Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Marxists" (2006)

Book Review from the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Phil Rees: Dining with Terrorists. (Pan, £7.99.)

When I listen to BBC correspondents talking about 'Marxists', which they frequently find in remote jungles and other desolate places on the planet, I am tempted to think of Cyril.

Cyril and I were young together; he was academically bright, knowledgeable and had even what is now called 'street cred', virtues which earned him considerable grudging respect among us, his peers. His virtues became past tense, however. One summer's evening when four of us, coincidentally apprentices in Irish 'terrorism', were sitting around an open fire where we were camping outside the coastal village of Cushendall in County Antrim.

 Probably the subject led to it, I don't remember exactly, but Cyril announced with profound authority that he not only believed in fairies but that he had actually seen and heard fairies! It cost him his credibility; all his intellectual capability was eclipsed by that single absurdity.

 The author of Dining with Terrorists, Phil Rees, was, and maybe still is, a BBC journalist who has worked on Correspondent and Newsnight and who has spent gruelling spells in many of the world's trouble spots. He has dined with people who have killed their political enemies or who have - rather like Bush and Blair - set in train such killings and who for so doing or allegedly doing have become known to us through the media as 'terrorists'.

 From his experiences he gives us graphic word pictures of fearsome characters and to his credit he tries to tell their story within the context of what we have been told about them by the western media.

 Indeed that is the raison d'etre of Rees's work. It is his effort to define in 'moral' terms the meaning of the word 'terrorist' in light of the awesome legal violence used by and in the control of the modern state, and the brutal reaction that violence frequently spawns. It is a theme often pursued in the Socialist Standard and one expressed in the aphorism 'One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist'.

 Given such honesty of purpose it is regrettable that the author demeans his work by the undefined abuse of the term 'Marxist': throughout the entire book he uses the word as though it was an essential pre-fix to the words 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' that so confuses him.

 In the fashion of the BBC and its journalists, he makes no attempt whatsoever to outline what he perceives to be Marxist or Marxism. Doubtless if he knew, he would realise just how ridiculous it is to suggest that, for example, FARC nationalists in Columbia are killing in order to establish a wageless, moneyless society of common ownership and production for use.

 Away from the often-repeated nonsense about Marx and terrorism the book is both interesting and informative but the informed reader will find Rees's belief in fairies more than a little distracting.
Richard Montague

Oliver: a Fagin Nuisance (2014)

A Short Story from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
It has come to our notice that whilst researching through the effects of an unknown derelict in a London workhouse a completely unreliable socialist has come across the following two part dialogue purporting to be the work of an unsuccessful legal clerk.
F: WELL, young gentleman an’ ‘ow are we this mornin’?

O: Very well, sir. Thank you sir.

F: Ooh! We are quite the gentleman. Ain’t we, Oliver. Not rough and ready like my other young gentlemen. No not at all. Quite the gentleman.

O: When will I be going to work, Sir? Like Dodger and the others.

F: Ah work, Oliver. Perhaps you is too great the gentleman to be working with the likes of us, my boy.

O: Oh no, sir. I’ll work, sir. They taught me at the workhouse that work is an honourable thing, sir.

F: I don’t doubt it , my boy. They are the great ones the workhouse for feeding you on platitudes. And very little else by the looks of you. Taught you ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, did they, Oliver?

O: Oh yes, sir.

F: Hee ... Hee... ‘Blessed be the poor’.

O: Oh yes, sir.

F: Taught you the parable about the rich man and the camel entering the eye of a needle, did they, Oliver?

O: Oh yes, sir. I remember that one.

F: Hee ... Hee ... That’s a good ‘un. That’s one of their finest. How does it go, young Oliver? The parable. Tell me that one. That’s a good un. No mistake. First class that one.

O: Well, sir if I recall correctly.

F: Recall? Yes that’s the fine talking. Well recall, recall, my boy.

O: Well, sir. It will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of an needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

F: Capital. That’s capital. Really, Oliver. And what do you make of that parable?

O: Well sir. I’m not sure. What is a parable?

F: Oh, it’s all parables in the workhouse, my boy. The widders mite, bread on the waters, the good samaritan, the prodigal son. Oh, yes very strong on parables .... and corporal punishment and hard labour...... very, very  strong.

O: Excuse me, sir. What is a parable?

F: Well let me see, Oliver. Parable is a story. Usually a very far fetched one. Usually the opposite of the real world. Cast your bread on the waters and they return tenfold. That’s a good un .... Hee ...Hee ... Cast your bread on the waters and all you get is soggy bread. But, no. Not in parables. Everything is the opposite in parables. Parables are stories. Religious stories. I suppose parables are religious fairy tales. But the camel and the needle. What does yir make of that un?  Eh, Oliver, my boy.

O: I think, sir. It means rich men would find it difficult to get into heaven because a camel would be too large to get through the eye of an needle.

F: Sharp, Oliver. Very sharp indeed, my boy. You’re a clever un, and no mistake. But, Oliver what would a camel be doing wanting through the eye of an needle? Having no acquaintance with that creature I would not know its desires ... but all parables strike me as strange. A thread through the eye of an needle. Yes that is useful. But a camel. What would you sew with that?

O: A camel-haired coat.

F: A camel-haired coat?

O: I meant it as a joke, Mr Fagin.

F: A joke? Of course a joke. And a very good un too, Oliver my boy. My aren’t you the sharp one. You should be making your fortunes on the halls. A camel-haired coat. First class.

Unfortunately the unreliable socialist informs us that the unknown law clerk’s belongings have produced no more literary gems as yet.
Richard Donnelly

A brush with the fascists (2004)

