Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Goode’

The German Workers Who Struck For Peace

March 29, 2014

German War Corpse

Corpse of German trooper outside his dugout: a vivid image of the horrific carnage experienced by all the combatants in the ‘War to End All Wars’.

This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The BBC has already commemorating this by putting on numerous documentaries about the Great War, setting up on-line resources for schools so you can see what your particular bit of the country was like and did at the time. they’re also running trailers for forthcoming dramas where idealistic young nurses meet handsome soldiers in a saga of love amid the mass slaughter of the War. Documentaries about the World Wars are a staple of British television anyway. Dan Snow on the One Show has appeared several times striding across a World War I battlefield, while a few years ago Tony Robinson presented a Time Team special on the excavation of a system of WWI trenches in Flanders. Some of the coverage has already proven somewhat controversial. There was some comment a few weeks ago on television that something the BBC broadcast had provoked a complaint from the German embassy. There’s a difference of opinion here between German historians and the rest of the world. Most other nations see the War as being caused by Germany. German historians, on the other hand, believe that no single nation is to blame and that the growth of international tension and the web of alliances with which each nation surrounded itself led inexorably to the War. I really don’t know anything beyond the most general outline of events surrounding the First World War, and so leave it to people much better informed than I do to explain it.

One immediate result of the War was the break-up of international socialism. Previously the European Socialist parties had opposed working class involvement in any conflict between the European nations. For them, it would be a fratricidal conflict, as the working classes in each country had more in common with each other than with their rulers. The war would be a bourgeois war, started by the European ruling classes for their own further profit and enrichment, with the working class troops solely the exploited means by which they sought to do so. When the War finally broke out, however, the Socialist parties all over Europe joined the other parties in backing their governments.

Karl Kautsky, the head of the German Social Democrats, modified his party’s view of the conflict. He considered that Socialists in each country should now see the war only as defending their homelands. They should also campaign for a just peace, which would maintain the integrity of the defeated nations and avoid any cause for resentment on their part. This would prevent any further War from breaking out. He wrote

Further, the Social Democracy in every nation is obliged to consider the war only as a war of defence, and to set as its goal only defending itself against the enemy, not of ‘punishing’ or belittling the enemy. As this conception seeks the causes of the war not in the personal depravity or inferiority of the opponent, but in objective conditions, it will strive for the security which they conclusion of peace brings not by humiliating or mutilating its opponent, which would only cause new wars in the future, but by replacing those condition which led to the war – that is, imperialist conflicts and the armaments race.

Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan Press 1983) 95.

It’s a pity that the Allies did not follow this advice when imposing the reparations and conditions on Germany afterwards. This could have removed some of the feelings of humiliation and resentment felt in Germany, feelings on which the Nazi preyed and used in their campaign to seize power.

Some Socialist parties continued to campaign against the War, such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the USPD – the Independent Social Democratic Party in Germany. One of those who campaigned against the War was the radical deputy, Karl Liebknecht, who went on to found the Spartacist League and the German Communist Party. There were also a number of strikes in Germany against the War. When Liebknecht was tried by a court martial for treason on the 28th June 1916, 55,000 workers went on strike in solidarity.

In April 1917 there was a much larger strike due to the government cutting the bread ration by a quarter. In Leipzig, the striking workers demanded in addition to the removal of their economic grievances the introduction of a direct, general and equal franchise, the removal of the state of siege, lifting of censorship, the release of all political prisoners, the re-instatement of the right to strike and hold political meetings. the government was also to make a declaration in favour of immediate peace without annexations.

On the 28th January 1918 a further mass strike broke out. In Berlin alone 200,000 workers downed tools and elected an action committee consisting of eleven Revolutionary Shop Stewards from The Turners’ union, and three delegates each from the pro-War Social Democratic and anti-War Independent Social Democratic Parties. Their demands included the

speedy conclusion of a peace without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the nations’ right to self-determination, according to the provisions formulated by the Russian People’s Commissars at Brest-Litovsk.

