Monday, July 17, 2017

Councils of the "Peaceful." (1922)

Editorial from the June 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some time ago there was great jubilation (for the worker's benefit!) in the papers over America's advocacy of reducing or abolishing armies and navies. A conference was held in Washington and all powers agreed to reduce armaments—so long as each was left better armed than any of the others! Throughout the business America was hailed as an advocate of peace.

During the discussions, however, America was significantly silent on the question of aerial armament. A little while after we learned that American chemists had devised a method of using deadly germs whereby aerial machines could drop small quantities (germ bombs) on to cities and destroy thousands of the inhabitants more efficaciously than by the cruder method of ordinary explosive bombs.

From the Daily News (10/5/1922) we learn that America has progressed still further in her peaceful pursuits. American inventors have now devised an almost noiseless and invisible aeroplane.
  “The significance of such experiments was revealed the other day, when a huge ‘ bomber,' carrying a load equivalent to enough missiles to lay streets in ruins, climbed—thanks to the special preparation of its engines—until it was at a height impossible during the raiding of the war.”
   "Here is seen the full menace, the winged monster, which, with devices able to silence the roar of its high-flying motors, has added to its terrors laboratory secrets which—applied to a machine already high in the air against a vast elusive background—confer on it the power of a virtual invisibility.”
In face of such things as this workers are still being deluded into supporting campaigns for the reduction of armaments and the abolishing of war. Those who control such campaigns have the object in view of reducing the expenses of running the Capitalist system. The success of such campaigns would increase unemployment but would not materially assist in preventing future wars.

The pretty little game of political chess that is going on at Geneva, and the recent stir over the action of one of the competitors in the Russian oil scramble, should make it obvious to anyone that war is never likely to be a remote contingency so long as capitalism lasts.

Comparatively small wars have been going on ever since “peace ” was established! But another one of the gigantic kind has already been foreshadowed by no less a person than Lloyd George—the man who was so emphatic about the last big struggle, signifying the end of all wars. More humorous still it is the Allies that are falling out now—falling out. over the spoils of “victory.”

Commenting on the general situation the Daily News (10/5/22) says :—
   "Nobody will deny that the danger of war, of war on a vast scale, within the life's span of those who have survived the tremendous slaughter of recent years, is real and formidable.”
Once more let us press the question: What concern of the working class is any war except the class war? All wars outside of the class war are waged in the interests of the Capitalists. Although the workers do the fighting the only reward they obtain is that obtained by the survivors of the too recent carnage in Europe—homes that require heroism to live in.

Critical Times (1922)

Editorial from the July 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the title of “A Call to the Churches," an article appeared in the Daily News (19-6-22) from which we learn that "just at this moment the history of international relations is entirely upon a critical chapter.” The "international relations" referred to are the tricky, treacherous, and avaricious manipulations of different groups of financial magnates, through the medium of various political and other lackeys, for control of the different markets of the world.

There is another chapter in the social book, however, that is of far more interest and concern to the workers than the one above mentioned; and this chapter is also critical, as witness the following quotation from the article to which we have already referred :—
  “The relations between nations are more rather than less strained. Hundreds of millions of money are still being spent upon armaments, while unemployment is widespread, social reform is at a standstill, and in many lands starvation and disease are ripe.”
Unemployment, starvation, and disease are indeed widespread. As time passes, this chapter not only appears to become more critical, but even appears to have no end— at least, no improvement in the general situation is in sight. The passing or easing of the crisis is delayed, not by the "failure of Genoa,” as the Daily News would have us believe, but by the hothouse-like growth of machinery and processes of production brought forth by the war. In other words, wealth is produced in such abundance that the effective demands are overwhelmed. That there is no shortage of wealth is clearly demonstrated by the rapidity with which new capital is subscribed and over-subscribed whenever shares are advertised for subscription.

The article upon which we are commenting provides a rather humorous thrust at the policy the Daily News has been advocating for some time. With much use of fine phrases and lengthy "argument,” this paper has frequently sought to prove how advantageous the League of Nations would be. Whole-heartedly it has backed the movement and idolised its founders. Now, however, we read :—
  “If before the League is complete a counter league or group of powers is formed sufficiently powerful to be independent of it, then we shall surely have the old balance of power in another shape and the embryo of another world war.”
In other words, League or no League, the question of war lies in the hands of the powerful combinations of capitalists. Yet in spite of this, self-appointed "leaders” of the workers declaim eloquently on the necessity of supporting the campaign in favour of this side-tracking idea.

