Monday, June 25, 2018

Fallen Idols (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard 

An endless job for Labour historians is the expunging of inconvenient memories, of which their party has more than the most industrious of harlots. Some memories, from Labour’s earlier life, have been successfully blamed upon the treachery of Macdonald, Snowden and the other villains of that time. Their more recent experiences are proving more difficult.

The 1964 Labour government came to power, as they never tired of telling us at the time, after thirteen years of Tory misrule. Their election programme had opened like a bugle call:
  The world wants it and would welcome it. The British people want it, deserve it, and urgently need it.
   And now, at last, the general election presents us with the exciting prospect of achieving it.
   The dying months of a frustrating 1964 can be transformed into the launching platform for the New Britain of the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
And after a brief description of this New Britain, the manifesto trumpeted:
   The country needs fresh and virile leadership. Labour is ready. Poised to swing its plans into instant operation.
Well, not enough workers were frightened by this and Labour won the election but now that we are in the late 1970s it is clear that something went wrong with their plans because, as Callaghan and Healey are continually reminding us, the New Britain is still not due to arrive. In fact, Harold Wilson in 1964 made rather a bad start at it; although he had spent a lot of time grumbling about the alleged overmanning in industry, he contributed his bit to this process by appointing one of the biggest governments in recent history, with over a hundred people in it. And he obviously did not take the words “fresh and virile” to mean youthful; the average age of his Cabinet was 56, compared to the Tories’ 51.

This must have been disappointing to all those workers who were keen to be led to the New Britain as quickly as possible, but they could still keep faith; Wilson’s government included a lot of people who were supposed to be both talented and dedicated. Who would have thought that so many of them would have become, in one way or another, disillusioned, disaffected, or discredited?

By Elections
One of the first to go was Christopher Mayhew, whose resignation was greeted with the response “Christopher Who?” Mayhew left the government in 1966 when Denis Healey, who was then Minister of Defence, decided that British capitalism must defend its interests without the benefit of aircraft carriers (Mayhew was responsible for the Royal Navy). In 1974 Mayhew joined the Liberals, although there was no sign of their having a big aircraft carrier-building programme, declaring that Labour was “too vulnerable to the extreme left and too dependent on the unions”. He handily filled the role of Liberal spokesman on the forces but since 1974 he has been out of Parliament. He is not, as they say, sadly missed.

Roy Jenkins was rather cleverer; he had, after all, prepared himself for his part in the revolution by getting a First at Balliol, where everyone is said to be imbued with “effortless superiority”. Jenkins seemed to agree with this; he joined a couple of the best clubs in London and was in the habit of offering his opinions as if they were a glass of the finest sherry. During his time he was Home Secretary (a very “liberal” one, of course) and Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he would fill the television screens with doleful rebukes to the workers who, although they could not run to membership of expensive clubs, were living so riotously on the council estates that they were selfishly delaying the achievement of the New Britain. Jenkins left Parliament in February 1977 for the job of president of the European Commission. Some thought he had got out while the going was good; others that he was signalling his abandonment of all ambition to become Prime Minister. There were gasps at the high wage he was getting for his new job and any envy among his former colleagues was not mollified when his seat at Stechford was lost in a by election on a 17.6 per cent swing to the Tories.

Another by election defeat — with a swing of 22.5 per cent — was at Walsall North but in this case the ex-member had left Parliament for the less well paid job of sewing mail bags. John Stonehouse was one of Labour’s rising stars until the pressure of his job and of organising a number of complex financial frauds brought a mental breakdown and a warrant for his arrest. For a long time, while awaiting trial, he refused to resign his seat. The embarrassment this caused the Labour Party was not eased when, in April 1976, he joined the other misfits in the English National Party, whose members like to dress up as Beefeaters. Stonehouse, who might justifiably complain that he is one of the few crooks in Parliament to have been caught, got seven years, which effectively removed his seat .from under him.

George Brown
In the case of George Brown events followed a different sequence; he lost his seat before he left the Labour Party. Although he was one of Wilson’s deadliest enemies, Brown held some important jobs in the government — Minister for Economic Affairs (in which he promised to plan British capitalism into a new shape) and Foreign Secretary (where he was inclined to enjoy himself too much at official functions). He was also rather touchy, given to resigning whenever he thought his contribution to the New Britain was being undervalued. Wilson affected an air of weary patience with all this: " . . . sooner or later”, he wrote in his memoirs, “one of George’s late night resignations would stick”.

The one which did stick, in March 1968, was provoked by, wrote Brown, ". . . the way this Government is run and the manner in which we reach our decisions.” At the same time he pledged his future loyalty to the Labour Party but in the subsequent general election he lost his seat at Belper, was kicked upstairs to the House of Lords and, apparently forgetting that he had climbed to power through the trade unions, resigned from the Labour Party in March 1976 over their policy on a part of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill.

