Monday, January 4, 2016

English Social Democratic Parties (Concluded) (1955)

From the September 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

See Parts One and Two in the series

While the organisations we have been discussing were struggling for recognition they were joined by an entirely different stream.

Old trade union leaders like Thomas Burt and Alexander Macdonald had been elected to Parliament, in theory to represent labour’s point of view; in fact they wore little more than supporters of the Liberal Party who used them as decoys. In areas where there was considerable dissatisfaction with existing conditions the Liberals backed these “working men” candidates; when elected the latter fell in line with Liberal policies. The organisation of the unskilled workers and those outside the established unions during the eighties and nineties thrust a fresh and awkward element into the political arena. This new unionism, based upon the most depressed sections of the workers, was inclined to shed constitutional illusions relating to industrial action, and the strike weapon came to the front again as a means to enforce the workers demands for amelioration of their conditions. Workers who were prominent in this new movement attempted to induce the Trade Union Congress to take more vigorous political action, but their efforts did not meet with much success at first; a few resolutions were carried but the domination of the old leaders was still strong enough to prevent any action being taken on them. The battle between the reactionary leaders and those imbued with the more radical ideas of the new working class political parties became stronger and a violent struggle took place at the 1889 Dundee Trade Union Congress in which the militant group, headed by Keir Hardie, was again defeated.

In the meantime Thorne, Tillett, Mann and Bums, had been busy organising the gas workers and dockers and obtaining the concession of an eight hours day for the gas workers without having to resort to a strike. A few months later the London dock workers struck and were successful in gaining their demands. These successes gave an impetus to trade unionism and also raised the prestige of the new trade union leaders.

At the 1892 Trade Union Congress the efforts of the militant section were rewarded by the carrying of a resolution calling upon the parliamentary committee to report to the next Congress on the question of independent labour representation. At the same Congress a resolution sponsored by the Social Democratic Federation that support should only be given to Socialist candidates was lost by a comparatively small margin. The following year the Congress decided to set up a parliamentary fund, and to give support wily to those candidates who advocated “ the collective ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange,” but an amendment by Keir Hardie on complete political independence was lost. That the majority of the delegates who voted for the resolution had little idea of its implications must be obvious; in all probability the vigour of the militant section and lack of faith in the old methods swept them away. Keir Hardie, one of the leading militants, was secretary of the Ayrshire miners union and had been elected to Parliament in 1892 as an Independent. He was opposed to Marxian historical and economic theories, holding the view that Socialist revolutions had been occurring throughout history since the disintegration of tribal Communism. To him “Socialism, like every other problem of life, is at bottom a question of ethics and morals.” (“From Serfdom to Socialism” 1907, page 35.). His idea of the road to Socialism he explains as follows:
“In like manner it is conceivable that the transference of industries from private hands to the State will be a gradual and peaceful process. Already, in fact, the process has advanced to a considerable stage. The property held and worked and controlled by municipalities already exceeds £500,000,000 sterling in value, and is being added to yearly. This process has but to continue long enough to ensure that every industry will pass under public control, and thus State Socialism will become an accomplished fact, by a gradual process of easy transition.”—(p. 27).
By ‘State Socialism’ Hardie meant that Nationalisation and Municipalisation with which we have become familiar, under which the Capitalists as a class own collectively, living upon the interest they draw from their bondholding.

The idea of building up an independent working class party on a large scale was now in the air. At the instigation of the progressive groups a conference was held at Bradford in 1893 representing all kinds of labour groups, including the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society. The Socialist League had fallen to pieces in 1890 when it turned Anarchist and Morris, Eleanor Marx, Lessner, Bax and Aveling had left it and returned to the S.D.F. At the Bradford Conference the Independent Labour Party was formed and rapidly absorbed the provincial groups of Fabians. The Social Democratic Federation affiliated to it for a few months and then left. One of those who took part in forming it was Robert Blatchford, who founded the Clarion as a weekly periodical in 1891 and had written a book “Merrie England,” published in 1893, that had a very wide circulation and was a popular propagandist booklet for many years; its appealing style was mainly responsible for this.

The Independent Labour Party soon made headway displacing the Social Democratic Federation in popularity. Frederick Lessner and other members of the latter party joined it, as also did Ramsay Macdonald and members of the Fabian Society. It had for its object “To secure the collective ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange,” and its programme was made up of the principal reforms that figured in the programmes of the older parties including “Taxation to extinction of unearned incomes,” “Remunerative work for unemployed,” and “Substitution of arbitration for war and the consequent disarmament of the nation.” The Fabian element was, and remained until recent years, the prevailing influence in the Independent Labour Party. Keir Hardie became the President and Tom Mann the General Secretary of the new party.

The further development of the Independent Labour Party was merged in the development of the Labour Party. The majority of the early Labour M.P.’s were members of it. Although it still lingers on the 1914-1918 war Coalition Government, the rise of the Communist Party and Labour Government, practically killed the Independent Labour Party as well as the Socialist Democratic Party. Born in confusion, tied up with reformist policies and supporting all that they thought was “progressive” they finally sank in the morass of “ practical politics.”
Gilmac.