Such Will-o'-th'-wisps are attractive, but they lead to disillusion, disappointment, and apathy. When the workers leave these ideas on one side and stick firmly to the hard facts of life which are constantly forcing themselves upon us for examination and explanation, they will be on the broad highway to a knowledge and understanding of their present condition of slavery.

What D' ye Lack. (1922)

From the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was the cry of the ’prentice of three and four hundred years ago, selling his master’s wares from the shop doorway. I am reminded of it when I pass you, fellow worker, mornings and evenings. In my thoughts I echo the question, and answer it in your name. What do you lack ?

Food, plentiful and pure; yet it is you who grow, carry and prepare the delicate meal for the rich man’s table. Clothing, adequate and beautiful: though by your toil your master’s person is protected and adorned. A dwelling fair and well provided: yet your hands raise palaces and fill them with comfort. Leisure you have not, though your service makes other lives one holiday. Nor travel, though you build planes and ships. Nor peace for your mind to roam and your limbs to rest.

All these you lack, without knowing that you do. Your life wants breadth and depth and height, and you hardly dream that it might be different. Toil is your heritage, you think, and all else your master’s.

You are a funny fellow, worker. You take a man and feed him choicely, dress him with splendour, build him a temple, surround him with perfumes and music—and then fall down before him! When he is established above you, complete, you forget that you made the golden image. Subtract all the attributes and ornaments with which you furnished him, and what remains but a shivering and hungry man? I hear you called rapacious, self-seeking; and I see you more generous than Saint Martin, bestowing your whole cloak on the beggar, and content to receive a tattered remnant back again.

Martin Nexø wrote a tale of a Danish workman, Pelle. Did you ever read what he said of us all when he looked at his newborn son? Men, he said, are born naked; the beasts are born clothed. That is because mankind has come to the point where it can provide clothes for itself. Pelle’s wife thought Nature might well neglect the rich, but remembering how workers suffer in the bitter weather, she wondered that their children should still come unclothed into the world. For the best of reasons, Pelle thought. It is no longer Nature’s business. She has given man the powers; it is for him fitly to employ them. Therefore the cobbler’s son, just as the prince, arrives without a wardrobe : “as if,” Pelle said, “Nature were forever holding up to us the stamp of our nobility.”

And there he was right. Having learned to produce all things for human sustenance and delight, we have now to see that who produces enjoys. To be robbed is not noble. To be a slave is not noble. The next step, comrade in labour, is clear: and it is we who must take it. The earth, and all means which we have produced for drawing wealth from it, must be ours in common. Why that, you say, is revolution! So it is. Man’s advance from the tribal communes has been a succession of revolutions; and each one, by fulfilling the aspirations of a single class, brings mankind farther on its upward way. All classes but ours have won to freedom; the Socialist revolution will be our own. Thereafter, to live one must perform one’s share of social effort, and shall lack nothing that human wit can devise and labour produce.
N.

Shelley: In His Way, One Of Us. (1922)

From the September 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Innumerable days of my life I wish to forget; three days I will always remember with joy. On one of those latter days I read The Communist Manifesto for the first time. On another of the days I saw some of Van Gogh's pictures at the first exhibition in this country of the work of the post-impressionists of France. On the third, and almost the last, of my joy-days my father gave me a book, "The Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley."

Shelley is the poet I care for beyond all other poets. He dreamed, loved, wept, and sang; he helped his friends and those who were not his friends — he gave heaps of money away — he went his own way— none could tie him down — he was a wild yet gentle man, and his immortal “sweetest songs are those which tell of saddest  thought.”

I have for years read Shelley. I have not come across a more useful or beautiful purifying influence than Shelley’s work. And in his day he was a Revolutionist.

A Revolutionist! Never mind . . . he’s been dead a hundred years. Moreover, he believed if you only quietly proclaimed your ideas all would run smoothly. For a short time the rulers’ soldiers might “slash and stab and maim and hew” as they did at Peterloo. The business of the rebel was to look earnestly and pityingly upon the armed men. The soldiers would then sheathe their swords—the rulers would recognise the immemorial injustice done to the toilers, be purified by the martyrdom of the masses, and make amends for their tyranny. Shelley didn’t live to hear of the Commune of Paris. He couldn’t possibly have seen photographs in the picture papers of Lloyd George, hat in hand, before the Cenotaph.

No . . . Such an idea of passive resistance was born of his own instinctive gentleness. Could Shelley, even with his wonderful mind, imagine the depths of fiendishness to which a ruling class will sink so they may keep all their privileges? He knew the schools of his day planted base ideas; he knew the churches were used to muddle the minds of potential rebels, and he exposed the crime; he fathomed the duplicity of Castlereagh and Pitt and Ellenborough, but I wonder if it was possible for any man in Shelley’s time to accurately picture the Society of to-day? For crafty brutality there was nothing like it in the old Roman days of slavery—in the morning of capitalism. The despots were somewhat inexperienced ; the arch-fiends and the master hypocrites of the afternoon of capitalism were unborn.

