Editorial: Who Will Switch on the Lights for the Electricians?

The Electrical Trades Union has been having a spot of bother about its Executive’s gift of £20 to a fund to provide legal aid for Cypriots arrested under Emergency Regulations. Much heat was generated in the dispute between members who disapproved and others who approved—much heat but no light Outsiders soon joined in, including the Sunday Express (10 June, 1956) with a demand for the curbing of the power of the E.T.U.; defenders of British Colonialism who call the Cypriots “terrorists,” and opponents who call them “Patriots”; and critics of the “Communist” officials of the ET.U. The latter defended their action on the ground, among others, that it is right and proper for a trade union to come to the aid of other trade unionists when denied a “fair trial.” Nothing wrong with this of course but one wonders if it extended to the numerous Russian workers now admitted to have been “framed” under the Stalin regime.

In the public controversy much excitement centred round the alleged Communism of the ET.U. officials and the merits of the Cypriot movement against British rule but as is usual on such occasions the working class and Socialist viewpoints were not heard.

There is no evidence whatever that the officials of the E.T.U. who acted as spokesmen in the affair are interested in Communism, and abundant evidence to the contrary. Members or sympathisers of the Communist Party they may be, but this long ago ceased to mean an interest in Communism. What it now implies is a muddle-headed belief that State Capitalism is the same as Socialism or Communism, and that this is a fine thing provided it is administered by the Russian Communist Party not by the British Labour Party. If the E.T.U. officials had been supporters of Communism they would be internationalists and opponents of State Capitalism everywhere. They would be trying to convince the electricians that Russian State Capitalism is no more deserving of working class support than is the Electricity Board in Britain, that is not at all, and that the growing competition of Russia in world markets is no more a matter for congratulation by British or Russian workers than is American conquest of markets a matter for congratulation by American workers. They would be trying to get misguided workers in Britain, Cyprus and everywhere else, to recognise that Nationalist movements are of use only to the Capitalists and do nothing but harm to the workers of the world. A united trade union movement acting internationally to further working class interests against all the governments of capitalism and all the employers, everywhere, would achieve something for the workers, which no Nationalist movement ever did.

Unable to point to positive benefits to the workers through support of Nationalist movements their propagandists often take refuge in the vague abstraction that movements for national independence are in favour of “freedom” and should therefore receive the approval of “lovers of freedom.” The one freedom Socialists are interested in, freedom from capitalism, is opposed by nationalists but even within the framework of capitalism the identification of Nationalism with libertarian ideas is false. Every Nationalist movement of modern times has built itself up on the directly opposite doctrine, that of forcing unwilling or indifferent people to support it in the last resort at the point of the gun. No Nationalist movement is ever content to let people freely choose; always the resort is to force. Cyprus is no exception in presenting the spectacle of Cypriot Patriots shooting other Cypriots for choosing not to support the independence movement. And the long history of sentimental movements by “friends of freedom” to help Nationalists gain their independence has been littered with the examples of “ex- prisoners turned jailers,” of national groups, having gained independence, turning to suppress some other group. And so it will go on while capitalism lasts.

Socialists therefore do not support Nationalist movements and do not support the efforts of other Capitalist groups to suppress Nationalist movements. Instead Socialists try to induce the workers to recognize their interest in Socialism and in the internationalism that goes with it, in opposition to Capitalism and its tool, Nationalism.

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