the insurgents of the Commune. Witnesses and protagonists of these events recount how the German soldiers, encamped in the neighborhoods of Paris, would often allow refugees fleeing the massacre to cross their lines. This was out of respect for the fighting qualities and courage the refugees had shown: a very clear instance of how, for the proletariat, there is no enemy more pitiless than its own bourgeoisie and the instrument of that class, the State.
The French bourgeoisie and its State later revived this script in the two World Wars, when the French State fell before the military power of German imperialism. However, the immediacy of this fall was not due only to questions of a military nature, but also to the fact that such a weakened and discredited army and State would not have been able to fulfill their repressive function against the internal proletariat. For this reason, the patriotic French bourgeoisie was in a great hurry to surrender to Germany for the nth time, so as to have at its disposal a military occupation force able to carry out this essential repressive function, which was otherwise lacking. Not by chance, in the Second War the Vichy collaborationist government had inherited all the French State’s army and administration. It was not only the fascists who collaborated with the Germans, but the whole French State, which had sub-contracted the repression of its own proletarians to the German State.
In Italy, the patriotic fascists ended up selling "the sacred fatherland" to Germany, while the just as patriotic antifascists were divided between those who wanted to sell it to America, and those who wanted to sell it to Russia.
During the war between Great Britain and Argentina some years ago, the British arms salesmen continued to do business with Argentina as they had before. On the other hand, the South American guerrillas immediately placed themselves on the side of their own torturers, in the name of defence of the fatherland.
Patriotic – and therefore interclassist – alliances are obviously made between the hangmen and the hanged, and only the big bourgeoisie rates the fatherland for what it is: that’s to say a cow to hold in high regard since it yields lots of milk (read profit and social peace); but which, in the extreme case that it were no longer to produce profit, could always be sold, piece by piece or completely.
Thus the Iran-Iraq war has been concluded with the victory of both bourgeoisies with their respective States, which are reinforced thanks to "patriotic unity" and thanks to the destruction of the excess labour-power which threatened social peace. The losers are the proletarians of both countries, massacred in war, or more enchained to their respective bourgeoisies than before.
As far as the "denied fatherland" of the Palestinians is concerned, it has to be said that Israel does not accept the idea of a Palestinian State, because it realises that the Palestinian bourgeoisie, represented by the P.L.O., is too weak to effectively repress the numerous and starved Palestinian proletariat. Hence it is up to the Israeli State to fulfill this function.
The bourgeois continue to repeat that we are all in the same boat; they forget to say that they’re cracking the whip – while proletarians are chained to the oar, their fates sealed whether the boat sinks or not, with only one hope of salvation: mutiny. Behind all national, ethnic and religious hatreds, there are in reality class conflicts which the bourgeoisie diverts towards wars between nations, to avoid the one war which horrifies it: the class war. At the moment in which class rule is endangered, the bourgeoisie puts aside all the patriotic chatter and is wholly united in throwing itself against the proletariat.
In the awareness that all fatherlands are our mortal enemies, we communists can only repeat: "Proletarians of the whole world, unite!"
Marxism and the workers movement in Britain
3. Cooperation - The bourgeois phase
In the second section of this series we noted that there were two phases of the cooperative movement, a utopian and a bourgeois stage. As we have dealt in detail with the first phase we shall now turn our attention to the second. We aim to sum up the two opposing views, that of Marxism as against bourgeois cooperative defendants, and finally with the Fabian metamorphosis of bourgeois views into a form of "socialism".
A few words of clarification are in order to prevent confusion. We are dealing in the main with the arguments advanced by Ernest Jones in the reorganisation of the Chartist Movement in England during 1851-2 when he was a disciple of Marx and Engels. There are comments in the correspondence between Marx and Engels at the time which show that they fully approved of Jones’ assault on the Cooperative Movement. Many years later Marx wrote to Engels (November 4th, 1864) with the following comments:
" I happened to come across several numbers of E. Jones’ Notes to the People (1851,1852) which, as far as economic articles are concerned, had been written in the main points under my direction and in part even under my close participation. Well! What do I find there? That there we conducted the same polemic – only in a better way – against the cooperative movement, since in its present narrow-minded form it claimed to be the latest word, as ten to twelve years later Lassalle conducted in Germany against Schulze-Delitzsch".
It wasn’t just the arguments for and against the contemporary phase of the cooperative movement, but the mustering of forces during the splits of 1850-2, which we outlined in the first section of this series. It was a question of confronting all the important issues facing the proletarian movement – competition within capitalism or the struggle of classes to overthrow class-ridden society. In a sense the debate and confrontation pre-figured many that would take place within the socialist movement in the following decades.
The collapse of the utopian phase of cooperation has been dealt with in previous articles and we now intend to deal with the movement which arose upon its ashes. The new style cooperative movement had no pretensions of politically attacking bourgeois society, but claimed to use the system of trading to undermine private capitalism itself. It took as its model the operation founded in Rochdale in 1844, by the men called the Rochdale Pioneers.
These early "Pioneers" of grocery trading had no illusions about forming a new kind of socialism or of challenging the capitalist mode of production as such. It was later on that the rather awkward label of "socialism" was affixed to these traders, this was started by Beatrice Potter (better known by her married name of Webb), and later continued by every revisionist since, right up to the present-day Euro-Communists of Italy, France and, rather modestly, of Britain.
Our intention here is not to criticise trading in groceries, or any other basic commodity, as such, but we are hostile to anyone who tries to impute to such actions that they represent an alternative to capitalism. That goes for the early forms of cooperative trading just as much as for the rather trendy fashions of supplying infinite varieties of beans and seaweed today. Indeed there is nothing new about today’s operations – they are merely shabbier versions of systems tried out a century and or ago.
In the initial part of this article we will deal exclusively with the critique advanced by Ernest Jones.
The initial critique
In number two of Notes to the People, Jones addressed an open letter to the advocates of cooperation and to Cooperative Societies as a whole. He first of all stated that, whilst no doubt all the members were honest and well-meaning, they had overlooked some fatal flaws in their plans. He felt it was necessary to warn them of the consequences of these flaws. ’I contend that cooperation as now developed, must result in failure to the majority of those concerned, and that it is merely perpetuating the evils which it professes to remove. I will divide the remarks I have to offer, under three heads: 1st, what are the means the present cooperative movement possesses, of defeating the system of monopoly and wages-slavery; 2nd, what would be its effects upon society if successful; 3rd, what is the only salutary basis for cooperative industry?"
Jones goes on to outline the avowed objects of cooperation:
" To put an end to profitmongering – to emancipate the working-classes from wages-slavery, by enabling them to become their own masters; to destroy monopoly and to counteract the centralisation of wealth, by its equable and general diffusion. We now proceed to consider:
I, the means applied to effect these results. For the above purposes the working classes are exhorted to subscribe their pence, under the conviction that, by so doing they will soon be enabled to beat the monopolist out of the field, and become workers and shopkeepers for themselves".
These fallacies are exploded by pointing out that the workers’ pence can never out-buy the sovereigns of the rich. During the previous 50 years, the savings of the workers had been £43 million (in fact much of this actually belonged to the middle classes), the upper classes had increased their capital by 56 times that amount. "It is, therefore, an error to say, that capital against capital – pence against pounds – the cooperation of the working classes can beat down the combination of the rich, if their power of so doing is argued on the ground, that they possess more money collectively".
Should all the resources of the working people be used to maximum effect, the financial power of the bourgeoisie would still be much more effective. The ruling class after all are so much further ahead in the financial race – they wield all the national power – and they are independent of the home market. Also they can afford to lose money by undermining any proletarian ventures, while the workers cannot.
"It is amusing to remark, that many of those who advise a union with the middle classes are strenuous supporters of the present cooperative system; they seek the support of the middle class, and tell us to expect it – with the same breath shouting to the world, that their "cooperation" will destroy the shopkeepers! That destruction, however, proceeds but very slowly, cooperation on their plan has now been long tried – is widely developed, and they tell us it is locally successful – yet, never in the same period, has the monopolist reaped such profits, or extended his operations with such giant strides. Do we find Moses, or Hyam, waning before the tailors – Grissel or Peto, shrinking before the builders – Clowes, or Odell, falling before the printers? Everywhere they are more successful than before! – Why because the same briskness of trade that enables the cooperators to live, enables the monopolists with their greater powers, to luxuriate".
Jones goes on to point out that the resources being so gathered were to be used for three objects: 1, To purchase land; 2,To purchase machinery, for the purpose of manufacture; 3, To establish stores, for the purposes of distribution. Jones deals with the problems in detail, which we summarise below:
a. It would cost more than workers could afford.
b. If workers started buying, then demand would increase the price.
c. Whilst the cost of land is rising, workers wages are constantly falling.
d. The bourgeoisie don’t have to sell the land and can withhold it from the workers, and have all the laws and political powers to protect their ownership.
The Cooperators believe that by establishing manufacturing, they will force the private employers to shut their factories by taking away all their workers and markets. This is not true, says Jones, because the capitalists do not depend purely on home markets. Generally speaking, they can under-sell the cooperators, and in any case, the state of the labour market is such that they can usually find new workers. But what are the effects of the increased competition of the Cooperators?
"If, then, we do not shut up the factories, we only increase the evil by still more over-glutting the market. It is a market for that which is manufactured, far more than a deficiency of manufacture under which we labour. If we add manufacture we cheapen prices; if we cheapen prices we cheapen sages (these generally shrink disproportionately) – and thus add to the misery and poverty of the toiling population. «But, you may argue, we shall make a market – create home-trade, by rendering the working classes prosperous». You fail a lever: the prosperity of the working classes is necessary to enable your cooperation to succeed; and, according to your own argument, the success of your cooperation is necessary to make the working classes prosperous! Do you not see you are reasoning in a circle? You are beating the air. You want some third power to ensure success. In fine, you want political power to reconstruct the bases of society. Under the present political system, on your political plan, all your efforts must prove vain – have proved vain – towards the production of a national result.”
3. Cooperative Stores - "By these you undertake to make the working-man his own shopkeeper, and enable him to keep in his own pocket the profits which the shopkeeper formerly extracted from his custom".
The end result would be: If the goods are more expensive in the long-run, then the workers will end up subsidising the Cooperative stores. If the goods are cheaper long-term, then this would contribute to a decline in the level of wages. Either way the workers would lose. Jones then goes on to contend:
"II. That the cooperative system, as at present practiced, carries within it the germs of dissolution, would inflict a renewed evil on the masses of the people, and is essentially destructive of the real principles of cooperation. Instead of abrogating profitmongering, it recreates it. Instead of counteracting competition, it re-establishes it. Instead of preventing centralisation, it renews it – merely transferring the role from one set of actors to another".
1. It is to destroy profitmongering: And yet all of the early reports of the cooperative societies reported profit rates that would have made the most greedy of capitalist entrepreneurs blush! “They are stepping in the footprints of the profit mongers, only they are beginning to do now what the others began some centuries ago".
2. It is to put an end to competition, "but unfortunately it recreates it. Each store or club stands as an isolated body, with individual interests. Firstly, they have to compete with the shopkeeper – but, secondly, they are beginning to compete with each other".
3. It is to counteract the centralisation of wealth, "but it renews it. We proceed on step further – the fratricidal battle has been fought in the one town – the one association has triumphed over the others, it absorbs the custom of its neighbors – the cooperative power falls out of many hands into few – wealth centralises".
"Let us reflect, what are the great canal companies, joint stock companies, banking companies, railway companies, trading companies – what are they but cooperative associations in the hands of the rich? What have been their effects on the people? To centralise wealth, and to pauperise labour. Where is the essential difference between those and the present cooperative schemes? A few men club their means together. So did they. Whether the means are large or little, makes no difference in the working of the plan, otherwise than the rapidity or slowness of the development. But many of our richest companies began with the smallest means. A few men start in trade, and accumulate profits. So did they. Profits grow on profits, capital accumulates on capital – always flowing into the pockets of those few men. The same with their rich prototypes. What kind of cooperation do you call this?... A system which makes a few new shopkeepers and capitalists to replace the old, and increases the great curse of the working class, the aristocracy of labour".