May be, inadvertently by innuendo, I am unjust. Perhaps Shelley advocated no definite “tactic” of Revolution. He looked around him and brooded upon the loveliness and the mighty riddles of the universe. He went down many rivers and came upon mountains. Throughout the year he was out in the open air. He became familiar with the silence and solitude of winter. He came to know the colours and noises and songs of the whole year by heart. And yet —“my fellow man is in chains”—he said. Not all the “unpremeditated art” of Nature, not all the music of a summer’s sky, could make Shelley deaf to the rattle of the iron. Million upon million died knowing nothing of the mystery and grandeur and joy of life. The milk and honey were possessed by liars, traitors, and fools—to the multitude, the dust and ashes.

Shelley wished everyone to be free. Have not all men worth their salt wished the same? All considerate men at some time or other have wished to “re-mould things nearer to the heart’s desire.” But the strange man whose boat got upset and broken in the Bay of Spezzia in 1822 was one of the most constant, indefatigable, and impassioned advocates of Freedom the world has ever known. His music of thunder and sweetness, love of liberty and antipathy to tyranny, has helped many a one to a realisation of the infamy of capitalist class rule. Shelley prepares the mind for the easy acceptance of the principles of Socialism. He fills the mind with a wild hatred of slavery. Marx gives that hate direction. Shelley was the trumpet that sang to battle. Marx supplies us with the weapons. We are encouraged, inspired by the writer of “Prometheus,” “Queen Mab,” “The Masque of Anarchy" “The Odes” . . .  we are awakened, infuriated by the thunderous, supremely impassioned music of revolt—then comes the cloudless reasoning of the philosophic, scientific Marx, saying: “ Go here—go there—destroy and build in this way.”

So we march forward with the times. The incessant songs help us on our way. They comfort us in the prisons, they give us heart when things seem still as death, they are the accompaniment to our words at the street corners. It is a strong, sweet and formidable music that is ours. It is the music of a whole storm—beginning, middle with its might, and end with its peace. The calm has yet to come. It will come if the workers "Defy power which seems omnipotent," as Shelley says, in the way Marx suggests.

In letters, leaflets, pamphlets, and poetry Shelley criticised the vile institutions of his day. He wrote exquisitely of comradeship and trenchantly of all forms and phases of injustice. Blockheads advised “Mr. Shelley” to renounce his “pernicious doctrines.” But “ Mr. Shelley” was wilful —in comparison with some contemporaneous public men, he was quite a naughty boy. Even after advice from “The Quarterly” he obstinately wrote poetry, “The Masque of Anarchy," in which he urged a nation of quiet slaves to "Rise like lions" in unvanquishable number, shatter their chains, and control the world and all its wealth.

That happened long ago. What would such an irreconcilable poet say to-day. Far as I can remember, one of his songs is a little like this :—
“Sow seed, but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth, let no imposter heap;
Weave robes, let not the idle wear;
Forge arms, in your defence to bear.”
Would he have been with Derby, Snowden, Churchill, and Macdonald on the recruiting platform in 1914? Would he, who succoured an unhappy prostitute, have smiled like a very Thomas upon the systems which make women prefer the streets to the workshop? Would he have written like Rudyard Kipling? Can a bird singing innocently among the clouds become a bird of prey?

Shelley was thirty years old when he went down in the waters of Italy. Think of the volume of his work—think of the way he strived to overthrow the tyranny he detested. Though we are not quite as Shelley was, still we can work as hard. His genius was particular and inimitable—his energy we may have. Francis Bacon loved roses. In their season they were on his tables every day. Macauley says that by putting roses upon our tables we may in one way at least resemble the philosopher. If resemblance to such men is desirable, then let us work hard for the emancipation of humanity, and in that way resemble Shelley. To get a rose in a jug on a table is fairly easy—the idler can do it, and then be as much like Lord Bacon as Churchill with a silk hat is like a statesman or an ape with a crown is like a king. But hard work upon right lines will prove manhood.

Shelley has played his part in the great awakening of men, just as Marx played  his, as we play ours, as all our readers can play theirs. The scientist, philosopher, and singer, age by age, so far as the development of Society would permit, have contributed to the freeing of our thoughts. They have given us ecstacy and knowledge. And the selfish ruling glass cannot understand this. Ecstacy and knowledge, music and wisdom mean as little to such people as Gallipoli and Russia or work and wages. Shelley liked such people much as we do; much as G.B.S. likes roast pork and a bottle of Bass.

