Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Engineers' Strike. (1926)

From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The strike of engineers at the Hoe Printing Works presents problems that merit the serious consideration of working men. The union leaders gave ample illustrations of their anti-working class policy, and the tricky way they forced the national committee to support them should enlighten members of the unions who are willing to pause and ponder a little.

The position ultimately taken up by the unions was the policy advocated by their paid officials and was an obvious policy of defeat.

In the “New Leader” of the 5th March W. M. Citrine, acting secretary of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, had an article on the subject headed “Back the Engineers." The following are two quotations from the article which throw light on the circumstances surrounding the dispute.
  It may not be out of place, however, to observe that although the Hoe dispute would appear to furnish the excuse for a lock-out, that incident cannot be dissociated from the negotiations which have dragged their weary way over the past two years. Men who are in receipt of wages entirely out of proportion to their degree of skill, and labourers who receive 37s. per week for 47 hours’ work, cannot reasonably be expected to exhibit Job-like patience. The . average time rates in the sixteen principal districts are: Fitters and turners, 56s. 6d.; unskilled labourers, 40s. 2d.
  The interminable negotiations have created the impression amongst rank-and-file engineering workers that the employers were deliberately operating a policy of procrastination and had no real intention of making any concessions. From time to time during the past two years district applications have been presented for advances which appear to have had substantial justification, but practically everywhere the districts have been met with refusal on the plea that, while national negotiations were proceeding, nothing could be conceded locally. (Italics ours.) 
There one can plainly see the advantage to the employers of the Agreement known as The Provisions for Avoiding Disputes, the interminable Government Commissions of Inquiry, and negotiations between Union Committees and Employers’ Councils. These are different ways of delaying improvements in workers’ conditions and yet they have the whole-hearted support of Trade Union leaders. J. H. Thomas gave public expression to this when he said :—
  The trade union leader who wants a strike is not fit for his job . . . Talk of class warfare can lead nowhere but to hell. (Quoted in No. V. Labour Research booklet from “The Times,” 28/4/23.)
Since the end of the war the wages of the engineers 'have gone down until they have now reached a figure that will hardly keep “body and soul” together. While the employers see no sign of vigorous opposition from the workers’ side there is little likelihood of their making concessions. Under such circumstances how humiliating has been the attitude of the officials the workers appoint and pay with the avowed object of safeguarding their interests. From the posting of the lock-out notices the union leaders have given a public exhibition of their fear of the employers. They have been running to Sir Allan Smith for private conferences and then after each meeting issuing their instructions to the Hoe workers to return to work.

The assertion that the Hoe workers were acting in a way that broke the Agreement can be met from two points of view. The Hoe workers meet it by the contention that their employers had already broken the Agreement themselves. From the other point of view an agreement that allows months and years to pass before a union can take strike action renders the strike (the workers’ only real economic weapon in industrial disputes) abortive.

On Sunday, March 7th, a meeting was held at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, to consider the Hoe dispute. This meeting consisted of London District Committees, Branch Secretaries, and Shop Stewards of the unions concerned. The executives desired the meeting to back their policy and instruct the strikers to return to work. The meeting, however, not only refused to do this, but it endorsed the demand of the London Engineering Trades Committee for a wage advance of £1 a week, and failing a settlement that the executives be asked for permission to take a district strike ballot.

They further moved that the executives be asked to take a ballot on the ending of the York Agreement, containing the Provisions for Avoiding Disputes, and endorsed the demand for a consultation on the question of a national strike ballot.

The executives were not satisfied with the conclusions of the meeting so a special conference of the National Committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union was held at Manchester on Saturday and Sunday, March 13th and 14th. At this meeting J. I. Brownlie, President of the Union, presided and three other executive members attended. A motion was put forward in support of the men who had ceased work at Hoe’s. Before this motion was put to the vote Brownlie stated “that the Committee regarded this resolution as a direct challenge, and if it were carried it would be construed as a vote of no confidence in the executive ” (“Observer,” 14th March, 1926). After that statement, an obvious trick to sway the delegates over to the side of the Executives, the motion was of course lost by a large majority. The next day a motion was carried supporting the policy of the executives.

Since then pressure has been exerted from all quarters on the Hoe workers—even to the extent of a threat to expel them from the union—and yesterday’s (Saturday, 20th March) papers announce that they are resuming work on Monday under protest.

The attitude of the leaders, the daily papers, and the “New Leader” that the men should return to work and allow things to take the “constitutional” course, rather than do anything that would break the agreement, merits a few further remarks.

The leaders want a nice, properly-arranged strike that could proceed peacefully on its course without disturbing anybody or doing any real harm. This is evidenced by their concern for so-called essentiaL services and the opinion of the “public.”

The “public,” about whom there is so much concern, is really the shopkeepers, the Press, and the “salaried” workers, the groups to whom the workers in general need pay no attention. They are the hangers on and blind supporters of the employers in their attacks upon the workers, and from their ranks often come the blacklegs that help to defeat strikes.

The engineers, the coalminers, the railwaymen and others ought to know by now that a strike means the disorganisation of essential services or a failure. It is an attempt to force from the employers something the latter are not prepared to concede willingly. If all the essential services are arranged so that a strike will not disturb them; and if the employers are to be given weeks to prepare for the struggle, then how can the workers possibly expect success? Obviously they will only inflict minor discomfort on the employers, who can await with equanimity the rapid collapse of the movement owing to the privations suffered by the strikers.

As we have so often in these columns pointed out the limits of trade union action, I will forbear using up any more space on the subject.

Sport and Socialism. (1926)

From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whereas the term “sport” was at one time associated with the idea of pleasure in “disparting” together, it would seem that the progress of Capitalism has rendered such an association (except in rare instances) ludicrous in relation to prevailing facts. It has, moreover, debased the original motive of social enjoyment into either a means to acquire profit, on into one of the potent methods of distracting the attention of the workers from the incessant gnawing of their problems of poverty and slavery. At the same time it helps to increase the physical efficiency (and thus the profit-making capacity) of those workers who participate, and provide an effective nerve-restorative for the tired wage-slaves who have merely the stamina required of spectators.

However far we may look back into the distant past, we fail to discover a period where games or sports of a similar character to those now indulged in were not prevalent. Indeed, Montague Shearman, who wrote the celebrated “History of Football," found traces of that pastime throughout the whole period of recorded history. It is not, however, our purpose to probe this question of origin, but rather, at this stage, to draw attention to the corrupting influence of Capitalism in revolutionising ideas which at one time were uninfluenced by the motives of a ruling class, and to point out that “sport," once free to all except the bodily impaired, has become, like other institutions, an organised business ministering predominately to the interests of the master class.

To those who may doubt the soundness of our contentions we would ask “Why do the master-class in their Press (which is largely dependent upon advertisement revenue) devote whole pages to the discussion of future sporting events?” “Why do they pour out reservoirs of slush in detailing the family history of Mademoiselle Pit-pat, who is to meet the doughty American champion, Tilly Slapbonk, at the Tooting Stadium?” “Why are we regaled with stories of the ingestive prowess of Charlie Bashem, and tales about the fondness of his protagonist, Teddy Tinribs, for Metaphysics and the Einstein Theory, before the inevitable fiasco is staged at the Talbot Hall?” "Would not the revenue to be derived from advertisements be more profitable than the insertion of some of this atrocious flap-doodle?” The answer to these questions is simple; the paid scribes of the master-class have acquired the grip of your psychology and they know how to take advantage of your gregarious instincts and innate love of sport to blind you to the imperative necessity for devoting some time and energy to the study of your slave position and the means of escaping therefrom.