Up to the present Brown has not actually joined the Conservative Party but it is not his opinions which prevent this. In an article “If Winston Could See Britain Now” (Sunday Express 3/12/78) he bemoaned the decline of British capitalism, blaming this partly on the power of a minority in the unions “to obstruct and destruct (sic) our essential industries and services” and what he called this “ignoble period in British ‘Foreign Policy”. These sour ramblings, which might have been written by a member of the Monday Club, came from a man once thought of as a future Labour Prime Minister.

Gunter and Prentice
Considered by some to be cast in the same mould as George Brown — and by Marcia Williams to be “a latter day Nye Bevan” — was Ray Gunter. Whether these assessments were intended to help Gunter’s career is a matter for speculation. Gunter always looked as if the frustrations of getting the workers to man the barricades was about to bring on an apoplectic fit; he growled or bellowed rather than spoke and his dumpy, restless frame exuded irascibility. When Wilson made him Minister of Labour he snarled at the reporters outside Number Ten that he had been given “the bed of nails”. Soon after Wilson took the job away, demoting him several places to Minister of Power, Gunter resigned, writing huffily "I have to inform you that I no longer desire to be a member of your government”.

He then sulked on the back benches until, in February 1972, he left the Labour Party over membership of the common Market, with a parting shot at Labour’s “middle class intellectuals” (whoever they are) who seemed by then to be infesting his nightmares. A couple of months later he relieved his constituents in Southwark of the unusual experience of having an Independent MP.

A worse record for desertion was that of 1964-70. The personalities of politicians — whether they are clever or stupid, honest of corrupt — are of little account. Capitalism deals with them all in the same way. But the first government of Wilson’s came in on such high promises that their exposure had to be that much crueller. Who can doubt that had they succeeded, even by their own standards, there would not have been such a bitter, disillusioned procession to leave?

Nobody should conclude from this that the answer is another sort of government, composed of more stable personalities. No government has ever “succeeded”; Wilson's ministers, for example, were grappling with problems basically the same as those which broke Macdonald’s men in the thirties. For capitalism does not discriminate in what or who it destroys; its history is studded with politicians who became discredited in their efforts to deceive the rest of us that this is a benign, caring, humane society.
Ivan.

Peace Upon Earth . . . And How To Get It. (1930)

From the January 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why do we have to spend so much time in criticising other people? Why don’t we go our way and let them go theirs? Surely all the political wisdom of the age is not miraculously enshrined in the ranks of the Socialist Party! Surely all these people so disinterestedly engaged in the immediate problems of the day are not charlatans, or simpletons! How shall we answer?

To answer in a phrase is neither easy, nor desirable. An instance, a typical instance, is better. A question for obvious reasons very much to the fore at the moment is that of war. Possibly no greater calamity could happen to civilisation than another Great War. If that is agreed then it follows that any efforts devoted to averting a common disaster are worthy of sympathy and support. Unfortunately, the sequence is not quite so simple as that. Our dreadful habit of criticising comes in and insists upon our examining the efforts in the light of the problem attacked. To go into more detail. Viscount Cecil is very closely identified with efforts to avoid war by means of the League of Nations. He contributed a short but pointed article to the “Listener” of November 13th, wherein he touched on the relations of Germany and her neighbours in the immediate future. He candidly admitted that the League Disarmament Commission passed a resolution last spring saying, in effect, that it was impracticable to limit the material of armies, their guns, rifles, tanks, etc. “If that decision remains," he said, “disarmament becomes little better than a farce.” Very rightly, he concluded that the position is serious, but he added, “it can be met.” These are his proposals:—
  Let it be our part to lead the nations once again along the path of progress and civilisation, as we may claim to have done so often in the past. Let us send our representatives to the future Disarmament negotiations authorised to take whatever steps may be necessary in order to produce that general reduction and limitation of armaments to which we are pledged by Treaty, and without which there is no hope of permanent peace.
All which, we respectfully admit, boils down to the equivalent of nothing. It is the sort of flatulent rhetoric that Lloyd George has made his own. When have we led the nations along the path of progress and civilisation? Any school history will inform us that Britannia rules the waves, and does so because we defeated the French, walloped the Dutch, spanked the Spaniard, routed the Russian, smashed the German, and so on. We do not think the nations want any leading along that path. Another point, who are the “we” that he speaks of so glibly. Does he mean you and me who have to hire ourselves out by the week to a master, or does he mean the class, of which he is one, to whom we are compelled to hire ourselves out? Viscount Cecil may claim that his “We” meant the whole nation, but we should know such a claim would be purely rhetorical. The very cleavage of society into two antagonistic classes, his, the class of privilege, and ours, the class of work and poverty, makes his “we” inadmissible.