But even if Shelley and Marx and lots of others have done their best, we still have a lot of cross-country marching to do. We will have to tread over much rough ground, and there will be a good many nights in between now and the end. Yet we must constantly go forward with a clear vision of that we wish to achieve. We will go on with light hearts; for have we not the companionship of the wonderfulest singer of all time? The “Unvanquishable number” will assemble in some night or other. The principles which, when accepted, mean Freedom will be understood by great numbers, and the wounds of the world will be healed by Socialism. In plain language, that means the people who now own the land and the machinery of wealth production will be dispossessed. It means the workers will take possession of the land and machinery necessary for the production of wealth—and wealth will be produced in abundance and distributed among the people who produce wealth. Even that is not stated so plainly as some writers for the Standard can state it. Read what my comrades say; study our principles thoroughly.

Finis! And yet I would say more. I would say that we find happiness in our work. There is fellowship among the workers for Socialism, life in the principles of Socialism, and selfishness and death elsewhere. Emulate the zeal and heroism of Shelley; fill your hearts, as they say, with his emotions and music, get a grip on the principles which actuate us, endeavour to make your fellow workers see the truth of your belief, and kick the capitalist along "The primrose path to the everlasting bonfire.”
H. M. M.

The Other Eden (1922)

From the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The historic mansion known as York House, Twickenham, is being offered for sale by private treaty. . . .  Lady Ratan Tata now finds it larger than her requirements, and hence it is in the market. The estate contains eight acres of grounds, surrounded by a high brick wall, with rose garden, Japanese garden, and lawns and terraces by the river. The grounds boast a cascade lit by electric light and ornamented by groups of marble statuary. Opposite to the terrace and boathouse is the east end of Eel Pie Island, which is part of the Property. "—Star.

*   *   *

Newport, Monmouth, Trades Council has conducted an enquiry into local housing conditions.
“One case of which it has cognisance is that of a widow whose husband was killed in the war. The only sleeping accommodation she can find is in the same room with two youths, aged 17 and 16 respectively, who are not related to her."—Daily Herald.

*   *   *

“Accompanied by her husband the Princess (Mary) spent a long time inspecting the new hunt kennels at Hope Hall, where there is excellent stabling for 32 horses and accommodation for upwards of 60 couples of hounds.”—Daily Chronicle.

*   *   *

"Another case is that of a house in Shaftesbury Street, where four families occupy five rooms. One of the mothers was recently confined, and had five children in her only room. She is now housing a terrier, because during her confinement she was attacked by rats.”—Daily Herald.

*   *   *

‘‘Lord and Lady Cable have arrived at Evian-les-Bains for the cure, after a delightful tour in Normandy, where they visited many beauty spots and places of historic interest. . . . When her health permits, Lady Cable entertains at 44, Grosvenor Square, and at her beautiful place in Devon.”—Daily Chronicle.

*   *   *

"A young man named Mullin, charged at Manchester with stealing coal from the Midland Railway Company’s sidings at Belle Vue, said that his father was in hospital, his mother ill at home, and he and his two sisters were out of work. There was only fifteen shillings a week coming into the house.
"The Magistrate: But you were here two years ago for a similar offence, and let off with a caution. You must have known that if you came here again you probably would have to go to prison.
"Mullin (in tears) : I did know it, but I could not bear to see how things were going at home, with no fire and hardly any food.
"A police officer said that Mullin’s story was true. The case was adjourned for three months to see if Mullin would keep a promise to enlist.”—Westminster Gazette.

*   *   *

Well, fellow-workers, WHAT ABOUT IT?

The Nut. (1922)

From the November 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

If there is one thing more than another which Socialists resent, it is the master's contempt of working-class intelligence. Think of the recruiting posters of six and seven years ago, of the kind of nursing the constituencies get prior to a general election. Look at the public speeches of Mr. Lloyd George, with their inevitable and ludicrous metaphor. A picturesque figure catches the workers’ fancy; they take up a pat phrase like the latest comic song, and he knows it. The capitalists and their apologists have taken the measure of proletarian simplicity, and the workers generally prove their calculations right.

But to see what, downright insolence our class will tolerate it is necessary to go with them to the theatre or cinema, and see some of the things they applaud. A recent popular Douglas Fairbank’s film is a gem of this kind. The heroine of “The Nut,” a girl of the upper class, has a bright plan for bringing the millennium. "If everybody with a refined home,” she declares, "would open their doors for an hour each day to a child or two from the slum districts, the influence of these surroundings would be so great that the children would be bound to grow up better citizens in every way.” This hour, she is sure, will so colour the child’s growing mind that it will as naturally seek the good and beautiful as a growing flower seeks the sun.