Religion, Patriotism and "Sport"— these form the holy trinity of dope lavishly ladled out by the ruling class. Quite recently, through its mouthpiece, the Duke of York, the Government announced its intention of devoting £200,000 towards the development of "sports" in the Civil Service. This token of good will towards its employees was accompanied by further instances of benevolent intentions in the wholesale sacking of temporary workers (“ex-service" and others) and strenuous efforts in the direction of "speeding-up" and depressing the already exiguous conditions of the “permanent" staff. Could a better example be adduced to show the paramount value of sport to the employer in his attempts to gloss over the glaring class antagonism that now exists! It can be said, however, that this proposal of the Government was merely typical of the actions of the ordinary industrial “sweater” who will not demur at providing bowling greens for his employees or at subscribing to their football or other funds, but test his generosity in respect of the payment of higher wages or shortening hours of toil and a far different result is obtained !

Another aspect of the class division in society may be observed in the designations employed in various branches of "sport." We have the "amateur" and the "professional,” the "gentleman" and the "player,” the "select” clubs and the "working class” clubs; and the gulf between these divisions is the chasm that separates riches from poverty. It would be "infra dig” for a University boat-crew to row a race with a working class crew [especially as such a contest might reveal the unpalatable truth that the latter (who would be referred to as "those bounders") might achieve a "walk-over." !] Anyway, such a contest is inconceivable, for are not the workers, although capable of doing piece-work for eight hours at a stretch upon arduous and monotonous tasks, deficient in the stamina so essential for the sustained exertion of a twenty-minutes race?

Lest it be thought that the socialist is of the Puritan mould and disdains participation or interest in ‘‘sports” we can assure the reader that we begrudge the jaded worker none of the exhilaration he experiences in playing or looking on at games, and we see nothing pernicious in such indulgence provided he is alive also to his own class interests. Furthermore, the "sports” in favour with the workers are of a character entirely different from, and in no way so brutal or degrading as those held in regard by a large section of the bourgeoisie, whose atavistic desires, impulses, and propensities are fully catered for in the "blood" sports which occupy so much time and attention during a large portion of their useless existence. Tame, carted, deer and specially nurtured foxes afford excellent hunting material for these people of such "delicate sensibilities," but for whose genius, monumental industry, thrift, and "directive ability" (so we are assured), the worker would be bereft of the conspicuous amenities he is allowed to "enjoy"—amongst which amenities the hunting of a more prolific, a far less expensive kind of "livestock," is often an unwished-for privilege! We have no time for mawkish and sloppy sentiment—that can safely be left to our masters; but we confidently challenge the records of the most benighted “savage" customs to produce a more preposterous and equally abominable practice than that of "blooding" or bedaubing and smearing the blood of the slaughtered fox over the features of some girl of tender years after the completion of the chase. If additional evidence of the existence of a peculiarly "bourgeois" psychology is desired the pictures recently published in the Press depicting the “heroine" of the Quorn, whose horse fell dead beneath her during the hunt, should help to remove any doubts that might be entertained upon the subject. As to the effects upon character of these brutal "spirits," is not the evidence to be found in the chronicles of the Divorce Court?

Fortunately, in but one respect, the economic conditions affecting the working class tend to produce in them a more tolerant attitude towards non-human varieties of animal life, but this phase of the subject is not entirely relevant to our purpose. The easy gotten plunder which enables a robber class to live without the expenditure of physical effort in wealth production, tends to divert the energies of such a class in the direction profitable to their own comfort and pleasure, and so abundant leisure seeks its outlet in those "sports” which satisfy a craving for excitement and rescue idleness from the letters of "ennui." On the other hand, the worker who spends much of his time in looking for, or in holding, a “job,” is always afflicted by a desire to overcome the torture of insecurity. Hence some workers fall an easy prey to the press sirens of the master-class who encourage a belief that they can escape from poverty by “putting a bob on” or  "beating the book” and such-like fantastic nonsense, and so lure them from the study of the one solution to their problems—Socialism. A little thought would convince the down-at-heel “punter” that the millionaire race-horse owner, and the “bookie” (that somewhat sebaceous gentleman of the expansive smile and a protuberant frontage, seemingly held together by a heavy gold chain, which partially circumscribes that modern denotation of prosperity) do not exist solely to dispense largesse to the poor and needy. But this disease of betting, in its present form, will be swept away when the workers have tested the remedy offered by the socialist.

Again we emphasise that we do not deplore ‘‘sport ” as such, but we desire the workers to realise that the blighting influence of Capitalism has perverted the idea of seeking joy in social rivalries into a means on the one hand for the slaves to forget their lot, and so become more amenable to their task of grinding out profits, and, on the other hand, for the masters indulging in a quest for unwholesome pleasure, resulting in the reckless dissipation of wealth robbed from the wage-slaves.

Socialism alone can bring that joy which will express itself in an exuberance of healthful movement, such as is at present conceived of only in the dream which brings a transient solace to the weary worker when “slumber’s chain” has bound him to a world of pleasant unreality.
W. J.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Opinions and Interests. (1926)

From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The rise of the Labour and Socialist movement in this country is the greatest miracle in political history.” Thus spake Mr. P. Snowden at a dinner of London Labour Mayors at the Florence Restaurant, on the 19th March. "Socialists,” he continued, "are the most pronounced in their views. 'They bold a great variety of opinions.  . . . But I have never had any concern about differences in the Labour Party. They are a sort of safety valve.”

Complacency of this sort is to be expected of a successful Labour leader like Mr. Snowden. Staggered by the sheep-like trustfulness on the part of the workers which has elevated him to a place in the seats of the mighty, he can only describe it as a miracle,—something unnatural, something providential, something to thank God for! Mr. Snowden knows that whatever the differences in the Labour Party between right, left and centre, none of them are sufficiently vital to disturb the utility of the Party in helping to preserve the system which enables Mr. Snowden to get paid handsomely for his prostitute pen, not to speak of occasional Cabinet jobs.

The workers who expect to obtain some material advantage for their class through the agency of such a Party, however, need furiously to think.

Unanimity on points of detail is, of course, not to be expected of any group of human beings. Even the Catholic Church fails to enforce it. A political party without a common object, clearly defined, a general principle commonly accepted by its members is nevertheless only a snare for those who have not yet learned to think clearly.

What is the object of the Labour Party? No one knows. Some of its members assert that it is one thing, others emphatically contradict them. Even on the term. Socialism, they cannot agree. What principle forms its basis? Again, no one knows. While its more prominent leaders avow and disavow the class struggle, the rank and file spend their time in deciding which clique of leaders to trust. No wonder that the Liberals and Tories entrusted them with office.

The claim is often made by Communists and others that the Labour Party is entitled to respect as, with all its faults, it represents the workers. Actually it only represents some of the workers, possibly fifty per cent. These workers, however, are by no means agreed as to what they want nor how they are to obtain it, and it is therefore logically impossible to regard their opinions as expressing their interests. The interests of the working class are identical with Socialism, and we challenge anyone in or out of the Labour Party to contradict us. The opinions of the workers being mainly hostile or indifferent to Socialism are identical with those of the master class who, in fact, provide those opinions ready-made through the agency of the Press.

While this is the case, we of the Socialist Party have no ambition to represent the ignorance of the workers. We seek first to bring their opinions into line with their interests. All our propaganda is directed to this end. Upon details from time to time we may be divided, but upon the central facts of the working-class position and the policy logically flowing from those facts there is no division within our ranks.