But is the point a small one? Could he not urge that he recognised no such cleavage, that his efforts were directed to using such leisure and opportunity as his privileged position gave him, in the common interests of humanity? He could, but we would remind him of his speech at the Pilgrim’s Dinner. In the absence of a printed record, we must rely upon a pencil note made when the speech was delivered over the radio on November 22nd. After speaking of the dire and calamitous results of appealing to arms for the settlement of international disputes, he said :—
  Some other means must be devised to achieve the same results.
Read that over slowly. Is it necessary to ask you to analyse so simple a statement? Perhaps it is: and to ask you further to follow up its implications.

What is the object of war? It is not to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest space of time. It is not to starve, cripple and inflict the maximum misery short of death upon women, children and invalids. It is not to destroy ships, factories, railways, oil-wells and as much of the machinery of living as possible. And yet all these things happen. The object of all war is that one nation or group may impose its will upon another. Then the first thing to find out is why one nation or group should seek to impose its will upon another. We say that the reason in all recent wars (and possibly in all wars) is an economic one, and is inherent in the structure of society. Look at the daily papers. Every day we are told of the necessity of capturing foreign markets, of beating our rivals, of defeating their attempts to capture ours. We are told to buy British goods and decline to purchase those of the foreigner. We as workers are urged to accept as small a wage as possible so that our goods will sell cheaper than those of the foreigner. The foreigner is represented to us as a person who is content to live on a microscopic wage and yet work uncomplainingly for hours longer than we: one who produces avalanches of tremendously cheap commodities and seems endowed as a commercial traveller with the knack of beating the honest Briton wherever he can get his nose in. In short, the talk is constantly in terms of economic rivalry. National marks are introduced so that the goods produced by our fellow human beings in other countries may be shut out.

Rivalry, or competition as it is called, is the keynote of Capitalism. Prosper yourself and ruin your rival is its economic creed. Man struggles with man for job, firm struggles with firm for trade, combine struggles with combine for markets, and nation struggles with nation for world trade. When the struggle becomes acute and nation is opposed to nation, then follows war; one competitive nation seeks to impose its will upon another competitive nation. The machinery of murder piled up during the years of peace is then used for the purpose for which it was designed.

To speak, therefore, of the general reduction and limitation of armaments as a hope of permanent peace is deplorably muddle-headed. To ask for “some other means . . .  to achieve the same result ” is, not to use too hard a phrase, simply stupid. It is reasoning so grotesquely unrelated to the facts as to be farcical. Bootleggers defend their property with guns. Customs officers use guns to overcome the bootleggers’ reluctance to let go their property. People like the Viscount suggest that a limitation of guns by mutual agreement is going to eliminate bloodshed in their occasional encounters. The lesson is obvious. Wars will cease when rivalry between nations ceases. But we have seen that international rivalry is but a logical extension of rivalry as a principle within each nation. Rivalry is a medal with two sides, on the one side is success, on the other defeat. Whilst competition is the law of economic life, prosperity for one party involves the ruin of another. “Some other means . . .  to achieve the same result ” as war is pathetic piffle.

The noble lord is not alone in his delusion. Captain Hashagen, the German submarine commander appeared on the same public platform as the British officer he captured during the war. Crowds of thousands applauded the spectacle and thousands of readers of the daily newspapers felt that war was becoming something very remote. When the deadly enemies of yesterday could fraternise on a public platform, surely we have moved far. It is a pity, but if the papers are right, Capt. Hashagen is credited with saying that war was a ghastly mistake and between Germany and her neighbours unthinkable, providing she could obtain the place to which her power and prestige as a great nation entitled her. So you will see how far we have travelled. Viscount Cecil would abolish war if by some other means we can achieve the same result. Capt. Hashagen would abolish war if we achieve the same result by some other means. But the workers can be sure of one thing. If the companies in which Viscount Cecil has invested his money, achieve prosperity by ruining the companies in which Capt Hashagen has his, and the process is sufficiently widespread as to be national, it will be guns and gas for it again and the working men of each country as the victims.

Our remedy is the abolition of competition, national and international, and the substitution of co-operation. We ask all intelligent people to read our literature, study our suggestions for re-organising society, and take a definite hand in the ordering of things. Cease to be led up the blind alleys of reform, cease to be humbugged by superficial thinking, cease to be the plaything of specious appeals to the emotions. Rivalry under Capitalism means death and ruin to the weakest. Socialism means the co-operation of all men, without distinction of race or colour, to use this earth as a common store-house, owned in common and worked for the common good. War is the normal outcome of Capitalism. In it the workers have nothing to lose but their lives and nothing to gain but a change of masters, a continuance of their slavery, or an intensification of their poverty. If fighting could achieve anything Socialism would be the one thing worth fighting for. Has it not been said, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.
W. T. Hopley


Mattick Again (1979)

Book Review from the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anti-Bolshevik Communism by Paul Mattick. Merlin Press. London, £2.50.

This is a collection of articles written by Mattick over the past thirty or so years. Despite his sometimes convoluted style Mattick is always worth reading as on a number of important points his views are very close to ours (though on others, such as using parliament in the establishment of socialism, there arc fundamental differences). He did in fact write occasionally for the Western Socialist in the 1950s though none of these articles arc reproduced here.

