Wednesday, October 1, 2014

More … and More

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The pre-WWI US labour union boss Samuel Gompers was once asked what unions wanted. He replied with a single word – ‘more.’ It was a good answer since that’s basically what unions are about: more money, from employers, to enable their members to live a little better under capitalism. They don’t always get this and in slump conditions have to be satisfied with aiming to get ‘not so much less’.

It’s actually a better slogan than a ‘fair’ or a ‘decent’ wage since there’s nothing fair or decent about being forced by economic necessity, as most people are under capitalism, to sell their mental and physical energies to some employer for a wage or a salary. That’s wage slavery and it can never be fair however much more workers get paid.

On 18 October the TUC is organising a national demonstration in London under the slogan ‘Britain needs a pay rise’. It’s a silly slogan, designed presumably to show that unions don’t just have their members’ interest at heart but also that of the country. But ‘Britain’ is not a united community with a common interest. It’s a class-divided society in which the ‘national interest’ is the interest of the dominant capitalist class. They, not workers, are Britain.

So, what the TUC has ended up doing is trying to convince the capitalist class that it is in their interest to increase wages. This is not self-evident, otherwise they would already have done so without the TUC needing to ask them.

The TUC’s argument is that ‘getting money back into people’s pockets is essential to securing a strong recovery.’ This is to assume that the capitalist economy is driven by what workers buy. It isn’t. It’s driven by what capitalist firms invest with a view to profit. What workers can buy is a by-product of this since the more capitalist firms invest, the more workers are employed and so the more in total that workers can buy. As Marx put it, ‘if productive capital grows, the demand for labour grows. It therefore increases the price of labour-power, wages’ (Wage Labour and Capital, ch. VI).

In any event, what the TUC is concentrating on demanding is an end to too low pay. They want the minimum wage enforced more strictly and ‘higher wages from employers who can afford to pay’, explaining:

‘We know that in many low paid sectors employers could afford to pay more without making job losses. That’s why we need new ways for unions and employers to work together to set higher wages, so that workers and businesses both get a fair deal.’

It would be nice to think that this was just a ploy to get the employers concerned to pay more. Unfortunately the TUC probably believe it and do want a ‘fair deal’ for businesses as well as workers. A fair year’s profits for a fair day’s wage! In that respect they would agree with another of Gompers’ sayings, that ‘the worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.’

Workers do need more but not just more money to live under capitalism. A lot more. The whole means of production in fact so that these can be used to turn out what people need instead of to make a profit for those who monopolise them. That will mean the end of the system of working for wages and its replacement by the application of the principle ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.’

Where the B.S.P. Sucks (1916)

From the April 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British Socialist Party are once again to the fore with their insistent claim that from their inception they have fought the battle of the wage-earners, though how they have fought that battle still remains for them to prove. True, they tell us that members of their organisation are also prominent members of trade unions, and staunch supporters in every fight for higher wages; that they, as an organisation, have always supported every movement for higher wages and better conditions. But if this is what they call fighting the battle of the wage-earners, then they can claim to be no more belligerent towards capitalism than the trade unions themselves.

Every new hardship inflicted on the working class calls for strenuous denunciation by the British Socialist Party, and a palliative for the workers to pin their faith to, and waste their energies on. Conscription, national service, rising prices; these and many other things only serve to encourage the inventive faculties of the leaders of the British Socialist Party. They have a separate remedy for each and in most cases it is necessary for the vast majority of the working class to act together in order to apply the remedy.

For a party claiming to be Socialist to propose to educate and organise the workers, or at least a majority of the workers, to take some kind of action against the ruling class for anything short of Socialism, is fraudulent. By such an attitude the party's original object, indicated by their name, is negated; for they must either be revolutionary and work for "the day" or they must be merely a reform party and work to put off the Revolution. The B.S.P. denies this by stating that each reform will bring Socialism nearer, but merely stating such does not prove it.

The British Socialist Party, after explaining the terrors of a proposed national service law, says in conclusion:
"The Government officers would have to assign to each man or woman their several tasks. Thus there would be no equality. In practice, of course, it would be only the men and women of the manual working class who would be sent to the factories. It is not suggested that the capitalist employers should be conscripted and put to work on fixed rates of pay instead of profits."
"Thus there would be no equality," they say. Does this mean that equality would end and that henceforth society would be made up of inequalities? Is it to be understood that the. British Socialist Party mean that equality exists to-day and that national service would abolish it? I wait patiently for some evidence of this equality, which the British Socialist Party assume to be present in capitalist society, or failing that, some justification of their own existence, with the avowed object of establishing Socialism.

Where is the need for them if equality already exists to-day ?