They also wanted the removal of the state of siege and military control of the factories, the release of all political prisoners, the introduction of a general and equal franchise and a thorough democratisation of all institutions of the state. The strike spread rapidly to towns throughout Germany, including Munich, Mannheim, Brunswick, Bremen, Cologne, Hamburg, Kiel, Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) Leipzig and Nuremberg. In all of these towns with the exception of Munich and Berlin the strike collapsed after a week. In Berlin Military Command suppressed it by placing the leading armaments factories under martial law. In Munich Kurt Eisner, one of the leading USPD politicians and opponent of the War, Kurt Eisner, was arrested before he could call for a general strike to bring down the government. The moderate Social Democrats were thus able to retake control and the Strike ended a few days later.

See F.L. Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-1919 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1972) 14-15.

I’ve blogged about the bitterness caused by the First World War across Europe, and the anti-War poems of some of the soldiers, who fought in it, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Germany also has its great anti-War work from the time of the First World War, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The original German title is Nichts Neues Im Westen – ‘There is Nothing New in the West’. It’s also a bitter comment on the belligerent nature of Western civilisation. I think it’s also important At this time to recognise that Germany also had its campaigners for an end to the War and for a just peace that would establish friendship between nations afterwards. It’s a point that could easily get forgotten in the programmes, documentaries and debates about the War during this centenary.

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Graduate Underemployment Today and in 19th Century Germany

March 19, 2014

Graduate Jobs diagram

Diagram of the various sectors of the economy employing graduates. The vast majority are ‘jobs graduates end up doing’.

Taken from ‘Graduates Aren’t What They Used To Be’ at http://www.workcomms.com/graduates/whitepapers/graduates/.

Yesterday’s I newspaper carried an article about the massive underemployment of educated workers, including graduates. These were workers performing jobs for which they were too highly qualified. In some parts of the North, the article stated, the number of skilled and educated workers in lower skilled jobs was around 50 per cent.

I am not remotely surprised. There has been a massive expansion in further and higher education from 1980s onwards. During Tony Blair’s administration, approving Fleet Street columnists like Polly Toynbee saw this as a major positive step. Britain was not only going to be better educated, but this would provide the skilled, intellectual workforce of tomorrow to fuel British industry. Computer skills in particular were in great demand, and there was much optimistic talk about the immense value of the knowledge economy. All this was, of course, just before the Dot.com bubble exploded, thus following in the long line of massively over-hyped investments schemes like the South Sea bubble and John Law’s Louisiana scheme. The only difference with that those was that instead of the being in some remote part of the Earth, the property being developed was in cyberspace.

In all of this there seems to have been little thought to how these graduates were going to be employed afterwards, nor how they were supposed to create the expected new jobs. It seems to have been simply assumed that the clerical, managerial or entrepreneurial sectors of industry would expand to take them on.

This simply did not occur, so that instead, educated, often highly educated people were forced to find work for which they were overqualified, simply to put food on the table. The SF novelist, Spider Robinson, in the foreword to his collection of short stories, Callaghan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar, describes how the only job he could get after leaving Uni was as a nightwatchman at a building site ‘Looking at a hole in the ground to make sure nobody stole it’. Other graduates have found themselves flipping burgers. Not only are these jobs wasting their talents, but the entry of graduates into them has put additional employment pressure on low qualified workers, for whom this is only type of job they can do.

The German Socialist leader Karl Kautsky remarked on a similar process occurring in late 19th century Germany. He remarked on the way the industrialisation of the country from feudalism to capitalism had encouraged the expansion of higher education. However, the new generation of graduates found that the expansion of education had deprived them of their privileged status, and they became white-collar workers, members of the working class. Kautsky wrote

Clearly the capitalist mode of production requires a massive intelligentsia. The educational facilities of the feudal state were incapable of catering for that need. Thus the bourgeois regime has always been in favour of improving and expanding not only elementary but also higher education. This was supposed to promote not only the development of production, but also to lessen class conflict; given that higher education was a way of gaining access to the professional world, it seemed self-0evident that the universal expansion of higher education would integrate the proletariat into the bourgeoisie.

But the bourgeois standard of life only becomes a necessary correlate of higher education when the latter is a privilege. When it becomes universal, far from integrating the proletariat into the bourgeoisie, it degrades him to a ‘white-collar worker’, to a proletarian. That too is one of the manifestations of the immiseration of the mass of people.