Particularly good is his 1947 article on "Bolshevism and Stalinism" in which he shows how Lenin and Trotsky had laid the foundations for Stalin's dictatorship and that Trotsky’s basic complaint against Stalin was simply that it was Stalin rather than Trotsky who had succeeded Lenin. And we can only but agree with the view expressed in the Introduction that "the revolutions which succeeded, first of all, in Russia and China, were not proletarian revolutions in the Marxist sense leading to the ‘association of free and equal producers'. but state-capitalist revolutions, which were objectively unable to issue into socialism. Marxism served here as a mere ideology to justify the rise of modified capitalist systems, which were no longer determined by market competition but controlled by way of the authoritarian state".
Adam Buick

Familiar murmurings from Turkey (1996)

From the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

As had been widely forecast, the radical Islamic Welfare Party, or Refah, won the Christmas Eve general election in Turkey with 21 percent of votes cast. And, as many had anticipated, no sooner had the election result been announced that the outgoing True Path Party and the nationalist Motherland Party met for talks to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition to oust the islamists. The True Path Party and the Motherland Party had between them secured 38 percent of the vote.

Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party had believed they would romp home in the election, capitalising on their surge of popularity following the previous week’s endorsement by the European parliament of a customs union between Ankara and the EU.

Ciller apparently forgot that much of her opposition is in the growing rural communities, strongly islamic traditionalists, and in Ankara and Istanbul (combined population of 14 million) where islamists won the mayorships in 1994. Evidently it is here, among the lower echelons of the working class that her austerity programme, aimed at curbing Turkey’s 83 percent inflation rate and $4 billion budget deficit and targeted chiefly at the 11 million unemployed, is most strongly felt.

While the West would have welcomed a pro-European Ciller government of free marketeers, hell bent on privatisation, it was Necmettin Erbakan’s (Rafah’s leader) promises that carried the day.

Refah, for instance, believes in creating interest-free banking, ending Turkey’s dependence on IMF loans, an Islamic common market and an Islamic currency, a renegotiation of the customs union deal and the removal of allied war planes from Turkish soil.
Like every other party in Turkey, though, Refah does not believe an end to the capitalist mode of production will be a step forward. Indeed, Refah gets support from Turkey’s capital-owning fraternity, including technocrats like Erol Yarar who fronts a pro-islamic business association that represents some 6,000 companies, all oddly enough, in business to make a profit.

Erbakan’s promises of creating a "just order" for the poor and alienated, therefore, might as well have been whispered to the wind, for with victory came the frightening away of foreign investment, upon which the Turkish economy is highly dependent. The cause? Political instability, or rather the threat of it.

Political instability is indeed a possibility in Turkey, and something perhaps that was anticipated by Tansu Ciller before she left office. Why else would she expel 50 officers from her army—all linked to pro-islamist organisations—a week before the election? The fear of a military coup broughtabout by unrest, as in 1960, 1971 and 1980?

This is the scenario that many Turks now fear should no workable coalition be formed within the stipulated 45 days following the election. Some of the ingredients are already there: secular/religious tensions; little political consensus; an economy worsening by the day; human rights abuses, inclusive of disappearances from police custody and the imprisonment of political dissenters and the unpopular and ongoing “scorched earth" war against the Kurds.

In the weeks ahead Refah will have to convince the populace that the economy is in safe hands. This means responding to questions regarding Turkey’s relationship with the West—important trade, investment and defence partners—and with Iraq—once Turkey’s biggest trading partner and with whom economic ties have been severed since the Gulf Far.

In the meantime, while the West watches from the sidelines, wondering if there are still profits to be made from an Islamic Turkey, and Turkey's sundry nationalists, free-marketeers and religious confusionists argue amongst themselves as to which coalition can best run capitalism, it is the masses, the Turkish working class which have the most to lose whatever the outcome. It is they who will continue to exist as wage slaves in a class society, imbibing and perpetuating the nationalistic and religious rantings that keep them oppressed. It is they who will face hunger, mass arrests and arbitrary executions should the system fall apart.

A Partly Satirical Broadcast (1997)

TV Review from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

In covering the General Election campaign we this month present our cut-out-and-keep guide to Party Political Broadcasts (all channels, most days). We will brook no dissent on the matter, fully realising that underneath the veneer of contempt affected by the working class, the population at large actually prefers its five-yearly beanfeast of PPB's to normal scheduled TV. and other fripperies like food, sleep, alcohol and sex. Well, probably.

Simply keep this page next to your TV listings magazine throughout the campaign (that is presuming that you are not so keen that you already know the times of each PPB in advance and by heart). Then match up the on-screen happenings with the readymade guide below, keeping a careful points tally as you go. Points awarded are for observations during regular five minute broadcasts. Sightings made during the full crash-bang-wallop ten-minute versions only score half the points, this due to the operation of the market principle of increased supply over available demand, which causes devaluation.

