Friday, January 20, 2017

Alcoholics Anonymous (1999)

A Short Story from the September 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Idly browsing through a magazine not so long ago I came across a questionnaire on people's drinking habits. The questionnaire, which was headed "Are You An Alcoholic?" suggested that anyone answering with a total of five "yes's" out of twelve questions had a proclivity towards alcoholism. I was stunned to discover that my score was eight. Alcoholics Anonymous here I come, I thought.

Several days later I took stock and reflected that in all seriousness I could hardly believe myself to be a true alcoholic. I could, by a sheer effort of will, abstain from drinking for weeks at a time, though I was honest enough with myself to own up to the fact that as soon as I resumed the habit I seemed to be making an unconscious effort to make up for lost time. The questionnaire advised that this was not good news. It pointed to bingeing, it said. I made enquiries about the next meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and took myself along.

On the night if I thought I would be entering a room occupied by red-nosed, broken-veined down-and-outs, carefully concealing their hip flasks and uttering in slurred voices, then I was certainly in error. I am not sure that I did think that, but still my expectations were such that I imagined alcoholics not to be "normal" people going about their daily lives just like everybody else. A couple of people introduced themselves to me and I was offered a cup of tea. I heard friendly banter being exchanged between those who were regulars and knew each other. About twenty people had gathered, their ages ranging between twenty-five and sixty. (Later I was to learn that a few of the older people hadn't "touched a drop" for ten to fifteen years.) We stood round a large table, linked hands and in unison (except for me; I didn't know the words) recited a kind of litany, which talked about life and what our attitude should be to it—presumably to contribute to keeping us sober. What I remember most about the litany was a phrase which said we should learn to "accept that which we cannot change". My hackles were up. I found that idea too fatalistic, believing that most things can be changed, apart from the fact of death, that is. Then we sat down and the meeting began.

People who felt moved to speak gave their case histories—all in matter-of-fact tones, rather as though they were relating an assortment of experiences common to us all, events likely to overtake most people during a lifetime. Marriages and partnerships had come to an end because all money coming into the house had been, either surreptitiously or openly, squandered on booze. Some people had lost their houses, businesses and jobs, their careers, the love of their spouses and children. A few of those present had spent nights on park benches often landing up in hospital to be dried out. Some were not regular drinkers but were now and then compelled to go out on nights of carousing, seeking asylum in pubs and in the company of other drinkers, consoling themselves and each other in their addiction.

Sitting amidst all this tragedy, endless cups of tea and overflowing ashtrays, I stayed silent but tearful. One thought, however, persisted in my mind and I knew I should be ashamed of it; it was that if we could all have a cosy drink together then we would, at least temporarily, be able to forget all our misery. It was fortunate indeed that what little wisdom I had prevented me from voicing this absurd, and somewhat revealing, notion.

Some alcoholics had sought refuge in religion, others in a simmering hatred of the social system under which we live. "I couldn't get a job" was one refrain. "I felt the world was a cruel place and there was very little compassion in it" was another. Politicians failed people and so did religion and much of what happened in our social order appeared not to make sense.

As a socialist I recognised what had sustained me over the years (as well as frustrating me and causing me enough rage to find me reaching for the bottle on occasion). I understood something about social alienation and if I had not been so overcome with emotion at the sad stories I heard that night, then maybe I would have told my own story, of years of reading and learning to analysis, at least to some extent, the capitalist system and the effect it can have on people's lives. If the propensity for alcohol is innate (and that is debatable) then the profit system, the National Lottery with its appeal to selfishness and greed, this grab-all environment against which we are expected to function, will always be a hindrance to the cure of sensitive people who bend under the strain of so much social tension.

I never returned to Alcoholics Anonymous, though I did kick alcohol for seven months. The truth is that I lacked the courage to re-visit the place where I had listened to so many harrowing stories . . . and so many heroic struggles with the demon drink.
Heather Ball

Another Life of Marx: Queues at Truth (1929)

Book Review from the October 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx,” by Otto Ruhle. Translated by Eden & Cedar Paul. Allen & Unwin, 15s.

This book has been written with a heavy hand. It is a curious mixture of contradictions, bitterness, excellent quotations and “modern” psychology. When a man gets on his hobby horse he is apt to leave the world of reality and ride off into the realm of dreams. The author of this book has a hobby horse and when he gets astride of it his dreams are ugly ones. Such was my view when half-way through the book, but as I read on I began to get suspicious. The blacks in the picture were put in a little too thickly and too often. The last two pages supplied the key, and I have come to the conclusion that the book was written for its last two pages and is, in fact, an apology and an excuse for the actions of German Social Democracy. However, I will deal with this last point later.

Now there are. already a number of Lives and Monographs of Marx in existence, including Liebnecht’s, Spargo's (the photos in which are practically identical with those in this book), Beer's, Ryazanoff's and others. Why then this new one, which, apart from mud spattering and some new quotations, adds nothing to what has already been done?

On page 371 the author sets out his psychological views upon the subject of his biography in the following terms:
   If we translate into psychological terms these principles of the method of historical materialism, we get the following. Man forms his character out of his organic constitution and his social and family position. The biological and social interests that promote his safeguarding find expression (unconsciously) in aims. The main trend of his behaviour arises with reference to these aims. Opinions, conceptions, ideas, manifest themselves as forms of expression of the individual's aim to safeguard his own existence. Decisive for each of us in the formation of character and in the development of trend of behaviour is, in the individualistic epoch, the urge to self-expression as an individuality, an urge dictated by the circumstances of life.
  When, in the light of these guiding principles, we contemplate the man Marx—contemplate him solely as a man, apart from his work—our attention is riveted by three characteristics:—
   First, his persistent ill-health, from which we infer that there was constitutional weakness or organic defect.
   Secondly, his Jewish origin, which he felt as a social stigma.
   Thirdly, his position as a first-born child.
The author then proceeds to elaborate his theory, the essence of which is that Marx suffered severely from an "inferiority complex” arising primarily from a bad constitution, and this was the motive that urged him to outstrip everybody and abhor a rival “near the throne.” The "scientific” nature of the author's analysis of Marx may be gathered from the following further quotation (page 376):
If, in the light of these considerations, we turn to examine the personality of Marx, we see the before-mentioned biological, social and family traits in a new and instructive light. But the traits in question are only the elements, the first crude constituents, of a psychological analysis— with which we have to content ourselves, since we lack more detailed materials as regards the life of Marx. Obviously, they do not suffice for an exhaustive analysis. Many of the gaps in our observation will have to be filled in artificially; a schematic construction will have to supplement the defects of observation. Nevertheless, we can get a great deal further than was possible by earlier psychological methods. Even if we do not achieve definitive knowledge, in this respect psychological analysis is no more inadequate than the other sciences, for science has to leave many ultimate problems open.
What all this amounts to, then, is that his view of Marx is guess-work; there are gaps, but these are filled up by assumptions! But if psychological science has not progressed far enough for an accurate analysis, why guess now? What was the urgency of the matter in this special case—particularly as the enemies of the Socialist movement are at their wits end for weapons with which to hinder our progress? And if so much of it is guess-work, why the particular bitterness of the diatribes against Marx by the author? The following are specimens of the author’s estimate of Marx. I have numbered each quotation for convenience in dealing with them:
(1) He (Grun) had wrongfully accused Marx of not protesting with sufficient vigour against expulsion from France, and Marx, who was always too ready to take offence, had therefore conceived an animus against Grun which formed the undertone of a fierce criticism of the latter's attitude towards the problems of Socialism, (p. 98.)
(2) . . . . One day, when Marx insisted upon the rejection of fanciful and over-enthusiastic schemes for universal happiness (passing by the name of Communism), Weitling advocated the cause of the Utopists, the dispute leading to an open breach between him and Marx. Since the latter had an unhappy talent for introducing personal animus into theoretical disputes, the relations between the two men were poisoned henceforward, and they became irreconcilable enemies, (p. 123.)
(3) There is no use blaming a man for his character. All we are to infer from these descriptions is that Marx, despite his thirty years, his extensive achievements and his reputation as a man of learning and a politician, was still what he had been in youth, one fighting to secure recognition, one doubtful as to his prestige. His arrogance, his self-conceit, his dogmatism and disputatiousness and irritability, must reveal themselves to everyone who understands human nature as masks for a lack of self-confidence, under stress of which he was perpetually trying to avert the danger of exposure. He could not listen quietly to an opponent, because he was afraid that his opponent might get the better of him if allowed to continue. He had to shout down every hostile opinion because he was haunted by spectral doubts lest this opinion should gain adherents and leave him unsupported. He tried to discredit his adversaries because he hoped that personal onslaughts would shake the validity of opposing arguments. He could not tolerate rivals because he was perpetually tortured with the dread lest it should become apparent in one way or another that not he, but his rival, was the ablest of the able, the most efficient of the efficient, the most revolutionary of the revolutionists.
   This domineering behaviour was animated by the unconscious conviction that he would be able to overawe the timid among his opponents. When he made fun of the opinions of others, he was trying to fortify the sense of his own superiority. When he crowned himself with anticipatory laurels, he did so in the belief that this would ensure his triumph, and entitle him to wear the laurel crown.
   Only one person would Marx allow to express opinions—Engels. The sole reason for his tolerance in this quarter was that he could rely on being able to use Engels’ remarkable talents for his own purposes as dictator, without Engels expecting any return or thanks, or grant of equality. As long as a collaborator was a willing servant, he could work on the best of terms with Marx. But when this collaborator expressed an opinion of his own, or claimed to assert his own will against that of Marx, the fat was in the fire. , Marx was a typical authoritarian. (p. 158.)
I will forbear quoting more, but there are numerous similar examples through the book. Now for a few remarks on the above.