“Yes,” retorts the Labourite, “and you are in consequence but a few hundred strong, while we have organised millions behind us.” The greater the weight of numbers, however, the greater the power, "What have you done with your millions?” is our reply. “Have you lifted the wealthy oppressors one inch from the backs of their slaves? Have you wrung so much as one miserable sop from the masters to appease our hunger or shelter our bodies?" No! So little respect have they for you and your miracles that they let you in to do their dirty work at home and abroad, and when they had finished with you for the nonce they turned you adrift again. Even now they are intensifying the misery of the workless, and all you can do is hold up your hands in affected and hypocritical horror (as you started the job) and whine like the old women you are. Already you have had chance after chance to justify your existence to the working class, and the net result is that the parasites laugh you to scorn while the workers continue to suffer. Practical men, are you? Very well, by your practices we judge you.”

And what of the Communists who helped Mr. Snowden and his kidney at the last election? These “men of action.” Where are the fruits of their five years of whirl-windy jargon and weathercock antics?

The Russian traveller, in the legend, cut down one of his horses to feed, and thus check, the wolves by whom he was pursued. Have the followers of the Communists any meat to show? No! But then they are merely sheep in wolves’ clothing !

Only when the workers know will material gain be theirs. It is our mission to spread knowledge !
Eric Boden

Friday, July 12, 2019

The lessons of the German elections (1907)

From the March 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most important lesson to be derived from the results of the recent elections in Germany is the fact that where the workers once attain full class-consciousness they can no longer be misled by the juggling and somersaults of the capitalist class. We therefore value election campaigns and political representation only in so far as they are a means for rousing the workers to full class consciousness. The organised forces of labour cannot gain permanent economic or social advantages unless they are prepared to seize the political machinery with the view to socialising the means of production and will back such effort by force to the degree of capitalist resistance. We also know that with the development of capitalism economic pressure is continually increasing and class-consciousness is forced  on ever wider circles of the proletariat. 

Looking at things from the above standpoint we are neither discouraged by the lost of 38 Parliamentary seats to the German Socialist Party, nor are we unduly elated by the increase of close upon 250,000 votes gained by the Socialist candidates. We are merely concerned with the extent to which class-consciousness has grown among the working class of Germany, and while we deem it our duty to condemn in Germany, as at home, the policy of compromise and reform, we are ever ready to recognise the value of propaganda work from the uncompromising standpoint wherever such is persistently and unflinchingly pursued, and to note the pleasant fact that a small but steadily growing faction of the German Party has for some years put forward a tremendous effort to induce the Party to abandon its policy of reform and compromise. We are, however, compelled to state after considering all the circumstances, that the German Socialist Party have pursued and are still pursuing a policy that has resulted in conveying a false impression as to the real extent of class-consciousness among the German proletariat.

When the results of these elections became known, the capitalist class and their reptile Press in Germany and abroad naturally announced for the benefit of the many still class-unconscious wage-slaves that Socialism has been hopelessly shattered, although the increase of nearly a quarter-of-million votes for the Socialist candidates did not exactly furnish proofs for such a sweeping allegation. On the other hand the Socialist papers in Germany brought explanations for the Socialist reverses, showing exhaustively the influences traceable to ignorant hangers-on and factions of the capitalist class, but omitting, almost without exception, any allusion to the most important reason of all, viz., the influence of mistaken policy and tactics, in which compromise and reform played so significant a part. Being unable to accept these inadequate explanations which were in most cases put forth with dignity and caution, we naturally scorn the childish abuse levelled by some of the would-be Socialist organs at the “blatant bourgeoisie of Germany”. H.M. Hyndman, for instance, in Justice of February 2nd, 1907 says: “The Radicals in Germany, as elsewhere, are a cowardly set, physically and morally, but they may be compelled to join with the Social-Democrats and the Centre in opposing the Kaiser’s efforts to turn the world upside down”. When we mention that the same author has stated that the workers will be emancipated by a class above them, and that not so very long ago he appealed to the Radicals through the columns of Reynolds to join with the S.D.F. in promoting measures of reform, our readers will feel more amused than surprised at the above.

Insisting upon the truth that the working-class must emancipate itself from wage-slavery, we must confess that to us the most pleasing feature of these last elections is that all factions of the capitalist class without exception have at last thrown over the pretence of compromise with the Socialist Party and have actually compelled the latter to look for support to themselves alone. In face of this fact are the German Socialists prepared to tell us that they could not of their own accord long ago have taken up the position now practically forced upon them? Or, are they ready to solicit capitalist compromise as heretofore?

When soon after the last General Election in this country we were constrained to protest against Comrade Bebel’s action in sending a compromising telegram to Reynolds, on the grounds that it interfered with our propaganda, the Socialist, of S.L.P. renown, in its ardent desire to make us appear ridiculous, took up the defence of Bebel and said that the German Socialist Party were bound to compromise with the capitalist class, owing to the backwardness of the economic development in Germany. How strange that within twelve months of this incident the economic development in Germany has experienced such marvellous impetus that all the factions of the capitalist class, including even the Radicals, can afford to renounce all compromise with the Socialist Party! Some such for the wise-acres of the Socialist.

The German Socialist Party itself admits the necessity and immediate possibility of relying solely upon the support of the proletariat. In Vorwaerts of February 9th, 1907, an editorial article entitled, “The lessons of the Reichstag Elections” concludes with the following: –
  “Whether the stage of social development in Germany of to-day is such as to already make possible the Socialist ‘aim’, is a futile question. This aim cannot be reached by one stroke; it presupposes transition stages. But that the division of classes created by the social development has progressed to that extent that the non-possessing class by virtue of their majority in numbers could conquer political power and produce the democratic and social preliminary conditions for the transition to Socialism, would be denied only by those who have not the least inkling of the statistics relating to occupations and incomes. For the Socialist Party it is only a question of making the majority of the non-possessing class conscious of their class position, of awakening the proletariat to class consciousness! That, however, can only be accomplished by the class struggle itself, by incessant warfare against the capitalist system, and not by concessions to capitalism”.
After this frank admission on the part of the German Socialist Party the Editor of the Socialist should take a back seat.

The aforementioned excerpt, however, not only, as far as the German Socialist Party is concerned, demonstrates to the full a discrepancy between its practical pursuance of the class struggle and the admittedly only correct attitude, but it also gives more concisely the gist of the awkward and flimsy arguments used persistently by the S.D.F. and I.L.P. in defence of their advocacy of capitalist palliatives and reforms. It is certainly most ingenious on the part of Vorwaerts to make the need of transition stages the excuse for the advocacy of reforms and palliatives. What the workers (and that means the whole of Society) will do after the proletariat have seized control of the political machinery is a totally different question to what the wage-slave class must do to be emancipated.

If in 1903 the German Socialist Party succeeded in winning 81 seats in the Reichstag, it was merely due to the fact that many thousands of Radical bourgeois voted for Socialist candidates because they judged from the great stir the Revisionists were then making that the Socialist Party would at its Congress in Dresden in August embrace Revisionism and abjure the Social Revolution for ever. And on being rudely disappointed in their expectations these former allies of Bernstein, Calwer, and Co. returned to their own flock at the recent election; hence the loss of all the seats, which were formerly obtained by a mere snatch-vote among Radicals.

