Monday, January 8, 2018

A Reader Discovers a Mare’s Nest (1933)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Editor,                                                                                                                                                        Tottenham.

Dear Sir,

Being a regular reader of the Socialist Standard I observe the continual change of its policy towards Marxian Socialism and can only come to one conclusion, that there is a mental mix-up of those who form the Editorial Committee of the Party. To state a definite case for Socialism in previous Socialist Standards and then to contradict it in a following issue certainly needs an explanation, for to continue such tactics is certainly not in the interests of the working class.

Having made my charge I will now proceed to substantiate it. Firstly, in the Socialist Standard, March, 1925, page 297, after criticising the Minority Movement and condemning its reformist policy, it states: “To appeal, therefore, to Capitalists and their Labour agents to pass certain legislation, is to support the present system and those who rule it.” This is the policy that Marx always advocated, and never did he modify his views in favour of accepting capitalist reforms. This cannot be said for the S.P.G.B., who—as I will prove—now show a complete disregard for Marx on this point.

For in the Socialist Standard, April, 1926, page 122, there appears the following: “The Socialist Party is out to obtain all that can be obtained for the workers under capitalism.” Thus we see that after criticising both Communist and Labour Parties for advocating and accepting capitalist reforms, the S.P.G.B. are doing exactly the same thing. I wonder what Marx would have said and whether he would recognise the S.P.G.B. as a genuine Socialist movement?

I could continue giving examples of the inconsistency of this party from more recent issues of the Socialist Standard, but I consider that the above facts are quite sufficient to warrant a justification for the S.P.G.B.’s criticism of other political parties, if such is possible.

Finally. I shall look forward to a reply in the Socialist Standard.

I am,
                    Yours, etc.,
                                  H. Timmins.

Our correspondent describes himself as a “regular reader," but his letter could not have been written if he had read the two articles with reasonable care. Had he done so he would have seen that there is no contradiction whatever. The two articles express exactly the same viewpoint. This can easily be made clear by giving some further quotations.

The first article (March, 1925) dealt with the fallacies underlying the so-called Minority Movement. The article pointed out that a minority is in the hopeless position that if it demands something which the capitalist ruling class do not wish to give, then its demands are ignored and the minority is helpless to enforce them. This would apply to a demand for Socialism made by a minority. Consequently, minorities which wish to appear effective (the Minority Movement, for example), put forward programmes which the capitalists may be willing to agree to and able to agree to without injury to capitalism. In other words a majority movement can enforce its demands, while a minority movement can only appeal to the Capitalist Government to do something.

The article runs as follows: —
   The fact that they call themselves a Minority Movement damns them from the start, for, on the economic field, numbers count when a contest is on for obtaining some advance. Not minorities, but majorities, are then required, and a minority left to fight for some demand is doomed. The mass of the workers must be united in support of a national advance before we can expect them to obtain it.
After criticising the specific demands put forward by the Minority Movement, the article continues:—
  The political proposals of this movement could only be carried out if those in control of Government passed the demands into law. To appeal, therefore, to capitalists and their Labour agents to pass certain legislation is to support the present system and those who rule it. It is to ask the workers to prolong capitalism by voting for those politicians who have a programme of properly selected reforms. 
The other article referred to by our correspondent (April, 1926) puts forward precisely the same argument. Our correspondent by quoting three lines and ignoring what goes before and after discovers an entirely imaginary difference.

This is the whole relevant passage:—
   It is characteristic of the Communist and “Minority Movers” that in one breath they avow their contempt for Parliamentary procedure, and, in the next, call upon the workers to send in petitions to the House of Commons.
   The Socialist Party is out to obtain all that can be obtained for the workers under capitalism. We know sufficient of capitalism, however, to realise that the only way to obtain the smallest advantage is to oppose the enemy, both on the economic and political fields.
It will be seen that the two articles are identical in condemning the policy of petitioning or appealing to the capitalists, and identical in urging the very opposite policy of coming out in complete opposition to the capitalists.

So much for the the first of our correspondent’s mare’s nests. We await the others he promises.