(1) No evidence is given that Marx had “conceived an animus against Grun.” Surely an historian who claims to be scientific should at least give evidence for his charges? The justification for Marx’s “fierce criticism” is provided by Ruble himself. On the same page he gives the following description of Grun:
Among the “true Socialists,” perhaps the most notable was Karl Grun, a Westphalian. He had been one of Marx’s fellow students, and Moses Hess had made him acquainted with Engels. His socialist career had started from the radical “small-beer Liberalism.” Then he had coquetted with Fourierism for a time, until at length, having got into touch with Hess, he deviated towards early Socialism. All possible varieties of Socialism were jumbled together in his head. Out of borrowed and undigested thoughts from Proudhon, Feuerbach, Hess and Marx, he had brewed the most amazing elixir of happiness, whose formulas were aesthetically tinted and were couched in a feuilleton style. From Paris, writing hastily and irresponsibly, he sent his lucubrations to the German Press, and especially to the “ Triersche Zeitung.’’
(2) Weitlung, another of those towards whom Marx is accused of having a personal animus, is described by Ruhle as follows:
. . .  when Weitling turned up in Brussels, and joined the Workers’ Educational Society there, it became apparent that his development had proceeded no further, and that he had become infected with inordinate vanity, with an undue sense of superiority. He was continually miking about utopias and conspiracies, and imagined himself a prey to the persecution of envious rivals, (p. 122.)
Seemingly a very easy man to fall out with! But perhaps he also had the stomach-ache!

(3) This paragraph by the author is immediately based on the statement of Carl Schurz relating to a meeting he attended when he was 19. Schurz had hardly reached an age to give a dependable judgment. Besides, in harmony with the author’s theory, would it not be necessary to know all about Schurz and the other opponents of Marx to be able to decide whether their judgments were also vitiated by an “ inferiority complex.” In fact, according to this delightful theory, it would appear that one really “knows nothing about nothing," but just goes on guessing!

The paragraph is also similar in essentials to Bakunin’s description of Marx, the value of which may be gauged from the following:
Bakunin honestly endeavoured to be on good terms with Marx [How does Ruhle know?] and to avoid friction. But he could not entertain cordial sentiments for Marx. The two men differed too much in mental structure, in theoretical trend, and in fundamental attitudes towards the revolutionary problem, for this to be possible. Bakunin loved the peasants; detested intellectualism and abstract systems with their dogmatism and intolerance; hated the modern State, industrialism and centralisation; had the most intense dislike for Judaism and all its ways, which he regarded as irritable, loquacious, unduly critical, intriguing, and exploitative, Everything for which he had an instinctive abhorrence, everything which aroused in him spiritual repugnance and antagonism, was for him incorporated in Marx. (p. 280.)
Evidently another very difficult man not to fall out with! But the strangeness of it! In face of the above, Ruhle yet drags in Bakunin as a witness for the prosecution!

At the period Marx was carrying on his work the working-class movement was youthful; it was honeycombed with emissaries of the various governments, whose mission it was to undermine and destroy the movement. Men of all kinds of opinion found their way in and tried to impose their schemes upon the rest. Political job hunters endeavoured to use the movement as means to personal aggrandisement, and Governments were ever ready to buy off dangerous opposition with either money or flattery. Marx plunged into this welter of ignorance, chicanery and egotism and endeavoured to build-up a movement on sound principles with a clear understanding of the necessities of the time. He met with bitter opposition from the earnest as well as from the treacherous. Always surrounded by intrigue, was it any wonder that he was suspicious and occasionally lost patience? Particularly as his suspicions were proved in so many cases to have been well-founded.

It is quite easy for Mr. Ruhle, in these comparatively comfortable times in Germany, to sit back in his chair and see in Marx’s bitterness only the results of stomach-ache, but surely the accumulations of surrounding treachery and pettiness can play upon the strongest nerves until they eventually produce irritability without such irritability having its original source in a feeling of inferiority!

Ruhle complains of Marx’s attitude towards Bakunin and Lassalle. Surely anyone familiar with their actions must agree that, apart from political and economical unsoundness, they lent themselves to suspicion: Bakunin by his underground tactics and Lassalle by his showy methods. The historian of the present has written information in front of him that was not in the hands of those fighting at the time, and if there is to be praising or blaming then it should be accorded with this in mind—unless the author has the stomach-ache!

That Marx had adequate reason for his bitter hostility to Bakunin is surely borne out by the following quotation, when it is remembered that Ruhle is at much pains to show that Bakunin was professing friendship for Marx during that time:
At the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom. Bakunin had tried to induce the League to adopt a revolutionary programme, and to affiliate to the International. When this attempt failed, he resigned from the League, and. in conjunction with J. P. Becker, founded the International Alliance of the Socialist Democracy, also known as the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. His aim now was to get this Alliance accepted as part of the International; then, by degrees, to excavate and absorb the International until, at last, the International would be replaced by the Alliance, (p. 283.)
A very pretty plan! He aimed at quietly smashing up the International, and yet Ruhle cavils at Marx for his bitterness! Mr. Ruhle is really too well-mannered a gentleman altogether.

(To be continued.)
Gilmac.




Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Uses of Monarchy (1958)

From the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Quite a thing has been going on recently concerning a picture of the Princess Margaret. This is virtually a repetition of what went on over the same painter’s portraits of the Queen and her husband, and there is no need here to add comments or repeat arguments. What is of greater interest is the trend of which this tiny storm is part: that is, that the Royal Family to-day is as constant a news-feature as football or film-star gossip and is, in fact, more popular than royalty has been since the nation-state began. When you consider that fewer than ninety years ago the reigning monarch was tipped as the last, and a vigorous republican movement was being led by prominent politicians and writers, it is obvious that the British monarchy has somehow had a boost in recent times.

Kings and Queens, traditionally, are romantic figures, the subjects of an inculcated mythology from everybody’s childhood. Every fairy tale revolves round them: once upon a time there was a Beautiful Princess or a Handsome Prince or a King who was Also a Magician. Elementary-school history devolves upon them: Merry Monarch, Good Queen, Peacemaker, Bluff King (never hooligan or wife-beater). For all that, the fact is that only for the last twenty years—if as long—has the Crown been really popular in Britain, and for a large part of the time it was very unpopular. Some idea of the change in the climate of opinion was given last year by the frenzy against critics of the Royal bearing and diction: the young Queen Victoria was ridiculed by cartoonists, and George V openly disparaged in the Press on his accession.

