Sunday, October 22, 2017

Answer on a Postcard (to Lord Finkelstein) (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Lord Finkelstein, in your column in the Times (30 August) entitled ‘True socialism always ends with the Stasi’, you invited readers to send you a postcard correcting any misunderstandings on your part. Unfortunately, a postcard is not large enough.
You do correctly understand that in socialism ‘market exchange is replaced by friendly, voluntary co-operation and free provision’. Your misunderstandings begin when you say that, reading Paul Mason’s book Post-capitalism, you wondered ‘how he might get someone, for instance, to clean station platforms or do any extra shift without being paid’.
You describe as ‘preposterous’ the idea that people would be prepared to work at such jobs, or any job, ‘for nothing’.
Misunderstanding No 1. People would not be working ‘for nothing’. In return, they would be getting free access to the things they need to live and enjoy life instead of a wage that only gives them limited access to these. That’s the meaning of the socialist principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’.
Misunderstanding No 2. People are not naturally averse to working. People like, even need, to work in the sense of exercising their mental and physical energies. What people, quite rightly, don’t like is doing work that seems pointless or from which they don’t benefit, as is the case with the great majority of jobs today under capitalism. If, on the other hand, work is seen to be socially useful or brings them some satisfaction or benefit, then people are prepared to undertake it. Socialism, which (your words) will eliminate ‘the market competition that makes us ruthless and makes us jostle for position’ (actually, to avoid falling into poverty), will provide ample opportunities for such work, undertaken for more than mere ‘amity’ as there’ll be a large element of enlightened self-interest in it.
Misunderstanding No 3. People wouldn’t have to do the same job all day every day. Many routine jobs are ideal for automation (including cleaning platforms). Those that can’t be could be done by different people doing them for short periods on a rota basis.
When you introduce the Stasi you move beyond misunderstanding and enter the realm of lying propaganda. In this you are following in the footsteps of Churchill who, during the 1945 general election, notoriously declared that socialism would lead to the Gestapo.
You argue that if there was to be a sizeable minority of recalcitrants in socialism, ‘either these people make socialism impossible, or they have to be eliminated on the grounds of their counter-revolutionary position.’
You are right in one sense that, if there were to be such a sizeable recalcitrant minority, then socialism couldn’t work. But why would there be when a society of free provision in return for working freely would be so obviously better than capitalism to have led a majority to establish it? That doesn’t make sense. Even less does your alternative of suppressing them by force, for the simple reason that a socialist society will have abandoned the means for doing this. The coercive state needed in class-divided societies would have been replaced by purely administrative, unarmed and democratically-controlled, bodies.
In invoking the Stasi you are assuming that the regime in East Germany set out to establish socialism – with free provision and no market exchange – but failed and had to resort to coercion. In fact right from the start the regime there was the same sort of state-capitalist dictatorship as existed in Russia and was imposed by the bayonets of the Russian Army. The GDR was never socialist any more than it was democratic.

The Past, the Present, and the Future. (1927)

Editorial from the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another year is dawning and perhaps it is as good a time as any to take stock of our progress.

That the class struggle exists and is waged consciously by the masters should be obvious to those who have given a little thought to recent events. The struggle the miners put up and the relentless attitude of the coalowners, backed up by other sections of the employing class, makes this clearer than it has ever been.

The general rise in wages due to war causes (though this rise lagged behind the rise in the cost of living) had given place to a general downward tendency as the shadow of war lifted. Professional politicians and Labour leaders vied with one another in helping the campaign for increased production, urging that to get back to prosperous peace conditions more goods must be produced at a cheaper cost of production. The plea was put forward on two entirely different lines, so that if one failed to catch the credulous the other might succeed.

One line of argument was that owing to the slackening in production of ordinary merchandise during the war period the world was poorer and different countries were heavily in debt. In order to save the world from bankruptcy, then, all workers were urged to put their backs into production to bring into being the rosy future that was promised.

The other line of argument was that we had fallen behind during the war and our competitors had cornered the market. So that we must work harder and cheaper in order that the “foreigner" might be pushed out of the markets upon which he had obtained a grip.

Of course the tale told to the workers of this country was similar to that told to the workers of other countries.

To some extent the propaganda succeeded and those who sought to show the ugly hand of exploitation in the tangle of romance and fable pouring from press and platform were treated as victims of a narrow outlook that prevented a clear conception of world problems.

