Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The King's Question Answered (1936)

From the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Slums and Luxury Liners

After some caustic remarks about the Glasgow slums, King Edward VIII, on his recent visit to the new wonder liner, “Queen Mary,” turned to a member of his party and said, “How do you reconcile a world that has produced this mighty ship with the slums that we have visited?” Lord Melchett, who reports this (Daily Telegraph, March' 12th) does not say what answer, if any, was given to the King’s question, nor does his own toying with it throw any light on what to him is evidently the unsolved mystery of our age. Lord Melchett, faced with a problem which can only be solved by a complete change, a social revolution, could only recoil from such a notion and proffer its opposite, “ The only inkling I can give you in regard to its solution may be summed up in one word — equilibrium. . . . We have got to produce things in a balanced way, and in relation to all other things of which the community has need.”

Here Lord Melchett just touched the fringe of the problem, but without having even an inkling of what is under his nose. There is no such thing as "the community,” and its "needs” are, therefore, an abstraction that has no meaning. We live in a world which consists of two communities, those who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth—the capitalists—and those who, not having property on the income from which they can live, have to work for wages or salaries. Lord Melchett is so accustomed to viewing the monetary aspect of things that he cannot be expected, without assistance, to see below the surface. Let us, then, assist him by pointing out that the wages system, which looks so natural and inevitable when viewed from above, is purely capitalistic and will pass with capitalism. It disguises a conflict of interests, an exploitation of one class by another, every whit as callous as chattel slavery. The chattel slave produces wealth for the slave-owner, but must, of course, be provided with the necessities of life. The wage- and salary-earners, making up the great majority of the population, produce wealth for the capitalists, the owners of the means of production and distribution. In return the workers receive, when they are at work, the price of the commodity they sell, their labour-power. If their standard of living is sometimes above the chattel slave level they suffer the torments of insecurity unknown to the latter.

Now let us examine Lord Melchett’s phrase, “Things of which the community has need.” A glance is sufficient to show its absurdity. The community of the rich needs good and abundant food, roomy, luxurious and well-situated houses, expensive cars, and foreign travel in luxury liners. The community of the rich, having property rights in all the wealth produced by the workers, and having to return only a part for their upkeep, not only wants these things, but can pay for them, and has them. It is their privileged position, their ability to pay for whatever they want which determines how the world’s resources shall be used.

On the other hand, the workers also want these things, but cannot pay for them and, therefore, do not get them. The workers lack what the economists call “effective demand.” They get slums, poor and inadequate food, shoddy clothing and ineffective advice from Lord Melchett.

In face of these two worlds, the world of the rich and the world of the poor, talk of equilibrium gets us nowhere. Producing more and better food, so far from improving the state of things, would actually increase the disequilibrium Lord Melchett has in mind, for the workers could not buy it, and the capitalists already buy all they need. Like a bumper crop, or a big increase in productivity in any industry, any such increase of food production would merely throw out of work thousands of the workers in the food trades, because the owners could not sell the increase at profitable prices.
What, then, is the remedy? It is so plain and reasonable that the slowness of the workers to accept it is a matter for recurring amazement. Abolish the capitalist ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. Rid society of this institution which has now become a fetter for the mass of the population. Let society itself, through its own democratic control, utilise the land to produce food for the needs of the whole community, and the factories and railways, etc., likewise. Let us have our means of life turned into means of producing the requirements of humanity, not the profits of a class. Let us turn our two hostile communities into one real community, freed for ever of the rivalry of interests between those who own and those who do not own, a rivalry which restricts the production of useful and beautiful things, condemns vast masses to sordid poverty, excites class hatred and international war, and poisons human relationships in a war of the jungle instead of a co-operative endeavour to enrich life.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Passing of Comrade F. Maby (1937)

Obituary from the April 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret the loss of an old comrade, Fred Maby, who died on Monday, March 8th, in his eighty-first year.

He joined the Battersea Branch of the Party in 1907, and for thirty years was a consistent and efficient worker for Socialism. From the early days of his membership he acted as either secretary or treasurer for his branch, and continued until a few years ago, when work he had undertaken at Head Office compelled him to pass his part in branch organisation on to other members.

For the past eight years he has dealt with the postal subscribers to THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, and during that time had the satisfaction of seeing the number of subscribers nearly trebled.

When we moved into the present Head Office we were faced with the task of sorting and storing our stock of binding copies of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, which dates back to 1904. Our late comrade undertook this work, and completed it in a most satisfactory manner.

While attending to his business at Head Office on the Tuesday evening he had a stroke, and collapsed. From this he did not recover consciousness, and quietly passed away on the following Monday morning.
E. L.

An Open Letter to the Electors of East Ham North (1938)

From the April 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Worker of East Ham, North,

You are interested in what are known as "bread and butter" questions. As a worker, you have to be. Doubtless you are interested in politics as well. You should be. Because politics and bread and butter questions are closely bound up with each other—in fact, they cannot be separated.

Low Wages—High Prices—Unemployment
to mention only a few, are still the burning questions of the day. We say “still,” because they were the burning questions half a century ago. Political parties then promised immediate remedies if returned to office. Half a century of failure will not prevent them from again announcing immediate remedies to cure these evils—next time.

Political parties have their pet schemes which they claim will solve your problems. The Liberals say "Free Trade," the Tories “Protection" and the Labour Party point to ”Nationalisation” as the way out. You have tried the first two, and are now being persuaded to try the third. But even if you do, we say it will leave you in exactly the same position of insecurity and poverty.

Why Is This?
It is because these “remedies” do not touch the root cause of your troubles. It is the cause that must be understood first. The remedy must follow. This you will agree, is sound commonsense. Let us apply it, then.

At present, your only means of getting a living is your job. But, strictly speaking, “your" job is not yours: it belongs to those who give you your wage-packet, the employing or capitalist class, and they can take it away when it suits them. They are in a position to do this because they not only have the means to pay wages, but they also own the places where the job is carried on, and all the necessary things for it, the machinery, raw materials, etc. The only thing in all this which does belong to the workers is the energies they sell in return for wages, and the amount in the packet is the market price of those energies—about enough, on an average, to keep the worker in working condition. But the wealth the workers produce is more than they take home. What is left behind belongs to the capitalist. This, after paying all other expenses, is his profit. This profit is the sole reason for turning out goods, and how much of this profit the state of the market will allow will decide how much wealth is to be produced, will decide whether you work overtime, short time, or no time at all, and whether, at different periods, your wage packet is a little bigger, a little smaller, or there is no wage packet.

This, then, is why the workers are poor— because the greater portion of what they produce is transferred to the pockets of those who own the means of living. It is the ownership alone that gives this privilege to a small minority of people. That is why for them there are country houses, yachts, costly food and expensive clothes, and for you—jerry-built houses, shoddy clothing and cheap food. What is more, you live all the time in uncertainty, insecurity and strain. This condition for the workers is a perpetual one, because the capitalist is always seeking means to increase his profit. He can only do this by increasing the output of the workers, and labour-saving machinery, cut rates, speed-up, are the results. Relatively fewer workers are required to produce existing requirements. The workers who are no longer required are forced to look for another job, and their competition for jobs is a constant threat to the wages and conditions of those in work. From time to time, as a result of this frenzied rush for profit, a crisis occurs, and there follows more unemployment, less wages, and greater insecurity than ever.

You can see that under the present scheme the capitalists and the workers obtain their living in totally different ways: one by property, the other by working; one by buying labour-power, the other by selling it, if he can. This opposition of interests between worker and capitalist is inseparable from capitalism, and for that reason all the efforts of other political parties to solve the evils arising from these conditions are rendered futile.