The idea of the monarch as head of the nation is a modern one, belonging to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and depending on the Crown’s holding no political power. Mediaeval kingship was a different thing. The king was supreme overlord, apex of the pyramid of feudal owning interests; his power was actual, deriving from and integral to the feudal system. This kind of monarchy declined as feudalism declined; as rival interests grew, the king became merely head of one of the contending factions. Edward IV, Richard II, Henrys Four, Five and Six were dependent on their factions, and their successors reasserted monarchy and appeared strong kings for a time only because the factions had exhausted themselves fighting.

The struggle against the monarchy was a vital part of the struggle of the rising commercial class. For half a century it held back for the struggles against the Papacy and Spain, but the storm was gathering before Elizabeth I’s reign ended. The bourgeoisie was a revolutionary class, needing control of the powers of government: the execution of Charles I was, in fact, the decapitation of an epoch.

After the swan-sang of the Restoration and James II's short, pitiful reign, the Whigs had one political aim above all others: to keep the Stuarts, with their feudal traditions and their Papal associations, off the throne. Even William III, brought and maintained by the Whigs as mere figurehead, was never pushed too far by them for fear he should name a Stuart as his successor.

Thus, the Hanover family was imported to be the new Crown dynasty, with nothing to commend them and the populace not prepared, as the 1715 and 1745 Rebellions showed, to lift a finger to support them. Drunken, stupid George I, of whom Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote “Our customs and laws were all mysteries to him, which he neither tried to understand, nor was capable of understanding if he endeavoured it.” and Lord Chesterfield said: “The King loved pleasure, and was not delicate in his choice of it. No woman came amiss to him, if they were very willing and very fat"; George II, full of senseless cruelty; George III, shaking hands with the trees in Windsor Park. Of the whole bunch, indeed, Sir Charles Petrie wrote in his Monarchy in the Twentieth Century: “There had clearly been a streak of abnormality . . . from the beginning.” A nineteenth-century poet, Landor, expressed it more feelingly:
“When George the Fourth from earth descended.
Thank God the line of Georges ended.”
However, it was with the Georges on the throne that the modern concept of monarchy developed. Bolingbroke’s Idea of a Patriot King, published in 1749, proposed (although Bolingbroke had the Stuarts in mind) the monarchy as the embodiment of national ideals, and after the final collapse of Jacobite opposition, this became accepted as the real function of monarchy. In fact, there were no interests now that the monarch could represent other than the “national” ones—that is, those of the propertied classes as a whole. No longer an overlord, removed from control of armed forces, set up in maintenance of bourgeois interests against those of the old order, the king had become King Capital’s torch-bearer.

Whatever remained of royal power and prestige sank to rock-bottom in Victoria’s early years. Her predecessors had shown as much interest as they were permitted in government; Victoria’s acquiescence established the convention that the Crown did not take part any more. The working class had little reason for enthusiasm, and the ruling class no longer had to support this dynasty in case something worse came along. When Victoria withdrew from public life after her husband’s death, a strong movement headed by Thackeray, J. R. Green. Morley. Joseph Chamberlain, Bradlaugh and several more asked if the monarchy were necessary at all. The movement faded, principally because the Empire-builders found the Crown too useful a figurehead, but the Crown had learned that it ought to show itself in public.

For that reason, the last years of Victoria's reign had royal display in plenty, and Edward VII gained still greater benefit from pageantry. It is doubtful if the monarchy became much more popular in Edward’s time, except among the beer-swilling and odds-laying sections, but he did open an important new field for the ruling class by carrying regal display—and with it, British interests— abroad. His visit to Paris, starting with compliments to actresses and ending with cheering crowds in the streets, in 1903 prepared the ground for the Franco-British Entente. Lansdowne and Grey conducted the negotiations, but the French President spoke of the “happy impetus” given to them by Edward's window-show. Subsequent monarchs and their families have done as much and more.

There has been one other important influence in the twentieth century in securing the position of the British monarchy: the rise of rival nations with other kinds of figureheads. First the Kaiser, then Mussolini. Hitler and Stalin caused the thought that, if this kind of thing were the modem alternative, there was something to be said for the British monarchy after all. George V was never greatly popular, but in the nineteen-thirties he was almost the only national figurehead in Europe whose public utterances were not inflammatory harangues on war and encirclement.

The real reason why the King never did so. apart from whatever personal inclination he may have had, was simply that it was not his place to speak as a leader or to state foreign policy. The monarchy in modem times is devoid of political power or autonomy. The last time a British monarch expressed himself independently on a political matter was when Edward VIII showed concern over the slums of Glasgow and South Wales; few people believed that the King’s wish to marry Mrs. Simpson was the only issue in the constitutional crisis of 1936. However, many people must have been given food for thought by the fact that potentially the most popular of all British monarchs was dismissed, as summarily as a worker from a factory, when he refused to toe the line laid down by the Cabinet on behalf of the ruling class.

If there was doubt among pro-capitalist politicians in the nineteenth century of the usefulness of monarchy, there is none today. The Conservative Party has never wavered in supporting monarchy, of course; and, since the first Ministers in the first Labour Government made their low obeisances, nor has the Labour Party. Indeed, in the Abdication crisis the Labour Party was solidly behind the Conservative Cabinet, and the Daily Herald's commentary was undistinguishable from that of the Mail or the Express. And since the war there has been ample opportunity—a royal wedding, an accession, a coronation, and a great deal of subsidiary display—to see the cap-touching and sycophancy which make plain the allegiance of a party which initially gained support by big talk about the abolition of privilege.

The only Labour criticism of royalty in fairly recent times was made from the viewpoint of what was good for Capitalism. Shortly after the coronation of George VI, Mr. Attlee spoke of the need for the Crown to come down to the man in the street a bit more—and found Conservatives agreeing heartily (“For them he must be no mere king in a gilt State coach.” wrote Wilson Harris in The Spectator). That policy was pursued with a vengeance, less with George VI himself than in the preparation of his daughter for the throne. No monarch ever started off so well for popularity: a popularity favoured by youth, romance and motherhood and skilfully fostered by every newspaper in the land (most of all, incidentally, by the pro-Labour Mirror and Pictorial).

The present Royal Family comes as close as any capitalist politician could desire to the modern monarchical ideal. No interference in politics, but a worthy interest in science; admirably suited to gather prestige abroad; most of all, a continual and absorbing attraction to the working class. There have been hints recently that the publicity has been overdone, that there have been too many chambermaids’ reminiscences and news items like the Sunday Pictorial’s announcement that the Queen's bust-line had improved to maintain the essential dignity of royalty. Nevertheless, the Crown today as never before embodies the national ideals—the ideals, that is, of the national ruling class.

But does monarchy serve any interest for ordinary people, beyond giving a holiday and a pageant now and then? It may be said that if it does them no good, it does them no harm either. If it were true that to fill people’s heads with nonsense did no harm, that might be so; and most of it is nonsense. There is no reason for thinking that the Queen and her husband are not pleasant decent people. If things were otherwise, however, the truth is that they would still be presented as paragons. Some monarchs have been cruel, irresponsible and contemptibly low, but their subjects have still been asked for reverence. Within a week of Edward VIII’s abdication his shortcomings were common knowledge, and Sir Charles Petrie (in the book already quoted) hinted at a strain of abnormality in Edward from the Hanover ancestry; would those things have been said if Edward had remained the King?

It is not the monarch that is at fault in all this, but the social system which needs a shining symbol; where there is no monarchy, something else has to be held up to dazzle the dispossessed. The man with the flag and the girl admiring the pictures in her magazine have the light full in their eyes just now—but they need only look away for a moment to see who holds it up, and why.
Robert Barltrop

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Meaning of Work (1964)

Book Review from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Meaning of Work, by Lisl Klein. Fabian Society, 2s.

In her introduction the author says that, obviously, the first thing that matters about work is to have it. She adds that any discussion about being satisfied with one’s work has to presuppose that there are no fears of large-scale unemployment and it becomes nonsense if there are such fears; the second thing is that it must be adequately paid for. She goes on to say: “Nevertheless, I want to discuss the question of work as if basic security and basic living standards can be taken for granted.” She ignores, for the purposes of the argument, the problems of those who lose their jobs through automation.

