Friday, January 27, 2017

How To Study Socialism (1930)

From the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the Socialist Standard and listeners at our meetings will have realised that we attach great importance to the workers having a knowledge of certain basic principles and being able to apply them to the questions of the day. That is how Socialists are made, and it is the only way. The worker who wishes to save himself from taking in and acting upon the theories and policies of the various capitalist parties must himself get to understand the economic and political problems which face him. This requires a certain amount of study, but it is well within the reach of the average worker. It is less difficult than many of the technical studies which workers have to pursue in order to get and keep their jobs in the employers' factories, workshops and offices. The study of economics and politics from the working class viewpoint is not only interesting in itself—something which can be said of all systematic expansion of our knowledge of the world we live in—but it has the additional attraction that it touches at every point the actual conditions of the life of the working class. That is to say, it is a study which, so far from being divorced from action, leads directly to the adoption of policies in line with our own economic interests. Knowledge of Socialism colours the everyday thoughts and actions of the Socialist, enables him to understand and appreciate at their true value the social forces with which he has to deal, and gives him that confidence which is indispensable for the organisation of the working class, the conquest of the powers of government, and the building up of Socialism.

How is such a study to be undertaken? What books should be read, and how are the students’ difficulties to be dealt with? These questions are in the minds of all who approach the task for the first time. To the limit of our present resources we hold, meetings, and arrange study classes and discussions at Head Office and in the branches. The student should attend these meetings and classes.

He should read the books advertised in these columns. They are works which we can recommend, and we shall be pleased to advise as to the works which a beginner should tackle first.

But above all there is The Socialist Standard itself. From month to month, over a period of 26 years, Socialist principles have been applied to current problems, every aspect of capitalism has been examined and explained, every policy presented to the workers has been criticised and its value assessed, every anti-working-class party has been exposed. Hundreds of well-informed articles have made accessible useful knowledge from almost every field of study, and hundreds of students' difficulties have been answered.

The Socialist Standard is not like a “news" journal, out of date almost as soon as it is published. It is a record of the past history of working-class movements, packed with invaluable information on their failures and on the false theories and policies which made failure inevitable. It is no exaggeration to say that there is no other comparable source to which the worker with his limited leisure and means can go for reliable guidance in the study of social problems. It is to meet this need that we offer bound volumes for sale. They are well bound and are sold at a price which leaves only a small margin over the actual cost of binding and postage. We cannot too strongly urge members and sympathisers to order one or more volumes and get down to study during the winter months. An announcement as to prices is printed elsewhere in this issue.

Behind the Test Ban Treaty (1963)

From the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

One swallow, said Lord Home, does not make a summer, but without any swallows there will be no summer (or words to that effect). He was talking, of course, about the Test Ban Treaty which was signed last month amid so much flourish and back-slapping in Moscow.

Lord Home was not the only statesman to offer a somewhat muted welcome for the Treaty. On the other side, there were plenty of commentators to assure us that this was something to sing about, and that the agreement was a step towards a better, safer, more peaceful world.

Now we have heard this song before and we have come to accept it for what it is worth. So it is fair to ask one or two questions about this latest venture into the field of agreements which are supposed to be going to make the world a fit place for humans to live in.

The first thing about the Treaty to give us a qualm is the suspicious ease with which it was discussed and signed. Talks on banning bomb tests have been going on for years, each one getting bogged down in apparently futile arguments over the details of administering a ban. Only a simple soul, of course, could have believed that these were genuine difficulties. The reason for the succession of breakdowns was that the talks were not serious. No nuclear power has ever really intended to give up the right to test its weapons.

Then suddenly, in contrast to the years of shilly-shallying, the new talks opened and the diplomats went willingly to Moscow (no bargaining, for a change, over where the talks were to be held) all in the assumption that this time they would bring it off. And they did. The experts at dipping their pens in the ink without signing, as Moscow radio called them, all at once made their marks on the paper and the deed was done. Why the sudden change of heart?

We can gorge ourselves on any amount of speculation. A popular theory was that the great powers gave themselves an awful fright over Cuba and that, stricken by a ruinous vision of the consequences of what might have been last October, they will now go to any lengths rather than to the brink again. This theory fits in with the widespread conception of international politicians as men who can apply everyday, humane standards of judgment to their work.

