Monday, July 10, 2017

Mr. Baldwin's Utopia: Can Lions and Lambs Co-operate? (1925)

From the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

So many people have jumped on poor Mr. Baldwin for his recent appeal for an industrial truce, that it seems a shame to add to their number. He is such an “honest” man; so obviously well-meaning'; so kindly. His democratic tastes are illustrated by his addiction to the plebian pipe. In many of his speeches, how beautifully has he voiced his love of the English countryside; its farms, its hedgerows, its winding lanes and quiet villages. He loves the memory of the old days, when man and master were personal friends and the “sack” almost unknown. A man of simple tastes, with nothing of the “high brow" or superior person about him. If we were writing his life for a Sunday dope-sheet, we should describe him as “a plain, simple, home-loving Englishman; a lover of peace and tranquillity.” As we are writing for a Socialist paper, we have to take a wider view. We have to recognise that he is a big capitalist in a big essential industry. We must note that he is the elected head of a malignantly capitalist party. We must observe that he is speaking for the class that pays him and of which he is a representative member. This is not set down in any personal, malicious spirit, but as a plain statement of self-evident fact.

The speech itself was in no way remarkable. That it has occasioned such widespread controversy is an eloquent comment on the poverty of contemporary politics. One searches it in vain for a definite, tangible, constructive proposal upon which one can fasten and say, “Here is a gleam of hope for the workers.”' It was thickly besprinkled with woolly phrases such as: “Suspicion must be removed"; “all must join hands to pull the country into a happier position”; “all concerned in industry should try and get to the root of this kind of thing” ; “all should take counsel together and see where and how improvement can be made in this country, to achieve the desired result ”; “a common desire to get at the facts and a common desire to help things”—and so on. Just strings of windy bubbles, floating on a morass of verbiage. One bubble was not so gaseous as its fellows, but Mr. Baldwin did not know it. It was the text of his discourse: “I want to plead for a truce.” This, beyond a doubt, is a direct admission of the existence of a state of industrial war. Socialists have been engaged in pointing this out for upwards of a century. We call it the class struggle. In spite of Mr. Baldwin’s candid admission, you will find its existence regularly denied at least once a week. For what is a truce? An agreed temporary peace between belligerents. And who are the belligerents? Mr. Baldwin defined them in his opening sentences. We should have said “Capital and Labour,” or the “Workers versus the Parasites,” the “Rich versus the Poor,” or something equally trite and explicit. Mr. Baldwin phrased it differently. He said, “This country would be confronted more and more with great combines and great aggregations of labour.” And now, he said, when there seemed a faint hope of revival, we were confronted with a gathering storm which, if it burst, would blot out all prosperity. “All prosperity"! So there is some prosperity about somewhere. Are we very far wrong in assuming that the struggle the truce is to suspend is concerned with this prosperity and its position on the wrong side of the line? We know it is not on the workers' side. My. Baldwin, therefore, must be speaking for the other, the masters'. Behind the homely, pathetic figure of Mr. Baldwin we discern, without the aid of binoculars, the sinister figures of his employers. Ruthless, callous, malignant, and vindictive, the phalanx of capitalism is packed at his back. And having battered the workers to the edge of endurance, their spokesman suggests a truce. One feels tempted to reply:
   Mr. Baldwin and Friends,—We are deeply touched by your moving appeal for a truce in our embittered relations. Naturally a peace-loving, easy-going crowd, we are not entirely unsympathetic. But there are certain facts which seem to have escaped your notice. We would remind you that in ten short years you have succeeded in burying a million of us beneath Flanders' mud, and in maiming a further million or two preparatory to returning us to civil life. That civil life contains elements we do not consider altogether satisfactory. A million and a quarter of us seem condemned to perpetual unemployment. You endeavour to keep us from becoming troublesome by a niggardly, inadequate sum to which you attach the insulting term “the dole." Those of us fortunate enough to find masters have had our wages battered down to a point inconsistent with a full and joyous existence. Your promise of a land fit for heroes was a mockery; of better education for our children, a bitter jest. You cannot even house us. Your pleas of poverty and lack of funds are falsified by the millions found for rebuilding banks, stores, and offices on the most valuable sites in London; by the millions found annually for battleships and armies; by the constant oversubscription of gilt-edged loans. And we are sick of it. We are tired at playing Lazarus at the feast we have provided. We are—   
But we said one feels TEMPTED to reply in those terms. One quickly realises that he and his masters would be as deeply impressed by our oratorical flourishes as we are by theirs. We remember that “the rich will do anything for the poor, except get off their backs.” That is our sole concern—to get the rich off our backs. Speeches have their uses, but they will not do that. It is action that counts, and when' the workers decide to act intelligently and with knowledge they will not be fobbed off with speeches. Prosperity for the rich and poverty for the poor are inseparable. The one is the consequence of the other. To talk of a truce in such circumstances is to imply that we enjoy being robbed. There can be no truce between those who live by robbery, and their victims. The only concession one can make is to recognise that the division of society into two warring classes does not proceed from human wickedness or simple perversity. But it has proceeded from traceable historic causes, and having discovered its laws of growth, we can now guide the progress of society into a more harmonious form, wherein classes shall cease to exist, and class-war have no place. This is the mission of the working class, and by joining the Socialist Party each can take a part in inaugurating the new human society.
W. T. Hopley