Before concluding, we cannot pass over the inaccurate and illogical references to Marx.

Our correspondent quotes the passage beginning, “To appeal therefore to capitalists . . . .” and says (quite correctly), “This is the policy that Marx always advocated,” i.e., the policy of opposing the capitalists instead of appealing to them.

Then our correspondent concludes his reference to Marx with the words, “Never did he modify his views in favour of accepting capitalist reforms.” Now the first statement about Marx is correct. The second is false. Our correspondent, however, seeks to convey the impression that the two statements are really identical, which they are not. What he has done is to use the word “appeal” in the first, only to replace it by “accept” in the second.

So far from telling the workers to refuse to accept reforms (how they could do so our correspondent does not explain), Marx welcomed such reforms as the shorter working day and valued them highly (probably more highly than they deserved). But he never advocated the useless policy of appealing to the capitalists for such reforms.
Ed. Comm.

The Socialist Party and Reforms (1948)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Answer to a Correspondent
H. Timmins (South Tottenham).—Your letter of 1st September received. As we find that it covers almost exactly the same ground and uses (and fails to understand) the same quotations as the letter from you that we published and replied to at length in the issue for October, 1933, we are not prepared to publish it again. We refer you to that reply and suggest that you try to make up your mind what is the precise nature of the charge of alleged inconsistency you wish to make. In brief it is correct, as you know, that the Party’s Declaration of Principles has never been changed. From time to time the Party has discussed the application of Socialist principles to particular issues and did so about 1910 on the question of reforms. The attitude defined then has never been altered and was reaffirmed at Conference this year. There is no inconsistency whatever in being opposed to having a programme of reforms, opposed to reformist parties and opposed to the policy of appealing to the capitalists for reforms, and at the same time being prepared to obtain anything that can be obtained by opposition to the capitalist class both on the economic and political fields. If you could show us that we have ever advocated the former or departed from the latter there would be a case to answer, not otherwise.

In your letter of October, 1933, you charged Marx with advocating the policy of appealing to the capitalists for reforms. You do so again and now you also say that in that issue of the Socialist Standard we published “the glaring statement that 'Marx welcomed reforms'." You seem to be confusing your own argument with our repudiation of it and you were quite right to say in your present letter that no doubt we would accuse you “ of just using small extracts,” except that the term should be not even using but “misquoting.”

You say, for example, that we wrote “Marx welcomed reforms.” What we actually did write, as yon will see if yon look it up, was:
  “Marx welcomed such reforms as the shorter working day and valued them highly (probably more highly than they deserved). But he never advocated the useless policy of appealing to the capitalists for such reforms.”
You make one new point: “In view of the recent new Health Insurance Act, it brings to the fore the question of Reforms, of which even members of your Party will receive some benefits in different ways.”

You have overlooked the fact that the new Scheme is partly financed by deductions from wages (incidentally a reversal of the early Labour Party policy); that it is introduced at a time when prices are rising faster than wages and in place of wage increases; that some workers, e.g. new entrants to the Civil Service, will now have deductions made from wages for old age pensions but will have the pensions deducted from the Civil Service pension they would get in any event; and that the scheme as a whole is so far from being attractive that hundreds of thousands of people refused to enter it and the threat of prosecution had to be made to force them to do so.
Ed. Comm.

The "Unofficial" Strikers (1948)

From the November 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

For months past much space has been taken up in the daily press to condemn the “unofficial” striker. The Editorials vie with each other in vilifying the “Reds” who are behind all these movements. The Daily Mirror, whose contribution to the culture and art for the people, consists of Jane, Ruggles, and Buck Ryan, is among the latest to join up in this tirade. Though their daily slogan is “forward with the people," their sympathies seem to lie more with our masters in their drive for more and harder work for the worker. Accordingly, their Editorial (17/9/48) welcomed “the sign of deep responsibility in the Trade Union movement as a whole that the proposal for a token strike among the engineers as a protest against the recent wage award should have been turned down." It went on to mention how the “respectable” leaders have influenced the majority to proceed in the constitutional manner, and keep on working hard while negotiations are carried on. “Unfortunately there are places where the reasonable view did not prevail”— it goes on—“and despite the ban by the A.E.U. on unofficial strikes, certain men in Glasgow have called token stoppages for Monday.”

