Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How socialism could increase food production (2001)

From the December 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
In two previous articles we set out facts showing that more people suffer and die from hunger than ever before.
Since the FAO was set up in 1945 to help solve the problem, the numbers add up to hundreds of millions. But the miseries of this problem could be so easily prevented. Millions die from hunger not because of natural catastrophe or "too many people". The catastrophe is the world capitalist system that puts profits before people. The deaths are preventable because potentially there are abundant resources of land, labour, machinery and farming technique. The problem is that these resources are not free to be used directly for needs. They are shackled to the anti-social ends of the market system that puts profits before people.

The proposal that the world community in socialism could immediately stop deaths from hunger and rapidly increase the supply of food is based on the freedom that all people would enjoy to co-operate with each other to produce food directly for needs without the constraints of the market system. However, we also have an example of a rapid increase in food production during World War II when the normal operation of the market system was suspended. For instance, throughout the UK, under the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, farming was planned, organised and largely paid for from a war budget. It was still limited by the economics of the capitalist system. It could not have been sustained because it was part of an accumulation of debt that eventually had to be re-paid from the profits of post-war trade.

It became a huge debt. "We end the war a net debtor for nearly £3,000,000,000 to the world overseas, where we began it as a net creditor for a like or even larger amount" (British War Production 1939 - 1945, compiled by The Times.) The money was mostly spent on war production and the armed forces but it also included the costs of farming. Writing about the coal industry future Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who was then Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Fuel said that "by the end of 1944 economic laws had ceased to apply to the industry". What was true of coal mining was also true of farming. It meant that instead of production being determined by market capacity for sales at a profit, subsidised production was paid for from government funds. No limit was set on production, and prices were guaranteed by the government for 18 months ahead. Though this example may seem perverse so far as socialism is concerned, it does indicate what can be achieved when production and distribution is organised, even for a short period, outside the normal constraints of market laws. What was achieved was that over a period of about four years food production in Britain was increased by 70 percent.

Such an increase of 70 percent today, on a world scale and within four years, would be more than enough to provide every person with choice and free access to good quality food. The ways in which this rapid increase was organised and achieved in World War II could provide some lessons for socialism.

A policy was adopted for converting pasture for dairy and meat products to arable land for cereals and vegetables. In 1939 farmers were given a grant of £2 per acre for ploughing up grassland and between April and September of that year 350,000 acres of grass were ploughed and added to the acreage for growing bread grains. This policy was continued and soon, over 7 million acres of grassland were converted for arable use. It resulted in a more efficient extraction of calorie values. "An acre of permanent grass (for dairy and meat) feeds only one or two persons; that acre ploughed up and sown with wheat feeds 20, and planted with potatoes feeds 40." (British War Production 1939-1945).

Whilst more tractors were made available, the fact that more people could begin work immediately using hand tools was an advantage. Workers were brought in from Ireland. Volunteer land clubs were formed together with holiday harvest camps for schoolchildren and adults. I myself was one of many young people who were "encouraged" to spend school holidays working on the land. This was picking potatoes and pulling turnips for 3d per hour (or 1.25p) under a bewildered farm foreman known by the youngsters as "Nobby the Slavedriver". He impressed us most with his ability to shout instructions without dislodging the roll-up fag that always drooped from the corner of his mouth. He may have been good at farming but he had never been trained to manage dozens of youths whose attention span when weeding endless rows of carrots was about ten minutes. He did his best but, for easily distracted school kids, patriotism was an abstraction too far.

The 90,000 women of the Land Army came from very different backgrounds. The daughters of doctors, solicitors, labourers and factory workers from the industrial areas joined together, driving tractors, milking cows and cleaning out pigs. By all accounts the work was hard but enjoyable. The living conditions on farms were often crude but mostly morale was high.

There were German prisoners of war who were trusted to march themselves in squads between fields and their huts. Also many Italians who at one point, and without in any way changing as people, stopped being the enemy and became allies overnight. PoWs sometimes worked with conscientious objectors whose ideas ranged across a spectrum from Jehovah Witnesses and Quakers to Socialists. With this great mix some farms became debating societies. Despite many farm workers joining the forces the total labour strength in agriculture in England and Wales increased from 607,100 in 1939 to 740,500 in 1944.

But the expansion of agriculture needed to be kept in balance and to achieve this the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries became the main organising body that co-ordinated the work of local areas. Agricultural Executive Committees were set up in each of the 61 counties of England and Wales. In turn, these county committees divided the work between district committees as part of rural district councils. Attached to these local committees were technical staffs who could advise, assist and work directly with local farms. This was the organisation that carried out a balanced and comprehensive policy for increasing food production.

The British capitalist state was driven to this only as part of the means of winning the war. The object was to provide the population with "an adequate diet which would keep them fit for the strenuous tasks which total war imposes on all". But if this organisation could work so well as a war effort, a similar effort in socialism as part of war on hunger could quickly end the miseries of poverty and starvation that are a permanent and worsening feature of world capitalism. Over the last 25 years the numbers of starving people have doubled from 435 million to over 800 million. Against this, as the example of increased food production during World War II shows, the case that starvation is easily preventable is not just argued as theory, it can be demonstrated from experience.

The organisation that led to increased food production in Britain during World War II indicates practical ways of achieving similar results in socialism. Potentially, the organisation already exists. In place of national governments, the UN could be democratised as a World Council which could become a centre for co-ordinating a world-wide war on hunger. The FAO could also achieve its potential as a key organisation at last able to achieve real results. To devolve the work, agricultural committees could be set up in every country and these could be further de-centralised through county and district committees, (or equivalent bodies in all countries). At every level throughout this structure, the FAO could provide skilled staffs able to draw on its store of world data and technical information to advise and assist the work. This network could be extended to local farms with an ability to adapt to every local condition.

Common ownership would give all communities immediate access to land. In the short term, people in the areas of greatest need could concentrate their local efforts using the best means available. At the same time the regions most able to do so could assist with increased supplies. There can be no doubt that throughout the world, within a season, the plight of the seriously undernourished would be greatly improved.

In the longer term, communities in socialism would be able to look beyond the immediate priorities of desperate need and begin to sort out the appalling state of world agriculture that is a consequence of the exploitation and destructive methods of capitalist agribusiness. It not only exploits farm workers of all lands, it exploits anything in nature it can get its hands on.

There is of course widespread concern, not just about starving people but also about the damage and loss of natural food assets across the world. This is the continuing despoliation of land and ocean resources, the excessive and inappropriate use of weed killers and chemical fertilisers together with the cruel treatment of animals. But concern is too often weakened by a sense of powerlessness. It is also neutralised by actions that protest against capitalism whilst having no prospect of getting rid of it. It is therefore vital that the socialist movement is strengthened. The work of providing for the needs of all people begins with the work of organising for world socialism.
Pieter Lawrence

World Hunger: Why the FAO fails (2001)

From the November 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
The second of three special reports on another entirely preventable war on humanity - world hunger
The job given to the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 1945 to advise, assist and co-ordinate the world-wide fight against hunger had no chance of success. The "profits before people" laws of the capitalist system were always going to come before the needs of the hungry. Last month we gave figures showing that world hunger has not improved but is getting worse. Over the past 50 years this has been accepted by the FAO, indeed they were one source of the figures. The foreword to its l979 book Fighting World Hunger said "the fact that everyone has a right to enough to eat is now everywhere accepted and more widely proclaimed than ever before. But alongside this goes the fact that more human beings are hungry than ever before and that the number is growing all the time".

The worsening trend has continued. In 1974/5 the number of seriously undernourished was 435 million. The present FAO Factfile shows an increase to 828 million. The reality behind this brief statistic is that many thousands of men, women and children are dying every day. Fighting World Hunger asked the question "Why is there this gap between the growing realisation of our common humanity and the reality of growing deprivation which seems to deny it?"