But perhaps they mean that there would be no equality among the workers; which, of course, would be untrue, as the workers are already on an equal footing in the sense that they must all sell their labour-power. Under national service they would have fresh grounds of equality. They would all have their tasks assigned to them by government officials.

The last sentence in the above quotation is, however, the choicest, "It is not suggested that the capitalist employer should be conscripted and put to work on fixed rates of pay instead of profits." We have to remember, in order to appreciate this remark, that it is addressed to members of the working class, who believe implicitly in the necessity of "capitalist employers." The average working man accepts the capitalist's description of himself,—one who finds the capital and the brains, without which society could not exist. Believing this much he would naturally resent the British Socialist Party's attempted sarcasm. He would say, "We must have employers, if not where is the capital coming from to run industry?" And the B.S.P.'er would either be dumb or he would have to hark back to first principles. He would be compelled to explain the nature and history of capitalism, carefully defining nearly every word, answering innumerable questions, and debating everything debatable. In short, these words, to the average worker are nonsense, they can only be appreciated by one who has already apprehended the Socialist philosophy. Until the worker understands that the capitalist performs no useful function in society he will resent all suggestions that profits are not the legitimate rights of those who find the capital that sets him to work and enables him to earn wages.

"In practice of course it would be only the men and women of the manual working class who would be sent to the factories." "Of course." Who is it that works in the factories now? The same workers who believe in the necessity of capitalists, believe also in the necessity and the justice of their enforced labour. In short, they believe in capitalism; they have faith in the system because, poor and wretched as they are, without the opportunity of working for some capitalist they would quickly starve. This is the attitude of the average worker, to whom there is a difference between employers and degrees of poverty, that is about all. He has no conception whatever of the real meaning of Socialism. By what sort of logic, then, do the British Socialist Party reconcile their literature with their name ? A Socialist party should provide the working class with a genuine understanding of Socialism; it should give to the workers the conception they lack, before it can expect them to appreciate its sarcasm.

Our opponents further say:
"The proposals for the partial control of output and the limitation of profits in controlled establishments are altogether insufficient. The situation demanded and demands that private profit-making should be abolished, that the Government should take the production of munitions entirely out of private hands and carry on that production on a real national basis under national control."
Again, while Socialism alone is sufficient for the Socialist, why refer to a certain Government action as insufficient and assert that the situation demanded something more—which something more was not Socialism? Do the British Socialist Party mean to say that their proposal would amount—to use a hackneyed phrase —to an instalment of Socialism ? But we must not suppose anything. The members of the British Socialist Party ought to know that when the Government runs an industry it runs it in the interest of the class it represents, and that the workers employed by the Government have no more control over that industry than other workers, nor have they learned anything of Socialism as a result of their change of employers. "But the production of munitions of war, whilst important, is only one aspect of the national crisis." With the British Socialist Party, national sentiment evidently comes before international ideals. "Britain for the British" (capitalists) first, and what then ?

"The great increase in the cost of living since the war began is directly attributable to the private ownership and control of those commodities on which life depends." It would have been as well if the B.S.P. had informed their readers that the private ownership of the "commodities on which life depends" is a result of the private or class ownership of the means of wealth production. Failing to do this, those readers are left to infer that only the increase in prices is due to this private ownership. Why particularise about a mere modification when every social evil afflicting the working class is the result of the class ownership of the means of life, and could all be effaced by Socialism.
"The production and supply of food and fuel must no longer remain the monopoly of those who seek to make private gain out of public necessity, and to whom the satisfaction of national requirements is always secondary to the making of profits. The munitions of life, as well as the munitions of war, must be placed under complete national control, in the interests of the nation, now and after the war."
Here the B.S.P. spokesmen have forgotten one of the cardinal facts established by Socialism; that there are only two classes in society, and that public necessity and national requirements mean capitalist necessity and requirements. Both are capitalist phrases, used with suspicious frequency in the capitalist Press. The Socialist knows that they are used in this way in order to perpetuate among the workers the belief that social relations within the nation are in the main harmonious; that class division is natural, necessary and unavoidable ; and that territorial divisions are of vital importance, as indeed they are— to the capitalist class. The B.S.P. only repeat the false and hypocritical stock phrases of the master class. Pretending to be in antagonism to that class, their hypocrisy and fraud are even greater than those whose heresies they repeat.

