Monday, March 6, 2017

Are politics worth while? (1918)

From the May 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are politics worth while? One would think that such were a crazy question to ask at this time of day. Yet probably the vast majority of the working class even to-day hold politics in the most profound contempt.

The folly of this attitude it revealed as soon as we consider what the functions and purpose of politics are.

Politics, we are told, are "the science of government; political affairs, or the contest of parties for power." The workers' interest in politics as the science of government is the governed. For they are the governed. They have no lot or portico in government. not withstanding appearances. What, then, is the purpose of government?

There are two classes in modern society. one of which—the working class—produces all the wealth, tbs other of which—the master class— appropriates all the wealth. A social arrangement in which one section of society is robbed by another section of society must necessarily always be productive of social friction. The class which are robbed, however ignorant they may he of the fact of the robbery, must hare a tendency to resist that spoliation. Even if in their view there was nothing but the sale and purchase of labour-power, still must they resist the spoliation in the form of a limitless and ceaseless struggle for a higher price for their labour-power.

Obviously. the extent to which this struggle for higher wages succeeds must be determined by the force which is opposed to it. In the total absence of opposition it must proceed until there is nothing left of the workers’ product after their wage-claim has been met, and the next step must he. consequent upon the breakdown of the sale and purchase of labour-power, the utter expropriation of the possessing class.

In order to prevent things taking this course, in order to maintain their position as an exploiting class on the one band, and render their exploitation as complete as possible on the other, a controlling force is necessary. This controlling force is a complex thing, being nothing less than the whole instrument of the State. The forces of coercion, civil and military: the judiciary and its minions; the local authorities: these and many others are the components of the instrument of suppression which we call the State.

This machinery of the State, by means of which the social system is maintained upon a basis which presupposes a class living by the sale of their labour-power—a class of wageworkers—is controlled politically. Its control is the object of politics in the sense of "contests between parties for power" —the political struggle. Are politics, then, worth while?

Politics, it is seen, lie at the root of all social power. Through politics the workers are kept subject and robbed. Through politics the masters assure that all the benefits which accrue from human progress— every advance in science, every improvement in the means and methods of wealth production—go to them. Through politics they are able to throw the workers into the streets to starve when their labour has filled the warehouses with goods which they are not permitted to consume, and glutted the markets with wealth which chokes its producers. Through politics the tyrants of the universe are able to drag the workers from their homes to die in countless thousands in the trenches of the battlefield. Through politics they are able to fill the land—all lands—with widows and orphans, and with mothers mourning sons who will never return.

All these things politics mean and more. More on the side of the masters, and more, infinitely more on the side of the workers. For politics are the means which will give them control over the armed forces’. over the police and the judiciary, over every stone and timber of the structure of the State, and through these over the instruments of labour, the means of production. Through politics it shall yet be secured that the mills grind for human feeding and the shuttles fly for human comfort. Politics ARE worth while.
A. E. Jacomb


A Lesson in Terms (1918)

From the April 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

Distinctions the workers must understand.
Wealth used for the reproduction of wealth is capital, says the orthodox school of political economy. This definition can only arise through failure to understand the fact that only in certain historical conditions and in a certain mode of production, does wealth become capital.

It is the habit of the orthodox school to treat of the present system of society as though it had always existed and always will. Hence wealth and capital are to them synonymous.

It was Karl Marx who laid bare the distinctive features of the present mode of wealth production, and in so doing treated it as having peculiarities that never existed in any phase of society that proceeded it. What Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, Haeckel, and a host of others have done within the domain of biology Marx, Engels, and Morgan have done for sociology. There has been a development from one form of life to another, and there has also been a development from one form of society to another.

The truth of this theory has become firmly established, but one would hardly credit it when listening to certain people who, while registering their approval of the now well-established facts of biology, completely fall to pieces when a similar process of scientific reasoning is applied within the domain of sociology. Thus terms that can only apply to-day are made use of in reference to past societies, whilst terms that should apply only to the past are made to do duty in reference to the present social order. It is through failure to understand this that the great confusion exists about the terms “wealth” and “capital.”