Socialism and politics (1997)

From the January 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

A prominent American capitalist once declared during an election race that Americans should vote for the man who promises them the least - in that way they would be voting for the one who would disappoint the least. For socialists the only way for workers to avoid disappointment is not to vote for anyone but themselves

Socialists hold that government, or the practice of people being governed, is peculiar to class society. The function of government is to run the state, to organise its laws and maintain the required degree of persuasion or coercion necessary to ensure that those laws are obeyed by the public. Additionally, of course, the state has to protect the external interests of its ruling class; which means that it falls to government to maintain armed forces to protect or extend the interests of that ruling class.

Conventional politics is about political parties putting forward candidates in elections and trying to convince as many people as possible to vote for those candidates on the ground that the individual candidate is not only capable of looking after their interests but also that he or she is a member of a political party that can be trusted with running the affairs of the state.

In practice it is more complicated than this. Generally, the existing political parties have built up a following of public support over a period of time. Like the core support of a prominent football team, these supporters display a tribal loyalty, largely uncritical and rarely concerned with any conception of reasonable consideration of the opposition. Effectively, it is the less committed, the floating voter, probably some ten percent of the electorate, who determines the outcome of elections. Those who make up the floating vote are probably those who perceive their interests to have been adversely affected by the party or parties in power and/or those who have been convinced that the policies of one or other of the parties will harm their interests.

In local government candidates are usually returned on the minority vote—frequently a small minority vote—of the electorate because the majority are not sufficiently concerned about the outcome of local government elections to want to come out and vote. In parliamentary elections, too, substantial minorities, sometimes as much as 25 percent or, even, 30 percent see no point in voting. The number of those who vote for a party, not because they support that party but because they are opposed, or concerned about, the party or parties opposing it, is substantial.

With the exception of the Socialist Party, all the political parties contesting elections, whatever name they use to describe themselves or whatever claims are made for them in respect to their position on the Right/Life spectrum of capitalism, put forward policies firmly rooted in the economics of capitalism.

In Britain the major political parties hold their annual conferences in the autumn and each of these is given major media coverage. These exercises have nothing to do with democracy, of course, for all the political parties—again, with the exception of the Socialist Party—believe in having leaders, and a party with leaders is not one run on the democratic mandate of its members.

These conferences are stage-managed to ensure that anything that may rock the boat is emaciated or exorcised and that verbal formulae are found to keep the faithful in line without provoking rebellion. Should Conference accept a motion that the leadership is embarrassed with, they simply dismiss it or circumvent it. Labour leaders are famous for paying scant attention to Conference resolutions and, remarkably, those who believe in the undemocratic principle of having leaders, are frequently infuriated when leaders do what they are supposed to do—lead.

Common policies
There is one central theme running through the policies of all these parties however they may appear to differ. That theme forms the basis of contemporary capitalist politics. That theme is the argument about where the money is to come from to fund social welfare legislation. In the post-war decades it was argued, and generally accepted by all the parties, that capitalism would be more efficient if the working class, who produce all the real wealth, were more closely integrated into the system. Capitalism’s economic experts claimed they had found a formula for ending the boom/slump syndrome; unemployment would be a thing of the past, unemployed workers would no longer be a drain on the system and a fully subscribed national insurance scheme would provide general health care and other social welfare benefits.

These ideas may have concretised the aspirations of the Left but they originated with people like Beveridge and Keynes who were both committed not only to retaining capitalism but to building a bulwark against the threat of change by making the system more user-friendly for the working class. It would be fair to say that for a few decades after the war these ideas dominated the entire political spectrum.

Complex changes in the global economy, sharper competition, a decline in the rate of profit, and unemployment, attended by inflation as governments chased the Keynesian will-of-the-wisp, clearly demonstrated the inability of capitalism to support even the modest postwar reforms of the system.

But, in the world of capitalism, such reforms have to be met out of taxation and in practice, all taxation is ultimately borne by capital; on that point both Adam Smith, the patron saint of capitalism, and Karl Marx, originator of scientific socialism, agreed. That means that there is truth in the arguments of the now-dominant Right that taxation impairs the competitive ability of one group of national capitalists to compete with the capitalists of another area who bear a lighter burden of taxation. Translated into the current political philosophy of Blair and Major, the argument runs that low tax defends existing jobs and promotes new sources of employment.

This, then, is what is at the core of contemporary politics. Which party can be trusted to reduce or, at least, not to increase the overall tax burden on the managers and directors whose function is to maximise the profits of the owning class? That task involves funding the shrinking remnants of the social welfare provisions, maintaining the state’s military capacity, and meeting the increasing need to deal with awesome social problems, like crime, vandalism, and a youth culture of alienation, which characterise a society in decay.

These are the problems which the major political parties say have to be addressed and all of them accept the framework, the restrictions and limitations which capitalism imposes, as the only permissible arena in which to address them. These restrictions and limitations impose their own logic on the party leaders whose principle task now is to embellish policies which bear a tawdry similarity. It all adds up to the arrogant assertion by political leaders that they, by virtue of their superior abilities, are better equipped to handle the brutal priorities of the system than their opponents.

