Friday, February 24, 2017

By The Way (1918)

The By The Way column from the November 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Lloyd. George in his Manchester speech once again crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s of the Socialist propagandist. It was in dealing with the lessons of the war that the Prime Minister told his hearers that “the State must take a more constant and more intelligent interest in the health and fitness of the people.” Why this interest was to be manifested was in order to maintain the Empire, and because the war and the need for fighters had shown what a pitiable caricature capitalist society had reduced its wage slaves to. The speaker went on to say— '
I asked the Minister of National Service how many more men could we have put into the fighting ranks if the health of this country had been properly looked after. I staggered at the reply. It was a considered reply. It was, “At least one million.” . . .  Here we are combing out the essential industries . . . and yet you had a million men who, if the State had taken proper care of the fitness of the people, would have been available for the war. . . . I solemnly warn my fellow-countrymen that you cannot maintain an A1 Empire with a C3 population. Unless this lesson is learned war is vain.—“Daily News,” Sept. 13th, 1918.
Now, I submit that this is a pretty strong indictment of capitalism. Strange, is it not, that it should require a world war to bring home to our rulers the truth of our contention of the indifference, even to the point of callousness, in the treatment meted out to the workers in the piping times of peace by the master class? Mate, it’s up to you! Is capitalism worth fighting for? Think it over!

* * *

Next our glib-tongued orator turned his attention to unpacking a box of red herrings, termed in these days reconstruction. The question of housing reform was an essential feature in improving the health of the people; healthier conditions of workshops, and wages which will sustain life in full vigour; more attention to be paid to the schools, encouragement of production and national assistance: all these things are offered as tempting baits to the unwary to lure them into further support of capitalist apologists. Coming to close grips with this specious thing, he adds—
  Let us have it when the nation is riding the chariot of a high purpose ere it comes down to the dusty road. That is the time to reconstruct, that is the time to build —when there is the spirit of fraternity throughout the land, when there is no longer rich and poor, one party or other, but one people, one spirit, one purpose, one soul—to lift our native land, not merely above the menace of a foreign foe, but above the wretchedness, the squalor, the horror, the misery which so many men and women and children who live on the hearthstones of this old land have been enduring. I have been amongst the people and I know it, and I want to see this thing righted after the war.
All these things are offered to the credulous if they will but bow down and worship him. But let us pause for a moment and ask if he will really “deliver the goods.” What of the promises made years ago? What of the land campaign, the 1909 budget, the easier and pleasanter road, the road through fields of waving corn, and the benefits to be conferred on long-suffering humanity by the insurance act. Long years of office and a total inability to deliver the goods in the past emboldens me to say that these fine words are but empty vapourings.

* * *

In these days when shortage of shipping is a continual cry, the following announcement is illuminating,—from South Africa this time—
  A boat arrived here the other day with motors and racehorses for Solly Joel, but no mails or anything of any use to the general community. No ships can be found for wheat, wool, hides, and a thousand and one things that are wanted at home in England, but a ship can be easily spared for Solly Joel's racehorses, motors, etc.—“Daily News,” Aug. 28th, 1918.
Cheerful news this for those who “spot” winners and “back” horses. But what matters it for those who lack the necessaries of life so long as we maintain this glorious form of sport ?

* * *

More business ability! Recently Mr. J. M. Hogge, M.P., was speaking at Liverpool, where he read the following letter received by a discharged soldier—
   The Minister of Pensions has decided to continue your pension at the rate of 22s. 9d. a week from July 31,1918, till January 31,1919, then at the rate of 19s 6d. for life, at the expiration of which you will again be medically examined with a view to consideration of your claim for further pension.
Funny, isn’t it? Evidently the age of miracles is not yet passed.