Moreover, they are the Socialists (!) who propose to change human nature—we have heard of them often from members of the Anti-Socialist Union. They propose that a capitalist government and class should cease to take the fullest advantage of its control over the means of wealth production and its consequent domination of the working class. The B.S.P. have yet to learn that systems are more easily changed than classes can be persuaded to relinquish their power or, knowingly, act against their own interest.
"Fellow Citizens, in. the hour of Britain's greatest need capitalism has proved a hopeless failure, and it is to Social Democratic proposals that the community has been compelled to turn."
We have only to look for the changes that have been introduced during the period of the war, in order to discover what these ''Social Democratic" proposals are. State control of those industries necessary for the prosecution of the war. If this is all the B.S.P. have to offer as a solution for working-class problems, they are indeed bankrupt as a working-class party. These changes have effected nothing even for the workers engaged in those industries. On the contrary, according to the B.S.P.'s own showing, the Government control and interference has robbed these workers of rules and customs that it has taken them " generations of collective effort against the employing class to establish." So much for "Social Democratic" proposals.

Next they say "Every stage in the great national crisis through which we are now passing has demonstrated the collapse of competitive capitalism." Do they suggest non-competitive capitalism, and do they claim that social-democratic proposals would have this effect ? If so, they will find that all such ideas were exploded by Marx long before they were adopted by them or the "Fabian Society" before them.
"Every effective step that has been taken has shown the practicability and necessity of Socialism. That is the great lesson the nation should learn from the terrible experience of the last eleven months. The system of national control and ownership, already partly applied, must be continued and extended, -and on the ruins of capitalist civilisation must be established the foundations of the Socialist Commonwealth."
We have glanced at the "effective steps" and the "national control and ownership, already partly applied" and have seen how worthless they are, either as palliatives or as object-lessons for the workers as to the practicability of Socialism. The working-man with an average amount of common-sense needs no telling that nationalisation solves no problems for him. Whatever national control may mean in the minds of the B.S.P., the postal employees and the overworked munition workers know from experience that it does not mean control by them, or improved conditions for them. To continue and extend these "Social-Democratic" proposals is, consequently, only to drag more workers within the scope of national control, and make them directly subject to the State. In so far as this is done, "national service," which the B.S.P. denounce, becomes more of a reality. They say:
"Just as on the industrial field the British Socialist Party has demanded the complete State ownership, organisation, and control of the nation's industrial resources to meet the national emergency, so in existing circumstances IT RECOGNISES THAT THE MILITARY RESOURCES OF EVERY NATION MUST BE ORGANISED FOR PURPOSES OF NATIONAL DEFENCE. It has urged, in accordance with the decisions of International Socialist Congresses, the universal military training of every able-bodied male citizen in a democratic citizen army, free from military law in times of peace, FOR THE PURPOSE OF HOME DEFENCE ALONE. Such a force could neither be used to deprive the working class of their popular liberties, nor to further the ambitions of capitalist imperialism."
As the army of every country is to be for home defence only, there can be no fear anywhere of aggression, consequently no need even for defensive armies. Why do the B.S.P. want armies? Under capitalism all nations organise fighting forces to make secure the domination of the ruling class; to clear the way for the commodities produced by the "industrial army," that they may be placed on the world's market for the benefit of the class that owns them, and, to intimidate and compel the "industrial army" to submit to exploitation. These are the uses of armed forces. Socialism, with its common ownership and democratic control of all the means of wealth production, would, by the abolition of class-ownership, destroy class domination, and armed forces would be unnecessary. Why do the B.S.P. want armies? Because they want capitalism, with its class domination, to remain. Hence the British Socialist Party are anti-Socialist. 
F. Foan

Party Notes. (1910)

From the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the opening of the summer propaganda season, comrades are urged to redouble their efforts. The Party's success continues to inspire enthusiasm in its adherents and dismay among its detractors—this is as it should be. Let the battle be engaged all along the line. Raise the circulation of the Socialist Standard to 10,000 monthly before the season closes and justify your existence.

*   *   *

A branch of the Party has been formed at Woolwich and Socialists living in the neighbourhood should immediately get into communication with Geo. Ayres, 452, Woolwich Road, Charlton, who is acting as local secretary.

A branch has also been formed at Worthing, near Brighton, for details see Branch Directory.

Socialists residing in or around Surbiton are requested to communicate with Wm. Tolton, 50 Douglas Road, Surbiton, with a view to forming a branch there.

*   *   *

While speaking for the Social-Democratic Party at Nottingham recently a Mr. Carmichael of Battersea, London, was somewhat severely tackled by our comrades there. He then threw out a challenge to debate the claim of the S.P.G.B. to the confidence of the working class. Previous experience of S.D.P. bluster led our comrades to request Mr. Carmichael to put the challenge in writing—a thing he declined to do, asserting that he had already issued similar challenges to the S.P.G.B., and it had failed to take them up.