The Socialist Party takes a different approach from that of all the other political parties, indeed it could be said that, if the common strategies of all our opponents represents the definitive elements of a political party, the Socialist Party is not so much a political party as an organisation intent on abolishing politics.

Rendered absurd by history
Firstly, we do not seek a mandate to take over the existing social system and to attempt to organise it in such a way as will benefit the majority class of wage and salary workers. Capitalism, we affirm, is based on the exploitation of the working class and we would be as absurd as those Leftist organisations who promulgate acres of reforms if we were to assert that we could administer that system in such a way as would benefit the class on whose exploitation its entire fabric rests.

We can share with some elements of the Left a detestation of politicians who make a career out of lying to the majority working class but we do not blame these politicians for their persistent failure to rationalise capitalism—in fact we readily admit that if the Socialist Party accepted a mandate to run capitalism in the interest of society as a whole we would fail every bit as ingloriously as those who make the assertion—rendered absurd by history— that they can perform such a miracle.

Our purpose in all that we do, from producing this journal, running public meetings, fighting elections, is to bring the case for socialism to the attention of the working class; our message is the patently obvious truth that capitalism has fulfilled its historic mission and is now a really frightening impediment to further progress. That progress we define as socialism: a way of organising the affairs of humanity that is not dependent on, or influenced by, the interests of a class that owns and controls society’s means of producing and distributing its needs.

The case for socialism is based on the incontestable fact that there exists on this planet the potential to provide adequately for the whole of the human family. Further, and equally incontestable, is the fact that the overwhelming majority who are forced to endure the awful inadequacies of capitalism have the power now to abolish capitalism by democratic means and institute a new era of real peace and real prosperity.

The last hundred years has witnessed the exhaustion of all the many schemes put forward to make capitalism a civilised system. For a time it seemed that some slight changes would make the system a little more tolerable but the experiment, puny as it was, has obviously failed and socialism is now the only feasible way to go.

Finally, we should say that with the achievement of socialism, the socialist movement will disappear, its historic mission completed. So, too, will the state, the government and the politicians. There will no longer be separate interests to be pursued, no longer a need to cut the cake in such a way as will benefit some at the expense of others. Government of people will give way to a democratic administration of the needs of society.
Richard Montague

Do you like your work? (1991)

From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Work is a very important part of our lives, but only a fortunate few find satisfaction in it. We know that we have to work, otherwise there would be no food, no houses, and no furniture to put in them. But that is not the reason we work today. We do it in order to get money to buy food, a house, furniture.

It may seem obvious, but we are not ants or bees; we are human beings with the capacity for enjoyment, for experiencing pleasure, but rarely do we do so in work. This, considering how much of our lives is spent working, must be a condemnation of the economic system we live under. Part of the problem is that we neither expect, nor are expected to enjoy work— we are expected to get it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. It is for this that we are hired and paid. We have to fulfil orders, production quotas, sales quotas. These have nothing to do with work, but work has everything to do with them. Work today is characterised by an intense pressure which is destructive of work as a creative activity. This is because it is not the work itself that is the objective but rather its result.

This is our present work culture, the work culture of capitalist society into which we are born. We may not like it, but see nothing strange, no contradiction in it; this is just how things are. But things can be different. Otto Klineberg in the UNESCO pamphlet Race And Psychology gives some interesting examples of how behaviour is determined by culture which illustrate this. In a performance test, he gave to a group of Yakima Indians the task of placing pieces of wood of various shapes into a wooden frame. The subjects were told to put the pieces in their correct place “as quickly as possible”:
These children . . . never hurried. They saw no reason to work quickly. Our culture places a premium on speed, on getting things done in as short a time as possible; the Indian children had not acquired this attitude. They went at their task slowly and deliberately, with none of the scrambling impatience . . . found among American children.
Klineberg also noted they made fewer errors. The point is that for them the doing was more important than its completion. This is not how we view work. Our whole view of life is infected with the “scrambling impatience” to succeed. Speed has become a neurosis, a disease. Watch people in the street, buses, trains; they can do nothing slowly or considered. Rushing in most cases for its own sake without thinking. Dashing across a road to beat a car; not because there is a need, but because they have to. People play as they work. Going on holiday is an enervating experience from which we often need time to recover.

In terms of human needs and welfare—from the vantage-point of a sane society—most of the work we do is useless anyway. What, for instance, have banking, insurance, law, and government, got to do with human need? They have everything to do with capitalism, because the bureaucratic superstructure of a society based on property constantly expands as the activities required to run it become more and more complex. Think of all that effort going into running this system of extravagant waste. Effort that few enjoy and many find tolerable only until they succumb to the increasing incidence of physical or mental breakdown, which the health service struggles to cope with.

How stupid to have intelligent, talented people driven by an economic system that is served first, and them last. The only reason and justification for taking this critical view of work today is the confidence that we have it within our power to arrange for people to come first, always. Would it not be more sensible—and better for us—if we were to organise work for the benefit of people, rather than people for the benefit of work?
Ian Jones

Ways of Seeing (1997)

Theatre Review from the July 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Closer by Patrick Marber

Becoming a socialist is an educational experience. It is about discovery and knowledge; and the experience changes people.