It is a good question but for all its great store of technical knowledge the FAO has been unable to apply any solutions. This knowledge covers every aspect of food production. By satellite it has completed a soil map of the Earth's surface which, together with data on climates, matches the suitability of soil types with various crops. It monitors the use of land and the loss of soil fertility through erosion and misuse. From forests to fisheries, the important cereals such as wheat, maize and rice; fruits, vegetables, salad crops and spices, seed development, fertilisers, plant disease and irrigation methods, through its research and publications, the FAO is able to provide advice on any problem to do with the production of food.

But what it cannot do is actively co-operate with communities throughout the world in the vital work of making good quality food available for every person. So far as the production of food is concerned the role of the FAO is more symbolic than real and the reason for this is suggested by itself. It does acknowledge its limitations as a result of having to work within a world capitalist system that imposes severe and unpredictable constraints on what can be produced for sale for profit in the food markets.

For example, its State of Food and Agriculture 1999 (SOFA 1999) states that this
"also reviews global agriculture from the perspective of supply and demand, both of which have been hit hard by the recent financial crisis. In crisis-hit countries of Asia, lower agricultural output and demand, along with falling gross domestic product and increased unemployment, created greater food insecurity for large segments of the population. The effects of the crisis were felt globally, as the reduced purchasing power of crisis hit countries caused import demand and agricultural commodity prices to decline worldwide".
Then further: 
"The report (SOFA 99) highlights an alarming trend in this regard – human factors, such as armed conflicts and economic collapse, are playing an increasing role in provoking food shortages."
Since it is impossible to envisage a world capitalist system without recessions, unemployment, financial crises, economic collapse and armed conflicts, such FAO reports as SOFA 99 point directly to capitalism being the cause of the problem of world hunger. It is significant that it goes on to insist that "preventing conflict and assuring sustainable economic growth are essential if World Food Summit goals are to be met and emergency food shortages avoided". The idea that this can be achieved within capitalism denies all experience. It substitutes blind optimism for sound analysis and real solutions.

This is not to say that the people of the world cannot unite in the work of ending hunger but for this we must get rid of capitalism. It is only by working with the relationships of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs that it would be possible. On this socialist basis the work of ending hunger would be straightforward and immensely rewarding. And this is when the FAO would at last be able to fulfil its aims.

Limiting production
Over the past 50 years, governments in the developed countries have intervened massively in farming. They have used subsidies, compensation and strictly enforced quotas to limit production. This has resulted in food being destroyed and land taken out of production to keep output more or less in line with market capacity. The amount of food that can be sold on the markets is always much less than could be produced directly for needs. Our inability to make full use of productive powers is a permanent feature of capitalist farming but in socialism this restriction will be removed. Through voluntary co-operation and with the ability to freely organise and use all the factors of production and distribution, communities across the world will have no barriers against producing food in the amounts required for needs.

With food, it is possible to increase production rapidly because a lot can be done with hand labour. It is not necessary to first expand means of production. Whilst industry and manufacture may take time to bring in more machinery and equipment, local initiatives could mean more people using their local land resources for more intensive production. But, to begin with, a socialist world could immediately stop people dying of hunger with a more equal distribution of scarce supplies. At the same time local initiatives would greatly improve the supply of food within a very short time

But local food production is limited by variations of soil and climate, which means that local projects would contribute to balanced production throughout the regions of the world. On this larger scale the grain-producing regions of America, Canada, Australia and Asia would continue to be important. Wheat, maize and rice are basic to world agriculture and new areas could be developed for the production of these cereals together with the whole range of nutritious fruits and vegetables.

With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the land resources of the planet in whatever location may be considered best. A priority in such decisions would be care of the environment. The possibility that conservation methods might require more people would not matter. There would be no economic pressure to carry on using destructive production methods that use the least amounts of labour. Furthermore, with the ending of occupations such as those in insurance, finance and banking, millions of people would become available for useful production in socialism. Moving on from the insanities of capitalism what more meaningful way could there be to take up a new life in a better world than to join in with the work of stopping people dying from hunger?

To help take up this challenge, the FAO, together with other potentially useful organisations, would be ready made to advise, assist and help co-ordinate this great project. From any technical viewpoint, from the fact that abundant resources of land are available, and given the ability of every person to co-operate with others, the relentless horror story of millions of men, women and children dying every day from hunger is so easily preventable.

In a final article we will suggest practical ways that specialist bodies like FAO could work in socialism within a world system of democratic administration.
Pieter Lawrence


World hunger: A global problem (2001)

From the October 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

The concern of many people about the effects of globalisation is justified. Globalisation enables international companies to manipulate their worldwide use of the cheapest and most defenceless labour to plunder natural resources, to buy off local power groups and by-pass or corrupt governments. The clear object is to maximise exploitation and profits. But this is globalisation in its corporate form, operating within a world capitalist system. It does not mean that, in itself, globalisation is a bad thing. It does bring its good things. For example, instant world communications means we can be aware of events in every country and this heightens the way we think globally.

In any case, global society is here to stay. There is no going back on a production system that is linked across the world. But the exploitative nature of this system in the hands of multinational corporations means that workers share a common interest which also goes beyond national boundaries. The problems of the great majority can only be solved by united world action.

One such problem, world poverty and hunger, was highlighted by protestors at the recent demonstrations in Genoa and Seattle They blamed the “profits before people” motives of world agribusiness. In this they were right, but to solve the problem we need more than blame. We need a sound political approach and practical proposals for how we as a world community can ensure that all people get enough good quality food.

Fine aspirations
It is not so long since world organisation was seen as a good thing. It was after the Second World War, as part of the United Nations, that the Food and Agricultural Organisation was set up to help solve the problem of world hunger. In the aftermath of the killing and destruction, and perhaps in response to a demand for radical change, statesmen from every country vowed their commitment to build a better world. Then it was thought that “internationalism now held the key to a better world order”. This was when the promise of global action through the FAO carried the hopes of the many millions who were desperate to improve their lives.

In the 1979 FAO publication, Fighting World Hunger its Director said, “Hunger and malnutrition are world problems. They need a world solution. They are too vast and formidable to admit of anything less than a global attack.” We wholeheartedly agree and we can agree with more. The same booklet went on, “The persistence of hunger and malnutrition is unacceptable morally and socially, is incompatible with the dignity of human beings.” And then again, “Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition.”

The aspirations were fine but could they be delivered? From the time the FAO was set up socialists took no joy in pointing out that the UN was bound to fail in its declared aims to bring about peace and plenty. It could never be within its terms of reference to abolish the capitalism system which was, and remains, the cause of the problem. 1945 was a time of great optimism but since then it has faded. The first hopes of success have been replaced by more realistic forecasts. The FAO now accepts that the food markets place constraints on production; that trade in food commodities is volatile, influenced by rapid shifts in market conditions, and price fluctuations as well as wars and civil strife. None of these capitalist features can be controlled or planned. Nor can they be made to work in the interests of the majority of people.

So, the reality was that during the 1960s the world position of the hungry improved but after l970 it worsened. The FAO figure for the seriously undernourished for 1974/6 was 435 millions people. This was 75 million higher than five years earlier. Fighting World Hunger stated “Today the absolute numbers of people suffering from undernourishment are greater than ever before.” The l981 Annual Report of UNICEF said that 40,000 children were dying every day (over 14 million per year) from malnutrition or malnutrition-related disease.

But, looking forward from then and on the basis of an assumed increase in world population between 1980 and 2000 from 4,415 million to 6,200 million, the FAO made various projections. The best projection was that with a steady increase in food production of 3.8 percent per year in the developing countries the numbers of seriously undernourished could reduce from 435 million to 260 million by the year 2,000. A 3.2 percent increase could foresee a reduction to 390 million. Increased production of 2.8 percent per year would see a reduction to 590 million seriously undernourished people by the year 2000.

