Thanks very much for the review of my book Off the Rails in your February issue which is fine and not in the slightest bit offensive.
There are however two points I would make.
(1) I am surprised that the author concludes that the wider aspects of social partnership are not discussed in the book. In fact the entire last chapter deals with this issue, its effects and the reasons for it. It also broadens the debate considerably to consider factors in the U.K. trade unions, albeit in an admittedly minimalist way.
(2) On the wider point of my “socialism” I think the author misses the point. The point about my views on Irish unions is that they were not indoctrinated but gained by my own personal experiences. Tongue in cheek . . . I learned to hate Fianna Fail by experience not because I thought I must. I have learned from bitter experience how society is organised to the detriment of workers and do think that some sort of social “revolution” is necessary. I started one in my own small employment in my own small country. I think it is every bit as relevant a tactic to start small and work up as to go for broke from the outset, a tactic that in Ireland has almost led to the death of real socialism.
Just for the record also let me record that I have always been available to help workers in every section of their employment, Irish Rail or elsewhere, regardless of grade or occupation.
Finally however I do appreciate the review and am very happy with it on balance.
BRENDAN OGLE (by e-mail)
The first point concerns a minor issue; the background social factors are indeed briefly discussed in the last chapter but the preponderance of the book specifically concentrates on the dispute in question. This of course is the nature of the book.
The second point highlights a key issue. You state that you encountered the antagonistic class nature of society through personal experience; this is very much in accord with our viewpoint. However it is your response to this with which we would challenge.
You advance the superficially attractive idea that a good tactic is “to start small”; what socialists would call the reformist approach. However, even your own experience as described in the book shows that such reformist activity leads nowhere and can cause more disillusion. The socialist opinion is that real meaningful change to the position of workers in society can only come about by agitation for a complete transformation of how society is organized rather than by modest adjustments. Of course it is true that these minor improvements may bring important benefits to individual workers but fundamentally they don’t change anything. These reforms can be easily revoked (and often are) in a direct or indirect fashion. That’s not to say of course that we are opposed to trade union activity; it’s an essential part of the struggle of workers within capitalism but it will never go beyond being such a struggle
I thought that your piece on the miners’ strike (March Socialist Standard), was as masterly as it was concise.
I can recall that at that time I was 20, and naive enough to unquestionably accept my dad’s New Communist Party stance: It was us versus them; Scargill was right, and Thatcher was wrong; Let’s break this government, and return Labour to power. I told you I was naive!
It took almost another decade before my new father in law put me straight. Like you, he explained that Scargill was as bad for the NUM as the government were; that the Police, and the army, were there to maintain the status quo; and whatever party was running capitalism would have resorted to this same course of action. The scales fell from my eyes.
Now I am twice the age I was then, and conscious of real socialism. I realise that simply voting for someone else to run the capitalist economy isn’t ever going to achieve anything. Instead of watching a change of puppets, we ought to aspire to be the puppeteers
JOHN STANLEY, St Helens