Once people know and understand the essence of the socialist case—that various historical "epochs" are characterised by different kinds of class relationships (landowners and serfs in feudal societies, capitalists and workers in capitalist societies, etc.); that history is a record of class struggle; and that the economic system is prime, so that nowadays the interests of the capitalist class determine the dominant ideas and values in society—they will use this body of knowledge in analysing and responding to the world around them. Knowledge of the socialist case is. like other knowledge, internalised. It affects the way that people think and behave; it changes the very essence of their thoughts and feelings. In a very real way, once people have been persuaded of the essence of the socialist case, they will never be the same again. They will bring their newfound knowledge to the task of understanding the world in which they operate, including the behaviour of characters in a play. Other people, with different worldviews, bring a different set of analytical perspectives with them when they go to the theatre. Or. as increasingly seems to be the case, they bring only their ignorance of such matters. When I saw Patrick Marber's new play, Closer, in preview. I reached a set of judgments about it; judgments informed by my historical and sociological knowledge. I imagined that other critics, especially those working professionally (sic) for the national, newspapers, would reach a different set of conclusions. How right I was.

Like his first play, Dealer's Choice which has been hugely successful world-wide since its opening in 1994, Closer (Cottesloe). is marvellously well crafted. Marber's story line is full of surprises, yet at the same time it has a convincing inevitability, given the apparent “natures" of the four characters who meet as the story unfolds, and whose lives become horribly enmeshed. Dan meets Alice and they start to live together. Dan meets Anna and proposes a liaison. Anna resists. Dan, in revenge, surfs the Internet and affecting to be Anna (who he impersonates as a wildly salacious nymphomaniac) dupes Larry into a meeting. Larry meets Anna, discovers he has been set-up. but manages, nevertheless, to persuade her to live with him. Dan, having discovered that his deception has backfired continues to pursue Anna. Eventually Anna capitulates. Alice distraught takes a job as a "hostess" and meets a drunken, miserable Larry in a strip joint. United in adversity they begin to see one another. Dan hears of their relationship and decides that he is really in love with Alice and returns to her. Etc.. etc.

Told in this way the plot sounds like the worst kind of populist soap; a kind of wearisome episode of some Islington-based EastEnders lookalike. But Marber writes wonderfully convincing dialogue with a serious voice. And he seems genuinely concerned with the fate of his four characters whose lives he suggests are, given the nature of life in the 1990s, almost capriciously out-of-control. (My partner suggests that Marber, whose first play, Dealer’s Choice, was about playing poker, is really interested in games playing, and that Closer might be seen as a game of sexual poker. It seems a productive insight, but it was apparently lost on the critics.) The three newspaper critics whose reviews I consulted were wildly enthusiastic. They saw it as a play "about love and passion", which was "very much in the spirit of the time". They lauded Marber's "realism" and "humour".

But they offered no comment about the behaviour of the four protagonists. They failed to consider that love might need to be differentiated, significantly, from sexual passion, and whether being in love with someone carried with it certain obligations. They had nothing to say about why people in the 1990s seem so unable to form lasting relationships, why—at least superficially— some people are seemingly disposed to "throw away" relationships with as much thought as they might give to getting rid of an old sock, and whether this might have anything to do with our throwaway economic behaviour in a society which prizes newness as though it was one of the four virtues. Yet these things were at the heart of the play for me. I am not surprised when people, responding to economic imperatives which put making money and looking after oneself as prime, treat other human beings with the same contempt as they treat other "things" in our throwaway society. But the critics who wrote about the play in the three so-called quality papers which I consulted were either unable or unprepared to locate the behaviour of the four characters by reference to such perspectives. In consequence their reviews were glib and superficial. Perhaps it is consciously part of the process of "dumbing down" which is apparent in most contemporary criticism. And in education, too, where the diet offered to students must be as vocationally relevant and as intellectual barren as possible. But that's another matter.
Michael Gill

Dumb, defenceless, tortured (1988)

From the January 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Animal rights is an emotive subject and concerns a growing movement. It's no longer cranky and it's not going to fade away so what are the facts and where do socialists stand on the issue?

One issue of the animal rights campaign which affects every one of us is the exploitation of animals for food:
The human attitude to living creatures exemplified by factory farming inevitably finds its parallel in our own level of responsiveness to our own species. A genuine concern for life should extend to all creatures. (Assault and Battery: Mark Gold)
"Factory farming" is the term used to describe everything from milk production to battery eggs. In economic terms it can be defined as an attempt to attain the most efficient ratio of growth time to feed cost. In agricultural terms it means animals are viewed as machines:
Cows must go through yearly pregnancies in order to yield up their milk, cream and cheese. Hardly any cows in dairy herds are allowed to suckle their calves for more than three days. (Voiceless Victims: Rebecca Hall)
In addition cows are subject to genetic breeding through either artificial insemination or embryotomy. But what happens to the calf after its removal from the mother? It may well end up being processed by the infamous veal industry. The pale, tender, white meat much prized by the connoisseur is arrived at by rearing these animals in small wooden crates on a liquid milk diet, deliberately deficient in iron to ensure the unnatural colour of the meat. Rennet, the enzyme extracted from the stomachs of calves, is used in the production of hard cheese.