The first great blunder of the German Party is in retaining the revisionists, men who were, and still are, working for the fusion of bourgeois democrats with Socialist wage-workers. Then the false attitude on the colonial question of opposing colonisation in South West Africa on the grounds that it would not be profitable, instead of showing that the colonial policy meant nothing but an extension of the sphere of exploitation abroad, to the detriment of the wage-slaves at home. It was solely because the Centre Party succeeded in getting the Socialists to take up the same position as the Clericals regarding the colonial policy that the Centre was able to precipitate the Dissolution which suited its ends admirably. Helped by the false attitude of the Socialists, the Centre Party was triumphant all along the line and increased its number of members in the Reichstag as well as its number of votes.

Another source of weakness was the items of purely bourgeoisie reform on the program of the German Party. This attracted pro-capitalist voters and unreliable supporters, whereas a straightforward declaration of their revolutionary principles would have kept away those who could only be a cause of confusion and weakness. The contradictory tactics pursued at the second ballot as compared with the first were unworthy of a great worker’s party. At the first ballot the order was hostility  to all capitalist factions, but at the second ballot those Clerical and Radical candidates who gave an undertaking not to support interference with the franchise or right of combination of the workers, were officially recommended as deserving of Socialist support. And last, but by no means least, we have to condemn the efforts of the German Socialist Press for threatening the workers with a possible increase in rates and taxes, if they supported certain factions of the capitalist class. Seeing that rates and taxes form part of the surplus value robbed from the workers, that the workers during the most prosperous periods can obtain only a subsistence, it is nothing short of a crime to make the wage-workers believe that the question of rates and taxes can have any bearing on their position as wage-slaves. And it may perhaps interest our readers if we inform them that a few days before the election, Vorwaerts published a series of articles entitled: “The burden of taxation of the German and English workers”, wherein the position of the English workers was described as comparatively much better off than the German workers, “because of the greater burdens of taxation borne by the latter.” What wonder that the more cunning of the capitalist class, especially the Clericals and the Radicals, joyfully seized upon this declaration of the Socialists, and, promising the workers immediate relief in respect of the pressure of rates and taxes supposed to be endured by them, succeeded in obtaining in that way a great number of working-class votes.

Considering the  confusion caused in the minds of the German workers by the many false issues raised even by the Socialist Party, it is, of course, not possible to speak precisely regarding the number of workers who would be prepared to back the social revolution all the time. But there is every reason to believe that in at least twelve constituencies where the Socialist vote in 1903 was between 52 to 58 per cent of the electorate, and where at the recent elections there had been throughout an increase of 2 to 3 per cent, that there are many who thoroughly understand the working-class position. 18 other constituencies were also won on the first ballot, in which the Socialist vote was about half the total. Among the 21 constituencies lost at the second ballot there were 14 which had been won in 1903 at the first ballot with between 40 and 50 percent of the poll. Two constituencies, Breslau West, hitherto represented by Edward Bernstein; and Zschopau-Gekenan, until a few months ago represented by Schippel, who resigned, were plainly lost because the Revisionist Radicals were disgusted with the attitude taken up by the Party at their Dresden Congress and also because a number abstained from voting in order to shake off Bernstein.

It is true that the German Socialist Party has nothing to grumble at from the truly Socialist, that is the propaganda standpoint, seeing that of the 662,323 votes recorded in excess of the number given in 1903, the Socialist Party received 248,197. And if we consider that the Party vote has become much more proletarian and less weak-kneed owing to the thousands of Radicals leaving the Socialist ranks, we are justified in saying that the result of the recent election is by far sounder and more hopeful than that of 1903.

We should only be able to gauge the extent of class consciousness among the German workers if the Party would throw overboard all reforms and compromise and, organising the workers in the political and economic field on the lines of the class struggle alone, would offer a united front of revolutionary hostility to the possessing class.

There is no gainsaying that the German Party possess the material needful for such a fight; many good speakers, writers and organisers, 60 daily, 15 weekly, and 27 trades’ papers and ammunition galore in other directions. Let us hope that the criticism given in a fair, comrade-like spirit, will be of some assistance in bringing the oldest section of the international labour movement to the reconsideration of their tactics and their adopting in the near future a position of “no compromise”, and of hostility to capitalism every time and all the time.
Hans Neumann

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Black-Out (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The harassed householder knows too well the difficulty of obtaining a complete black-out; give it but the least excuse, and light will find a way.

The black-out of all thought not directed to “winning the war,” desired by Blimp & Co., falls, fortunately, far below their ideal, considerably below their expectation probably; it is hopeful that the working class generally has not forgotten 1914-18; the reflected light of those years alone helps to defeat the powers of darkness, squawking their hurdy-gurdy slogan, “God and King.”

It is hopeful that an increasing number of people are seeking a formula to justify sending Freddy Smith to well and truly find the bowels of Fritz Schmidt with the end of a bayonet. Priestly insincerities are availing less and less; the ambiguities and sheer contradictions of the alleged “Gospel of Peace” are becoming increasingly apparent.

Where, then, the “Inward Peace,” so plaintively demanded by a Matthew Arnold, a Peace born of Light and begetting Sweetness, a Peace lapped by the gem-like flame of Understanding —not, like the priest's “ Peace of God,” “passing” it.

Socialism alone has the answer. The Key was finally furnished for use by Marx and Engels. And it requires no learned treatises to master the handling of the Key; in fact, its straightness of outline, its very simplicity of form seems to preclude for many the beauty that should make us desire it.

The Socialist's reply to the decent, but be- muddled, religious C.O., to the sincere, the natively humane advocate of fighting Hitler, is: There can be no peace for you, "inward” or otherwise, while social inequality prevails. The fruit is bitter . . . delve for root; in short, look for causes.

Quinine was a potent foe to the effects of malaria—the dire disease can only be finally eliminated by drying up the homes of the malicious mosquito, which carries its own deadly injection needle; examples could be multiplied a hundred times.

Man is a social animal; individuals react to each other and to society generally on codes of conduct that have been created for them by ages of preceding thought and action. Such thought and action has been conditioned by material circumstances in the long run. “Vice” and ”Virtue” have pertinent content only in relation to a practically stable group; to seek “final sanctions” in some Divine Superman is to invite the worst injuries that witch-doctor, priest (and, finally, “ Leader ”) can inflict.

The leading "virtue” of the Arab was hospitality—the inhospitable desert demanded it. On the other hand, it is significant that “Punic faith” and Dutch “slimness” words of reproach separated by a thousand years and more, had a common explanation in the circumstances attached to two highly commercialised nations.

In the face of history, the chase after “eternal verities” in the field of human behaviour (“ethics") is sheer moonshine. The Egyptian priest blessed the union of royal brother and sister in “holy” matrimony—(Luther condoned a flagrant case of bigamy in his time and day); inquisition into the quite unreproved relations of the Ajaxes and Patrocluses of ancient Greece reveal startlingly divergent angles in “ethics" between the high civilisation of one day and those of another.  In short, history shows “vices” and "virtues” playing a rare old game of handy- dandy. Material circumstances pull the strings.

The greatest pull is exercised by economic conditions. Candid enquiry into the personal outlook of General Lee and Abe Lincoln will reveal in the former a charm that the latter was completely lacking in. Lee sincerely believed that slavery was a God-given institution (he really worshipped in the fane of "King Cotton"); Lincoln (who was prepared to condone slavery if the Union could thereby be preserved) was tied hand and foot by the interests of a highly commercialised North. Both appealed to God. It is interesting to recall that the Baptist North was anti-slavery, the Baptist South pro-slavery.