Down came wages and harder became the conditions, until the workers were at last forced to take more or less united action lest the last vestige of the conditions, obtained after years of struggle, should be filched from them.

In the early part of this year wage-struggles were imminent in the more important industries; then, like a clap of thunder, came the miners' lock-out and the partial general strike, the latter brought to an ignominious end by the action of the Government and the connivance of those who had so energetically backed the “increased production" campaign.

These events have already been fully dealt with in these columns, but black though the recent record has been, it yet contains gleams of brightness that promise well for the early coming of daylight.

In spite of the limitations of the recent strike and the deplorable attitude of many of those who were its leaders, it yet demonstrated beyond contravention, to those who look facts squarely in the face, that however useful a General Strike might be in a wage-struggle, it is utterly useless as a means to remove the capitalists' domination. It further demonstrated that class solidarity has made considerable progress among the workers.

Before the Labour Government came into office, a few years ago, large groups of workers had taken part in disastrous strikes. The results sickened them for a time of what goes by the name of “mass action,’" and they turned their attention more to political action, with the result that the Labour Party were returned to Parliament with a vastly increased vote. The actions of the Labour Party when in office alienated a good deal of its support, with the result that “mass action” again had a vogue. Now we have a gigantic object lesson of the weaknesses of “mass action,” and again the workers are turning longing eyes politically. To some, memory is a fleeting thing, and in spite of the history of the Labour Party and the political organisations that support it, there appears to be a tendency to give it another trial. It is just here that we come in to make our protest.

Times out of number we have shown in these columns the fundamental weaknesses of the Labour Party, and have demonstrated that it is unworthy of working-class support.

Our propaganda, however, is seriously limited by the lack of finance. With infinite difficulty we have managed to publish a few thousand copies of the Socialist Standard and spread them as widely as means would permit. We have struggled to place a few pamphlets in the field of propaganda, but lack of funds has prevented the reprinting of old ones and the publication of new ones. We are unable to send speakers to many places throughout the country again because of the lack of the sinews of war.
For the above mentioned reasons we have only been able to reach a limited number of our fellow workers. Yet in spite of this serious defect our progress during the past year has been gratifying. We have had a most hopeful and continued influx of new members, and branches have been formed, or are in process of formation, in districts that hitherto had heard no word of us. This shows that there is a demand for a genuine working-class political party having for its avowed object the abolition of wage-slavery. 

With the coming of the New Year, we therefore appeal to all those who are in agreement with our principles and policy, but have not yet joined, to take the step now and help us in the only struggle that dwarfs all others—the struggle of the wealth producers for control of the instrument they operate and the wealth they produce.

To further this end we want as much funds as sympathisers and supporters can contribute. For instance, now that we have received the final delivery of our pamphlet Socialism, we have another pamphlet on historical lines that waits but the funds to publish.

Help us with your membership and with funds so that we can carry the fight all over this island.

The Class Struggle in China (1927)

Pamphlet Review from the February 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent events in the East have thrown once more into relief the economic and political forces operating there. Apropos of the subject there comes to hand a sixpenny pamphlet, “British Imperialism in China," from the Labour Research Department, 162, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.l.

The pamphlet traces briefly the rise of the Chinese bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) as a result of the invasion of the country by traders, manufacturers and financiers of Europe and America. Previous to that invasion China (like India and Russia) consisted of a vast population of peasants exploited in the main by feudal and autocratic methods.

Even to-day by far the greater part of the people are still peasants. To quote the pamphlet, 
  “As yet only the fringe of China has been industrialised. The population directly dependent on agriculture is estimated at over three hundred millions. . . . Their economic position is appalling. The small size of most of the peasant holdings would make it difficult enough to maintain a family; but when out of the scanty proceeds a substantial proportion goes in land tax and innumerable other taxes and military levies, the balance is hopelessly insufficient. The tenants pay enormous rents in produce . . . while their general poverty is such that they have to borrow frequently from merchants and usurers to pay initial charges or to carry on until the harvest.”
It is the old story of the peasant everywhere. The landlord, tax gatherer and moneylender form a holy trinity of parasites who by degrees drain the vitality from the very source of their own existence. The inevitable result is the collapse of their system and its replacement by one based upon more economical methods of exploitation, i.e., capitalism.