Pigs, which are as intelligent as cats or dogs, may spend their entire lives in dry sow stalls - a narrow metal stall preventing the sow turning around or lying down properly and where the pig may be permanently chained to the floor. Tail docking and darkness are employed to deal with the problem of aggression created through the boredom and discomfort of this restricted lifestyle. Females may become victims of the graphically named "rape racks” to ensure impregnation. In confinement the pig's instincts such as nesting, rooting about and the maternal instinct have no outlet for expression. Castration of male pigs may also take place because of the fear of "tainted meat".

What about eggs and chickens? Well, for a start, “farm fresh" and "country fresh" eggs are a myth. About 90 per cent of the eggs sold in the UK come from hens confined in battery cages. They are "factory fresh” eggs. Hens in battery cages cannot fly, perch, nest, scratch, stretch or walk. The average wingspan of a hen is 32 inches. The average battery hen will share a cage 18 inches by 20 inches with five other birds. There is a natural pecking order among chickens, to counteract which chickens may be given spectacles to reduce their field of vision. To minimise damage among the stock, debeaking may take place routinely. Battery hens which are no longer economically productive are sold off to be used in soup, pies and other convenience foods as they are fit for little else. Male chicks are the natural casualties of the egg industry, of course. Economically useless, they are killed off at around a day old by crushing, gassing or suffocation, or they may be made into pet food.

Animals and poultry, at the end of their short, miserable lives, are transported, sometimes over thousands of miles to be slaughtered. Live transportation of animals saves on refrigeration and packing costs. As a general rule of animals in transit, those with the least commercial value suffer most. Humane slaughter is another myth of the meat industry. Animals are stunned in different ways according to species. The general rule is that “the equipment is required to leave the animal with its heart still beating in order that the blood shall pump from the body to produce meat which has a minimum of blood in it" (ibid). Cattle, for example, will be led to the stunning box where they are shot by a captive bolt pistol supposed to render the animal insensible to pain. In practice, around 30 per cent of the animals will be fully conscious when the side of the box opens, the animal rolls out and is hoisted by its hind legs to have its throat cut and be bled out.

Workers in slaughterhouses are usually paid on piece rates which obviously militates against any great degree of time or care being taken over stunning. Sheep have to have electric tongs applied to the sides of their heads for seven seconds or longer in order to effectively stun. Anything less and they may be paralysed but fully conscious or improperly stunned and come round as they hang upside down waiting to have their throats cut.

Whether or not socialists are vegetarians, they can still recognise the horrific suffering and concentration camp conditions of the factory farm. Where we differ from reformist organisations is in our treatment of the problem. We do not view it in isolation from the cause. The disgustingly inhumane factory farm system propped up by the fantasy world of advertising is one aspect of an economic system concerned only with making profit, a system where all life is cheap and will always be a secondary consideration in the drive to make profits. Not only humans suffer under capitalism.
Cathy Gillespie

Revolutionary Art & Socialism (1974)

Book Reviews from the January 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris. His Life, Work and Friends by Philip Henderson. Penguin. 90p.
Political Writings of William Morris ed. by A. L. Morton. Lawrence and Wishart. £1.

William Morris was a Victorian poet and designer and it is as such that he is probably best known to the general public. But for the last ten or so years in his life he was also a revolutionary socialist and pioneer Marxist in Britain. He was born in 1834, the son of wealthy capitalist parents and as a result enjoyed an independent income all his life. Not that he chose not to work. Far from it. He interested himself, and tried his hand at, nearly every craft from dyeing to printing (setting up a business to sell the products of such crafts to the "swinish rich”), a living proof of the proposition that men will choose to work even if they are not forced to.

Work was always central to Morris’ whole outlook, even before he became a Socialist. While at Oxford in the 1850’s he became involved with a group of romantic artists known as the pre-Raphaelites because they reckoned that painting had degenerated after the Middle Ages with Raphael, the first Reformation painter. Morris, naturally, tried his hand at painting but became more famous as a poet. The general tenor of the pre-Raphaelite criticism was that mediaeval society was better for "art” than the industrial society which followed it. However “art” was not used in the sense just of paintings, sculptures, etc. but was defined by John Ruskin as the expression of man’s pleasure in his labour. Morris wholeheartedly endorsed this definition of art, with its implication that men would spontaneously produce beautiful things — things of everyday use, not mere decorations — if they enjoyed their work. This product of enjoyable work Morris called “popular art”. It was a recognition that capitalism denied most men pleasure in their work that led him to become a socialist in 1883, not long before he reached the age of 50.

Before that he had been on the Radical wing of the Liberal Party, first taking an active part in politics in the agitation against war with Russia following Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria in 1876. Morris became the treasurer of the Eastern Question Association and wrote a manifesto on its behalf addressed "To the Workingmen of England”, thus showing that even at this time Morris relied on the working class to carry out his political ideas. In the 1880 election he worked for the return of Gladstone, but soon became disillusioned with the new Liberal government. He made contact with various trade unionists and working-class political organisations and in 1883 joined the Democratic Federation. This was an association of working-class radical clubs formed in 1881.