Let it be clearly stated that human effort (including thought) makes big contribution to material circumstances; only the very stupid or the blindly prejudiced will attribute to Socialist philosophy in this matter the nature of a kind of Economic Predestination.

In all ages there have been fine spirits profoundly disturbed by the evils attendant upon the social structure of their time. Jewish lore is full of noble aspirations. St. Augustine's ”City of God,” More's “Utopia” looked wistfully into a wish-fulfilled future of human happiness.

But it was reserved for capitalism to form the solid ground of harsh fact upon which could be based a scientific analysis of society, fraught with instruction as to future action for the utter and complete reconstruction of human relations which Socialism will entail.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain's warnings have been justified. The “Peace-loving” Russia of Communists and Labourites is now running true to ancient Muscovite tradition. Before this appears in The Socialist Standard, Hitler and Stalin may be definitely joining forces.

The S.P.G.B. respects any community that takes its stand against what it genuinely holds to be an abrogation of such personal liberty as may exist; it has no doubts as to the relative limited democracy of Finland and the ferocious tyranny of Stalin-land, but it keeps clearly in mind the fact that, short of Socialism, wars and rumours of war will persist; as a Party, its "advice” to the non-Socialist worker is that he should seek Socialist knowledge, and speed the day when the economic malarial parasites are dried up at the source.
Augustus Snellgrove

The Gods of The Rising Sun (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The general opinion amongst working men is that the present war will soon be over; they look at Germany’s plight in connection with the blockade; they see the increasing power of the Allies and arrive at an optimistic conclusion—“it won’t be long now.”

When one probes deeply, however, there are few signs of a cessation of the conflict, everything points to its extension; it does not need any great powers of observation to perceive that Britain is preparing to fight on two fronts; she is making a greater effort than she ever made at any time previously. Underneath the calm of methodical organisation there are fierce fires raging. Our ruling class know that for them everything is at stake; the die is cast for a struggle that may be long in its duration and terrible while it lasts. 

Men are arriving from the Dominions, others are being trained in parts of the Empire overseas, plans are made, or in course of preparation, for the production of the munitions of war on a gigantic scale, and on every hand those who run may read. We are now at the beginning; the end is nowhere in sight.

The invasion of Finland by Russia may lead to a situation that will cause Stalin to fear the defeat of Germany may have serious repercussions that will spell disaster for the clique who rule the land of the Soviets; already there are movements amongst his tools and agents indicating that these are secretly working for a victory for Hitler. 

Dorothy Thompson, writing in The Times of Victoria, British Columbia, says: 
 "Of all the sublime impudences the greatest is Molotoff's statement that ‘an ideology cannot be destroyed by force.’ If it cannot be, one wonders how Stalin justifies his purges of the old Bolsheviks and of all other ‘deviationists’ inside Russia. One wonders what he has to say about the class struggle.
  “In a speech which is an apology for every  idea advanced by Hitler, including pan-Slavism as the parallel of pan-Germanism—the Russo-Poles are blood brothers—Molotoff denounces the French Government for persecuting French Communists. . . .  No word is spoken regarding the German Communists. . . .  No mention is made of the fact that until this war actually began, and until the German Russian Pact betrayed them, the French Communists had more freedom in France than anybody has in Russia.
  “And when it comes to the persecution of Communists the Soviet Union leads the world. Stalin has murdered more Communists than all ether countries combined, and among them the whole intelligentsia of the original Communist movement.”
She points out that the “protection” offered to the Baltic countries, and this now applies to Finland, is the same protection that Hitler offered Czechoslovakia.
  “The Soviet Union stands exposed before the world as the apologist of Nazism, a fellow-traveller of Nazi policy, and as a betrayer of its supporters throughout the world.”
Miss Thompson points out that Molotoff’s speech might well have been written by Ribbentrop or Hitler. "Had one of them written it not a word would have had to be changed. The Nazi and the Communists may have different imperialist aims. . . . This is only the struggle of two despots for unlimited naked power at the expense of the West.”

This is all very well, but we must never forget the real basis to be found in the strife inherent in the capitalist system; our own ruling class are still merciless exploiters, although Hitler and Stalin may be unscrupulous scoundrels.

The writer above referred to uses striking language. The article concludes: 
  "Treachery, mendacity and cynicism; the rationalisation of cheap opportunism—these are not the means by which the spirit of man will be awakened to the joyful acceptance of new responsibilities.”
She rightly says: 
  "They do not invite to adventure, but to adventurism; not to heroism, but to intrigue. They do not reveal the truth but hide it in the dirty rags of lies.
  "And because of this, whether they win or lose this war, they who have seized revolution as a personal (emphasis mine) weapon, will surely and certainly lose the revolution.
  "The great renewal and renovation which will come, in society, if not in this generation, then certainly in the next, will reject them as racketeers on the revolutionary spirit, as embezzlers and seducers of men’s faith and men’s hopes.”
The scene of operations will, in all probability, soon move eastward, and it is in this quarter of the globe that Russia will play a strong part, and so also will the Nipponese.

Mona Gardner, in her book, "The Menacing Sun," has much to say in this connection.
 "Singapore started out by being a swampy island, with a small fishing village on it. To-day something like 420,000,000 have turned its 220 square miles into one of the most formidable military and naval bases anywhere. More than one military expert has predicted that the history of the world will be decided at Singapore some day. A lot of people are wondering if that day is not getting uncomfortably close, especially when they stop to weigh recent events in China with the pronouncements of Japan's military clique about their inalienable right to dominate Asia."
Singapore is the great pivot about which trade between Asia and Europe revolves.. Referring to the preparations for the defence of the port, Mona Gardner points out: "These grimly expensive events are not gestures. They all mean business. They very definitely and explicitly say that Great Britain is not retiring from Asia. And there seems to be no question in anyone's mind but that this message is intended for Japan. It means that something like (if offices and men’s salaries are included) £50,000,000 have been spent to make this message forceful: to prove that Britain is ready to back up Hong Kong or Australia, and probably—though this is not openly declared—lend a hand to Holland if there is any threat of Japanese occupation of the East Indies."

Peace in Singapore, according to General Dobbie, Commander-in-Chief of the Singapore Defences, "means peace in all Southern Asia—and that includes the thousands of small islands in the eastern Pacific as well. People live in that area who depend upon peace for their livelihood. There are many people in Europe who earn their bread and butter because there is peace out here. . . . Well, we mean to keep that peace. . . . That's what we’ve got the big guns for, and all these planes and troops."

The war in China has caused the Japanese to lose caste in India and in the Straits; sympathy is everywhere felt for the Chinese and as the latter are good propagandists, the sons of Nippon are not likely to be welcomed by the civilian population should their imperialist rulers send them to these areas.

The invasion of Finland by Russia will not be altogether to the advantage of Stalin in the Far East. News travels quickly nowadays, and the agents of pan-Slavism in the Orient are now being viewed with suspicion by many who heretofore have supported them.