From among the peasants whose holdings cannot keep them there develops a class of hired workers who drift to the coast and along the rivers, there to become wage-slaves of Chinese and foreign employers in the factories, warehouses, ships and railways. Among these workers, during the last ten years, trade unions have made their appearance and as a result the political arena in China presents a confused spectacle to those who lack the key to the situation, i.e., Socialist knowledge.

The pamphlet sketches the various stages by which the foreign master class acquired the influence in China which now appears in danger. How the exclusiveness of Chinese society was broken down by force, the ports thrown open to trade, indemnities imposed and the Chinese Governments forced to accept loans—all this is a long story. The point which requires notice is that the Powers have been unable to obtain undisputed sway over the exploited masses. Competition between them has allowed a native class of capitalists to assert themselves and make a bid for political power. This class needs all the support it can get and so makes promises to the very workers and peasants whom it wishes to exploit to greater advantage. Hence we hear of Bolshevism in China. Lacking the necessary experience and knowledge the workers there swallow the promises of their masters and give them aid just as in Poland and Ireland and other places where nationalism has triumphed with dire results for the workers.

Concessions granted by a master class struggling for power are taken back again when it has become firmly fixed in the saddle.

Some rather rash claims are made in the pamphlet. On Page 61 we are told that “At the national conference of the Kuomintang held in February, 1924, a sharp divergence appeared between the right wing representing native merchants and capitalists, and the left wing based on the trade unions and led by Sun Yat Sen. The right wing stood for a nationalist party which should include all classes; the left wing for a revolutionary party . . . with a programme which clearly aimed at destroying the capitalist system. (Italics the present writer’s). The left was victorious."

On Page 59, however, we are told that “The new programme of the Kuomintang ” contains among other items the following! Under the heading of “Economic" “To establish a National Bank for issuing loans at the lowest rate of interest to develop agriculture, industry and commerce." Under the heading "Workers," "To enact labour laws safeguarding the right of labourers to organise and to strike. To limit working hours to fifty-four per week and to establish health and unemployment insurance. To support the workers in the organisation of Consumers' Co-operative Stores." Experience in this and other countries shows that capitalism is quite capable of surviving such "revolutionary" shocks.

In this connection a column of the Manchester Guardian of December 30th, 1926, contains items of interest. It is headed, "Sun Yat Sen’s Gospel,’’ and gives a digest of a book by the late leader of the Chinese Nationalists. Under the heading “Nationalism" (one of the “ three principles of the people "), we are told that “In order to save our country we must first recover the nationalistic spirit!" Under the heading “Democracy," "Our people have had too much personal freedom." "All we can do is to give our people political equality." Finally under "Socialism" (the third principle) we are told that "Before using Socialism as a means to solve our social problems we must first find out the focus of all our problems. Many people in the West have taken material problems as the central point in human history. We must reject that false idea." "None of the forms of Socialism developed in the West are fitted for our country." "Our commerce and industry have not yet been developed. All we need now is to prevent rather than to remedy the evils arising from modern industry and commerce." “Our great and immediate problem is not a fight against capitalists but the prevention of the rise of capitalists in the future. Our method of solving this problem is to develop State industry. Since we do not have enough experience and capital to develop that, it would be wise for us to employ foreign specialists and to borrow foreign capital to help us."

From the above extracts it is fairly clear that the situation is not so simple as our facile pamphleteers would have us believe. On their own showing the economic position in China is such as to make any destruction of capitalism and establishment of Socialism out of the question. That the peasants and small property owners will endeavour to free themselves from the grip of the money-lenders and resist the growth of large capitalists is only to be expected. That, however, is mere reaction, not revolution, while in order to achieve this end they appear to look to the foreign capitalists to assist them ! A case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

In any event it is clear that the workers of China and elsewhere have nothing to gain by supporting either party in this capitalist and property-owners' struggle. The business of the Socialist is to destroy, not to build up the faith of the workers in .Nationalism and the promises of political leaders.

The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.
Eric Boden

The Source of Wealth (1927)

From the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capital is wealth used in a way that profit results from such use. Strictly speaking, capital is money invested. Unless money be invested in factories, machinery, raw material and labour-power no profit will come to capital. The origin of profit has to be sought in the nature of labour-power. The labourer is paid less than the value he adds to the article he produces—here is the whole secret of capital and the source from which flows the mighty revenues of the multi-millionaires.