From the June 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fascism was dead. Officially, it was dead. It had happened in the war, when the fascist countries had been occupied and their leaders, like Hitler and Mussolini, were killed. True, Franco was still alive and so was Stalin who was not called a fascist but was possibly worse than all the others put together. So, although there was some confusion about who was a fascist and who was not, the fact was that it was dead. Oswald Mosley and his wife had been interned in England because they were fascists and after the exposure of the barbarities of Nazi Germany no one in their right mind would ever again describe  themselves as a fascist. Now we could all settle down with a Labour government in a fascist-free world.
But the brave new post-war world had hardly blinked its way into life when uneasy memories were stirred by the arrival of some new political organisations, in different parts of London and the rest of the country, with a membership drawn from Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. In the western part of London there was the Union for British Freedom, led by Victor Burgess (whose swarthy complexion had not, apparently, excluded him from a white supremacist organisation). In the East End of London there was the British League of Ex-Servicemen, led by Jeffrey Hamm (who had been interned in the Falkland Islands). In Derby there was the Sons of St. George, in Bristol the British Workers Party of National Unity, in Manchester the Imperial Defence League.
All these groups claimed they had sprung into existence in response to a spontaneous, irresistible demand by the British people but it did not take a deductive genius to work out that there was some common ground between them – and a disreputable past. They were all aggressively nationalistic, all stridently warning of the urgent need for a defence of something called British racial purity against the encroachment of lesser, polluting, devitalising breeds. If some heckler asked what the speaker had done in the war (an obsessively common question at outdoor meetings in those days) the response would be a long lament about how unnecessary the war had been and how much better off Germany and Britain would be if they had been allies against the alien hordes. This was then developed into an attack on  World Jewry, who had conspired to bring the war about by setting the British people against their blood brothers and sisters in Germany. This argument (if it can be called that) was bolstered by the fascists  grouped around the platform joyously chanting about “. . . Asiatic, Mongolian, atheistic, communism . . .” The air trembled with the threat of violence.
43 Group
One victim of the fascist technique of emphasising their point with violence was the playwright Harold Pinter, who was an active anti-fascist. In the Observer of 6 January 2002 Pinter related his experience of being beaten up by fascists at a street corner meeting in the late 1940s. His article gave the impression that the fascists were alone in using violence as a tactic. However, he wrote that among the crowd there were “some Jews, led by ex-servicemen.” This description fits the 43 Group, whose aim in life was to disrupt, or if possible break up, fascist meetings and in the process deal out some physical punishment to the fascists. Membership of the 43 Group seemed to be reserved to those who met certain criteria. First, to be Jewish; second, to be an ex-serviceman; third, to be thickset and powerful and have a face which looked as if it had been hewed out of a rock face. In places like Ridley Road in the East End violence at fascist meetings was routine. Mosley’s son Nicholas remembered going to one in 1946 or 1947: a man on top of a van shouting like some revivalist prayer meeting; a man charging at the restraining policemen; a paper seller kicked and punched by a crowd: “It was all, once more, quite like a crowd at a present-day football match”.

Late in 1947 I had the opportunity of sampling some violence at a street corner meeting but not at the hands of the fascists. It happened one autumn evening near Trebovir Road, a side street off the Earl’s Court Road. This was a good place for an outdoor meeting as there was unfailingly a large, vibrant crowd possessed of some lurid political theories. By a kind of informal arrangement various political parties – including the Socialist Party and the UBF – held meetings on different evenings. Our meetings there on a Thursday were thrilling and scary and mostly hugely satisfying. On Wednesday evenings, if we had nothing better to do, we might go along to listen to the hysterical ramblings of the UBF’s Burgess and observe the 43 Group’s frantic efforts to bring the whole thing to a chaotic end. We made a point of silently listening to it all; we knew that the more disorder there was the better the fascists’ chance of recruiting members. (In the early 1960s the membership of the Union Movement went up to some 1,500, for some of which they credited the violence from their opponents).
Debate
One evening we left the UBF meeting early and mooched along the Earls Court Road looking for a coffee. We soon became aware that we were being followed and when we turned round we saw there a bunch of 43 Group members who were obviously not intent on wishing us a good evening. Like Pinter, we were cornered by a bunch of thugs whose pleasure it was to beat us up, except that they were not called fascists but operated on the assumption that anyone who did not heckle and scream at the fascists must be a fascist themselves and so deserved a bashing. We managed to avoid physical damage by gently informing our intending assailants that we were members of the Socialist Party, which was due to debate with the UBF at the Kensington Town Hall in a couple of weeks. Why didn’t they come along – they might learn something about effective techniques of opposing obnoxious ideas? It would have been a bit difficult, after that, for the 43 Groupers to attack us, although one or two were still clearly in favour of giving us a good hiding anyway. So we went for our coffee and spent a useful hour or so discussing the details of organising that debate.

And the debate was all we had promised them, on the pavement that evening. An audience of 650 crammed into the biggest meeting hall at the Kensington Town Hall, with another 200 or so turned away outside. The UBF had suggested that they supply some stewards to keep out “undesirables” but naturally we declined their offer of “help” and told them that all meetings of the Socialist Party were open to all members of the working class. Even fascists were welcome – they might learn something about socialism and about the benefits of a democratic meeting. We did not expect any trouble, although the 43 Group were there in force; they seemed to get all the excitement they wanted in the ruthless shredding of the UBF case by the socialist speaker. Raven Thomson, an ex-communist, represented the UBF (although he was not actually a member of it); he had the reputation of a fascist intellectual and in the BUF he had been one of Mosley’s right hand men. He can be seen in a photograph, taken before political uniforms were banned, strutting behind Mosley reviewing a Blackshirt parade, looking ridiculous in his black uniform with his cap at a rakish angle as if it had been knocked sideways.
The Alternative
We could not claim that it was as a consequence of their verbal mauling in the debate but soon afterwards there was a perceptible change in the fascists’ style of propaganda. A note of triumphant promise crept into their relentless harangues about the insidious influence of world Jewry. Have hope, they advised us: The Alternative is on the way. By that time anyone who took any interest in them knew that The Alternative was a book by Mosley, his manifesto which was supposed to carry the fascists into resplendent power. For some reason the book was greeted in some quarters as a serious contribution to political thought when it was no more than another attempt to unravel – or in this case to batter into shape – the chaos of capitalism. Mosley declared that fascism was dead – outdated, lost in the ashes of the war. The way forward now was a union in which Europe would become a nation, using (he did not say “exploiting”) Africa as if it were its estate in trusteeship “on behalf of white civilization and not on behalf of a nominal stability of Barbarism”.

Africa would provide the raw materials for a Euro-Africa closed economic system. But to operate this vast estate without the atrocities and repressions imposed in the past it would be necessary for a new type of man – a Thought Deed Man – to evolve. This would happen through “breeding, selection and environment” supplemented by training. This crackpot idea was presented in impenetrably pompous verbiage about “the union of intellect and will . . . we must give robustness to the intellect and reflection to the will . . .The future is with the Thought Deed Man because, without him, the future will not be. He is the hope of the peoples of the world”. It did not take a particularly cynical mind to unravel the fact that the person Mosley had in mind as the world’s first Thought Deed Man, all intellect and will and hope, was himself.

Union Movement
In 1948 the various fascist movements dissolved themselves into the Union Movement and launched what they fictionalised as a spontaneous drive to persuade a modest Mosley to emerge from retirement and lead the nation to glory. After a predictable show of reluctance he began eagerly speaking at Union Movement meetings and parades and demonstrations. In the early 1950s the first immigrants arrived from the West Indies and Asia, sucked over by British industries keen to undermine working class bargaining power in the days of ‘full employment’. The immigrants, easy fodder for racist paranoia, overtook  the Jews as targets for fascist mythologising and invective. Mosley’s son Nicholas remembers him speaking in the street from the top of a van, roaring about black gangs keeping teenage white English girls prisoner in attics where they were repeatedly raped. After satisfying their animalistic sexual appetites black men were supposed to prefer to dine on tinned pet food; a Mosley supporter was actually embarrassed to hear him tell another meeting that “Lassie (a popular dog food at the time) is for dogs, Kit-E-Kat is for wogs”.