Have We a Remedy?
Our answer is that we have the only remedy to cure these bread and butter problems of yours, and ours. Perhaps you don’t believe it? You may well be doubtful. For over fifty years politicians have come, promised, and gone their ways, leaving only high prices, low wages, unemployment, and the shadow of war. May ours not be just another story of claiming to succeed where the other fellow has failed? you may ask. We hope you do. Because it is the purpose of this letter to show just how the Socialist Party of Great Britain differs from all other political parties. Our proposals do not consist of pet schemes, immediate remedies, or fancy slogans dealing only with effects and leaving causes untouched. What we say is this: You cannot plan prosperity under a system in which the privilege of the few rests upon the poverty and exploitation of the many. And because all other parties accept this system as the basis of their schemes they fail, and must fail.

The Plan of the Socialist Party of Great Britain has as its first step the removal of these conditions, and replacing them by conditions which will make it possible for the problems of the workers to be completely solved. The capitalist system (the private ownership of the means of living) must go, we say. Its place must be taken by a system of common ownership, based on production for use only. This remedy is the only one worth while for the workers. Nothing, we say, can be accomplished until this is done.

Let us test it. Take unemployment. Why can’t the whole of the unemployed be re-absorbed into industry? With the ample means at our disposal they could be set to work producing not only for themselves but for others. Thus everybody would benefit because more wealth would be produced. But, as we have seen, the taking away of jobs, as well as the giving of them, is essential for a profit-making system. That is why political parties who accept and work within the present order can only suggest doles, and pious hopes for better times. Only in a system of production for use will unemployment be banished, because the good of all being the common end, it will be to the advantage of all to have all taking part in producing goods and services. The fear of losing your job, the constant dread of millions, cannot arise under Socialism. Your job will at last be your job, because it will be a part of the community ownership in which you have equal voice. The drudgery and monotony of present-day work, carried out under orders, will be replaced by responsibility and interest, because you will then have a voice in what is produced and the conditions in which it will take place. The workers' standard of living under Socialism will not be based on the thing necessary for mere working efficiency, because there will be no surplus going to an idle and useless section. Workers will enjoy what the resources of society are capable of supplying.

The programmes of other political parties are unable to guarantee you this, because all other political parties are concerned with the interests of the profit-makers or owners. They have not altered, and cannot alter, the amazing contrast between riches and poverty. The only things they have to offer are tide-overs for your poverty in the shape of doles, pensions, free medical services, etc.

In contrast to the futile reforms of other political parties, Socialism is the Remedy for which the S.P.G.B. seeks the support and understanding of the working class, and offers itself as a means by which the workers, through the ballot box, can obtain political power for this purpose. Since 1904, when this Party was founded, Socialism has been our sole aim, and for that reason we are opposed to all other political parties.

Now you have read this letter we ask you to think over our proposals. Compare what other parties say about your conditions with what we say about them. Ask yourself: Does our examination of existing things square with your everyday experiences? Is our plan one that meets your real needs? If, after reflection, you are inclined to I agree, learn more about THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN.
E. Wilmott.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Beginning and End of Czechoslovakia (1939)

Editorial from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hitler, and his associates, with that capacity they have long shown for taking well prepared decisive actions at the appropriate moment, have devoured Czecho-Slovakia. It was done with the forced consent of the head of the Czecho-Slovak State—how the dictators do love to keep to the forms of legality—and the enthusiastic support of a large number of Slovak autonomists, and the smaller number of Czech Fascists. Mr. Neville Chamberlain says he was amazed, but why? Whatever the form of the Munich settlement it meant in substance recognition by the British and French capitalists that Germany dominated Central and South-Eastern Europe—at least until such time as the former judged the moment opportune to reduce that domination. During the six months since Munich rearmament in Great Britain has made considerable strides, and to that extent the British Government are already feeling that they can afford to stiffen their attitude, so the future promises some sharp exchanges of uncordial notes and speeches, and repeated tensions and crises, with intervals of "let’s all get together” proposals.

Superficially, Germany has all the gains and all the prospects, but capitalist relationships do not lend themselves to measurement by the simple process of counting populations and adding up square miles of territory. Those who imagine that the incorporation of these indigestible territories is an easy matter for German capitalists, have only to look at Palestine, India, and Ireland to see that Imperialist dreams have a way of turning into politician’s nightmares.

On the other hand, the people who fancy that Germany is a unique offender, and that the “democratic” powers know how to solve problems of nationality, should remember history. Germany, talking of racial liberties, overruns non-German-speaking territories, just as in 1919 the Allied “democratic” Powers created new states, to the tune of “self-determination," but really with the purpose of permanently weakening Germany. Where race and language conflicted with the latter purpose, Allied statesmen did not hesitate to place unwilling minorities under unwanted alien rule. And before British politicians take it upon themselves to condemn the ruthless action of German capitalism, they should consider how much of the British Empire would be left if subjected populations were freely permitted to take independence.

The position of the anti-German and anti-Nazi, elements now forced under German rule, is a distressing one, like the position of Indians and African natives in the British Empire, but there should be no hesitation whatever on the part of the workers about recognising that such subjection, even if prolonged for years, is better than the alternative of a modern war between the rival imperialists carrying out a new carve-up of the world. Actually it is not running the risk of false prophecy to say that Germany’s “settlement" of Europe will be no more enduring than others that have happened in the past. Events —and ideas—move quickly nowadays, and this settlement may have a very short life indeed, if, as appears probable, Hitler has now gone far enough to provoke a new will to organised resistance among the East European Powers, backed by Britain, France, Russia, and probably the U.S.A.

I.L.P. Refuses Debate (1940)

Party News from the April 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are asked by our Glasgow Branch to give publicity to the refusal of the Mosspark Branch of the I.L.P. to proceed with a debate which had been under negotiation. In the letter of refusal the I.L.P. Branch Secretary says that, in the opinion of her Federation, it would be inadvisable to have a debate “at the present time, when our energies could be devoted to Anti-War work, and they also think it unnecessary when we are both part of the Anti-War movement."

Our Glasgow Branch do not agree with the view conveyed by the I.L.P. The S.P.G.B. holds now, as in the past, that the issue before the workers is Socialism. This does not cease to be true because there is a war in progress, any more than it ceased to be true on past occasions when, for example, the I.L.P. urged that the workers should concentrate on removing a Tory or Liberal Government in order to have capitalism administered by a Labour Government with the assistance of the I.L.P. The S.P.G.B. is opposed to the war, but it does not for that reason cease to be Socialist. The I.L.P., while opposed to this war, does not for that reason cease to be a reformist party prepared to enter the Labour Party and support the Labour programme. It is still of vital importance that the antagonism between Socialism and Reformism should be made clear to the workers.

B.B.C. Boycott of Socialists (1941)

Editorial from the April 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the evening of Tuesday, March 11th, Mr. W. J. Brown, General Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association, gave a broadcast address on “Is Hitler a Socialist?” The B.B.C. had chosen their man well, for it was a very good address, and nearly everything that he said could have been endorsed by the S.P.G.B. If the speaker had been one of the men the B.B.C. usually selects for talks on Socialism Socialists could have dismissed the whole thing by asking: “ How on earth can he know whether Hitler is a Socialist or not?” But not so with Mr. Brown, who showed on this occasion that he is well aware what is the real case for Socialism as understood by Socialists.