In other words the author has, as one would expect, considered “the meaning of work” entirely within the context of capitalism. Nevertheless, she has some useful and interesting points to make and considers various aspects of the subject which are often ignored or over-simplified. In considering some problems, she suggests solutions in several cases which would be viable, or even “pay off” under capitalism in the 1960’s/1970’s. One instance is on the question of piecework, where she quotes a reason for its popularity with some workers which is not usually mentioned, when she says:
Variation in speed can make piecework attractive. On many piecework jobs it is possible to bash away hard for a couple of hours and then take ten minutes off to have a cigarette or a chat without incurring the wrath of the foreman, because in quite a big way one is one's own boss. This may even be possible on a conveyor belt. There have been experiments in letting groups of people decide the speed of their own belt, and they have usually varied it at different times of the day.
A worker often develops his own way of doing a particular job. This may not always be the most efficient way of doing things for the whole organisation, but people cling to them because this is what makes it “their” job. She says “One of the dangers of work study is that it may determine methods too precisely and take away the opportunity to develop small tricks.”

She stresses the importance of workers being aware of the value of their work and knowing the part it plays in the organisation—or community — as a whole. She quotes the case of some women in a factory in Blackfriars who, during the war, were employed painting large quantities of metal D’s stamped out in metal. These were put on trays, sprayed with paint and dried, and two women had the job of turning them over so that they could be painted on the other side. Doing this job hour after hour, day after day, they had almost reached screaming point when the foreman explained that they were preparing drinking water identification for troops fighting in Normandy. This quite changed their outlook as they now felt they were doing something of “national importance” and they almost began to enjoy it.

On the subject of automation, she points out that a false picture is sometimes given by lumping all automatic processes together. While it is true that many are just “push button" stop and start jobs, others require control of complicated machinery. The job which was a craft one where a man did everything himself now may be done by a complicated piece of apparatus which he has to control; in many ways his role again resembles that of a craftsman. It often leads to breaking down of barriers and closer co-operation between different grades of workers to ensure efficient functioning of machinery. The operator has direct access to senior people, maintenance people, etc., and he feels a joint responsibility. The change to automation may lead to a freer exchange of views and, as a result, groups or “teams" develop spontaneously and the so-called unskilled operator is regarded as a responsible person.

There is an interesting section of Ergonomics, or “human engineering,” the latter description, as the author says, being rather unpopular here, although used extensively in the U.S. This is the study of “fitting the job to the worker." As seems to happen in so many fields, this line of research first arose out of military needs. During the war technical advances produced machines, such as high-speed aircraft and radar devices, which presented their operators with tasks that could be so complex or exacting, or require such rapid action, that they were pretty well impossible to perform. It therefore became necessary to understand the human limitations of the operators and to take them into account. It was almost by accident, by some of the people engaged on this work in the Defence Department trickling out into civilian life, that industrial applications of the knowledge began to be worked on.

Often it is a case of making work more satisfactory (this does not necessarily mean—easier). By making it more satisfactory, it becomes more efficient. Sometimes this can be achieved simply by work rotation. I.B.M. carried out an experiment in one of their machine shops, where there were machine setters, operators whose job was to put pieces in the machine, start the machine, stop the machine and take the pieces out; inspectors who inspected the work and specialist departments for sharpening and maintaining the tools. In a fairly lengthy re-training programme, the operators were trained to set their own machines, sharpen their own tools and inspect their own work. The author sums up “This is not as simple as it sounds. . . .  It could only be done on a rising market because it left the firm with a lot of specialists to find work for. But this does open up big and interesting possibilities and far more experimenting of this kind could be done."

A little later she says, “Technically there is probably very little which could not be done in the way of reorganising work so as to abolish those aspects of work which it might be demonstrated are harmful to the people doing them. . . . The question is whether anyone is prepared to afford it" (our emphasis).

Here seems a useful field of study in answer to those of our questioners who ask how, in a Socialist society, the dull and unsatisfying jobs will be coped with.

Finally, the pamphlet has, as one might expect, a section on “efficiency." What is rather more surprising is that the final section is headed “Deliberate Inefficiency." She states that all ergonomic and similar studies are undertaken with a view to improving the efficiency, rather than the well-being of the worker. His health and well-being are only considered as a means of obtaining greater efficiency. In her last paragraphs she makes a rather startling suggestion; startling, that is, under capitalism, when she writes: "One day some enterprising employer is going to do away with his sports ground, his welfare facilities, his flower-beds and his fringe benefits and use the money in deliberately ignoring some of the accepted precepts of efficiency—perhaps running his assembly line at a lower speed or allowing the girls in the typing pool to chat. The result might be surprising."

We are often taken to task for not being willing to “give a blueprint" of life in a Socialist society and refusing to sketch in all the details. However, here is one thing of which we can assure our readers. In a Socialist society, work will be done at a speed most compatible with the well-being of the worker, and the “girls” will “chat” quite naturally. We would go even further—in a Socialist society we shall not need to do away with sports grounds or flowerbeds to achieve or “afford" this happy state of affairs!
Eva Goodman

Why Socialists aren’t part of the Left (2006)

From the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. From one point of view this is not surprising, as the left use similar terminology to us, talking of Socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the left. By ‘the left’ we mean the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Labour Party, all the groups with a name that’s a variation on Communist Party, Militant (dishonestly using the name ‘Socialist Party’), and the Scottish Socialist Party, among others. All quotations in this article are taken from the websites of the organisations referred to.
The first difference is that of our aims, the kind of society we wish to see established. Socialists are quite clear and uncompromising on this — our aim is a society without wages, money, countries or governments, based on common ownership of the means of production (land, factories, offices, etc.). Production would be for use, not profit, and there would be free access to what had been produced. The result is quite simple: no poverty, no homelessness, no starvation, no war. Such a society would be fully democratic, with no ruling class or vested interests.
Do the left stand for this kind of society? The simple answer is No. Militant, for instance, say they wish to ‘take into public ownership the top 150 companies, banks and building societies that dominate the economy, under democratic working-class control and management.’ Forget the rhetoric about democratic control — this is a recipe for state-run capitalism. Socialism, as a moneyless society, will have no need for banks or building societies. In general, in fact, the left stand for a version of capitalism where the state is the main employer. This makes no difference to members of the working class, who still have to work for wages, but will now be exploited by the state and those who run it rather than by private capitalists. The left are admirers of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which ushered in over 70 years of state capitalism and a police state. They differ on when and why they think things ‘went wrong’ in Russia, but they all support the regime established in 1917.
It’s true that there are minor variations on the theme of state-run capitalism. The SSP, for instance, advocates ‘the break-up of the British state and the creation of a free Scottish socialist republic.’ But a single Socialist country in a hostile capitalist world is just impossible, and this quote just reveals that the SSP aim is state capitalism — Scottish state capitalism. Many of the left are in fact nationalistic in one way or another.
It is also true that some left-wing organisations pay lip service to the idea of a moneyless society. The CPGB, for example, refers to ‘communism — a system which knows neither wars, exploitation, money, classes, states nor nations.’ But, like the rest of the left, this is for them a paper aim that bears no relation to their everyday activity or the ideas set out in their publications. They make no effort to explain how Socialist/Communist society would work, and no effort to convince workers of the advantages of such a way of organising things. Instead they combine a set of immediate demands with the aim of a so-called proletarian dictatorship, which in reality means state-run capitalism.
This takes us on to a further point. In spite of all their revolutionary posturing and calls for a fundamental change in society, the left actually devote their time to chasing reforms of capitalism. If you look at the programmes or manifestos of left-wing parties, you will find them full of reforms of a wide variety of types. A random list of examples: ‘Right to retirement from age 60 for all workers’ (CPGB); ‘a Scottish Service Tax — a fair alternative to the council tax that will make the rich pay their share’ (SSP); ‘An immediate 50% increase in the pension as a step towards a living pension for all pensioners’ (Militant); ‘Renationalise the railways’ (WRP).
The left generally draw a distinction between ‘immediate demands’ such as those just listed and longer-term goals. We’ve already seen that the longer-term goals in any case involve a continuation of capitalism, but they are usually given second place to the short-term demands. The justification normally provided is that fighting on the immediate demands will win workers over to the longer-term ideas of the organisation. ‘The struggle for reforms can tip over into revolution. Battles for reforms are vital preparation for social revolution’ (SWP). But no evidence is offered for such a position, and the task of revolutionaries is not to jump on the bandwagon of reforms but to expose their inadequacies, to show that reforms cannot solve working-class problems. Indeed, some left-wing groups deliberately and dishonestly go for short-term aims that they know cannot be met under capitalism, as a way of fuelling working-class discontent. In other words, they deliberately lie to workers as a way of getting them into their party!
Lastly, Socialists differ from the left in our attitude to leadership and democracy. Socialism will be democratic, with all having an equal say in how things are run; it follows that the movement for Socialism must be democratic too. The Socialist Party has no leaders and is run by its membership. We have an executive committee, elected each year by ballot of the members; their role is not to make policy but to administer the Party in accordance with decisions made by members. The left, however, adopt a Leninist view and support leadership: they see themselves as leaders of the working class, and are organised internally with a division between an inner circle of leaders and ‘ordinary’ members. For instance, they see the need for ‘authoritative and influential leaders who have been steeled over a long period of time’ (CPGB). Most left-wing groups do not operate as cults (see the November Socialist Standard), but they still have a distinction between rank-and-file members and the leadership. They are often rather coy about their role as would-be leaders, but as Leninists they all support the idea of a vanguard. A leadership-based organisation is not going to be any use in establishing an egalitarian society without leaders. But, as we’ve said, that’s not what the left aim for anyway.
The left, then, stand for state-run capitalism rather than Socialism; they advocate reforms rather than revolution; they are in favour of leadership rather than democracy. The Socialist Party, in contrast, does not aim at reforming capitalism but at replacing it by a new democratic way of organising the world, Socialism, brought about by a revolution, and we do not see ourselves as leaders. It should be clear that the Socialist Party is quite unlike the left wing, and that we are definitely and for good reason not part of the left.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: From Comintern To Cominform (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Parties are merely the propaganda agents for Russian governmental policy. What they preach is not a consistent policy based on principle but a policy based on the day-to-day tactics of that Government in its fight against the other imperialist powers.