But the obvious question here is, why did they not apply these standards before Cuba? That affair was, after all, something of a calculated gamble by the Soviet Union. Is it possible that last year's belligerent Mr. Khrushchev, the man who only a few months ago secreted nuclear rockets onto the United State's doorstep, can change into this year's paragon of peace and virtue? This is the sort of unanswerable question which the theory about the influence of peaceful or bellicose leaders has to satisfy.

Another explanation for the Treaty was that the nuclear powers are finding the cost of their weapons too high and now think it sensible to call a halt. There is some evidence to support this point of view. Hydrogen bombs are expensive and so is the associated hardware—the rockets and the guiding systems and the race for space—which is so essential a part of them. Probably even more expensive—and this is something which the last series of big American and Russian tests may have uncovered — is the chain of anti-missile defences which must be almost the next step in the nuclear arms race.

Perhaps, then, the nuclear powers need a breathing space to sort out the delivery problems, so that they can develop a production method for missiles as smooth and as cheap as that for conventional bombers. The big fault with this argument is that it ignores the fact that, if the interests of a capitalist power demand it, that power will produce its weapons regardless of the cost. In the last war, this country was spending £14 million each day on the war effort. For a long time the British capitalist class have had their doubts about the economy of keeping up their own nuclear weaponry. Yet they have kept it up. Armaments do not provide the best ground for a logical, orderly assessment of priorities.

And when we have considered all these arguments—and perhaps given them their due—we are still left with our original question.

Why the sudden change of heart?

One of the most striking—and potentially the most frightening-aspects of the Treaty is that it divides the world into those countries which have the Bomb and those which, with the exception of France, have not got it. (There will now probably be pressure upon de Gaulle—perhaps an American promise of nuclear know-how—to get him into the new alliance.)

What is more, the nuclear powers are now sworn to try to prevent the spread of the weapons; in other words, to maintain their own supremacy. This is what de Gaulle meant when he referred to the " . . . terrible threat which the nuclear armaments of the two rivals hold over the world and, above all, over the peoples that have not got them.” And it is what the chairman of the China Peace Committee meant when he promised a Chinese nuclear bomb in these words:
It will not be long now before the attempt to control the destiny of peoples made by a small number of countries with their monopoly of nuclear weapons will be thwarted.
It is when we consider that the breach between Moscow and Peking, which has been opening up for the past few years, has now burst wide open that the Test Ban Treaty takes on what could be its true significance. The breakdown of the recent talks between the Russian and the Chinese leaders could indicate that recent Russian policy towards China is openly a failure and that henceforth the clashing economic and strategic interests of these two countries can no longer be papered over by a mutual hostility towards the USA. This in turn would mean that the Russian government will be as anxious as any other to stop the Chinese having the Bomb— or that, if they have got it, to deter them from flaunting it by a massive display of nuclear counter-strength.

If this is so, we may be sure that the effect of the Treaty will be to make the nuclear have-nots intensify their efforts to get the Bomb. From this it may follow that the nuclear haves will try to do a deal, as we have seen they may try with France, to restrict or to control the spread of nuclear knowledge. Or, perhaps, on this issue, they will find themselves fighting a war.

Are we, then, witnessing a new alignment in the disputes and the opposing forces of world capitalism? Do we stand now at the threshold of another great division? Said The Economist on August 3rd:
Moscow’s split with Peking . . .  may perhaps stand out bold and clear as an event that forced us to . . .  think up a fresh set of rules of action to face a new outlook in world politics.
Which would be nothing new. It is the basic nature of capitalism which causes modern war and so gives rise to the weapons with which wars are fought. This same basic nature throws up a mass of complex interests and counter interests which at one time coincide and at another clash. Capitalism's allies are never, can never, be permanent. Its treaties and agreements can never be worth more than the paper they are written on.

The Moscow agreement is not excluded from this. It has the customary gaping loophole through which, on a plea of “national interests,” any of its signatories can forget that they ever signed it. It excludes the currently awkward powers—China and France—and this is no coincidence because the present interests of these countries put them outside the Treaty. No pact, after all, has ever been able to get over the conflicting interests of capitalism’s disputing nations.

