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Who are the cowards?

Dear Editors,
There could hardly be a better symbol for how governments treat their mass public, than the 306 "cowards", executed by British authorities during the First World War. Nothing has changed, either. There is no essential difference between the military, flexing its muscles, or the Thatcherite revolution throwing people out into the street, or even a Blairite dogma to "modernise", but actually preparing everyone and every aspect of life to be merely the plaything of global capitalism. Then, if war is an extension of diplomacy, and business is a substitute for war, all this becomes more understandable, but not defensible, given the catastrophic effects on society's weaker members.

The incompetent Earl Haigh treated his troops as cannon fodder; Thatcher said there is no such thing as society; and Blair's modernity will expose the unwary to a life of being only a marketing statistic. All these three were, and are, immune to the shock imposed on others less able to defend themselves, by pursuing their social revolutions. They also maintain their advantage, through an elite status. Hence, "deserters", the dispossessed and disabled, or the incapacitated, are treated by their elected leaders as inferior, and therefore, fair game. These people are losers, and consequently seen by the elite as an embarrassment to their inflated opinion of themselves—and here we have the underlying reason for New Labour's attitude to voters in wheelchairs: punish them.

JEFFREY WHEELER, Nuneaton, Warwicks

The Morgenthau Plan

Dear Editors,
The article "Why war is no accident". (August Socialist Standard) claimed that “on the eve of allied victory the leaders of the victorious countries accepted a plan drawn up by . . . Morgenthau to de-industrialise Germany" Not so. The Quebec Agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt on proposals to de-industrialise Germany was “initialled” (i.e. agreed to informally) by them on 15 September 1944. Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt had with them their top advisors and there were no representatives present from the Soviet Union, the third of the wartime alliance.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and American Secretary of State Cordell Hull were “horrified” by the proposals. Eden recalls in his Memoirs “I did not like the plan, nor was I convinced that it was to our national advantage.” Hull rejected it as being “a plan of blind vengeance.” The American Secretary of War Henry Stimson also strongly opposed it; it was “just fighting brutality with brutality.”

Historians have variously characterised the Morgenthau Plan as being “still-born”, “abandoned”, “pigeon-holed”, “did not…become official policy” and was “never put into effect.”

It was realised that a weak Germany with high unemployment brought about by de-industrialisation would be prey to political extremism (as it had been in the 1920s and 1930s) and liable to fall into the Soviet camp. American policy-makers planned for an “open” Europe of free trade which would be a market for US produce.

It has been suggested that Churchill had been reluctant to go along with the Plan but did so because he was at the time in negotiations with Morgenthau over post-war Lend-Lease arrangements. Britain had been offered $6.5 billion post-war credit and he did not want the promise jeopardised. His claimed that the Morgenthau Plan would leave Britain “chained to a dead body”. Although a de-industrialised Germany would remove an economic rival it would also entail the loss of a lucrative market for industrial goods produced in Britain.

A Germany integrated into a “United States of Europe” would be economically more efficient which would in turn (in the view of the US Department of State Division of Economic Studies at the time) give higher levels of real incomes leading to an increased demand “for imports of raw materials, food, and manufactured articles, of which the United States would be the primary beneficiaries.” (In 1937 Europe had been the destination for 41 per cent US exports and the source of 27 per cent of its imports).

It was these arguments that eventually won the day. Germany was not subject to “ongoing economic attacks” as the launching of the European Recovery Programme (the “Marshall Plan”) in mid-1947 demonstrates.

By 1946 there were an estimated 14 million “displaced persons” (i.e. refugees) in Europe—10 million in Germany (7 million in the Western Zones.) Deaths “may have been anything between 2 and 3 million” according to Hugh Thomas (Armed Truce). In their two volume study A History of West Germany D.L. Bark and D. R. Gress estimate that two million Germans died as a result of the immediate post-war disruptions. It is not clear on what authority the author of the article bases his claim of 5 million deaths and on what evidence it rests.

John E. Farquharson (in The Western Allies and the Politics of Food.) shows that the Allied system of food rationing was a continuation of the German one already in place. Ration allowances were supplemented by theft, forgery of ration documents, barter, recourse to the black market, self supply (e.g. allotments), and additional allowances for those employed in heavy work. In one area of occupied Germany the number of ration cards presented in one accounting period was twice the number officially issued. Less than a quarter of the population of the Western Zones were “normal consumers”, the majority claimed supplements of one kind or another.

This not to say that hunger and malnutrition did not occur, it did. However the “hard” figures represented by official ration issues for calories per day do not represent the true state of affairs. In the circumstances the Western Allies did what they could and it is incorrect to state that the Allies imposed blockade and starvation upon the defeated German nation. We do not need to exaggerate to make out a Socialist case against the pernicious nature of capitalism and its wars.