Yet there are a number of things that Socialists are entitled to question. In the first place, how comes it that the workers need to be warned against Hitler’s claim that Nazism is Socialism? Plainly those in authority are somewhat worried because some workers do believe it, and it happens—because there is a war on—that those in authority are most anxious that Socialism should be properly defined. This is very solicitous, but it is also most extraordinary. Never before have the Conservatives, Liberals and Labourites shown such solicitude. How often have members of the S.P.G.B. complained that these three parties, in their different ways, have done everything they possibly could to fog the issue? Conservatives had denounced Socialism as being a dictatorship and Bolshevism; Liberals have pretended that it is State interference with the individual, and Labourites have solemnly propagated their doctrine that it is Nationalisation or State capitalism. Now those chickens have come home to roost. Having completely muddled the minds of the workers so that most of them are at the moment quite unable to distinguish Socialism from its enemies, the men who were responsible for the muddle find that Hitler is taking 'advantage of it to spread his own vicious theories. So Mr. Brown is helping out his former political opponents and colleagues; but Mr. Brown is also hardly blameless. As a former member of the Labour Party and the I.L.P., and as one who was for a moment swept off his feet by Moseley's “New Party" in the days before Moseley was a Fascist, and as a supporter of. silly currency-mongering policies, Mr. Brown, on that Tuesday evening was helping to clear up some of the confusion spread by himself.

One other thing we have to say is this. Let us grant that Mr. Brown did show quite convincingly that Hitler is not, and never has been, a Socialist. Why did the B.B.C. have to call on Mr. Brown? Why has the B.B.C. never called upon a Socialist to talk on the wireless about Socialism ? More than that, how can the B.B.C. justify its repeated refusals to allow the S.P.G.B. to broadcast? The answer is quite simple. Until now the B.B.C. and the Government have never been interested in spreading knowledge of Socialism, they have only been interested in letting the confusionists broadcast, who, either by design or out of pure ignorance, wanted to represent as Socialism lots of doctrines to which Socialism is completely opposed.

No doubt when the war is over it will be the same again. Those who have a temporary enthusiasm for allowing Socialism to be described on the air, will revert to the good old custom of misrepresenting Socialism.

War-Time Restrictions On Publication (1942)

Editorial from the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Case of the “Daily Mirror

Restrictions on publication are not a wartime innovation. In peace time the publication of libellous or blasphemous statements carries its legal penalties, and there are also such Acts as the Official Secrets Act and the Incitement to Disaffection Act. Under the latter, for example, it is an offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of £200 to endeavour, maliciously and advisedly, to seduce a member of the Forces from his duty or allegiance or to have possession of publications likely to have that effect and with intent to use them for that purpose. With the outbreak of war the restrictions became much more drastic. Defence Regulations 2c and 2d make it an offence to be concerned in the systematic publication, orally or otherwise, of matter which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. Under 2c the Home Secretary can, after giving warning, proceed by way of prosecution, and the penalty on conviction may be seven years' imprisonment or a fine of £500 or both. Under 2d the Home Secretary need not warn, and does not prosecute, but can simply stop publication and distribution of the offending journal. Since the war started various Fascist publications have been suppressed, as also the Daily Worker, without any particular protest. When, however, Mr. Herbert Morrison, on a decision of the Cabinet, informed the Daily Mirror that he would take action under 2d unless that newspaper mended its ways, many other newspapers and a number of M.P.s vigorously protested, fearing that the proposed action might be the beginning of much more drastic control of all newspapers.

It will be noticed that the Regulations rest on the opinion formed by the Home Secretary, and Mr. Morrison, speaking in the House of Commons, has stated what in his opinion constitutes an offence. On March 19th, 1942, he stated that the provisions of Regulation 2d “cover not only overt or disguised incitements to refrain from helping the war effort on the ground, for example, that the war is waged for unworthy ends, but also the publication of matter which foments opposition to the prosecution of the war by depressing public support for the war effort, by poisoning the springs of national loyalty, and by creating a spirit of despair and defeatism." He added that the motives of the writer are not the point that matters—“the test is what effect his words may be expected to produce on the minds of others."

He gave further information as to his opinion on March 26th in reply to a question put by Captain Gamman, M.P. The latter had drawn attention to an article in Peace News which is alleged to have expressed the view that conditions in Hong Kong under the Japanese are not much worse than they were under British rule. Mr. Morrison’s reply was: “The article referred to is one of which notice has been taken" (Times, March 27th, 1942).

The remainder of the question and answer is as follows:—
  “Peace News."—Captain Gammans (Hornsey, U.) asked the Home Secretary why “Peace News” was not banned, in view of statements made in its issue of March 13 that the raid on the Renault Works in. Paris was made to produce a momentary and false impression of activity and to keep up morale at home, that the war was precipitated by partisans of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and as it was openly asking for subscriptions, in order to carry on pacifist propaganda.
  Mr. H. Morrison: A careful watch has been and is being kept on this periodical, but I have not hitherto felt that any action against it was necessary, having regard not only to the very limited class of persons to whom it appeals, but also to the expressed view of the House at the time when the Defence Regulations were under consideration that the mere expression of pacifist opinion ought not to be made an offence under the Defence Regulations. Statements such as those to which my hon. friend refers, however, and other statements which have appeared from time to time in this periodical, go beyond anything which can be regarded as the legitimate expression of pacifist views. The paper will continue to be watched, and I shall not hesitate to take appropriate action if I am satisfied that that course is necessary.
Much of the argument in the House of Commons and in the Press about the Daily Mirror case turned on the point that the Home Secretary had threatened to use 2D instead of using 2C under which the matter would have been tried in court. Mr. Morrison’s reply was that, apart from the delay involved in court proceedings, action under 2C would have the result that “the wealthy owners of a paper would get away altogether. It would be the salaried officers of the undertaking who would be taken to court, imprisoned or fined. The paper would go on with mischievous propaganda . . . .” (Manchester Guardian, 27th March, 1942.) He added the retort that he was surprised that “members who ask the Government to be speedy and decisive in their action should now ask to adopt that method."

There is, of course, substance in the point about the difference between the two methods—another illustration of the fact that there can be no equality before the law as between the rich who can afford the expense of fines and court proceedings and the poor who cannot.

As far as the S.P.G.B. is concerned our attitude is the one we have always adopted. We are in favour of complete freedom of speech and publication for every point of view, that of our opponents as well as ourselves, but we cannot profess to be surprised that under war conditions the earlier restrictions should be greatly increased. It is a process inseparable from war and will probably result in still more restriction before the war is ended. (We notice in passing that quite a number of supporters of war do appear to be surprised: having apparently made the childish assumption that it is possible to wage war without having these necessary accompaniments of it.) While regretting that under these conditions it is not possible to publish all that we would wish to do on the war, we do not forget that the S.P.G.B. is not merely an anti-war organisation but a Socialist organisation. It is our duty as Socialists to state the case for Socialism and while it is possible to continue to do useful work we shall continue, notwithstanding our enforced inability to state all that we would like to state.

Strange and Familiar (2017)

"Glasgow" by Raymond Depardon.
Exhibition Review from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outsiders can sometimes provide a fresh look at a time or place, observing things that those who live there fail to notice or consider too obvious for comment. Such ideas are behind the exhibition ‘Strange but Familiar’, currently on at Manchester Art Gallery, which shows the work of a number of international photographers who have depicted Britain (though there are no photos of Manchester).

The photos included cover a period of almost eighty years. The earliest are by Henri Cartier-Bresson, of patriotic crowds at the coronation of George VI in 1937, complemented by some of Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee in 1977; these indeed focus on the spectators rather than the official celebrations. Many of the photographers whose work is exhibited adopted a left-wing position, and provide a kind of documentary record of people’s lives.

Edith Tudor-Hart (originally from Austria) photographed appalling living conditions from the 1930s, while Candida Höfer shows depressing Liverpool scenes from 1968. More overtly political photos include those of demos against nuclear weapons from 1961 and the Vietnam war from 1969, and of parades and bombs in Northern Ireland, from 1968–9.