In home policy there is the same want of principle. They alternatively oppose the Labour Party, saying it is a capitalist party, and support it, saying it is a socialist party. In 1929 they described nationalisation as “State Capitalism” and the Labour Party as the “third Capitalist Party” (“Class Against Class,” p. 8), yet now pretend that nationalisation is socialism and ask the Labour Government “how is it that only one industry has been nationalised?” (Daily Worker, 13/10/47.) In 1939 they took the initiative in asking Mr. Churchill to form a National Government along with the Labour and the Liberal parties. When this was done they attacked the Labour Party for associating with Churchill! Then in 1941 when Russia was invaded they supported Churchill and now again discover that he has all along been and enemy of the workers.

The future Socialism depends on the growth of democratic, socialist organisations. The new Cominform, as well as the Communist parties that are at present not affiliated to it, are the enemies of both Socialism and Democracy.
(From editorial, Socialist Standard, November 1947)

50 Years Ago: Post-War Fascism (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Post-War Fascism in this country had Raven Thompson (Director of Policy for the British Union of Fascists before the war) as its champion in the debate at Kensington Town Hall on November 10th. This debate was organised by our Ealing branch. Thompson represented the Union for British Freedom, one of the groups aping the Nazis here. This organisation offered to supply stewards to keep the meeting in order, including some to prevent "undesirables" getting into the hall. We naturally refused their offer and told them that our meetings were open to all members of the working-class who wished to attend, and that we did not anticipate any disturbances at a meeting run in our customary democratic manner. Our views were justified. The hall was jammed to capacity with 650 people and about 200 had to be turned away. A large number of those present were passionately opposed to Thompson but they listened patiently while he plodded along with a monotonous and boring recital of the mish-mash of reformist rubbish and dictatorial junk which comprises the stock-in-trade of the present day little Hitlers. Our representative. Turner, had no difficulty in ripping Thompson’s tattered political ideas into even smaller pieces with socialist analysis, and presented our alternative to Fascism and the rest of the political policies which in effect preserve the present social system. Another lesson of the debate is that a sure way of preventing the spread of Fascist doctrines is to get these would-be strong men and dictators on to a public platform and expose them for the exploded political wind-bags which they really are. Those organisations who claim a monopoly of so-called "antifascism" were shown by Turner in the debate to be based on the same reformist twaddle as the Fascists themselves, and they can only oppose with disruption and disorder—tactics which the Fascists welcome and by which they thrive. The audience were orderly throughout and gave about £24 to our funds.
Clifford Groves
(From Party News Briefs, Socialist Standard, December 1947)

Myths about equality (1981)

From the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

For two hundred years the survival of capitalism has depended on the belief, on the part of the working class, that we are naturally inferior. Writing in 1784, George Pitt made it clear in his Letters to a Young Nobleman that
Nothing can be more dangerous, more impossible to practise, or more immediately subversive of all government than the doctrine of the equality of mankind. A doctrine, the fallacy of which is proved by the experience of every day, by the concurrence of all history from the earliest times, and above all, by the contemplation of all the works of the Creator, the very essence of which appears to be gradation or inequality.
It is true that the earliest spokesmen of the Whig capitalist class in the late eighteenth century spoke at about the need for political equality. The reason for this was that they wanted to be equal with the dominant aristocratic ruling class and were prepared to use whatever political rhetoric was necessary to get them into a position of state power. But this capitalist equality was never seen by them as anything more than equality for the bosses. In a broadside printed in 1795 by the radical London Corresponding Society — a collection of ambitious capitalists - the defenders of “political equality” protested at the accusation of their aristocratic opponents that they stood for social equality:
In our ideas of equality we have never included (nor till the associations of alarmists broached the frantic notion could we ever have conceived that so wild and destestable a sentiment could have entered the brain of man) as the equalisation of property, or the invasion of personal rights of possession. 
The radical capitalists of Sheffield-insisted that
We are not speaking of that visionary equality of property, the practical assertion of which would desolate the world and replunge it into the darkest and wildest barbarism. (Parl. Hist. Vol. XXX, 738)
So, armed with the rhetoric of 'equal rights', the rising capitalist class realised that social equality before the means of wealth production was no more desirable to their system than it had been to feudalism. In France in 1789 and Britain in 1832 the working class was led to believe that by supporting political equality for their exploiters they would be furthering their own interests. In the event, they found that they were supporting “the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie” and “that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law” (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

The socialist movement, of which the Socialist Party of Great Britain is the British representative, was born out of the discontent felt by workers at the inequality inherent to the rule of capital. In February 1848 in Paris workers manned the barricades so as to ensure the rule of their bosses; in June 1848 the capitalists sent their armed guards to massacre the workers for asking for too much in return. In 1831 workers rioted in the streets of London and Bristol so that their bosses could sit in Parliament; after the victory of the 1832 Reform Act the working class of Britain was repaid by notoriously pro-capitalist legislation such as the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which condemned the unemployed to the wretchedness of the workhouses.

The apologists for the inequality of capitalism persist in the assertion that inequality is natural. “It’s human nature; there will always be rich and poor” they tell us, as if social inequality is a reflection of the inherent superiority of the property-owners. The same arguments are used to support claims of racial and sexual inequality. The bosses, we are told, possess natural “enterprise”, “initiative” and “intelligence”. This suggestion is but a thinly disguised insult to the wealth producers of the world who - it follows logically - are poor because of an inherent lack of these fine qualities. After all, the word e-quality simply means “of the same quality”. According to this claim that some are born to be rich and others to be poor, we are asked to believe that the unfortunate child of a capitalist who is born mentally retarded, but with an inheritance of several million pounds, is of a superior quality to an unemployed skilled labourer. Once the majority of the working class recognise the magnitude of this insult they will begin to organise for social equality.

As with many socialist arguments, those who cannot defeat them by reason try to do so by distortion. It is alleged that socialists want all people to be exactly the same. Far from this being the case, socialists are saying that only when the interest of one is the interest of all will the differing talents of humanity be able to be utilised to the common good. We are depending upon the fact that individuals will always be varied indeed, in a socialist society where the mass market ceases to dominate the fashions of life, men and women will be more individualistic than ever.

