Friday, September 22, 2017

About Books (1953)

Book Reviews from the October 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The newcomer to the study of Marxian economics frequently finds that Marx's own works are rather heavy going. He searches around for books by other authors who may be able to propound Marx's theories in a more easily readable form. Unfortunately, during the past eighty years, there have been many who have sought to simplify Marx or to tell the world what, in their opinion, Marx really meant. The total product of their labours would justify Marx in demanding to be saved from his friends,

If the student is determined to approach his studies through the medium of secondhand interpretations of the theories, we can save him much wasted time by directing him to the soundest of the books on the subject.

Probably the most useful work of this nature is Karl Kautsky’s "The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx." There is little we can say about this book except that it was written expressly for the purpose for which the student wants it and it is a job well done.

Next in order of merit is "The Theoretical System of Karl Marx" by Louis B. Boudin. Boudin does not deal exclusively with Marx's economic doctrines. He devotes a few chapters to the materialist conception of history, the social revolution and to some of Marx's critics. Boudin quite correctly makes his early chapters on the materialist conception of history serve as a brief introduction to the study of the workings of the capitalist system. The usefulness of this book to a new student is limited because the author devotes quite an amount of space to replies to critics of the Marxian doctrines. These replies are extremely useful to anyone who has a grounding in the study but are likely to leave the novice a little bewildered. All the same, the book is good and cannot be excluded from a list of this nature.

Julian Borchardt has attempted to present “Capital" in a more readily digestible form by treating it in a different manner to other writers. He has taken a number of chapters from the three volumes of "Capital” and re-arranged them in an order which, he claims, will make them more easy to assimilate. He has eliminated some of Marx's repetitiveness but has not attempted to alter the wording. Borchardt also claims, quite correctly, that the majority of those who read “Capital" do not get farther than volume one, but that volumes two and three are necessary for a complete understanding of Marx's theories. Whether Borchardt's work will be found easy going is doubtful, but for those who cannot avail themselves of the three original volumes it is useful. The only edition of this work that we are able to trace today is collected with some short writings by Frederick Engels and Lenin and Marx under the title “Capital and other Writings of Karl Marx," and published by The Moderrn Library. New York.

Ernest Untermann has written a book entitled "Marxian Economics." Untermann deals with his subject more historically than the previously mentioned authors, in fact over half of his book is devoted to an historical approach to the Marxian economic theories. It cannot be taken as a substitute for "Capital" but rather, as the author claims, a popular introduction to it. 

There is one book which, because of its title and its availability may attract a student’s attention. It is “The Meaning of Marxism" by G. D. H. Cole, published by Victor Gollancz. This is a re-hash under a new title of Mr. Cole's, “What Marx Really Meant” published in 1934. As a Marxist Mr. Cole would make a good plumber. What he thinks Marx meant is a lot different to what Marx said. A detailed criticism of “ What Marx Really Meant" appeared in the Socialist Standard in June, 1934. It stands equally well for the later book. The student should avoid Mr. Cole as an interpreter of Marxism.

Despite the good qualities of the first four books we have mentioned none of them are a real substitute for Marx's original work. If the student has time, diligence and enthusiasm we recommend that he bypasses these attempts at simplification and gets down to his studies with the three volumes of “Capital" We recognise that a study of Marxian economics is not simple and that there is some justification in the criticism that Marx's style is heavy, but his work cannot be adequately compressed into a book of a couple of hundred pages. Much of the so-called heaviness of Marx's writing is due to the fact that he approaches all his points from every conceivable angle, neglecting no avenue of argument to prove his case. It is that which gives rise to the repetitiveness that scares away some of his readers.

The best of the translations of “Capital" are those by Ernest Untermann and by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. The translation by Eden and Cedar Paul which is used in the Everyman's Library edition published by J. M. Dent has some minor faults but cannot be condemned because of them.

In conclusion, there is a useful little book that is worthy of mention. It gives an answer to many of the criticisms of Marx’s theory of value. “Boehm-Bawerk's Criticism of Marx" by Rudolf Hilferding published by the Socialist Labour Press. Of course, this book cannot be read until one has an understanding of Marxism, but, after the elementary phases of study, it can be useful for clearing away a number of cobwebs.
W. Waters.