Can you beat that?

A regular contributor to the Star, G.F.M., had a few words to say about it when the film was first shown, thought it a most beautiful idea in the abstract, and practicable, possibly, in America, where the poor have a "different attitude” towards the rich, but foresaw a little difficulty, somehow, in working it in London. She couldn't see herself going to a woman’s door in Bethnal Green, and explaining "how much more refined my home was than hers, and how greatly her children would benefit by a daily visit.”

On the whole, we think G.F.M.'s instinct was sound. The idea being, presented not on the screen, but on her own doorstep, the woman worker would almost certainly say many things not printable in the Socialist Standard. Let us hope she would go further, and having heard and thought upon the message of our speakers in the open places and at street corners, would add, “You can boast of a refined home because we and millions like us spend our days in toil. You can point to our squalor because you and a few thousand like you steal what our toil brings forth. You want our children to have high aspirations. They shall; we will attend to that ourselves. For we are learning at last that the power is ours to despoil you, and make the world our own.”
A.

A Thousand Years Hence (1922)

From the December 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Your party will be all right about a thousand years hence. What the people want is something now, something practical." Thus was I advised by a Labour friend of mine, when discussing the Watford Municipal Election. So that I felt the very least I could do was to suspend my thousand year effort for an evening and go and listen to the people who were “going the same road as myself, but doing something practical on the way." I am glad I went. I will tell you, as nearly as I can recollect, what they said.

The first speaker informed us he was not much good at the “speechifying business," but he hoped to improve in time. We could see by referring to their Election Address that Labour stood for more houses. The housing shortage was a scandal as well as a disgrace. And they wanted lower rents, too. Also more open spaces for the children to play in. And many other things. But above all they wanted everyone’s vote next Wednesday. (Applause.) The next practical man hesitatingly informed us that, like the previous speaker, he had not the gift of the gab. He briefly and haltingly read the items in the Address that he and Labour stood for, and assured us before abruptly sitting down, that although (like the previous speaker) he was not much good at the speechifying, he was much better at debate. The third practical man suffered, it seemed (like the previous two speakers), from the defect that he was no good at the oratorical business. But he knew what was wanted. What the town was crying out for was more houses, lower rents and more allotments. He and his wife found that if the end of the week found two shillings in their joint possession, they counted themselves amongst the fortunate. Therefore an allotment was a necessity. It enabled them to live on his meagre earnings. True it took all his spare time, and meant much hard work, but he was prepared to give that. Liked it, in fact. Another thing we wanted was a Municipal Market. The building of this would relieve the unemployed problem. It would also give the small trader a better chance. It would reduce the cost of living, by making competition keener, a thing that was good for everybody. And so on. Anyhow, don’t forget to give us your vote next Wednesday. The next speaker made no apologies. He had the gift of the gab—and very little else. A well-groomed appearance and a hatred of the S.P.G.B. are comprised in the latter. In three sentences he was purple-necked. Someone (“Why doesn’t he come and say it to my face?") had described him as a Bolshevik and a disrupter of the British Empire. "If that is repeated in your hearing, gentlemen, tell them that when the call came in 1914, to rally in defence of our rights and liberties, I just took out the old khaki (it had been there twenty-three years, gentlemen) and joined my old unit, and travelled many thousands miles to fight for King and Country.” (Loud applause.)

He eventually left this subject and turned to the Housing Question. We were thrilled to learn first, that he also had an allotment, situated in the Public Park. What had this to do with the Housing Problem? Listen. He had been horrified and disgusted, and also ashamed to take his daughter through the park on a Sunday evening, when the grass was dotted in all directions with couples engaged in courtship. The provision of ample housing accommodation would enable these young couples to either get married, or do their courtship in the privacy of their parents’ houses. (Loud applause.) After an engaging solo upon the trumpet, entitled “What I have done for you,” this fiery revolutionary sat down. The next speaker shared the prevailing epidemic, and was bereft of the gift of the gab. He was, however, in favour of a wider High street. Visions of distracted women with prams, doing their shopping in a High street filled with homicidal motor ’buses, were held up as good and sufficient justification for giving him our votes next Wednesday. We turned from this harrowing picture to listen to his successor, who regaled us with a list of the Trade Unions, Federations, Councils and Societies, of which he was a member. He particularly stressed the fact that he had been a member of the Hearts of Oak for twenty-three years, so that he was eminently the person to look after the interests of friendly society members. Eight women had signed his nomination paper. Who could doubt after that, that here was the man Watford was crying out for. Therefore next Wednesday, etc., etc,!