In treating of the capitalist mode of wealth production Marx begins bis investigation in the words:
“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of the commodity.”
How different this, from the method of the orthodox school, who failed to observe that the present mode of wealth production possessed characteristics that no other system ever possessed.

The chief reason for production to-day is the realisation of profit. The capitalists are not in the least concerned about the quality of the goods that are being produced. Their only concern is that, when the goods are placed upon the market and sold, they obtain a profit. This they must have, and in order to get it they care not in the least whether it is derived from the manufacture of bibles or beer, bullets or bread, boots or burglar’ jemmies.

In no form of society previous to capitalism did production for the great markets of the world exist; this is one reason why we must differ from those who imply that wealth and capital mean the same thing, in each and every set of social conditions. They remind us of a certain section, once famous in the world of science, who held that the theory of evolution did not apply to man.

In early tribal society man was in possession of but crude means of production, and his economic position was certainly very precarious. Says Prof. Jenks of the early savage: “The actual savage is usually a miserable, underfed, and undersized creature, naked and shivering, in constant terror of dangers seen and uuseen, with no family ties as we understand them with no certain food supply and no settled abode."

For participation in the chase the savage hunter had only one motive, namely, to use that which he gained by the chase to satisfy his needs—to feed and clothe him. There was no world market for him, no great social production with its organised factory system. It was in such conditions as these that we might say that wealth was used for the re-production of wealth.

Only when we arrive at the present mode of production can we find the true meaning of capital. The subject must be treated theoretically, as Karl Kautsky put it in his brilliant pamphlet, “From Handicraft to Capitalism.” The starting points of bourgeois society were peasant-farming and handicraft. The peasant family originally satisfied all their requirements. They produced all the food they needed, their tools, clothing, etc. They produced as much as they required and no more. Gradually, however, owing to the progress of agriculture, they produced a surplus of things which they did not want for their own use, and this surplus they exchanged for other things which they did want.

Now was the peasant a producer of commodities. The wheat he produced for his own use was not a commodity; that which he produced to exchange was. The illustration meets the point. That which is produced for use is not a commodity ; that which is produced for sale is a commodity.

Only in certain’ conditions docs an article become a commodity, and only in certain conditions does wealth become capital. A machine, for instance, could be used for the purpose of supplying some family need. Vast numbers of sewing machines are used to fulfil this function, but it would be absurd to call these machines capital.

Only when the machines are used for the purpose of turning out goods by means of purchased labour-power, to be placed upon the market, do they become capital.

Capital, then, to give it its true meaning in as simple language as possible is wealth used for the production of profit. With this definition it is stripped of all those mysterious properties that so many people seem to think it possesses. The great means of wealth production that are socially manipulated by the working class are individually owned by the capitalist class. Social production with individual appropriation is the characteristic of modern society. Let us produce, no matter what, so long as we get a profit, is the motto of the ruling class.

It is by reason of the existence of capitalism that the anomaly of starvation in the midst of plenty is with us. The individual ownership of the means of life gives rise to the vast production of commodities to deluge the world’s markets. Goods are produced in wild profusion, and far in excess of the effective demand for them, until finally the warehouses are choked and the markets glutted Production is strangled, a commercial crisis descends upon the community; and hundreds of thousands of workers are flung into the industrial reserve army, commonly known as the unemployed.

In earlier stages of society if man suffered from lack of food it was only because of the inadequacy of his menus to stave off any natural upset that might occur. But to-day, through man’s triumph over the forces of nature, he can produce wealth in sufficient abundance, irrespective of climatic conditions, to assure a comfortable existence for all. Under capitalist ownership and capitalist production, however, the workers, who are the wealth producers, suffer their greatest poverty when the warehouses are full of the wealth which they have produced and the markets surfeited with the products of their toil.

It is, of course, quite easy for the workers to accept off-hand any of the statements of certain pedants and sycophants, because the workers have been trained to think along capitalist lines, a course which the pseudo-Socialists encourage when they say that Socialism means the common ownership of land and capital, as do the I.L.P. and some pamphleteers of the B.S.P.