Japan, however, is so fixed that she must walk the plank of destiny; capitalism leaves her no choice. The spark that sets off the Eastern conflagration may be the result of friction at Sourabaya.
  “But there is nothing haphazard about the oil tankers that go in and out of Sourabaya’s long harbour, and the other low grey ones which keep up their steady procession in the blue roads beyond the harbour. They are from the wells in Borneo and New Guinea, freighted with a cargo that is vital to Holland’s economic balance. This cargo is also of crucial importance to England and Japan, and may well be the deadly fuse which will set off the firecrackers at Singapore. England doesn’t covet the oil. Trade relations and mutual friendliness with Holland are such that Singapore gets what it wants of this. As additional sources in that area, England has recently opened oil fields in British New Guinea and in Sarawak to draw upon. England’s only worry is whether Dutch possession of its present fields will be threatened, and if it is England will come into the picture with a short explosive sound. Japan’s interest in the fields is regulated by whether or not the United States continues to sell oil to Nippon’s army. If the Neutrality Act, or a modification of it should stop up the pipe-line across the Pacific Japan's most available oil supply will be the East Indies, and it is expected she will send her navy down to get it.”
This is very interesting, but doubly so when taken in conjunction with what appeared in the Victoria Times (British Columbia) of November 17th:—
  Tokio (AP).—Observers expressed belief to-day Japan might use potential friendship with Soviet Russia as a lever for straightening out her problems with Great Britain and the United States.
  This view was offered after a foreign office spokesman had described Japanese-Russian relations as more favourable than ever before for settlement of outstanding questions, such as the issues over Asiatic mainland frontiers and Japanese fishing rights in Soviet waters.
  Another interpretation was that Japan might be seeking assurances of a Russian source for oil and other war materials in the event of an embargo followed the United States' abrogation of her 1911 commerce and amity treaty with Japan.
(The United States announced July 26th the treaty would be terminated six months from that date.)
Ten years ago a Japanese mining company leased several thousand acres of jungle a few miles inland from the Trengganu coast, which it proposed to work as iron ore mines. It has brought good profits. The holdings are centred around deposits which are now estimated to contain 50,000,000 tons of iron ore. This runs 65 per cent. iron and is of excellent quality. It is from this area that Japan imports more than half the iron she uses.

The Japanese also take manganese and tungsten from other nearby holdings in Trengganu.

As a convenience in getting the ore to the coast the Japanese have built a railway twelve miles from the mines down to the nearest harbour of Dungua.

The port of Dungua opens out on the extreme southern stretch of the Gulf of Siam.

Stray bits of evidence build a curious story and seem to turn iron mines into a secret cache for arms and ammunition, which may be intended for some future campaign.

According to English and American men who have been at the mines at one time or another, there are several immense warehouses there piled high with crates and boxes, which are referred to as food supplies. I understand these visitors were a little puzzled trying to account for the kind of food which would be put in the same compact boxes that usually hold a case of ammunition. Nor could they understand the reason tinned salmon should come in the larger and oddly shaped crates which are made to hold 37 mm. guns.

Shipment of food supplies, it seems, have fallen off considerably this last year, and still, somehow, the oddly shaped boxed supplies in the warehouses do not diminish or show any signs of being consumed.

All this tends to show that the great struggle is going to have the Pacific as the major scene of operations. Workers of all colours, red, white, yellow and brown, are about to be intermingled as never before. Let us, amid the spectacular conflict caused by the rivalries and ambitions of the ruling class, not forget our battle-cry, " Workers of all countries, unite."
Charles Lestor

Whither America? (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article, “Whither Britain?", in The Socialist Standard, July, 1939, it was pointed out that the problems confronting the ruling class in Germany are in the last analysis the problems that face the capitalist class of the rest of the world. Facts were given showing that the British State, "instead of being capitalism's sleeping partner, is becoming, as in Germany, the active and directing agent for mobilising industry and dragooning and drilling the population along the lines suitable for its purpose."

Against this form of "Democratic Capitalism," against this capitalism organised on a war-time basis, it is more than ever necessary, as was stressed in the article referred to, for workers to think and act along lines of their own class interests.

The only solution, Socialism, is thrown into higher relief by the more complete identification of capitalism with the capitalist state. Socialism is the only solution worthy of the struggles of the working class. How far the same process that is being revealed to the British workers day by day has gone on in secret in the United States of America, may not be known to the workers either in this country or in the United States themselves.

A magazine, called the "Readers' Digest," August, 1939, contained an article entitled " M  — Day and After," condensed from "The American Legion Magazine," by Cabell Phillips and J. D. Ratcliff, who gave details of the sinister preparations for dragooning of the American workers in time of war under a triumvirate of conscription organisations, the joint Army and Navy selection service administration, the War Resources Board, and the Public Relations Board. If the war is to be labelled for their purpose, " A War against Fascism," the American workers will soon know the enemy, for they will find Fascism, or something like it, firmly entrenched at home.

The following short summary of the aforementioned article may be useful. In the files of a group of men at Washington is an already unwritten law, under which they could conscript ten million men. They are ready for " M — Day " —the day of mobilisation. Sample registration cards for the mobilisation draft are placed in every State capital, ready to go to the printers on a moment's notice. The American worker, intent on living his own life in comradeship with his fellow-workers and neighbours, is unaware of how quickly and profoundly his life will be changed by the laws and propaganda stunts which are already being prepared for him.

Registration for military service is to be fixed for 12 million men between the ages of 21 and 36 to take place on a date to be broadcast by the President during the week following the war. Of these 12 million it is estimated 3 million will be enrolled, and there will be penal provisions in the law governing registration. Questionnaires are already prepared, devised to extract a maximum amount of information. The conscription organisation extends from a central authority of a six-man board downward to every county and hamlet in the United States. Adjutant Generals, normally responsible to the Governor of each State, bridge the gap between the War Department and the States themselves.

Special maps and hosts of men for the local Selections Service Boards are ready for M—Day. Chosen men attend regional conferences each year, to prepare the details for getting civilians quickly into uniforms.

The widespread anti-war feeling among the workers will be countered by the Public Relations Board by means of a nation-wide and intensive storm of patriotic propaganda over the radio, in the Press, and in the movie programme. This will be directed not only to making men unwilling to defy registration and conscription, but also “to make men think that they have a responsibility to put other men into recruiting offices. ”

In the aggregate, according to already prepared “yield” figures, the machinery is geared to produce 330,000 men every 30 days, or 4 million men every 12 months.

Behind these cold figures may be imagined the personal experience of millions of individual American “Democrats,” who will be so carried away by the speed of the mobilisation and the blare of publicity that they will hardly pause to wonder what has happened to their democracy.

This abbreviated summary suggests that there is great similarity between the international bandits who, having robbed their workers of the greater part of the wealth they have produced, expect them to shed their blood to protect their masters' profits.

We are anti-capitalist and pro-working class. War and Fascism, poverty amidst plenty, and other evils too numerous to mention, are the products of capitalism; therefore, capitalism must give place to Socialism, wherein real harmony, peace and concord will reign because, then, each one’s interest will be the same as the others.

Speed the day.
J. E. Roe.

Nazism and Bolshevism: Historical Development Explained (1940)

Party News from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Conway Hall (Large Hall) was crowded on Friday, December 8th, to hear Comrades S. Goldstein and S. Rubin deal with the above subject.

The interest of the big audience was maintained throughout. This was exceptionally gratifying, in view of the difficult nature of the subject, which necessitated closely reasoned statements from both speakers.

Many questions followed the two speeches and further evidence of the stimulating effect the meeting had upon the audience was the sale of literature to the value of £8.

Comrade Turner’s appeal from the chair brought a collection of nearly £12 and set the seal on a very successful meeting.

Socialists and the War (1940)

Party News from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Sunday, December 17th, Conway Hall was again crowded to hear two rousing speeches from Comrades C. Lestor and R. Robertus on Socialist opposition to the war. The temper of the audience showed itself by the frequent bursts of applause which greeted the many salient points made by both speakers.