Gwynn Thomas, Colchester, Essex

Reply: Thanks for your interesting and useful clarification. The article's main point was that blockading a rival state is a policy capitalist states are prepared to consider (as the existence of the Morgenthau Plan shows) and to implement (today as in Iraq) regardless of the consequences on the civilian population. And, as your letter brings out well, again as in Iraq, those capitalist politicians who oppose this option do so because they are more interested in export prospects than in the plight of the population. The source of the 5 million figure was the book Crimes and Mercies by James Baque, mentioned in the article.-Editors.

How I became a socialist

Dear Editors,
In the beginning, way back in the 1960s, I became, in my late teens, a so-called "hippie". The hippies were a more progressive, creative and imaginative development from the beatniks in the USA—who were basically scruffy, layabouts, poets and artists. I remained in the hippie phase for about eight years, until the early 70s, when I changed my outlook gradually and became, so to speak, politically "radicalised". I began to support the left wing, and joined CND, voting Labour, attending meetings, and taking part in protests and demonstrations.

By 1979 I grew deeply disillusioned with Labour and rejected its policies and ideology: I was then far-left in outlook. Almost a Trotskyite, in fact. It seemed to me that only a violent mass movement would change society, and that "direct action", including the general strike and armed insurrection, could and would overthrow the state and ruling class.

This barricades mentality persisted in my mind until the mid-1980s, when I began to study the various "schools" or styles of anarchism. Reading the works of Peter Kropotkin, Michael Bakunin, Errico Malatesta, Emma Goldman, etc, etc. I became a militant anarchist. I was very determined and began fighting the police; even after several jail terms (in which I fought the screws), I persisted and persevered in anarchism. But by 1986, grave doubts and misgivings surfaced; I discovered serious flaws and errors in anarchist theory and practice. My conclusion was that it actually leads nowhere and achieves nothing but more bloodshed and frustration.

So, early in 1986, I abandoned anarchism altogether. A few months later my attention was drawn to some examples of Socialist Party literature. By chance, I came across a few issues of the Socialist Standard. After reading carefully and reflecting on it, I accepted the concept of socialism. Then I obtained some of the works of Karl Marx from a public library—in particular, the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

This really transformed my whole outlook on history, society and politics. Marx profoundly impressed and inspired me in a way no-one and nothing ever had before. Thus, acquiring a Marxist understanding and analysis of capitalism and of how to get rid of it, I became a scientific socialist by the spring of 1986: after which I contacted the Socialist Party, and subsequently joined.

The one thing about the Socialist Party that persuaded me, above all else, to join, was that all its literature is strictly honest, truthful and accurate; also that the party is fully and truly democratic in its organisation and activities. This meant a lot to me: I realised that here was one political party which not only had genuine principles but stuck to them through thick and thin without any compromise or "sell-out".

So that is how and why I became a socialist, fourteen years ago. I lapsed from membership some time ago—but that is solely due to chronic, incurable disabling illness and my personal circumstances, which make it impossible for me to travel around and attend its debates and meetings. The only sort of contribution I can make is by writing articles and collecting the party's audio tapes. I also argue the case for socialism with friends and acquaintances—and, occasionally, with strangers I meet in pubs, cafés, etc. (I've made a lot of enemies this way!)

Through the years, I have amassed a great deal of vital information on many subjects—including political history, religion, ecology and conservation, anthropology, the history of the socialist movement, and so on—and have written a book on the origins and development of capitalism, comparing it with the only sane alternative, World Socialism. My final draft typescript of this book is now in the possession of the Socialist Party's archivists. I hope some day that it will be published.

In conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to the Socialist Party for providing me with the understanding and insight I sorely lacked before; and to Karl Marx too, of course: we all owe him a great debt for the tremendous work he did and his great achievements. We can't all be like Marx, but at least some of us might approach his level of intellect if we make the necessary effort. Marxian knowledge can increase intelligence, I have found: and it produces the "quantum jump" in consciousness among workers everywhere which makes socialism possible. Speed the day!

David E. FINLAY, Brighton

Labour history

Dear Editors,
I am writing on behalf of the North West Labour History Group. As part of our work in popularising knowledge of labour history we publish an annual journal and I would like to appeal to your readers for contributions to two forthcoming issues, one on the 1960s to be published in 2001 and one on the 1970s to be published in 2002.

We believe the time has come to examine the radical social, political and labour movement of those decades in the North West. We invite anybody interested in writing an article to contact us in the first instance at: North West Labour History Group c/o Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX.

MICHAEL HERBERT, North West Labour History Group