Factories are built, machinery is constructed, raw material is obtained by working men and women applying their energies to the material Mother Nature so lavishly provides. Money itself, that which the capitalist invests and which appears to have a magic power of self-expansion, is also obtained by the application of human energy to natural resources. In fact, without the raw material and human energy there is no economic wealth at all. These two things together are alone the source of all economic wealth, in spite of the wonderful tales of the mysterious power attached to capital. Before capital was thought of wealth was produced; after capital has taken its place beside the other relics of past epochs wealth will still be produced.

While the shipbuilder builds the floating palace, other workers in other industries are making those things that are necessary so that he may eat, drink, clothe and house himself until such time as his work is completed. This is an instance of what is happening in all directions. Workers supplement each other’s efforts in various ways so that society shall live. People in this country make articles that are required in the tropics. People at the equator produce products required in temperate regions. Often the raw material comes from one region and is worked up in several other regions before taking its final shape for use. In fact, so much are the products of to-day the result of social effort, that if an article be picked up and inspected it will generally be impossible to determine how many regions of the earth were concerned in its production.

And what of the fruitful beast of burden by means of whose labour these products exist in such prolific quantities? The worker does not own his product, it belongs to the owners of capital. The more wages the capitalist pays, and the more waste there is, for a given amount of production, the less profit the capitalist reaps. Thus the capitalist has a great interest in low wages and peace in industry.

Everything is done to make the worker more fruitful, docile and cheap. Technical instruction is boomed because a better educated worker means higher skill, better organisation and, consequently, more products, with the expenditure of less energy. A recent development with the same object is the increasing attention given to industrial psychology.

In this latter direction, astonishing results have been recorded, as the following quotation indicates:—
  Increases of output, varying from five to as much as forty per cent., have been obtained by our methods in such industries as coal-mining, engineering, tinplate, weaving, spinning, cabinet-making, calico printing, seed-crushing, dressmaking, the manufacture of margarine, rubber and fancy goods and confectionery.—(Dr. Charles S. Myers, Director of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, quoted by the Observer, 8/11/25.)
Many and various are the methods adopted to ensure the workers' docility. Large firms spend huge sums equipping sports' grounds and organising welfare work. Health Insurance, Old Age Pensions, Widows’ Pensions, Unemployment Insurance, and the like, are really capitals’ insurance against rebellion. They minimise the danger that is always on the doorstep. Formerly, these needs were met in charitable ways, now they are all organised in a way that makes them cheaper, more effective, keeps the worker less dissatisfied while at the same time binding him tighter to the wheel of capital by bonds of fear.

At its best, capitals’ ideal for the worker is to make of him a fruitful and contented slave, content to remain a beast of burden while his master enjoys the earth and the fulness thereof.
Gilmac.


The Utopian Outlook (1927)

From the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is over a hundred years since Robert Owen gave to the world at large his “New View of Society," now republished by Messrs. J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., in Everyman’s Library (price 2s., cloth). Modern industry based upon machinery was still in its infancy, though it was developing rapidly and revolutionising the mode of life of millions of workers.

The French Revolution with its flowery promises had resulted in bitter disillusion for the workers and given rise to the Napoleonic wars. An unprecedented trade boom gave way to an equally remarkable slump. In the place of overwork stepped unemployment, and destitution appeared widespread just at the moment when the production of wealth had reached its zenith. The rumblings of discontent everywhere were shaking the confidence of members of the ruling class in the permanence of the social structure.

As a member of that class Owen came forward with his plan. For something like thirty years he had been gaining experience as manager and ultimately owner of various industrial undertakings, and he had learnt to appreciate the important part played by the conditions of employment in moulding the character and habits of the workers, and he had the intelligence to apply his knowledge with practical advantage to himself.

He discovered that his employees produced more when their hours of labour were shortened and the sanitary and educational conditions of their existence were improved, and he jumped to the conclusion that what was possible in his case was possible in all cases; and that all that was required in order to bring heaven to earth was for him to make known his success.