Jones then goes on to examine what could and should be done as an alternative to the established order.
III. "Then what is the only salutary basis for cooperative industry? A NATIONAL one. All cooperation should be founded, not on the isolated efforts, absorbing, if successful, vast riches for themselves, but on a national union which should distribute the national wealth. To make these associations secure and beneficial, you must make it in their interest to assist each other, instead of competing with each other – you must give then UNITY OF ACTION, AND IDENTITY OF INTEREST…
This is the vital point: are the profits to accumulate in the hands of isolated clubs, or are they to be devoted to the elevation of the entire people? Is the wealth to gather around local centres, or is it to be diffused by a distributive agency?
This alternative embraces the fortune of the future. From the one flows profitmongering, competition, monopoly, and ruin; from the other may emanate the regeneration of society…
If, then, you would recreate society, if you would destroy profitmongering, if you would supplant competition by the genial influence of fraternity, and counteract the centralization of wealth and all its concomitant evils, NATIONALISE COOPERATION".
The Functioning of Cooperation
In issue number 21 of Notes to the People Jones returns to the critique of cooperation, this time concentrating on how it functions as an organisation. We will summarise it as briefly as possible. The main plank on which cooperative aspirations are based, is buying in wholesale – to sell dearer. Only in a few instances are the sales to shareholders – in the main it is to the general public.
Where the sales are limited to shareholders alone we have no complaint. How they go about their affairs is purely their own business. If they wish to establish a mechanism to regulate the purchase and distribution of goods bought by their own funds, that is up to them. What a number of households could do by buying in bulk, these cooperators do by establishing a society to do the administrating. After all, the bourgeoisie buys in bulk, saving substantial amounts, rather than buying in retail. What a few, or perhaps a dozen, households would do collectively by buying wholesale, is exactly what the cooperative societies do.
"This could be done by twenty or thirty, as well as by two or three. Here you have all the advantages of a cooperative store, without any of the expenses and difficulties. You require no payment of rent, taxes and rates; no feeing of officers; no fittings and counters; no advertising and placarding; no payments to lawyers; NO REGISTERING, ENROLLING, OR CERTIFYING; no profitmongering whatever… and there you have all that is required; you keep your money in your own pockets… Can anything be more comical, than men saying we’ll buy at first-hand, but we won’t take our goods home, we’ll let them stop half way, we’ll charge ourselves too much, we’ll pay for an expensive machinery in order that we may be overcharged, and then, at the end of the year, we’ll pay ourselves back a portion of what is left after payment of the working charges…"
But where cooperative societies had been formed mainly to sell to the general public, then a different situation exists. The most soothing excuses are used when it comes to dealing with the public at large. After all, it’s money has to be made in order to develop the cooperative stores, it has to be made from someone other than the cooperators themselves.
"The «cooperator» buys in the cheapest market, and he sells as dear as he can, coolly telling us that he is doing this with the view to the destruction of that horrid profitmongering of the shopocracy. The poor customer pays him the profit – and that he divides at the end of the year between himself and his brother cooperators! Then they boast, that they have made £2,000 net in one year! What did these £2,000 consist of? Of the difference between the wholesale price (the price at which they bought) and the retail price, (the price at which they sold) over and above the working charges".
There were many different arrangements made amongst the various cooperative societies, some divided the profits out amongst themselves whilst some, conscious of the criticism of profiteering no doubt, kept some of the profit for investment. But even these amounts spent on further investment only added to future profits and enlarged the concern. But the profiteering was not just kept to grocery trading. Jones goes on to point out:
"In Rochdale and Padiham, «Cooperation» has assumed a form more injurious still to the best interests of humanity and progression. At the latter place, a «cooperative» factory has been built, by shares of £25 each, payable in 5s, calls. This is a workingman’s factory with a vengeance! – and here, as in almost all the cooperative attempts in England, all the profits are divided among the shareholders – the amount of profit to be extorted from the public, being left to the consciences of the profitmongers themselves".
Each of these types of activity is simply profiteering, or to use a more appropriate title – capitalism! Each functions no differently than any railway, banking or shipping company.
But what should cooperation be? For Jones, as for Marxism, it should mean the abolition of profiteering and wage slavery, by the development of independent and associated labour. This can be established by the principles laid down in that same article. “No man has a right to take more from society, than the value of that which he confers upon it". Consequently cooperation has no right to take more from society than for the primary cost of production, and also to enable all those involved in production and distribution to live adequately. Already we see here the fundamentals of the Marxist critique of capitalism.
So for Jones, there were two alternatives: that of just charging enough for production on the one hand, or of charging more, and having every part of the extra going towards developing land, factories, etc. Jones much preferred the second option, as it set forward the possibility of allowing the wage slaves employment in self remunerating employment.
"It is cooperation, because it establishes a COMMUNITY OF INTEREST – the success of each "branch" furthers the success of every other- and of the whole collectivity. There can be no conflicting interests – no rivalry – no competition – for the greater the success of each undertaking, the more the stability and the permanency of the whole is ensured. It makes it the interest of each and of all to see cooperative associations spread and multiply. This, I repeat emphatically, THIS IS REAL COOPERATION".
The conceptions developed and defended by Jones were the basics of Marxism, for they touched on the vital question of the need for political power – what we would call the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, we should point out that at this stage of the development of the means of production, the elimination of money itself was not practicable, so the Communist perspective was still not very well developed.
Cooperation: the bourgeois defence
The criticisms outlined above must have struck home because an advocate of the bourgeois cooperative movement wrote in defence of it. A Mr. Neale went to great pains to show that this cooperative movement was not composed of ‘isolated’ bodies but societies that work together rather than trying to cut each other’s throats. Neale advanced the idea that despite any problems, this movement was a means, rather than an end – although he did not state what the end might be.
Workers on poor wages are seldom able, says Mr. Neale, even were they able to club together in twenty or so groups, to purchase wholesale, so should they buy at the cooperative store or be in debt to the shopkeeper. We could point out, that at least the local shopkeeper may allow a limited credit, on the "slate", or on "tick", until the next wages are at hand, while the cooperative societies have built into their principles, no credit without collateral. Which of the two would let people starve without hard cash on the counter?
Mr. Neale then goes on to point out the various problems of buying wholesale, that knowledge of mixing and dividing up large quantities of tea, coffee and sugar is needed, and that capital must intervene at various stages. He also goes to great lengths to attempt to repudiate the charge of profit as robbery. Value, for Mr. Neale, has a rather mysterious quality that can only be summed up as being dependent on the desires and means of the buyer. On the issue of profit, Neale at tines gets rather touchy:
"True it is that under the present system the employer or trader may often make a profit which does not fairly belong to him, which, in justice, ought to be shared with those whom he employs, or of whom he buys. To obviate this injustice is one great aim of association. But to argue that this profit is robbery of the public, who freely buy the article at what they consider its worth to them, is entirely to misconceive the character of the transactions. The proceeds of labour may be inequitably distributed, but it does not therefore follow that they are unjustly obtained".
The last sentence shows that Mr. Neale dearly missed an alternative career, as a comedian.
Do today’s Euro-Communists say anything different?
Jones pointed out that on many issues hr Neale has not criticised his attacks.
"…I endeavored to show that it rested in the power of the great moneyed class to prevent and to destroy the associative movement wherever they choose – unless cooperation were backed by political power".
On this point, silence should not be considered as agreement. The two positions are diametrically opposed. We do not differ just on the ends, but also on the means. There is a world of difference between the two conceptions, a difference of class perspectives, of class interests. Jones goes on to elaborate the difference between the two views of value and profits:
"You there set out with defending the receipt of profits, and, in so doing, you endeavour to define in what the «value» of an article consists.
You state that it is just that you should charge profits, because the individual to whom you sell, and from whom you buy charges profits also. In other words, «because you rob me, it is just that I should rob you also». A strange notion of «justice» yours must be! «Is it part of your creed that we may do evil that good may come?»
But, Sir, you seem to have forgotten the working-man – the poor wages-slave – altogether. I suppose cooperation is intended for his especial benefit – and from whom does he take profits? He sells nothing but his labour – and sorry is the «profit» he makes out of that! Then sir – since he charges no «profit» to you, you are committing an act of gross injustice – a rottery – (I don’t flinch from using the right word) if you charge him one fraction more than necessary, since he neither does nor can retaliate on you: and, recollect! the working-men would and do form the bulk of your customers: so that by charging profits, you would not place yourself on the unequal terms you seem to imagine – and by charging profits, you rob far more men who do not rob you, than you retaliate on those who do.
You now proceed to lay down the standard of «value», in answer to the axiom propounded, that «it is robbery for a man to take more from society than the value of what he gives to it» – an axiom, by the way, you do not venture to controvert. All that you attack is my notion of value, and seem to think that the «value» of an article depends quite upon a «fancy price».
Now, sir, you commit the error (in my opinion) of making the value depend upon the desire and want of the purchaser, instead of depending on the labour and well-being of the PRODUCER…
THE VALUE OF AN ARTICLE IS, THEREFORE, THE TIME AND LAB0UR SPENT UPON IT, not the desires and wants of the purchaser".
[NOTA BENE – when this was written, in 1851, the critique of economics was still imprecise, unlike after Marx‘s fundamental works of Critique, Grundrisse and Capital. The phrase should be read as the value of an article is the socially-necessary labour-time spent upon it. We state this here before any smart Alecs start reaching for their pens, joyful at finding something they can apparently attack us for].
"How in the name of common sense, could the latter idea have entered your head? It (the idea) contains the germ of every social evil. Make the want of the buyer define the value of an article? Monstrous! no wonder you should defend profitmongering, when you are (pardon me for the expression, I merely repeat it from you) so utterly ignorant of the true and just principles of commercial exchange. See what your plan would lead to – would? do I say? – what it has and does! It leads to creating want that an extortionate price may be charged for the satisfaction of that want which extortion has created. Thus the regrater may create an artificial famine – and quadruple the price of corn. But is that a proper standard of its value? Did the labourer spend more time and labour on the growth of that corn? – No: but actually, by your standard, that same labourer would have to pay so much more for bread. I tell you, sir – and I defy you to controvert it – the standard of the value of that corn is the labour of the labourer, and what will give him a decent maintenance in return for it.
Again, sir, you tell us the public buy «freely»: therefore, I presume, if they don’t like the price, they may leave the article. That is the argument of the capitalist to his wages-slave, when driving down his wages. But, I tell you, the public do not buy «freely»: – they are obliged to buy the necessaries of life; and if you regulate the prices of those necessaries by any other standard than the cost of production (labour included), if you regulate it by the want of the purchaser, and it rests in your power (as it does now, and as it would under your cooperative plan), to increase that want by scarcity, if it rests with you as the monopolists of production, to fix any price you like, you take a base advantage of the wants of your neighbor, and rob him of the difference between the cost of distribution and distribution, and the retail price you charge aver and above that standard.
I will leave it to the public to judge on whose side rests the «ignorance» and «misconception» of the «true principle of exchange»".
The discussion did not end there. Mr. Neale responded summarising the positions: Jones was advancing forward the notion of class struggle, "as a hostile move of the poor against the rich", while Neale himself was for true Christian charity and for binding classes together which had previously been opposed. As far as the positions Jones was putting forward, only one conclusion was possible: "It has a well-known name, and that name is Communism". Not just any old Communism, but an impracticable Communism, largely because it does away with competition and value. The altering of the concept of value with regards to the produce of labour is something these cooperators could not accept, we suspect because of the abolition of the profit motive – if profit (now called surplus value by the Marxist movement) was to no longer exist, what reason for existence would they have? There then followed the final reply by Jones, on profit – value – cooperation, which effectively terminated the debate.
“As to Communism, Mr. Neale tells us it is right in theory, but that it is wrong to take those practical measures which would realise that theory in action. I pity the legal acumen which will find out, that a thing in principle, would be wrong in practice! [the address of Mr. Neale was Lincoln’s Inn, a centre for solicitors in London] I am perfectly ready to discuss Communism with Mr. Neale, but I have not even touched upon it yet.