Poor delivery
In fact there are now over 800 million people seriously undernourished. We have passed the year 2000 and, if we look at the FAO Fact File on its website (Link), we find that the number of the world's hungry at 800 million is much greater than was predicted by its earlier worst case scenario. It states, “The absolute number of chronically undernourished people rose between 1990-1992 and 1994-96 in three out of five developing regions of the world. The largest number of undernourished people are in Asia.” It also makes the lame and obvious statement, “This was mainly because there has been little progress in reducing poverty.”

Inevitably, the figures include children. The number of undernourished children suffering from underweight, stunting or wasting is 414 million. “An alarmingly high proportion of children in the developing world suffer from undernutrition, resulting from a combination of inadequate food intake and diseases such as diarrhoea that prevents proper digestion of food.”

Together with the growing numbers of hungry people, recent decades have seen the destruction of natural assets and land resources. As well as the loss of rain forests there has been desertification, misuse of agronomically fragile soils, degradation of soil by salinity and overgrazing of marginal lands. “On the southern edge of the Sahara, an area the size of Somalia has become desert over the past 50 years. The same fate now threatens more than one third of the African continent” (FAO FactFile).

It is possible to read the figures on the world's hungry and to regard them in a very dispassionate way. There are many such lists of dead. Most of us cannot fail to be shocked at the number of 50 million who died in the Second World War. That number is horrendous but the numbers who die from lack of food are relentless, a holocaust that kills its victims every day of every year with no end in sight. Unlike the casualties of the violence in New York the deaths from hunger are not the material of media drama. This is a silent outrage which is mostly ignored. It is of course impossible to take in the suffering of the millions of families who go into mourning every year over the death of a child because of starvation – over 800 million children since the FAO was set up in 1945. The total number is incalculable, but must approach 2 billion. Those who are better off are not uncaring but pre-occupied, pursuing their own daily struggles. We are driven by an economic individualism that provides us with little freedom to act effectively as a community.

But though the facts may not be newsworthy they are still put out by the FAO and others. The FactFile still speaks of “World hunger – widespread, persistent, unacceptable.” After so many years its appeals now sound forlorn: “If decisive action is not taken, the number of chronically undernourished persons will be substantially the same in 15 years time”. For many millions this is not so much an appeal, it is a death sentence.

And the tragedy is made worse because it is all so needless. A further article will set out the ways that people in a world socialist community could stop the dying immediately. Within a short time, with co-operation and united action they would be able to provide every person with sufficient good quality food.

This is the first a series of three articles.
Pieter Lawrence

Bleak prospects (2011)

Film Review from the March 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Neds (2010, directed by Peter Mullan)

Dramas which attract adjectives like ‘bleak’, ‘gritty’ or ‘brutal’ have been one of the specialities of British film and television since the 1960s. Neds fits firmly into this tradition, especially alongside This Is England, Scum and early Grange Hill. The acronym stands for ‘Non-Educated Delinquents’ – a dismissive label for teenagers who turn from schooling to violence. John McGill – the film’s lead character – has a promising start at school before pressures from home and his peers push him towards the dubious security of a gang. Most of the characters find themselves trapped in a life of being a victim or perpetrator of violence, or both. Succeeding in education is seen as the only escape, despite the lack of encouragement from jaded, chain-smoking teachers. Sadly, these themes are so common that the film could have been set almost anywhere and at any time. Often, it’s only the accents and the flares which remind you we’re in Glasgow in the early 70s. Writer-director-actor Mullan clearly feels passionate about showing us how some social institutions breed cruelty. Unfortunately, the audience isn’t given quite enough detail about McGill’s motivation, or that of his alcoholic father. And the film starts to unravel in the last act, partly because of jarring appearances by lions, Jesus and taped-on knives.
Mike Foster


Capitalism: A Major Global Problem (2018)

From the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Flint, Michigan, US – a town in the US where long term denial by the authorities caused large numbers of people to be poisoned by excessive amounts of lead in the water system leading to illnesses, malformations of foetuses and deaths. While this scandal was unfolding slowly other studies in other states revealed many more areas where water contamination from lead was even greater than that determined in Flint.

The 'Democratic Republic' of Congo – where living standards for most are critical. In 2012 the Gross National Income per capita was $220 and the Human Development Index had them at the bottom of the list. Circumstances force many into deadly employment in small mining set ups mining coltan, tantalum, tin and gold for use in such products as cameras, laptops and mobile phones in what they describe as their only option to feed their families. This is a practice replicated in many other African countries where resources are mined for a pittance for the enrichment of the wealthy and the satisfaction of consumers abroad.

EU countries – Against popular will, citizens have just been handed over, courtesy of their governments' votes to extend for another five years Monsanto's contract to supply and use glyphosate This is against convincing evidence around the world of the dangers of this chemical for its effects on animal life, including human. The news was greeted with huge protests by citizens demanding their health be protected by those who supposedly represent them.

New York, US – News out this week. 75,000 people, including children, are now homeless and of these about 4,000 (1 in 20) are sleeping rough in New York. Rents are too high and work pay is insufficient. The government claims to have added x thousand jobs this year but there was another hike in homeless numbers apparently equivalent to the great depression in the early twentieth century. And this situation is replicated in 'developed' countries around the globe. For instance there are now 307,000 homeless in the UK, up 34 percent since 2010.

India – Latest figures reveal 300,000 farmer suicides in the previous ten years. The reason? Debt. Trade agreements favouring industrial agriculture leave small holder farmers indebted through lack of capital.  The many links between pressure to buy big companies' seed, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and subsequent failed crops as a result of poor weather conditions have led to hangings and pesticide suicides on this massive scale, leaving whole families indebted.

Kenya, Ethiopia and other African and Asian countries – Hundreds of thousands have been forcibly removed from their small parcels of land which had fed them and provided an income, sometimes for generations, to give contracts to big companies, mostly from abroad, to grow flowers, beans and other cash crops in mega greenhouses or mono crops for animal feed or biofuels – seeking big bucks with the former occupants left with neither land, shelter nor employment.

Sao Paulo, Brazil – News out today following steep economic decline that homelessness is rapidly on the rise, squatter tent suburbs growing exponentially from 2, to 5, to 12,000 by the week and this is being replicated around the country. Another bust after an earlier boom.

What do these few random samples do if not reveal the many similarities in circumstances for populations all around the world? Whilst specific differences will most certainly be relevant to and the consequences fully understood by each and every individual victim of their particular circumstances, what perhaps is more important is to recognise the necessity of grasping the threads that connect them all; what the causes are of so many seemingly diverse localised problems, tragedies, everyday living conditions, health care deficiencies, rampant hunger, and on and on.

Are the causes really different and disconnected or can we recognise that these problems are actually all our problems with perhaps different nuances? Our collective problems stem from the one source and that is the major global problem – capitalism.

Capitalism must be overturned         

Capitalism affects every nook and cranny of each of our lives. Who can live a day without being negatively affected one way or another whether at home, at work or at leisure? Difficult circumstances oppress a global majority. We are tied to the system like it or not.

Why so much interest in elections in recent times? Brazil, Venezuela, Greece, Spain, United States, France, and also the UK. Media outlets, whether print or broadcast, serve their capitalist paymasters and endeavour to have us believe what they have to say but searching below the surface it's clear to see a different picture. Around the world a great mass of humanity is desperately concerned for the welfare of their families, their communities, their work situation and the state of the planet. How often do you hear individuals expounding about their wonderful conditions at work, the excellent value of their mortgage or rent deal, the cheapness of their monthly travel bill, the fantastic value of their weekly shop, their highly affordable electricity and gas payments, their ever-changing phone, TV and internet contract, their coming brilliant pension deal, and on and on infinitum? Probably the vast majority are focussed on negative aspects most of the time - poverty, disease, unemployment, endless war, decaying infrastructure – bridges, railways, roads, factories, mines, dams, nuclear power stations.