Soon after Morris joined, it changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation, proclaiming Socialism as its aim and Marxism as its theory, though in fact it never did outlive its radical-Liberal origins as it continued to advocate also the same reforms of capitalism it always had. Morris set about studying Marx, reading Capital where, understandably in view of his background, he preferred the historical parts on the rise of modern capitalist industry and its effect on the working class rather than the abstract economic theory. Nevertheless there can be no doubt at all that Morris did master sufficient of Marx’s ideas — on history and society as well as economics — to be regarded as a Marxian socialist. A reading of Morton’s selection of his political writings will confirm this 

Hyndman, the man who had been largely instrumental in founding the Democratic Federation, was an authoritarian and tried to run the SDF as his personal organisation. This led to discontent and eventually, at the very end of 1884, to a split in which Morris, somewhat reluctantly, became the key figure in the breakaway Socialist League. Unlike the SDF, the Socialist League had no programme of reforms, which it regarded as mere palliatives; it saw its task as simply to “make Socialists”, as William Morris put it, thus in many aspects anticipating the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain when it was founded twenty years later as another breakaway from the reform-mongering SDF.

William Morris found himself as the main theorist of the anti-reform, make-socialists policy of the Socialist League. At times this brought him to the verge of an anti-parliamentary position since he thought that to enter parliament would be to become bogged down in reformist politics, but he never did deny that in the course of the socialist revolution the working class would have to capture political power including parliament. This refusal to advocate the use of parliament to get reforms upset a group, including Marx’s daughter Eleanor, who in the end broke away from the Socialist League. This left Morris at the mercy of the real anti-parliamentarians and anarchists, who eventually came to dominate the League with their advocacy of violence and bomb-throwing. In 1890 Morris and the Hammersmith branch seceded, carrying on independent socialist activity as the Hammersmith Socialist Society.

During these six years Morris was a real Socialist activist. Besides being editor of Commonweal, the League’s journal, he spoke indoors and outdoors up and down the country. A number of these talks (including some while he was still in the SDF) are reprinted in Morton’s book. They can leave no doubt as to Morris’ socialist understanding:
   Our business, I repeat, is the making of Socialists, i.e., convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles into practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible ("Where Are We Now?”, 1890, p. 226).
   Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel. If our ideas of a new Society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the due effective majority of the working people; and then, I say, the thing will be done ("Communism", 1893, p. 229).
Part of Morris’ first public profession of his socialist views, a lecture delivered at University College Oxford in November 1884, was republished by the SPGB in 1907 and again in 1962, under the title Art, Labour and Socialism. This, like many of his earlier lectures, was addressed to his fellow-members of the bourgeois middle class rather than to the working class, but it still makes good reading (though, in this writer’s opinion, two of his other lectures, whose titles Useful Work versus Useless Toil and How We Live and How We Might Live speak for themselves, are better). Morris’ message was that enjoyable work should be available to all men and women but that capitalism denies such “popular art” to the propertyless working class and that only Socialism, a classless society of equals, can provide it. Morris also wrote two books, in the form of utopian romances, which are again good socialist — and Marxist — propaganda: A Dream of John Ball (a brilliant application of the materialist conception of history to the Peasants Revolt of 1381) and of course News from Nowhere.

Towards the end of his life, it must be pointed out, Morris modified his attitude to the use of parliament to try to get reforms and become reconciled to the SDF, though he never rejoined it. But he still insisted that such action must only be a means to the end of creating a determined Socialist majority, which alone could establish Socialism. He died in 1896.

Henderson’s biography is now reprinted as a paperback. Readable enough, it shows little sympathy for Morris’ socialist views, criticising him for supposed inconsistency in being a Socialist and art-lover. This perhaps is because Henderson accepts the myth that Russia is socialist. But, surely, Russia is the “state socialism” — or, as we would say today, state capitalism — Morris always disliked. He certainly would not have regarded Russia as socialist.
Adam Buick


Obituary: Bob Gleghorn (1993)

Obituary from the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with much regret that we report the death at the age of 62 of Bob Gleghorn at the end of December, a member for fifteen years of the old Seaham Branch in the North East, then of Central Branch.

Bob was born in the Seaham area of County Durham in 1930 and for most of his working life worked at Dawdon colliery as a miner, until 1984 when he took voluntary redundancy. Before joining the Socialist Party he frequented many political meetings in the Seaham and Sunderland areas— Labour, Liberal and left-wing groups—and was totally disillusioned with all of them; he even once stood as an independent socialist for the local council.

He was a most prodigious writer of letters to the local press over a number of years. Together with other members in the area, and under a range of pen-names, a collection of many hundreds of excellent published statements was accumulated and has been collected as a presentation set. Bob’s vision of the socialist alternative never diminished, and he succeeded in inspiring other sometimes wavering comrades. Bob was not only a fellow socialist but a genuine friend, and he will be sadly missed by his family and comrades. We extend our condolences and best wishes to his wife, Beatrice, and family.
H. W.