“Now what is behind this minority movement? ” asks the Daily Mirror. “ Possibly’’—they think— “some of the men are unaware that the 'rebel policy' within the Trade Union movement is inspired all the time not by industrial but by political motives.” Considering that all the wealth of the world is produced by the application of the workers’ energies, physical and mental, to the nature-given materials, through the use of machinery which he has in the past produced, there is nothing “unreasonable” or ”unofficial” about the use of his only weapon (the strike) for demanding a larger share of what is produced by his energies. Even more so, when one considers that from the total of wealth produced he receives on the average just sufficient to keep him in that physical state to keep on producing more and more wealth with a view to sale and profit. His share, one might say, is just the grease to keep the “machine” going. The Daily Mirror mentions political influence. Well, it is possibly correct that “Communists” wish to gain control in the Unions to further their political line, but to assert that their influence is so much that they can be all over the country at the same time is more likely to flatter them and give them much undeserved publicity. Strange that no one ever mentions a Tory minority in the Union movement out to embarrass the Labour Government! The charge would, of course, be equally ludicrous. With the slow progress of negotiating machinery, and the meanwhile rising costs of living, the worker "feels” the reduction in his standard of living. No "minority" has to tell him that. He organises and discusses strike action, according to the degree of his class-consciousness and militancy. One notices that the deploring of these so-called unofficial strikes always comes from those who are secure in their four square meals a day and in their home, and servants to attend them. Of course the press is always full of the harm to the “public” or the “community,” as if the worker had never known anything but "comfort” and “security” all his life !! What they never mention is that profits are threatened and as they (the press) are supporters of the capitalist system they must needs protect that system and invent all kinds of phoney phrases to keep up that support. As socialists we say that while there is capitalism there will always be strikes, ”unofficial” or otherwise, but at the same time we say the greatest need of the moment is to organise for socialism, a system vastly different from capitalism, and one in which all the means for producing and distributing the wealth of the world will be the common property of all mankind irrespective of race, colour or sex. Then there will be no more need for unions, or strikes, or disputes. Everyone will have free access to what is socially produced. There will be no need then for a “minority" to “rock the boat” (as the Mirror puts it). The "majority” will have sunk the “rotten boat” of capitalism, and settled on the ”new liner” of Socialism.
G. Hilbinger

A Policeman's Club (1948)

Quote from the December 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard
"When a policeman's club descends thick and heavy on a worker's skull during a strike if he listens intently he will hear ringing in his ears, the echo of the vote he cast at the last election."
— Eugene Debs

Bavaria Revisited (1948)

From the December 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard
We publish the following letter from a reader dealing with conditions in Germany. The writer is an American now studying in Switzerland.—-Ed. Comm.
On the train, rattling eastward from Buchloe, I recalled three previous visits to Munich . . .  in 1925, 1945 and the Spring of 1948. In more than two decades the surrounding countryside had undergone little change. There were still the same rolling meadows, broken by the quilt patterns of crops and dark patches of forest. White-walled, red-roofed villages dotted the landscape and clustered more thickly as the capital approached. The countryside had changed little, but the city was battered by war beyond recognition.

In 1925, despite war, hunger and inflation, Munich was still the German Paris, with its wide, tree-lined avenues, sidewalk cafes, spacious squares and well-groomed parks. The green Isar was a kind of Seine, meandering through the town past villas and heroic monuments. Munich even had its Quartier Latin—the suburb of Schwabing—where artiste and writers from all German-speaking countries (Rilke, the Zweigs, J. C. Heer, O. M. Graf) came to live and work. The Wittelsbach kings had been admirers of the Bourbons, and their capital became a symbol of this admiration.

