CND’s weaknesses

Dear Editors,
As a former ban-the-bomber I would like to make a few points regarding CND (Socialist Standard March)

Its original appeal was rather insular, asking the government to set a moral example and give a lead to the rest of the non-nuclear world—“Let Britain show the way”.
It recognised that it would seem completely unrealistic to demand unilateral action from either of the two great nuclear powers. Much more reasonable to seek to prevent nuclear possession spreading—those who do not have them should not make them.
The Labour Party leader Gaitskell and others (and the media) consistently and quite knowingly mis-stated the CND policy as: “Asking ‘the West’ to disarm.” Which it never did—urging ‘multilateral’ agreement and reductions by means of various treaties.
CND sometimes made ludicrous claims that it influenced Test Ban agreements etc. All Test Bans or Weapons Limitation treaties were concluded when (a) Testing was no longer deemed essential or (b) when the warheads to be scrapped had been rendered out of date or no longer necessary as technology enabled the production of smaller, but more accurate and effective, weapons and delivery.
Significantly, CND support in the UK began to diminish when it broadened its campaign to oppose all nuclear weapons.
Some CND supporters supported the existence of NATO.
Some (Stalinists and some Trotskyists etc) members of CND did want ‘one-sided’ disarmament and were staunch supporters of the “workers’” bomb.
Some ‘Communists’ did have the integrity to oppose capitalist and workers’ bombs.
Pacifists (like myself) were a minority in the movement—most accepting that non-nuclear conventional war may sometimes be necessary.
“Entryists” did achieve some limited success (certainly temporarily controlling at least one Branch), but they were generally flushed out by the more genuinely radical elements among the membership.

Nevertheless, it would be churlish to ignore the remarkable contribution CND made in raising public awareness of the nuclear issue. Sometimes it is forgotten how deeply limited was the public knowledge of the kind of facts that CND routinely uncovered. Speaking personally, the kind of stuff that I have tried to articulate exposing (in the cause of socialism) the breathtaking hypocrisy of double dealing defence policies of the past and present was spawned by CND. The real disappointment is that comparatively few CND members moved beyond the optimistic (but narrow) objectives embraced by the original policies.

Obviously, the oft repeated claim that “there will not be time” for a deeper objective than nuclear disarmament (I made it myself) has, thankfully, proved to be erroneous.
RICHARD HEADICAR, Hethersett, Norfolk

Back to basics

Dear Editors ,
Thank you for the comments. I’ll like to respond only to what I think are the main issues raised by Adam Buick’s remarks on my book (Socialist Standard, March). This does not necessarily mean that I am in agreement with him over other things that I do not take up here.

(1) The Speenhamland system is about as similar to Basic Income (BI) as en egg is to a chestnut. We are more than two hundred years on from that agrarian economy. Moreover, Speenhamland was a conditional system and BI is, by definition, unconditional. Criticisms of a conditional system can hardly be applied to a system that is unconditional per excellence.

(2) The objection at the core of the whole article, that BI “would be a wage subsidy to employers” is rather odd. If the law prohibits employers from paying less than a Minimum Wage, as happens in many countries, the argument sinks all by itself without any extra help. Some trade unions are more than aware of this and, for example, the ESK (Basque Union Group) have been BI supporters for some time now.

(3) The author’s views that a BI would be a “wage subsidy to employers” without taking into account the economic forces of the time and without bothering to look into what effects a BI might have on the working class are not only more-than-dubiously based in historical terms but he also seems to be arguing as if the only decision-maker is the management. But aren’t management wishes conditioned in any way by resistance from the workers? According to this line of argument, one might almost deduce that the workers shouldn’t engage in too many distracting struggles to improve their conditions because the minute a bad economic situation comes along the management will take away what they’ve won previously. This is an odd way of understanding things.

(4) Have you pondered how a BI might affect the sector of the working class that is subject to the more precarious form of contract (about 40 percent of the workers in my country, Catalonia)? I’ve seen in the talks I’ve given over the years that, when the public consists in particular of very young workers, BI is understood as a measure that would help them to avoid accepting the very bad and insecure working conditions they’re obliged to accept at present. A BI would give them the chance to say “no” to job situations that they have to agree to now. Have you wondered how a BI might affect a lot of women who depend economically on their husbands? Have you really thought about the possibilities for workers’ protests that a BI could offer as a resistance fund? In general, the right immediately grasps the whole potential of BI and is therefore totally against it (as the debate in the Spanish Parliament revealed on 2 October 2007). The left, at least part of the left, has more problems in understanding of the whole potential a BI could have for a good part of the working class. It’s a shame, but that’s how things are.
Daniel Raventós (by email)

We can’t see how, given the way that capitalism works, a state payment, whether conditional or unconditional, to all workers is not going to end up being a wage subsidy to employers. It is bound to upset the labour market by setting in motion downward pressures on wages and salaries. Of course workers, through their unions, should resist such pressures (as they always should), but the employers’ trump card is going to be “Look, your members are not going to be worse off, since their total income from us and the state is going to be more or less the same”. In other words, a Basic Income scheme would not make workers better off in terms of money income; it would just be a more or less neutral “reorganisation of poverty”. Surely you don’t think that if BI was fixed at even as low as £5000 a year workers would be better off by that amount? Or that employers could be prevented by law from taking this payment into account when fixing or negotiating the wages they pay?

Yes, we are aware of the benefits that are claimed for BI and they sound alright. But excuse us if we are rather sceptical as we’ve heard claims of this sort made for many reforms of capitalism (including for family allowances, which the advocates of BI now want to replace by their scheme). The fact is that, while workers can obtain some improvements under capitalism, capitalism itself cannot be permanently reformed so as to work in the interest of wage and salary workers. At the present time, with the fiscal crisis of the capitalist state, any reform that will cost more money is not likely to pass anyway. Much better, then, that workers should go for the bakery rather than a few more, perhaps unobtainable, crumbs – socialism rather than a reform to capitalism –Editors.

Police strikes

Dear Editors,
Many thanks for forwarding on the article from the Socialist Standard (January) about the last, failed, police strike. I’m sure many of the officers who heeded the old Police Union’s strike call would have agreed with the sentiment – although I’m not sure history has necessary proved it true.

One thing that the article does not reflect is the police’s reluctance, as true now as it was then, to have to resort to this final exercise of industrial action.

Communications Department, Police Federation of England and Wales


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