To his fellow-manufacturers he addressed an appeal to follow his example and urge the Legislature to limit hours of labour for adults as well as children, and to prohibit the employment of the latter under a certain age. To various prominent and influential members of the aristocracy he proposed that the Government should establish villages of industry run on similar lines to his own in order to absorb the unemployed and relieve the pressure on the Poor Rate. To the workers he preached patience and goodwill towards their exploiters in the hope that the latter would mend their ways.
“ Rich and poor, governors and governed, have really but one interest ” (p. 154).
For Owen, the struggle between the workers and their exploiters was an evil to be got rid of by preaching, while the effort on the part of the former to obtain political power was regarded as vain and futile by this forerunner of reformers. Professing to regard all men as the creatures of their circumstances, he yet failed to appreciate his own short-sightedness, itself the product of his class outlook.

Nevertheless, his work possessed at the time considerable critical value. He exposed the anarchy and waste of competition, the mainspring of capitalism. He showed the futility of expecting to eliminate crime while leaving the causes thereof untouched. He flattened out the pretensions of myriad religious sects to be the harbingers of brotherly love. In a word he exploded the comfortable notions of social progress which the Manchester School of bourgeois thought endeavoured to spread.

Industrial progress and the political development accompanying it thrust Owen’s views into the background so far as the advanced workers were concerned. The legalisation of the Trades Unions, the Ten Hours Act and the winning of the franchise, all these were the result of struggle and not of mere persuasion.

They cleared the field for independent action by the workers, and on that basis Marx developed his theory of the class struggle as the means of ushering in the new society.

The followers of Owen degenerated either into sectarian cranks pursuing semi-monkish experiments in the form of isolated colonies, or mere humbugs trying to beat the tradesmen at their own game of profit-making by means of “divi-” stores. While Marx applied the materialist method to enable the workers to discover the means of their own emancipation, the Holyoakes and others tried to erect Secularism to the dignity of a new religion.

Owen’s ideas have been assimilated in part by many of the members of the capitalist class. The Leverhulmes, the Cadbury’s, and the Ford’s have all applied his teachings in so far as they paid to do so, and have posed as men of originality. All the politicians who uphold capitalism pay lip-service to his notion of goodwill and harmony between the classes. The "social problem” is far from solution however as ever it was. It will remain so until the workers, driven to learn by experience, accept the discoveries of Marx as their guide and forsake the leadership of parasitic, self-appointed "friends."

In opposition to the capture of political power and the common ownership of the means of life, all that these friends can offer — from the Labour  "Left" to the Tory "Right" — is Utopia
Eric Boden

The I.L.P. and Their Idols: The Conference of Opportunism. (1927)

From the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Easter I.L.P. Annual Conference has provoked much publicity in the Press, but it has not been publicity for Socialism. The hero-worship of MacDonald versus the idolatry of Maxton and Wheatley, is the tone of the controversy within the I.L.P. ranks. The entire time of the Conference was given up to discussion and disputes about policies and opinions on matters purely capitalist and opportunist.

The chairman’s address was typical of Maxton, a mixture of sentimentalism and reform. His admission concerning the present tendency in the I.L.P. is worth recording:
  Since the period of the Labour Government there has been a tendency for the I.L.P. to stand for the gradualist method and to postpone the achievement of Socialism to some date far in the future. (Forward, April 23.)
The official organ of the I.L.P. (The New Leader) in its report of the chairman’s address, omitted this statement. The chief error in this reference by Maxton is the false view that the I.L.P. has ever been concerned about the achievement of Socialism.

That this is true now can be seen from Maxton’s own policy outlined in his address :
   Get an I.L.P. of a hundred thousand men and women, every one to be a fighter in the shock troops of that Labour army, and go out on a definite offensive against capitalism with, as the key-centre of its objective, the demand for a living wage for all.
   The approach to that achievement should be first made at this stage by an immediate demand for a 20 per cent. increase on the wages of all sections of the working classes. It is necessary to make life tolerable to the great proportion of our people; it is the increase in the purchasing power of the people which is needed to lighten the Industrial depression.
A definite offensive against capitalism with a programme of more capitalism paying a living wage! Making life tolerable for the workers by a 20 per cent. increase on wages —when they are allowed to work! Where is the offensive against capitalism in America in its employers paying what the I.L.P. calls a living wage?

When the Conference came to the proposal not to nominate Ramsay MacDonald as Labour Party Treasurer, the hero worship and idolatory burst forth. Sixty-nine Labour M.P.’s and candidates who are members of the I.L.P., had circulated a signed appreciation of Mr. MacDonald, and an appeal to the I.L.P. not to break the practice of 27 years in nominating Mr. MacDonald for Treasurer of the Labour Party.