He then proceeds to describe how the intelligentsia of his day tried to block the entry into higher education of underprivileged groups, like women, Jews and the working class.

The strongest opposition to the education of women is expressed by university professors and students, and by the leading scientists. It is they who exclude the Jewish intelligentsia from all competition for position in the professional world, and who go to great lengths to make higher education more expensive and hence inaccessible to the poor.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Revisionist Controversy’ in Patrick Goode, Karl Kautsky: Selected Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 20.

The situation in Britain today is almost completely the opposite. There are now more women at university than men, and there are a number of campaigns to encourage women to take up traditionally male-dominated subjects, like engineering and science. Furthermore, most universities are extremely keen to encourage enrolment by members of ethnic or religious minorities. Furthermore, when student fees were introduced, the universities were worried that it would lead to education becoming the preserve of a privileged few. University administrators, in my experience, have also welcomed the greater opportunity of people from less privileged groups to go to university.

However, the massive expansion of tuition fees by the Tories and their Tory Democrat allies certainly seems to indicate that they see higher education as something that should remain the exclusive privilege of the upper and upper middle classes. Unable to oppose openly the idea that university education should be open to more than just a narrow elite, it appears that Cameron and Clegg, both blue-blooded aristos, are trying to price it out of the reach of the working and lower middle classes.

They also seem to see students as a further reservoir of debt slaves. With student debt now going up to 27,000 or more, I did read recently of the Coalition plan to sell their debts to private industry. Where once upon a time education was free, now it seems that not only is it extremely expensive, but students themselves are seen as a lucrative investment by the insurance industry.

In Germany graduate and university discontent led eventually to strong support for the Nazi party in the last years of the Weimar period and the years of the Nazi seizure of power. In Britain very few graduates have any sympathy for the Fascist radical Right, and racism and militant anti-feminism would not be welcome. Instead there is growing graduate poverty and discontent, as former students join their less-skilled fellows in poorly paid, unrewarding jobs, with the additional worries about paying off their student debt. Their needs should also be addressed by the politicos along with the rest of the working population. Unfortunately, as Tony Benn remarked about Maggie’s prime ministry,

Despite the fact that we have been told that this is an entrepreneurial society, Britain has an utter contempt for skill. If one talks to people who dig coal and drive trains, or to doctors, nurses, dentists or toolmakers, one discovers that no one in Britain is interested in them. The whole of the so-called entrepreneurial society is focused on the City news that we get in every bulletin which tells us what has happened to £ sterling to three decimal points against the basket of European currencies. Skill is what built this country’s strength, but it has been treated with contempt.

There is an immense reservoir of talent, which is vastly underused in this country. For all the talk about expanding the knowledge economy, promoting science and creating a workforce with the skills needed by industry, there is little interest in actually using such a skilled workforce, and the Tory attitude seems to regard them merely as a suitably remunerative investment for the insurance industry. This has to change. We should be creating a nation, which can and does employ such people, or develop schemes by which they themselves can create the industries for which they have skills. I cannot see this happening under a government that sees no value in education beyond its monetary value, and indeed even views it as a threat when in the hands of anyone outside the privileged ranks of the aristocratic few.

I’ve taken the words of the speech from Another Angry Voice’s post, Tony Benn and Neoliberal Orthodoxy. This article, and other quotations from the speech, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/tony-benn-and-neoliberal-orthodoxy.html.

Alternatively, a video of the speech can also be seen at Guy Debord’s Cat’s post ‘There’s only One Tony Benn’, which is at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/theres-only-one-tony-benn/.

The Russian Revolutionaries on the Democratic Right to Recall Politicians

March 19, 2014

Soviet Poster

Russian Revolutionary poster showing the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets!’

One of the promises the Tories and Tory Democrats have also gone back on was that they would give people the right to have their MP suspended or dismissed if they were guilty of misconduct. The promise was made during the expenses scandal, and was obviously far too radical for the Coalition. In the words of Sir Humphrey in BBC’s political comedy, Yes Minister, it was very ‘courageous’. This meant that it might lose them the next election. After all, what would happen if even more Tory or Liberal MPs were caught fiddling their expenses or some other, worse activity, like sexual assault? And so it was announced the other week that the policy had been dropped.