Presumably convinced that this kind of mindless abuse would be popular enough to register in votes, Mosley stood for North Kensington in the 1959 general election. He claimed – another myth – that in doing this he was yielding to the irresistible demands of the people there when it was obvious that he was intent on exploiting the passions aroused in the previous year’s race riots in Notting Hill. Encouraged by his canvassers coming in night after night with stories about a massive upsurge of support for him, Mosley assumed he had victory in the bag and his supporters fantasised about the Union Movement sweeping the country. It was not quite like that when the votes were counted because Mosley, with just 2,821 out of a total of 39,912, was bottom of the poll and lost his deposit. It was, he said later, the biggest shock of his life and after the count, instead of rallying his supporters with a defiant, inspiring speech he went quickly to his car and was whisked away into the night. In 1966 he stood again, for Shoreditch, where the result was even worse for him; he polled 1,600 votes – 4.6 per cent of the total. After that he lost interest in being the Thought Deed Man, the implacable struggler against a powerful enemy. He withdrew from politics, to live in a succession of opulent houses, ending his days in a Paris mansion where he died in 1980.
BNP
Of all the words in the lexicon of politics fascism is among the most ill-defined and inappropriately used. If it has any meaning it is in the supremely escapist notion that there is a quick-fix remedy for capitalism’s shortcomings. It is also a nasty fix – the idea that political democracy is a feeble, useless way of running affairs and instead we should surrender to the dictates of strong men – the F├╝hrer, Il Duce, the Thought Deed Man. Parallel to that is the myth of national or racial supremacy, in whose baleful name so many atrocities and so much repression have been committed. If fascism is anything it is the very stuff of disillusionment, the response of workers who have tried other parties and other methods of running capitalism and have decided that, as each of them have failed, it is the democratic process which is at fault. That is what happened in post-1918 Germany and it is no coincidence that at present, with the Blair government exposed in all its helpless cynicism and the other parties promising nothing better, the BNP are winning council seats in places like Burnley and Kirklees. To complicate the lexicology further, the professed opponents of fascism are very often indistinguishable from the fascists themselves. If we hadn’t known it before then, that fact would have been brought home to us, that wintry evening on the pavement in the Earl’s Court Road.

Ivan

When Johnny Comes Marching Home (2005)

From the May 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

In many movies after the second world war there was a scene where the local boys came home to their little US town. The band played, hats were thrown in the air and the old frosty school mar'm could be seen to shed a secret tear.

It is a beautiful fantasy and if you add Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor and whoever happens to be the present teen dream to the scene it could play for ever today. There is only one snag, it is not true. Some of the homeless people that try to beg money from you on Waterloo Bridge fought in the Falklands. Some that will try to tap you in the future fought in Afghanistan or Iraq. From North America we read in the Toronto Globe and Mail (19 February): "Since Vietnam, we've learned that there's on average a 12 year delay between returning from war and begging on the streets," Linda Boone of the Washington-based National Coalition for Homeless Veterans told me. She said governments should start getting ready for vast numbers of beggars and vagrants, all created by war.

It is a well-known phenomenon, albeit one that governments have never properly acknowledged: After any war ends, the number of people living on the streets increases dramatically.' Does this mean that the ElizabethTaylor and Van Johnson charachters ended up sleeping rough, surely not! From the same article we learn that "in Britain, the government has estimated that a quarter of the people 'sleeping rough' - on the streets - are military veterans. If you want to find someone who fought in the Falklands war, you'd best look in the tunnels beneath Waterloo Bridge."

The facts seem obvious to us - Johnny, stay at home and read your Socialist Standard.
Richard Donnelly

Crisis in Indonesia (1998)

From the April 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1965, General Suharto came to power in a military coup in Indonesia that had the full backing of Britain and the US. During a Cold War arms build-up and a world focusing on the Vietnam War and the "communist threat", Suharto became a welcome ally as he massacred 600,000 of his opponents. In the years that followed, Suharto would consolidate his power, corruption would take on a whole new meaning and Indonesia would become a by-word for human rights abuses, most notably following the annexation of East Timor and the massacre of a further 200,000. All the while, the West turned a blind eye, supplying him with arms and training his military staff--interested only in the vast oil reserves Indonesia straddles.
Western eyes are now looking cautiously at Indonesia. In July of last year, the economy began to collapse and reached real crisis point during January of this year. Inflation rocketed and bankruptcies followed. Basic foodstuffs have more than doubled in price and thousands have died of hunger.
That much of his happened during January--a month of self-restraint (Ramadan) for Indonesia's moslems--perhaps explains why food riots born of country-wide discontent did not erupt fully until February, with Chinese food stores and restaurants taking much of the impact. The Chinese, who make up five percent of the population, were readily perceived as being the cause of the food shortages. That they own 70 percent of Indonesia's wealth was reason enough to convince angry crowds that they had grown rich off the backs of the masses.
Media analysts fear more trouble ahead, indeed a total meltdown of the Indonesian economy within the next month, particularly in light of a recent IMF decision to delay disbursement of the next tranche of a $43 billion bailout.
The IMF agreed to the $43 billion lifeline on condition that Suharto reformed a structure of monopolies, tariffs and subsidies--in other words, the targeting of the interests of his cronies and six offspring.
Suharto accused the IMF of trying to impose a liberal economy on the country, which he claimed was not in line with Article 33 of the Indonesian constitution, which stipulates that the economy should be developed along "family principles and which stresses 'regulated cooperatives' rather than the 'free market'".
Back to basics
"Family principles" takes on a whole new meaning in Indonesia. Not only is nepotism rampant, with Suharto's relatives up to their necks in all manner corruption, but Suharto himself is estimated to have assets worth over $40 billion (coincidentally the size of the IMF loan he is haggling over).
Having promised to give Indonesia's central bank full autonomy over monetary policy, Suharto then sacked its governor and directors for objecting to his plans for an "IMF-plus measure"--the setting up of a currency board charged with pegging the Indonesian rupiah to the US dollar. Not only was this opposed by the IMF, the World Bank, the US and the EU, but his own critics in Indonesia lambasted it, pointing to the country's limited foreign reserves and corrupt bureaucracy.
Having just been elected president for the seventh time, to rule for another five years, by a 1,000-member electoral assembly he vetted himself, Suharto is taking economic advice from his schoolfriend Professor Jusuf Habiba. Habiba's economic competence has long been questioned--even by Western economists who still dream up futile models of how capitalism can best work--at least since his "zig-zag" theory which professed that rising inflation is best offset with low interest rates.
It is highly likely that a state of emergency will be declared shortly. Riots have been widespread, often urged on by students less inclined to the rhetoric of scape-goating. Panic buying has emptied shelves and forced many shops to close and the military is becoming edgy, fearful for its own interests. With a restless population of over 200 million, split into 300 ethnic groups, Indonesia faces a precarious next few months.
If the worst does come, we can well imagine the front page analysts pointing to Suharto's corruption and poor economic insight as a cause, and others to the "bursting bubble" of the Asian economic miracle and its wider dimensions. None, we predict, will point out that this is how capitalism functions, that capitalism is an archaic, chaotic and ungovernable system. And we are not being churlish in suggesting that nothing out of the ordinary is happening Indonesia--for this is capitalism working normally, according to its own insane logic.
Our sympathies go out to the millions destined to suffer in the madness, the millions who will in fact lend their support to the same system that has impoverished them, and who will always suffer until it dawns on them there is an alternative and that it is they alone who can bring it about.
John Bissett

Obituary: Terry Lawlor (2009)

Obituary from the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death, in January, of our comrade Terry Lawlor at the age of 84. Terry joined the Party in 1942 when he was just 17. From a working class background, he studied hard to become a medical student and it was because of this that he was exempt from military service during the Second World War and served instead as an air raid fire warden on the roof of Chatham House, the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Within a short time he had established himself as one of the Party’s many notable characters in this period, becoming a prominent and vociferous Party speaker, particularly on the outdoor platform in his main stomping grounds of South London, such as at East Street, Walworth.

