Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Debates. (1926)

Party News from the March 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Opponents Unwilling to Meet Us.
Our efforts to arrange debates with the I.L.P., even when the challenge has been offered by an I.L.P. Branch, have been in vain, owing to the expressed refusal of their Head Office to permit a debate with us. Last month a challenge thrown out by the West Leyton Conservative Association was at once taken up by us with similar result. Their first excuse, so thin that it was subsequently dropped, was that their finances would not permit. Secondly, it was admitted by their representative that when they offered to debate with Socialists they meant “the so-called Labour Party,” and finally, we were told in effect that our membership is too small.

At the same time an endeavour was being made to arrange a debate with Mr, Saklatvala, M.P., on the respective merits of ourselves and the Communist Party.

At first Mr. Saklatvala expressed himself as being “only too pleased,” merely pointing out that he wished those who dissented from his views would challenge him at his meetings. He must remember, however, that it is not the practice at his or other Communist meetings to allow ample time for questions, or to allow opponents the platform. While we regret this unwillingness to encourage unfettered discussion, we do not make a habit of disturbing the meetings of opponents because their method of conducting differs from our own.

Although up to this point the correspondence on our side had been conducted by our Battersea Branch, they had made it clear that they would obtain the endorsement of our Executive Committee, and the Communist Head Office were approached to learn if they would give similar endorsement to Mr. Saklatvala.

As the subject of debate was agreed to be the merits of the two organisations, this seemed to us not only reasonable but necessary. Mr. Saklatvala nevertheless strongly objected. He then expressed his willingness to debate “my exposition of my political views or activities,” but “ I am not interested in what may be claimed to be the official programme of your party or of mine.” At the same time he made the curious claim that he was interested in us and our challenge only because our Battersea members are constituents of his. Now it is obvious that a useful debate cannot take place between the principles of an organisation on the one hand, and the “views and activities” of an individual responsible to no party and bound by no known and definite principles on the other, especially as Mr. Saklatvala confessed that he did not know our policy, anyway. As the Communist Head Office did not even acknowledge our letters the whole affair has fallen through.

It affords one or two points of interest. The first is the unwillingness of the Communists to risk their case in debate at the present time. Judging, too, from Mr. Saklatvala’s first willing acceptance and later withdrawal from the debate on the terms originally proposed, it would seem reasonable to assume that their unwillingness was intimated to him by his own Headquarters.

It is also somewhat astounding that a professed Communist owing nominal allegiance to the Moscow International should accept the orthodox political view of the obligations of an M.P. to his constituents. It shows vividly how far from the class conceptions of Socialism a Communist M.P. (elected on a Reformist Programme) can be driven by circumstances. Who does not remember how the Communists used to assert the iniquity of “geographical representation” and demand industrial representation through the Soviets?

It is, of course, true that Mr. Saklatvala has always been an advocate of Nationalism in various forms—that is, an advocate of the “rights” of those exploiters and exploited who happen to dwell in a certain geographical area. But while “India for the Indians” is not Socialism, it does at least not sound so absurd as “Battersea for the Battersea-ites.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Working Class "Education": Plebs Leaguer Puts Marx Right. (1926)

From the April 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Winifred Horrabin is Honorary Secretary of the Plebs League. She reviewed in the “Sunday Worker” (15 Nov., 1925) "A Worker Looks at Economics," written by Mark Starr, a fellow member of the League. After warning the workers to beware of Capitalist explanations of economic facts and figures she writes:—
   “Don’t let us expect that when our employers pay us 5s. for 10s. worth of our labour power that their explanation of that odd 5s. is going to be the same as ours.”
Now, although it will be news to Mrs. Horrabin, Marx based his explanation of profits on the assumption that employers do pay 10s. for 10s. worth of our labour power. The value of labour-power in the long run is determined by the cost of maintaining the labourer, educating him and so forth. The profit arises from the simple fact that the working class produce a mass of values greater than those they consume. Profit is made by buying labour power at its value—according to Marx, but not according to this “Marxian” educator of the workers.

She may reply that to worry about the theories of Marx is mere pedantry—but if so, why does she pose as a Marxian?

We can understand, even while we reject the view of those who say that there is no time to educate the workers, that action and action alone is what counts. We can equally understand Capitalist propagandists who seek deliberately to mis-educate the victims of Capitalism. But we really cannot understand those who, wanting to overthrow Capitalism, have no time to learn and teach the truth, but time enough and cheek enough to offer as knowledge the bewildering half-truths which satisfy mentally indolent superior persons.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: The Plebs Leaguer and Marx (1926)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Confession from Winifred Horrabin 
We have received the following letter from the Honorary Secretary of the Plebs League referring to our criticism in the April “Socialist Standard” :—
The Editor,
     “The Socialist Standard.
                              April 11th, 1926.

Dear Comrade,

‘‘The Socialist Standard,” ever up to date, criticises in its April issue a review of mine that appeared in the “Sunday Worker” in November of last year and in criticising what I wrote launches a bitter personal attack on me, calling me “a mentally indolent superior person,” finishing up by asking me why I "pose as a Marxian.” 

May I be allowed to answer?