None of this, as we might have guessed, prevented the politicians from taking credit for the Treaty. With the ink on the signatures hardly dry, they were anxiously identifying themselves with the Test Ban and pointing out what clever, humane men they are to stop doing something which, by any humane reasoning, they should never have started. They told us how good it is for us, now that the tests have stopped. When Lord Home could take time off from musing on the swallows he said:
Don’t let us run away with the idea that this test ban, if it is signed by the United States, Russia, and ourselves, is of no value. It stops fall-out, which greatly concerns the medical profession and every parent in every western country.
We may be sure that Lord Home has not forgotten that he is a member of a government which, as long as they wanted to test their bomb, blandly assured us that the danger from fall-out was negligible. A government which told us that the best medical brains were on their side in this matter and that only a morbid, hypochondriacal parent would worry about fall-out. Do the facts change, now that a treaty has been signed? Is Strontium-90 dangerous, after all? Did all those children really die of leukaemia?

The cynicism of capitalism is one of its worst features. Yet cynicism is the quality—if that is the right word—which the politicians and the diplomats must develop if they are to run the system. They must all learn to sign on the dotted line with their tongues in their cheeks and a ready smile for the cameramen. And how much, do you think, does that make their signature worth?

And will the Test Ban Treaty, do you think, really work? 

The fact is that it is very much on the cards that the nuclear powers will one day start their tests again. And if the Moscow Treaty does go into the waste paper basket it will find itself nestling alongside any number of equally ballyhooed predecessors.

The Test Ban Treaty (1963)

Editorial from the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over the recently signed Test Ban Treaty there hangs a massive, inevitable question. Elsewhere in this issue of the Socialist Standard we discuss some of the implications of the Treaty and the possible reasons for it. Briefly, the big nuclear powers have come to an agreement to stop atmospheric testing because of a recent shift in the balance of power in the world.

The Soviet Union, which has tried for so long to control the potential might of China, has now apparently given up and in some ways has thrown in its lot with the Western bloc. China must now step up its efforts to master the secrets of nuclear weapons which the Soviet Union has refused to give them.

If the present situation develops much further we may see a massively powerful, nuclear armed China on the one hand, gathering as many allies among the new Eastern and African states as it can, and on the other—almost the whole of the rest of the world. By no means is this an attractive prospect.

The result of the Test Ban Treaty can only be, then, another big power line-up in the world and a continuation of the old, ruthless struggle. The only difference will be that the sides will have changed and perhaps the areas of dispute. The basic conflict of capitalist interest will remain unaltered. For the majority of people in the world—for the working class—this will bring further insecurity, further tension, perhaps in the end the unimaginable terror of a mighty conflagration.

And the question is: What will they do about it? The Test Bun Treaty is typical of all the pacts and agreements which capitalist powers make between themselves. All these pacts, at best, only shuffle the cards into different, no less menacing combinations. This does not, of course, prevent the politicians presenting each treaty as a step towards peace, as a cause for rejoicing among the working class.

And the big question is: Will the working class believe them? Will they reflect upon the history of all the treaties 'which have been solemnly and ceremoniously signed only to be broken when the very time came for them to be kept? Upon the many pacts of non-aggression which have preceded the signatories making war upon each other? Upon the fruitless discussions which have taken place with none of the participants seriously intending to settle anything?

Will the working class take the trouble to think into the facts about the big power divisions in the world? Will they ask themselves why the powers' interests are opposed, so often and so frighteningly? Why, indeed, there are powers, separate nations big and small? These are the sort of questions which the Test Ban Treaty should bring to mind, once again.

Capitalism is now a futile social system. It cannot unite the human race — it can only divide it catastrophically. It cannot serve human interests; it can only deny and damage them. It cannot solve its problems, such as war, but only continue to produce them in one form or another.

The only way out of this insane maze is to get rid of capitalism and replace it with Socialism. Will the working class realise this? Before the desperate conflicts of capitalism make it, for many of them, too late?