As times changed, the depictions of rundown streets give way to the ‘swinging sixties’, with joints and skimpier clothes. But decaying council estates and tower blocks from the 1980s show how some things change very little. Jim Dow’s shots of corner shops from 1980 to 1994 emphasise how few of these now remain, while Bruce Gilden’s striking large photos of three unhealthy faces from West Bromwich in 2014, each of which occupies virtually the whole frame, are a stark reminder of the effects capitalism can have. Raymond Depardon was commissioned by the Sunday Times to photograph Glasgow in 1980, but the results, of a city in decline, were too bleak to publish: sometimes the capitalist media cannot accept an accurate picture of the society they support.     
Paul Bennett

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Road Ahead (1964)

From the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The case for Socialism rests upon the fact that the capitalist social system cannot provide a decent life for its people and that, in the interests of those people, it should make way for the next stage in social evolution.

It is true to say that man has developed sufficient technical and productive capacity to sustain a social system in which wealth is freely available to all human beings. Capitalism itself has removed the barrier of low-productivity.

The one remaining obstacle to Socialism is the fact that the working class, who make up the majority of the population of the modern world, are not Socialists. Many of them have never heard our case and of those who have heard it most have rejected it. One of the irritations of being a Socialist is that the reasons for this rejection are too often rooted in ignorance—are, in fact, little more than transparent illusions. Many workers, with the tumult of capitalism raging about their heads, prefer to take comfort in these illusions rather than face the facts.

It is, then, part of a Socialist's job to do his best to destroy illusions. This is not necessarily work in which we take great pleasure; there are sickenly too many illusions for that. It is simply work which must be done.

The idea that the working class today are prosperous, and that capitalism holds out a comfortable future for them, must be examined and shown up for what it is worth. The facts on work, housing, health, material possessions, and so on, must be publicised and—especially important—put into their proper perspective. It must be pointed out that capitalism is a social system in which the owning minority will always live off the best while the working majority exist off the mediocre.

The prospects which capitalism offers must be examined. They are not attractive.

The history of the working class has, inevitably, been one of superficial change. Nobody can deny—nobody would want to deny—that working class conditions have changed since the war. What can be questioned is whether those changes have always been for the better and whether those which might have been for the better are not outbalanced by others which have been for the worse.

This is the question which the preceding articles have put. If they do not make pleasant reading it is only because capitalism is still as full of urgent problems and discords as ever. Crime is still a running sore—worse than ever in recent years. Some illnesses—those that are typical of the rush and strain of post war capitalism—are increasing and have replaced the old killers which were characteristic of the days of unemployment. Popular cultural levels can never have been lower. And so on.

What this means is that, no matter how much capitalism changes, it remains the same. Workers are continually being deluded by plausible politicians who promise them that, if they will work harder, restrain their wage claims, and so on. they will soon enter the Promised Land of peace and plenty. Behind the delusion is the implied promise that capitalism is a system in which every prospect pleases.

In fact, it is always the prospects alone which can be made to sound attractive. The reality--the present—is never so good; that is why the politicians must always allude to the present as a sort of pause before the golden future.

It is all an illusion. Capitalism has no future to offer the mass of its people. The one solution to society’s problems is the establishment of i new social order—Socialism—in which the means of producing and distributing the world’s wealth will be owned by the world’s people. The work of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is to spread the understanding and knowledge which Socialism requires.

This month’s Socialist Standard asks the working class: Where Are You Going? The future depends on your answer.

Where are you going? (1964)

Editorial from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there is one idea which is firmly held by the majority of people in this country it is that they are now better off than ever before. In this, they are supported on all sides, by newspapers, television, and so on. The result of this, to take one example, is that the years between the wars are remembered as a time of hardship, unemployment and, in many countries, of political dictatorship. There is now a spate of books with the theme that the First World War was a futile, bloody business which cleverer, less avaricious leaders could have avoided. The obvious corollary of this concept of the past as a time of dark misfortune is that of the present as a time of bright opportunity. And this is now a very popular idea.

The first thing to be said about this idea is that it has always been popular. Whatever their conditions, people have always been convinced that they were a sight better off than in the past. The Twenties and Thirties were supposed to be years of enlightenment, in which the hardships and prejudices of Victorian England had been finally cast aside. Victorian England was itself supposed to be a place in which the benefits of the Industrial Revolution were coming to fruition. Society at large has always regarded itself as lucky to be living in its present and has been glad not to have been living in its past

The years since the war have been devoted to this idea. The commonest picture—the adman’s picture, perhaps—of a member of the working class, in England in the Sixties, is of a bright, smooth young man who lives in a gracious house in a leafy suburb, has a charming, intelligent wife and a couple of children who will obviously one day make a name for themselves at University. This young man has a smart car, the latest furniture and clothes. His tastes are impeccably up to date. He has a well-paid job, and one with prospects. He is a man with a background—and with a future. Every line on his face, every hair on his head, shrieks of a comfortable, secure, modern living free from the disabilities of a discredited past.

Well, what is the truth of this?

This issue of the Socialist Standard sets out to take a look, at the beginning of another year, at the working class. It examines their working conditions, their education, their health, the pace at which they live. It takes a look at the way in which they spend their time off and are entertained. It poses some facts and some questions on problems like crime, which are as much a part of the Sixties as the adman’s smooth talk. And it puts the question to the working class: Where Are You Going?

This question can be stated in many ways. Are working conditions really improving? What is happening to our health? Is modern education any good, and is it freely available to all of us? Can crime be eliminated, and if so, how? These questions, and many others, can be summarised into one enormous, overriding issue. Can capitalism give us the sort of life, the health, the abundance, the security, which all human beings should have? Can it offer the prospects of future security which a humane social system would take as a matter of course?

The so-called social surveys can never answer these questions, which probe into the very roots of private property society. Only a Socialist can ask whether the class ownership of society's means of wealth production is the best way of running human affairs, or whether it is wasteful and vicious and inhumane. It is by examining the lives of the people who work and suffer and, tragically, vote for capitalism that this question can be answered. This, within its limits, is what this month’s Socialist Standard offers. And behind the articles we publish is the biggest issue now facing the world working class.

Capitalism or Socialism? Where Are You Going?

Was Antonio Gramsci a Socialist? (2017)