What comes first? (1963)

Editorial from the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

To put it mildly, life under capitalism is an unpleasant business. Apart from the dominating problems, there are the lesser irritations which also go into the balance against the private property system.

There are, for example, the constant admonitions to us, from government, church, press and so on, to conform to the morality of capitalism. For the workers, this means an uncomplaining acceptance of the system. It means to work hard and soberly and to keep capitalism's laws. A man who ignored these precepts to the extent of neglecting his sick and hungry children in favour of a career of destruction and violence would not only find the finger of the law upon him. He would also be an outcast because he had offended against capitalism’s morality. We can all imagine—in fact we have all seen—the treatment the popular press would give to such a man. We have all seen the emotional headlines and the carefully horrible photographs, all designed to make the man seem a human monster.

Very well. A man like that would certainly be an extremely objectionable person, one with whom it is impossible to feel much sympathy. What, then, are we to say of a social system which acts just like that man? How does capitalism itself live up to its own morality?

Violence and destruction? The British government is now spending £1,709 million a year on its armed forces and their weapons. The United States, with its greater power and its heavier international commitments, is spending at the rate of £17,648 million a year on the same things, over £5,357 million of it on nuclear weapons.

Now what about capitalism’s sick and hungry children? All around us there is evidence that plenty of such children literally do exist, hanging on to life by their fingernails. We have just come through the Christmas period, a regular feature of which is the mass of appeals from all sorts of charities whose declared object is to feed and to help distressed children. We have seen the pitiful pictures of the wasted little bodies, near-skeletons with swollen bellies and desperate eyes. The people who organise these charities are undoubtedly sincere and are involved in a problem which is quick to move any human being.

These are not the only things which capitalism neglects. We have recently heard that the research unit at Hammersmith Hospital, which has been doing such valuable work in the field of kidney grafting, has had its future threatened by lack of funds. Nor is Hammersmith Hospital the only research centre suffering in this way. Mr. James Callaghan, the Labour Party Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that he has heard of another “vitally important medical research unit which is living from hand to mouth.” Mr. Callaghan, of course, was gratefully wielding a stick upon the Tory government. Things were no better when Labour was in power.

There is one thing which all these charities and research teams need and which, within capitalism, might go a long way to assure their future. Money. Why don’t they have it? Because the capitalist class knows that its interests demand that it lavishes enormous sums upon making the means to kill and terrorise humans, even while the organisations which at any rate try to help humans are forced to penny pinch and to rely on charily.

Not that the answer is to support the charities. Those people who support capitalism and complain about its inevitable problems are as illogical as the man who drinks a bottle of whisky and then complains when inevitably he cannot walk straight.

The real solution to this is for the world working class to establish Socialism. This will be a world without armed forces and all that goes with them, without money and all that that entails, without the need for charities. It will be a world in which human interests are Number One Priority, in which the only motive for human activity will be human benefit.