Archive for April, 2008

90th Anniversary of John MacLean’s famous speech against capitalism and war – selected extracts

April 14, 2008

It has been said that they cannot fathom my motive. For the full period of my active life I have been a teacher of economics to the working classes, and my contention has always been that capitalism is rotten to its foundations, and must give place to a new society. I had a lecture, the principal heading of which was “Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill”, and I pointed out that as a consequence of the robbery that goes on in all civilised countries today, our respective countries have had to keep armies, and that inevitably our armies must clash together. On that and on other grounds, I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed. My language is regarded as extravagant language, but the events of the past four years have proved my contention.

The Class War

He (the Lord Advocate) accused me of my motives. My motives are clean. My motives are genuine. If my motives were not clean and genuine, would I have made my statements while these shorthand reporters were present? I am out for the benefit of society, not for any individual human being, but I realise this, that justice and freedom can only be obtained when society is placed on a sound economic basis. That sound economic basis is wanting today, and hence the bloodshed we are having. I have not tried to get young men particularly. The young men have come to my meetings as well as the old men. I know quite well that in the reconstruction of society, the class interests of those who are on top will resist the change, and the only factor in society that can make for a clean sweep in society is the working class. Hence the class war. The whole history of society has proved that society moves forward as a consequence of an under-class overcoming the resistance of a class on top of them. So much for that.

I also wish to point out to you this, that when the late King Edward the Seventh died, I took as the subject of one of my lectures “Edward the Peacemaker”. I pointed out at the time that his “entente cordiale” with France and his alliance with Russia were for the purpose of encircling Germany as a result of the coming friction between Germany and this country because of commercial rivalry. I then denounced that title “Edward the Peacemaker” and said that it should be “Edward the Warmaker”. The events which have ensued prove my contention right up to the hilt, I am only proceeding along the lines upon which I have proceeded for many years. I have pointed out at my economic classes that, owing to the surplus created by the workers, it was necessary to create a market outside this country, because of the inability of the workers to purchase the wealth they create. You must have markets abroad, and in order to have these markets you must have empire. I have also pointed out that the capitalist development of Germany since the Franco-Prussian War has forced upon that country the necessity for empire as well as this country, and in its search for empire there must be a clash between these two countries. I have been teaching that and what I have taught is coming perfectly true.

I wish no harm to any human being, but I, as one man, am going to exercise my freedom of speech. No human being on the face of the earth, no government is going to take from me my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to do everything that is for the benefit of mankind. I am not here, then, as the accused; I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot.

The Women and Children

So far as the government’s responsibility for the murder of women and children is concerned, the reason for my statement is perfectly obvious. They have been accusing the Germans of killing women and children in this country. Perfectly true. Of course bombs dropped in Germany have not killed women and children, marvellous to say! But that apart; we had the government getting hold of the food supplies immediately prior to and immediately after the New Year, and creating a shortage. The government was therefore responsible for the queues.

Women were standing in queues in the cold, and women had died of what they had contracted during their standing in the queues. The women had died therefore in consequence of the action of the government, and I threw the responsibility upon the government—and I do so still.

We know that women and children—human material—have been used up inside the factories, and the housing of the working class in this country has been so bad, and is so bad today, that the women and children of the working class die in greater proportion than the women and children of the better-to-do classes. I have always pointed out that the death rate among the working classes has always exceeded that in the better-to-do districts.

Problems Ahead

If one side or the other wins, then the revenge will come, as France today is seeking revenge after the drubbing she got in 1871. Realising that we, as representatives of the workers of the world, do not wish one side or the other to be the victors, we wish the status quo prior to the war to be re-established. If the workers are going to do that, then it means that they have to adopt methods and tactics entirely different from the methods which would be adopted, or could be adopted under normal circumstances. Abnormal lines of action must be taken such as our comrades in Russia took. The very circumstances of the war forced in upon the Russian workers committees and their national soviets the line of action which they adopted, and the only way we could do it would be to adopt methods peculiar to the working-class organisation in this country in the interests of the workers themselves.