The rumbustious image he had in the Party (immortalised in Barltrop’s The Monument) was in some ways at odds with both his gentler, private persona and the career he developed as a consultant psychiatrist, even if at one point in the 1970s he was at the centre of a national controversy about the running of a psychiatric hospital in London, his supposed role in which he strongly denied.

Never one to shy away from public debate, Terry became known in the Party as probably the most prominent advocate of the view that as the contradictions of capitalism must sharpen over time, then so must wars and world economic crises become progressively worse. When a major slump had failed to appear after the Second World War, the Party became more cautious about such pronouncements than it had been in the period when Terry had first joined, and he eventually left the Party in 1953 after a dispute over the issue.

He remained in contact with the Party, however, for decades, reading (and often selling) the Socialist Standard, before eventually rejoining in 1991. He then served on the Party’s World Economic Crisis Committee (set up to re-examine the issue closest to his heart) and resumed speaking for the Party and writing occasionally for the Standard on economic issues, being influenced by his understanding of Marxian economics and also the views of business analysts like the ‘bearish’ investment guru Bob Beckman. It is a sad irony - not lost on his comrades - that Terry died in the middle of the major financial crisis he had long predicted.
Dave Perrin


50 Years Ago: Looking at Football (2005)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sport for profit
Once competition was on its feet, professionalism was the inevitable outcome. Watching competitive games became a popular recreation in the northern industrial towns, and success-hungry teams used the obvious means to get good players to join them. In 1885 professionalism was recognized; in a few years football meant Preston, Blackburn and Sheffield instead of the Wanderers, Royal Engineers and Carthusians ( .  .  .) .
The biggest changes were still to come. However skilful its play, a losing team has few followers—that is, its income falls. The huge partisan crowds at football matches in the ‘twenties were prepared to see only their own sides win, and applaud any sort of play to that end. The Arsenal introduced the “stopper” centre-half, a player whose business was to obstruct the opponents and nothing else. The method caught on because it was successful; it still dominates football. The units in the pattern of today’s teams are the rough, destructive centre-half, the fast-chasing wingers and the hard-kicking, opportunistic centre-forward ( .  .  .).
A footballer’s maximum wage is fifteen pounds a week in the playing season (many clubs pay nothing like the maximum). Players receive bonuses of two pounds for a win and one pound for a draw, and a few of them are famous enough to make a little more by writing newspaper columns or advertizing. Thus, a first-class player is lucky if he take £700 in a year. Certainly his earnings are not to be compared with a jockey’s, and his playing career usually ends before he is thirty-five (though every footballer understates his age). A small number become managers, coaches and so on, but obviously there is not room for more than a few to do so.
Football combines some of the best things games can offer—physical exercise, skill, co-operation with others. Commercialism has shaped it along certain lines, making success more important than enjoyment. Watching it played well can give us much pleasure as a ballet or a symphony. More often, however, it is a weekly relief from tedium or a source of vicarious satisfactions ranging from dreams of fame to revenge fantasies. Nor can too much be said for commercial football from the players’ point of view. It would be wrong to suppose they do not enjoy it (even the ones who say they play just for money). All the same, it is their bread and butter, and only the exceptionally skilful plays can afford not to help the fair means with some of the other sort (so you can see the same nasty little tricks aped in schoolboy games, too). A professional footballer has several years with play instead of work and a great deal of adulation, and afterwards he is turned into a workaday world almost completely unprepared for it.
It seems a pity that a good sport should be tarnished by the profit system. But then, what isn’t?
(From an article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, February 1955)

Single Issues Versus the Holistic Approach (2013)