During the meeting a Trotskyist was given an opportunity to state his case from the platform for 10 minutes. Comrade R. Robertus replied effectively. The end of the meeting came with many of the numerous written questions on the Chairman's table.

The Chairman, Comrade R. Ambridge, announced that a further meeting would be held on this subject in the same Hall during January, when further opposition and questions would be invited.

Collection amounted to over £12 and literature sales again were high.

Letter: The Socialist Attitude Towards War in General (1940)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (J. M. W., Dennistoun, Glasgow) asks the following question:—
  “What is the attitude of the S.P.G.B., to all war, not to the last war or this war, but all war?”
We can say of a particular war that nothing can come out of it for Socialism or democracy, or for the workers, justifying the suffering and other consequences of war, but our correspondent here wants us to go further than that. To do so involves taking into account the nature of modern war and its widespread consequences, and trying to envisage situations that are likely to arise. Our general answer would be that, as we do not hold that the political backwardness of a large part of the population can be removed, or the consequences of that backwardness avoided, by war (including civil war), we cannot envisage circumstances arising which would justify Socialist support for war. To avoid misunderstanding we would add that this does not affect the question of suppressing a possible minority rebellion when Socialists have democratically gained control of the machinery of Government, including the armed forces. As such control will not take place until the great mass of the workers are no longer supporters of capitalism, it follows that any such rebellion could only be that of a small minority.
Ed. Comm.

When Thieves Fall Out (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Captains of industry indeed! I should like to know what ships they navigate! They are stupid fools, who cannot see beyond the wares they peddle! The better one gets to know them, the less one respects them.”—Hitler, quoted by H. Rauschning, "Hitler Speaks” (page 30).

50 Years Ago: On getting with the workers (1976)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The continual claim of the Communists and others is that we must be with the great masses of the working class. If the masses want “immediate demands” and reform agitations then we must go with them in this policy. Shout 44 hours and £4 a week or nationalisation of coal mines or any other plank the masses take up. Sometimes this leads to quarrels about which reform should be supported. MacDonald, Mitchell & Co. shout Weir houses whilst the other section wants a different kind of steel house or brick one. Mitchell accuses George Hicks of the Builders of signing a report in favour of the weird houses and Hicks tells Forward readers he is sorry he ever did such a thing. So the reformers, with their crowds of supporters, unite the workers by fighting about the kind of plaster to apply to capitalism.

#    #    #    #

Our work is not to pander to the prejudices of the ignorant but to win the workers’ minds for Socialism, not by agreeing with their unsound ideas but by replacing these wrong notions with sound knowledge.
(From an unsigned article “Party or Mass” in the Socialist Standard, March 1926.)

Capitalism or socialism (1986)

From the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

A society is a group of human beings gathered together for the common purpose of survival; in the modem age we can speak of the world as our society because the interdependence of human beings across the globe has made localised survival outdated. Our world society operates in accordance with the capitalist system. A system is a network of relationships to the means of wealth production and distribution. Under the capitalist system most people are either possessors of the means of living (factories, farms, transport, media, offices, mines) or producers of goods and services. These two classes stand in different relationships to the powers of production: the capitalist class owns and controls these powers; the working class does not possess the means of survival. So, society exists for the purpose of humans collectively providing for their needs, but the means of so providing are not owned and controlled by all the people who make up society, but by the capitalist minority. Under capitalism the working class is alienated from the principal social power.

Buying and selling
Under capitalism most of what is produced by people is not for their own personal consumption. but is made to be sold. Goods produced for sale are commodities and under capitalism wealth "presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities" (Marx, Capital, Vol I. p.l).

A commodity must possess two features. Firstly, it must be of use to someone. There would be no point in producing goods which people do not need, so commodities must possess use value. In order to define the use value of a commodity we appeal to common experience: the use value of a book is that it can be read; the use value of a vest is that it keeps you warm. But commodities are not produced solely for use: if they are to be sold they must possess a second kind of value called exchange value. Obviously, it makes no sense to say that books are of more or less use value than vests; use value is not a measured quantity. When it comes to exchange value we must establish why the book is costlier than the vest or the vest dearer than the book. How is exchange value determined? It is discovered by comparing the one common factor which unites books and vests, and all other commodities: the amount of labour required for their production. The exchange value of a commodity is determined by the amount of human labour expended in its production.

This explanation of how value is determined is known as the labour theory of value. Producing gold, which is hard to find and difficult to extract from the earth, requires more labour than the production of paper. A Ford car embodies less congealed labour than a Rolls Royce. so it has a lower exchange value. Sometimes exchange values change: for example when increased productivity means that the same amount of commodities can be produced by fewer workers (or more commodities by the same number of workers). Most commodities which we use today are not produced in one place, but are the product of a global division of labour. So, in calculating the exchange value of a commodity we must look at the labour input at all stages in the productive process. All workers in the modern world are part of the immense system of commodity production and all labour is socially dominated by the law of value.

We have stated that the labour embodied in its production determines the value of a commodity. This is open to the criticism: "If value is determined by labour, why would it not be more beneficial for producers to be lazy and slow so that the commodities they produce have greater value?" Marx answered this point by stating that we are not talking about labour as a purely individual process, but the labour which is "necessary for . . . production in a given state of society." This is referred to as socially necessary labour time and we can now refine our economic analysis by stating that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour required for its production. We must also note that labour time is not simply measured in terms of how long it takes to produce a commodity at the point of production, but also how much time is socially necessary in producing the required quality of labour. For example, it might take more labour to produce a brick wall than it takes to sit in an office and make out people's wills, but the time required to produce the trained labour of the lawyer is greater than that needed to produce a bricklayer's labour.

Stated simply, price is the monetary expression of exchange value. The price of a commodity is the manifestation of its exchange value in the market. Commodities sell at around their value, although the struggle which is constantly going on between buyers and sellers (supply and demand) causes prices to fluctuate around the point of value. Money is the universal symbol of value against which commodities can be compared. In the early days of commodity production one commodity was exchanged for another. As social production has become more complicated commodities have ceased to be measured against the value of other specific commodities. but are measured in terms of money. In itself money is not of any use value: you can't eat a five pound note. Its function is as an accepted measure of value and as an intermediate factor in the process of the exchange of commodities. But commodity exchange is not planned and nor can it be, so capitalism has a tendency to enter a period of crisis whenever it becomes more beneficial for capitalists to store money than to invest it in the production of new commodities.

The legalised robbery of labour
Commodity production existed before capitalism came into being. What is new about capitalism is that human labour power (the mental and physical energies of people) has become a commodity, an item to be sold. Why do workers sell labour power to capitalists? Quite simply, because a worker has no choice: he or she does not own the means of living and the wealth which s/he requires and therefore, in order to buy these commodities, s/he must sell labour power. The working class possesses no property upon which it can survive except its labour power — that is the one commodity which the worker can take to the market and sell. This sale is called employment.

We have already pointed out that the value of a commodity is determined by the socially necessary time required for its production. That also applies to the value of labour power. That is why a doctor is paid more than a butcher. We have also stated that commodity values appear in the market as prices; in the case of labour power the term we use instead of price is wage or salary, but it means the same thing. Workers sell labour power for a price. Like other commodities which generally sell at their value, labour power is sold at a price which fluctuates about its value.

