Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Canadian "Homesteader." :A Reply To W. Searle (1914)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

W. Searle writes from Sask., Canada, " I am a class conscious slave of the farm, having taken up a so called free homestead from the Government . . . If there existed the least suspicion of ‘justice’ in the present system, the homesteader would be highly compensated instead of being charged a ‘filing fee’ for bringing 160 acres of ‘God’s green earth’ under cultivation . . . I should like your assistance in explaining the farmer’s true position as a wage worker. I know that the farmer in selling his wheat sells it at its value I would like to know in what particular manner he is being robbed.”

The answer to this is quite simple. The farmer, in selling his wheat at its value, is not being robbed. The explanation of the (pioneer) farmer's “true position" is to he sought in our correspondent’s remark that be should be compensated for bringing 160 acres of land into cultivation. In this country farmers are robbed by the landowner, for though a few are prosperous men, in general it pans out so that anything and everything the farmer may secure as the result of his own efforts, or may squeeze out of these he employs, goes to the parasite who owns the land he (the farmer) tills.

In our correspondent's case, however, the process is rather different, though the result is very much the same. The man who enters upon the proposition of a “free” homestead is robbed of opportunity. He is driven, through the monopoly in land, to apply his labour-power in such circumstances as render it impossible for it to be rewarded with the ordinary social rate of productivity. To sell his wheat and other produce at its value, therefore, by no means gives him an adequate return for the enormous amount of labour which he in his particular circumstances, has been forced to embody in it. True, if the lonely years do not break his heart, and the Herculean labour does not break his health, and the extortions of a capitalist government do not bleed him to death, he may find himself, in the fulness of time, in possession of a freehold of considerable extent if of little value. It is only this hope, deferred until after years of arduous toil and lonely living, that extracts the "filing fee” from the homesteader’s pocket for the benefit of a capitalist government, and induces him to slave unceasingly for the benefit of elevator companies and railway trusts. These get their picking, whatever befalls the victims they lure into the lonely West.
A. E. Jacomb

The Need For Action (1914)

From the June 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are quite a number of people claiming to agree with the principles of Socialism who imagine that all that is necessary for the cause is to understand something of the subject, to get some idea of the future state of society, and then patiently wait for the day of emancipation to arrive.

Some are of the opinion that it is quite unnecessary to preach Socialism, believing that the purely economic conditions alone will suffice to convert the working class to our doctrines. They arrive at this erroneous conclusion from the fact that the material conditions ultimately determine the ideas prevalent in society.

But economic conditions produced the electric railway and had each individual been left to discover that by stepping on to the “live" rail be would have been electrocuted the acquisition of his knowledge would undoubtedly have proved most disastrous to him. We therefore propagate the knowledge we have already acquired and so warn people of the dangers of electricity.

The present writer recently heard one who claims to be a Socialist lecturing under the auspices of the Secular Society, of whose principles be is a prominent platform exponent. He drew attention to the fact, that an enormous amount of time and energy was being wasted in the discussion of religion, and claimed that if only people would discontinue these religious controversies they would have all that time to devote to other things. He referred to what he termed an "old chestnut” that was often put to him by Socialists: Why did he waste his time and energy lecturing for the Secular Society?- for even if the working class got the god idea out of their beads, and rejected religion as worthless, they would still have the masterclass to contend with, and the social evils confronting them; and they claimed he should devote his time to the propaganda of Socialism.

With those he did not agree and claimed to be doing good work for humanity by trying to eliminate the god idea from the minds of the people, thus preventing them from wasting their time in religious controversies, and leaving them time and energy for social improvements.

That the people who are now devoting so much time and energy in discussing these trivial religious questions are wasting their time is quite true. But simply showing people that they are on the wrong road does not necessarily put them on the right one. If there were only two roads from which to choose, then the position would not be difficult. But, unfortunately, there are many paths that may be taken, yet only one that leads in the right direction; and the chances are very remote that our mental traveller will immediately alight on the right road, while dozens of political cul de sacs may be traversed and examined before our seeker after social salvation is fully convinced that the only way is in the path of Socialism. How many become weary in their search, and abandon the task in despair!