The suggestions I made were intended only to develop revolutionary thought inside the minds of the workers. I pointed out at the meeting on the 20th that representatives of the police were present, and therefore if the workers were going to take action themselves, it would be absolutely foolish and stupid for them to adopt the suggestions I had given them. I only gave out these suggestions so that they might work out plans of their own if they thought fit to take action to bring about peace. I was convinced, and I am still convinced, that the working class, if they are going to take action, must not only go for peace but for revolution. I pointed out to the workers that, in order to solve all the problems of capitalism, they would have to get the land and the means of production.

I pointed out to them that if capitalism lasted after the war, with the growing size of the trusts, with the great aggregations that were taking place, with the improved machinery inside the works, with the improved methods of speeding up the workers, with the development of research and experiment, that we were going to have the workers turning out three, four and five times as much wealth as they had done in pre-war times, and a great problem would arise—a greater problem than ever before—in this country of disposing of its surplus goods on the markets of the world, not only of getting markets for these surplus goods, but of getting the raw materials. We see today in the committees appointed by the government that they are anxious to get control of the markets of the world in order to exclude the Germans.

The Rush for Empire

Our government has already appointed a Land Organisation of the Board of Trade and of the Foreign Office whereby it is going to plant agents here and there throughout the world, so that in a scientific method British products may be thrown on to the markets of the world. This is scientific method applied to commerce internationally as well as nationally. These preparations are being made, it is being said, for the purpose of carrying on the war after the war. Nobody denies that there is going to be a war after the war, an economic war between the Germans and their friends, and the British and the Americans and their friends, and there is going to be a war between the nations and the respective governments will take care that, as far as they can, their capital will be planted in areas over which they have control.

You have, then, the rush for empire. We see that the Americans already have got one or two of the islands in the West Indies, and I understand that America has also got hold of Dutch Guiana. It has also been suggested that Mexico be brought into the American States. Britain herself is looking after her own interests. She has taken the German colonies, she is also in Mesopotamia and in Palestine, going there for strategic reasons, but when Britain gets hold of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Arabia, she will use them for her own ends, and I do not blame Britain for that. Britain has got many troubles.

We see Japan also on the outlook. Japan has been trying repeatedly to get control of Northern China. She would also like to get a great big chunk of Siberia. Even today we see the tentacles being sent out, all anxious to grab more and more power. We know the secret treaties and disclosures made by our Bolshevik comrades. We know that these nations have been building up their plans so that when the Germans have been crushed they will get this territory or that territory. They are all out for empire. That was absolutely necessary for the commercial prosperity of the nations.

All the property destroyed during the war will be replaced. In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments, to stave off trouble, must turn more and more into the markets of the world to get rid of their produce, and in fifteen years’ time from the close of this war—I have pointed this out at all my meetings—we are into the next war if capitalism lasts; we cannot escape it.

Britain has the wealth. Britain did everything she could to hold back the war. That necessarily had to be the attitude of Great Britain, but in spite of all Great Britain’s skill or cunning, there has been war. I have heard it said that the Western civilisations are destroying themselves as the Eastern civilisations destroyed themselves. In fifteen years’ time we may have the first great war bursting out in the Pacific—America v. Japan, or even Japan and China v. America. We have then the possibilifies of another war, far greater and far more serious in its consequences than the present war. I have pointed that out to my audiences.

Nothing to Retract

In view of the fact that the great powers are not prepared to stop the war until the one side or the other is broken down, it is our business as members of the working class to see that this war ceases today, not only to save the lives of the young men of the present, but also to stave off the next great war. That has been my attitude and justifies my conduct in recent times. I am out for an absolute reconstruction of society, on a cooperative basis, throughout all the world; when we stop the need for armies and navies, we stop the need for wars.

I have taken up unconstitutional action at this time because of the abnormal circumstances and because precedent has been given by the British government. I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place. I act square and clean for my principles. I have nothing to retract. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Your class position is against my class position. There are two classes of morality. There is the working class morality and there is the capitalist class morality. There is this antagonism as there is the antagonism between Germany and Britain. A victory for Germany is a defeat for Britain; a victory for Britain is a defeat for Germany. And it is exactly the same so far as our classes are concerned. What is moral for the one class is absolutely immoral for the other, and vice-versa. No matter what your accusations against me may be, no matter what reservations you keep at the back of your head, my appeal is to the working class. I appeal exclusively to them because they and they only can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a re-organisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world, and retain the world.