Anyway, here we go. During Election 1997 keep your eyes peeled, your ears skinned and your senses sensitive to any of the following, scoring as you go: Tony Benn's First Principle of PPB's. Pioneered by the old lag in 1959 when he was Labour's first Peter Mandelson, this is where the broadcast starts with magnificent views of the British countryside, and is accompanied by suitably stirring classical music excerpts of the Blake or Elgar variety. It is intended to lull the audience into a false sense of security before the voice-over intrudes with the message that all this glory will be ruined by the Tories or Labour if they get in. Used at least once by all the main parties in 1992, presumably on the basis that listening to a bit of Major. Kinnock and Ashdown was better than listening to them and having to watch them as well, (one point)

Soft-focus shots of mumsy Harriet Harman badgering sick pensioners in old peoples' homes before going on to explain how Labour built up the health service, the welfare state and comprehensive education without support from the other parties (not actually true) and that only Labour can be trusted with such national treasures as they are the only politicians who choose to use them (also not true), (three points)

The Liberal Democrats devoting at least one of their broadcasts to 'vox-pop' type interviews with Lib Dem voters in an apparent attempt to convince themselves that they are not merely a repository of protest or tactical votes and that somebody, somewhere, must have genuine enthusiasm for their quirky brand of reformism, (five points)

Labour and the Conservatives in a competitive battle about who can scare the pants off Middle England the most with lurid and frightening broadcasts about the other's hidden tax plans.each of whose broadcasts could have been made by the other party without anyone being able to tell the difference, (one point)

A reappearance for the Conservatives' tried and tested formula designed to rekindle memories of the 1979 Winter of Discontent under Labour, exploiting the entirely misplaced belief that this was somehow caused by Callaghan. Healey and the IMF being 'soft' on trade union members. Deployed by the Tories in every single general election since; watch out for pictures of uncollected piles of rubbish in a wintry Trafalgar Square; out-of-focus film of dodgy leftist types with facial hair, standing on a picket line warming their hands around a brazier.and the famous shot of an airport flight destination board with "CANCELLED” next to all the flights, (no points at all for this, but 20 if it is not shown once during the campaign)

A PPB by the Militant Tendency, achieved solely on the basis of their fifth name change, this time to 'The Labour Party’, in which they outline the honest and principled stand which makes them the true heirs and successors of Marx and Engels, (ten points)

A broadcast by the BNP which doesn't feature two union jack flags behind the chosen fuhrer, a retired old soldier who fought the Nazis in WWII and who can't stand Jews, blacks, commies, queers and trade unionists, but which coincidentally does show lots of footage of jack-booted skinheads doing 'Seig Heil!’ salutes and spitting at black children in the street, (fifty points)

Tony Blair telling the viewers that they should vote for him because even though he cannot solve unemployment, poverty, crime and insecurity, he can smile nicely to camera and tell lies more convincingly than Major, (a thousand points)

Add up your total, and if you think that your high score may be a winner, send it to us at the usual address. Anyone scoring over a thousand points and who isn't imbibing large quantities of hallucinogenic drugs will win a special prize. Happy viewing!
Dave Perrin

Unemployment and the Remedy. (1932)

From the August 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

An article in “John Bull” (May 1932), written by an unnamed managing director, states that, in answer to an advertisement for a clerk at £3 10s. per week, no less than 100,000 men applied for the job. The writer appeals to our sympathy for these unfortunates, and appears greatly troubled about it. In the softness of his heart and possibly his head, he would have liked to have written a sympathising reply in rejecting the 99,999 applicants, but an unsympathetic board will not allow the expense. He reveals the cause of the trouble. It is that office machinery can now do the work of a considerable number of men, and that cheaper female labour can be used to operate them. That is as far as the writer goes and “John Bull," too, for that matter. It appears that on realising these painful facts one should shake one’s head, murmur dear, dear, or something else appropriate, and speedily forget it.

But we do not forget it. We also remember a few more things, and we know the remedy.

The “Daily Herald” (January 15th, 1932), quoting from a report given to the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, states that 100,000 men and 3,000 women are continually unemployed, that this is the standing figure of unemployed insured persons. There are also, roughly, seven million people for whom employment is intermittent, although only serious among 10 per cent. We. gather from this that there is serious unemployment and non-serious. Ordinary poverty and extraordinary poverty. One has ordinary poverty in work and extraordinary out of work. The “News-Chronicle” (June 13th, 1932), reports that there are nearly one and a fifth million people in receipt of Poor Law relief, which means acute poverty for them; so that’s a third degree of poverty we can have. The “Daily Herald” (February 6th, 1932) quotes Mr. Smith, of the National Federation of Professional Workers, as saying :— “Non-manual workers receiving over £250 per year do not come under the Unemployment Insurance Acts and the plight of these people when thrown idle is often tragic.” These are not included in the “Daily Herald’s” figures, and there must be hundreds suffering privation of which nothing is heard except when we read the reports in the papers of suicides directly due to financial worries. Harassed mothers of families die miserable deaths in the ever-handy gas oven rather than go on facing the day-to-day strain and worry of trying to close the gap between the ends that won’t meet. Bankrupt business men throw themselves in front of the train that should have borne them home and which gives them instead the freedom from the worry that their overwrought nerves can no longer endure. Young lovers who should have been able to look forward to long years of happiness together end their lives rather than face the dreary vista of life living apart through lack of means to marry. These are facts taken from the daily newspapers quite recently and to which, one and all, the coroner monotonously chants, “Suicide whilst of unsound mind, ” instead of “Suicide owing to living in a system of society which puts profit before mankind’s happiness.”