The Margate Labour Party Conference (1953)

From the November 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalisation was the issue at Margate. It is the issue at all Labour conferences. It is difficult to see how it can be otherwise; for Nationalisation apart what else is there left to discuss within the Labour Party? Housing! Education! The Health Services! These are not the things which separate the Labour Party from the Tories and oft times the Labour Party from itself. Only Nationalisation can do that.

True the Tories have nationalised in the past and might conceivably do so again if circumstances warranted. But for them Nationalisation measures have been a means to an end. The Labour Party for political purposes have made it an end in itself, although the Margate conference saw a full scale strategical withdrawal from that position.

Mr. Woodburn, M.P., made a clumsy attempt to cover the withdrawal by telling the conference that “Nationalisation was not Socialism.” Mr. Woodburn may know that but the history of his party is writ large in the monumental confusion created by it in failing to make any real distinction between them. The speeches and writings of Labour leaders over the years bear damning testimony to this confusion. He also added, “ Nationalisation is merely a means to an end and not necessarily the best means.” Whatever implications one likes to draw from that remark the fact is that the Labour Party in the past has viewed Nationalisation as an end; a social goal, a political ideal. Its 1918 Manifesto, “Labour and the New Social Order,” proclaimed as its aim the continued extension of nationalisation acts to ever widening spheres of industry. And until recent years the Labour Party never substantially departed from it. Hitherto the Labour Party regarded its policy of Nationalisation as one of principle not expediency.

The militant convictions of the Webbs and old Fabians who contributed considerably to the Nationalisation policy of the Labour Party are lacking among present day Labour leaders. Two terms of Labour administration have dispelled from the minds of the “administrators” any notion of the talismanic powers of Nationalisation. The Webbs are dead in more senses than one.

The Nationalisation by the Labour Party in its first term of office of coal, electricity, gas, transport looked impressive to many people. When one realises that these industries have previously been subject to a greater or lesser degree of governmental regulation, the “revolution” appears rather a palace one.

Because there is a natural tendency towards monopolistic growth and practises in Capitalism. Capitalist governments are faced with certain problems. For instance the ownership and control by private monopolies of such things as gas, coal, electric power, transport, etc., are a powerful weapon for exacting toll from the vast majority of capitalist enterprises who are utterly dependent on these things. Moreover private monopolies pursue their interests regardless of the requirements of other capitalist sections. As a result they disturb the balance of capitalist economy by disturbing what is termed the free play of the market and so intensify the anarchy of capitalist production. The State is therefore compelled to intervene in order to curb this monopolistic power. State action along these lines is then both an attempt to protect the various sections of capitalism and to ensure the smoother running of the system from the standpoint of the requirements of Capitalism as a whole. Nationalisation is one way of bringing this about.

So far so good; but when the Labour Party is confronted with making good its promise to extend Nationalisation to other spheres of industry it finds itself faced with formidable difficulties. Capitalism now presents to the Labour Party a different aspect than when viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of yesterday's propaganda.

Once the Labour Party used to damn what they termed the present competitive system. Now they have discovered unsuspected virtues in “competition.” Thus Mr. Strauss tells us that the Aircraft industry benefits the country by rivalry and competition in aircraft designs. Any measure of greater centralisation in that industry may have adverse effects, he said. Nationalisation, Mr. Strauss declared, is not so much a way of dealing with the problems of industry but a rather escapist way of avoiding them. And this is the distilled wisdom of years of Labour Party propaganda.

Now it seems to leaders of the Labour Party that Nationalisation can offer no solution for the successful survival of British capitalism in the world's markets. It appears that high quality manufacture, speciality of design and responsiveness and adaptability to market requirements are the basic essentials. In fact the trend of Labour Party opinion seems to suggest that Nationalisation with its mammoth structure and bureaucratic dictation might be an hindrance rather than an aid. One spokesman at Margate illustrated this point by saying that it was the mammoth’s inability to adapt itself to changing conditions that lead to its extinction, its place being taken by the more agile elephant.