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Why rural workers need socialism

April 10, 2008

AS RURAL workers feel capitalism’s effects acutely, the Socialist Party’s influence is spreading into rural parts of England and Wales.

RURAL POVERTY is endemic in Britain. The decline of agriculture, the increasing malign power of the supermarkets and closures of services linked to deregulation and privatisation exacerbate the problem. Capitalism is the root cause.

As well as unemployment, low wages and a crippling shortage of affordable housing, public transport is in a woeful state. Privatisation has led to closures of many more rail links; bus privatisation has had similar effects.

Some towns and villages only get one bus a week to the ‘big’ town. If you live in a village and cannot afford a car, life is difficult. Local services such as general stores, post offices and pubs are disappearing from the countryside faster than it took ‘law and order’ toffs to break the hunting ban.

Meanwhile the running down of Post Offices and the mass closure of rural, semi-rural and suburban post offices has led the service’s reliability and frequency to decline.

‘Second homers’ (who often pay reduced council tax on a second – or third or fourth – home) have invaded rural areas and created vastly increased house prices and ghost towns/villages.

The lack of council housebuilding (in south-west England alone 15,742 are sold off per year and not replaced) and the decline of service, industry and agriculture sectors means many people cannot live and work where they are born. The rural south west has the highest number of homeless families outside the south east – the average house price is eight times the average household income!

Other people, such as the shipyard workers of Appledore, North Devon, cannot live in the town they work in. The place suffocates under a mass of pottery and craft shops for posh weekenders in what was once a proud maritime industrial town.

This has led to crushing poverty in places like Cornwall, where the low price of tin has destroyed the tin-mining industry. Lost jobs are replaced by low-paid ‘McJobs’ either in shops, call centres or in tourism.

Supermarkets

Tourism, so often touted by capitalists as a way of replacing well-paid unionised jobs, offers insecure seasonal work at rock-bottom wages (some barely legal, some not legal) with as little holiday entitlement, sick pay/leave etc. as the employer can get away with.

Dairy/cattle farmers predominate in the south west; many struggle to get by if they own small farms. Supermarkets find these small farms easy to squeeze and intimidate. They make unreasonable demands especially in terms of price.

Failure to comply often results in farmers being ‘blacklisted’ – no supermarket will deal with them again. Combined with the isolation of farmers from each other and the uselessness of the agribusiness-dominated National Farmers Union (NFU), the supermarkets have a stranglehold.

Only the nationalisation of the supermarkets could ensure food which is produced in the interests of the whole population and not to boost the supermarkets’ profits. Food quality and safety is at present subordinated to the pursuit of profit, which dictates that food looks good if nothing else.

Ensuring that only good-looking food arrives on the shelves involves wasting food that isn’t deemed attractive enough and the indiscriminate use of chemicals, which may be harmful to human health and the environment.

A nationalised supermarket industry would be able to provide cheap and nutritious food and a guaranteed income for farmers both in Britain and in the third world.

In many villages (in Cornwall, the north-east and Scotland especially) fishing is a vital industry, providing jobs for other services (such as boat repairing). However, the productivity of the seas is falling, because the numbers of fish are.

The Newfoundland fishery, previously one of the world’s most productive, is now barren. The North Sea and North Atlantic are heading that way. The primary reason is over-fishing, which the large trawlers contribute to disproportionately.

The quotas imposed by the EU Common Fisheries Policy do not stop this, but instead drive the small boats to the wall. This has the effect of economically and socially depressing the fishing villages.

The only answer to these problems is a democratic rationally planned economy where fishing is maintained at an optimum level to maximise yield while sustaining (or increasing) fish stocks and the numbers of fishery workers.

The market’s logic is to distribute resources based on what’s profitable. It is not profitable to run rural bus services, post offices, schools, hospitals and shops. When the market is king, the rural working class will suffer from a poverty of services as well as jobs, housing and money.

A planned economy is the only way to ensure that people living in rural areas have access to these things which are their right.

This article was originally printed in ‘The Socialist’ in 2006.  A resolution (drawn up by Devon Socialist Party) dealing with rural poverty was discussed and passed at the Socialist Party’s Congress in 2006.