The Passing Show: Thoughts on Youth and Age (1967)

The Passing Show Column from the February 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

When you’re in your teens. forty is such a long way off, you can't begin to imagine what your life will be like then. It seems such a great age, that perhaps you secretly think you’ll never reach it. And as for sixty, seventy or eighty — quite inconceivable. Yet the population of Great Britain is said to be ‘growing older’. That is, the proportion of pensioners to the rest is increasing— old people arc being kept alive longer than they used to be. So, capitalism permitting, the youngsters of today are the oldsters of tomorrow.

Now there's no particular virtue in being young or old, though some people (like Alan Freeman or Wilfred Pickles) may try to suggest that there is; "'Ave some respect fer yer elders!” was yelled often enough at children in the thirties, and ranks almost as absurd as that baffling commandment “’Ave some respect fer the dead!" hissed at us as we played our game of marbles in the gutter, oblivious of a passing hearse. Respect for the dead seemed a contradiction in terms, but as for our elders, perhaps they thought that survival alone in the days before the war justified their demand. Or was it perhaps the desperate clutching at something intangible—a last plea for some sort of recognition before the harsh world of capitalism turned its back on them for good?

In those days, little boys were still told to be seen and not heard, but that’s something we hear much less of nowadays, because little boys are not only seen, but are often determined to be heard as well. Why is this? Well, capitalism of the sixties differs superficially from that of thirty years ago. It’s as if the ‘age of youth’ has burst upon us like a storm cloud; every other advert features someone in their early twenties. “It’s great to be young and with it,” is the theme that’s hammered home, but not just for the sake of it. The ‘young' market is worth many millions, which it certainly was not in the old days. A 1959 survey by Dr. Mark Abrams, for instance, estimated that those between thirteen and twenty-five were drawing about £1,480 millions a year in wages. He mentioned the manufacturers’ ‘problems’ in trying to appeal to the (then) new market, and added that “. . . there is now a business as well as a moral and psychological necessity to understand young people”.

Which gives us our first clue to the reason for the post-war switch in values — if such they can be called. What with the technical developments boosted by the war and the labour shortage which has persisted in Britain more or less ever since, young workers are in demand as their parents seldom were. It’s your money they’re after, and to that end they will encourage you to speak your mind. You, Mr. and Miss 13-25, are the guinea pigs of their market research. In fact, as far as the manufacturers of certain types of goods are concerned, you are their market, and goodness knows how they’d get along without you now.

Add that to the undoubtedly greater importance of youngsters in the productive processes of capitalism, and the pace of modern existence with the accent on youthful fitness to withstand it, and it is not altogether surprising that the spotlight plays so persistently upon youth. Some think that the world is their oyster — that is, if they take too much notice of what the newspapers say. But it’s still very much a capitalist world, and the oyster is there for the lucky few, young or old, who own the means of life. Most boys and girls have to work for a living after they leave school, and that means the usual problems of getting by.

And what about the attitudes of the young towards modern society? Are they really such rebels, and do they differ in this respect so much from their elders? True, teenagers often do not see eye to eye with their parents on such matters as jobs, pocket money, sexual life, and so on (This last aspect of junior’s conduct is a constant source of horrified criticism; sour, grapes some say). Many have joined protest movements like CND, Anti-Apartheid etc. Their parents in the thirties joined the PPU, anti-fascist fronts and the like, and felt every bit as strongly about them.

Perhaps the outlook of youth can sometimes be called ‘unconventional’, but that’s nothing new. What matters is that it has never up to now been sufficiently unconventional to start questioning the very basis of our social system ; for it is the sad truth that objections to the Socialist case are much the same, whatever the age of the heckler at our public meeting. Young people generally accept capitalism, though like the rest of the working class, they kick against its effects at times. Professor F. Musgrove, of Bradford Institute of Technology, was nearer the truth than perhaps he realised, when he summed up the results of a survey in this way: —
No doubt there are youthful 'contra- cultures’ which support values which differ from, even invert, the values of the adult world . . .  But the broad picture of (Western) Youth highlights the continuities of outlook and belief between adolescents and their elders. (Guardian 22.4.66).
It is the Socialist who insists that the private property basis of society is the cause of the world's ills, and that only the common ownership of the means of life will end them. That is why our Party makes no false distinctions between young and old in its ranks —- the need for Socialist understanding is vital to everyone, irrespective of his age. Young people we are of course delighted to have join us, but there will be no segregation of them into a special ‘Section’, with all the sickeningly patronising attitudes so typical of the other parties. In the Socialist Party they have equal rights with every other member from the day of their enrolment.

We have tried to show that there is no intrinsic virtue in being young, old or anything else. The whole question must be viewed in its social context, and today that means within the bounds of capitalism, geared to the production of goods for sale, and the profit motive. Youngsters have become more important within this setup, while at the other end of the scale, old people rot out their remaining days on the scrapheap, though many of them could still make a valuable contribution to the running of a sane system. It would no doubt be a different story if the ruling class could find a way to use old age pensioners as a profitable source of labour power.

But capitalism is a wasteful and oppressive system for workers of all ages. It frustrates us at twenty, gives us ulcers at forty, and makes us apathetic and resigned at sixty-five, if we last that long. Of course there are many differences between young and old, and obviously their needs and capabilities differ, but it is capitalism which fosters the spurious divisions, and encourages animosities between various age groups. Whatever our age, we all have an overriding interest in the establishment of Socialism. Then, there would be no earthly reason that all of us should not be able to work harmoniously together, and in that sense forget our ages.
E. T. C.