From the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
This month sees the 80th anniversary of the death of an icon of the left – Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian political activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini’s Fascist regime in 1926 and died while still a captive 10 years later from a combination of illnesses. He was an undoubtedly courageous figure who fought difficult family circumstances when young to educate himself and became a prolific writer and editor for the emerging left-wing press in Italy in the second and third decade of the 20th century. He wrote intensively of the need for both workers’ rights and workers’ revolution and actively involved himself in the political action he advocated. He was a leading member of the foremost left-wing movement, the Italian Socialist Party, until, after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, his disenchantment with what he saw as their over-timid approach led him to become, in 1921, one of the co-founders of the Italian Communist Party, which pledged allegiance to Lenin and the Bolshevik regime. Then, in 1922-23, he spent a significant period in Russia as delegate to the Communist International (‘Comintern’) and, on his return to Italy, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and served until his arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to 20 years for subversion, he was however able to continue writing in prison, where access to books and the extensive knowledge of history and politics he had accumulated during his years of political activity led him to produce a mass of notes, observations and essays on an astonishingly broad spread of topics, later ordered into what were called the Prison Notebooks. It is largely on these and on the collection of letters he wrote from prison – mainly to family members – that his reputation as a social and political theorist lies.
Gramsci is said, in the Prison Notebooks, to have developed a new and original kind of Marxist sociology, which, over the last half century or so, has engendered a vast range of debate, interpretation and controversy by academics and others – the so-called ‘Gramsci industry’. One of the key matters debated has been his concept of ‘hegemony’ (‘egemonia’). This was the term Gramsci used to describe what he saw as the prerequisite for a successful revolution: the building of an ideological consensus throughout all the institutions of society spread by intellectuals who saw the need for revolution and used their ability to persuade and proselytise workers to carry through that revolution. Only when that process was sufficiently widespread, would successful revolutionary action be possible. So hegemony was what might be called the social penetration of revolutionary ideas.
This outlook is very different from the fervour with which in earlier years Gramsci had greeted the Russian revolution and advocated similar uprisings in other countries. By the second half of the 1920s, with Italy ruled by a Fascist dictatorship and opposition leaders exiled or imprisoned, Gramsci came to see revolution as a longer-term prospect which would depend on the conditions existing in individual countries.
And it is this ‘long-term’ idea of revolutionary change that has been interpreted in very many different ways according to the standpoint or political position of the individual commentator. One way it could be read would seem to tie in closely with the Socialist Party’s view that only through widespread political consciousness on the part of workers and majority consent for social revolution can a society based on the satisfaction of human needs rather than on the profit imperative be established. In this light Gramsci’s hegemony could be seen to have the profoundly democratic implications of insisting on a widespread and well-informed desire among the majority of workers for socialist revolution before such a revolution can come about. Indeed it is clear that Gramsci was not unaware of Marx’s ‘majoritarian’ view of socialism (or communism – they were interchangeable for Marx) as a stateless, leaderless world where the wages system is abolished and a system of ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’ operates. In an article written in 1920, for example, Gramsci refers to ‘communist society’ as ‘the International of nations without states’, and later from prison he writes about ‘the disappearance of the state, the absorption of political society into civil society’. However, though he referred to himself as using ‘the Marxist method’, such reflections on the nature of the society he wished to see established are few and far between and cannot reasonably be said to characterise the mainstream of his thought.
When looked at closely in fact, Gramsci’s thought is overwhelmingly marked by what may be called the coercive element of his Leninist political background. So, while undoubtedly in his later writings he came to see the Soviet model as inapplicable to other Western societies, he nevertheless continued to conceive of revolution as the taking of power via the leadership of a minority group, even if in different circumstances from those experienced by Lenin in Russia. The most important pointer to this lies in Gramsci’s view of the state. Hardly ever does he view socialism other than as a form of state. The overwhelming thrust of his analysis and his recommendations for political action point not to doing away with states and the class divisions that go with them but to establishing new kinds of states. In 1919, enthused by the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, Gramsci wrote: ‘Society cannot live without a state: the state is the concrete act of will which guards against the will of the individual, faction, disorder and individual indiscipline ....communism is not against the state, in fact it is implacably opposed to the enemies of the state.’ Later too, in his prison writings, arguing now for a ‘long-term strategy’, he continued to declare the need for states and state organisation, for leaders and led, for governors and governed in the conduct of human affairs – underlined by his frequent use of three terms in particular: ‘direzione’ (leadership), ‘disciplina’ (discipline) and ‘coercizione’ (coercion).
So, despite what Gramsci himself recognised as changed times and circumstances compared with Russia in 1917, he continued to be profoundly influenced by Lenin’s view that ‘if socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years’ – in other words that genuine majority social consciousness was unachievable. And in line with this, when looked at closely his ‘hegemony’, far from eschewing the idea of a revolutionary vanguard, sees an intellectual leadership taking the masses with them. In other words the ‘consent’ that his hegemony, his long-term penetration of ideas, proposes is not the informed consent of a convinced socialist majority but an awakening of what, at one point he refers to as ‘popular passions’, a spontaneous spilling over of revolutionary enthusiasm which enables the leadership to take the masses with them and then govern in the way they think best.
Human nature
Underpinning this lack of confidence by Gramsci in the ability of a majority to self-organise is a factor little commented on but particularly significant – and that is his view of what may be called ‘human nature’. In writing explicitly about human nature, which Gramsci does on a number of occasions, he expresses agreement with Marx’s view that human nature is not something innate, fixed and unchanging, not something homogeneous for all people in all times but something that changes historically and is inseparable from ideas in society at a given time. This view of humanity is in fact described by Gramsci as ‘the great innovation of Marxism’ and he contrasts it favourably with other widely-held early 20th century views such as the Catholic dogma of original sin and the ‘idealist’ position that human nature was identical at all times and undeveloping. But despite Gramsci’s stated ‘theoretical’ view on this topic, scrutiny of his writings in places where ‘human nature’ is not raised explicitly but is rather present in an implicit way points his thought in a different, more pessimistic direction.
When he writes about education, for example, his pronouncements about the need for ‘coercion’ indicate little confidence in the ability of human beings to behave fundamentally differently or to adaptably change their ‘nature’ in a different social environment. In corresponding with his wife about the education of their children, in response to her view that, if children are left to interact with the environment and the environment is non-oppressive, they will develop co-operative forms of behaviour, he states ‘I think that man is a historical formation but one obtained through coercion’ and implies that without coercion undesirable behaviour will result. Then, in the Prison Notebooks, on a similar topic he writes: ‘Education is a struggle against the instincts which are tied to our elementary biological functions, it is a struggle against nature itself.’ What surfaces here as in other places, even if not stated explicitly, is a view of human nature not as the exclusive product of history but as characterised by some kind of inherent propensity towards anti-social forms of behaviour which needs to be coerced and tamed.
Viewed in this light, Gramsci’s vision of post-revolutionary society as a place where human beings will continue to need leadership and coercion should not be seen either as being in contradiction with his theory of ideological penetration (‘hegemony’) or as inconsistent with the views that emerge about human nature when his writings do not explicitly focus on that subject. So we should not be surprised that Gramsci’s vision for the future is not a society of free access and democratic control where people organise themselves freely and collectively as a majority but rather a change from one form of minority authority to another – a change from a system of the few manifestly governing in their own interests to the few claiming to govern in the interests of the majority.
The evidence of Gramsci’s writings therefore suggests that the revolution he envisages is not one in which democracy in the sense of each participating with equal understanding and equal authority prevails. Crucially, the leadership function is not abolished. The hegemonisers will essentially be in charge, since they will be the ones with the necessary understanding to run the society they have conceived. What this society might be like he does not go on to say in any detail. But it would clearly not be a socialist world of free access and democratic control that rejects authority from above together with its political expression, the state. For Gramsci any such considerations were at best peripheral to the thrust of his thought and his social vision. And though he did have a revolutionary project, it is not a socialist one in the terms that socialism is correctly understood.
Howard Moss

Monday, April 17, 2017

Where Common Wealth Stands (1944)

Editorial from the April 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir Richard Acland's Common Wealth is a party of small membership, substantial funds, big ideas and monumental confusion. Formed in July, 1942, it had a membership at the end of that year of 5,000 (1943 Conference Report, page 18), though by April, 1943, it claimed nearly 10,000. Its income from subscriptions and donations in its first nine months was £7,000, of which only about half Was in amounts of under £50. Two individuals. Sir R. Acland and Mr. Alan Good, a wealthy Midlands business man, guaranteed between them £1,000 a month for two years (page 6). For 1943 the Party budgeted for an expenditure of £22,000, and plans to put up candidates in 120 constituencies (News Chronicle, February 16th, 1944). The latest move was to call a meeting of Labour, Liberal, I.L.P. and Independent M.P.s and others with the intention of starting a "Socialist Unity Campaign," which was to bring together members of the Labour Party, Common Wealth, I.L.P., Communist Party and Liberals in the "Radical Action" group to secure a Parliamentary majority at the next general election (Manchester Guardian, March 8th, 1944.) The meeting, according to the Daily Telegraph (March 9th) failed to bring any Labour M.P.s, though the I.L.P. was there in strength, including its M.P.s, its General Secretary, Mr. J. McNair, and Mr. F. A. Ridley. It can hardly be called a success. A cleavage developed between Acland, who is all out for winning the war, and some of the I.L.P. contingent, who adopt a more or less anti-war attitude. It is typical of Common Wealth's attitude of being all things to all men that it should imagine this strange mixture, including loyal Liberals, could be interested in "Socialist" unity. The same confusion is apparent in all its activities. It makes a special point of its religious inspiration and at the Skipton by-election, where its candidate was successful, a voter informed the News Chronicle (January 11th, 1944) that she supported Common Wealth because “ it was the only political party which emphasised the Christian point of view"—yet "Question and Answer" one of its publications, insists that it is open to Christians, Jews, Hindus, Moslems, and Atheists (page 59), and one of its first rebuffs was an announcement that it was to be boycotted by Catholics on the ground that "it has rejected Christianity" (Daily Herald, August 8th, 1942). In view of the infamies committed by politicians of all the capitalist parties, who almost invariably claim to be religious and acting in accordance with religious teachings, this emphasis on religion is hardly a recommendation. Moreover, Sir R. Acland has himself unwittingly exposed how little it means. In a letter to the Times (October 15th, 1943) he claimed for his party that "it is probably more concerned . . . with the inter-relations between religion and politics than any political organisation since the Labour Party as it was in the days of Keir Hardie." If a religious outlook is as Sir R. Acland seems to think, a guarantee that a party will prove a fit instrument for the achievement of Socialism, why did it not prove to be so for the Labour Party? And why is Common Wealth so critical of the present Labour Party, the child of the party of Keir Hardie's day?