The last decade with a number of dramatic protests around the world has spawned a new phrase – that of the 1 percent, or the 99 percent - of which most are familiar - and everyone knows to which category they belong. In fact it's not the 1 percent at all but something more like the 0.001 percent or even 0.0001 percent which puts the rest of us into an even bigger group, something like 99.99 percent or 99.999 percent.

The tiny group of money-wealthy individuals are in a position to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. But the great mass has very little choice, few options – or so they believe because this is what they have been 'brainwashed' for so long into believing.

To match the privileged number at the top of the pyramid is another group of individuals, small in number but convinced of their vision that the reason the capitalist system, however warped in its one-sided distribution of 'money wealth', continues to function because that great mass in the middle has fallen for the deception long handed down to them and their ancestors. 

This minority will continue its campaign to reveal the truth in every way possible, presenting the message that capitalism is the problem for the world's majority, strong in the conviction that there are many who will grasp the message, spread the message and speed the day.
Janet Surman

Where Do We Go From Alienation? (1974)

From the January 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent years Marxism has taken on a different look. The existence in German of early philosophical writings of Marx was known since before the war. The English publication in the late nineteen-fifties of The Holy Family and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 set loose the theory of alienation which Marx formulated as a young man and echoed in his work nearly fifteen years later. Its appearance at first was gratifying enough; here was Marxism come in from the cold, as it were, and revealed as humanism.

From there, however, it has become an academic industry. Preliminary and marginal Marx is turned over in repetition of the thirties’ nonsense-debate as to What he Really Meant. Then, it was about political economy; now, about Man. It’s a sad reflection that Marx and Engels meant their work to make explicit the struggle of the working class, and the academics have obstructed that happening by making it as esoteric as possible. An Inaugural Lecture at the London School of Economics in November dealt with “some theoretical aspects of Marx’s original work” under the heading “The Fundamental Marxian Theorem”. A feeling, no doubt, that so valuable a property cannot be left to the workers’ mucky hands.

But from this scholarship world where theses are hatched to fly in ever-decreasing circles, influences seep down. There is the case of the Left, with leadership increasingly claimed as of right through comprehension of Marxism’s alleged inner mysteries. And there is alienation as not only the vogue-word of the times but one pronounced as substitute for an analysis of practically anything. What is to be said about capitalism in 1974? Alienation. How is the subject-life of millions to be explained? They are alienated. The cry of “alienation” has rendered Marxism as a vague universal humanitarianism instead of the mechanics of the class struggle.

Words and Men
Of course Marx had a conception of the nature of man. He saw man’s distinctive ability to “make his vital activity into an object of his will and consciousness”: his power to create his own environment, to change it and thereby change himself. He saw how capitalism militated against human fulfilment in those terms — productive activity, the “species-life” of man, was appropriated from him. Using Feuerbach’s word, he proposed that man under capitalism was alienated from the product of his labour and the act of production; from other men; and ultimately, therefore, from his own nature.

What does “alienation” mean? The Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives it as “estrange” or, in legal application, “transferring ownership to another”. The first is a stilted but everyday one. Jane Austen in Persuasion has: "What might not eight years do? Events of every description, changes, alienations, removals . . .” The second is found in records of changes in the holding of land, as:
   Further alienation occurred in 1636 to Charles Maynard, one of the Auditors of His Majesties Court of Wards and Liverys, who in 1639 became the purchaser of the manor and the whole of its rights and privileges.
(A Calendar of Deeds, pub. 1923)
It is important that these meanings should not be confused. Up to quite recent years legal actions were occasionally brought by husbands for “alienation of the affections” of their wives. What was envisaged was not estrangement — which had obviously taken place anyway — but the loss of the wife’s services and duties: a matter of property.

The German words Marx used for alienation were “Entfremdung”, “Verausserung” and “Entäusserung” They correspond with the English meanings above, the first two referring to property and the last to personal relations. Marx seems to have used them more or less indistinctly. In the Communist Manifesto “entäusserung des menschlichen wesens” is “alienation of humanity”, and in Vol. I of Capital (p.708, Kerr edn.) the word “entfremden” is used in “estrange him from the intellectual potentialities of the labour process”.

In his book Marx's Theory of Alienation István Mészáros attempts to explain the difference:
  When the accent is on “externalization’ or “ojectification”, Marx uses the term "Entäusserung” (or terms like “Vergegenständlichung”), whereas “Entfremdung” is used when the author's intention is to emphasize the fact that man is being opposed by a hostile power of his own making, so that he defeats his own purpose.
This explanation is less important than the actual translations into English. Why did Moore and Aveling, who translated Vol. I of Capital, choose and Engels as editor approve “estrange” — and, elsewhere, “divorce”? All three knew Marx and were well placed to render what was in his mind. Yet we know for a certainty that any modern scholar would seize on “alienate”, because the intellectual fashion of the time says so. And with it is conveyed a heavy philosophical package.

Changes of Thinking
The theory of alienation appeared initially as Marx’s first view of the capitalist world, an interim enquiry between the Hegelian philosophy of his youth and his major historical and economic analysis. The academicians will have none of that, however. David McLellan in Marx Before Marxism declares:
   Those who claim to find a break between the ‘young’ and the ‘old’ Marx usually maintain that alienation is a concept that was central to Marx’s early thought but which he abandoned later . . . These statements are, however, inaccurate.
For McLellan, the Grundrisse of 1857-8 is the final word:
  The Grundrisse, then, are as Hegelian as the ‘Paris Manuscripts’ and their publication makes it impossible to maintain that only Marx’s early writings are of philosophical interest, and that in the later Marx specialist economic interests have obscured the earlier humanist vision.

Mészáros takes the same standpoint, pouring scorn on those who believe Marx put aside the alienation concept and quoting from The Holy Family, The German Ideology, the Grundrisse and Theories of Surplus-Value. But difficulties immediately arise. Except the Grundrisse these are all early works, and both Marx and Engels wrote deprecatingly of them later. A. Voden in Reminiscences of Marx and Engels recalled a conversation in 1893 in which Engels refused to have an interest in “publishing old manuscripts from publicistic work of the forties”; and Marx spoke of The German Ideology as having been meant mainly for “self-clarification”. Indeed, The German Ideology—only two years after the 1844 Manuscripts—makes ironical references to “the self-estrangement of man”. Likewise the Communist Manifesto (1848) ridicules the German academics:
  They wrote their philosophical nonsense beneath the French original. For instance, beneath the French criticism of the economic functions of money, they wrote “Alienation of Humanity”.
(SPGB edition, p. 85)
More Reservations
Having claimed that Marx never gave up the alienation theory, Mészáros has to qualify the assertion:
  But once it is conceived in its broadest outlines—in the Manuscripts of 1844— it becomes possible to let the general term “recede” in the presentation . . . This is why it is not at all surprising to find that the works which followed the Manuscripts of 1844, up to about 1856—and written for publication—are far less densely populated with the word “alienation” than the first broad synthesis.
This is “special pleading” with a vengeance, and it does not stand up for a moment. If Marx really thought on those lines, that having stated a theory there was no need to go on reiterating it, he did not act accordingly over the labour theory of value and the materialist conception of history; these, once begun, never “recede” in his work. To look at this another way, Marx’s main works have been extant for generations. In them the words “alienate” and “estrange”, and statements on the condition of man, have been perfectly comprehensible as part of his economic analysis. It is only the early and preparatory works which put them in the context of a philosophical theory belonging, at that, to Marx’s intercourse with the Hegelians and Feuerbach.

But what about Engels? According to both Mészáros and McLellan, Marx was first influenced towards the alienation concept by Engels’s Outline of a Critique of Political Economy (1843-44); and there is Engels’s own work on Feuerbach. Mészáros and McLellan both lay stress on Marx’s unfulfilled intention to produce an enormous work on mankind, of which Capital was the first “brochure”. It should be taken for granted that Engels, as the lifelong collaborator of Marx, would share the pursuit of the alienation theory and seek to complete what Marx allegedly left unfinished. But not only did Engels dismiss their early philosophical work and describe its “semi-Hegelian language” as “not only untranslatable, but has lost the greater part of its meaning even in German” (letter to Mrs. F. K. Wischnewetsky, 1886); the theory is — despite the wide range of his social investigation — entirely absent from his own post-juvenile writings.