Talks at the Summit (1955)

From the September 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The snows of the Cold War are melting. The Soviet Premier, Bulganin, and the Communist Party leader, Khrushchev, are to visit Britain next spring. They will be feted by the Queen. Even the Daily Mail welcomes the visit—with some reservations.

During the war the Russians were our friends, our “gallant allies,” our “comrades in arms.” But since 1945 they have become the villains of the piece. They have become our potential enemies. Whilst our old enemies the Italians, the Japanese and the Germans (the Western Germans, of course!) are now our friends, our allies in a possible future war. But now, since the Geneva “Talks at the Summit” the Russians—for how long we know not—are almost our friends again; or at least our politicians have “agreed” to differ with the Soviet rulers.

To most people, who think that all these differences and antagonisms are due to differences of systems or ideologies—to “Communism” or “ Fascism ’’—these changes are quite bewildering.

One day the Russians are nice friendly folk, and the Germans are wicked war-mongers; the next the Germans are peace-lovers and the Russians are all war-mongers. But to Socialists these so-called changes are not so bewildering. We don’t fall for all this propaganda. To us Russians are not all “bad” one day and “good” the next. We know that the reason why the rulers of Russia, America, or Britain fall out is not any so-called difference of ideologies, of Democracy, or Communism; or differences of social systems or ways of life. For we know that their social systems are not basically different; that American “free enterprise” is not fundamentally different from Soviet “Communism.” We know that in Britain, America —and the U.S.S.R. the same problems exist; we know that the workers of these lands are poor, that they live insecure lives, whilst their employers are rich; we know that in the Soviet Union, as Stalin admitted just before he died, the ruling class is being forced more and more to look for markets for its goods—outside its own frontiers. We know that the Soviet leaders are as much concerned with protecting their property interests as are the Americans or British. That is why we are not surprised at the antagonisms, the Cold War, the changing alliances, the “Talks at the Summit,” and the temporary patching-up of differences.

But if, at the moment, die snows are melting, and our political leaders tell us that there “ain’t gonna be a war,” we know that this is only temporary; that it cannot last; a breathing space for new groupings. Because we know that war, preparations for war and the like, are inseparable from our present world-wide, property-based, production—for profit society.

Bulganin and Khrushchev can come to Britain, Sir Anthony Eden can go to Russia—and Nehru can continue his Cook's Tour round the world, but whilst the people of the world are divided up into national groups, working for bosses whose primary concern is profit and exporting on the world markets, these antagonisms will continue. War will always be a possibility—with or without H-bombs.

Of course, we don’t have to put up with the present state of affairs, with the present system of society. We could change it, if we wanted to.
Peter E. Newell

Prejudice and Pride (2016)

The Proper Gander Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Gay And Under Attack (BBC3)
Reggie Yates has carved out a career taking us on insightful journeys into niche cultures, like a more chummy and relaxed version of Louis Theroux. His latest documentary, Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Gay And Under Attack (BBC3) is part of a series examining ‘the extreme edge of modern British masculinity’, also featuring obsessive body builders and anti-feminists. In this episode, Yates investigates why for some people in black and Asian communities, being gay or transgender is taboo or considered wrong. These attitudes still persist in the wider community, but seem more prevalent in groups which, ironically, have themselves experienced prejudice and discrimination.
Yates meets gay and transgender people of west African and Pakistani descent who have experienced more rejection than acceptance from family members and their peers. Max was thrown out of the family home when he came out, while Sahil’s mother said she could accept him if he was a murderer, but not as a homosexual. Although Tallulah’s relatives have been largely accepting of her being transgender, she risks abuse from others every time she leaves the house. Many black and Asian LGBQT people, more so than their white counterparts, face intimidation and violence from their communities, and consequently are less open about their identities. Yates suggests that some non-white people feel that they would have ‘too much to lose, too much to fear’ if they attended Pride events.
The issue isn’t really about ethnicity, but about culture and religion. Our attitudes are first formed by our upbringing and environment, rather than our skin colour. Yates cites lyrics in some Jamaican dancehall songs which normalise and trivialise homophobia, reinforcing the belief that homosexuality is ‘the white man’s disease’, which is wrong on at least three levels. These attitudes tend to originate from traditional, literal interpretations of Islam and Christianity which have indoctrinated people for centuries. Strict forms of Islam say that people become gay as a punishment from god for committing evil, and they deserve to be killed. And in the documentary, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor says that joining his church means accepting a particular lifestyle which doesn’t include homosexuality. Having a religious outlook tends to go hand-in-hand with stubbornly sticking to reactionary views, however brutal. A god’s job description doesn’t include adapting its principles to fit in with society’s changing attitudes. The views in the Bible and Koran reflect the elites which first enforced them, so they’re bound to be out of step now, despite their continuing influence.
Prejudice against gay and transgender people is part of a mindset which holds us back from working together to make a better world. Even though society is becoming more accepting overall, we won’t completely rid ourselves of prejudice without confronting the institutions which create it.
Mike Foster