While the Labour leaders might propose a new line for the Labour Party’s general acceptance it will not be able to easily dispose of the old one. The policy of state Capitalism, miscalled by the Labour Party, state socialism, has deep rooted attachments for many of the rank and file. Popularised and propagandised by the Labour leaders for nearly fifty years it has acquired an ideological significance not to be easily dismissed. For many workers the old State-capitalist policy of the Labour Party conjured up in their minds visions of a "A New Era” in which the working class would in some way or another come into its own. It will not be easy to divert the energy and enthusiasm this has called forth into other channels. Then of course there is Mr. Bevan. And Mr. Bevan is still Mr. Bevan. For that reason the appeal of Mr. Greenwood for the Labour Party to close its ranks and stop internal dissension will not we think deter Mr. Bevan from his private ambitions. He will continue to keep the pot of Nationalisation boiling by the advocacy to use his own phrase—"Socialism through the old hard agony of Public Ownership and control.”

This of course will embarrass other Labour leaders because it will be difficult for them to admit that they no longer believe in such things. Because the Labour Party’s claim for political support rests on the fact they represent themselves in the light of a progressive party as distinct from the Tories, they must aspire to the semblance even if not the reality of having a social goal not envisaged by their political rivals.

In the past the old policy of State Capitalism served them well in this respect The difficulty will now be to find a substitute goal which will be as effective. One thing appears certain, however, that is whatever their political calculations and figuring might be. Nationalisation will be for the Labour leaders a recurring decimal.

One other thing is also certain that is for the workers the golden promise of a Labour summer is and will remain unfulfilled. It is the long hard winter of capitalism which lies ahead.
Ted Wilmott

About Books (1953)

Book Reviews from the December 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

John Peter Altgeld and Clarence Darrow had much in common. Their lives overlapped and during the latter part of Altgeld’s life and the earlier part of Darrow’s they were close friends.

Both were lawyers, both were humanitarians. Each wrote books on crime and each defended the early American Trade Unions in the law courts of his day. Each gravitated to an extreme radical outlook during his life, “going over to the left” as it would be called in modern parlance. Each one sacrificed lucrative jobs through his strict adherence to his humanitarian principles, but neither of them scratched below the surface to find the causes of the social problems that stimulated their sympathies. Neither of them came anywhere near to being socialist.

The life of each of these two famous Americans is interestingly portrayed in books by Howard Fast and Irving Stone. In his book, “The American,” Mr. Fast gives us a very readable story of the life of John Altgeld from the days when his German farmer father used to stripe him across the buttocks with a leather belt, to the day when he was laid in his coffin for hundreds of thousands of Americans to file past in homage in the pouring rain.

When a boy, Altgeld ran away from his poverty stricken home and joined the army of the northern American states to fight in the civil war. Later he became a school teacher, a barrister, a judge and governor of the state of Illinois.

In the early days of his legal career, Altgeld wrote a book entided, “Our Penal Machinery and its Victims,” which drew down on his head the opprobrium of the American ruling class. In this book he showed that the major portion of crime could be traced to the poverty, slums and lack of opportunity which result from the unequal distribution of wealth in a class society. This book was published in 1884, fifteen years before that internationally famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso, arrived at the same point of view as Altgeld.

In the days when men like Phil Armour, George Pullman and John D. Rockefeller were piling up their vast fortunes out of the sweat and misery of the American working class, and men like Eugene V. Debs were risking their lives to try to organise the American workers to resist the intense exploitation—in those days Altgeld was driven to the support of “Labour.”

When he became governor of Illinois, Altgeld found himself in the embarrassing position that is experienced by all who seek to help the workers by undertaking to manipulate capitalism. The American newspapers vilified him in column and cartoon, presenting him to the people of America as a bloodthirsty ogre trampling on their rights and liberties. President Grover Cleveland moved federal troops into Illinois during the strike of the workers of the Pullman Company. Altgeld was powerless.

He tried to get his nominee elected as president of U.S.A. but failed. He tried to organise an independent political party, a sort of “Labour” party, but failed again.

Apart from all other merits, Mr. Fast's book is to be recommended for its detailed account of the Haymarket bombing incident of 1886 for which eight prominent working class leaders were “framed,” four of them executed and others imprisoned. This affair had international repercussions. Also, Mr. Fast presents us with an insight into the working of the American political elections, a most illummating insight.