Mr. Neale next proceeds to combat my assertion, that Co-operation, without legislative power, would be at the mercy of the rich. No! he does not combat it, but he assures us, that from the pure pity and kindness of the rich they are stretching out a helping hand to working-men’s co-operation, and he has little doubt that they will continue so to do.
Now, who are the greatest enemies of labour? The moneyocracy. Are they helping? Not they! It is a few landlords, and bishops, and farmers, whose interest it is to keep the moneyocracy in check, and who, like drowning men, are catching at a straw to save themselves, and try to make a cats-paw of Co-operation to help them against manufacturing supremacy. If Mr. Neale fixes his hopes on the state church and on the landed aristocracy, he will find them but as broker reeds; for both state church, landed aristocracy, and moneyocracy too, will have to bow before the advancing march of proletarian revolution. Mr. Neale must well know, that the money-class are, for a time, coming to power – that their interest is to crush Co-operation; he cannot deny that, and how can he make it reasonably appear that they will not use their power to their own interest, as they have ever done? Mr., Neale may say, «this is suppositious». Equally suppositious, I reply, is his assertion, that the rich will help us out of pity and good-nature, and spare us cut of mercy in our little efforts…
Then, in the face of this, dare you tell us to have nothing to do with political agitation? Dare you insult and calumniate the men of France because they strove for political power? Dare you advise us, like Whig and Tory, to have nothing to do with politics? Oh! a most convenient recommendation! You may make what laws you please – you may govern, and tax, and prey, and waste – we poor slaves have nothing to do with those matters – they are above our comprehension – your monarchy is to be the world – «our republic is to be only the workshop» – we must merely toil, and slave, and obey, while you rule – and as a crowning kindness, allow us to buy, and sell, and huxter, a little among ourselves – as long as you, our great law-makers, in your infinite goodness, permit us so to do.
Thank you, for speaking out! I always said the present co-operative movement (perfectly ANTI-SOCIAL in its every tendency) was reactionary in the highest degree. I now see from your words how right I was! It is merely an attempt of a small knot among the aristocracy of labour to creep on to the platform of the middle-class – backed at first by a few of the poorer, on whose shoulders they contrive to rise, and then to kick them down from underneath. Thank you, for showing us the real spirit, aim, and object of your cooperation and of its leaders! You lose no opportunity of attacking democracy, and upholding our class institutions – your official organ is a supporter of the state-church – and you now tell us to leave politics to the rich, to go on toiling, huxtering, and slaving among ourselves".
Of especial interest were a series of letters and statements from workers in different parts of the country complaining about the way some of the cooperative societies functioned. They were included in the Trades Grievances, a regular section in "Notes to the People" dealing with the conditions of the workers and actions of employers. The inclusion in the Trades Grievances of these complaints shows the attitude taken regarding whether these were class issues.
The examination of the Cooperative movement, almost at its birth, was undertaken by Jones, with the active collaboration and approval by Marx. It was a necessary work of the proletarian movement, which was being organised in the reformed National Chartist Association at that time, in criticising its enemies. It could not fail but to confront one of the chief enemies of socialism, constituted by the then new-styled Cooperative movement. It can be stated to be a general guide-line, or test, of whether an organisation is reformist or not by its attitude to the Cooperative movement. At the time those who had gone off in a reformist direction, which included Julian Harney at that time, gravitated around and defended the Cooperatives. Incidentally, one of the clearest indications of the defection of Jones himself from the revolutionary movement (he abandoned revolutionary agitation for an alliance with the industrial bourgeoisie) was that he slid back on his opposition to the Cooperative movement in 1855.
It was the Fabians who finally declared this movement to be socialist, much to the surprise of the cooperators, and everyone else. This we turn to next.
Profitable work on the 3rd-4th February 1990
On the 3rd and 4th February in Florence, Italy, our small party held its working reunion. In these reunions, while shunning any of the ridiculous personal protagonism typical of the squalor of circles and sects, the party presents its activity and its researches on revolutionary science to itself and to those who follow it from outside. The historical moment does not call on us to lead great social movements, but to understand them in their catastrophic dynamic, by not losing the notion of the communist party. The latter is a fact of both will and consciousness combined: something that adversaries and deserters either know nothing of, or completely misunderstand. This activity does not require exceptional men, but a capacity to see communism, with which this monstrous and unhappy bourgeois world is pregnant.
As usual we dedicated the preceding days to welcoming the first arrivals, until Saturday morning, when the busier comrades related some results, explained their difficulties, and asked for collaboration. Plans of research in course were updated, the need for new research was raised, the realisation of publication commitments verified and their future agreed upon. In particular, the publication in English of translations on the falsified theme of Russian socialism, gathering old and recent documents in perfect continuity of our position. This is Text No. 5 of the English series, which will be presented under the title Revolution and counter-revolution in Russia: 70 years of organic Marxist evaluation. The summaries of the next issues of the party’s journals were set in working order, and confirmation given of the publication of the new Tactical theses on imperialist war in the party’s press. In the afternoon and on the following Sunday, after a brief introduction by the party’s Centre, we listened to the summaries of the studies commissioned.
History of the Communist Left, 1926-27
The first report referred to the history of our current in the inter-war years. In Bologna, on the evening of 31st October ’26, a pistol shot was fired at Mussolini. The fascist regime’s reaction, legal and illegal, was immediate. The one who was recognised as the would-be assassin was lynched on the spot; in all the cities and villages of Italy, Mussolini’s squads spread terror: branches of anti-fascist parties and journals were laid waste, oppositionists were arrested, beaten and murdered. All parties were declared illegal and their papers suppressed. Although the high ecclesiastical hierarchies promptly lined themselves up on the side of the Duce, the reaction did not even spare the Catholic organisations completely. It struck with all its force at the working class, and in particular at the Communist Party. The police chief gave precise instructions for the mass arrests of communists and of all parliamentary deputies belonging to the PCd’I (Communist Party of Italy).
In the course of 48 hours, hundreds of comrades – for the most part central and peripheral leaders – fell into the hands of the police. The party was taken completely by surprise, unprepared to confront such an eventuality, and this thanks precisely to that internal "reorganisation" which had been carried out for some years, under the name of "bolshevisation". Old comrades of sound loyalty and proven abilities were forced to leave their positions of responsibility to those who replaced those qualities with "leninist suppleness", and unconditional adherence to the struggle conducted against the Left.
However, the party had net only failed to elaborate any emergency plan, which could to a certain degree have allowed the safeguarding of the organisation and the possibility of escape of the office-holders of the party: it even came to say, during the first days of the repression, that the situation could be considered "objectively favorable to the party", which was supposed to have immediately resumed its activity in full. A few days later, this unconsidered optimism was followed by an authentic defeatism: on the 10th November, the few leaders of the Executive who had fled from arrest went so far as to deliberate the dissolution of the party, and its transformation into "study groups”. If it’s true that the dissolution came to be revoked, there remains the awkward fact that those who had pronounced themselves in favour of the dissolution were kept at the top of the party.
Following the repression, the party suffered an outright decimation not just from the effects of the "special laws", but also from a series of politically fruitless and purely demonstrative actions, because the Executive held that any sacrifice would be justified. So after 1927, communist political activity could only continue abroad, thanks to the emigration. Even the leading Centre of the PCd’I was transferred to Paris, where the "foreign Office" came to be constituted. Here, taking up the Aventine themes again, it "elaborated" that tactic which, through a thousand counter-revolutionary vicissitudes, would end in full adherence to the capitalist system provided it was…anti-fascist.
In January 1927, the management of the CGL, having affirmed that the realisation of the fascist regime was also the fruit of social-democratic principles, and that the policy of fascist unionism was not unlike that of classical union reformism, dissolved the Confederation and invited proletarians to enter the Mussolinian organisations. Even on this occasion, the PCd’I did not unmask the reformist policy, which had really paved the way to fascism; nor did it call on the proletariat to reconstitute, as far as possible, an organisational network of economic defence on purely class bases. Rather, the PCd’I adopted that union policy which events themselves had clamorously defeated, finally going so far as to request the recognition of the ultra-reactionary yellow international in Amsterdam. This attitude in the union field, like that favoring an alliances with social-democratic and bourgeois parties defined as “anti-fascist" – and even with the Catholic organisations – could no longer be thought of as the passing mishaps of a communist party that was politically insufficiently equipped. On the contrary, this was a matter of a manifest democratic tactic, which had nothing to do with Marxist tradition and doctrine.
From every corner of the party, whether in Italy or in the emigration, the mass of comrades registered sharp protests against this wholesale clearance of the communist programme, which had the sole aim of obtaining admission to the club of democratic anti-fascism. Therefore the Stalinist leaders employed all their energies and resources, not to save the party or for revolutionary organisation, but with a view to inter-class collaboration. So everything in the party which still represented a call to the basic concepts of Marxism was opposed. The struggle came to be conducted inside the party and against the party.
With this goal, a ruthless campaign was organised against the Left. For years already, the leaders PCd’I had been unable to sustain a polemic against the Left (which expressed the proletarian reaction against their defeatist policy) on the basis of the communist tactics and doctrine. Besides falsifying positions of principle, the leaders had recourse to every kind of insinuation and insult, in order to obscure the Left’s criticisms from the party’s base. The principal arguments in the fight conducted by the Centrists were, at first, represented by ideological terror and scandal-mongering against the supporters of the “fraction" and the "split" in the party and the International. After 1926, the Stalinists proceeded from words to deeds, with the expulsion of all those who refused to yield to the party’s defeatism. Even if they were expelled from the party, the Left’s comrades were the only ones that carried out a lively political activity and got the approval and adherence of the emigrant proletariat. Give this fact, the stalinists had no qualms about accusing the Left of being an intermediary and tool of fascist infiltration in the heart of the working class. But it was precisely the comrades of the Fraction who were able to demonstrate how it came about that fascist provocateurs could enter the PCd’I and make a rapid career for themselves; and how these provocateurs served the stalinists in their struggle against the Left.
The Fraction, apart from the duty of fighting back against the infamous rascalities of the stalinists, always managed to avoid being drawn into sterile personal polemics; on the contrary, it continued its battle in defence of revolutionary Marxist doctrine and tactics with strength and enthusiasm.
Evaluation of the economy and current events in Russia
A second report once again presented our evaluation of the economy and current events in Russia, a reading certainly not "adjusted" in the last months, years or even decades, but coherent with what has already been analysed, amply described and even explicitly foreseen by the party. The collapse of stalinism is neither the collapse of Marxism as a scientific doctrine, nor the collapse of a State dominated by the proletariat as a class. In Russia and its satellites, only the falsification of that doctrine and the lie of that class rule have fallen down; only the myth of a possible rational and social regulation of the capitalist mode of production has collapsed. It is the crisis, first of social-democratic, then fascist, then stalinist dogma, that a State or State-regulated capitalism would be something economically different from unrestrained capitalism, always and everywhere catastrophic and putrescent.
In the East – by reason of world historical maturity and the powerful shove given by the October revolution, and notwithstanding the following counter-revolution – the parliamentary-democratic and free-trade phase has been skipped over. In fact, this form of bourgeois government is not at all perfect and eternal, but characteristic of societies not yet equipped with big industry and finance. Capital’s dictatorship in Russia has directly adopted one-party rule and state-interventionism in the economy. On the economic terrain this intervention, besides being in no way destructive of the classical capitalist production relations of money, market and wage-labour, is not regarded by Marxism as always and in every situation progressive compared to the private juridical form of ownership of capital. Following our very precise Engels we recalled how his hoped-for statifications were to be foreseen in the sector of big industry. In this sector he would have normatively favored the maximum technical and administrative concentration, conscious that a central and total planning of the surplus-value-making machine is impossible: in fact we wanted it to be made as complete as possible for it to be negated in communism. In the major capitalist countries, this phase has today been well and truly reached, and its decline initiated. Here the alternative is absolutely not bureaucracy-entrepreneurs, but money system-socialism.