A Sterile Concept
It is possible, of course, to brush off Engels on the grounds that he was not Marx. That is what Kamenka. in The Ethical Foundations of Marxism, attempts to do. However, in the Introduction to Marx and Engels : Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, Lewis S. Feuer argues and offers evidence that for Marx the alienation theory was a youthful aberration which he shared Engel’s wish to forget. He points out that Marx’s last published writing, A Workers' Enquiry (1880), showed him preoccupied with further economic research “into the deeds and misdeeds of capitalist exploitation” (Marx’s own words):
  It consisted of a hundred questions directed to workers as to their conditions, their treatment by their employers and governmental agencies, their conditions at home, their diet, their children, the frequency and duration of strikes, the workingmen’s societies, and so on.
And in 1881 Marx wrote to a Russian correspondent about his friend Ray Lankester’s essay Degeneration. Of Marx’s interest in it, Feuer says: “Evidently it was related to an even more basic questioning of his philosophical standpoint which he never articulated.”

What then are we left with? A theory which Marx may or may not have retained; which Engels apparently discarded altogether; of uncertain terminology; and in the absence of which, Marxism has existed as a lucid, coherent and not-at-all-deficient body. Its being put in the fore of left-wing Marxism has damaged that coherence, despite claims that it gives “a fuller view”. Bertell Oilman in his book Alienation presents value, appropriation, the money-system etc. as facets of alienation; Mészáros asserts the importance of economics to be as
  a vital link in the programme of gaining mastery over the various causal factors involved, serving the purpose of practically superseding alienation in all spheres of life.
This does not expand the existing view of Marxism: it diminishes it. If a working man understands (in fact, he already does) that he is estranged from life’s potentialities by being exploited, that is proper consciousness. But if he is to be asked to say he is first and foremost alienated, and exploited as part of it, that is futile.

Meaning and Purpose
This brings us to the question: where does the theory of alienation lead? Any theory is going to be reduced in frequent usage to the common-or-garden, and at this level it has already become sheer do-gooding with a highfalutin name. Four years ago a TV programme on political dissent showed a member of a well-known left-wing group expounding alienation: “There — on the other side of that wall — you could die, and nobody would know about it!” Of course there is an appeal in this kind of “theorizing”, and being able to invoke the pre-scientific Marx for it. It is not only more romantic but easier than learning the economics of capitalism.

At the academic level, however, there is not much improvement. Oilman gives a clear and readable account of the alienation theory, but seems conscious at the end of the problem of not knowing what to do with it: his critical summary turns out to be chiefly a criticism of Marx’s economic categories after all. And Mészáros, after attacking the “hot air”, “falsifications” and “grotesque ideas” of misinterpreters of Marx, emerges as a supporter of the regimes in Cuba, China and Eastern Europe and a believer that the critical breakdown of capitalism is almost upon us. Since this is merely the old rubbish of the Left, the alienation theory looks to have been brought forward as a convoluted support for it.
  
Only one conclusion is possible. The Marxian Socialism which makes sense is founded on the economic theory of Marx about which there is no surmise. It does not at all exclude “human” considerations; on the contrary, it has no meaning if it does not begin from indignation at what capitalism does to the great majority of people. But nor can it have meaning unless it is understood to be rooted in the class struggle. The way to Marx’s “human society” is not through contemplating “freedom as essence” (Oilman’s phrase) but by consciousness aimed at abolishing exploitation.
Robert Barltrop

Napoleon on Religion (1924)

From the February 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard
    “What is it that makes the poor man think it quite natural that there are fires in my palace while he is dying of cold? That I have ten coats in my wardrobe while he goes naked? That at each of my meals enough is served to feed his family for a week? It is simply religion, which tells him that in another life I shall be only his equal, and that he actually has more chance of feeing happy there than I. Yes, we must see to it that the floors of the churches are open to all, and that it does not cost the poor man much to have prayers said on his tomb.”
The Life and Times of Count Molé.” Quoted in the Daily News, December 31st, 1923.

On Reading (1924)

From the January 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard
“We read to weigh and to discover. To do this properly there are rules to be followed: . . . The good reader marks his books, writes in the margins, copies out passages that he wants to memorise, and if he is wise makes a precis, not only of the subject matter, but also of his own impressions while he was reading! This helps one to weigh and consider deliberately."

Socialism and Ethics (1924)

From the January 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Pity for poverty, enthusiasm for equality and freedom, recognition of social injustice and a desire to remove it, is not socialism. Condemnation of wealth and respect for poverty, such as we find in Christianity and other religions, is not socialism. The communism of early times, as it was before the existence of private property, and as it has at all times and among all peoples been the elusive dream of some enthusiasts, is not socialism. The forcible equalisation advocated by the followers of Baboeuf, the so-called equalitarians, is not socialism.
   In all these appearances there is lacking the real foundation of capitalist society with its class antagonisms. Modern socialism is the child of capitalist society and its class antagonisms. Without these it could not be. Socialism and ethics are two separate things. This fact must be kept in mind.
   Whoever conceives of socialism in the sense of a sentimental philanthropic striving after human equality, with no idea of the existence of capitalist society, is no socialist in the sense of the class struggle, without which modern socialism is unthinkable . . . Whoever has come to a full consciousness of the nature of capitalist society and the foundation of modern socialism, knows also that a socialist movement that leaves the basis of the class struggle may be anything else, but it is not socialism.”
Wilhelm Liebknecht 
(Page . 34. No Compromise, no Political Trading.)

The Paralysing Past. (1923)

From the September 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lytton Strachey relates of Queen Victoria that, after the death of Prince Albert, she became more and more perturbed by the lack of stability and permanence in her surroundings. When she was young she had looked forward with some fear perhaps, but certainly with eagerness, to the future, but as she grew old she found that the friends and advisers of her youth were taken from her one by one, and even the institutions of society and the Empire developed and decayed before her eyes. She was, after all, a quite ordinary old lady of the nineteenth century, and as she had had to adapt herself to the strange situation of being the embodiment of all the pomp and dignity of the leading nation of the age, it was not surprising that with her the desire for security became an obsession. She set herself to the task of petrifying the world as it was, and of suspending the forces of disintegration.
   “She gave orders that nothing should be thrown away—and nothing was. There in drawer after drawer, in wardrobe after wardrobe, reposed the dresses of seventy years. But not only the dresses—the furs and mantles and the subsidiary frills and the muffs and the parasols and the bonnets—all were arranged in chronological order; dated and complete . . . mementoes of the past surrounded her in serried accumulations. In every room the tables were powdered thick with the photographs of relatives; their portraits, revealing them at all ages, covered the walls; their figures, in solid marble, rose up from pedestals, or gleamed from brackets in the form of gold and silver statuettes. . . . And it was not enough that each particle of the past should be given the stability of metal or of marble; the whole collection, in its arrangement, no less than its entity, should be immutably fixed. There might be additions, but there might never be alterations.  . . . Every single article in the Queen’s possession was photographed from several points of view. . . . The fate of every object which had undergone this process was thenceforth irrevocably sealed. The whole multitude once and for all, took up its steadfast station, and Victoria, with a gigantic volume or two of the endless catalogue always beside her, to look through, to ponder upon, to expatiate over, could feel, with a double contentment, that the transitoriness of this world had been arrested by the amplitude of her might. ”
You will smile at the picture, perhaps, at the same time sympathising a little with this exhibition of human weakness. For although we cannot all enjoy the troublesome delights of being Queen Victorias, the hankering after the imagined peacefulness of stagnation, and the desire to peg down the universe, or our little corner of it, are not restricted to old ladies and did not die with the nineteenth century. We are all possessors, in some degree, of the facility for retaining experiences and using them for the formation of habits. If we hadn’t this power, life would be one long round of painful repetitions of error, and, in fact, it is difficult to imagine the continuance of human society at all under such conditions; but the price we have to pay is the disinclination we have for altering our habits when once use has made them natural. Every one of us would, if he could, sit back leisurely and content, and contemplate the blessedness of things as they are. It has chanced, however, that we were born in an age when things are not by any means blessed, and either we must deaden our perceptions by swallowing the illusions of religious and political charlatans or we must set ourselves to find the remedy. Individuals rarely set themselves this task from choice; our preference for the old familiar ways of thought and action leads us first to try every known but fruitless remedy before we will recognise that new problems need new solutions. When therefore one system sinks into decay the energy to conceive and construct a new society must come from those who, despite their efforts to maintain themselves, have been forcibly deprived of status and security and cut off from traditional links with the past. And, again, no such revolutionary purpose can gain wide acceptance until the old conditions have become so unbearable that we cannot tolerate their continued existence.