The last speaker, a thirty years' member of the Ancient Order of Foresters, an old Trade Unionist and a keen Co-operator, told us that the recent incorporation of Watford as a borough was as much the reward of Labour efforts as anyone’s. We were told that the immediate results were practically nil, but it was a necessary step towards becoming a County Borough. Arrived at this last dizzy eminence, we were assured that we should be able to have our own policemen and other advantages. The poor old Housing Question was again soundly thrashed, although his plea for more and still more houses seemed rather discounted by the tales he told us of numbers of families being ejected from existing houses because they could not pay the rent.

Yes! I am glad I went. I know what to tell my Labour friend when next we meet. I shall tell him that should ever a doubt arise in my mind of the correctness and stability of the S.P.G.B., one visit to their meeting would restore my faith. If these are the men who are going our way, they have a long way to go to catch up. Most of them have turned into taverns along the wayside, and whilst partaking of very small noggins of  "something now,” have given up the prospect of attaining something worth having. After listening to an evening of problems and policies and programmes, and after ruminating over previous programmes years and years ago, it is good to sit down and reflect on the crystal clear position of the Socialist Party.

The only thing wrong with the poor is their poverty. They are poor because they are robbed. They are robbed because the rich own the earth and the fulness thereof. The poor have to hire themselves to those who own the means of living. The price of their hiring is called a wage, and is based upon the cost of keeping dusty death at bay. This is their sole share of the wealth they produce. They can alter this state of things whenever they like by taking possession of their means of livelihood. The armed forces would, if possible, prevent them. The armed forces, however, are established, maintained and controlled through Parliament. The workers elect the Parliament. Therefore, to control the armed forces and to alter the basis of society; to become masters of their means of living, the workers must capture the political machine. If they widen all their High Streets, cover Great Britain from shore to shore with alternating patches of allotments and houses, turn all their towns into boroughs, abolish rates altogether, and achieve all the splintery planks in their Labour programme, they will have “got something now,” but they will not achieve Socialism. And until Socialism is attained, the workers will remain poor; poor because they are robbed. Capitalism is based upon the robbery of labour. “Labour” believes in its palliation; Socialism in its abolition. That’s all.
Peter Quince.



Caught in the act: Whimper, Whimper, You're Dead (1992)

The Caught In The Act Column from the January 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whimper, Whimper, You're Dead
During two days which did not shake the world, the Communist Party of Great Britain put an end to the long agony of its dying and proclaimed itself dead. Said party secretary Nina Temple to their 42nd Congress in November: "We joined the Communist Party to change the world. We must recognise that it was part of a tradition that has failed". In its place there is a new tradition, vague and all encompassing, of ". . .  a new vision of a humane, green, democratic socialism".

When the "communists" had each worked out their own version of what that meant, did they not reflect that there are already plenty of other organisations campaigning on these issues —within their lights, effectively? Do capitalism's reformists need another one? Is there any chance of its making mark?

It is clear that the "communists" who have transferred themselves to the new organisation have learned nothing from the wretched history of their dead party. They still deal in what are politely called day-to-day issues, to case the odd problem here, to plug the odd gap there. So busy are they with all of this, they fail to notice that they are having no effect on the problems they profess to remedy.

The world today is no safer than it was when the CPGB was formed in 1920. According to one source, since peace broke out in 1945 there has been just one day when there has not been a war being fought somewhere. Tens of millions die every year from lack of food; there are millions of refugees, millions more without a house, millions more suffering avoidable disease — and then there are the hundreds of millions who endure the grind of everyday poverty.

If the "communists" had any commitment to eliminating these features of capitalism they would never have joined a party which, at the very best, stood for capitalism slightly modified by disjointed and piecemeal reforms — and at worst stood for cynical and ruthless human repression. They would instead have struggled for the revolution to a fundamentally different society.

That is what the word Socialism — habitually distorted and misused by Temple and the like — means. It is directly opposed to the grubby theories, the disreputable activities and the discredited history of the CPGB. They will not be mourned.


Coming Up In The World
There are no signs that the people who own Britain's industrial and commercial empires are thinking about throwing themselves off the top of a City office block at the prospect of a Labour victory at the next general election. In fact, the preparations they are making for such a result reveal a certain degree of confidence that a Kinnock government does not intend to damage their interests.

Of course, Labour leaders would be mightily indignant that any such anxiety should deflect the capitalist class from their business of making as much profit as possible from the exploitation of the workers. That is why they have been gorging so many banquets, making so many reassuring speeches and kneading so much overfed flesh among the rich. They are desperate to scotch the notion that a Labour government will take seriously all that nonsense in their consititution about common ownership.