To statify insufficiently-developed artisan and peasant productive forces is only a political measure. Carried out by a State that is not especially revolutionary, this can work in the direction of economic and social preservation by impeding the "natural" selection of less efficient enterprises. In Russia, they say, one enterprise in four is in the red. Russia today is not turning back to democracy and free-trade. In economics, decentralisation is only a question of principle insofar as that which has never really been united is redivided. The principal of central planning is renounced, when, beyond big industry and big structures (railways, electricity, etc.) it was never in fact realised – except in a gigantic apparatus of old ministerial papers and functionaries. Petty production and commerce, their “tithes" paid, go their own way. This reactionary network of producers and traders, and very low output, is the first to be overwhelmed by the incipient crisis of world (and even Russian) overproduction.
In politics, if stalinist has been able to directly assume the modern bourgeois form of open dictatorship, post- stalinism is not the return to pre-fascist democracy. Instead it represents the tendency towards the real, unquestioned and irreversible triumph of fascism, which succeeds in subjugating the democratic forms themselves, the very parties and unions of the working class: one hundred parties, only one national capitalist programme; parliamentary cretinism and petty political personalism by the busload. The evolution of the Russian economy in recent months confirms what was diagnosed by us concerning its maturity and crisis. Production is growing at a considerable pace, alongside misery for the proletarians: precisely capitalism according to the canons of Marxism. There are already one million unemployed in Uzbekistan.
The difficulty verified in drawing up the much-promised economic reforms on the enterprise, on property and on land-leasing (and tomorrow in their actuation), have their explanation in the social factor, in latent opposition and in the open struggle of the Russian proletariat. The State-managed food shops are empty, while commodities abound on the stalls of the kolkhozians, but at unreachable prices for workers’ families. This represents a class battle which the State hesitates to engage in. Confirmation of this is given by press notices of continuous strikes, which boast 7,5 million work-days lost in the first eleven months of 1989; and of the existence of a "United Workers’ Front" of which we know only that it is an "enemy of perestroika", which says a lot.
What are really lacking in the bourgeois power system are the centuries-old structures of opportunist parties and unions, formally opposed to the State and to the dominant class, in reality devoted to democracy and to the defence of the regime. In contrast to what the Polish bourgeoisie succeeded in with the help of intellectuals and priests, the Russian proletarians – we don’t know how instinctively – mistrust democracy, reformers and the middle classes. This is the key problem set before the Russian rulers: to turn the proletariat. For the moment they haven’t done it. It’s inevitable that all the remaining debate on economic programmes aims in Russia, as in the whole world already, at a plurality of forms of property, along with the State and big banks. The latter institutions manoeuvre prices, finance, credit and investments without any projects, plans or future – except a permanent state of emergency for the survival of a system which is only waiting to be struck down, in the East as in the West.
Critique of Bourgeois Reason and Economy
At the end of Saturday evening a comrade continued the exposition of our more general critique of bourgeois reason and economy, with ample recourse to the texts of Marx, Engels, Lenin and the Left. Readers of Italian can retrace the complete reports of the first two parts of this important work in issues 26 and 27 of Comunismo under the titles: Reason and Revolution; the Commodity Fetish and its Death; Wage-labour – Mystification of the Exploitation of the Proletariat. In the chapter expounded at the reunion, the classical criticisms of Marx against Proudhon were turned against the neo-Proudhonian Stalin, in particular on the supposed possibility of a socialism which uses money and the law of value as an intermediary between producers. Stalin, just like Proudhon, resolves the contradiction by affixing the adjective “socialist" to the same capitalist categories: thus there would be a "socialist market’.
Stalin’s successors, not through individual responsibility, but through historical maturity, are further away than Stalin from Marxism and socialism; for the bourgeois romanticism of the bourgeois revolutionary Stalin, they substitute a prosaic eclecticism. The latter is not concerned with aims and principles that aren’t the victorious bourgeois ones of accumulation and democracy, inscribed on unfurled banners.
The presenter then passed to concepts of personalism and property, the foundation of every democratic ideology. In a certain society to come – and not in this one – these concepts will be overcome by successfully affirming not only that the ownership of the means of production and the paid work of other people is excluded, but even of consumer goods themselves and of the individual person, connected by links of tender necessity and joyous collaboration with the whole community. It’s the bourgeois world which, among the so-called liberties, also allows that of the abuse of one’s body with drugs, justified as a "private" affair.
Not by chance, perestroika exalts individualism and laments its insufficient spread. It’s a capitalist necessity in Russia to inflame competition among bourgeois and among proletarians, in order to force the production of relative surplus value. Stalin, on the other hand, betted on the egalitarian admission of great masses into the nascent industries. Not by chance, perestroika is supported by every type of intellectual. Communism rejects both this individualism, and the earlier romantic egalitarianism.
Marx’s "Historical notes on commercial Capital"
On Sunday morning, the party members resumed work, by listening to the continuing re-reading of the Third Volume of Marx’s Capital, coming to the twentieth chapter of the fourth section: "Historical Notes on Commercial Capital". We returned to the text to show how vulgar economy (which Marx dates from 1830) in its attempt to expel the merchants as a socially necessary and external function, would be unable to explain the origin and measure of commercial profit.
In the commercial function, Marxism recognises only a necessity of capitalist production; and if there will always be material production in every kind of human society, the same cannot be said for commercial activity. The average profit of capital employed in commerce derives from the average rate of profit of the whole social capital, as a result of competition between the holders of capital. Marx amply retraces the genesis of modern commercial capital, whose formation historically precedes the capitalist mode of production, of which it is an "embryonic” form: it even supports itself on previous modes of production. In the Marxist analysis, capitalism’s past explains the present, and indicates the ineluctable tendency towards its destruction.
The Party’s activity in the Cobas
A brief report followed on the party’s union activity inside the school worker’s movement in Italy, and in their base Committees (Cobas). In the absence of a general struggle our comrades, unconcerned with and condemning the various initiatives of scholastic reform, insisted in the national assemblies on the discussion of the unitary platform, in view of the not very far-off maturity of the contracts (in Il partito Comunista’s February edition there is a discussion of the very well-conducted struggle of the lecturers in the Italian teachers’ colleges).
Communism and ecology
Finally, in the field of the criticism of bourgeois thought, we listened to the condemnation of the contemporary bourgeois ideologies described as "ecologist", which have the purpose of diverting the struggle of the working class from its real objectives. We oppose the pessimism of closed conceptions of the universe and society, according to which the goods at the disposal of the human species are fixed and finite. It’s therefore necessary, they say, to try to consume as little as possible, it being certain that these goods will not last. Instead of this notion we affirm the reality of a world and a society in expansion, which regenerate themselves, modifying their very laws of existence in a process we don’t see any limits to. The carpe diem is that of the petty-bourgeoisie condemned to death as a class. To the individualist mysticism of the petty-bourgeois, troubled by the necessities of their individual zoological conservation, of "biological", healthy and uncontaminated nourishment, we oppose the future species physiology, when even functions such as meals return to their sense of sacredness: not as individual, but as species activities. We can advance another definition of communism, that of a mystical society, which literally sees with the eyes of the species.
The reunion was concluded on the Sunday afternoon, with the latest agreements on work, and with renewed commitment in our struggle for the rebirth of tomorrow.
Unofficial union organizes strike in oil-fields
On Thursday 4.8.90, the first of four 24 hour Wildcat strikes was called by oil¬field workers as they stepped up action to persuade the oil-companies, Shall and BP, and various other North Sea companies, to agree to wage increases, better safety conditions and union recognition. The action was organised by the Offshore Industry Liason Committee (OILC), an unofficial alliance of unions representing mainly contract workers in oil and gas fields in the North Sea. Unofficial wild¬cat strikes have occurred here in the past and the OILC has been calling an overtime ban for the last six months which has, by and large, been complied with. The present wave was, no doubt, precipitated in part by a lack of response to the overtime action and also the failure, in January, of talks between the employers’ organisation – the Offshore Contractors Council (OCC), and representatives of the four main unions involved in the North Sea – engineers, electricians, construction workers, and the MSF, the white collar union. The OCC is the employer’s body for about 200 companies working in the North Sea and recognizes the Unions, presumably on an individual basis, though many individual contractors do not.
The OCC response to the sit-in strike was to claim that the dispute could only be settled onshore and that workers had to either return to shore or be sacked. Dismissals duely took place with 1,000 contract workers sacked making ’stop the sackings’ the worker’s main battle-cry. On Friday, on the Safe Gotha oil-rig, Shell resorted to a lockout. The response of Jim Fleming, a leader of the unofficial committee said "We think they want to clear the field so they can get rid of the spokesman. The rest of the workforce would then be sent back". Representatives of the strikers said that about 1,500 were involved in the sit-ins while a further 1,500 had been taken off. Such moves would result, a week later, in new tactics which involved oilmen appearing to return to work so that they could then obey further strike calls.
Faithfully backed up by their media lackeys, an immediate campaign was launched to scare the ’British Public’ with rising petrol prices which would apparently result. This backfired slightly as any price rise due to the oil-strike pales into insignificance against those that will result from the coup in Kuwait, inspired by the interests of Iraqi imperialism and the shady OPEC cartel. After this failed bit of black propaganda, the OCC had to resort to falling back on the usual platitudes such as ’responsible men will follow the request to ignore the strike call’, and workers are being manipulated by ’militants’ for ’disruptive ends’. Dear capitalist swine, it is your useless system that creates these strikes.
Battle is declared: after 52 workers on a BP Forties field platform had been left stranded and unable to return to their accomadation platform after a bridge between the workers and an accomadation floatel had been removed without, note, normal safety procedures being observed, Ray Milne, quoted in the Independant, who was there at the time gives us a vivid impression of the situation aboard ’We’re manning the connecting bridge to Brent Charlie 24 hours a day to stop Shell lifting it and dragging us a way from the Brent Charlie. Every evening at about 8.30 we get together in the cinema and the reps from the OILC – our strike committee – give us the latest news and answer any questions. (...) Every day we’re told the next chopper will be the last one out, and if we don’t leave by the deadline we’ll lose our jobs. They’re working on our psychology. We’ve even had the Swedish skipper saying it’s Illegal for us to be here, but he’s quoting an obscure maritime law and the Safe Gotha can’t he classed as a seagoing vessel’. Such measures, along with the demand to regular shift workers to sign no-strike agreements before being flown off – are dismissed by the OILC as ’crude intimidatory devices’; and such tactics are not new. Mr. McDonald, the OILC chairman refers to "more than ten years of macho management tactics in the north sea, including intimidation and blacklisting those workers which the operators want out".
Another 24-hour strike is called on Sunday, and by Wednesday 8.8.90, 750 workers are still sitting in aboard the platforms and accomadation floatels. On Thursday, Shell says they would meet OILC representatives as a ’courtesy’ outside their headquarters (how kind). At this meeting, the reinstatement of sacked people was demanded along with negotiations on a comprehensive safety agreement.
The next day, the struggle spreads with workers at two offshore fabrication yards, and at the St. Fergus oil and gas terminal joining the third 24-hour stoppage. This adds 1,000 more to the 400 still sitting in on the accomadation platforms. Many other groups of workers also express their willingness to support the strike in other oil related industries. Meanwhile, outside the oilfields, The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) will urge workers at three GEC plants to vote for indefinite stoppages; this is a continuation of the selective strikes that took place last year as part of the campaign for a shorter working week; GEC is the main target as other employers have made agreements. On Monday, 13.8.90, the 4th 24-hour strike is called.
As things hot up, suspicions are voiced about strange things happening on the telephones. Say Milne: ’We’ve been having trouble with the phones (...) I got cut off twice talking to my father’. Shell admits that certain restrictions have been placed on what it refers to as ’our telephone system’ but says it is allowing workers on the platforms to call their families. Along with this tentative foray into the ’dirty tricks department’, the employers appeal to the OILC to call off the action so as to allow an official union ballot to take place. This is rejected, showing that the OILC is not willing to genuflect before the holy union ballot. If anything, ’The first ballot should be for recognition of all offshore workers’, retorts Ronnie MacDonald.