We have arrived now at a stage of capitalist development in which it is becoming more and more difficult for the problems of the workers to be shelved any longer, and their solution within the system is a sheer impossibility, but as we find in every historical epoch, custom dies hard and new ideas progress but slowly. All the acquired ingenuity of individuals is first directed to stemming the tide of dissolution, and in view of this it is not surprising that old institutions should live on tenaciously long after they have become economically absurd and politically a mere obstruction. Discontent among the workers is fairly general, while among the capitalists there is a growing realisation that unless they can succeed in allaying the discontent they will fall victims to it. It is readily understandable why the latter, who view society from above, should look backwards to find remedies for to-day’s problems, but the so-called leaders of the workers, many of them self-styled revolutionaries, are also in the ranks of the Queen Victorias.

In the war days, when the ruling class were in difficulties and the workers particularly restive, the talk was all of the new world. Now our Trade Union officials and Labour Leaders, the men, “of vision,” can talk of nothing but the necessity of not going below the pre-war standards, and they and the business men are united in casting longing eyes on the supposed happy days of 1914. The prophets, who we are told will show us the way to our earthly paradise, can do nothing better than discuss financial schemes and currency reforms to get us back to 1914 prices. Labour men, Liberals, Conservatives and Communists are all devising plans to win back our pre-war trade. Liberal journalists on Labour’s Daily sigh for a return of the clean and gentlemanly politics that existed before the devil, Mr. Lloyd George, turned the world awry. The agricultural labourer’s wise men can think of only one policy, that of asking the Government to give them back their wages board. The dockers’ officials tremble with fear over the unofficial strike lest it should lead to the destruction of a great mass of those much-sought-after seals on the worker’s slavery, known as wage agreements.

Ramsay MacDonald is forever perturbed lest the ancient usages of our Parliament be departed from. We have, in fact, reached a point where the feeling of unrest is so acute that the very worker’s organisations, existing nominally to hasten the process of change, have become rocks of stability for the ruling class.

The “Industrial Group of the House of Commons,” composed of business men, recently issued a warning to the Government, in which they “viewed with apprehension” the “disruptive force of unemployment on the trade unions, which are a safeguard of industrial peace.” In particular they “feared” that unless the Government did something the Amalgamated Engineering Union would disappear.. (Daily Telegraph, 26/7/1923.)

In fact, like Queen Victoria, these captains of industry, these Labour Leaders, and many of the workers, too, want all the old junk of capitalism photographed, recorded and labelled, so that they, poor bewildered sheep, may rest secure in the knowledge that the capitalist system will be to-morrow to its minutest detail just as it is to-day. Better to rot or starve in the decrepit hovel they know than venture out and risk dying strange deaths out of their beds. The capitalist would rather deal with a certain known and limited evil, the trade unions, than face the terror of the unknown. Think of the dockers’ strike! If the unions were to go, what might there not be underneath? Hell itself. The Labour Leaders would far rather prepare for the next war, while protesting their determination to prevent it, than face up to the situation as it really is and decide to help scrap the social system which makes war.

But all their anxiety will avail them nothing; the conditions of 1850, which made the Amalgamated Engineering Union the “new model” for all the workers, have passed with the challenging of Britain’s world supremacy, and the Engineering Union is now only an example of what the workers ought to avoid.

Sooner or later these leaders must justify themselves by their deeds, and as they cannot remove the cause of discontent, the discontented will some day awake to the necessity of removing the present form of society.

Before they arrive at this recognition a painful and necessarily slow mental process must be gone through, its speed increasing as the pressure of circumstances becomes more insistent. They have got to see that the limits of social development set by private ownership have already been reached, and that the continuing growth of our powers of production can only aggravate the present evils.

The capitalist class, having themselves once had to take charge of a similar dangerous situation, successfully developed the required revolutionary energy. They ushered in their social system, brought it to its triumph, and enjoyed the fruits of success. They then allowed their functions of initiating, organising and directing to fall to other hands, those of the workers. They made Socialism possible, but Socialism can be established only when the workers develop the same confidence in their powers, the same self-reliance and determination that characterised the capitalists who threw down the challenge to feudalism. The workers must cut themselves adrift from the old system and the old parties, persons and notions. They must challenge every institution, question every authority, examine critically every creed, every conception, not excluding those which are popularly supposed to be eternal like ideas of right and wrong. They must give up their pathetic belief in the superiority of the ruling class and its institutions and consciously develop their own standards of conduct, remembering that the purpose and the conditions are the only final measure of their usefulness. It may be true, for instance, that in a broad sense the members of the capitalist class owing to their leisure and opportunities of culture have developed qualities very desirable from a social standpoint, but from the nature of the present situation these qualities sink for the workers into insignificance in comparison with the urgent need for self-assertion, the necessary precursor of emancipation. They must realise that there is, and can be, no improvement in the status of the workers, except at the expense of the other class, because it is the ownership of the means of wealth production which is at stake. It follows therefore that every step will be contested fiercely by the present owners, with whom there can be no useful compromise. They must give up trusting to leaders who can do nothing for them, whether well intentioned or otherwise. They must aim at understanding the social system in which they live as a means to controlling the forces which at present overawe them. It may seem easier to follow the method of Queen Victoria, who surrounded herself with a host of odds and ends to hide the unwelcome facts of life, but it has the twofold objection that the forces of change went on working just the same, while Queen Victoria only succeeded in making herself a slave, toiling to perpetuate the myth she had created. 
Edgar Hardcastle

Correspondence (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editor,—

I read with great interest your article entitled “The Collapse of Capitalism.”

There seems a great difference between "Capitalism in Collapse” and “Capitalism in imminent Collapse.” As the Communist Party of Russia has pointed out—the collapse may be extended over a period of years; Lenin says ten years.

The final stage of collapse will not be caused by production of commodities ceasing, but by the lack of world markets. In fact, production will be on such a large scale internationally that the distribution of the products will cease owing to the small incomes and unemployment of the wage slaves, and lack of markets. The collapse of Capitalism in Europe would bring down Capitalism in the West owing to the internationalism of our modern economic and political systems. Former great wars, such as the Napoleonic wars, form a very bad analogy, as in that war the instruments of production were not nearly so great as to-day, and there were new and coming markets, and less countries so productive as to-day.

Again, your question of Russia seems remarkable, coming from the “S. S.” Russia is relying on Capitalism to a certain extent, because, as the “S. S.” has often pointed out, Russia before the Revolution was not a developed Capitalist Empire. Its wage slaves were not “educated” to mind machines and produce wealth, as the wage slaves of U.S.A., Germany and England. From 1914-1920, wars crushed Russia. There is no need for me to repeat the terrible story to the readers of the "S. S.” Then came the drought. Yes, Comrades, Capitalism is in collapse, but like a candle which is near burning itself out; it flickers and flickers for a very long time, every moment it is expected to “go out,” and yet lingers on. But a time comes when it does die. How like Capitalism it is in collapse—it may last even for ten years, but what is ten years in the history of the world?