Darrow for the Defence,” the book by Irving Stone, picks up the threads of American history at a date just a few years prior to the death of Altgeld. In it Darrow is presented as a man who would take on any task to help the “under dog” at no matter what cost to himself.

From the day that Clarence Darrow walked out of his job as attorney for the Chicago and North Western Railway to fight for Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union against whom the railway company had obtained an injunction, he became accepted as the man to represent trade unions and other workers' organisations when they were in trouble with the law.

It was a tough job in those days. Murder was committed and trade union officials were charged with the crime; an explosion occurred and a union organiser would be accused; men were bludgeoned into defending themselves and then accused of attacking; a union man was fair game to hang any crime on to and the American press worked up mob hysteria against the accused. Darrow defended brilliantly and with more than frequent success.

He argued that man had not a free will; that a man's actions were the product of his biological makeup worked upon by his social environment This was the basis of all his arguments whether he was defending a murderer, a thief, a prostitute or union officer. In fact, he did not defend his clients so much as he attacked their prosecutors.

His particular bête-noire was capital punishment against which he lectured, wrote and campaigned for many years. He also spent much time and money opposing prohibition and the colour bar. Probably his most sensational case was the Scopes Evolution Case at Dayton when he defended the right to teach evolutionary theories in public schools against William Jennings Bryan and his Fundamentalists who were moving to get an Anti-Evolution Law passed in each of the American states.

During his last years Darrow cast a friendly eye at “Russian Communism” whilst talking about a fair capitalism in America. He pleaded the case of the small business man. He died in 1938 at the age of eighty and, as when Altgeld died, thousands queued in the rain to do homage at his coffin.

These two men, Altgeld and Darrow, were admirable, but neither of them has left a mark on the History of the class from which they sprang and with which they sympathised. They spent their lives rescuing individuals from the morass of capitalist crime and class antagonisms, but left the bog undrained and uncharted for others to wander into. They fought against injustice by taking separate “injustices” and striving to straighten them out—make them just. The cause of all the injustices, the class nature of capitalist society, escaped their attention. The problems they sought to solve were being bred faster than they could eliminate them.. We may salute them for their endeavours but we cannot compliment them for their achievements.
W. Waters

By The Way (1917)

From the January 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

A short time since columns of print appeared in the Press on the question of taking a Referendum in Australia with regard to the subject of Conscription. While the vote was being taken some reference to the possible result was made, and from a newspaper report I take the following:
  The “Argus" looks on the result of the poll so far as a stalemate, and says the great mistake was made in taking a Referendum at all on the subject of Conscription.
And again:
   “I am unable to express an opinion on the significance of the Poll as disclosed by the first figures, because, of course, I have been out of Australian politics for some time,” said Sir George Reid, M.P., formerly High Commissioner in London, to a “Daily News" representative yesterday. “None the less, I deeply regret the results to far disclosed by the figures. I have heard also that there is every possibility of a strong vote against Conscription I even among the men at the front.”
                                                           —“Evening Standard,” Oct. 30th, 1916.
At this juncture I might add there was a large majority against, consequently one is not surprised to read that a “great mistake was made" in taking a vote. But oh! if the votiug had only gone the other way, wouldn’t our wiseacres have said “we told you so.”

Hush! Hold your breath! worse follows. The final result was received in painful silence. Without trimmings of any kind appeared the following brief report:
The final figures of the Conscription Referendum are:
Yes . . 1,085,000
No . . 1,146,000 
           No majority 61,000
—“Daily News," Nov. 23rd, 1916.
*   *   *   *

We have just recently had the luxury of a National Mission, and in these somewhat dull days an outdoor procession organised by “Holy Church” even adds to the gaity of nations. I recently came across one of these processions in my travels, and took it for granted that possibly owing to so many counter attractions there was a slump in church attendance, and that our spiritual guides, in order to boost their wares, were holding a sort of minor Lord Mayor’s show, or taking a leaf out of the book of the old showman, who, when giving an exhibition in some village or town, paraded the streets with big drum and such other lures as he had at command. On this occasion the “Bishop’s Messenger” was the star turn who was to endeavour to draw the people. And so I gazed upon the aforementioned person, who was supported by other gentlemen of the cloth, choir boys and men, with all the appurtenances of religious ceremony, cornet players, policemen (regular variety) boy sprouts, old women of both sexes, and, finally, a rearguard of special constables.