Shall we also murmur “Dear, dear, how dreadful!” and forget, or shall we emulate the slogan-loving Prince of Wales and persuade everybody to buy and sell British, in the absurd belief that Britain can escape the general depression? Unfortunately the slogan is as ineffective as the ejaculation,, because the cause of all this poverty and unhappiness, which is world-wide, is capitalism, which is also world-wide.

Capitalism is a system of society in which goods are produced in the first place solely for profit. A few people, the master class, own and control the land, factories, mines and everything which is used to produce wealth. The mass of the people, the workers, are property less and have to work for a master in order to get enough money to buy back from the owners the amount of goods which their earnings will cover. They are paid just enough to enable them to live according to the standard of life in which it has pleased God, etc. Thus a clerk’s standard of comfort is different from a manager’s, and from a farm labourer’s; but all are workers, and all must sell their labour power in order to live. Even when the worker is in work he must be constantly fighting against reductions in pay. The “dole” is about the lowest amount that can be paid to a person to keep him alive, and employed workers must always be on the alert against being pushed nearer to that amount. Hence, even when a job is obtained it does not mean freedom from worry and anxiety. Machinery has been developed to such an extent that goods can be produced much faster and in considerably greater quantities than they were years ago, when practically every available worker was used. The workers who have jobs have only sufficient to purchase little more than the actual necessities of life, and the unemployed have considerably less, so that their spending power is restricted, and we have the ridiculous position arising of millions of commodities having been produced which cannot be sold because millions of people haven’t sufficient money to buy them. Quantities of goods which people need are destroyed so as not to flood the market. Factories remain idle, when there are men and women willing and anxious to work them, and prating fools preach false doctrines ot economy when there is an abundance of everything. The economic evils of to-day are unnecessary, and those who talk of reforms, and expedients for alleviating those evils are either babes or charlatans.

There is not one reform or measure, free trade, tariffs, shorter hours, birth control, that will get the workers out of their main difficulty or make capitalism a satisfactory system. The conditions are ripe for a change, and all that is lacking is the workers' understanding of the position and their determination to alter it. Socialism, the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing everything we need, is the only solution to the economic ills, and many others which are the outcome of these deeper troubles and which beset us on all sides. Socialism can only be brought about by Socialists, and our job is to make Socialists, so that we may put an end to this poverty in the midst of plenty and get the very best out of the few years of life that is our heritage in the aeons of time that have gone and are yet to come.
May Otway

Political Notes: Some Win, Some Lose (1982)

The Political Notes column from the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some win, some lose
It may have escaped attention—because in the shocked aftermath no one was admitting to defeat—but it was the Social Democratic candidate who won the Hillhead by-election.

The Tories congratulated themselves on losing so few votes and on coming second after nearly three years of rescuing us all with their unpopular policies. The Labour Party, in a process which would have done credit to the most hardened wrangler, found solace in their discovery that more Hillhead voters had deserted the Tories for the SDP than they had Labour.

Naturally, the spokespeople for these parties could not be expected to face the fact that the voters rejected them because they had failed so wretchedly to live up to their promises. They came to power trailing glorious visions of prosperity, justice, freedom . . . They lose power miserably in their impotence and squabbling among themselves about who among them bears the major responsibility for their defeat.

The working class, who at elections vote to continue the experience that life under capitalism is a daily struggle, understand so little of their class position and interests that they turn from one discredited futility to the other—then back again.

Many of them are now deceived into thinking that the SDP/Liberal Alliance offers something radically different from the outworn nostrums of the Labour and Tory parties. What the SDP offers is no more than a rehash of the programmes and the personalities of those other parties. There is no reason to believe that they will succeed where the others have failed; their character is basically the same—a prescription for failure, despair and defeat.

Hillhead was no cause for rejoicing. Capitalism grinds on. Whoever won, for working class interests it was another defeat.


Good news for some
Good news for the government: the number of people claiming Supplementary Benefit has reached a record 4 million, with the Guardian (23/3/82) estimating that the number on the poverty line (which would more accurately be named the destitution line) is around 6 million.