In a speech on 16 September, 1975 the present Prime Minister, Thatcher, stated that
  The pursuit of equality is a mirage. What is more desirable and more practicable than the pursuit of equality is the pursuit of equality of opportunity.
  And opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal.
The ultimate in liberties is this: the right to be unequal! Thatcher should tell this to the 93 per cent of the population who own no stocks and shares, while the richest 1 per cent own 80 per cent of them. She should tell the thirty million people who die of starvation each year - one per second, on average - about this 'right to be unequal.' She should tell the old aged pensioners who are too poor to keep warm during the winter that at least they have won the “right to be unequal” with the Queen Mother. The working class, whose labour is the source of all wealth, have certainly won the “right to be unequal” with the idle parasites who live in privileged affluence by exploiting us. And having won this perverse “right”, it is time to push aside the politicians and the philosophers in the realisation that the mighty are only high because we are on our knees.
Steve Coleman

Vision Impossible (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
It probably escaped most people's notice that it's 500 years since the publication of Thomas More's seminal work Utopia, the first systematic attempt since Plato to set out the definition of an ideal society, though regrettably this includes (in More's case) royal princes, priests, the subjection of women, and slaves.
Not everybody missed the occasion though, as a recent 'Utopia' art exhibition in London's Somerset House bore witness.  And with an eye for a good cover story, New Scientist recently went with 'Utopia – the quest for the perfect society, and the lost civilisation that found it' (17 September).
This is of interest to socialists, not because we have the slightest faith in perfect societies (and even less belief in supposedly lost paradises), but because we so rarely see any mainstream discussion which dares to venture outside the capitalist paradigm. Utter the word 'utopia' and we're almost bound by law to follow the debate, even if we usually come away disappointed with the poor quality of the arguments.
So, to begin, what was the civilisation that, according to the magazine, was a utopia? The Indus Valley civilisation, active in the Bronze Age from around 2600 to 1900 BC. Why was it a utopia? Because of the lack of defensive structures, obvious military weaponry and other signs of organised conflict. There is also no sign of palatial structures, monuments or depictions of obvious rulers, implying a lack of social classes. This is significant, given that such evidence is abundant for contemporary civilisations in Egypt and the Twin Rivers.
Carl Sagan liked to stress that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But just as a lack of bus stops would strongly imply a lack of buses, in archaeology one can learn as much from what one doesn't find as from what one does. Sir Arthur Evans, the excavator of Knossos in Crete, found no defensive structures and controversially claimed on the basis of this that Crete during the Minoan civilisation (3650 – 1400 BC) enjoyed a Pax Minoica (Wikipedia). This view is still open to debate, although evidence of warfare is even today described as 'scanty'.
Such claims have been made before, only to be overturned. The Maya were thought to be peaceniks until their inscriptions were deciphered, and they turned out to be full of bloody battles and torture-porn. Interestingly, the Indus culture also has a script which has not been deciphered.
Still, war-free complex societies are known to go back a long way. Çatalhöyük, an Neolithic settlement in Turkey dating from around 7,500 BC, famously lacks any sign of warfare, or of social or gender stratification. 
Why did the Indus culture die out? Possibly due to climate change, or the Indus river changing course, or earthquakes. Not content with such prosaic reasoning, some commentators can't resist sticking the capitalist boot in, arguing that the demise was ideological in form, resulting from a lack of conflict-driven dynamism and invention which led to cultural sclerosis and death. Of course there's no evidence for this claim, and it doesn't make much sense either. If lack of conflict is bad for you, one wonders how humans managed to survive the approximately 2.5 million years of the Palaeolithic, during which time there is no evidence of warfare whatsoever.
So were these places 'utopias'? Hardly. But they suggest that war and conflict did not always and automatically follow from the development of complex societies after the expansion of agriculture. In other words, war was not normal behaviour but a forced adaptation to hostile local conditions. Where those conditions did not apply, war did not appear. This may seem obvious but it is crucially relevant today, because we humans now have the technology to change our conditions. Logically, if we change them in the right way, we can make war disappear.
So what of the magazine's other statement about 'the quest for the perfect society'? This amounted to a booklist of utopian and dystopian novels, featuring some obscure 17th century texts but with some surprising omissions, such as Sam Butler, Edward Bellamy, Jack London, Barry Skinner and William Morris.  But this might be because the writer defines 'utopia' less as a political idea than a form of artistic escapism: 'They are never places evolved from the here and now, but fantasies conjured from scratch, pristine and unsullied, out of sheer yearning'. In other words, if your future society is in any way based in reality, it's not really a utopia. Which is a fair point.
'Utopian' is a bullying and derogatory term used by people who believe in the status quo and want to discredit alternatives as unrealistic. While there have been genuinely utopian novels (and utopian socialists) the vast majority of either are not trying to create perfect societies, just better ones. 'Normative fiction' is a more accurate phrase, meaning fiction based on what ought to be, according to the writer, as opposed to what is.
What 'normative' novels do socialists like? Three perennial favourites are Morris's News From Nowhere (1890), Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974) and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). They're not perfect though. Morris was a decent writer but his novel is dragged to a standstill by the weight of exposition, and the romantic medievalism looks hopelessly quaint nowadays.  The Le Guin story seems so keen not to be accused of utopianism that its anarchist planet is rendered as a Dune-style hellhole full of miserable ascetics, while Piercy's work has some weird notions about gender equality (men getting womb implants) and suffers somewhat from its own framing device, which makes the anarcho-socialist 'vision' look unflatteringly like the delusion of a paranoid schizophrenic.
Do people call us 'utopians'? Of course, and for the reason given above. But really, all talk of utopias is beside the point. Utopias don't exist, but dystopias do, and we know that because we're living in one. Though there are many good things about capitalism, it is a real-life dystopia that only suits the rich, and we don't need perfect visions to tell us what we need to do about it.
PJS

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Plea for the Human Race (1967)

From the February 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well we have taken the first steps into 1967 and by now most people have probably forgotten the good wishes and the resolutions with which they welcomed another new year and have settled down to the same old grind.

Nineteen sixty six, let us remember, was supposed to be “make or break” year. So far, the Labour government have not committed themselves on whether we made or broke; like most of their instant propaganda slogans, “make or break” is something they are trying to forget. In its place, they are assuring us that 1967 will definitely be the year (just as 1966 was going to be) when the British balance of payments comes into balance.

Workers who think that the international finances of the British capitalist class have some effect on their lives will be impressed by Labour’s assertion that in 1967 they will also crack the Rhodesian crisis, take a big step towards joining the Common Market and solve many of the social problems, like destitution and poor housing, at home. Workers who think like that will be impressed by anything.

They were probably deeply impressed, for example, by an interview the Prime Minister gave to James Margach. the Sunday Times political correspondent, which was published on New Year’s Day. Wilson first said, in effect, that his government had got away with an unprecedented confidence trick on the working class:
Not many people in July would have said that we could have got to the end of the first six months of total restraint with the high degree of success we have achieved . . . the wages policy for the first six months has been carried through without a single strike on a wages claim . . .
There is no need to add anything to this; it is adequate enough comment on the docility of the majority of the trade unions in the year of Labour government grace of 1966. But more follows. Wilson went on to say what effect he thought his government’s policies had had:
. . .  the cutting out of waste —- wasteful expenditure, waste in the boardroom and a growing awareness of the need to cut out waste in the use of labour.
It is clear that Wilson hopes 1967 will see more of what he calls the “shake out and application of economic methods to management”. This may be fine for shareholders and for politicians but not so fine for those who are shaken out and who have the economic methods of management applied to them.

What this means in direct terms is that thousands — perhaps millions — of people will be out of work, will have to take jobs at lower pay, or grab one of the few places at a government training centre on a miserly grant in the hope of finding another job when they finish their course. Or perhaps it means tearing up a family’s roots and moving them and all they have to a place where another job may be found.

It need surprise nobody that this is happening under a Labour government, who somewhere in their history have had supporters who hoped to build a world free of unemployment and who thought only Tory mine owners could properly be concerned with economic management. Labour is now a fully fledged party of capitalism, standing proudly and openly for capitalism modern, automated, shaken out, economically managed.

Why, it may be asked, the hurry? An unavoidable feature of capitalism is that goods and services are produced for sale. The profits which are realised when goods are sold go to the people who provide the capital - the investors, who invest their money precisely because they hope to get a profit. If the investors think their profit is in doubt they will usually withdraw their capital, very often in a rush. The Labour government have spent some time assuring the investors that they have no objection to profits and to make the point even clearer they have indulged in the customary juggling with taxation relief and allowances to provide what they hope will be the only incentives investors appreciate to sink their money in certain industries and areas.