*   *   *   *

What I was going to draw attention to is this: That I really think a special mission to the clergy is indeed necessary. A few days ago I was reading that at the annual meeting of the Bath Free Church Council an individual there made a vigorous attack on church teaching.
   Mr. Wills said the reason why four-fifths of the people were outside the churches was because the ministers were not honest with the people. They did not preach what they believed. They were bound by chapel trust-deeds, and dare not speak their minds. Children in Sunday Schools were taught erroneous doctrines.  
   There would he a valuable revolution in churches if members of congregations were allowed to question the preacher at the close of a sermon.
Reynolds’s,” Nov. 26th, 1916.
The latter suggestion, if carried out, would prove highly interesting, though perhaps a disastrous one to the gentry who have for so long enjoyed facilities of an exceptional character. It is worthy of notice that “children in Sunday schools were taught erroneous doctrines.” The acceptation of religion with all its dogmas depends upon a child-like faith, and on an attitude of open your mouth and shut your eyes and believe what the man of God tells you.

*   *   *   *

The question of economy in foodstuffs brings in its train many and varied suggested reforms. The limit of 3s. 6d. for an officer's meal must make many a woman with children turn green with envy when she has to make a like amount cover the entire week and provide other things besides meals. Really, how they manage to eke out an existence on the munificent allowance of a grateful country passeth my understanding.

The position we of the Socialist Party take up finds confirmation in many and even unexpected quarters. The poverty of the class to which we belong— the subject of our oft-repeated reference —has become a theme of intense import to our masters. On the matter of “meatless days’’ the following extract should he of interest:
  So far as the mass of workers is concerned, it is a matter of indifference whether soup or hors d' oeuvre is regarded as a course. In the same way, the establishment of meatless days once or twice a week will bring no change into the lives of the really poor, for many years most of their days have been meatless.
Reynolds’s," Dec. 10th, 1916. 
These occasional allusions to the conditions of working class existence are significant and in themselves are a striking commentary on the anomalies of capitalist society.

*   *   *   *

We live in a topsy-turvy world. Within the space of four days two very remarkable announcements appeared in the Press. They are worthy of notice. One refers to the demand for women's high-legged boots, and reads u follows:
  Prices for smart footwear range from two guineas to 65s. per pair. . . The average length of fashionable uppers worn to-day is from 10 ins. to 16in., while heels are from 2½ to 3½ ins. But women's boots with uppers of bronze-coloured glace kid, measuring as much as 22 ins, were prominently displayed. The price asked was three guineas.
Daily Mail" Dec. 1st, 1916.
These are regarded in the light of necessities so that Lady Never Work may stroll about town in the latest mode, and perhaps, on occasion, dispense smiles and flags for a penny upwards.

The other, which relates to the “poor,” is somewhat brief. It states:
   The Eastbourne Board of Guardians recommended poor people to buy clogs for their children. The Rev. H. V. Scott suggested that the fashion of going barefooted should be reintroduced.
Reynolds’s," Nov. 26th, 1916. 
The merits or otherwise of going barefooted I do not propose to enter into, but it is sheer humbug and hypocrisy for these well-fed, well-housed, and well-groomed folk to thus talk to the producers of the world s wealth. I seriously suggest to the rev. gentleman that he should make a start by applying his recommendation to himself. Practise would be much better than precept.

*   *   *   *

Whilst one observes posters on the walls appealing to women of all classes to undertake munition work, etc, and help win the war, it is exceedingly doubtful whether many recruits are gathered in from what might he termed the idle rich. Recently there was held a Dog Show (whether dog breeding is regarded as work of “national importance" or a “certified occupation” the reader must investigate for himself) and from the list of exhibitors appearing in the papers it is evident that they were, in the vernacular of the man in the street, “not having any” war work.