Common Wealth will find that the nearer it gets to power (if ever it does), the more its actions will be determined by the economic and class factors imposed by its acceptance of State capitalism. Its religions inspiration will count for nothing, and like many other trimmings, will be dropped or disregarded in the rough and tumble of electoral vote-catching. How little its methods differ from those of the older parties of capitalist reform is indicated by statements made to the News Chronicle (January 11th, 1944) by voters who supported Common Wealth at Skipton. One local councillor gave as his reason, “I am a Gladstonian Liberal with a progressive mind. Common Wealth is the closest approach to what I want." Another voter was concerned with protecting his little business against the combines; a third, a co-operator thought Common Wealth approached her "ideal of Socialism," and a fourth voted "as her husband voted. It is a good thing to get younger people in Parliament—and to have old-age pensions at 30s. a week."

The one outstanding feature of Common Wealth's activities is its opposition to supporters of the political truce, and this is the real reason why it has been able to send what has been dubbed its "travelling circus" roaring successfully into by-election campaigns. The first fine careless rapture of the coalition government has worn off. Labour Party official speakers who had to go to West Derbyshire and support the Tory, Lord Hartington, were plainly ill-at-ease in face of criticism from Labour voters. Common Wealth is capitalising this dissatisfaction. While the electoral truce lasts it can hope to do well, though already its monopoly is being challenged by the Liberal and Communist parties, both of which are veering towards a course which will relieve them of having to support Tories. When the political truce ends and the Labour Party fights on its own against Tory candidates. Common Wealth will have to make the choice either to remain a small independent group or to merge in or ally itself with the Labour Party where it naturally belongs.

What chiefly concerns us, however, is the fantastic claim that Common Wealth is a Socialist organisation.

Those who do not look closely at the programmes and activities of the political parties they support notice that Common Wealth claims to stand for Socialism and "common ownership," as does the S.P.G.B., and they wonder therefore why the S.P.G.B. is opposed to the Common Wealth Party. The explanation is that, in spite of the words it uses, Acland's party does not stand for Socialism or common ownership; it is merely using the words in the same loose way as the Labour Party. Common Wealth has actually taken over its phrases, from the Constitution of the Labour Party, in which appears the declaration that the Labour Party stands for "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange." Every Socialist will at once recognise that the inclusion of the word "exchange" in the declared aim, both of the Labour Party and of Common Wealth, is itself an unmistakable proof that they are not aiming at Socialism, under which, of course, there will be no need for the capitalist mechanism of buying and selling. Goods will not be produced for sale or exchange but solely for use. Common Wealth is little more than a "ginger" group trying to stir up the Labour Party and at the same time to attract elements in the Liberal and Tory parties and voters outside all parties. In their own words, "We are not against the Labour Party. We regard as our friends and allies all those within the Labour Party who are seeking to promote a more inspiring leadership." (Common Wealth, Bristol, Publication No. 2.)

Socialists are not at all concerned with the qualities of leadership displayed by .the Labour Party or any other party. Socialists do not need leadership; and leaders cannot lead non-socialists to Socialism.
What is the outstanding problem of to-day? It is not the choice between backing the Beveridge plan and backing the Churchill supporters' promise of "something better than Beveridge"; nor is it the choice between capitalism run by competitive private groups and capitalism run by private monopolies or under State control—this despite Mr. Herbert Morrison's shrewd view that “ for some time after the war Britain will be working out a form of partnership between the State and big business" (Sunday Express, March 5th, 1944). The vital question for the working class is one of ownership. Sir William Beveridge—who is not in favour of ending the state of affairs he mentions—-has admitted that “nearly 80 per cent, of the private wealth of the country was owned by 7 per cent of the people " (Times, November 30th,. 1948). This is the workers' real problem. Shall this capitalist ownership of the means of production and distribution be ended, and replaced by ownership and democratic control by the whole community, with its necessary accompaniment—the ending of all incomes from property and the ending of the wages system, or shall capitalism continue. This is the issue between Socialists on the one side and all who are prepared to carry on capitalism, whether in the form of private monopolies or in the form of State capitalism. Common Wealth, behind its muddled ideas and fancy schemes, is not aiming at Socialism. Like the Labour Party (which it chides for lukewarmness about its own programme), Common Wealth aims merely at nationalisation or State capitalism.

There is no room for doubt about where Common Wealth stands on this issue. Their "Manifesto" demands "the nationalisation of the mines and of the biggest arms factories at once " (page 9), and ultimately wants the land, the banks, fuel and poorer, transport, etc., "wholly transferred to common ownership." There is to be "reasonable compensation on a sliding scale to existing owners, starting with 100 per cent, compensation to the smallest owners, and falling to some quite small percentage in the case of the largest" (page 8).

Socialists would ask why the talk of compensation? Are capitalists to be compensated for relinquishing the right to exploit the workers? And if so, how can they be compensated except by allowing them to continue the exploitation-— as, indeed, Common Wealth proposes. How will these schemes of State capitalism solve the workers' problem', and how can banks, which are nothing but instruments of capitalist industry and trade, be "commonly, owned"? What function could they serve under Socialism? The pamphlet continues :—-
Under common' ownership, as in the Soviet Union to-day, the functions of money are: To allocate to individuals groups and industries within the community their appropriate total share in the goods and services of the community. . . .
Here we have Sir B. Acland's Party's real aim, of promoting State capitalism on the basis of a structure of vast and growing inequality (" as in the Soviet Union to-day "), between the fortunate managerial groups and others with their great incomes and investments in State bonds, and the unfortunate hewers of wood and drawers of water on the poverty line, all under the smooth sounding principle of allocating to each "their appropriate total share."

Have we not nationalisation already here, in the Post Office, and near-nationalisation in the Public Utility Corporations? And do not those responsible proclaim that each individual, from the bus-driver to the £12,500 head of London Passenger Transport, and from the low-paid and often unpensioned thousands in tho Post Office up to the £3,000 a year Director-General, all get "their appropriate share"? Yet the fact remains that the "appropriate" share at the top of nationalised concerns, here and in Russia, can be thirty, fifty or more times the amount paid to the workers at the bottom. Well might the Chairman of the Union of Post Office Workers say, "Post Office workers knew that at present there was very little difference between their conditions in a nationalised industry and those of workers outside" (Daily Herald, May 4th, 1943).