In stating the case for the Executive of the I.L.P., Fenner Brockway said of Ramsay MacDonald’s action at the last Labour Party Conference :
  He was opposed to the Party on not one issue but every issue that the I.L.P. had raised at the conference. It is not that Mr. MacDonald differs from us on details of policy. It is that his attitude of mind is wholly different from the mind of the I.L.P.
Many speakers who opposed this attitude of the I.L.P., referred to MacDonald’s “great work,” his services to the I.L.P., etc., and even Fenner Brockway, writing in the New Leader on the matter (April 22nd), tells us: “Personal devotion to Mr. MacDonald within the I.L.P. is deep.” In the same article Brockway says of MacDonald:
  He was definitely at variance with us on our “Socialism in Our Time” policy, on China, and on international working-class unity, and did pot regard war resistance as a serious policy.
There was no attack on MacDonald for his open repudiation of Socialist principles, his pleas for co-operation between Capital and Labour, his support of capitalist government in home affairs. The reason for ignoring the fundamental objections to MacDonald is very plain. If they had attacked him on such issues, the I.L.P. could be easily shown to be just as guilty of anti-Socialist actions.

But the real hero worship of MacDonald was shown after Arthur Henderson had attacked the I.L.P. action and pointed out that MacDonald would be the Labour Party Treasurer whether the I.L.P. nominated him or not. It then became important for the I.L.P.ers to show that really they were not opposed to MacDonald, and Maxton specially set out to allay all the fears of the opportunists who were afraid to offend the official gang of the Labour Party and their power to provide positions and preferment. Maxton himself in an interview said they were trying to “ help MacDonald ” !

In spite of all the criticism of MacDonald and his disregard for I.L.P. policies, we have the following gem given out by Maxton, the I.L.P. chairman, as the considered reply of the E.C., to Arthur Henderson. What an example of political frothblowing !
   The Conference decision certainly does not prevent the I.L.P. delegation at the next Labour Party Conference voting in favour of any nomination of Mr. MacDonald as Treasurer. In his statement on Sunday, on behalf of the National Council, Brockway said that he did not suppose there was any member of the Council who wished to see Mr. MacDonald removed from the Treasurership, and the delegation will be free to decide that the I.L.P. vote shall be given for his nomination.
   As regards the first question, it was made perfectly clear that we retain personal friendliness towards Mr. MacDonald, and recognise him as the Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which includes members of all Sections of the Labour Party. In that capacity, whilst retaining our recognised right to express our distinctive point of view on occasions, we shall faithfully give him the support which our loyalty to the wider movement requires.
Just as at the Liverpool Labour Party Conference the I.L.P. utters strong words of defiance and censure, but at the vital moment calms down and supports the man they attacked.

The rest of the I.L.P. Conference was concerned with the repairing and supporting of a rotten system instead of a policy to abolish and replace it.

Inquiries into surtax proposals, capital levy resurrections, municipal banks, war debt partial repudiation, nationalisation of mines—these occupied the major part of the Conference. Cheap and nasty political patent medicines was the stock-in-trade—the class struggle and Socialism were nowhere.

The left wing Communist element are disappointed with Maxton. Another lost leader ! They are now searching for another leader to worship and to follow.

One point in connection with the Conference deserves notice. After all their attacks on the I.L.P., the Communist Party sent resolutions and representatives pleading for a united front with the I.L.P. on questions which have nothing to do with Socialism or Revolution. Those who want a united front with such a party of professional opportunists as the I.L.P., are obviously playing the same game of fooling the working class.
Adolph Kohn

A Rare Fragment (1927)