In the Summer of 1945 we slid slowly into Munich in a U.S. military train. The great arched station had been gutted and wrecked . . . the sky was visible through the girder-skeleton. As an ironic touch, a huge rusty sign proclaimed Munich “The Capital of the (Nazi) Movement.” In 1925 one had to walk half-an-hour from the Bahnhofplatz to see the great Frauenkirche. Now its twin towers, with their onion-domes, were visible from the station steps. Round about was a sea of rubble . . . bricks, plaster, wooden beams and twisted girders, with jagged roofless walls alternating with houses miraculously spared. Gaunt, seedy throngs . . . Germans and a dozen other races . . . swarmed through the littered streets. Jeeps, army trucks and command cars were the only traffic. Shop windows were bare. Munich, 1945, was a skeleton picked clean.

In the Spring of 1948 the rubble had been cleared from the streets. It was now piled up in the empty lots, behind the jagged walls, and grass was growing between the bricks and beams. The great squares were more spacious than ever, lined by hollowed buildings that resembled skulls. The streets were still crowded . . .  the influx of refugees from Eastern Germany had swelled the population to 800,000. There was more civilian traffic. The small, egg-shaped Volkswagen, for which the Hitler regime collected down payments, had appeared at last. The shop windows were a little fuller, but many of the goods were clearly marked “Samples Only.’’ There was some evidence of rebuilding, mainly repairs on the less damaged structures. But thousands of families still lived in air-raid shelters and cellars and would continue to do so for a long time.

In mid-October, 1948, Munich, along with Western Germany, had gone through last Summer’s currency reform. The new Deutsche Mark, issued for ten of the old, was in circulation. Its appearance had worked a miraculous change in the street scene. Now the shop windows were crowded with goods of all kinds— household utensils, clothing, radios, shoes, leather goods, books, paper, luxury items. Even groceries and butcher shops displayed wares most of their customers had not seen in years. In the midst of Munich’s moon-crater landscape it was possible to sit down to a meal of eggs, meat, fish or poultry. For a slight increase in price the food coupons were waived on rationed items. A correspondent for the Paris Herald-Tribune wrote an enthusiastic article about the success of the “W√§hrungsreform,” pointing out that a duck dinner cost less in Munich than in New York or Glasgow, that a German Leica camera, which costs 450 Dollars in the U.S.A., can be bought for 175 in Bavaria. Surely the western occupation powers had worked a modern miracle.

There is only one thing wrong with this glowing picture. The German masses, having lost over 90 per cent. (the frozen bank deposits were recently reduced again) of their savings, cannot afford to buy most of the goods so temptingly displayed. Our Herald friend forgets that his 175 Dollars, at 15 Marks to the Dollar, represents seven months’ pay to the average German worker. His duck dinner, at six or eight Marks, is a days’ wages to a German clerk or carpenter. Once again, as in the early Twenties, Germany will be a playground for the well-heeled tourist. But what of its citizens? Recently the American consul at Munich announced he would accept applications for visas. He got over two million replies.

We had missed Munich’s famous “Oktoberfest,’’ which, we were told, was celebrated this year with something of the old lavishness. (Among other things, there were fried chickens at 12 Marks apiece.) As a partial compensation we visited the annual Fall Fair at Memmingen, a western Bavarian town of 20,000 near the foothills of the Alps. The old streets and squares were lined with booths and jammed with farmers. People rode in on hay wagons, buses and tractors to this post-currency Jahrmarkt, to feast their eyes on the pottery, cloth, dishes, toys, farm implements and luggage. Laughing children and young people rode the chutes, swings and merry-go-round. This was almost back to normalcy. But here, too, high prices and empty pocketbooks put a damper on gaiety. With a toy ballon at 2 Marks, a “Lebkuchen’’ heart at 2.50, a 100-gramme bar of inferior Czech chocolate at 5.50, a set of dishes at 30, many a youngster and housewife had to be content with “window shopping.’’

Like all other attempts to patch up a rotting system, the West German currency reform will be a long-term failure. Repercussions are inevitable. At this writing the workers of Heidelberg are on strike against high and rising prices. As Winter comes, signs of discontent will grow. With them will grow a knowledge on the part of the German proletariat (now truly have-nots) that the road pointed out by their old teachers—Marx and Engels—was the right one, after all. There is no substitute for Socialism.
W. Weber.