From the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
What is the way forward: trying to deal with separate problems one by one or dealing with their common cause?
The World Socialist Movement, of which the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a part, is a global movement committed to a fundamental change in the way we, the vast majority, live. Simply put the objective is common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources and the abolition of the wages system. This requires, first and foremost, a much deeper and wider understanding by the worldwide community of the underlying reasons necessitating such a radical change; second, a recognition of the common threads linking the numerous single issues, thus enabling and strengthening a holistic approach; and third, a thorough understanding of an outcome which goes way beyond anything on offer from mainstream politicians anywhere in the world.
It is widely accepted that the so-called 'western democracies' fall short of popular participation and that there are few spaces in which most ordinary folk can become involved and make any significant difference, even as cries on the street build to a crescendo of demands unlikely to be met. Globally, protest has never been more apparent than it has been in recent years, mainly because of the rise of alternative, independent media and the internet, and it has manifested itself on every continent. For bread-and-butter reasons, for democratic reasons, for environmental reasons, for humanitarian reasons, for social reasons: and it is specifically in support of women, minorities, animal welfare, freedom of speech, alternative energy, and against war, apartheid, discrimination, corporations, austerity and neo-colonialism.
Protest is a response or reaction to being repeatedly and deliberately ignored, bypassed and abused on many levels but protestors have disparate claims and dissatisfactions which tend to keep or set groups apart from each other. One person's beef is another's side issue. Different emphases are dependent on personal situations and viewpoints. 'There's strength in numbers' goes the old adage – but drawing disparate protest groups together under the same umbrella means first of all convincing those involved of how their particular 'issues' have the same underlying causes as those of the others and how they can all be resolved by coming together under this all-encompassing umbrella. However far removed the cut-and-thrust of one protest seems from another, traced back to their roots the fundamental they have in common is that they are fighting a system which determines outcomes by reference to a single measurement, that of the profit motive. It is this that results in the denial of sufficient representation, a lack of democracy in decision-making processes, and the failure of having dissenting voices heard.
Capitalist failure
Why can't we just change things bit by bit, with different groups working in the areas that particularly affect them? The blunt answer is that this is precisely what populations have been struggling to do for centuries. Winning a minor concession here and there only to have it clawed back before too long or in a roundabout way. Slavery was supposedly abolished over a century ago but what is today's people trafficking for sex or forced labour if not slavery? The working class globally has continuously had to fight for improved pay and conditions; it is enslaved to a system that exploits it non-stop. Whatever gains have been made they have been vulnerable to being eroded. Endless strikes, walkouts, work-to-rule, picketing and protests have gained little long-term for the mass of workers worldwide. Each group has to face battle alone as sectors are threatened by or forced into wage freezes, layoffs or permanent unemployment.
The crux of the matter is the system of exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few; the system of profit which enslaves the working class. The ongoing battles are always civil organisations and pressure groups from the working class against corporations, big money and the governments which uphold the system that supports the capitalists. If it were possible to change the system piecemeal we would surely have seen the results by now – and we do see those results; we are now experiencing living under the changes we have gradually forged over generations – and they are an abject failure by most measurements. It is a proven wrong approach.
Common threads
What is the connection between the anti-war movement and campaigns to halt global warming, between those protesting cuts in healthcare services and others protesting increases in further education provision, or between the Occupy movement and those calling for 'green jobs' or a 'fair wage'?
The system does not allow space for meaningful involvement in major decision-making on a social level. Governments believe that cursory elections every few years authorise them to make all decisions on behalf of citizens. Sometimes we hear of 'consultations' when a particular location may be negatively impacted by a proposed scheme but, in reality, this usually means a small body or panel of chosen people, themselves not truly representative of the opposition movement, will be invited to give their perspective before a final (pre-planned) decision is given.
Those who are instrumental in affecting decisions are representatives of capital – corporations, big companies, who wield big money, who buy and sell, export and import, and who can withhold contracts and favours, can choose to move production and other facilities abroad and who consequently exert non-democratic, economic pressure on politicians. The politicians are or become tools of the system and work in opposition to most of their electorate most of the time.
What the separate issues have in common is that they are up against the capitalist system's imperative, both ideological and legal, to seek maximum profit. Any concerted effort by any protest group is seen as antagonism to that imperative and presents a problem for the governance of capitalism. Proactive citizens are often problem citizens.
Need for socialism
The capitalist system manipulates discrete sections of populations into thinking issues can be tackled separately, that maybe they can have some minor influence here or there. It's convenient to allow small triumphs and gains to reinforce the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this particular protest might bear fruit. However, regarding the huge concerns plaguing world society such concerns are out of the hands of citizens whether or not a part of the electorate. Inequality and the enormous discrepancies between the haves and have-nots; global warming, poverty, hunger and disease; warmongering and the massive accumulation of war material on an unprecedented scale; ongoing neocolonialism and quasi-empire building for control of resources and influence – the vote is of no help in such matters. People have no part to play in decisions of this magnitude. People are excluded and will continue to be excluded – unless and until the people decide they will play a part and overtly use the political process to challenge the capitalist system.
Socialism entails inclusion, active involvement and equality of possibilities for all. Self-determined individual world inhabitants living in communities of their choice, contributing to society as ability and will decide, enjoying free access to the common wealth as need requires, shall together guide the direction of society without the encumbrance of the former hierarchical elite. All topics (including any currently perceived as single issues that continue) will be open for full discussion and participation before any decisions are taken in a transparent and democratic fashion. 
Unless and until – the crucial factor in bringing about the revolution to socialism, to a socialist society, is just that. Unless and until the majority sees clearly that the way ahead lies in totally overturning this system that suppresses and oppresses us and comes together to work to achieve that end we can only continue on this treadmill which has repeatedly and endlessly failed us.
Janet Surman

An Interesting Document (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why Jack London resigned from The Socialist Party of America.
We reproduce below the letter by which the well-known novelist, Jack London, resigned his membership of the Socialist Party of America. It is of interest as showing, how far he was from taking up the position which his widow afterwards embraced, and which she declared would have been his position had he lived.
Honolulu,
7th March, 1916. 
Dear Comrades, 
     I am resigning from the Socialist Party of America because of its lack of fire and fight and its loss of emphasis on the Class Struggle.
   I was originally a member of the old up-on- its-hind-legs-fighting-Socialist Party; Since then and up to the present time, I have been a fighting member of the Socialist Party of America. My fighting record in the cause is not even at this late date entirely forgotten. Trained in the Class Struggle as taught and practiced by the Socialist Labour Party,—my own highest judgment concurring,—I believed that the working class, by fighting, by never fusing, never making terms with the enemy, could emancipate itself. Since the whole trend of Socialism in the United States of America during recent yearn has been one of peaceableness and compromise, I find that my mind refuses further sanction of my remaining a Party member. 
   Please include my Comrade wife, Charmian K. London’s resignation with mine. 
   My final word is that liberty, freedom, and independence are royal things that cannot be presented to, nor thrust upon, races or classes. If races and classes cannot rise up by their strength of brain and brawn, wrest from the world liberty, freedom and independence, they never in time can come to these royal possessions, and if such royal things are kindly presented to them by superior individuals on silver platters, they will know not what to do with them, will fall to make use of them, and will be what they have always been in the past —inferior races and inferior classes.
Yours for the Revolution,
Jack London.
(From the “Overland Monthly,” Nov. 1917.)

Party News (1920)

Party News from the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Manifesto is Out.
We were not in a position when we went to press with our last issue to announce that the new edition of the “Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Great Britain” was ready for sale, although before the July number was published the “Manifesto” was actually in the hands of the public. We have had to prepare a large edition in order to be able to sell the book at 3d. without financial loss, so comrades should push the sale to the utmost.

The special preface to the edition covers the extremely important ground of the actions of the so-called Socialist parties during the period of, and in relation to, the recent world war, and it should be brought into prominent and special notice in all working-class circles. It will undoubtedly become a valuable weapon in the fight for Socialism.


Our £1,000 Fund.
Once again we draw attention to the urgent need for the “sinews of war.” Though we do not care to spare a great deal of our spare for appeals for funds, the need is not on that account any the less pressing or vital. There is much work awaiting the financial means to enable it to go forward, and all who are possibly able to do so should send regular donations to our £1,000 Fund. In particular those who are unable to take part in the direct active work of the Party should make a special effort to support the efforts of their comrades through this medium. A further list will be published in due course—don’t let your name be missing from it.


Amritsar Again. (1920)

Editorial from the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are, due to the systematic terrorism our democratic rulers have succeeded in establishing, prevented from commenting upon the report of the Commission concerning the Punjaub disturbances at the time the report was published. The matter has again cropped up, in the House of Commons, and Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State to India, made what was described as a terrible speech. From it we reproduce the following passage because of the implications contained in it 
    “I say, further, that when you pass an order that all Indians, whoever they may be, most forcibly or voluntarily salaam any officer of His Majesty the King, you are enforcing racial humiliation. I say, thirdly, that when you take selected schoolboys from a school, guilty or innocent, and whip them publicly, when you put up a triangle, where an outrage which we all deplore, and which all India deplores, has taken place, and whip people who have not been convicted, when you flog a wedding party, you are indulging in frightfulness.”
We are not going to add anything to those words: their import will make itself felt.

While we are upon this matter notice may be taken that the Labour Party were dumb during the debate. Only Clynes got up and passed a few inane remarks about the soldier's difficulties and the course the Party were going to follow. As for the crime against the working class of India, they left it severely alone.

The most pungent criticism, as possibly the most hypocritical, was supplied by Mr. Asquith, and surely the spectacle of the hero of Featherstone upbraiding the hero of Amritsar was meant to supply the element of comedy to the piece.