* * *

Whilst so many people are busily employed with the mote in the German’s eye regardless of the beam in their own it is interesting to read President Wilson’s Proclamation condemning manifestations of the mob spirit. I read:
  There have been many lynchings, and every one of them has been a blow at the heart of ordered law and humane justice.
  No man who loves America, no man who really cares for her fame and honour and character, or who is truly loyal to her institutions, can justify mob action while the courts of justice are open and the Governments of the States and nations are ready to do their duty.
  We are at this very moment fighting lawless passion. Germany has outlawed herself among the nations because she has disregarded the sacred obligations of law and has made lynchers of her armies. Lynchers emulate her disgraceful example.
   I say plainly that every American who takes part in the action of a mob, or who gives it any sort of countenance, is no son of this great democracy, but its betrayer. “Star,” Sept. 3rd, 1918.
In this “land of the free” we are also acquainted with the mob spirit. One has only to call to mind recent happenings at Plumstead Common and Abbey Wood. And we have no recollection of seeing any condemnation of such tactics by those who are alleged to be the custodians of the rights of small nations.
The Scout.

The Problem of the Small Shopkeeper (1934)

From the March 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lord Beaverbrook, who says that Fascism must be sternly resisted, and Lord Rothermere, who says it is the only solution, have joined hands to deal a stout blow at the Co-operative Movement, and are obligingly writing articles in each other’s papers about the iniquity of co-operative stores ruining the little shopkeepers.

The two lords are noted for their political stunting and for their frequent startling reversals of policy, and the present campaign shows them, as usual, wildly disregardful of consistency. Lord Beaverbrook, for the past three years, has loudly clamoured for higher wages, on the ground, among others, that higher pay means more money to be spent at the counters of the stores which advertise in his columns. He also found it a useful stick with which to beat the Labour Government early in 1931. He now makes a major point in his indictment of the co-operative stores, that they also have reduced the pay of their staffs. Yet Lord Beaverbrook finds no difficulty in associating with Lord Rothermere, whose papers have always been foremost in defending every wage-cut there ever was, and which now oppose the restoration of the 1931"cuts,” which Beaverbrook supports.

Lord Beaverbrook denounces the co-operatives because they dabble in politics. A trading concern, he solemnly says, should not be allowed to go in for politics. Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere themselves are interested in trading concerns, their newspaper companies. Do they keep out of politics? On the contrary, as everybody knows, politics, their own personal ambitions, their wirepulling and political back-biting, are the life-blood of their newspapers.

Then Lord Beaverbrook declares that the cooperative stores are to be condemned on two grounds: (a) That their prices are higher than those of the small traders, and (b) That the co-operatives have an unfair advantage in being able to return to their customers at the end of the year a “ dividend on purchases.” It should be apparent to Lord Beaverbrook that if, in fact, co-operative store prices are higher than those of private traders, then the “dividend on purchases" merely represents the accumulated savings of the customers. They pay more for the goods and in due course get the excess back again. If that were all the difference between the co-operatives and the small traders then the latter could help themselves quite simply by starting similar schemes for saving up their customers' spare cash.

The real trouble between the co-operatives and the small traders is a quite different matter. The gist of it is that the small trader is small, and the co-operatives are becoming mammoth capitalist trading concerns, just like any other.

That is where the shoe pinches, and Beaverbrook and Rothermere have observed it. They have learned from Hitler the political value of exploiting the resentment of the small trader at his extinction by the chain store and department store, and—also like Hitler—they have seen the wisdom of directing that resentment in a quarter least harmful to themselves, i.e. against the cooperatives. Logically, of course, Beaverbrook and Rothermere should march determinedly, not only against the co-operatives, but also, and mainly, against all the big battalions, Boots, Woolworths, Marks & Spencers, Selfridges, Harrods, Imperial Chemicals, Unilever, the London Passenger Transport Board, and so on. They do not do so because that would rouse too much and too powerful opposition, and would directly harm their Lordships by cutting off revenue from the advertising of the products of those concerns in their pages. The moral would appear to be that the co-operatives should pay for immunity by placing big advertisements in the Daily Mail and Daily Express. As they have recently taken a whole page in the Daily Telegraph, perhaps that is what the co-operative directors are going to do.