From the June 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “A British Labour delegation came to Moscow. It consisted of three well-known members of the British Labour Party and of the Trades Union Congress. They had come to show the solidarity of the British workers with the Russian Revolution. I was present when they received a deputation from the Moscow Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. These men who were members of all parties in the Soviet, began by asking what was the attitude of British Labour to the Russian Revolutionaries’ proposal of peace without annexations or indemnities and with the right of self-determination for nationalities . . . the British delegates were firm, ‘ only the complete military defeat and crushing of Germany for many years to come would bring peace in the world.’ ” 
    “ 'But even if that were the best tactics to adopt for destroying Prussian militarism,’ . . . said one of the Russians, ‘is that any reason why we should not renounce the old annexationist plans of the Tsar’s late rĂ©gime and publish the secret treaties? The Tsar made us fight for Constantinople, which is not Russian and never was.’ One of the British delegates thereupon jovially burst out : ‘ If you don't want Constantinople, then, damn it, we'll take it! ’ I remember the long silence after this remark, then hand-shaking and the withdrawal of the deputation from the representatives of British 'Labour.’ ” (Italics outs.) 
An extract from—“ My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution,” by M. Philips Price, at that time Russian correspondent for the "Manchester Guardian.”

The "Empire" in the Tropics. (1927)

Pamphlet Review from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Imperialism in West Africa. by Elinor Burns (64 pp. Labour Research Department, 162, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.l. Price 6d.)

The above pamphlet constitutes No. 4 of the Colonial Series of the L.R.D. It reviews in brief the various stages by which British capitalist interests have acquired a grip of the economic resources of West Africa, including the labour power of the natives. Broadly speaking, the process is similar to that in East Africa and other tropical countries illustrated from time to time in these columns. The main difference is that it commenced at an earlier date, and has reached a higher stage of development.

In East Africa British influence had to contend from the first with the Arab slave-power. Its initial enterprises in that direction could conveniently assume the hypocritical guise of philanthropy, i.e., the suppression of the slave trade. In West Africa, however, British heroes from the time of Drake and Hawkins down to the latter end of the 18th century had indulged in the time-honoured practice of carrying off the comparatively defenceless inhabitants and selling them to the plantation-owners of the American colonies. This policy led to such a serious reduction in the population in these regions that the trading companies, which eventually sought profit there in other forms, actually had to bring back slaves liberated from America in order to provide themselves with a labour supply.

These companies extended their influence from the coast to the interior by intrigues with native chiefs (ready to sell even the land and persons of their tribesmen for whisky and trousers) until the inevitable revolts arose, which necessitated falling back upon the support of the Imperial Government. This led, as in India and elsewhere, to the companies selling out to the Government, which henceforth assumed control and responsibility for the administration of the areas concerned.

As a result of this change the native chiefs became, in practice, unofficial agents of the Crown. Those who proved refractory and independent were forcibly removed and replaced by others more amenable to "civilised” influences, who have been used to "collect taxes, recruit labour, supervise the native courts, and generally carry out British policy” (p. 12).

These political changes reacted inevitably upon the economic organisation of native society. Instead of producing foodstuffs for themselves the inhabitants had perforce to produce articles for sale, such as palm oil, cocoa, rubber, etc., in order to obtain the money wherewith to pay the taxes; and as they found that, even by these means, their income was insufficient, numbers of them had recourse to the labour market and sold their energies for wages.

Native chiefs and traders developed into small farmers, exploiting their own tribesmen. Tribal land became private property and the old communal organisation and customs fell into decay, and the population became simply a source of raw material for large-scale capitalist industry.

Being dependent upon the wholesale buying concerns, the native producers find their position growing steadily worse. They have to meet the competition of large-scale plantations in other countries, which results in a lowering of their prices, while, on the other hand, the destruction of their old mode of life increases their wants, which tend to become more "civilised.”

From this external and internal pressure there appears to be no escape short of a complete economic change the world over.
In addition to the soap and cocoa trusts, other capitalist interests have a finger in the pie of colonial development. The heavy iron industry finds room for expansion in the construction of railways, harbours, docks, etc., while behind them the financiers scoop up interest on loans for these enterprises, most of which are State owned. In fact State "Socialism” thrives to such an extent in the tropical Colonies that Mr. Ormsby-Gore (Under-Secretary for the Colonies) proposed in a recent Report that the Government itself should start plantations in order "to set an example ” to the natives in large-scale production. What effect this procedure would have on the already impoverished small-peasantry can readily be imagined. The State would conscript labour-power for its plantations as it does for its transport and other public works. The few native "large fish” would swallow up the "little fish” at a more rapid rate, and the outside trusts would gain the benefit of improved efficiency and organisation.
Eric Boden


A Labour Leader's Defence of Capitalism (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The essence of the industrial problem is to realise that business is a collective enterprise, that the divisions between capital and labour should not exist; that workers should be capitalists, and capitalists workers; and that there should be equality in status, if not in function, among all who are necessarily engaged in the common enterprise of carrying on an industry.
    It is sheer nonsense to say that an improvement in conditions could not be secured without the overthrow of the capitalistic system. I advocate the setting up of wages boards and industrial courts, but that would be of little use unless the procedure upon which they were to work was laid down and was generally applied.
The above is from the John Clifford lecture delivered by Philip Snowden at Hastings and reported in the Daily News (21.6.27).