Common Wealth is merely carrying on in the long tradition of those who blindly or wilfully confuse the capitalist problem of nationalising the control of certain industries and services, in the interest of capitalist efficiency, with the workers' problem of ending capitalist ownership. A Tory Government in 1868 nationalised the Telegraphs. A Tory Government began and a Liberal Government completed Telephone nationalisation between 1905 and 1912. Liberals set up the Port of London Authority in 1908, and Tories established the Metropolitan Water Board in 1902, and the Central Electricity Board in 1926. Mr. Herbert Morrison began the move to establish the London Passenger Transport Board in 1931, and it was completed under the National Government in 1933. A move in the opposite direction was the handing over of Post Office Beam Wireless and Government cables to the Cable-Wireless merger. It was begun in 1924, and actually the last formal step was completed after the advent of the Labour Government in 1929. None of this has any bearing on the Socialist problem of ending capitalism and establishing Socialism; but because of the prevailing confusion of ideas, Mr. Herbert Morrison could naturally tell the boys at Malvern School that "more Socialism was done by the Conservative Party, which opposed it, than by the Labour Party, which was in favour of it" (Times, February 12th, 1944). Common Wealth is stepping in to do what it thinks the Labour Party is neglecting. Meanwhile the real problem remains untouched, and Common Wealth is not going to do anything about it.

One or two incidental features of its programme deserve notice. While all in favour of nationalisation, the party is warily avoiding having to defend actual operation by Government departments; thus following Mr. Herbert Morrison's lead. Common Wealth does not propose handing over industry “to the present civil service. Let the managers and technicians who are actually doing the job have a free hand to go all-out for production and efficiency" (C. W., Bristol, Publication No. 2). Letting managers and technicians have a free hand recalls the anti-democratic propaganda of those who want industry controlled by a new group of dictatorial "experts," It does not sound much like the "democracy in industry" that Sir B. Acland holds out as a bait to trade unionist voters. Nor is it much altered by the supposedly enticing carrot of Production Councils promised in the Common Wealth Manifesto (page 6);—
Production Councils for war purposes, even working within the limits allowed by private ownership, have shown how workers could share responsibility for the running of factories and industries with technicians and production management.
Workers know very well that behind the camouflage of joint councils, Whitley Committees and so on, effective control still rests with the capitalist owners or the capitalist State. Common Wealth, however, can see that while it offers "security and equality" to the low-paid workers, it can make a separate appeal to the managerial and technical group of the working class by promising them more authority and of course larger incomes. (Despite "equality for all citizens" on page 2, on page 6 is the promise of "higher wages and salaries to men who do skilled and responsible jobs.") Whereas it took the Bolshevists some years to drop Lenin's plea for equal pay for all workers from top to bottom. Common Wealth is managing to combine the promise and the repudiation of equality in the same pamphlet. It need only be repeated, to remove possible confusion, that Socialism involves the abolition of the wages system in its entirety— another proof that Common Wealth does not understand or aim at Socialism.

We shall be surprised if Common Wealth survives the ending of the political truce. We doubt if either the capitalist class or the non-socialist workers will have any use for this new conglomeration of old reforms preached by new reformers. We are, however, quite safe in prophesying that, whether Common Wealth eventually gets crushed between the millstones of Tory and Labour, or whether it survives to reach office, it will not solve the problem of the workers, and it has already—by its confusion-mongering—helped to postpone the day when the workers will understand and demand Socialism.

By The Way: Juries are Wiser To-day (1945)

The By The Way column from the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Juries are Wiser To-day
  So says “A Barrister, writing in the Star: “Juries to-day are quite different from what they used to be. They need very different treatment from prosecuting and defending counsel alike, as well as from the judge. Jurors to-day are sophisticated and educated men and women."
  "Bullying witnesses, desk-banging, strident and over-emphatic oratory are useless with modern jurors. . . . Modern juries resent such tactics. Counsel to-day has, to rely on quiet, careful, logical argument. Sophistry and' flattery are often detected. . . . Jurymen and jury women have to be treated as highly intelligent."
  "In war time there are only seven jurors instead of twelve, and they are very mixed—housewives, professional men, tradesmen and mechanics." (The Star, January 10th)
In other words, the working class is growing up. Barristers will find, in future, that when they appear before the final jury in the highest court of all, the electorate, that sophistry, flattery and oratory will no longer do the trick. When "mechanics" and "housewives" prefer "quiet, careful, logical argument" to histrionics, the Socialist propagandist has the ball at his feet.

Boy Gang Chief Shot Dead in Rome
  "Seventeen year old Guiseppe Albano was shot dead in a Rome battle in which 300 police with armoured cars took part. . . .
  "For some time after the liberation of Rome, Albano was known as the 'Boy Patriot.’ He boasted of having murdered 40 Germans or Republican Fascists.
 "He and his followers lived in a villa in the Quarticciolo district, which was surrounded day and night by armed guards with tommy-guns. Clad in a sheepskin coat and throwing out banknotes right and left, ‘The Hunchback’ used to stride through the streets, but always with his bodyguard in attendance."—(Daily Herald, January 16th.)
But Guisseppe made the fatal mistake of failing to distinguish between German "tyrants" and British "Liberators," and raided an Allied car park. He at once ceased to be a "Boy Patriot "and became a "gang leader," like the one-time "patriots" in Greece, and received nine bullets (Mark I., British, Liberation) in his body.

Like Karl Hulten, who said after shooting George Heath, "people in my profession have no time to worry about that"; or Private Smith, the American soldier who shot Sir Eric Teichmann, the diplomat, dead on his estate in Norfolk, about whom his commanding officer asked the psychiatrist, "Does he know it is wrong to kill?" Albano did not understand that it is wrong (at the moment) to kill Allies—but right to kill Nazis. Though, in a war where whole nations have changed sides with bewildering ease and rapidity, perhaps these boys might be expected to be confused.

After all, Mr. Churchill and Sir Walter Citrine and others have now alternately denounced and praised Finns, Russians, Frenchmen, Italians, Slavs, Greeks, Belgians, Roumanians, etc., until at least half of them don't know whether they are "Allies” and "Patriots" or "gangsters" and "ruffians."

The Socialist idea of having nothing to do with any of it is the best.

Coming Down? (Wages)
Lord Woolton has declared in a speech at Bristol on January 20th that the Government’s plan for full employment would be jeopardised if the Trade Unions pressed for better wages. (Reynolds News, January 21st.) "The general wage level cannot lie raised more rapidly than our productivity increases."

This is yet another reference to P.M.H. (Production per Man Hour) which is the main concern of industrialists after the war.

Mr. Oscar Hobson, City Editor of the News-Chronicle (February 2nd), points out quite bluntly: —
  Some of my friends who have a knowledge of conditions both here and in the United States assert roundly that to no small extent America’s advantage in P.M.H. is due not to better mechanisation but to the fact that the American worker does a much better day’s work than the British.
  . . . It is vital to our future prosperity that the facts relating to that and other matters of American and British industrial experience should be established and fearlessly made public, even if they are unflattering to ourselves or to some section of our community.

Fascism will NOT be Eradicated
The issue of the People for 12th February in an article by The Philosopher on "After Victory—Realities," declares:—
  At intervals a figure, absent three or more years, will turn up in each neighbourhood until the event passes unnoticed by all except those intimately concerned.
  Each will be faced with his own problem, re-starting a business, training for a job, resuming an old, or finding a new one.
  There will be common difficulties, too. The house shortage will increase the need of being with "in-laws," and tempers will become frayed.
   When a house is wonderfully come by, home building will prove provokingly expensive.
   Meantime, those conscious of trends outside their own circle will be amazed at the ease with which democratic leaders will forget their war-time promises.
   Fascism in Europe will not he eradicated as we were once told it would be. Murdering Fascists and their accomplices will escape punishment.—(People, February 12th.)
Who were the "democratic leaders” who told us Fascism would be eradicated? Morrison, Bevin, and the Labour Party crew. Which publications re-iterated it? Those of Odhams Press, publishers of The People.