Providing a bit of light relief, the Scottish Nationalists now decide to get in on the act as one of their oft repeated claims is – Scottish Oil for the Scottish. And it must be said, they’ve come up with a real peach of a solution. According to them the oil minister should step in to guarantee workers union rights! So, fresh from the world cup where he was last seen wandering around scratching his head about what to do about British football fans: step forth Colin Moynihan! ex-sports minister and champion of the workers!
To return to the battle-field, a very interesting occurrence shows what formidable problems can occur in the domain of organization. On Saturday, a breakaway group of 400 Southern sector offshore workers decided on an indefinite walkout. This prompted Ronnie MacDonald to say "a situation was developing where the action was becoming uncoordinated (...) accordingly, the men were told to return to work immediately and await the call for properly co-ordinated action". He said that more action was planned but that he was ’keeping his options open" on what form it would take. This led to return to work by those workers.
Relations between the unions and the OILC seem to be cordial and Ronnie McDonald is quoted as saying ’The trade union record in honouring its agreements is beyond reproach. The whole problem is that there is no agreement and there are no procedures through which trade unions can control their members’.
In fact, as far as the employers are concerned, relations between the OILC and the unions are far too cordial. There vexation is best summed up in the words of a contractors spokesman quoted in the Observer, who said ’It’s about time the unions took control of their members instead of some rogue body ordering them about left, right and centre. It would be Interesting to see a full and frank statement from the unions saying whether they back the strikers or not’. The latter point, at least, we are in agreement on.
The employers decided to remedy the situation by appealing to the TUC by trying to tweak their loyalties to local capitalist interests, and get them to step in as a strike breaking force as they ’should recognize the safety, economic and, particularly at this time, the strategic importance of the North Sea and exercise their responsibility of leadership to end this action’. The TUC laconically replied that it was odd that the oil companies should be appealing to them for help since the dispute was about union recognition.
Let us then proceed to briefly examining some of the main demands being made, equipped as we are with insufficient information, and the background against which they occur.
The workers demands on safety are made against the backdrop of the latest casualties in the oil-fields – six deaths in a helicopter crash last week when it hit a crane on one of the platforms – and we hardly need remind oil-workers of the 167 lives lost in the inferno of the Piper Alpha disaster two years ago.
The demand of the OILC regarding safety are that instead of the matter being monitored by the department of energy, responsibility be assumed by the health and safety executive. This demand is presumably being made because many workers have noticed how keen the department of energy seems to be to represent the interests of the energy buisnesses, whilst it seems to be less than enthusiastic about ameliorating the conditions of the oil workers. We can appreciate such a demand, but would caution against seeing the health and safety executive as a panacea, as this august body might not be as impartial as it would like to appear.
A demand has also been made by workers from six unions demanding that shopstewards should be appointed as safety officers on board each rig.
We are not aware of the precise demands being made on the wage front, but workers in the British oil-fields know that their Scandinavian counterparts have a far better deal. Ray Milne records ’The Swedish crew on the Safe Gotha work 14 days on, 28 days off. We do 14 on, 14 off. It’s a big difference’. Meanwhile their Norwegian colleagues receive double their pay (and have a modern safety inspectorate. We would urge this as the demand on the wage front – double the present pay – just like the Norwegians, and this on the hours front – 14 days on, 28 days off – just like the Swedish. Any eyewash about different standards of living etc. should be paid no attention to at all. This is not an extremist demand, rather it is the capitalists who are extremist expecting workers to slog away for a pittance, risking life and limb, whilst they dawdle around at the golf course.
The oil companies are claiming that the strike isn’t hitting oil production itself because the full time workers who work for them, who make up about 30% of the work force, are still at work, whilst the strike is taking place mainly amongst short-term contract workers whose situation is always notoriously difficult since such workers always feel they have to be ’good as gold’ to keep in work. The situation is very much the same, in fact, as on the various ’Government training schemes’ where tantalising offers of full-time jobs are coyly revealed to workers as a means of disciplining them – a carrot instead of a stick..
This fact is, there exists a sector of relatively privileged workers against a backdrop of 70% of the workforce who are in a more precarious situation. We wouldn’t of course dream of repremanding full-time oil-workers for being decently paid, if such indeed is the case, but against such a backdrop, the central demand of the strikers for a comprehensive agreement for all workers in the North Sea assumes key importance. For that one reason alone, we would say that the OILC, whatever the plus and minus points of the other unions and bodies that compose it, are the true workers representatives in that their demand is one that takes workers out of the restrictions of the corporatist framework.
We would urge the OILC to continue this valuable work but would warn that to fight purely within the constraints of economic defence will not be the final solution to the problem as it consists in the wage system itself. To fight that system will involve organizing on an International class level led by the International class party.
The problem is immense especially against the background of the crisis in the middle-east. For instance, directly connected with the oil-industry, a weeklong strike amongst Turkish war workers at the strategic US base in Incirlik was broken yesterday as a result of the Iraqi war crisis, with the Turkish government ordering the strike to be postponed because of its new-found alliance with the US, against Iraq – 500 miles from the base. How can we find common cause with these workers without a clearly defined and strong international organization that transcends all national and patriotic demands? Do we fight for our economic demands separate from them or together with them? Should we just fight within limited zones and categories just for wage demands, or should we not ultimately aim to fight with workers in all sectors and in all countries to overthrow the crappy system which oppresses us all?
Easy to say, of course, but this, nevertheless, should be the end we hold in view. How the various sectoral struggles find common cause, both within and across national boundaries will involve a large element of trial and error both for workers, and its political party, the International Communist Party. We will all be going into relatively unknown territory on the tactical front but in the long term the fight will be worth it.
We await with interest further developments within the oil-strike and will try to keep our readers informed. To finish up; since the employers in the oil-fields claim to be so considerate of the oil workers, we will extend a courtesy to one of their representatives, Mr. Salmond, a former oil-economist with the Bank of Scotland, by allowing him to sum up the present stage of the strike: ’Some operators have seemed hell-bent on promoting industrial chaos rather than working towards peace’. Yes Mr. Salmond, it’s called class war, and your bank will have plenty more examples to comment on in the future.
big stick in Poplar
By E. Sylvia Pankhurst
The following article about the events in Poplar, a district in the East End of London, was published in the Workers’ Dreadnought in October 6, 1923. In publishing this article it not only gives us the opportunity to re-open a part of the history of the actions of the Labour leaders (especially this one as a mythology about "Poplarism", the struggle for municipal “socialism", has been peddled about) but also to make some comments on the tendency around the author, Sylvia Pankhurst. There is still some confusion about the history of the Communist Left in the English speaking world as often only the “German” Left of the KAPD (a confused and disorientating movement associated with Gorter and Pannakoek) is known, whilst the history of the “Italian” Left – our own school of thought – tends to be obscured (and often falsified by our detractors) or dismissed with the wave of a hand.
The pointing to lessons of history can be regarded by some as a truism but this is an attitude which we do not share. In fact those who dismiss the lessons of history are precisely those who are doomed to repeat it! The opportunists, and especially their apologists, have been doing it over and over again.
The nature of the Labour Party has long been debated, sore often as a justification for being in it rather than outside. It is sometimes characterised as the political expression of the working class because it was founded by and is affiliated to by the Trade Unions. The extension of this argument is that people should be in it seeking to either change it or to somehow provide "better leaders". The politics and class nature of the organisation is ignored, which covers their own opportunism. Even Lenin’s "Left-wing Communism" is used, and a discrete silence is drawn over Lenin’s characterisation of the Labour Party as a bourgeois party (because of its programme) and "the worst one in the entire Second International". As an extension of the misuse of Lenin’s work, those outside the Labour Party are denounced as being "sectarian" – well, Lenin could be just as "sectarian" by abandoning the Second International to its fate, and even at times advocate abstention from Parliament. We were never Abstentionists in principle – Lenin was never for participation in Parliament as a principle – we had our disagreements and it is no doubt unfortunate that we were not able to resolve the matter within Lenin’s own life-time.
The Labour Party very quickly turned on the working class, showing early on which side it was on. This was merely because it was an extension of the trade union bureaucracy which had already joined with the bourgeoisie in defending the existing society and its state. Nothing at all mysterious about this fact. A reading of works of the revolutionary Left from 1914 onwards (and even before) will show which side the opportunists are on. But some people still cling to illusions that the ’socialists’ of the Second Internationalists, with the Stalinists after them, are somehow representative of the working class. Why blame the workers for the appalling actions of the opportunists and the defenders of bourgeois society?
Lenin’s position in favour of the affiliation to the Labour Party by the Communist Party being formed in Britain requires a more detailed study than an introduction such as this. Suffice it to say that he was not only trying to educate a new generation of young communists but also looking for a way to reach the masses. He is quite clear on what he is looking for and points to an independent existence similar to the one which had previously existed in Russia where there were separate factions (tendencies), i.e. the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Such a situation could have existed (in theory) in Britain prior to the First World War, but was closed irrevocably from 1918 onwards. This date is important as the federal structure of the Labour Party, when organisations had a fair amount of independence of action, was replaced with one of domination by the social- chauvinists. The inclusion of the famous (or more correctly infamous) Clause Four calling for the return of the fruits of the labour, by hand and by brain, to the workers concerned is sometimes pointed to as the basis of socialism, but is in reality the victory of the Fabian liberal "state socialism" and doesn’t represent a step towards socialism at all.
Pankhurst had waged a long fight over the war and the new constitution during this period 1917-18 WITHIN the Labour Party. Opposition to the membership of the Labour Party wasn’t some idle sectarianism, a distain to become involved in other organisations, but a recognition that the fight had been fought inside and must now be fought OUTSIDE the Labour Party. This was precisely one of the reasons that the new Communist International had been set up to fight for, and Pankhurst and her organisation, the Workers Socialist Federation, was the first in Britain to declare unreservedly and enthusiastically for it. The break-down in the Unity negotiations led to the formation of the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) by the W.S.F and a number of other groups and individuals. Although small in number, it was very active and achieved more than the British Socialist Party, who was more concerned about its membership to the Labour Party.
During this period Pankhurst was in contact with the most revolutionary tendencies throughout Europe. On her way to a secret conference in Germany she attended the Bologna Congress of the Italian Socialist Party in late 1919. Her report published in the Dreadnought on 1st and 8th November in that year shows a clear identification with the "Abstentionist" Left of Italy and mentions her having long conversations with Bordiga. These conversations also led to an interview with Pankhurst being published in the edition of the re-named "Il Soviet" (formerly known as Il Socialist published from Naples. This interview elaborated how Pankhurst saw the way the various tendencies in Britain as well as the labour and trade union bureaucrats were developing. It is clear that even though the "abstentionism" of the British and the Italian movements were not in principle (both were prepared to drop it if agreement on general positions could be reached) a convergence of political positions do not mean that they were identical at that time.
The CP(BSTI) stood to one side while the B.S.P., along with some small groups a handful of individuals constituted the Communist Party of Great Britain. After the Second Congress of the Comintern and obeying the instructions of the Moscow leadership the majority of the members of the CP(BSTI) joined the CPGB early in 1921. However, the desire for unity is one thing, the converging of strategies and perspectives is another. Very quickly the issues which had divided the tendencies during the Unity negotiations emerged within the new CPGB. Although the Labour Party refused admission to the CPGB, it had no desire to voluntarily place its neck in the famous noose mentioned by Lenin, but that did not stop the CPGB continuing to try. And more than that, the whole issue of what constitutes revolutionary action and practice caused dissension.