First of all. I accept the correction with gratitude and humility. I may be superior, I hope not in the sense meant by your critic, but I certainly hope that I am sporting enough to acknowledge an error when I have made one, and in accepting the correction may I say that it would have lost none of its forcefulness if it had been more polite. After all, if a person is right and has knowledge on their side and insight to see the errors of others, then that person should be calm and could afford to be kind.

I am even willing to abase myself still further and to admit that many of the details of the economic theories of Marx are not clearly understood by me, hence my error, then why do I pose as a Marxian?

Because the materialist conception of history seems to me to he a scientific and true explanation of the events of history, and because I believe that emancipation can onlycome through a realisation of the class struggle.

After all, the main point I wished to make in the incriminating sentence quoted by you, was that the capitalist’s explanation of anything and the worker’s explanation were not the same thing. I can’t help feeling that a criticism of the book (or even a word of praise for it) would have been more to the point than a tirade about me

I am not ashamed to say that I was a human being before I accepted the Marxian theory of society and that unfortunately I am prone to error. It must be nice to feel one is always correct.
     
                                                                                                                          Yours fraternally,
Winifred Horrabin.


OUR COMMENT.
The statement criticised by us appeared in the "Sunday Worker” and was as follows :—
  “Don’t let us expect that when our employers pay us 5s. for 10s. worth of, our labour power that their explanation of that odd 5s. is going to be the same as ours.” 
After showing the glaring error here and contrasting it with Marx’s teaching, we penned the following comment:—
   "She may reply that to worry about the theories of Marx is mere pedantry—but if so, why does she pose as a Marxian ?
  “We can understand, even while we reject the view, of those who say that there is no time to educate the workers, that action and action alone is what counts. We can equally understand Capitalist propagandists who seek deliberately to mis-educate the victims of Capitalism. But we really cannot understand those who, wanting to overthrow Capitalism, have no time to learn and teach the truth, but time enough and cheek enough to offer as knowledge the bewildering half-truths which satisfy mentally indolent superior persons.”
We note that Miss Horrabin accepts our correction with gratitude. We did not ask her why she posed as a Marxian. As readers will see, that question hinged on the possibility of a reply ridiculing Marx.

Our criticism is sound; and it is indolent for a secretary of a Labour College organisation to offer her readers such complete ignorance of Marx’s economic teaching. The fact that profit is made by buying labour power at its value is a fundamental and essential point in Marxian economics, and it should be known by those who set out to teach economics.

We learn that Winifred Horrabin was a human being before she accepted the Marxian theory of society. We accept her statement. Her plea that being human she is liable to error is a platitude that does not excuse ignorance of one of Marx’s most fundamental economic teachings. And in defining herself as a Marxian she states that she does so because she accepts Marx’s theory of society and the class struggle. Thus she avoids the question of Marx’s economics altogether, although she is prepared to write in the "Sunday Worker” warning the workers of capitalist economics. It is nice; and, after all, Winifred is human !
—Editorial Committee. 

Crises and Consciousness (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists have often speculated on what might spark off the emergence of the majority desire for socialism that is an essential prerequisite for its establishment. One school of thought has been that it will be a final, catastrophic economic crisis. There have been various theories as to what might provoke this – the rate of profit falling too low, external markets becoming exhausted, the banking system collapsing. In other words, that the capitalist economic system will break down mechanically forcing people to realise that socialism is the only way out.
Although these theories of final collapse are flawed and don't stand up to economic analysis, capitalism is a system characterised by regular economic downturns, some large, some small. So we can get some idea of how people react in a big economic slump, as in the 1930s and after the Great Crash of 2008.
'From Hitler to Trump: populist leaders profit from fear' read a headline in the Times (13 June) reporting on a study in the American scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
'From the rise of Hitler to the election of Narendra Modi in India, the link is often made between populist nationalism and recession. Now this study seems to have found strong evidence for it . . .  Drawing on a survey of people across 69 countries they found that when unemployment rose, people were more likely to say they preferred “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections”.'
The study is not that impressive. It doesn't seem to be much more than a glorified opinion poll in which people were in effect asked 'in a time of economic crisis would you like your leader to be dominant or prestigious?' And it dabbles in 'evolutionary psychology' and in likening human behaviour to that of monkeys and apes (we'll take that seriously when they discover a band of gorillas led by a female equivalent of Mrs Thatcher).
So, the study doesn't add anything to what we already know – that in an economic downturn an increased number of people turn towards nationalism, often of a populist type led by a 'strong leader'. The point is that they don't necessarily turn to a movement to replace capitalism by socialism. A slump is not especially conducive to the emergence of socialist consciousness.
One reason why a turn to nationalism seems a way out in an economic downturn would be that people can imagine a national solution. They are wrong but that doesn't seem completely unrealistic. And, as we are talking about a cyclical not a final crisis, the economy does eventually recover and unemployment drops.
This is not to say that no crisis of any sort could not be conducive to the emergence of a mass socialist consciousness. But it would have to be a global crisis which, unlike a cyclical economic crisis, would not eventually rectify itself.
In his 2006 novel The Last Conflict socialist Pieter Lawrence imagined the global crisis which sparks off the change to socialism as being the world having to face the problem of a comet hurtling in the direction of Earth. A more immediate candidate for such a crisis would be rapidly increasing global warming. We are not there yet (fortunately) and it may never get that bad (hopefully), but, if it did, people would be faced with a choice of the end of the world or the end of capitalism. A no-brainer, surely.