The Russian revolutionaries also initially demanded the right to recall unsatisfactory delegates to their national assembly. On the 7th December the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets issued the following resolution, stating clearly their demands for such a right:

However a body of elected representatives may be constituted, it can only be considered truly democratic and representative of the will of the people when the right of the voters to recall their representatives is recognised and implemented. This founding precept of democracy applies to the Constituent Assembly as to all other representative bodies … The Congress of the Councils of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ delegates, which is constituted on the basis of parity, has the right to call for new elections to all bodies representative of citizens, peasants or any other groups, and this includes the Constituent Assembly. At the request of more than half the electors in the constituency in questions, the Councils must order new elections.

Karl Kautsky: ‘Dictatorship and Democracy’, in Patrick Goode, ed. and trans. Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 124.

at the time the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets issued the demand, Russia was still in a state of turmoil. The Bolsheviks hadn’t yet seized power, although the Tsar had been overthrown. There were thus demands for the formation of a constituent assembly to decide the constitution and political form of the new Russia. In the event, this demand was also much too radical for the Bolsheviks. The provisional government and its elected ministers were overthrown, and the Bolsheviks installed as the only permitted political party. Nevertheless, the idea that citizens should have the right to recall their political representatives would be a powerful democratic right.

It will not, of course, ever be implemented in Britain, and especially not by the Tories or Tory Democrats. As has been shown by the government’s attitude to parliament, where demands for a cumulative impact assessment in to the terrible effect the government’s cuts to disability benefit was having on disable people and their careers, and Ian Duncan Smith’s refusal to explain his department’s conduct and policies before the Work and Pensions Committee, Cameron and the rest do not see themselves as responsible to the honourable gentlemen and ladies of parliament, let alone the British electorate. Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS are all aristos who assume, they have a natural right to govern. They need to be shown that they do not, and that they are responsible to the people.

Karl Kautsky on Inflation, Unemployment and the Workers

March 19, 2014

Kautsky pic

This is the day when George Osborne will announce the budget. He has already declared that it will ‘business friendly’, which means that there will be more tax cuts for the rich, further attacks on inflation and cuts in welfare benefits. I was watching a piece on what they expect Osborne’s budget to cover on BBC 1’s breakfast show. At the same time I found this passage in the writings of the German Socialist leader, Karl Kautsky, from 1910.

Inflation and the burden of taxation and the Junkers’ [Prussian aristocracy] brutality are all based on conditions which will not change so easily: they will be just as important in 1911 as in 1910 – even more so; for the armaments race is continuing. The government will, of course, do everything possible to postpone all new demands until the period after the next elections – a reason for them to hasten these, but it will be unable to do so at will. In England the Conservatives are going strong. They have already forced the Liberal Cabinet to strengthen the Navy. If, as expected, they take the helm during the course of the year, then armaments will be increased at an even more rapid rate.

Inflation, however, will not lessen. Anyone who want to know what to expect on this score, would do well to observe American conditions, which are decisive for the international food market. We must be prepared for a further increase in prices.

Some may argue that unemployment has made a not insignificant contribution to the embitterment of the masses, and that in a year’s time it will have declined considerably because the crisis will have been overcome. This is true insofar as the next year does promise to be more favourable for business. But it is doubtful whether business will do brilliantly. And this time, even more than in the last period of prosperity, the employers’ organisations will cream off all benefits, and the workers’ only taste of prosperity will be higher prices; for prosperity means an increase in commodity prices.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Mass Strike’, in Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 67.

Of course, it’s very much of its time and place, written four years before the First World War, when Britain, Germany and the European powers were locked in an armaments race. The Tories have now savagely cut back on our armed forces, though military development is continuing. But apart from that, it all seems horribly familiar. The tax cuts for the rich will see the tax burden shifted to the poor, the world is still profoundly affected by changes to the American economy, the last paragraph will certainly be true next year, no matter who Osborne says to the contrary.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.