Pankhurst and others criticised the actions of communist councillors and Guardians on the Poor Law Boards, Education Boards, etc. It became apparent that the membership that came with the B.S.P. thought they could continue in the same old reformist way they had been conducting themselves for years. Militant sounding rhetoric in their journals while reformist actions of their councillors (sometimes under a labour ticket anyway). The issue of actions of Communist Party members led to protests by Pankhurst and her expulsion late in 1921. The actions of the two Communist Party members who were Guardian Board members should not be seen as an incidental happening, as one of then, A. A. Watts, was not only a long standing member of the B.S.P., but also the Treasurer of the recently formed C.P.G.B. No disclaimer for his actions was ever made, nor was he disciplined for his actions! This is stalinism before Stalin! Those who protest against the cutting of the poor relief are expelled while those who carry out the attacks on the working class can remain members. Some "Communist Party". It is not for nothing that the C.P.G.B. could quite easily fit into the stalinised Comintern without any large-scale purges, expulsions, etc. They were already on the outside.
We must acknowledge that Sylvia Pankhurst was no theoretician, and even though a tremendous fighter this did not prevent her going over-board after her expulsion from the C.P.G.B. Trying to rekindle a fighting spirit amongst the working class, Sylvia threw herself into whirlwinds of activity, forming all sorts of organisations such as new revolutionary unitary organisations as advocated by the German ’left’. More often than not they existed only on paper. However, the Unemployed Workers Organisation was different, in the sense that it did express the physical organisation of militant workers who fought to defend the conditions and interests of masses of the unemployed. It has been noted that many of the militant workers of the first world war became the organisers of the unemployed in the 1920s. Therefore not all of Sylvia’s work during this period was wasted, especially her pointing to the terrible events in Ireland during these same years.
make disparaging comments about Pankhurst because of the issues she
finally took up, particularly her concern for the people of Abyssinia
with its brutal invasion by Italian fascist forces. In a sense she
was also a victim of the counter-revolution as much as so many others
who could not hold to the narrow path of revolutionary principles
like those defended by the "Italian" Left in exile, as
shown by publications such as Bilan.
Editorial Note: The information in the following article has been reproduced from the above-mentioned copy the Workers’ Dreadnought. We have excluded some of the sub-headings only to save space.
The big stick in Poplar
Upwards of forty people badly hurt, hundreds of slightly wounded cases
Much has been said and written of love and hate and violence in Poplar. One thing stands out clearly: it is that the result of working-class representatives taking part in the administration of capitalist machinery, is that the working-class representatives become responsible for maintaining capitalist law and order and for enforcing the regulations of the capitalist system itself. The Labour Guardians, who hold all the seats of the Board save two, have deducted the 1s.6d. a week coal allowance, and are contemplating a reduction in the scale of relief, though the winter is approaching and the cost of living rising and wages falling.
On Wednesday, September 26th, a deputation of the Unemployed Workers’ Organisation waited upon the Guardians to ask for the restoration of the coal allowance and an increase in the scale of relief to single men and women.
Relief to be reduced
The Guardians refused both requests, and Mr, Edgar Lansbury, Chairman of the Board, told the deputation that a reduction in the scale of relief is being considered in order to reduce the call on the ratepayers by £85,000.
Guardians looked in
Thereupon the Unemployed locked the main doors of the building and told the Guardians that they must remain for the night unless they would reverse their decision.
This is not the first time the Unemployed have taken such action. Guardians have been locked in many times before in Poplar and in other Boroughs. The Unemployed officials declare the Mr. George Lansbury and other members of the Board have in the past expressed approval of such tactics; but if that is so it was no doubt in the shape of platform perorations not intended to be taken too literally. Certainly the Board resented the locking in on this occasion, and, though some of them are members of Parliament, accustomed to all-night sittings at Westminster, and others hope to be, they were not willing to make this sacrifice of comfort to oblige the Unemployed.
Some two hundred Unemployed were in the building, and about twenty were inside the Board-room with the Guardians. A few were in the public gallery. The rest of the two hundred were downstairs in the entrance hall of the Guardians’ offices.
A crowd of men, women, and children were outside.
At this time it seems that the Board meeting came to an end and that it was decided there should be no further business done by the Board that night. The Labour members, who form the great majority of the Board, remained wrangling with the Unemployed.
Police refuse to enter
The Unemployed assert that Mr. George Lansbury went downstairs and broke a fanlight, saying that this would be the signal for the police to break in. The "Daily Herald" and the rest of the press assert that the police refused to enter without a written order of the Guardians.
Comrades Bellamy, Johns and Gape spoke to the crowd outside from the Board-room window. Presently a London County Council Ambulance drove up. The summoning of the Ambulance was a gruesome act, whoever was responsible for it. It proves that the local authorities expected and also intended – that people should be wounded. This is a borough "where Labour rules!” Noske and his tactics are undoubtedly to have their counterpart also in this country. It is strange that the lesson should first be given in Poplar. Seeing the ambulance, Comrade Bellamy said, “We don’t want that yet"; but the police began to beat the crowd of men, women and children with their truncheons.
Who sent for the police !
Meanwhile certain Labour Guardians were clamouring for the police to be sent for to break into the building, release the Guardians, and clear out the Unemployed.
As to what happened then there are different versions. The "Daily Herald" says:
"When the police arrived, in response to a telephone call, they declined to force an entry to the building, without written authority, and some time elapsed before the Guardians decided to give this".
The "Daily Telegraph" report agrees with that of several other papers. It states that Alderman John Scurr, Mayor of Poplar, a magistrate, and a Guardian, took the chair, "and it was decided to give the policy requisite authority".
The members of the Unemployed organisation say, as the "Telegraph" does, that Mr. Edgar Lansbury was willing that the police should break in the doors, but not that they should enter the building. The Board meeting, they say, came to an end, and Mr. Lansbury left the chair. Then the Labour member of the Board held a meeting. Mr. Scurr, Mayor of Poplar (I.L.P., Theosophist), took the chair. Mr. A. A. Watt (Communist Party of Great Britain) moved, and Mrs. Scurr seconded, that authority be given to the police to come in. The Unemployed say that this motion was carried. They add that Mr. Scurr then wrote a note to the police, which was thrown through the window by one of a group of Guardians: Mr. Watts, Mr. Partridge and Mrs. Scurr, who were standing at the window. The police inspector was seen to read the note.
Mr.. Edgar Lansbury, questioned at a Bow Baths meeting the following Sunday, did not give a clear account of the facts. He did not know whether a vote was taken on the motion of Mr. Watts; he was speaking against it, he said, when the police came in. He would not deny that the police had had authority given to them by the Board, by Mr. Scurr, or someone else to enter the building, nor would he admit it.
Police break in
All other reports agree that the police were summoned by the Guardians. The police then broke the window and climbed into the waiting-room below the Board-room.
Mr.. George Lansbury had told Comrade Bellamy to go downstairs to the Unemployed and ask them whether they would open the doors and go quietly, or be batoned down by the police. He said that they would be given a quarter of an hour to make their decision. Mr. Lansbury said: "Someone has telephoned to the police.“ This was before the note was sent.
A terrible scene
Comrade Bellamy went down to deliver the message to the Unemployed, who were all unarmed, and had come to the Board meeting, expecting no violence would result. He had scarcely left the Board-room, when the police appeared.
A terrible scene ensued. The police fell upon the unarmed people in the building, beating them cruelly with their truncheons. Not only members of the Unemployed organisation were ill-treated, but also individuals who had come independently on their own special cases. Numbers of men were felled to the ground and lay bleeding.
Men rushed to Mr. George Lansbury, crying: "George, can’t you stop it?" Mr. Lansbury spurned them: "They have asked for it, and now they will get it. It will be a lesson to them," he answered.
Mrs. Scurr shrieked at Comrade W. Gape, who is only about twenty years of age, and has lived in the borough about two years: "You go back to Hendon, Gape!" Mr. Lansbury also called to Gape to go away.
Comrade Bellamy stood arguing with the Guardians: "You have phoned for the police, now phone for the ambulance," he said to Mr. George Lansbury. Mr. Lansbury answered, as though inciting the police to seize him: "You are one of the unemployed: go with them". "I know," replied Bellamy, "what I shall get when I go outside. I am ready to face it".
Comrades Bellamy, Gape and Robinson, secretary of the Poplar Branch of the Unemployed Workers’ Organisation, and crippled by the war, went out together. The police fell upon them. Comrade Robinson now lies in hospital in a dangerous condition with injuries to head and back. Comrade Gape is also in hospital with injuries to head and legs. Yet it was Gape who had taken off his cap and respectfully begged Mr. Lansbury to intervene to stop the scene of brutality taking place downstairs.
While the police were breaking in Mr. George Lansbury told the men in the Board-room that they should sit down quietly, and no harm would be done to then. The Unemployed relied on this assurance and, considering themselves overwhelmingly out-matched, they offered no opposition to the entry of the police. Had they foreseen what was to happen, they declare they would have used their position of vantage to prevent the police climbing in.
The terrible queue
Mr. Edgar Lansbury said at Bow Baths that he asked the police inspector to take the Unemployed who were in the Board-room out with hits and see that they were not hurt. The Unemployed in the Board-room were told to go out with the inspector, and Mr. Edgar Lansbury accused those men of hiding behind the inspector, but whatever they may have been intended by Mr. Edgar Lansbury, the men who followed the inspector were not spared the violence which befell their fellows. Freeman, who went out in the queue behind the inspector was seriously assaulted about the head, and is thought to have lost the sight of one eye.
Some Guardians have accused the Unemployed of hiding behind the chair amongst the Guardians. We do not think they did; but we do not know why an unarmed man should be blamed for trying to avoid a beating with a truncheon – let the Guardians try a taste of it !
The police continued beating the people as they went down to the door, and some of them would hold up the stairway till a man had been beaten enough.
Only one-half of the double doors into the street was open; the other half the police kept closed. It was not fastened, but, as it opens inward, it did not give before the Unemployed, who were being driven out.
Beaten at the back of the head
As the Unemployed moved towards the door, they were beaten in the back again and again. Heads were bleeding from the blows of the truncheons, and now and then someone was felled to the ground. A. Burles, of 4, Cording Street, Poplar, saw in front of him in the press a man, the back of whose head was streaming with blood, and who was attempting to staunch the flow by pressing his hands to it. As that man reached the door-step the police, who were striking every man as he passed, struck him again on the back of his head. He fell on his face down the steps, and Burles fell upon him. By falling, Burles missed the blows which were being dealt out to every man as he crossed the threshold.
An old man with a wounded head had fallen and sat on the floor by the door. Some of the Unemployed men tried to lift him, crying out to the police to let them stay to do so. "Where is he?" asked a policeman, and struck the old fellow another blow on the head with his truncheon.
Thomas Clasper, a rate-payer aged 83, is partially crippled with rupture. He is recently out of hospital and still attending as an out-patient. A policeman, respecting his great age, endeavoured to protect him; but another snatched him away, dragged his along the passage, and threw him to the ground. His arm was injured; he is obliged to wear a sling. A. E. Radley, of 57, Wellington Road, Bow, declares that the police knocked his cap off and then hit him on the head.
Beating the wounded and their bearers
Outside in the street the violence continued. Men and women were attempting to carry those who had been struck down to Poplar hospital, but the police were driving the people away from the hospital, beating with their truncheons both the bearers and the wounded. Two members of the Unemployed Workers’ Organisation raised up a man unknown to then, whom they found unconscious.
A policeman cried "Where are you going?" "To see Dr. O’Brien," one of then answered. You want to sea Dr. O’Brien? Well, you shall see Dr. O’Brien!’ the policeman answered. At the same tint he struck the man who had spoke, who collapsed under the blow. His comrade was jostled away by the police, and neither of them saw the unconscious man again.
Rose Bowler, of 44, Bargrove Street, saw an unconscious man lying on the ground. She attempted to raise him, but a policeman struck her in the face with his hand and drove her away.
Numbers of wounded people were unable to reach the hospital, or afraid to attempt it. Many were taken in by neighboring residents who bathed and bandaged their wounds. They got home the best they could. Some of them, including the Secretary of the Poplar branch of the Unemployed Workers’ Organisation, who was seriously injured in the head, were obliged to go to hospital later.
One of the wounded was ordered an ex-ray examination at the hospital, and told that he must pay 1s. for it. Not having the money he went to Mr. Scurr, the Mayor, who had acted as Chairman of the Board of Guardians, and asked what the Guardians would do for him. Mr. Scurr gave the man a shilling and told him that as a peaceful citizen he had no business to have gone to the Guardians’ offices.