Agriculture in Capitalism and Socialism (2018)

From the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
After discussing some possible features of a socialist society, Colin Skelly contrasts how agriculture is carried out in capitalism with how it could be transformed in socialism.
'[The] technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly – centralised productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time – which, looking back, seems so idyllic –  is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption', Albert Einstein ‘Why Socialism?’, Monthly Review, May 1949).
Einstein’s view of socialism as utilising and continuing the ever more extreme division of labour prevalent in capitalist production is a logical one. As Marx pointed out, a major contradiction at the heart of capitalism is that the working class has access to a relatively decreasing proportion of the value produced by their labour (despite often also being absolutely better off materially than preceding generations). It makes complete sense then, that some socialists would see the immediate goal of our global revolution as being to enable the equalisation of the vast productive output of global labour.
Yet contrast Einstein’s view with that of William Morris in his vision of the socialist future, News From Nowhere (told as the story of how the socialist revolution had occurred by the character Old Hammond):
'…he [Old Hammond] had a detailed record of the period of the change to the present state of things, and told us a great deal about it, and especially of that exodus of the people from the town to the country, and the gradual recovery by the town-bred people on one side, and the country-bred people on the other, of those arts of life which they had each lost; which loss, as he told us had at one time gone so far that not only was it impossible to find a carpenter or a smith in a village or a small country town, but that people in such places had even forgotten how to bake bread... He told us also that the townspeople who came into the country used to pick up the agricultural arts by carefully watching the way in which the machines worked, gathering an idea of handicraft from machinery; because at that time almost everything was done by elaborate machines used quite unintelligently by the labourers. On the other hand, the old men amongst the labourers managed to teach the younger ones gradually a little artisanship, such as the use of the saw and the plane, the work of the smithy, and so forth; for once more by that time it was as much as –  or rather, more than –  a man could do to fix an ash pole to a rake by handiwork; so that it would take a machine worth a thousand pounds, a group of workmen, and a half a day's travelling, to do five shillings' worth of work' (Chapter 27, The Upper Waters).
Today, with stories abounding about the displacement of human employment with robots, such a view is highly relevant. Now we in the Socialist Party know that robots will not end our role as wage slaves – we need to do that ourselves – but with the technical possibility of displacing many forms of human labour, how would we choose work in the socialist future? Marx made a distinction between immediate and developed communism in his Critique of the Gotha Programme; socialism as established on day one would not be the same as socialism 5, 10, 20, 50 years later.
Day One
Socialism on Day One would surely involve, to borrow some phrases from Engels, the replacement of the government of persons by the administration of things and the anarchy of production in capitalism by the conscious direction of the processes of production. The working class would be in the driving seat politically and socially meaning that the productive potential of the Earth’s resources combined with human technical potential would be at our collective command. Equality would be established in terms of our individual and collective relation to the means of production. We would be at a point where we no longer worked for money wages but one in which each of us would put in our mental and physical labours to social production and each of us would take out what we need from the surplus of production destined for immediate consumption. To borrow from Marx this time, labour would be given according to the abilities of those giving it and the products of collective labour taken according to individual needs.
But the point of socialism is more than a striving for equality for its own sake. There is much more to socialism than arguments about what will be produced and how it will be distributed. In fact, equality of access to means of production is merely a means to an end, the social and political expression of a deeper need, the need, as Morris expressed it, for our labour to be ‘set free’. Marx was very clear in Capital and elsewhere, that socialism would be the conscious management of production for the first time in human history. It would give us, both as individuals and as a global society, the means to shape our own lives, ‘the pursuit of the universality of needs, capacities, enjoyments, productive powers etc., of individuals, produced in universal exchange.’  Socialism will surely not involve us going to work as normal, not even on Day One. It will surely be about more than having a say in what is produced and taking only what you need. It will involve a massive change in how you work, how you relate to what is produced. Because you wouldn’t have to work. To borrow from Marx yet again, the free development of each of us would allow the free development of all of us. In other words, although compulsion will be removed from work, our new free relation to it will ensure that, in fact, more productive work will happen. Which is why, although Einstein was right that socialism will continue to be ‘a planetary community of production and consumption’ and not a move to self-sufficiency, his vision of a highly centralised world with extreme division of labour is, for this socialist at least, further from what socialism will look like than that of William Morris.