Supplementary Benefit was originally considered, in those long gone days when Beveridge was readjusting working class poverty and calling it prosperity, as an emergency fall back for a few, particularly unfortunate workers. In theory, the other benefits which could be claimed “as of right” were in almost every case enough to eliminate need.

The change in this—and in the rise in the numbers on Supplementary Benefit—is due to developments like the growth in long term unemployed and the ending of earnings related benefits, which served to keep many claimants above the theoretical supplementary level.

Thus do some “reforms”, plus the inexorable anarchy of capitalism, undermine others and expose their general impotence. Tory MP Peter Bottomley has wailed ". . . the Supplementary Benefits system is falling apart. . . ”.

But perhaps some ministers will welcome this as good news because one of their theories, often expounded by the likes of Norman Tebbit and Keith Joseph, is that British capitalism will best thrive if workers’ incomes are kept as low as possible; then they will be pricing themselves into jobs. And incomes could not be much lower than Supplementary Benefit.

Even on their own assumptions, the “low wages equals competitive, profitable industry” argument is not valid. Of course the problem for the government is that those 4 million claimants are not getting wages; they’re not employed, not turning out commodities to be sold and to realise profit. It is a symbol of government’s impotence, that try as they might, they can do nothing about that either.

If there were signs that the working class, in or out of jobs, were beginning to see that—now there would be good news indeed.


Gang of Another Four
Admirers of Jenkins, Williams, Owen and Rodgers will not welcome the emergence of another Gang of Four; in fact they will probably find it positively embarrassing. But it makes an interesting story.

It is all happening in Islington, in London, where a short time ago there was a mass defection of councillors from the Labour Party to the SDP which gave the SDP control over the council. For some time before this, the Labour Party in Islington had been notorious for its Tammany-style of operations about which, perhaps in the interests of clinging leech-like to office, the Labour Party at large did nothing significant. So there may have been some relief among their members, when the Labour leeches on the council transferred their attention to another body.

Now the blood is beginning to flow from the SDP. The national party has expelled four of the Islington councillors who recently prevented the council settling the new rates by leaving the chamber before the vote was taken. Thus mucking about with the financial juggling of the little bit of capitalism called Islington was a grave offence.

This new Gang of Four responded by deciding to stand at the coming local elections as Independent Social Democrats, although they had in any case already been rejected as candidates by the local SDP branch. This was another grave offence so the Four had to go.

Such brawls are not uncommon in the cockpit of capitalist politics. Members of capitalist parties are elected to office by workers who, ignorant of the realities of the social system, accept their pledges to be able to improve things like housing and local and social services.

When the economic laws of capitalism intrude into this delusion, and the election promises are exposed, the party comes under stress, which often results in recriminations, splits, expulsions.

The SDP promised that, in breaking the mould of traditional politics, they would not experience this. Now they arc themselves exposing this myth, showing that they are basically no different from the parties they split from.

And all this, mark you, before they have any agreed policies. Whatever will happen, we might ask, when the great day arrives and the SDP actually stand for something other than vague pomposities?

Obituary: W. G. Killick (1910)

Obituary from the August 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

With great regret we have to record the death at the age of 39, of our comrade W. G. Killick. Our deceased comrade was a member of the S.P.G.B. from its inception, having taken a prominent part in the revolt of the so-called impossibilists within the ranks of the S D.F. (as it then was) previous to the formation of our Party. Of highly artistic temperament and great intellectual capacity, capitalist conditions of life and work proved exceptionally repulsive to him, and, despite a frail physical frame, he was one of the most untiring and devoted fighters in the cause of Socialism. His funeral was attended by many members of the S.P.G.B., and in accordance with his expressed wish he was interred without any religious ceremony but with the simple, heartfelt tributes of comrades who knew his worth. Our sincere sympathy goes out to our late comrade’s widow and to his young son, in whom we are sure his father’s revolutionary temper will live again.

The Outlook for Socialism in Russia (1932)

From the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent questions our attitude towards the Russian Bolsheviks on the ground that we are wrong in ruling out the possibility and probability of Socialism developing in Russia from the existing conditions.

A first objection to our correspondent’s view is that it is an illusion to suppose that Socialism can be established nationally. Socialism is not a means of solving national problems of production in industrially backward areas. It is the solution to the international conflict between the working class and the capitalist class.

Our correspondent supports his contention by arguing that
(1) Production is advancing at a phenomenal rate. (2) Soviet capitalism has characteristics of a novel order. (3) The ruthless and sweeping social policies of the Communists must have compelled an interest in social affairs phenomenal for so backward a people.
As evidence, he quotes Michael Farbman’s statement in the “New Republic” (September 16th, 1931), that while “immediately before the world depression, even the United States rate of annual increment was no more than 4 per cent. . . . the rate of annual increment in Soviet Russia in the first two years of the Plan’s operation averaged 24 per cent.”

This argument leaves out of account the initial backwardness of Russian industry. Expressed as a percentage the development from a relatively low level will appear to be very rapid, although the actual amount of the increase is small compared with the productivity of more advanced countries.