The Peacemakers.
A week or two ago the Poles appeared to be making progress against the Bolshevik armies, and our masters and pastors, buoyed up with false hopes, declared that it would not be right for them to try to secure peace in the midst of the Poles' success. The usual has happened, and at once the air is thick with threats of what the Bolsheviks will find up against them if they do not make peace immediately. Isn't it a huge joke? 

How To Save The Children. (1920)

From the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anomalous as it may sound, Sentiment and Cruelty are very closely akin, and although we may perhaps give our short-sighted humanitarians credit for a real desire to alleviate the sufferings of the babies of Central Europe we cannot but recognise that their charity in its present form tends only to prolong the sufferings of the wage-workers' children all the world over. The root cause of the problem of starving Europe is the ownership of the means of wealth production by one small section of society. There is no shortage of food actually. Nature has not failed us. But the promoters of the “Save the Children” movement do not understand this.: Their notions are capitalist notions. To them all is well with the world except that five million little Austrians are in danger of a terrible death. But bate they never walked, say for instance, through a Lancashire industrial centre? There they would see children distorted in limbs, stunted in growth, faces and eyes eaten by disease, and covered with grime and dirt Capitalism chains their mothers to toil throughout the long day with the result that the children go neglected. In some places it is the custom for one of the elder children to bring the latest unweaned baby to the factory gates at certain stipulated hours so that the mother may leave her work for a short while to suckle it. Under capitalism the children of the workers are but potential wage-slaves. Their happiness does not count. It is nothing new to us to learn that same children somewhere are being starved to death. In New York, London, Paris, Rome, in fact, everywhere where capitalism exists children are starved and will continue to starve.

Our leading article last month pointed out the failure of capitalism to solve the problem of starvation. There is, therefore, only one method left. That is the Socialist method—the abolition of capitalism. Send all the foodships you may and you but abrogate the misery of but an infinitesimal number of those who suffer. And what is more, the position must worsen as capitalism reaches its final stage of development. The sooner you realise that the sooner will you desire to end it. Does it need those heart-rending photographs we have been seeing lately, of children, emaciated and twisted beyond recognition with rickets, to bring home to you the rottenness and vile inhumanity of the system you tolerate? Do you plead ignorance of the misery and squalor that must confront you every day of your lives? We cannot believe that. All the world knows that Queen Alexandra has got something in her eye or that President Deschanel fell out of the train in his pyjamas. Why, then, does not all the world display an equal interest in the wrongs that little children, and their parents, are subjected to in every part of the globe?

Thus we tell you that we are the only ones that can save the starving children, and we cannot do that without your support. Your charitable ladies of a generation hence will be appealing for starving babies to be fed, just an they are to-day, just as they were a generation ago.

If, therefore, it hurts you to see babies die a terrible death; if it even hurts you to see them live terrible lives, your duty is plain. That is to wipe out the system which is responsible and to establish in its place a system that will mean security of life for the individual from the cradle to the grave.

And if you must contribute to a fund for starving children, that fund and the only really effective fund is the Socialist Party’s £1,000 Fund.
Stanley H. Steele

"Lost, Stolen, or Strayed" — An Intellectual. (1920)

Pamphlet Review from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Socialism and the Labour Party,” by Bernard Shaw. National Guilds League Lecture at Kingsway Hall, London, on Jan. 29th, 1920. A Supplement to the "New Commonwealth.” Price 2d.

In dealing with reformers of any kind it is difficult to sort the wheat—what little there is of it—from the chaff in which it is buried.

The above is an excellent instance of this truism. Here we find the usual pot-pourri of good horse-sense and nonsense.

The lecturer says 
    “. . .  in all my experience almost all the opposition which reformers meet with arises not really from any particular objection which people have to the reformer’s plan; but from their extraordinary ignorance of the existing state of things in which they themselves live, which they often firmly believe does realise the plan of the reformer as far as it is humanly possible for it to be realised.”
He does not say anything about the revolutionist; however, apparently it would be unreasonable to expect an individual of the “super"-intellectual calibre of the one and only George Bernard Shaw of that ilk to appreciate the difference.

Shaw then makes an appeal—in the main really good—for unity among the robbed class against the robbers. Like most of his “wheat,” it is much too long to quote.

We now come to a fine homily on capitalist honour—although, as might be expected, the lecturer concludes it with an error in which he completely gives away the case for Nationalisation and Municipalisation. This will be dealt with later.

The error referred to is in the statement that “The production of wealth became a matter of the organisation of labour, and that was done by comparatively vulgar persons belonging to what is called the ‘middle-class.’ ”

The lecturer would doubtless be surprised if he were told that there is no middle class. The “organisation of labour” is carried on entirely by the working class, from the managing director to the office-boy.

There was a period in early capitalism when individual owners of the means of production conducted their various businesses themselves. They were called “Captains of Industry.” It would possibly be correct to call these people the middle class. But to-day the “Captains of Industry” have by the inexorable march of economic development been forced down into the ranks of the proletariat, and the modern "Captains of Industry” are the salaried servants —wage slaves of absentee shareholders. These shareholders can be dispensed with at any time that the workers make up their minds to get on with it. So we say, and challenge denial from any quarter, that there is no middle class.

We are told, “if you give a man £50, £100, or £1,000 a day—and that is the sort of income people have nowadays—you can see that then money saves itself." Ha! Ha! Ha! He further defines capital as “saved up money.” This sort of tripe one expects from an "intellectual.” But there—!

If one puts a penny away how long will it be before that penny becomes more? On Shaw's argument it should not take us long to raise that £1,000.

This epistle is written under the title “'Lost, Stolen, or Strayed ’—An Intellectual,” and now we come to the point of the title, for if Mr. Shaw is to be taken seriously one can only judge his sincerity at the cost of his intelligence.

After showing how the “old limited aristocracy” retired from business, i.e., that of exploiting the workers, and describing the birth of the “plutocracy” he says: “A career is open to the talented, and society is open to the rich. The particular talent to which a career is open is that of getting as much money as possible out of other people's pockets and putting it into your own.”

He goes on, “and most Socialist Societies and a good many eccentric philanthropists here and there, want to turn their backs on this particular principle. They want to stop robbing. They want to go in for general co-operation for the good of the community, in short, for Socialism. Is there any likelihood, any sign, of the formation of a party in this country which will absolutely throw over the idea of robbery and go in for co-operative and common production for the benefit of the whole country? ” And so on ad lib.

Note the muddle our “intellectual” has got into! He says “most Socialist Societies” want to stop robbery, and in practically the same sentence asks if there is any sign of the formation of such a party!

We are “bored stiff” by a long tirade from Mr. Shaw in which he, instead of showing the true working-class position, endeavours to set one section of the proletariat against the rest by discussing the degree of utility of the respective services performed by them. He shows how some are engaged in the actual production of the essentials for human existence, while others are merely domestic servants or even lawyers or doctors. There is one section which ho does not refer to—apparently for personal reasons— but I will mention it for him. It is the dramatists, actors, and the theatrical profession generally. But after all, what does it matter? They are ALL members of the working class, getting their living by the sale of their labour-power.