Hundreds of witnesses are forthcoming, eager to testify to the action of the police and the Guardians on this amazing occasion. We have quoted only those sayings in the Board-room which a number of witnesses have corroborated without being present when the same statements were made to us by others. We have recorded only a few of the acts of violence on the part of the police reported to us. We have only given names where these were specially offered, as we know that some of the Unemployed are afraid of having their relief cut down.
The Unemployed who were present declare that many of the policeman were drunk. We are not surprised if it be found necessary to fortify men with strong drink, in order to prepare then to attack defenceless, unresisting people whose physique has been reduced by poor living.
We are making no charges against the police: our complaint is not against them, but against those who called them in to punish the people for having locked the Guardians in: our charge is against the Guardians. The Unemployed declare that they were led into a trap by their confidence that they would not be subjected to violence with the sanction of one whom they bitterly call "Jesus Christ Lansbury", who preaches of love and forbearance.
Deputation to the councillors
On Thursday, September 27th, a deputation of the Unemployed waited upon the General Purposes Committee of the Poplar Borough Council to raise the question of Wednesday night’s happenings.
A strong force of police was present, and the Council informed the members of the deputation that the police were ready to give them more of the treatment that they had the night before. The Councillors who are, of course, the same individuals who form the Board of Guardians, adopted a railing tone.
The Unemployed complain that Mr. George Lansbury belittled Soderberg, a Swedish seaman, who is active in the Unemployed organisation, on the score of his being a foreigner. Many of Mr. Lansbury’s old fellow Socialists protested against that.
Hiding behind the chair
Mr. F. J. Isley, of 26, Lion Street, Poplar, an unemployed member of the Labour Party, complains that Mr. Lansbury called him a "coward and a sneak", and accused him of hiding behind one of the big chairs whilst his comrades were being batoned, and of going out with the inspector in the end. Mr. Isley has written to the secretary of the Poplar Labour Party demanding that Mr. Lansbury’s attack upon his character be brought before the Party, in order that he may have an opportunity of defending himself. He declares that Mr. Lansbury refused to remain for him to give his answer at the time. He insists that no man is better than another, and that either the accusations must be proved, or Mr. Lansbury must apologise.
Mr.. Isley is but one of many who are bitterly assailing the Labour members of the Poplar local authorities.
Several men are still in Poplar hospital and in the Sick Asylum suffering from injuries received on September 26th.
This is where participation in the administration of the capitalist system has brought the Labourists, Socialists, and even some who call themselves Communists, in Poplar.
""But what could the Guardians have done?" someone asks. The answer is manifold: the Guardians have put themselves upon an inclined plane which he led them to their present disastrous pass; many and worse incidents than those of September 26th are certain to follow.
What could the Guardians have done
We will take the points in succession, beginning with the end of the series. How might the Poplar Board of Guardians have avoided the ignominy of having beaten their unarmed neighbours; their poor, unemployed working-class neighbours, whose cause they are supposed to champion? Do not forget that it was the will of the Guardians, though the arms of the police, which thus cruelly assaulted the people.
How might the Guardians have avoided the outrage? As they avoided it when the Unemployed locked them in a year ago, by making a virtue of necessity; by preserving an appearance, at least, of good nature; waiting quietly till the Unemployed themselves were tired of the siege.
Why did the Guardians submit on the last occasion, and call the police this time? Was it because on the previous occasion the Unemployed were more numerous and more militant in temper, and had made preparations for resisting attack from outside. Or did considerations of party or policy play their part? Suppose the well fed Guardians had spent a night on the not uncomfortable chairs of their Board-room, would that have been too large a price to pay to preserve the respect of their fellow workers in the proletarian movement of Poplar, to preserve some appearance of solidarity in spirit with the Unemployed?
Was it your dignity and your vanity, that were assailed, O Labour members of the Poplar Board of Guardians? Shall your dignity count when others are in need? Shall your dignity count when the class struggle is being fought? What would you say of the Liberals and the Tories had they thus preserved their dignity with the baton. So to our first question and last point in our series we say the Guardians could and should have avoided the banning by waiting quietly till the unemployed were tired of the siege. On this occasion, at least, it would not have been long – as the Guardians knew – for the police were outside and the Unemployed had no provisions – nothing more than an all-night sitting was contemplated by the Unemployed.
Belief versus wages
Now as to the second question: Can the Guardians restore the coal allowance and raise the relief to single people; can they refrain from further reducing the scale they intend? Mr. Edgar Lansbury answered the question at the Bow Baths meeting. He said the Guardians must reduce the scale of relief to the Unemployed because some who are working are getting lower wages than the relief scale. He said that men with large families who are in employment are coming to the Guardians asking that their low wages shall be made up to the relief level. Mr. Keyes, who spoke at the same meeting, said that to subsidise wages by Poor Law relief, would bring down wages in the long run.
What does that mean in essence? It means that if men can get lower wages made up in the Poor Law Guardians, they will not fight the employer for higher wages. Mr. Keyes and Mr. Lansbury surely must realise that to lower the scale of Unemployment relief will not tend to raise, but to lower the scale of wages. It is difficult to get men to work for lower wages than the relief scale; lower the relief scale and you bring pressure upon men and women to accept wages only a little higher. Mr. Keyes claimed credit for the Labour Party in Poplar on the score that they have assisted the workers to refuse work at sweated wages precisely by paying a high scale of relief. Mr. Edgar Lansbury said that to maintain the present relief might lean 3d. a week on somebody’s rent. Shall principles be sacrificed for 3d. a week, or is it a question of the Guardians being surcharged by the Government?
When the miners were fighting the lock-out to reduce their wages, which was the test struggle of the British working class at the beginning of the present wages slump, the Poplar Board of Guardians reduced the wages of its employees, and so lined up with the capitalist employers. The present reduction of relief in accord with falling wages merely assists in preparing the way for another fall in wages. What did the Poplar Labour leaders do to help the striking dockers to resist the last reduction in their wages?
The fighting ranks
But again, it is argued, the Guardians are reducing the relief because the Government insists upon it. Those of them who are Councillors have been to prison once for refusing to levy a rate, and they don’t mean to go to prison again.
If that were the view of the Poplar Guardians and Councillors, their place would be out of the fighting ranks. Those who are not prepared to stand by their principles at any cost should retire from the struggle. The Unemployed protest that the action which led the Councillors to prison did not benefit them, but the ratepayers, especially the big ship-builders and manufacturers. All the Guardians agree, we think, that the scale is already too low. They should refuse to make themselves responsible for reducing it. They should demonstrate with the Unemployed, not against them.
Most of the Poplar Guardians are reformists: they are fond of preaching social regeneration by taxation. They have not explored what they might do by a great raising of the rates in Poplar in order to mulct the big industrial concerns and a compensating Poor Law relief grant, or rebate on rates, to all the poorer part of the population. Such manipulations might be declared illegal, but if the Poplar Labourists went to prison again in support of their ideas they would do excellent propaganda for their views. We do not believe in the millennium via graduated rates and taxes, but those who do should seek every means of giving their views a trial.
Government versus workers
We have always declared that working-class representatives who become councillors and guardians assist in the maintenance of the capitalist system, and, sooner or later, must inevitably find themselves in conflict with the workers. When the great slump in employment loomed into view at the close of the war was emphatically the moment when all those who desire a change of system should have said: We refuse to accept responsibility for adjusting the difficulties which have been created by the system. We know that these difficulties cannot be solved, and we do not wish to assist in maintaining the system.
It was obvious that any attempt at adequate maintenance of the great unemployed army must challenge comparison with the poor wages of a large proportion of the employed workers, and with the small income of the struggling little shopkeepers.
Illogical position of communist Guardians
Two of the members of Poplar Board of Guardians, Messrs. A. A. Watts and Edgar Lansbury, are members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Third International). Their party preaches – or used to preach – that its members shall stand for publicly elected bodies, purely to use them as sounding-boards for propaganda against the present system and to disrupt their administration from within. Can it be that the Third International has now changed its policy, and that it now expects from its members the careful administration of the existing Government machinery, with every regard for finance, in order that Capitalism may continue as long as possible?
The Labour Party of Germany has again and again made itself the tool by which the shaken capitalist system has maintained itself in Germany. The Labour Party of Britain is following the same disastrous road. Its first lesson in the art of crushing the revolting masses was taken in Poplar on September 26th.
Let not party prejudices, personal antipathies, or disputes on points of detail, blind any one of us to that fact.
E. Sylvia Pankhurst
Anti-poll tax campaign
Watch your local Council !
The Poll Tax (alleged Community Charge) has now been in operation for over six months in England and Wales (over eighteen months in Scotland) and has met a tremendous resistance from working people, with others such as pensioners and those on low incomes being involved. Considering the whole nature of the Poll Tax it was only to be expected. Organisations such as Anti-Poll Tax Unions have been set up to give advice and defend people before Courts, in attempts to slow up the process of people paying the Poll Tax. They are doing as well as can be expected in confronting the state, in this case also the state in its local form. These groups are disarmed precisely because they do not fully understand what they are taking on. They think they are just taking on the Government in Westminster, when they are having to deal with all of the state, from the top to the bottom including local councils, with detours through the Courts. These are all parts of the State.
The Poll Tax was brought in as an alternative tax to the old local Rates, which was a property based tax. Much debates in the political parties of the bourgeoisie had taken place around the local Rates, especially as increasing state expenditure had devolved down to the local Councils. As a portion of the local Council expenditure had to be raised locally (the rest comes from central Government), the old way was for a levy on the value of properties in the area concerned, known as the rateable value. The increasing unpopularity of the Rates led to it being scrapped and replaced by a flat-rate charge on every adult of 18 and over (whether they have a place to live in or net!). Of all possible alternatives, this particular one of a Poll Tax was specifically designed to throw the burden upon the working class. Workers tend to live in the smaller properties and had expected to pay less (as often they received less of the Council services anyway) than those on higher incomes in the better-off areas.
As an alternative local tax the Poll Tax was a deliberate attempt to turn the population in the larger cities against the Labour Party. Unable to enthuse the workers with a perspective of privatisation of services and other aspects of the market system, the Tories implemented a system which could not fail but to end with large taxes for working people, but with equal (as against graduated demands for people in the wealthier areas) bills for others. The clear intention was to try to turn the workers against "high spending Councils". If people had demonstrated in a violent nature against the high costs of the taxes against Labour Councils, then this would have been "democracy in action", but if they demonstrate against the Government and the new Law, then they are trouble-making rioters who should be thrown in gaol.
Certainly, the Government is the villain of the piece and chief culprit. But what of the local Councils, are they just unwilling victims dragged into the new tax system? Hardly. They are the ones who will implement the new tax system whether they like it or not. Irrespective of what the advocates of "local democracy" claim or not these local Councils have no power to act, or even to function, without the authority of Parliament. In their existing forms (leaving aside some very old Parish Councils) they exist only because of Acts of Parliament say that they should exist, and these Acts define their powers, if any, and what they can do and what they must do. Without going into the area of Administrative or Constitutional Law, the frame-work of the actions of the local and County Councils are laid down clearly, along with their ability to raise money, whether under the old Rates or under the new Poll Tax. The only issue is how much. Councils are required to carry out various functions, called statutory, although how much of it is provide is often left to themselves to decide. So it isn’t really "local democracy" which the various bourgeois parties go on about, even less the fabled accountability of the Tories, but what Central Government will let them get on with. Even with Councils on official collision courses with Central Government, much of the revenue which comes from the Government has all sorts of conditions attached so that the local Councils must jump through the required number of hoops to get it. Whitehall and the Civil Service have a great deal of expertise in ensuring that local Councils conform to the needs of the higher state bodies, and have powers aplenty in reserve to compel local bodies to do their bidding.