More than a Thousand
  "You are now being told—and in the next few years you will be told again a thousand times—that there is a third way, neither Socialism nor Capitalism, but something culled a planned economy, which will benefit everyone equally. . . .
  “If sacrifices are to be made, there will be 'equality of sacrifice.’ The divergent interests of rich and poor will be obscured by an appeal to emotional nationalism and an emphasis on service and national discipline."—Prof. P. M. S. Blackett, F.R.S., in a talk broadcast in March, 1931, published in "The Frustration of Science," page 139.

Fitness of Service Girls
Mrs. Gowing, who is responsible for organising "vast numbers" of the A.T.S., says that "the fitness of the girls appeals strongly to employers, in a nation which has largely lacked medical attention in the war years; these girls have had their bodies, teeth and feet cared for; they have the energy which breeds initiative." (Observer, November 26th, 1944.)

Perhaps Mrs. Glowing is unaware of the published statements of the authorities, Ministry of Health, etc., claiming that the nation’s health has improved during the war. We agree with Mrs. Gowing—the nation (the working class) has largely lacked medical attention during the war—but it had none during the peace, either. It is not war which prevented medical attention, but poverty—which is here always. We go farther and claim that the nation would not require this sort of medical attention at ALL, if poverty— the main cause of social disease to-day—were abolished by Socialism.

It is interesting to have an official statement that the girls’ bodies, teeth and feet have been looked after—proving that, when needed, the capitalists are quite ready to do what reformers have demanded for years—care for the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The First of The Few (1949)

From the April 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mainly About Ourselves

On the 15th, 16th and 17th of this mouth we shall be holding in London, our 45th Annual Conference. This means that the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed forty-five years ago. In 1904, some members of the Social Democratic Federation, having done their damnedest to steer that compromising, reformist organisation on to the Socialist road, were expelled from it. With others, they set about creating a political party with which they could work for Socialism. The meeting at which it was decided to launch the S.P.G.B. was held at Battersea on May 15th, 1904, and the meeting to formally constitute the new party was held just off Fetter Lane, London, on the following 12th of June.

The first issue of the Socialist Standard appeared in September, 1904. The first Annual Conference was held at the old (now non-existent) Communist Club in London on April 20th and 21st, 1905, with twenty-one delegates attending, representing thirteen branches. The Party membership was then 150.

The founders of the Party were under no illusions. They knew the task that lay ahead when they gave up the Social Democratic Federation as hopeless. The issue of the Socialist Standard for June, 1905, carried an editorial reviewing the first year’s work. It said: 
  “The founders were fully alive to the fact that much spade work had to be performed; that there could be no mushroom growth for the new party; that its ranks could only he recruited steadily and, at first, slowly.”
It is true that these early members had ambitions that have not yet been realised. They hoped that the Socialist Standard would soon be a weekly, or maybe, even a daily paper. That is something we still hope for.

Our Declaration of Principles was laid down when the Party was founded. Acceptance of these principles is demanded of every applicant for membership, in the interest of the Party and the applicant. We do not want, within our ranks, those who do not subscribe to the principles. Neither would it be honest for workers to be drawn into our organisation without fully realising the implications of the principles and the nature of the Party they were joining. So, our Party has been kept on a straight course since its formation.

It has maintained its opposition to Capitalist wars during two major world conflicts, and although the first of these conflicts was a bad setback for the Party, it did not destroy it. The Socialist Standard has appeared without fail every month since the first issue and every issue stands as a record of the Party’s soundness and consistency.

The report of our 45th Executive Committee to this year’s Conference carries the statement that membership on the 31st of December, 1918, stood at 1,036. Some of our critics will point to that figure and say, "What, after forty-five years you have only just over a thousand members?” We are not satisfied with our numerical strength, but we are certainly not ashamed of it. Of one thing we are extremely proud. That is the quality of our membership. It is the quality—the understanding and determination—of the members, that gives an organisation its strength. We have seen a number of so-called working-class political parties grow into mass organisations — then wither away to nothing. We remember the days when the Independent Labour Party claimed to have over two hundred of its members elected to parliament. Where is the I.L.P. now? Where is the Social Democratic Federation, later called the Social Democratic Party, from which the S.P.G.B. was born? It had numbers, but it did not have a sound Socialist membership. Quantity, but no quality. With the outbreak of the 1914-18 war it just disintegrated. Our growth is slow, painfully slow, but it is a steady, sound, reliable, healthy growth. A graph of our membership will not show any high peaks with following deep declines. The Labour Party and the Communist Party now have numbers and sneer at us because of our size, but their members are recruited from workers who have insufficient understanding of their class interests and have not the knowledge how to replace Capitalism by Socialism, which is essential to a revolutionary Socialist Party. We shall see the day of their decline. In the interim we shall go on steadily and surely making Socialists and enlisting them to our ranks. The process will not always be as slow as it has been during the past forty-five years. The development towards Social Revolution is not to be measured strictly by the growth of the Revolutionary organisation. The workers have been, and are, throwing off the capitalist ideas that have been instilled into them. Many of the arguments against Socialism that the founders of our Party had to answer are seldom heard today. The Socialist case, although it is not widely accepted, receives tolerant attention now-a-days. The days when members of our Party had to defend their speakers from the fury of a jingoistic audience are past. The process of discarding old ideas and accumulating new ones goes on all the time, and the numerical strength of the Party that gives expression to the new ideas can only be taken as an indication and not as a measure of the progress made.
“Who can say whether even the humblest of us will not sooner or later become the medium for quickening the pace of progress and find his hands strengthened and forced by events.”
Thus wrote an early member of our Party to our 1948 Conference. Who can say? Hang weights on the end of a piece of string. Continue adding one weight after another. A superficial observer will see little change up to a given point. The final addition of the smallest increase in weight and the string will snap. Close observation would have revealed that with the addition of each successive weight the strands of the string twisted, writhed and stretched, but held together until they could take the strain no longer. So it is with society. Men’s ideas are not to be emptied from, or crammed into their heads as one empties a sack of potatoes and refills it. Old and unsound ideas can only be removed when new ones drive them out. New ideas are continuously being accumulated until the equivalent of that breaking point is reached. Not until a man’s mind has been cleared of its Capitalist notions by the introduction of Socialist ideas does he embrace the Socialist Party. The minds of all workers in the Capitalist world are undergoing this process and are progressing, in varying degrees, towards a Socialist understanding. Our task is to assist the process.

We are not alone in the task. The undertaker and the midwife are our allies. One carries away those who are so imbued with Capitalist ideas that they can only with great difficulty assimilate any others. The other brings in a new generation, as yet unsullied by the bilge that flows from the pulpits, the radio sets, the film studios and from Fleet Street. The development of Capitalism, including the work of Socialists, will mould them in the right shape.

We are proud of our Party. With all its limitations, its small numbers and its smaller funds, we are proud to be members of it. Forty years ago, Mr. Lawler Wilson, a prominent anti-Socialist, wrote a book entitled, “The Menace of Socialism,” in which he said, referring to the S.P.G.B.:
“The members are Marxians and Revolutionaries preaching the Class War. The catechumens of the party are put through a rigid course of training in the principles of their creed, which they must be prepared to defend at the risk of their liberty. What is most remarkable and disquieting about this organisation is the fact that the members are unquestionably higher-grade working-men of great intelligence, respectability and energy. They are, as a whole, the best informed Socialists in the country, and would make incomparable soldiers, or desperate barricadists. As revolutionaries they deserve no mercy; as men they command respect.”
That is certainly spreading it on thick. We are not higher-grade or more intelligent than other workers, we do not wish to become soldiers and we do not intend to be barricadists. But we are gratified to be members of a Party that drew such comments from its opponents, for our organisation stands as sound now as it did when that was written.

These reflections into the past and the future remind us of the words of William Morris:
  “One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman. Two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad. Ten men sharing an idea begin to act. A hundred draw attention as fanatics. A thousand and society begins to tremble. A hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories, tangible and real. And why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace on earth? You and I who agree together, if is we who have to answer this question.
W. Waters