The pet theory held by Bernard Shaw and his colleagues of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party is that of Nationalisation. It is stated above that Mr, Shaw gives away the case for Nationalisation. I will now produce the evidence from the lecture which is the subject of this criticism.

The lecturer states, and rightly too, that the “old-fashioned robber baron . . .  has largely passed away, and what remains of him —and this is very important—is a tremendous public opinion that it is every man’s duty to fight for his country, meaning the robber class for which his country exists."

That is to say that when people speak of the country, or the nation, they mean the exploiting class. Therefore when anything is nationalised all that has happened is that the property which has been nationalised has been transferred from the ownership of a few individual members, or maybe groups of members called companies, etc. of the capitalist class to the collective ownership of the whole of that class.

There is one point in the lecture that should have been dealt with before.

We are told that Lenin “introduced 'compulsory labour"' into Russia. This has no terror for us, for we have become hardened to it by long experience. But apparently what Lenin did was to introduce compulsory labour, not for the workers, for they had been the subjects of compulsory labour all their lives, but for the exploiting class, who had never done any work previously.

And now I think that sufficient evidence has been produced to show that the person referred to in the title of this article ‘is Mr. George Bernard Shaw, who is the “Intellectual” who is “lost, stolen, or strayed.” 
H. E. Hutchins

On Abstractions (1920)

From the February 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The majority of us when children at school were told that fable, wrongly attributed to Aesop, relating to the tragedy (from the principal character's point of view) of the dog who dropped, when crossing a stream, the bone he was carrying in order to snatch at the one he saw mirrored in the water. The moral our teachers impressed upon us was that we should not forsake the substance for the shadow.

Yet, curious paradox, we find upon looking around to-day that it is mainly because of toe workers' disregard for the lessons of the fable that Capitalism has not yet fallen. True, the analogy is not quite good, since the working class have not yet held the material bone in their mouth, but though we show how near their grasp it is, they still pursue shadows, placing their trust in specious promises, which rarely materialise, and bring them no relief when they do.

I have seen men pale and wan with hunger and deprivation fling their ragged caps in the air and cheer a royalty riding by, because they believed that to worship a royal fetish and to suffer the pangs of hunger were quite the usual things to do. And thereto lies the whole kernel of working-class misery.

A few years back workers in their millions sprang forth at the first call of the capitalist class to go and fight the workers of another nation. Yet in his heart of hearts scarcely a man of them, if he dared to ask himself, would have said he had a home worth fighting for or a possession to defend. But because of something which he knows by the name of “Patriotism," but which he cannot truthfully define, he donned khaki or field-grey and learned to slaughter his fellows without thinking or troubling to understand the why and the wherefore.

One will often hear a workman prate of his English nationality and consequent "freedom." A curious definition of his freedom, however, impressed itself upon me as I was passing a place where building was in progress. It was after dark, and I saw a long line of human figures pressing against a barrier of wood which separated the area being built upon from the street. I was quite at a loss to account for them and lingered a moment to ascertain, when all at once from somewhere in the rear a shrill whistle blew, and the men, leaping the barrier (that is, the more active among them) dispersed in all directions as quickly as they could. And then I understood! These “freeman,” although it had for some time been too dark to continue to work were forced to remain imprisoned behind a frail barrier until released by the blast of a whistle! It struck me then that humiliation and freedom are synonymous.

But, of course, the men themselves would not have seen the irony of the situation, in fact, if one had suggested to them that a wooden whistle is the measure of their freedom, and that their boasted liberty is a delusion, abuse, and possibly violence, would have been burled at him.

Another pet abstraction of the occidental proletariat, particularly of this country, is “Democracy.” With pride in his voice and dilated chest the average man will tell you that “this is a democratic country,” and, what is more tragic, will believe it, too! But when you point out to him that under autocracies the working class are robbed, and that, be a country nominally ruled by a king, shah, kaiser, or president, poverty and hardship is the lot of the working class all the world over, he will go on worshipping some other abstract fetish rather than come down to the solid facts of hie slave position and hopeless outlook under the present system.

The poor old dog will not grip the solid bone of class consciousness, and the capitalist class know this, hence gods, kings, presidents, motherlands, liberty, patriotism, are all used in turn to satiate the proletarian appetite for abstractions rather than material welfare.

But the Socialist does not despair. He knows that all these things will fail the capitalists in the end, and that his false gods and clay-footed idols will come tumbling about his ears when the slow-witted dog “Proletariat” has learned his lesson and safely crossed the stream to enjoy that which has been denied him so long.
Stanley H. Steele

His Majesty King Clynes. (1920)

From the March 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a letter to a Herefordshire lieutenant-colonel a copy of which he sent to the “Times,” J. R. Clynes said (according to the “Evening News,” 30.1.20.): “Always I have expressed my gratitude and thankfulness for the sacrifices and valour of the thousands of rich young man who left everything and faced the risks of war."

Clynes should be careful—it was this spirit of bumptious, inflated importance the part of the other Kaiser that, according to some people, caused the war.
A. A.

Concerning Ourselves (1920)

Editorial from the March 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

We prophesied last month that “your Socialist Standard would cost you more," and lo! it has come about. The truth is, of course, that we did not prophesy before we knew, which may be accounted unto us for wisdom; and if the warning was brief, and tucked away in what in any other paper would be an obscure corner, it was not with the idea of preventing the knowing ones from laying in a big stock before the price rose —though it must be admitted that the more we sold at a penny the more we lost.

No! such sordid considerations are beneath us. We are poor, but we hope we are large-minded enough to say that anyone is welcome to buy as many copies of “ours” as he likes—for cash—whatever the price we are charging. The fact is that it was only at the last hour that the decision was arrived at to take advantage of the Profiteering Act, and time and space only permitted of a brief announcement.

And so the Socialist Standard is now twopence, if you please. Doubtless when the Commission of Enquiry has got through with Messrs. Coats they will turn their attention to us, so we will reserve for them the facts relating to the abandonment of our policy of giving our paper away; meanwhile may we suggest that though the purchaser of “ours” cannot, hope to find relief in seeking a substitute, “'cos there ain't none,” he can economise by reading his copy twice, or, better still, by putting it in circulation among his friends.

#    #    #    #

Our Annual Conference will this year be held at Fairfax Hall, Portland Gardens, Harringay, N., on 2nd and 3rd April The Annual Reunion of Members will beheld in the same Hall on the evening of the first day (Good Friday) Commence 7 o’clock.

Past Class Struggles (1919)

From the February 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The change from the Feudal system to the Commercial or Capitalist regime was the instance of political struggles which brought about the English Revolution, the French Revolution, and the German Empire. The development of commercialism was also accompanied by risings of the peasantry. We will consider first of all the most important of these risings in the order of their occurrence. 