Agriculture under capitalism
So, how might agriculture look in a socialist future? To start, we might contrast in broad strokes what global agriculture in capitalism looks like compared to a reasoned guess at what it might look like in a socialist society. Agriculture in capitalism is one dominated by production of plant and animal crops for sale in a global market in which import and export occur on a massive scale and in which more industrialised countries import food (where obesity is literally a growing problem) and less industrialised countries export food (even where populations may be malnourished). Intensive production is pervasive, trying to squeeze every last bit of plant or animal out of every square metre to the exclusion of all other considerations. Animals destined for meat are kept indoors in the smallest possible unit of space and dosed on antibiotics and given dubious food inputs in order to keep them alive and growing at the optimum rate for the earliest possible harvesting. Mechanisation is constantly developing under pressure of competition, squeezing human labour out of the process of production and making the machinery ever more complex and expensive. Production is finely specialised, individual farms concentrating on a very narrow range of plants or animals to the exclusion of all other crops. Agriculture is ecologically unsustainable, denuding soils of ecological health due to reliance on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and monocultures leading to further negative impacts on biodiversity, soil erosion and human health. Agriculture in capitalism is industrialised and exclusively rural, sharply delineated from urban life. Relationships are dependent – between food importing and exporting countries, between agrochemical companies and growers, between town and country.
Agriculture in socialism, whilst involving the widespread transfer of foodstuffs around the world, would not involve the imbalance between imports and exports that currently reflects global economic imbalance. It is likely that food production in a given geographic area would be planned to maximise the amount and variety available locally and regionally rather than dominated by one crop destined for export. An amount of surplus, perhaps of particular speciality crops, would probably be made available for exporting globally. Production would likely be more extensive than intensive as collective decisions about land use would replace the competitive pressure to maximise per unit yields of a narrow range of crops. The need for the routine dosing of animals grown for meat would disappear with the end of the compulsion to keep them in the smallest possible unit of space with the least inputs. Mixed farming would probably replace monoculture with multiple types of crops, enabling a total larger yield of crops per acre across the year. The drive for mechanisation would continue where dull, monotonous tasks were desired to be eradicated but the increased variety and range of work would make the need for machines that would run with minimal human input across of acres of monoculture a thing of the past.
Mixed farming would remove the need for reliance on chemical fertiliser inputs, replenishing soil fertility with animal wastes and, over time, restoring the ecological health of soils. The need for pesticides would be reduced as a greater range of crops would remove the risk of catastrophic crop failure and greater resilience of total crop yields. In turn, this would allow for a far greater biodiversity on farm land leading to a further drop in reliance on chemical inputs as a more balanced ecology replaced the ecological desert that is monoculture. The economic pressures leading to the rural and urban divide would cease to exist and the distinction between town and country would probably give way to a more balanced use of land, although doubtless population distribution would reflect the physical characteristics and productive potential of the land. Local, small scale and part-time production of food would probably increase because of free access to land alongside larger mixed farms. Interdependent relationships in food production would replace dependence
No one wants to grow in the way that food production is carried out in capitalism. In fact, farmers in capitalism do not want to farm in this way but are compelled to do so under the competitive pressure of the market. Freed from this burden, the range of people engaged in producing food would increase and land use patterns alter drastically. The productive potential of the land combined with the scientific and technical knowledge developed during the course of capitalist production will enable social production on a new economic basis. Consciously planned production, probably at local, regional and global levels, would replace production for the market. This planning would reflect local, regional and global needs but, as importantly, what those engaged in agriculture might want to produce and how they might choose to produce it.
Colin Skelly