The Opening (1957)

A Short Story from the March 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing peculiar about Cwm Glo. It is a mining village, one of hundreds to be found in the valleys of South Wales, owing its origin and continuing to draw its sustenance from the colliery that casts the shadow of its slag pyramids over the rows of houses that line the valley floor. Were it not that some months ago the “Legion” Club had moved into its new premises, Cwm Glo would not have warranted a single sentence in a Socialist journal. Don’t get us wrong; no revolution has occurred; no National newspaper has shown the least interest in the place; nothing has happened that has occasioned as much as a question in Parliament. Yet the incident of “the opening” is not without its interest to anyone with a finger on the pulse of society and a Socialist is of necessity, such a person.

As we were saying, the “Legion” Club was to be re-opened in new and shiny premises. Short of having the Bishop and local M.P. present, everyone else of note was invited, including the local councillors, the vicar, and, to uphold the military tradition associated with the movement Col. Hughes (ret.), together with a company of territorials, was to attend.

The highlight of the ceremony was to be the unveiling of the “Roll of Honour” now cemented into its new place in the imposing “foyer” with the addition of two names—local lads killed in Malaya. The Committee, despite the necessity of having to have the “big guns” present decided to ask old Phill Davies, their oldest member, to unveil the plaque and say a few appropriate words in conjunction with the vicar. Phill had been reluctant at the offset, but worse was to follow. A week before the big event, old Phill died. We will never know whether the occasion was too great, or whether a heart weakened by years of straining in a body rent by 1916 gas and 40 years coal dust was the cause or not, but there it was—he died.

Anyhow, after considerable discussion and much running around, it was decided to ask old “Price Committee” to stand in his place. Even though he was not a member, Price was the obvious choice, being their spokesman at any discussion or negotiations with the management at the “pit” or the N.C.B.

Price agreed. The proceedings went according to plan; the councillors had their say, the vicar said his piece and the Col. and his men put up a brave show. By this time the members’ eyes were beginning to stray in the direction of the gleaming beer pumps standing like a row of inviting virgins as yet unsullied but full of the promise of future delights . . . 

Price stepped forward to speak as the last strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” died away. “Friends and fellow workers,” he began “Not being a member of your Club, I thank you for allowing me to act on your behalf. I bear in mind the two purposes for which I am here—to honour the memory of those dead, including our latest loss, old Phill, and to launch this Club on its new career. I am at one with you all as regards the former even though I am not in the least interested in the latter. I am old enough to remember most of the boys whose names adorn this plaque” (Price turned for a moment towards the tablet). “I certainly can speak for old Phill. He was my ‘butty.' We disagreed over many things, including his attitude to the 'British Legion,’ and his views on religion.” Price looked straight at the Vicar, who appeared to be most uncomfortable. The two reporters began to take some interest in the proceedings. The worthy gentlemen on the platform began to sense that something had gone wrong; one or two of the committee members looked at their colleagues with a “I told you so \” attitude on their faces. Price continued quietly and deliberately, "These boys were ours, Phill was one of us, both were torn from us and were sacrificed on behalf of those who live by the sweat and life blood of the working class. Those whose names are on this plaque died young and are acknowledged as patriots. Phill's death was more protracted. He always 'did his best’ as he put it A 'best' which nevertheless only succeeded in keeping him poor after years of sacrifice on behalf of Capitalism in peace and war.” There were now distinct murmers all round, the worthies on the platform shuffled uncomfortably, the Vicar flushed and Hughes Col. reddened appreciably. Price carried on: “I knew them all and I pay my tribute. To conclude, let me but add: Old Phill symbolises all of our kind. After a life of toil in the pits; after a life serving in peace and war, a vast Empire on which the sun never sets Brother Phill Davies has gone with the others—to that vast insatiable graveyard that is the end of the road for those who have served. His share of the Empire has been duly earned—6ft. of clay. He came by his own in the end.”

Price walked down from the dais and out of the hall in complete silence. In the general hubbub that followed, the “dignitaries” walked off the platform; the excitement flowed along with the members into the bar. The beer pumps began their work.

The occasion was, to the credit of the Valley Voice, given a deal of prominence. Discussions continued in the Club and elsewhere, for weeks; letters were sent to the Press for and against Price’s speech. In time it all died away. All, did we say? Well nearly all, except that Price finds it easier to get a hearing these days. He also finds it easier to get his mates to read the Socialist Standard.

There you see, there has certainly been no revolution in Cwm Glo, no questions have been asked in Parliament. But some few workers in a little mining community have begun to think and to a Socialist that is something.
W. Brain