Saturday, July 7, 2018

Notes by the Way: "Capitalists" at the Rubbish Heap (1937)

The Notes by the Way column from the December 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Capitalists” at the Rubbish Heap
Lord Iliffe, speaking at the Annual Conference of the British Junior Chambers of Commerce at Coventry on September 26th (Daily Telegraph, September 27th, 1937), said that “we” (presumably he meant the Government) are “curing the ills of capitalism as well as of Communism by creating capitalists as quickly as we possibly can.” A fortnight later the Daily Express (October 8th) published a striking photograph of dozens of women—some of Lord Iliffe’s "capitalists”—groping in a heap of colliery refuse at Longsight, Manchester, for bits of coal: —
   Three days a week are reserved there for women gleaners, three for men. . . . The women, here, were too busy to think of the camera. A lorry had just sent its load of refuse down the slope. Before the black dust had settled, seventy women were on their knees. For twenty minutes only the rasping of metal scrapers among the refuse was heard.
This is one of the "rights” free-born Britishers are asked to defend against foreign powers!

* * *

Beaverbrook is Candid—or Is He?
Conversation overheard in a Lyons’ tea-shop : —
   “I prefer the Daily Express, particularly now that Lord Beaverbrook says it isn’t run for profit.”
   “But isn’t it?” 
   “No. Lord Beaverbrook doesn’t get a penny out of it.”
That was the impression conveyed to one reader of the Daily Express, and, doubtless, to many others, by Lord Beaverbrook’s personal statement published on September 24th. It is one of those very candid statements which conceal more than they disclose. It starts off by saying that the profit of Express newspapers is limited to just under £150,000, “which is less than three per cent, of the gross turnover ”; but it does not tell us what is the capital and what percentage the profit represents of the capital. To relate profit to turnover in this instance means nothing at all.

Then, after telling us that “more than seventy-four per cent. of the ordinary shares are owned by me,” Lord Beaverbrook makes the statement which so impressed his admirer in the tea-shop: —
   I have never drawn a penny of salary from the newspaper. My sole and only object is to serve the public interest . . .” (italics ours).
Of course nobody supposed he did draw anything as salary, but what about his ownership of three-quarters of the ordinary shares? The accounts of London Express Newspapers, Ltd., show that the amount of profit available for dividend on ordinary shares averaged nearly £39,000 a year on the past three years. As Beaverbrook owns three-quarters of them, it appears that he is in a position to draw nearly £30,000 a year. Whether he owns any preference shares as well is not known. If he does his income will be correspondingly greater.

What about a little more candour, Lord Beaverbrook ?

* * *

The 'Daily Herald's’ Case for Capitalism 
Mr. Douglas Jay, formerly on the staff of The Times, then of the Economist, is now City Editor of the Daily Herald. He has written a book called "The Socialist Case" (Faber & Faber, 12s.6d., 362 pages). The publishers declined to send us a review copy, but it does not appear that we have missed anything. Mr. J. A. Hobson, reviewing it in the Manchester Guardian (October 15th, 1937), finds in Mr. Jay two merits, one of which is that—
   he discards from practicable Socialism the indiscriminate attack on profits, rent and interest which Marxism put into the Socialist theory.
Mr. Jay proves why it is necessary to retain rent, interest and profit. ‘The interesting point about this is that it goes even further in its acceptance of capitalism than the Labour Party itself. The policy in the past has always been to attack profits and rent, and even promise to destroy them, but to retain interest. Now along comes Mr. Jay and states the case for a monstrous edifice which is called Socialism, but which stands on all three of the capitalist pillars.

The unkindest cut of all, delivered at Mr. Jay, comes from an old colleague on the Economist, who says: —
   Purists, perhaps, may doubt Mr. Jay’s Socialism, and dub him rather an enlightened democrat . . .”— (Economist, Oct. 9th, 1937.)
Mr. Jay may be a democrat, but is it really enlightened to rehash all this old stuff about a reformed capitalism?

* * *

History Embarrasses the Communist Party 
The Evening Standard (November 12th, 1937) tells the following entertaining story about the Communist Party's embarrassment over a written record (which carried Lenin's endorsement) of Trotsky's part in the Bolshevist seizure of power. The record in question is "Ten Days that Shook the World," written by the late John Reed, which the News-Chronicle proposed to serialise: —
   This contemporary account of the Bolshevist uprising was written by John Reed, the American Communist, who was a close personal friend of Lenin. When he died in 1921 he left the British copyright in his book to the Communist Party.
    When the News-Chronicle approached the copyright owners for permission to serialise the book it was gladly given. The Communists asked no fee, and made only one stipulation—that all reference to Trotsky should be eliminated from the text.
    Confronted with this modern version of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, the Liberal organ abandoned the project.
The book was filmed by the Russians prior to Trotsky’s downfall, and shows him taking an active part. The Communists still show the film in this country, but their commentator now tells the audience that Trotsky was sabotaging the efforts of  the Bolshevists! What is more, one of the commentators, when questioned about this, admitted that he had not read the book and therefore did not know how his instructions falsify the written record.