In these two short paragraphs Mr. Snowden, who has professed himself a Socialist throughout his political career, openly denies the fundamental principles of Socialism, and declares the establishment of Socialism to be unnecessary.

The quotation is an instance of the truth of our assertion that the “Labour” Party is all things to all men. That Labour leaders are concerned chiefly with obtaining working-class support as a means to their own personal advancement. They frame their utterances to suit the views of their audience.

Mr. Snowden’s first statement is obviously false. It is only capitalists who engage collectively in business; and that for the purpose of exploitation of the workers. So far, moreover, as they are concerned, as a class, there is no enterprise without exploitation. .They own the means of wealth-production and the wealth of society as it is produced. The working-class produces much greater value than is returned to it in the shape of wages, salaries, etc. It is true that here and there a capitalist shows enterprise in an effort to obtain a larger share of the market by pushing some other capitalist out; but in general it is as true as that night follows day that capital is multiplied enormously by being used in the capitalist way for the production of commodities.

The worker is not collectively engaged with the capitalist in the production of wealth. He is paid a price for his labour-power, and there the matter ends so far as he is concerned. He has no claim on the capitalist with regard to the disposal of the wealth he has produced; nor any guarantee that the capitalist will continue' to employ him.

To say, as Mr. Snowden does, “that the divisions between capital and labour should not exist,” is merely a pious expression of opinion. The workers know from experience that without organised struggle against the master-class their standard of living would rapidly fall. Mr. Snowden cannot deny this obvious fact; would he suggest that the workers should cease to struggle? If not, then within the present system nothing can wipe out the “divisions between capital and labour” unless it is the conversion of the master-class to the wageworker’s point of view.

Possibly Mr. Snowden had such a conversion in mind when he said “that workers should be capitalists and capitalists workers.” If capitalists became workers, however, always assuming their ability to do some form of useful work, they would only squeeze workers out of employment to that extent. On the other hand, the usual capitalist idea of making workers capitalists is by co-partnership, which is merely a more efficient method of exploitation. The directors of those concerns where profit-sharing and co-partnership have been practised have repeatedly asserted that it is a business proposition from their point of view, and gives greater returns to capitalists.

Mr. Snowden might well be asked how it is possible to arrange for equality of status between capitalist and wage-slave. No matter how essential a worker may be to a concern, he must always be subservient to the owners of that concern. “Equality in function” is nonsense under capitalism. The function of the worker is production. If the capitalist has a function at all, it is possession and enjoyment. “Equality in function” is, therefore, a negation of capitalism; it cannot exist without the overthrow of the present system and the establishment of one where every able member of society shares in the work of production and has free access to the proceeds of the combined labour. The only system that could attain to such freedom is Socialism, which can only be established with the overthrow of capitalism. Yet Mr. Snowden says “it is sheer nonsense to say that improvement in conditions could not be secured without the overthrow of the capitalist system."

It is for him to show the workers how. The reference to industrial courts and wages boards is his only contribution in this direction. Who is to lay down the procedure upon which they are to work, and who is to see that it is generally applied? Obviously the workers have not the power either way. If they had they would not proceed in such a roundabout way to improve their conditions.

In short, all the suggestions raised by Mr. Snowden: workers to be capitalists, equality in status and function, and improvement in conditions, would still leave the workers at the mercy of the capitalist class, because the latter own the means of life and control the real forces in society. While they have that power the workers will remain slaves. Their conditions and standard of living may vary with time and place, but in the main their slavery will become more oppressive and exacting as the system develops.

The only real hope of improvement for the workers lies in their speedy discovery of the source of capitalist power, and their conscious and organised effort to control that power in their own class interests. They must realise that it is futile to dream of making capitalists workers and workers capitalists. The only solution is the abolition of private or class ownership in the means of wealth production and the substitution of common ownership with democratic control.
F. Foan