This process has worked in the opposite direction as well. Some companies are willing to pay substantial money for the services of anyone who has worked closely with the people who hope to be ministers in a future Labour government. Aides of prospective Chancellor of the Exchequer John Smith and of Jack Cunningham, who will probably be in charge of their legislative programme, could ask for about £30,000.

Tony Blair is likely to look after employment and Gordon Brown industry so another high fee - about £20,000 - would be paid to anyone with inside knowledge of their work. And so on down the line, until we come to poor old Michael Meachcr whose interest in Social Security makes his helpers distinctly unsaleable to the tycoons.

The bribes are on offer in the hope of gaining some insight into, and influence over, the policies and actions of a Labour government. And the objective behind that is — well, it is not to implement Labour's supposed principle of ensuring a greater share of the fruits of their labour for the workers by hand or brain.


A Problem That Won't Go Away
Dogged by his own oratory, Aneurin Bevan was always liable to say something which he later regretted. One example of this was his declaration, when he was Minister of Health in the 1945 Labour government, that housing (which was one of his ministerial responsibilities) would not be an issue at the next general election.

What he meant was that the government would deal so successfully with the problem, which was blighting so many lives, that everyone would be living in stable, comfortable, affordable homes so that there were no votes in campaign promises about it. Well the problem persisted and. along with several others, it was an issue at the 1950 election. When Labour's majority was reduced almost to nil.

So how have things gone since then?

Des Wilson, a founder of the housing charity Shelter, recently reviewed the last 25 years: "In 1966 we highlighted that three million people were living in or near slums — Shelter argued it was a national emergency". Wilson now says there is another national emergency — three million are without a house. Since 1966 the numbers sleeping rough has risen from less than 700 to almost 3,000. The number of households in temporary accommodation — in other words homeless — has risen from just over 2,500 to almost 60,000. If this trend continues over a million families will be homeless by 1996.

Politicians who says they can solve problems like this are rarely at a loss to excuse their failure to keep their promises, they blame some sudden, unforeseen economic emergency, or a temporary need to give priority to some other need like fighting a war — or, perhaps, the perverse selfishness of millions of people who actually prefer sleeping rough or being crammed into some malodorous bed and breakfast hotel.

In spite of the politicians' words the problem endures because it is part of a wider condition of poverty which, inescapably, under capitalism, afflicts the majority of people. It can be solved only by conscious political action by the majority, to change society. Perhaps Bevan was too mesmerised by his own charisma to grasp this but the rest of us don't have even that excuse.
Ivan.

Letters to the Editors: Undemocratic SLP (1992)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I read with interest your review of The Socialist Labor Party, 1876-1991 by Frank Girard and myself (Socialist Standard, October 1991). I have a couple of comments: The SLP (founded in 1876, not 1878) does not really have “a detailed blueprint for future society . . . " It is true that they publish a chart showing how industrial representation would function, but it is very sketchy, designed to illustrate rather than specify. It is unfair to imply that they claim to foresee all the details in their projected future organization of society. As to labor vouchers versus free access, the SLP is less dogmatic than generally described and has apparently modified its position somewhat. In a recent issue of their paper they concede the possibility that labor vouchers would never be necessary.

I feel the phrase "SLP’s undemocratic structure" can be misread. The National Secretary and the NEC don’t actually have constitutional power to expel members. Aside from members-at-large, a member can be expelled only by his local organization ("section"). (The extra-constitutional expulsion of Frank Girard by a National Convention is the single known exception to this rule).This fact explains why so many sections have been expelled over the years: they refused to expel a member who had fallen from grace with the National Secretary and so were themselves expelled.

While over-centralized in the view of many, the party’s constitutional structure is not so much a problem as the compliant membership which has tolerated an authoritarian leadership. In short, it has in this regard reproduced some of the ills of class society. The SLP has not been alone with this problem, of course, as an examination of innumerable left (and right and center) organizations will attest. My knowledge of the SPGB is limited. but if you have not had this problem I would be interested in knowing how you explain this.

Ben Perry 
Philadelphia, USA


Reply:
There are two factors preventing the emergence of an authoritarian leadership within the SPGB. Firstly, a democratic constitution and. secondly, a democratic consciousness amongst the membership.

Policy is decided by the membership, either by votes cast at branch meetings prior to the Annual Conference or by referendum. The EC cannot expel any member or branch; it can only lay a charge which is heard by the next meeting of branch delegates whose findings have to be submitted to a referendum.