But if the investors are concerned about selling their goods at a profit, it follows that they must be concerned about two other aspects of this — the price the goods can be sold at and the cost of their production. When the market is easy and the demand is high prices are high also and there is consequently little need to worry overmuch about the costs of production. When the opposite is happening — when the market is depressed, as it is in many fields at the moment — there is a severe pressure upon production costs and the employers are continually looking for ways of reducing them.
Here Labour's doctrine of economic management, and of cost effectiveness, comes into its own. Cost effectiveness means hard bargaining at every stage in buying whatever is needed for production. It means haggling with the suppliers of every nut and bolt, every envelope, every elastic band. It means pricing everything down to three decimal places of a penny. It also means hard bargaining with the unions over the cost of that most vital part of the productive process — labour power.

This is where the wage freeze comes in, as Labour's help in backing up the employers in their making a stand, at this time of troubles for British capitalism, over wages. It is Labour’s encouragement to the employers, to be cost conscious over wages as over everything else.

There is no end of this in sight. In 1967 the freeze, under whatever name, will continue and so will Labour’s policy of making British industry grudge every penny it spends on production. There will, as part of this drive, be more schemes of merging companies to bring about economies in production and to cut out duplicated research and administration. A by-product of these mergers will be the forming of larger and more powerful opponents for the unions to face. Labour have already successfully carried through their merger policy in the aircraft industry and their Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, under their new convert Sir Frank Kearton, is only just getting into its stride. When it does, it will give something to think about to those old Labour men who thought their party was opposed to cartels and monopolies which to them stood for capitalism impersonal and ruthless.

All of this is quite normal as far as capitalism goes. The balance sheets will probably look healthier for it and there may be a few more cigars smoked at the annual general meetings of some companies. There will also probably be a lot more votes for Harold Wilson. But somewhere in all this there are a lot of human beings; what about them?

Nobody has yet thought up a productive method which can do without human beings; even Wilson has not been able to dream up a future which does not have men and women. Automation and redeployment may move humans about, it may take them from one industry and put them into another (usually with not as great an effect upon overall production as the planners and the scientists claim) hut it cannot eliminate them altogether.

The trouble with human beings, as anyone who has mixed with them knows, is that they are — human beings. They are too often different from each other; they have different tastes, capacities, abilities. Some of them have what can only be called whims and foibles. They are really very tiresome.

Capitalism does not, and must not, see human beings like that. From its beginnings it has had the need to flatten individuals, as far as production and exploitation are concerned, into the same mould. The story of capitalism has been the story of the death of one individual craft after another, of the refinement of productive techniques and of the progressive separation of man from the things he makes. The first crude steam engine was part of this process and so is the most recent computer.

To capitalism human beings are units on the production line, just like nuts and bolts although needing different handling. They are part of the costs of production, a column in a ledger, a hole in a punched card, a blip on a computer tape. Capitalism tries to dehumanise men. At the moment there is enough in man to resist; so far we are not automatons.

But the pace is quickening. If the sorting machine throws out the card because the hole is in the wrong place, if the blip on the tap reads off the wrong data, then the principles of capitalism’s economic management say that human beings are not profitable to employ. The computer takes care of the rest; it makes up the final wage packet, it works out the redundancy pay. it deletes the name from the payroll.

At one time it was usual for workers to be laid off after a market had started to decline. Things are different now. The modern company, in good times, as well as bad. is always looking at its payroll, always asking itself who can be dispensed with, what further cuts can be made. Most up to date firms —the sort which Harold Wilson likes — have their own departments, staffed by earnestly spectacled young graduates, to work all this out for them. If not, there are plenty of firms outside who specialise in just this work.

The neatest and most accurate way of describing this way of treating human beings is degradation. The Labour Party are the disciples of this degradation and this is the end of what they look back on as their glorious history.

But millions of workers, shaken out and degraded, vote Labour, don’t they? Here is the unkindest cut of all. The very people who suffer this degradation — the holes in the cards, the blips on the tape — do not realise it or, if they do, will admit to seeing little wrong with their treatment. Yet they alone have the power to end it all and to free themselves so that they can begin to live like human beings
Ivan.

The Wealthy Socialist (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The general attitude of the worker towards those possessing wealth is amusingly paradoxical. It is the heritage of serfdom, together with his present servile existence, that engenders the attitude of respect he will always adopt. Yet let him learn of a member of the bourgeoisie who has taken up a stand on behalf of the workers and displayed a knowledge of working-class conditions, and he will regard him sceptically, as who should say: “He’s got money; how can he know anything of us who haven’t? ” Although that very same worker, and this is where the paradox comes in, refuses to think any other way than with the bourgeoisie. He reads and quotes the propaganda they disseminate in their press. He prefers to vote for a candidate who is of the master class, because he feels that such a candidate, being educated and well endowed with the world’s goods, must be, necessarily, better able to represent him in Parliament. It is still quite common to regard M.P.'s in the same category as "toffs,” and a little high-sounding rhetoric and an Oxford accent is a good deal more than half the battle at election time.

A grand example of the falsity of such a position is brought home to us when we consider the life and work of Frederick Engels. Engels was bourgeois by birth and environment, and died worth a considerable amount of money, yet no man, perhaps not even Marx himself, understood the proletarian psychology better. He was the son of an affluent Manchester merchant who needn’t have bothered a bit about the working-class had he chose. But the very fact that his studies and investigations had discovered to him the workings of the social system, forced him, being honest, to write the monumental works so invaluable to the student of Socialism, in spite of his wealth.

This must not be confused with the Fabian argument that the emancipation of the Working Class can only be accomplished by the ” intelligentsia ” of the middle class. The emancipation of the working class must be the work of that class itself. All that is necessary is that it shall become class-conscious and organise to capture the political machinery at present in the hands of the capitalist class. The slum workers and social reformers of the middle class do not understand the economic forces which dominate Society. If they did, they would not waste time in patching up a system which is rotten right at the roots.

It is not necessary to go down a mine, to understand that miners are exploited, nor is it impossible for. a millionaire to know that his millions come from the blood and sweat of a robbed proletariat. There is. nothing, save, of course, a misunderstanding of the. Socialist philosophy, to prevent any member of Society, of whatever social standing, proclaiming himself a Socialist and joining the Socialist Party to work for the emancipation of Society itself; The working class must take the trouble to think for themselves, not waste time wondering whether a man with unsoiled hands really can know anything about factory hells and slums, analyse their position, form their own conclusions, and act upon them, then the day of capitalism will close upon the horrors and terrors it has given birth to, and the morrow will, dawn brighter and happier for the whole human family.
S.

The Communist Farce (1929)

Editorial from the October 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the moment of going to press we find a notice in the Daily Herald (20th September) to the effect that there is a split in the Communist Party and that Pollitt, Campbell and Horner are denounced as “Right wingers.”

We are not yet in a position to state how far the report is true, but the situation again calls attention to the fundamental unsoundness of the main plank in the policy of the Communist Party, both here and abroad. That plank is “Trust in leaders.”

The movement of the Communist Party, abroad as well as at home, during the last eleven years has been like the movement of a film from “Right” to “Left” with new stars in every period, or like the childish game of “who would be king of the castle.” 

For a time each group of stars has occupied the stage, denouncing their forerunners as “Right” wingers and pushing them out. The last leaders, in their turn, then become the subject of denunciation as “Right” wingers. Each fallen.star is depicted in the blackest of colours, although he is in fact no different in mental attitude from his attitude in the starring period.

The attitude and methods of the Communist Party lend themselves to the job-hunting and wire-pulling methods of a type that has always been common in the working-class movement. And it was partly for this reason that Karl Marx and his associates insisted so strongly upon the fact that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”

It is also well to remember that while the energies of earnest and active working men are thus brought to nothing by the wranglings among the. kings of the castle, the capitalists can look on and smile, secure in the knowledge that an army torn with dissension can never be successful in battle.