After the Roman Empire spread and.absorbed the greater part of the known world, it became more and more unwieldy. The increasing wealth of its constituent parts bred a tendency towards local government and a revolt against the exactions of the Papal Court. The rising bourgeoisie of the towns found themselves heavily drained by taxation to support a power that was becoming a hindrance instead of an aid to them. The religion of the Roman Empire, with its numerous holidays, feastings, and taxations for religious purposes, stood in the way of the full and free exploitation of the labouring class by the fore-runners of the factory lords. Their opposition consequently expressed itself in a rebellion against some of the tenets in the creed of the times.

All social movements except that of the modern proletariat, have had the glamour of religion cast over them, and the exploiters of the peasantry and sweaters of the town labourers were not behindhand in finding their religious apologist.. In this capacity they were well served by the time-serving Martin Luther. Before Luther came to the fore, however, the commercial class had made considerable progress in England; we will, therefore, proceed to outline the conditions that led up to the English Peasants’ Revolt, which arose as a consequence of the emergence of Capitalism.

When the Normans under William landed in England they found the manorial system of land tenure in vogue. Three quarters of the people lived on agriculture; the rest were townsfolk, gentry, and Churchmen. There were 9,250 villages or manors, three-fifths of each being waste, i.e., untilled common land, one-fifth pasture, and one-fifth arable. After the Conquest each manor was held by a lord or baron owing allegiance to the king. Nominally all the land of England belonged to the Crown. In actual fact, however, the baron had control of his particular property. Nearly half the population were villeins .or peasant proprietors, tilling land in separate plots with rights to the use of the common land, and obliged to till the land of the lord of the manor in return for his military protection.

The commencement of the Crusades in the 13th century brought about a change in the relations of lords and peasants. Foreign trade and the taste for finery were developed through intercourse with the East, while the expenses of the crusading expeditions accentuated the need for money on the part of the lords. They consequently introduced the system of commuting rents in kind and labour rents, for money rents, the latter becoming general by the time of the Great Plague

In 1348 the Black Death swept over England, carrying away one-third of the population. There consequently arose a great shortage of labour and the labourers found themselves in the “Golden Age” of the wage slave. Wages rose to a very high level. This state of affairs did not suit the landowners, so, with the help of their friends, the legal fraternity, various measures were tried, among them, the “Statute of Labourers,” to keep down wages. Heavy penalties were to be inflicted on those who demanded higher wages than before the Plague. All their efforts were useless, and finally they hit upon the plan of driving the peasants back into villeinage. They tried to enforce the exaction of the old labour rents, in spite of the fact that the peasants had either purchased their holdings or had had the rents commuted into money rents, while the free labourers had either purchased their freedom or been granted manumission. Incontestable documentary evidence (which in most cases did not exist) was demanded to excuse the peasants from labour rents. The revolt of the peasantry all over England, consequent upon these conditions, was precipitated by the harsh method of collecting the poll tax.

Luxurious living and disastrous military undertakings had brought the treasury of the proprietary classes low. “The French war ran its disastrous course: one English fleet was beaten by the Spaniards, a second sunk by a storm and a campaign in the heart of France ended, like its predecessors, in disappointment and ruin. It was to defray the cost of these failures that the parliament granted a fresh subsidy, to be raised by means of a poll tax on every person in the realm. To such a tax the poorest contributed as large a sum as the wealthiest, and the injustice of such an exaction set England on fire from sea to sea.”—“A Short History of the English People,” J. R. Green, Vol. 1, p. 236.

For a long time previous to this the Lollards, the poor priests who were disseminating the teachings of Wycliff against the established religion, had taken up the cause of the peasants. They tramped through the country spreading rebellious views among the labourers. “The storm which no politician of the time anticipated, burst on June 10th, 1381. The uprising of the upland folk was simultaneous. It extended from the coast of France to Scarborough, all through the Eastern towns. . . . On the West it extended from Hampshire to to Lancashire.”—“Six Centuries of Work and Wages,” p. 256.

What followed is illuminatingly summarised by Gibbins in his “Industrial History of England,’ p. 78:
   Almost simultaneously the peasants showed their combined strength, and a large body of them under Wat Tyler marched upon London. It is well known how they met the young King Richard II. at Mile End, and demanded of him the petition which shows the real meaning of the movement: “We will that you free us for ever, us and our lands,” they asked, "and that we be never named or held as villeins." "I grant it," said the King, with regal diplomacy, and they believed him. But they very soon learned how vain a thing it is to put one's trust in princes for after the peasant armies in the various parts of England had quieted down, and the Essex men among others claimed the fulfillment of his royal promise, Richard openly broke faith. "Villeins you were," said the King, "and villeins you are. In bondage shall you abide, and that not your old bondage, but a worse!"
After the promises of reform the peasants dispersed to their homes, satisfied that their demands were going to receive attention. This was what the ruling powers were waiting for. They proceeded to exact vengeance for their temporary humiliation.

The promises exacted by force were broken as soon as that force had disappeared. Wherever the peasants demanded the fulfillment of the pledges they were met with threats and hangings. A large army was put into the field by the ruling classes and the revolt was punished by the hanging of Ball, Straw, and thousands of their followers.

I would recommend a study of the result of this rising to the “Economic power” theorists. While the peasantry were organised into a fighting force they held the key to the situation and could dictate terms. But they had to depend for their living upon tilling the soil, and had therefore to disperse to their homes after being a short time under arms. As soon as they dispersed their power was gone, and they could be massacred at the leisure of the masters. The ruling classes through history have laid to heart this fact, and have always endeavoured to keep an organised force at their disposal to put down discontent. It must also be borne in mind that the military power has undergone a tremendous development since the time of the Peasant’s Revolt. The day of mob marches on London has long since gone by. The only way for the working class to become the ruling power is to gain control of the permanent fighting machine so that they can use it for their own ends.

The suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt did not result in a return to villeinage. Other economic forces were operating to nullify the effect of the Plague. The labourers were again brought to heel by the introduction and rapid growth of sheep farming on a large scale (which necessitated the employment of a comparatively small amount of labour) and the rapid increase of the labouring population consequent upon the higher wages and resulting plenitude of the means of life.

The discoveries in the 15th century of Columbus, Cabot, and Vasco da Gama, together with, the Crusades and, later, the buccaneering exploits of the English sailors, gave a tremendous impetus to foreign trade. Sheep farming had become the mainstay of the English trade, and the profits made out of this lucrative industry set the land-owners thinking out schemes for its expansion. They set about doing three things. They evicted as many as possible of their smaller tenants; they raised the rents of their larger tenants so that ordinary farming could hardly be made to pay; and finally they commenced enclosing the common lands. The condition of the people about that time was further adversely affected by the debasing of the coinage and the resultant rise in prices.

It may be interesting to remind the reader at this juncture that at one time, as we have already shown, three-fifths of the land of England was the common property of the whole people. As the population of England now, with the exception of a comparatively small class, is landless, it therefore appears that the ruling class have, in actual fact, robbed the working people of three-fifths of England since the Norman Conquest. 
Gilmac.