Before leaving the subject of the small trader and the big store, a candid declaration made by Mr. Gordon Selfridge deserves to be rescued from obscurity. In an address broadcast to a conference on retail distribution, held at Boston on September 18th, 1933, he said that both in U.S.A. and Great Britain there are “too many retail shops." (See report in Daily Herald, September 19th.) What he thought about small shopkeepers was this: —
This surplus of shops is an uneconomic proposition, and most of these inexperienced managers or owners are attempting to do work for which they are unfitted either by temperament or ability.
Small shopkeepers who have faith in Beaverbrook and Rothermere should ask their Lordships if they will publicly denounce Mr. Selfridge, and if not, why not.

A few words about the forerunners of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere may also serve to show the danger of trusting to the promises of politicians that they will turn back the march of large-scale industry. Ten years ago, and twenty years ago, the Labour Party was vigorously defending the “little men” against the “great soulless corporations." “ Down with monopoly” was their battle-cry. As Mr. Clynes put it, a short twelve years ago, better a large number of small capitalists than a small number of large ones.

But capitalism marched on unheeding, and one day the Labour Party found itself in office, saddled with responsibility for tackling the problems of capitalist adjustment to changing economic conditions. At once the defence of the small man became inconvenient, and by the time the Labour Party entered office again, in 1929, the old coat had been turned inside out. It had been discovered by Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr. Bevin, the late W. Graham and others, that monopoly is the salt of the earth. All the Labour leaders, except a few who resented this volte-face, now preached salvation by public utility corporations.

So now the small shopkeeper is looking to new groups of politicians, Hitler and Dollfuss, Rothermere and Mosley, to save him, but in that quarter the old game of broken pledges is proceeding merrily. Rothermere and Beaverbrook have no intention of attacking their own big-business friends, and Hitler, before being in power a year, was already explaining away his unwillingness to demolish the German chain stores and departmental stores.

That, however, is the affair of the small shopkeeper, not of the Socialist movement. What is our affair is the need to repudiate the charge put forward by Beaverbrook and Rothermere that Socialists support co-operative big business against the small shopkeeper. The co-operative movement (which, incidentally, is so unlike the dreams of its founders as to be almost unrecognisable) and the Socialist movement are as chalk and cheese. We have not the slightest interest in the efforts of the co-operative movement to extend its business organisation. Some workers may find co-operative "divi." a convenient method of saving, but, as a movement, it never will or could bring emancipation any nearer. It can thrive only by accepting and imitating capitalism. It can never bring the workers more than a few crumbs from the capitalist table.

As Socialists we do not gloat over the personal tragedies of the wiping out of the small shopkeeper any more than we do over other tragic effects of ruthless capitalism. What we do say, is that Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook have no intention whatever of setting back the clock of capitalist development in order to retrieve the fortunes of the small man. If they have, let them show it by retiring from the fight in which their newspaper combines crush out the small local newspaper.
 
Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook appear to have devised an astute plan for boosting circulation and delimiting their respective interests. They agree to disagree about Fascism, they agree to co-operate about the co-operatives, they agree to be dumb about the other big stores which advertise in their columns, they agree to disagree about higher wages and restoring the “economy cuts," and, above all and all the time, they are completely silent about capitalism and Socialism, except to gloss over the evils of the one and misrepresent the other.

The appeal of Socialism is primarily to the workers, that is, to all who live by selling their mental and physical energies, their labour-power, to an employer, for it is our class which provides and will provide the driving force towards Socialism.

At the same time we point out to those groups of "small men” trying to maintain a precarious and often illusory independence against large-scale industry and commerce, that there is no salvation for them under capitalism. As individuals their place is within our ranks, when they recognise that the prime need of our age is the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and the establishment of Socialism, and when they are prepared to work with us to that end.
Edgar Hardcastle