But with the ripening economic conditions and the burden of economic exploitation pressing more heavily upon the workers a way out of the horrible conditions will be sought, and it is for the Socialist Party to show the way. Confused terminology, which gives rise to confused ideas, must lie scattered to the winds. That is one of the first essentials of sound progress. The workers must learn to appreciate the true meaning of such terms as “wealth” and “capital” before they can understand the nature of the process by which they are robbed and held in bondage, and therefore before they can become fit and efficient instruments of working class emancipation.
Robert Reynolds

The Question of "Intervention" (1918)

Editorial from the April 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have many times indicated in these pages, not only since the war started, but right back to the early days of our existence as a party, what would be the fate of any premature revolutionary outbreak in any one country, where the local conditions favoured it so decidedly that it attained the overthrow of the ruling class in that country. We have pointed time and time again, to the ready assistance which the German ruling class in 1871 rendered to the French bourgeoisie in order to enable them to smash the commune of the Paris working men, and have held that up as an example of the international solidarity of the capitalist class as against the workers, and have claimed this as foreshadowing what would take place again in circumstances approaching similarity to those, and indicating the vital necessity of the international foundation of the Socialist movement.

Without admitting that the Bolshevik rising is Socialist, we may claim it as giving confirmation to our statement. In its overturning of the established order, it renders itself hateful to the bourgeoisie of every country. And what do we see? Already, according to accounts, the bourgeoisie of Russia are calling upon friend and foe to deliver them out of the hands of the Bolsheviks. Lenin declared that the capitalist element of the territories which have been annexed by the Germans “welcomed the Germans as deliverers.” Confirmation is lent to this statement by the report now to hand that the bourgeois elements in Russia are appealing for allied intervention to “organise the internal forces of Russia,” in other words, to establish capitalist control in the regions now dominated by the Bolsheviks.

So much for the internal side. Externally we find the Allies putting such pressure as they can upon Japan in order to secure her “intervention.” The excuse offered, that it is to save German capture of Russian stores in Siberia, and to prevent German exploitation of the far Eastern Russian territories, is one that won’t wash, in view of the enormous distance of those provinces from Germany, the small capacity of the only practicable artery—the Trans-Siberian Railway—and its vulnerability at almost any point though thousands of miles of hostile country, and the consequent danger of an invading force finding itself cut off and “in the air” in a region where with singular ease it could be made impossible to “live upon the country,” and especially in view of the considerable pressure of important business the Germans have and are likely to have for some while yet in other directions.

No, the real object is revealed in various ways—in the announcement of Japanese statesmen that they would only intervene as the friend of Russia and from a desire to see order prevail in that country—in the call of the Cadets and the Right Social-Democrats (both bourgeois parties recently revolutionary, but turned reactionary since the overthrow of the monarchy) at the Moscow Conference for Allied aid to “organise the internal forces of Russia” for resistance to the German invasion. No capitalist statesman can ever recognise as “order” anything but a working class dumb beneath the heel of an oppressor. Where that oppressor is of the capitalist tribe the “order” is ideal. Thus Japan butchering her Socialists in cold blood was singularly blessed with that prized condition, while Russia ablaze with slaughter, red to the horizon with blood, fat with rotting and uncounted corpses—that Russia was enjoying “order" such as she had not known for generations, because her people were subservient to capitalist ambitions, and suffering themselves to be broken upon the capitalist wheel.

So, from the capitalist point of view, the only method of restoring “order” in Russia is by crushing down the revolting workers and setting once again the capitalist heel upon their necks. It is exactly this that the Russian bourgeoisie are crying for in their Moscow resolution. Every attempt to “organise the internal forces of Russia,” military or otherwise, and for military purposes or otherwise, on the part of the Bolsheviks, has found in these Cadets and so-called Social-Democrats the bitterest of opponents. Every act they were capable of that could add new confusion to the administrative services they have resorted to with the set purpose of preventing the organisation of “the internal forces of Russia” by the Bolsheviks. It is not “to organise the internal forces of Russia” for resistance to the German invasion that these bourgeois hypocrites primarily wanted, but to establish themselves upon the Russian workers’ backs.