Let the working class give up this slavish and sheep-like acceptance of leaders and themselves set about solving the social problem. The problem and the solution are comparatively simple, but they cannot be wafted away by phrases or slogans. The budding leader can always be recognised by his predilection for such things. Phrases and slogans have always been the stock-in-trade of the men who have striven to rise on the crest of waves of popularity to positions either of economic security or positions that flatter the vanity of the lover of power for its own sake.

The society we aim at building in the future is one wherein all will have a free and equal hand in the ordering of affairs. How can such a society be built on foundations such as the blind worship of the leaders of a day?

We repeat, therefore, again the lesson we have been repeating, monotonously for the last twenty-five years: No leader, however honest, clever or well-intentioned can lead the workers out of slavery. No man or group of men, however intellectual, can found a new society which depends for its success upon the knowledge and understanding of the bulk of the population. There is no royal road to Socialism. It can only be attained by working men and women who know what Socialism means and how it is to be obtained. Therefore, it is necessary for working men and women to do the comparatively small amount of thinking that is necessary to understand Socialism. When they have done so they will know the steps to be taken, and will no longer need to rely on the weak reed of leadership. In that day the utterer of cheap, choice and false phrases will find eloquence wasted and will be forced to go and find some useful occupation.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"The Mixture as Before" (1955)

From the September 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

German Social Democracy Today 

We are in receipt of the “Action Programme” of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, adopted at the Party Conference at Dortmund in 1952, and revised by the Party Conference at Berlin in July, 1954.

If the date had not been appended to the title page nobody outside would have known.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany has not changed.

It remains what it was, a nationalistic capitalist outfit, peddling a typically Labourite programme of reforms, while professing to be Socialist.

Indeed, without the vague introductory references to Socialism in the foreword to the programme, it would hardly differ from its opponents at all.

Those with knowledge of the facts will read with amusement that
  “The Social-Democratic Party of Germany commits itself more definitely than ever to file great ideas of Socialism and Democracy."—(p. 7).
  “It remains for ever committed to . . .  its great leaders from Karl Marx Frederick Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and August Bebel down to Kurt Schumacher, Hans Boeckler and Ernst Reuter."—(p. 8).
Nobody would be more amazed at the cool effrontery of this than Marx and Engels themselves, who were so angry with their friends in Germany for having anything to do with Lassalle’s “Union of German Workers” (which they amalgamated with in 1875 at Gotha) that they warned them that they would publicly break with official German Social-Democracy, and denounce it

Marx’s language was so strong that when publishing his “Criticism of the Gotha Programme,” 15 years later, Engels had to insert dots for some of the more unparliamentary expressions.

Why was it that a man of Marx's calibre should be so incensed at what the Social-Democrats in Germany were doing?

After all, he had endured outrageous slander and calumny for years without complaint.

Examination of the facts shows that they started then, what they are still doing now, supporting capitalism by advocating reforms.

Marx wrote a detailed criticism (which he said was more than the doctor had allowed) to W. Bracke, saying that the reason he was so annoyed was because the tale was spread about Europe (especially by Bakunin) that he and Engels secretly ran the Eisenach (or Social Democratic) Party from London, and were therefore personally responsible for a collection of daft rubbish which was actually quite meaningless.

This rubbish was the stock-in-trade of Ferdinand Lassalle, a romantic figure of the day who became an agitator, before being killed in a duel, at an early age.

He was a Malthusian and advocated State regulation of Labour to operate the “Iron Law of Wages.”

F. Engels, in his letter of protest, wrote to Bebel
“Our people have allowed the Lassallean iron law of wages to be foisted on them, a law based on a quite antiquated economic view, namely, that the worker receives, on the average, only the minimum of the labour wage, because, according to Malthus theory of population there are always too many workers. Now, Marx has proved in ‘Capital' that the laws regulating wages are very complicated, that sometimes one predominates and sometimes another, according to circumstances, that therefore they are in no sense iron, but very elastic.” “Karl Marx” Selected Works Vol. II p. 589. Adoratsky, Moscow.
In Marx’s own view, 
   “since Lassalle’s death the scientific understanding has made progress in our party, that wages are not what they appear to be, namely, the value, or price of labour, but only a masked form for the value, or price of labour power. Thereby the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto, as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this conception was thrown overboard once for all, and it was made dear that the wage-worker has permission to work for his own life, i.e. to live, only in so far as he works a certain time gratis for the Capitalist, that the whole capitalist system of production turns on the prolongation of this gratis labour by extending the working day, or by developing the productivity, or the greater intensity of labour power, etc., that consequently the system of wage-labour is a system of slavery, and indeed a slavery that becomes more severe as the social forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment.
   And after this understanding has made more and. more progress in our party, one returns to Lassaile's dogmas although one must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages are, but following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter.” (“Karl Marx,” page 574, Moscow, 1933.)
Apart from the dangerous ideas he advocated everything in Lassalle’s character and actions made Marx detest him.

Both Marx and Engels smelt a rat when Lassalle wrote offering them editorial posts on his Berlin paper. If Marx would return to Germany, hinting that he might negotiate an amnesty for Marx.

It was not until 1928 that the truth was finally revealed that Lassalle, in fact, was a paid secret agent of Bismarck. (See “Bismarck and Lassalle” by Mayer, Berlin 1928, page 60.)

We have recalled a few facts to show how preposterous is the claim of the modem German Social-Democrats that Marx was one of “their leaders,” alongside Lassalle.

Those interested or sceptical are referred to the “Critique of the Gotha Programme” (Volume II, “Karl Marx Selected Works.” Adoratsky, Moscow, 1933), to verify the facts for themselves.

Everything in the “Unity” programme made Marx furious. Even the first clause—which ran—
“(1) Labour is the source of all wealth and all culture, and since useful labour is only possible in society and through society, the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society,” nearly drove him up the wall.

This is what he had to say about this mish-mash.
   “In proportion as labour develops socially and becomes thereby a source of wealth and culture, poverty and neglect develop among the workers, and wealth and culture among .the non-workers.
   “This is the law of all history, hitherto. What had to be done was to prove that capitalist society had created the material conditions enabling the workers to lift this social curse.” (Gotha Programme).
Is there any sign that modern German Social-Democracy has any intention of trying to lift this social curse of growing poverty with increasing wealth? Not the slightest.

This latest programme contains 50 pages of resolutions on nearly every conceivable subject except abolition of capitalism. On the contrary, they all concern its maintenance and improvement, including Tax and Penal Reform.

In this “Action Programme” we have the classic vote-catching Bill-of-Fare. Something for Everybody. Just like the I.L.P. Hitler, Mussolini, etc., etc., nobody has been forgotten.

The German Social Democrats are going to help the individual workers, civil servants, small business men, women, scientists, young people, the middle-classes, farmers, small farmers, “those in receipt of public relief” and refugees. (See Action Programme 1954.)

They want a Free Republic, increased production, increased public assistance “for the millions who suffer poverty,” wages to be assured of a reasonable relation to profit (page 25), more credits to the middle-class (page 28) and “the Social-Democrats will sustain small and medium scale Private-Property” (page 26). Healthy Housing for Everybody, Tax Reforms, more equitable distribution of Wealth, a social Security scheme on Beveridge lines for Unemployed or Sickness, Public Ownership of Coal, Iron, Transport and Power, Prison Reform, more Schools, Youth Hostels, and Judicial Reform, are a few more of the plums which the German Jack Homer is promised, if only he will stick in his thumb into the electoral pie for the Social Democratic Party.

What has all this to do with Socialism? Nothing. 

Study the actual record of the Social-Democrats in power in Prussia and it becomes obvious that the election phrases are but the cloak for the Capitalist policies.

Zorgiebel, Social-Democrat Chief of Police in Berlin, mowed down unruly workers with the ferocity of a Cavaignac.

Like Labour Governments everywhere the Social Democrats in Germany were just as active in running capitalism whatever the consequences to the worker, because that was their mandate.

After years in power, they spawned—Hitler.

If the German workers had any idea of the real meaning of Marx’s writings, they would reject the Social-Democrats.

When they learn more about the matter they will organise a Socialist Party.

Messrs, Ollenhauer, Schumacher, BoecklerReuter, crooks in the true tradition of Ferdinand Lassalle.

The German Philosopher, Nietsche (an anti-Socialist), called them “clambering apes.”
Horatio.