Of course, Socialists cannot afford to wait for the system to collapse! As we look at the struggle between Capitalism and International Socialism, we become keener on convincing the worker of the need for the common ownership and control of the instruments of production and the need to organise politically by the vote to take power, and industrially to take economic control. Nor can we afford to remain outside the struggle like the S.P.G.B., merely content to write fine articles.

Every struggle of the workers must be ours, and we must stand by them, even in the smallest of battles.
Yours faithfully;
" S. Warr.”


OUR REPLY.
First our correspondent points to the difference between “collapse” and “imminent collapse.” There is a difference, but it is one of date only, and not, as he suggests, one of form. A process of disintegration spread over a period of years cannot, in my opinion, accurately be described as a collapse. In any event, Palme Dutt did not appear to mean this process, and it would, seem, therefore, that Mr. Warr does not hold his view.

Palme Dutt’s view is, I think, very well expressed by the following extract from Herman Cahn’s “Collapse of Capitalism” : “A new force has grown up which no longer leaves the downfall of capitalism to the vague future, or its earlier ending to the spread of a high intelligence among the real proletariat, but makes the coming of that great event a matter of figures, and entirely independent of even the collective will of men. The war has enormously hastened the development of this force, and the catastrophe is imminent.” (Page 8.)

In writing “the final stage of collapse will not be caused by production of commodities ceasing, but by the lack of world markets,” I gather that Mr. Warr intends to rule out the possibility of a physical collapse, but he does not show how the lack of markets is going to do what he assumes it will.

The restriction of markets is one of the series of difficulties which have arisen out of the contradictions of the system. The endeavour on the part of the capitalists to reconcile these contradictions has always been in evidence in some degree since the rise of capitalist society.

Mr. Warr, however, does not consider that there is an analogy between the present depression and that following the Napoleonic wars, because “the instruments of production were not nearly so great as to-day." He overlooks the important point that the only useful comparison is between the powers of production then and the effective demand then. Relative to this country’s powers of production, there was an acute shrinkage of markets. In the February issue was an extract from the writings of Robert Owen, which dealt with this crisis. He wrote for instance:—“this very superabundance of wealth was the sole cause of existing distress.”

It is true the problems which arise become more numerous, and difficult to meet, and are for the capitalists insoluble: but it must be remembered that they are under no obligation to solve them. 

The suffering falls on the workers, and while the workers are content to leave the ruling class in control, the suffering will remain. Only such minor adaptations are required and will be forthcoming as will allay any acute working class unrest. So long as the workers accept doles there is no unemployment problem which the capitalists are called upon to solve.

Even if the position gets much worse the choice before the workers is still the same; either to accept their condition, or rejecting it, to endeavour to remove the cause by overthrowing the system. To be effective they must, as Mr. Warr says, organise to “take power,”, but I fail to see that he has shown either that the problem is different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago, or that there is any method other than that advocated by the Socialist Party.

If Mr. Warr really believed that the “lack of world markets” would bring Socialism, he would not trouble about “convincing the workers.”

The Bolsheviks are depending on Capitalist enterprise because collapse or no collapse, there is no prospect of revolution in Western Europe. There will be no revolution because there are too few revolutionaries.

If by “struggle” Mr. Warr means strikes, etc.; it is news to me that emancipation would be hastened by our telling the workers that all would be well if only they refuse to work overtime, or insist on their right to wear a union badge in the employer’s factory. I am not aware that membership of this party makes a worker fight any the less vigorously in the day-to-day struggle, and finally as Socialist knowledge is necessary for emancipation, I have yet to be convinced that there is anything the Socialist Party can engage in more useful than propagating Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Problem of the Labour Leader (1922)

From the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working class organisations have always (but especially during and since the war) suffered from acts of treachery committed by leaders in whom confidence had mistakenly been placed. Hardly a strike or lock-out of considerable size occurs but there is some Trade Union official who, from sincere or other motives, deserts, or counsels action useful only to the other side. Each of these defections raises a little storm of protest and much vowing of “never again” among the active rank and filers; but the storm dies away, the incident is soon forgotten, and “Black Friday" of 1921 is followed as a matter of course by the engineers’ “betrayal” of 1922. On such occasions some band of enthusiasts with its own pet theoretical obsession is sure to offer its explanations and warnings, confident that the workers will this time learn by experience, and that the mistake really will be the last.

If the leader is a “politician,” then the anti-political syndicalists will preach about the demoralising influence of the House of Commons, the futility of the ballot, and the necessity for pure and simple unionism of some brand or another. If he is the official of a Trade Union, then reformist political bodies of all shades will point to the narrow, conservative, unidealistic tendencies of union officialdom, and disappointed seekers after his and other jobs will run campaigns to “sack the lot,” and perhaps try to stir up the desired amount of feeling by urging that it is the excessive salaries paid which cause indifference to the interests of the under dog—the member.

If the leader still has the ear of his members, he remains where he is, and the thing dies a natural death. If he falls, a grateful capitalist Government may make a niche for him in some obscure department where no harm can be done by his probable incompetence. His successful rival will then take his place, on making all the old unfailingly attractive but never to be fulfilled promises, until he, too, makes way for a new idol; just like the usual ins and outs of national politics.

Of course, new times bring new types, and the Victorian "ploughboy who has fought his way upwards” a la Samuel Smiles gives way to the product of some Labour College or to the University-trained son of one of the old successfuls; but the result is the same. The losing shepherds continue to lead, and the sheep to follow, to the slaughter prepared by the butchers of the ruling class.

What is to be done about it? The matter is an important one, and it is worth while examining some of the proposals made by would-be guides of the workers.

A good instance of the kind of argument used against back-sliding union officials is contained in a resolution of the Distributive Group of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, reproduced in The Communist (10th June, 1922). It urges among other things, that "the salaries paid to whole-time officials should be made to approximate to the average wage or salary obtaining in the industry in which the officials is engaged."

At first glance, this sounds both reasonable and very much to be desired, but is, in fact, quite impracticable. It is the product not of thought, but of the feeling of resentment against the individuals supposed to be the cause of failure. Because there does not appear to be any justification for the official in a comparatively secure position receiving many times as much as his members, these enthusiasts suggest equalising the two rates of pay as a remedy. They forget to ask themselves whether it will work; they overlook the fact that they live in a capitalist world.

The question of reasonableness is relatively a minor one, and can soon be disposed of. If it is unreasonable that J. H. Thomas should get £1,000 per annum and his members only £150 or thereabouts, is it any more reasonable that a general secretary of a labourers’ union with membership running into hundreds of thousands should get about 40s. per week, while an official of an organisation of bank employees, for instance, with less arduous work and less responsibility, gets £500 a year or more? The argument is unsound.

Realising that this is the position, one must give up Utopian notions about equal pay, and look elsewhere for a solution of the problem which confronts us. We need not, of course, accept Clynes’s argument in favour of still higher pay, which is that the higher the status of the workers’ representatives the more attention conceded to them by the other side. Mr. Clynes knows well enough that other factors determine the amount of consideration an organisation will get from its opponents; will decide, in fact, whether negotiations shall take place at all. When the devil of necessity compels, the robber aristocracy of allied capital does not refuse the “bloody hand” of the saddler President of Germany or of the Bolsheviks.

Another suggestion to the same end was that “every official should be equipped with a thorough knowledge of Economics and Industrial History from the working class standpoint.” It would obviously be to the good that the servants of the workers should be competent servants, but if thee intended servants are really aiming at being masters, the greater their knowledge the greater their danger. Surely the ambitions of many of the young bloods of the Labour movement, coming barrister Hodges and the products of Fabian training, for instance, are illustrations enough of this.