Given that labour power sells at its value, how can we say that workers are exploited? The answer is that labour power is a unique commodity in that, unlike all others, it can be used to create values greater than itself. The capitalist who buys labour power from a worker does so on the assumption that the employee will produce wealth which will provide more value for the capitalist than is represented by the price paid for the labour power. This extra value which workers are employed to create is called surplus value and it is the source of the unearned income of the capitalist. For example, a capitalist who buys a worker s labour power for one week at a price of £200 will not expect the worker to turn up on the Thursday and say "Well. I've reproduced the money which you have invested in me, by producing wealth which you can sell, so now I'm going home". The capitalist does not employ the worker so that the worker can receive a wage, but in order to obtain surplus value. If one capitalist employs hundreds of workers, then once their wages (as low as possible, of course) have been paid and they have reproduced the cost of the resources invested in production, a huge fortune can be accumulated out of the surplus value created by the employees. If there is no expectation of the employees producing an unearned income for the employer because the cost of production will be greater than the fruits of the workers' toil, then the capitalist will dismiss the workers, forcing them into the army of the unemployed. So much for the capitalist lie that employment is a gift from the bosses to the workers! On the contrary, workers are wage slaves and are forced to put their energies on sale to the capitalists to present a gift to the capitalist class in the form of surplus value. The involuntary presentation of surplus value by the producing majority to the parasitical minority is the most extensive charity yet known to society. The capitalists, who have no compulsion to work, live in luxury thanks to the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the workers. For what the capitalist calls a surplus (getting more than is put in) the worker may rightly call stolen time (getting less than he or she puts in).

The wages system necessarily entails the legalised robbery of those who produce by those who possess. The worker receives a wage and the capitalist receives a profit, but the worker has had to work hard and the capitalist has done nothing except take advantage of the fact that the worker is compelled to submit to wage (or salary) slavery. It may appear superficially that the worker is entering into a fair or free contract with the capitalist — that wage labour is not exploited or robbed, but an agent in a mutually beneficial deal — but the reality is that the worker's free choice is between the poverty of making ends meet on a wage or salary or the greater poverty of being a wageless wage slave. As Marx points out.
  The Roman slave was held by fetters; the wage labourer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is kept up by means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of a contract (Capital, Vol 1)
The worker may be free to change employers and be exploited by someone else, but not to reject employment and the compulsion to create surplus value. In this sense we can state that profits are produced as a result of the legalised robbery of the working class.

Production — for profit or use?
Capitalism, as a social system, is defined by the existence of commodity production (the buying and selling of goods and services) and by the fact that labour power takes the form of a commodity. But some countries in the modern world claim to have transcended capitalism and to have established socialism. In the so-called socialist countries is there buying and selling? Of course there is. But why should a socialist society in which everything is owned by everyone require exchange value? Common ownership logically means that nobody in society possesses wealth which non-owners need to buy: there are no commodities, but goods and services produced for use. In the bogus socialist countries the state takes the role of the grand capitalist, attempting to regulate the sale of commodities. In such countries does labour power take the form of a commodity? The most elementary investigation of life in Russia or China or Cuba shows that wage labour is still the lot of the majority of people. We have shown that wages are the price of labour power and that where wages exist the produce of the employee is not his or her own. but is bought by an employer (in this case, the state) whose function is to exploit wage labour. In any society where there is buying and selling, money, wages and profits there is capitalism, however falsely its defenders might wish to label it.

In a socialist society we shall not produce commodities to sell to anyone. What belongs to us all we shall all have free access to, and concepts of price and value will give way to those of need and comfort. In a moneyless society all the wasteful and in efficient factors which make capitalist commerce so difficult for most people to comprehend and impossible for the so-called experts to regulate, will make way for a system of deliberate, democratic organisation of production and distribution of goods and services in which the satisfaction of human needs will be the sole concern of society. In a socialist society we shall no longer be dominated by an imposing and anarchic system; society will become a real community. If we remember that humans organise ourselves into society for the purpose of common survival there can be no doubting the fact that the capitalist system of organising for survival and human comfort is an utter failure from the point of view of the working class. For that reason, the task facing our class is to organise, politically and democratically, for the revolutionary purpose of taking the world away from the robber class — in Marx's words, we must "expropriate the expropriators".
Steve Coleman

Letter: Submission (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

I would like to complain about the article The Waiting Game" in the otherwise excellent December Socialist Standard. It stated that "Religion has always preached submission in one form or another". This is dearly rubbish, as anyone who knows of Islamic "holy jihads" will realise. I would have thought Christ's crucifixion as a "subversive" by the Romans was hardly a likely punishment for submissiveness either.

I have no religious belief myself and was in full agreement with the way established religion was shown to prop up capitalism. However, to allow this analysis to degenerate into a series of insults, albeit witty ones, does nothing to further your cause and is a poor substitute for an objective historical analysis.
C S Hedges 
Milton Keynes

The submission which religion involves does not always take an obvious or simple form. The list of examples of religion being apparently rebellious or aggressive could be added to. There are also, for example, the Latin American priests who have been active in opposing many of the regimes there in recent years.

All religious thought, however, assumes there is an outside force or power which we can never control or even comprehend. It makes human beings the tools rather than the makers of history, and therefore condemns us to a perpetual repetition of the suffering of the past.

The jihads or “holy wars" are as much an example of human submission to authoritarian dogma as were the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages. The Koran, like the Bible, destroys human dignity by commanding servile worship of a non-existent "power". The name "Allah" derives from Al-llah, which means "the one God, the strong, the mighty one" and failure to offer absolute obedience is said to result in everlasting punishment. The Koran justifies the jihad against unbelievers, who often were given the choice of accepting the Moslem religion or death. This doctrine may not be pacifist: but it is certainly submissive in human terms. Religion is at loggerheads with working class emancipation.

As for our treatment of the subject having been somewhat light-hearted, most of the rival religions which are fighting over our non-existent "souls" take themselves quite seriously enough without us fuelling their self-righteousness for them.

50 Years Ago: Population and Poverty (1986)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have long been familiar with the argument that poverty is due to over-population, and that if the workers would only decrease the size of their families they would all be better off. Now we are introduced to the opposite argument, from a catholic, Father Woodlock. In a statement to the Evening Standard (January 15th) he pointed out that a falling population means fewer soldiers to defend the Empire, and that in addition it means greater poverty for the workers.
 Only short-sighted economists fail to notice that fall in the birth rate will not help the condition of the working classes, but accompanied by the noticeably increased longevity of our people, will put a much heavier burden on the workers.
 They will be fewer, but in the future they will have to support a much increased number of aged and unemployable dependants. Propagandists of the spread of the birth-control movement never seem to aver this.
We can agree with Father Woodlock that those who preach birth control as a cure for poverty and unemployment are completely in the wrong, but in rejecting that fallacy Father Woodlock embraces another. It is true that a population containing a large proportion of people unable to work may be at a disadvantage compared with one containing a higher proportion of able-bodied men and women in the prime of life, but we are not living in a system of society in which the problem of wealth production is as simple as that. Under capitalism large numbers of people — the propertied class — are not engaged in wealth production and have no desire or necessity to be so engaged. Consequently the burden resting on the shoulders of the workers is not that of keeping only themselves and their own dependants, but, in addition, of keeping the propertied class in luxury and idleness or non-productive activity. and of keeping all the military and civil hangers-on of the capitalist system. The wealth producers are not engaged in producing for themselves, but of producing wealth for the capitalist class alone to own and control.
(From an editorial Quins, Quads and Poverty, Socialist Standard, February 1936.)