From the description given of the accommodation it almost makes one wish that one had been born a dog. I notice that—
   The most precious dogs of all were in glass cases hung with little ribboned curtains. Other dogs reclined on silken cushions in show pens converted into Lilliput boudoirs. One proud and prize Pekingese had h:s “bench" decorated with ancient Chinese embroidered hangings of great worth. The hall was warm nay, hot after the biting air of Kennington Road, but two toy spaniels, wrapped in a soft and fleecy shawl, still shivered.
Daily Mail," Dec. 2nd, 1916.
*   *   *   *
The antithesis of this function might be quoted. An inquest was held on a little girl who met her death as the result of her dress catching fire whilst playing before an unguarded grate. The report says
  The mother, the English wife of a German interned at Alexandra Palace, said that the Government allowed her £1 0s. 3d. a week and her husband was able to earn about 3s. To augment her income she took in washing and minded a neighbour's child, although the had five children of her own. She had no fireguard, having had to sell it twelve months ago to obtain food.
Reynolds’s,” Nov. 26th, 1916.
To-day the pleasures and pets of modern society take precedence, but in a sane system the humans will take priority.

*   *   *   *
More light on the Old-Age Pension Act. Even at seven shillings and a tanner it is cheaper for our masters to give this dole rather than have the old people go into the workhouse house. Therefore read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the following:
    We hear many complaints as to the inadequacy of the assistance given to old-age pensioners to make up for the increase in prices. Local conditions differ, but some Committees are acting with great harshness, and we have heard of cases where only 1s. extra was given, though the pensioner was only kept from starvation by the charity of neighbours. The object of the Old-Age Pensions Act was to keep aged men and women out of the workhouse. The object of many of the local Committees seems to be to drive them inside.
—“Reynolds’s,” Nov. 19th, 1916.
*   *   *   *

A further item on the subject of Pensions would not be amiss. Two extracts were recently given in one of the papers as hereafter follows:
  The King has been pleased to grant to Sir Walter Phillimore, late one of the Lords Justices of Appeal, an annuity of £3,500 for life, commencing from Oct. 12.
   The memorandum (of the Treasury raising the total means of married pensioners to £1 a week and of single pensioners to 13s a week) concludes by impressing on committees that the additional grant is only intended to meet cases of special hardship and emphasising “the paramount importance of economy at a time when the Exchequer has unparalleled burdens imposed on it.”
—-“Daily News,” Oct. 25th, 1916.
*   *   *   *

It would indeed be interesting to hear in explicit terms what are the exact objects for which the Allies are fighting. Much has been said and written of Belgium and the “grievous wrong” that she has suffered. While in times past we were informed that “we” were fighting in order to obtain justice for that country, of late more than one reference has been made to the designs of the Allies for other territory. One newspaper correspondent writes from Petrograd thus:
   “Only this morning does the Petrograd Press deal in detail with the passage of the Governmental declaration to the Duma which referred to the question of Constantinople and the Dardanelles. The Novoe Vremya says :
  This proves more clearly than anything else the determination of the Russian Government and the Allies to carry on the war to the end, that is to say, to that moment when the capital of one of our enemies passes by right of conquest into Russian hands. In these conditions there can be no question at all of any half peace. Since Saturday the Turks must know that the war is for them not a matter of life, but only of death.
The article continues:
    “The Bourse Gazette asks whether it is any longer possible to believe that the smallest particle of mistrust towards Russia exists in the minds of England, France, and Italy, and continues:
   Together with the Dardanelles agreement there has entered into international relationships a new factor, the grandeur of which it is difficult to estimate. If England and Russia have succeeded in agreeing so cordially on this most acute and cardinal point which for so many decades had been a stumbling block in their relationships, if at an even earlier date Russia with the assistance of M. Sazonoff worked out with England a complete agreement as to the Middle East which finally liquidated all misunderstandings with regard to Persia, if with the co-operation of the same Sazonoff and the support of England we succeeded in laying down the foundations of a future alliance with Japan, which opened for us a new era in the Far East, then it is evident that there has begun to live and act in the world a new international grouping, the heart of which will be Great Britain and Russia united in common ideas.
Daily Telegraph,” Dec. 5th, 1916.
From which I gather that the Allies are animated with other ideas than the freeing of Belgium from German oppression.
The Scout.