* * *

He Could Not be Worse than the Others
One writer on the career of Mr. MacDonald, Mr. Frank Owen, who is well aware that MacDonald was never a Socialist at all, sums him up neatly and briefly, and his former associates as well: —
   I will say this of him, that he was perhaps not less of a Socialist at the finish than he was at any other time. And I will add for the benefit of old colleagues who have abused him so savagely in later days that he was no worse a Socialist than most of them.—(Daily Express, Nov. 10th, 1937.)

* * *

Dictator’s Diversion
Reynold's Illustrated News (October 24th, 1937) publishes the following extract from a book written by Mussolini's airman son, Vittorio, on his Abyssinian adventures. It shows the appalling gulf dictatorship creates, so that a young man can be entirely bereft of all sense of the consequences of his actions for other human beings: —
   I have never seen a fire. . . . Probably someone here was aware of my frustration and therefore some planes of the 14th squadron were ordered to effect a bombing in the zone of Adi Abo and to use incendiary bombs exclusively. I do not believe a more important reason existed. . . . It was most diverting.

* * *

Dilemma of Sir Stafford Cripps
The position of the man who says it is desirable to stay inside the Labour Party in order to convert it to Socialism is hopelessly false. In the New Leader, organ of the I.L.P. (October 29th, 1937), Mr. F. W. Jowett asks Sir Stafford Cripps how he squares his new declaration of loyalty to the Labour Party with his other statement that its policy is "Liberal Imperialism in Foreign affairs" and "Capitalist Reformism in Domestic affairs."

* * *

The Russian Wages System
The News-Chronicle recently published some articles on Russia by a special correspondent, Mr. Paul Winterton. It was noticeable that, though his avowed intention was to describe facts, there was a considerable admixture of opinion, some of it of a kind which obscured rather than explained the subject matter. In particular, Mr. Winterton went to some trouble to explain that, though there is great inequality of income in Russia, this is not a sign of a drift to capitalism. He reported, for example (News Chronicle, July 30th, 1937), that the lowest paid worker receives 125 roubles a month, the highest (with a few exceptions) 3,000 roubles a month. He expressed the opinion that “there is no such range in Russia as that between the 30s. a week of the British unemployed family and the £10,000 a year of the company director," but admitted, at the same time, that he had been told of the head of a Russian constructional enterprise reported to be in receipt of 12,000 roubles a month. It will be noticed that 12,000 roubles is 96 times as much as 125 roubles, and the range between the two figures is therefore not so very much less than the range between 30s. a week and £10,000 a year. The latter is 130 times the former. Even 3,000 roubles is 24 times as much as 125.

The point of major interest is that Mr. Winterton appears to be quite unaware that the present Russian practice in this matter is in flat contradiction with the views of Lenin and the earlier Bolshevists, who were firm advocates of equality. Not only Mr. Winterton, but most of the present-day British Communists are unaware of it, and the reason is that Communist and "Left Wing" books and papers are nowadays curiously silent about the former advocacy of equality. A good illustration is to be found in a Left Book Club publication, “A Handbook of Marxism" edited by Emile Bums. It runs to nearly 1,100 pages and contains reprints of many of the smaller works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. But when you look up the index to see what Lenin, for example, had to say about equality, you discover the regrettable omission of references to Lenin’s opposition to inequality.

In his “Soviets at Work,” Lenin regretted the necessity in 1918 of paying high salaries to specialists, and said: —
   Such a measure is not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against capitalism . . . but also a step backward by our Socialist Soviet State, which has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of wages of the average worker.
He went on to say that “to pay unequal salaries is really a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise.”

But Lenin’s “Soviets at Work” is not one of the works reprinted in the “Handbook of Marxism.”

Lenin had also emphasised this principle of equality in his “State and Revolution.” But while two chapters of this work are included in the “Handbook,” the chapter containing the references to equality of wages is one of those omitted on grounds of space.

The “Handbook” does, however, find space for Stalin’s latter-day Bolshevist doctrine ridiculing equality and actually quoting Lenin to. that end and making it appear that Lenin was opposed to equality (see pages 939 and 940). Needless to say, the quotation from Lenin does not really support Stalin’s view, but is concerned only with ridiculing the bourgeois notions that Socialism is based on the assumption that all men are equal. But even supposing that Lenin had on some occasion shared Stalin’s view, it is still most misleading to publish only a one-sided selection of his statements and omit the others, thus giving the false impression that the Bolshevists had always taken up the same attitude that Stalin and his Government take up now.

Before Mr. Winterton and others express opinions about what they find in Russia, and say there is no drift to capitalism, they could usefully acquaint themselves with what Marx, Engels and Lenin had to say on the subject of equality. But to do this they will have to go outside the publications of the Communist Party and the Left Book Club.
Edgar Hardcastle

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