Having sought in vain through Russia for a force to found their ascendancy upon, the Russian capitalists now turn to the outside world, offering as a bait to those who are pretty full up with their own business, and as a blind to those, both inside and outside Russia, who might raise objection to foreign meddling with Russian internal affairs, “resistance to the German invasion.” Whether anything will come of this with the present condition of things is a bit of a problem, but this we may count upon — if owing to circumstances the appeal is made in vain, the mask will dropped upon the first opportunity, and the appeal will be made to Germany to spare a few regiments to “restore order in Russia.’

The moral of the whole business is that the capitalist class are a class when faced with a working-class rising, that, in spite of their present differences among themselves, they are internationally solid when they are threatened by their wage slaves. 'The workers’ movement for freedom, then, must be built upon international lines as the only sound basis of organisation against an international foe. This is not by any means a new lesson, but current events give it a now force and drive it home with added power.

We cannot, therefore, better close this article than with that pledge of our internationalism which we gave to the working-class revolutionary movement in the first issue of our journal to lie published after the outbreak of this stupendous conflict:
Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
      The World for the Workers.
— S.P.G.B. Manifesto, September 1914.

Government By The Press (1918)

Editorial from the March 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

In every case where there is a conflict of interests between the master class and the working class, the former close up their ranks and present a solid front against the latter. That they may do this in various ways does not alter in the least the unity of purpose in their actions.
Thus when a strike is threatened or takes place, say on the part of those engaged in the production or transport of munitions of war, while the Tory or Yellow Press papers may call for the direct application of military measures against the strikers and the Liberal papers appeal to them by “Open Letters" and so on, both are solid in demanding a return to work in the ‘'national” interests, or for “patriotic” purposes. And both support the use of the military against the strikers once this course is decided upon. The first method is the more open and easily understood by the workers, the last is the more slimy and deceiving.

On the other hand, there are diversities of interests and antagonisms among the capitalists themselves, of far less importance, it is true, than the struggle between capitalists and workers, but still of sufficient magnitude to call for intrigue, cheating, swindling, and dirty tactics, even to the extent of “selling out” the “national” interests for the benefit or ambition of sections and individuals.

An instance of this character was indicated in the House of Commons on the 12th February last. Mr. Lloyd George had announced that certain executive powers had been taken to itself by the Inter-Allied Council sitting at Versailles. In answering Mr. Asquith's speech on this point he made a remark that the ex-Prime Minister took offence at and rose to protest against. According to the newspaper reports this rising was greeted with a roar of cheering, indicative of protest against the Prime Minister’s attitude.

For the present we may pass over the hypocrisy of the whole business, angrily exposed by Mr. Pemberton Billing, who stated that he would like to call attention 
to the farce which we see played by the two Front benches this afternoon. I would put it to the Prime Minister that not later than forty-eight hours ago the whole matter was being rehearsed and discussed around the dining table of Downing Street. . . . within the last forty-eight hours they" (the Prime Minister and Ex-Prime Minister) "were breakfasting together at 10 Downing Street.’’ —Official Report, 12.2.1918.
We may also leave aside the crushing indictment of the Military Command given by Mr. Lynch in the same debate, to which not a single reply was offered, and turn to a comment made in the “Daily News” 16.2.1918 by “ A.G.G.”
The passionate outburst on Tuesday . . . was a fierce assertion of the right of Government by Parliament and a fierce repudiation of Government by the Press.
Outsiders, of course, are unaware of the particular personal intrigues and ambitious that exist behind this “scene,” though the prosecution of Colonel Repington and the “Morning Post” while the “Daily Mail”and the “Times”’ are left alone, may give some indication of the persons concerned On the larger questions at issue the evidence is available to all. Mr. Lloyd George is merely the servant of the blatantly Imperialistic section of the master class who require the establishment and maintenance of large military and naval forces to carry out their piratical and annexational schemes. Mr. Asquith represents the section of the master class who are more inclined towards “trade penetration,’’ and who object to having to pay the huge sums necessary for the maintenance of large fighting forces. A smaller force, in their opinion, is sufficient to keep the working class at home under control and to carry out any “expeditions” abroad that seem necessary. Hence their chagrin at one of their former agents—Mr. LI. George—going over to the other side and aiding the military schemes of the Imperialists. Hence “A.G.G.’s” mild indignation against the Northcliffe Press, though it is well to remember that the Northcliffe combination run Liberal as well as Tory newspapers.