To function properly a democratic constitution has to be backed up by a democratic consciousness amongst the membership. This really exists in the Socialist Party, in large part because we reject the whole concept of leadership— not just authoritarian leadership, but any kind of leadership—and place the emphasis on understanding. This applies both to how we sec the working class establishing socialism and to how we see a socialist party should be organised.

Workers must understand and want socialism, and organise democratically without leaders, before socialism can be established; and only those who want and understand socialism, and reject the whole idea of leadership, are admitted to membership of the Socialist Party.
EDITORS

Life on the dole (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first time that I walked into an Unemployment Benefit Office to sign on the dole, I pulled up my collar and glanced around surreptitiously in case anyone I knew should see me going in there. Socialist or no, forty-odd years of capitalist brainwashing can't fail to have some effect.

Despite having sold my labour power to the same employer for thirteen years, when "rationalisation" (what used to be called asset-stripping) strikes, the result is redundancy. It’s cold comfort to know that thousands of other wage slaves are suddenly finding themselves in the same position, through no fault of their own but due to the continuing tendency to recession, depression. over-production, crisis which is inherent in capitalism. Nevertheless, the result of the conditioning and propaganda is what its meant to be—guilt, shame and the feeling that losing your job is your fault. A local newspaper reports that there are 35 people chasing every job vacancy in the West Midlands. Another report tells of a man who is so desperate for work that he is offering to pay a thousand pounds to anyone who will employ him.

The real scroungers
With no previous experience of labour exchanges, and having perceptions of such places defined by Bread or Charlie Drake’s The Worker, it's little wonder that the "no longer gainfully employed” should approach the Unemployment Benefit Office with trepidation. For, in a society where an individual’s worth is measured not by personal qualities, but by their occupation, to lose your job is to lose your status in society and your personal identity. Try renting a television, or applying for credit to buy a car. When replying to the question what is your occupation with the answer “unemployed", the smile on the face of the salesperson will freeze, and you can bet your last ten pence that your application will be refused.

Perhaps they would be more impressed to be told that you are now an industrial reserve army member. More likely, the mistaken working class perception will flit through their mind—dole scrounger. For you have now attained that enviable state which those who still spend their days fighting through ever-worsening traffic chaos, and increasingly, their weekends, in order to spend their days doing boring, alienating jobs yearn for. You can please yourself as to what you do and when you do it. Unfortunately, for those working class members of the "leisured class" there is one small problem. We all still live in a capitalist society where every necessary means of life, from food to shelter to clothing to transport, is only available if you have the money to pay for it.

To belong to the real "leisured class” means being a member of that minority class who own most of the land, factories, shops, banks, transport, etc—those who real scroungers in society because their wealth is produced for them by the majority who have no other means of living but to depend upon having a job, pension or unemployment benefit.

Added to the obvious problems encountered by workers w'ho find themselves in the position of unpaid wage slave, as opposed to paid slave, is the straitjacket imposed by the Unemployment Benefit Office. If you didn’t know it before, you very quickly discover that your sole purpose on this planet it to provide surplus value, i.e. profits and wealth for the minority ruling class.

Wage slavery
If the fact of living in a society where commodities are produced for profit, not need, isn’t sufficient incentive for you to try your hardest to get a job—after all, if you can’t pay for it, you can’t have it— the UBO, run by other wage slaves, will insist that you are "available for and actively seeking work” before it will even entertain your claim. Even when your claim has been initially accepted, there is likely to be a delay before you begin receiving the pittance known as dole money whilst forms are shuttled back and forth between UBOs and your previous exploiter to ensure that you are not trying to defraud the state. Nobody, it’s said, starves anymore. If your previous employer decides that you were a troublemaker, they have the power to bring you damned close to it if they provide the UBO with negative answers to its questions.

On every visit to the UBO to sign on, you are required to prove that you have been "actively seeking work”. After a “permitted period” the 1989 Social Security Act restricts your right to refuse jobs because of the low pay offered. Why does the working class, employed, unemployed, pensioners, housewives and children. continue to put up with the economic exploitation and political control exercised by a minority class?

Understanding the social alternative—a wageless, moneyless, classless, leaderless, stateless society where goods are produced for need, not profit—is as simple as ABC’ compared to the minefield of bureaucracy to be traversed when trying to obtain paltry dole money. Despite the promises of Jam Today, forever being made by those lapdogs of the capitalist class, the politicians, most of us are still struggling to obtain bread and dripping.

The time to make capitalism redundant is long past. It’s the working class which runs capitalism from top to bottom for the benefit of the minority. Think what we could do with the opportunities presented to us by a new society— socialism.
Dave Coggan