Where these qualifications already exist the same difficulties are present also. Even the officials of the Communist Party “want watching.” John Clarke, in The Worker (organ of the R.I.L.U., 10th June, 1922) writes of the possible danger of the “mass” party (C.P.G.B.) becoming merely a means of collecting “flats” for ‘‘the ‘communistic’ amateur Horatio to play with and prey upon.”

More than competency is required.

Then there is the talk about demoralising environment, especially of the House of Commons. This is all nonsense. The House of Commons’ smoking-room, or wherever it is the Labour M.P.s get drunk, is from a political point of view no more demoralising than the average Labour Party or Trade Union branch or the 1917 Club, where Labour’s Hampstead “Highbrows” congregate.

It is based on the assumption that these men rise to eminence because they are revolutionary, and that once arrived their revolutionary outlook gets blurred. The assumption is not correct. Whether or not a few, or all of them, at some time accepted the revolutionary position, they rise because they are smooth-tongued and popular; because they give attractive expression to the momentary discontent of their fellows; because they are quick to note and adapt themselves to coming changes of sentiment, thus gaining a reputation for leadership. It may often be that the successful man is a “rebel,” who gains popularity from the prevailing dissatisfaction "by the vigour of his abuse of the capitalist, or of the reactionary officials; but apart from the fact that one does not become a revolutionary by composing hymns of hate about the F.B.I., it is obvious that if the workers who originally elected Mr. Clynes to the House of Commons did so because he was a revolutionary, they would not tolerate him when he ceased to be one.

Only a Socialist electorate would support a candidate who fought on a straight Socialist programme, and only a convinced revolutionary membership would have a revolutionary policy and revolutionary officials. This is at the bottom of the business, and it is of no use complaining about the man. What, after all, is the position of the Labour M.P.?

He is elected with the indispensable financial and organisational backing of a Trade Union or the Labour Party, on that nebulous thing—the Labour Party’s programme. That is to say, he receives the votes of people who variously think that “Mr. Shortt must go” for not saving Jacoby from hanging and thus condemning him to the worse horror of life-long imprisonment; that Winston Churchill is a blackguard; that the cattle embargo should be raised; that the beer tax should be removed; that prohibition is (or is not) desirable; that interest on Government Loans should (or should not) be reduced; that this country ought to disarm, or ought alternatively to arm more to make work at Woolwich Arsenal, etc., etc. He receives the votes of a number of shades of anti-Liberal and anti-Coalitionist but decidedly anti-Socialist electors. He gets his £400, with probably some other pay from a Union and almost certainly quite considerable extras in the shape of expenses from various sources. He has no doubt a better and more comfortable existence than previously, and naturally he doesn’t relish a return to the insecurity of the mine or the factory. How, then, can he; best achieve security? By exposing the rottenness of Labour representation and the futility of Parliamentary bargaining? By offending the powers that be who can offer honours and other more lucrative posts? Not much !

He knows he cannot fight an election on his own, and he knows he must please his electorate and the Labour Party, which can only be done by pretending to fight for the futile reforms on which he was elected, and by supporting new stunts as they become popular. If he doesn’t, what happens? Where would Clynes be at the next election if he seriously opposed and exposed the capitalist system? What will happen to Col. Malone, elected as Coalition Liberal, and now in the Communist Party? (Not that I accuse him of seriously opposing capitalism.)

Labour M.P.s and T.U. officials play for safety, and the mentality of the average worker being what it is, this means playing the capitalist game.

This, of course, runs counter to the Communist notion of leadership. I should have said notions, because there are two. One is that the workers are really advanced, and willing to fight, but are held back by their timid or treacherous leaders; and the other is that the workers as a whole don’t, and won’t ever, understand their own interests, but that a choice band of gallant Communists will wrest control from the present leaders and inaugurate the revolution in a moment of crisis. These words about the moment of crisis serve the same purpose as the indefiniteness of Old Moore’s prophecies —they save the prophets from being called to account. Whenever they promise but fail to produce the revolution, they can point out that the crisis wasn’t critical enough. That, however, is by the way.

The first I really can’t take seriously. The idea of several hundred thousand revolutionary railwaymen, for instance, held in check by J. H. Thomas, only makes me laugh. In the other Communist theory of leadership of the masses we get one of the basic fallacies at the back of the failure of the Labour Movement. Even if it were true that masses of people can be induced to take important action vitally affecting themselves and lasting over a considerable period, merely because they trust certain elected or self-appointed leaders, it still remains to be shown how the Labour Party or the Communists could hope to compete with the older parties, possessing as these do unlimited wealth, long experience, and control of Press and pulpit. Actually, people require sooner or later evidence to convince them that the action they are asked to take is sound for them, although, of course, they may, and often do, for a long while misinterpret the evidence. The extreme foolishness of this case is illustrated by a writer in the Workers' Republic (Communist Party of Ireland, 3rd June, 1922), who, assuming the possibility of a Socialist revolution in Ireland sometime between the Armistice and now, explains its failure to materialise by the detention of Jim Larkin in America! The idea of a great social movement affecting every detail of the lives of the great majority of the members of society waiting the arrival of one man is absurd, and the situations is made more ironical when we realise that his imprisonment depends on the whim of the Capitalist Government of the United States. The picture of "Saint” James Larkin, Saviour of Ireland, is amusing but no more accurate than that of Lloyd George, winner of the war, or Horatio Bottomley, Empire builder and martyr. Socialism cannot be achieved by leaders. As Trotsky wrote to an American critic, Louis Boudin: “Remember, we are not making the revolution; the revolution is making us.” 

As happened in Australia recently, a Labour Government in power could not get even the support of its own employees by promising to resist wage reduction for them and other workers, because of the effectiveness of capitalist Press propaganda in favour of the theory that high wages prevent trade revival. (Melbourne Socialist, 17-2-1922.)

The obstacles presented by the untrustworthiness of leaders arises from the composition of the rank and file. No organisation, industrial or political, can be effective except the members are convinced of the correctness of their aims and the necessity for the policy their organisation has adopted. Only if the members have knowledge can they be immune from betrayal at the hands of self-seeking and unscrupulous leaders.

A further clause in the resolution quoted at the beginning of the article which demands “an enlightened and educated membership” is really, therefore, the one which strikes at the root of the evil. When, by the giving of direct or indirect bribes, the capitalist can secure the co-operation of a Henderson, it is not his brains or ability they want. They were buying his power to dragoon his followers. As Sydney Webb says of the Government positions granted to Labour leaders during the war: “These officials were elected in the main, not on personal grounds, but because they represented the Trade Union Movement.” (“History of Trade Unions,” page 637.) They were the shepherds with fleeces to sell.

When anti-Socialist organisations make such use of Mrs. Snowden’s remark that Socialism is “no solution for the unemployed problem” (Daily Herald, 31st January, 1922), it is her influence and her reputation which makes the incident harmful. Workers understanding Socialism would not be misled by Henderson, and would never have put Mrs. Snowden in a position of eminence, and their defection, if it took place, would harm no one except those who paid and made a bad bargain.

Class conscious workers would elect M.P.s on a Socialist programme and with a Socialist electorate behind him the man could, and would have to, work for Socialism. If he went over to the ruling class he would lose his seat. The strength of Parliamentary representation is in the knowledge and determination of the electors.

There is one Labour candidate who recognises this, and in so doing makes the most effective charge against the Labour Party. Fred Henderson, in his "Labour’s Case,” says : "If the Labour Party is not returned to power with the full strength of a public mandate for the constructive work of bringing in the co-operative Commonwealth, it had better not be returned at all . . .  a Labour Government placed in power by any merely reformist impulse of the electors of the country, and therefore without any real power or authority for anything beyond social reformist purposes, would be in a position of hopeless impotence.” (Page 19.)

Only those organisations can effectively wage war on capitalism which are composed of members who recognise the class struggle is fundamental; who realise that Socialism is the only hope of the workers, and who know the lines of their struggle, and the result to be achieved by their activities.
Edgar Hardcastle