These points above may or may not be clear to many, but what is also important to be pointed out is that the Councils are employers and landlords to many and this should be taken into account. It is easy to rush off and "defend democracy", but what about when these same Councils are precisely the ones likely to turn on their employees and tenants. Which Labour Council hasn’t at some time or other, whether Right-wing, soft-Left or hard-Left, moved to "sort out" some department, victimising workers and worsening conditions at work, raising rents (or if not letting the houses people live in fall further into disrepair). These Councillors may bleat "what else can we do", but then nobody asked them to stand for election in the first place. They don’t have to be the persons carrying out these actions. Balancing the books, industrial and estate management are carried out just as if they were private capitalist concerns (whether they make profits or not, in fact they do make profits but they go to the banks in the form of interest). Socialism is defined by the defenders of local democracy as being "Jobs and Services" and providing these are maintained then everything is okay. To them its doesn’t matter that Council employees are there to be exploited and ordered about, or the services are provided without understanding what people actually need, then these local democracy advocate have a very peculiar notion of what Socialism should be.
The Poll Tax levels are set (within reason) by the Council concerned, but the rebates allowed against it are not. These the Government set as part of the Social Security system. To get up to 80% rebate off the Poll Tax (the Government insists that people must pay something even if they have no income at all – never mind anywhere to live) then the people concerned will be on the same level as Income Support, the amount the state would expect those without work – and wages – to live on. So those who qualify for rebates, the Government’s “generous” assistance must end up on the same level as the unemployed – no wonder many pensioners and others on fixed incomes are out-raged by this new tax. It means every adult must pay, which in the case of married couples, both must be reduced to the same low benefit rate in order to qualify for anything. Dependants and others living in house-holds are expected to pay, but what has been happening is that people are now "disappearing" out of the system. They are also not appearing on the electoral register, because Councils will use them to compile the Poll Tax lists. To declare for the "privilege" of voting can be very expensive. Perhaps those who run the 3D Campaign, Don’t Pay, Don’t Collect, Don’t Implement the Poll Tax, will add Don’t draw up Electoral Registers, but then again that would be a flagrant attack on Holy Democracy wouldn’t it!
It is the local Councils which are beginning to take people to Court for not paying their Poll Tax. The Law does not give any defence against non-payment, and it will be the Councils which will rigorously take Court action. Councils such as Grampian in Scotland have taken the most strenuous action against the local population possible in collecting the Poll Tax. In Oldham the Labour Council has started to presume people live at various addresses whether registered on not, single women being billed for male partners not there, no doubt on the basis that they are hiding away somewhere. In the case of Liverpool, unable to process the Poll Tax arrears through the Courts as yet, are intensifying their campaign to collect in arrears of Rates and alleged over-payment of Housing Benefits, etc. Nobody in the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign has complained about this as no doubt they consider the old Rates as being "fair". Workers will continue being picked up by police to be held over-night in order to face a Court over non-payment of Rates, but without picket-lines of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. After all this has been happening under Labour Councils as much as under those of other parties.
By just condemning the Poll Tax as not "fair" disarms people about the nature of taxes. Taxes are to pay for the state expenses. For us the state is a bourgeois one, so make the bourgeoisie pay for it. However, there are no simple solutions to these questions, least of all whether any of the taxes are "fair" or not.
In confronting the offensive of the (local) state against the working class to implement the Poll Tax, we issue the following watchword: Watch your local Council !
rivalry in the Gulf
Against all imperialist wars !
Earlier on this year the Western bourgeoisie were celebrating their victory in the "Cold War" with the crumbling of "Communism". Suddenly all the barriers were falling, free trade possible, peace and prosperity would be there for all to see and share. Their happy party didn’t last very long. On August 2nd Iraqi tanks invaded Kuwait and dumb-struck bourgeois parties were suddenly faced with a very serious threat of war in the Gulf. All sorts of alliances were rearranged with various states doing about-turns. Yesterday’s hated enemies were to be today’s friends. It helped when the leaders of Oil Rich States went looking for protectors when they took their cheques books with them. There is nothing like money to buy protection.
We have already dealt with our attitude to war and the defence of the nation state in two of the other articles in this issue. It should not be necessary to repeat them here. Instead we shall deal with some of the specific issues involved, not least those who look at possibilities of taking sides, "after all this is a war and we can’t be neutral!" syndrome. This really applies to those Trotskyists who are falling over themselves to defend the Iraqi state by urging people to Break The Blockade! But to do this means participating in a war which working class will lose by death and destruction whilst only one section or another of the bourgeoisie will gain. They may shout about Internationalism but in reality will tail-end nationalist gangster in the hope of finding an audience. Pacificists are arguing against war in principle as a terrible and destructive affair, but they are silent about the Capitalist "peace" being destructive in its own way, in the form of slumps, famines, (whether ’natural’ or because people haven’t the money to pay for food), pollution and industrial diseases. Wars against the "internal" enemy which can often be more destructive of human life than the wars against the "external" enemy. We will spell it out for the ’Give Peace A Chance’ merchants that peace is not big deal either.
Wars have been raging in the Middle East in one form or another for decades. Tens of thousands have been killed, millions have been displaced while the states in the area have been armed with all sorts of weaponry, at a price of course. Many of these states have their national income mortgaged for years ahead, either to Washington or Moscow, with other countries of Western Europe making sure that they have received their piece of the action. The West has usually stayed to one side while the states of the Middle East (except Israel) have fought each other. The eight years long Iran-Iraq War, a particularly murderous and destructive affair, was allowed to continue despite the show of keeping the Gulf safe for shipping, making sure that trade would not be too much affected.
The Middle East has long developed out of the colonial phase of occupation and is now a full part of the world bourgeois order. Irrespective of where the various borders were drawn, and whether they should go through one point or be moved this way or that, is only relevant to state leaders railing over ’injustices’ done to their state and that somebody else’s territory should be ceded to them, what will all this settle? It will just sow further seeds for new grievances and conflicts. True, that Western occupying countries were arbitrary in drawing borders, but then were ancient Kings and Tyrants any less arbitrary m defining their own borders? Iraq states that Kuwait should be part of Iraq, for ’historical’ reasons, but what about the rights of Kurdistan to possibly exist? That sort of question will not be allowed on to the agenda because not only Iraq, with also Iran and Turkey having vested interests in this matter.
Until the overthrow of the Shah of Persia the US and USSR had the Gulf neatly divided up between themselves, with Iran in the American camp and Iraq in the Russian. The lower Gulf states had been largely under British tutelage and had gravitated more to the American sphere as their oil revenues grew. The ’natural’ alliance of Israel and the Shah’s Iran completed the balance which maintained itself in the Middle East. The fall of the Shah and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has unhinged that balance. Iran’s campaign against America as the ’Great Satan’ was only controlled by the war with Iraq, which was to the mutual benefit of both super-powers, U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. Iran’s decline as a regional power led to the balance between itself and Iraq being tipped decisively in favour of the latter. Such instability is dangerous in an area like the Gulf.
Both Iraq and Iran came out of the eight year war exhausted financially. Iraq owed billions of dollars not only to the West but also to Gulf states. These Gulf states such as Kuwait had given money and made loans to help keep Iraq in the war because Iraq was presenting itself as the Arab protector against the Persian hordes. But once the war was over, and without spoils to take, Iraq was faced with massive debts many of which was to its southern neighbours. Options were few, with most of Iraqi revenues through the sale of oil, the projected income of Iraq would be decisive. Yes, Iraq could produce more oil but the price of oil was not high enough. Perhaps more conflict in the Gulf could raise the price and get its finances out of crisis. After all a threatening conflict in the area is easy enough and hopefully it shouldn’t be too difficult to raise the oil prices. It even seems that advisors from the U.S. were saying that a border dispute with Kuwait wouldn’t go amiss, with a claim to the Northern Kuwaiti oilfields and access to the Gulf by the ceding of some islands. A bit of sabre-rattling shouldn’t do too much harm, especially if the small neighbour would give way. It didn’t, so Iraq just moved its tanks in and carried out the equivalence of the modern financial exercise of asset stripping.
Why The Defence Of Kuwait?
Hypocrisy is the taunt being thrown around. Why defend a small country in the Gulf while nothing has been done about the continuing Israeli occupation of former Palestinian areas such as the Gaza strip and the West Bank of Jordan. Such counter-arguments are dismissed that this is an example of one country completely taking over another and trying to absorb it. But then again what about Afghanistan, Cambodia and the Latin-American states in the U.S.A.’s sphere of influence? There was no large forces raised under the U.N. banner to reverse these aggressions so why should Kuwait be any different? Oil is certainly an important reason for this defence of Kuwait, but it is not the only one. Kuwait was actually a fairly important part of the international financial network. Much of its oil revenues had gone into international investments to the point where its income from such investments exceeded its income from oil production. The Kuwaiti Investment Office alone handles assets in the region of 140 billion dollars, with its returns being about 12 billion dollars a year. If we take the whole wealth of the Kuwaiti ruling class then we have a financial conglomerate of large proportions. This financial conglomerate, Kuwait PLC, is suddenly without a home. Its sudden liquidation would have had a very destabilising factor on the international financial system. The tanks rumbling down the streets of Kuwait City might as well have been moving down Threadneedle Street in the City of London or Wall Street in New York the way that financial circles reacted. Loans were suddenly hard to get and everybody waited to hear what would happen.
America was quick in moving to defend Saudi Arabia just in case Iraq moved further South. In the present world financial system money can be moved in minutes around the globe. The physical assets of Kuwait were waiting to be ceased but the real financial wealth was circulating as usual around the world. The buildings of the banks were ceased but the liquid assets (its money) was well away. The real prize of the Iraqi invasion had eluded Saddam Hussein.
Like Kuwait the real wealth of the oil rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, is back in the international financial system and money markets. The oil price rises of the 1970s had given the oil producers immense increases in their income. Some had spent them on armaments, such as Iraq and Iran, and so the money returned through the payments to the arms exporters. However, those who have invested not in arms, or industry, but in the future placed their money in investment organisations, large banks and other financial safe havens. This oil money in the 70s was sloshing around the global financial system and there was money aplenty for loans and investments. The massive loans to the Third World countries stem from this period, with various bankers lining up to virtually thrust funds at countries around Latin America. There was money to be invested in some form or another, and what could be more secure than national production and assets?
Much of the Gulf states’ money is invested throughout the world either to Governments or in capitalist concerns. The returns in the form of income does not come out of thin air but is sweated out of somebody, either through the appalling privations of the people of the Third World or directly out of profits of capitalist enterprises. These Rentier Arab capitalists (living off investments) have a stake in the surviving of the international capitalist order. In a like manner America and other important Western countries have a vested interest in maintaining these assets as without them the whole international financial order could collapse around them. The Gulf states are not "Stooge" states as some leftists claim but are bound to Western capitalist states by billions of links, in the form of money. They will all sink or swim together. And it is because of this that the West is threatening to go to war with Iraq.
Leave Kuwait or be thrown out is the threat of the other countries of this grand anti-Iraq alliance. Various evidence is produced about how brutal Iraqi occupation of Kuwait is. Other evidence is produced of atrocities and mass murder against Kurds, executions and imprisonments taking place in Iraq. A brutal regime for sure, its collapse or overthrowal would be merely replaced by some other bunch of gangsters. But what of Kuwait, which the impassioned defenders of small countries and ‘just’ wars have pledged to liberate? They will place back the old ruling class back in its position, which represented only a tiny proportion of Kuwaits. But the population of the country was only about half Kuwaiti, the rest being Palestinians, Europeans, with large numbers of servants and employees from India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Philipines and other countries. These people ware just abandoned by the Kuwaiti ruling class and they obviously don’t matter to the advocates of the ’just’ war. Who will look after them and restitute them for their sufferings and casualties? Such people are the real victims of Imperialist Wars.
We care nothing about the interests of the Oil Companies or the big financial concerns who just want to ensure the stability of the international capitalist order. It is a crazy, anarchic and crisis-ridden system anyway and the sooner it is forced off the historical stage the better. Only a Communist system of producing for people’s real needs (and not the false marketing which capitalism wants us to believe we need) can ensure a peaceful and rational way of life.