What a huge hypocrisy this “indignation” is can be shown by a few staring facts.

The most powerful measure of oppression ever passed in Parliament, and one that gave greater powers to outside bodies than any measure ever placed upon the Statute Book, is the “ Defence of the Realm Act.” Property and Person, Wealth and Life, were placed under the control of various agents without any real power of appeal or question on the part of the victims. More than this, the Habeas Corpus Act is, for the first time in English legislation, over-ridden by another Act—the D.O.R.A.—and men and women have been cast into prison, not only without trial, but without even a charge bring preferred against them. Outside the Imperialists’ own organs the Press has been muzzled; the remnants of free speech are crushed out; everyone has been registered, ticketed, and classified to a degree that must make the “Prussian’’ militarists turn green with envy.

Now this savage Act of extended slavery was passed through Parliament by the Liberal Party with Mr. Asquith as Prime Minister, without any Press agitation at all! And Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister with a Liberal majority in Parliament when the Registration Act with all its lies and the Conscription Acts with all their cruelties were placed upon the Statute Book.

Thus the “democratic” Liberals are shown to be responsible for the greatest violation of constitutional methods and procedure that has ever been known, and then their hypocritical rails against “government by the trade union,” and more particularly against “government by the Press.”

If all the crimes “A.G.G.” alleges against the Nortlicliife Press were true—and we believe he understates the case—they would be but as dust in the balance against the foul crimes of the Liberals given above.

A more slimy hypocrisy, however, occurs when “A.G.G.” says:
We will have neither Government by the sword, nor Government by the trade unions. Still less will we have that worst of all substitutes, Government by the Press.
This statement is a deliberate lie. It is used to hide the tricks of the Liberals, who, while supporting the war, find the various jobs resulting from the war being given to their opponents. The Government have a solid minority of office-holders (the largest on record) in the House of Commons, and the majority merely indulge in intrigue and trickery to obtain these and other jobs. As one member put it, those in office and those out, instead of watching and fighting the enemy, are watching and fighting each other.

Tbs majority in Parliament can at any moment it wishes turn out the Government. It can retain or remove any officials, military or civil, it desires. It can crush Lord Northcliffe as it can Bertrand Russell and Guy Bowman. It can suppress the “Times” and the “Daily Mail” as easily as it prohibited the export of the “Nation” and other journals. It can as easily order the dismantling of the machinery at Carmelite House as it did that of the National Labour Press and of “Freedom.” Above all it can repeal the Defence of the Realm and the Conscription Acts whenever it pleases.

Mr. Lloyd George clearly admitted all this when he said that the House of Commons could repudiate the arrangement come to at Versailles and put in another government if it wished. Mr. Asquith admitted the same thing when, after his long-winded speech in praise of Haig and Robertson, he said he would do nothing to embarrass the Government. Can “A.G.G.” deny these facts? Of course he cannot. They prove our contention to the hilt.

“A.G.G.’s” shriek against “Government by the Press” is based partly on the fact that he is the agent of one section of the master class, while the Northcliffe Press is the agent of another section, and, more importantly, on the fact that he wishes to mislead the workers as to the truth of the foul actions of the Liberal Party, which have been indicated above, and so persuade these workers to lose sight of their class interests and to take sides in the quarrel between these two sections of the master class.

The result—if his object is attained—will be that the workers thus influenced will, when an election takes place, again vote the masters into possession of political power. "A.G.G.'S" cunning attempts to deceive the workers on this vitally important point shows how necessary it is for the workers to be continually on their guard against these false friends from the enemy's camp.

The debate in question showed not that we are being “governed by the Press,” but by a lying, swindling, pettifogging set of capitalist thieves who are ready to sacrifice what they blatantly call “national’ interests and “patriotic” ideals for the personal interests and ambitions of cliques, and the spoils of office.

Let the workers grip this fact and they will then see that it is by controlling the political machinery that they will be able to accomplish their emancipation.