It behoves us, then, and all those who understand Socialism, to point the way and do our utmost to guide the seeker after true freedom along the path which we know to he right, for surely there is no better way of proving to people that they are wasting their time and energy plodding the wrong road than by convincing them that another is the only way.

Let us all, then, try and do SOMETHING, no matter how small that something may be, to enlighten our fellow workers. Everyone who understands Socialism can do something. If unable to address a meeting, take the chair, write an article for the official organ or publicly sell literature at propaganda meetings, then other means are open to him. He may know of some friend who has never read a copy of the Socialist Standard; let him, then, hand him a copy and extract from him a promise to read it; or he could leave a copy where it would be likely to be read. He may be in a position to assist financially, to quietly or openly distribute leaflets or handbills, or to advertise the useful pamphlets when opportunity affords.

There is not a single Socialist but could do something to assist in making another convert; and if this view was generally adopted and practised, then the membership of the organisation would be speedily doubled.

Let us try.
H. A. Young

Marx and Engels (1968)

Book Review from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels (with an introduction by A. J. P. Taylor) Pelican, 3s. 6d.

A. J. P. Taylor, the television "intellectual" has written an “introduction" to this edition which is longer than the manifesto itself. Since he is not a Marxist one would expect Taylor to misunderstand a good deal of what Marx and Engels wrote. But a surprising feature of this essay is the number of purely factual errors which he has managed to cram into it. A couple of examples: he claims that Marx called his system “dialectical materialism" and that Proudhon coined the phrase “Property is theft”. In fact, the first of these expressions is derived from George Plekhanov (who perhaps got it from Joseph Dietzgen) and was never used by Marx, while Proudhon's famous answer to the question “What is property?" was lifted bodily from Brissot's writings.

But quite apart from such ignorant blunders, Taylor does his level best to misrepresent Marx. He tries to show that Marx was little more than a simple- minded utopian:
The social conflicts which were the basis of his system would finally produce a synthesis where no conflicts were left, and history would come to an end. This synthesis was socialism, an ideal society or Utopia where everyone would be happy without conflict for ever more, (our emphasis)
Anyone who has even glanced at the preface to the Critique of Political Economy will remember that its author writes exactly the opposite—that Socialism will be the beginning of human history, that capitalism with its class antagonisms represents “the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society.” Socialists maintain that when we have freed ourselves from capitalism's strait-jacket mankind will be able to take a leap forward, completely dwarfing the results of all previous social revolutions. Certainly no Socialist, least of all Marx, would suggest that the new society will be similar to the stagnant perfection of the Christians’ paradise.

Another of Taylor’s claims is that “Marx in his analysis never seems to acknowledge the middlemen and administrators who make capitalism work. The more capitalism flourishes, the more there are of them.” Not only did Marx recognise these ‘middlemen’ and managers as being essential to capitalist industry, he also emphasised that they were members of the working class.
Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour . . .  so now, he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workmen. and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage-labourer. An Industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. (Capital. Vol. I Chap. XIII our emphasis)
In the best tradition of Marx's critics, Taylor is also fond of making sweeping, and often staggering, judgments — but offering no evidence to back them up. Thus the Labour Theory of Value is dismissed as “no longer academically respectable" (Marx would probably be relieved at this), while “the fundamental cause of the 1848 revolutions was the increase in population which had become general since the beginning of the century."

It is interesting to note that in contrast to some comments ridiculing Engels’ early work, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Taylor concedes that "it is still a historical authority of the first importance, even though apologists for capitalism have criticised its exaggerations." Another striking point is that, towards the end of his essay, Taylor makes a reference to state capitalism in Russia. But this is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of inanities elsewhere.

Despite its glossy cover, then, this book is a poor bargain at 3/6. A better buy would be the centenary edition of the Manifesto, brought out by our party, which is still selling at a shilling.
John Crump