He further stated that if we wanted him we knew where to find him—he was so well known! Exactly, we do know where to find him; and this is to tell him that his statement given above is simply untrue. The only occasion known to us when Mr. Carmichael issued such a challenge was on Sunday, 27th September, 1908. It was at once accepted on behalf of the Party, and our representatives was appointed. Then followed a correspondence culminating on 21st of October in Mr. Carmichael writing that his branch had decided that unless admission was restricted to members of Socialist organisations they should take no part in arranging the meeting. There the matter rests. When Mr. Carmichael can get his party to endorse his publicly uttered challenges he will not have to wait long for our representative. With Mr. Carmichael, or anyone else, representing the S.D.P., we will willingly arrange a debate, but Mr. Carmichael representing Mr. Carmichael must be satisfied to occupy our platform on the ordinary conditions. At all our meetings opposition is welcomed by our Socialist Dreadnoughts. Were the stipulation of Mr. Carmichael's branch accepted there could of course be no debate, as it would rule Mr. Carmichael himself outside.

*   *   *

Writing of debates, the encounter between Mr. Percy Alden, M.P. and our comrade Anderson duly came off on the evening of April 1st, and proved a huge success from our point of view. The hall was crowded and many hundreds unfortunately were turned away, the doors having to be closed before the advertised time of opening the debate. The collection taken up was more than sufficient to cover all the expenses of the meeting. The debate was extensively reported in the capitalist Press, from which we quote the following. "The very spacious hall of the Earlsmead School, Tottenham, was densely crowded on Friday night, the attraction being a public debate on 'Is the Liberal Party deserving of the support of the Working Class?' Mr. Percy Alden, M.P. took the affirmative, and the opposer was Mr. A. Anderson, of the Socialist Party of Great Britain . . . No resolution was put to the meeting on the question debated, but the feeling of those present was obvious in the course of the speeches, Mr. Anderson coming in for considerable applause, and Mr. Alden's statements being greeted often with derision."

*   *   *

Another splendid piece of propaganda work was the occasion of the Celebration of the Commune of Paris. A largely attended and enthusiastic meeting was held in the Caledonian Road Baths, North London, on March 21st. The meeting reflected credit upon the activities of our Islington members.

The Scottish Referendum

Editorial from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever the outcome, capitalism was going to continue and with it the problems it inevitably generates as a system that puts, and has to put, profits before meeting people’s needs. Whether this is done from London or from Edinburgh makes no difference. An independent Scotland would be capitalist just as much as if it remained part of the UK.

Nevertheless, from a purely political point of view, the Yes campaign was demanding a far-reaching change, well beyond the mere change of government or local council that’s usually at stake in elections. It was demanding the break-up of one of the longest-established capitalist states and one that had once been the dominant power in the world. So it was a decision that could be described as “historic” in the sense that if could have affected the future course of history. People in Scotland realised this. Which is why 8 out of 10 of the population aged 16 and over came out and voted.

As socialists, who advocate the use of the ballot box in the course of the socialist revolution, we are comforted by this as it bears out our contention that when there is perceived to be something really important at stake, people will vote.

To continue for a moment the analogy between the Yes campaign and the movement for socialism. The Yes campaign did represent a threat to the interests of the British ruling class. A breakaway by Scotland would weaken them in the struggle between states over economic issues that is built-in to the capitalist world system. Capitalist Britain would not only be diminished in size but also in diplomatic status and clout.

Some argue that, faced with a threat like this, a ruling class will resort to force as the British ruling class did when Ireland tried to break away in 1919. This time they pursued a different strategy. When it appeared that, despite their earlier calculations, the Yes side might actually win they bent over backwards to offer more powers to the Scottish parliament in a bid to buy off the movement.

We suggest that this is the more likely reaction of a ruling class to a growing socialist movement committed to using the ballot box and enjoying widespread support. Not that it would work. In fact it didn’t work in Scotland. Those supporting Yes refused (as the socialist movement would) to be bribed and change their intended vote. Those in the No camp continued in their resolve to vote No, largely no doubt because they felt that there was no point in taking the unnecessary risk and disruption that a Yes victory would involve.

That was understandable. The partisans of independence were painting an unbelievable picture of how life would be so much better if Scotland was no longer ruled from Westminster. A social democratic paradise was to be established in Scotland. Reformism, despite failing to do so on every previous occasion it has been tried, would somehow be able this time to make capitalism work for the benefit for wage and salary workers and their dependents. Socialists didn’t believe this either.

The trouble is that politics is now going to be as boring as before as the professional politicians, North and South of the border, wrangle over purely constitutional matters while capitalism and the problems it causes continue.