During the year following the abandonment of so-called “Military Communism” and the introduction of the new Economic Policy, the rate of increase was 34 per cent., far exceeding anything that has been achieved since (Grinko “Five Year Plan,” p. 34).

The restoration of the pre-war level of production in Russia took ten years, approximate|y. On pp. 35-36 Grinko speaks of “the failure to restore the iron industry to even nearly the pre-war level, and its lagging far behind the growth of machine construction and the general requirements of the national economy,” and “the considerable deficiency of grain production.” According to the “Economic Handbook of Soviet Russia, 1931” (published by the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce), the yield per acre on the collective farms was no higher in 1930 than in 1927, in spite of enormous increases in the total acreage and in the average size of the collective farms, plus machinery, fertilisers, etc. On page 8 we read : ‘‘The progress of agriculture has not been as rapid as that of industry. After having approached in 1926 the pre-war level as far as sown area and production of principal crops are concerned, agriculture failed until this year to show further progress commensurate with the growing demands of industry for agricultural raw materials and of the population for foodstuffs.” Recent reports show that in many industries the 1931 production plans failed to be realised. In view of these facts, we would suggest to our correspondent that it is far too early to speak of Russia having solved the problem of production; nor does this appear feasible apart from foreign aid. Grinko (“Five Year Plan,” p. 117) speaks of “the ever widening stream of technical assistance from the world’s largest industrial concerns.” This assistance is financed, for a profit, by the world's capitalists.

Regarding argument (2), our correspondent asserts as a fact that in Russia “80 per cent. of industry is under centralised control.” He does not quote his authority, but if we accept the statement as correct, he exaggerates its importance. Maurice Dobb, in his "Russian Economic Developments” (p. 337), quotes J. M. Keynes to the effect “that two-thirds of the capital in large-scale undertakings in Britain was in enterprises of a State capitalist character, i.e., enterprises either in State hands or subject to some form of State regulation and control” (Liberal Summer School, July 30th, 1927). No advanced capitalist country is run on the “individualistic” principles so dear to the heart of some early nineteenth century economists and philosophers. The joint-stock companies, the combines and public utility corporations, together with numerous Acts of Parliament, have changed all that. The capitalist class organise to an increasing extent upon collective lines. What, if anything, distinguishes Russian methods is bureaucratism, regarded by many observers as baneful. As Prof. Hoover puts it in his "Economic Life in Soviet Russia” (p. 10)“ The elaborate machinery which is set up to prevent graft is, however, one cause of the immense amount of bureaucracy and red tape which weighs down the entire Soviet economy.” Dobb, also, describes at length this aspect of the situation in his last chapter.

Our correspondent denies that capital in Russia is concentrated in the hands of a capitalist class. “Most of the capital,” he says, “belongs to the State.” What is this State which is “independent” of the property-owning class? He does not tell us, but its essentially capitalist nature was made clear by no less an authority than Lenin. “In view of the cultural and technical backwardness of Russia the solution of the economic problem could not be reached without learning from the capitalists and also using them as advisers, experts, managers, even as independent entrepreneurs ” (quoted by Dobb on p. 162).
 
In Russia, embryo capitalists (euphemistically known as “specialists”), receive a State-guaranteed income of 500-600 roubles (£50 to £60) per month. The highest category of workers' wages (including administrators and highly-skilled technicians) is 225 roubles (£22 10s.) per month (Dobb, p. 340). The usual run of workers’ wages at the time Dobb wrote was less than 70 roubles (£7) per month (see Soviet Union Year Book, 1930, pp. 464-5).

Commenting on the incentives held out to specialists in Russia to run production, Prof. Hoover says (p. 8):—
   These material advantages (better living quarters, opportunity for travel, use of cars, clubs, etc.) are better than those which accrue to the mass of the population and are the best which can be obtained under the circumstances.
Our correspondent discusses these increasing class distinctions as “trivial,” and maintains that their disappearance involves, “a far less drastic change of outlook on the part of the workers” in Russia than elsewhere. We wish we could believe this. But our correspondent provides us with no evidence in support of such a view.

As for argument (3), the vast majority of the population of Russia are still peasants, in spite of industrial development. The attempt to organise them into collective farms has provoked various forms of active. and passive resistance. That of the so-called “kulaks” is too well-known to need emphasis, and our correspondent himself admits it. Even more serious from the standpoint of the Soviet Government, however, is the type of resistance mentioned by the Moscow correspondent of the “New York Times” (November 4th, 1931):—
   Many collective farms and some state farms chose to distribute their surplus grain, fodder and other products among their own workers rather than sell them to the State grain collectors.
The SOCIALIST STANDARD pointed out years ago that the peasants were not Socialists and would not produce for any other motive than their own use or profit except under compulsion. Recent reports in the Press indicate that wholesale arrests of Soviet grain agents have taken place (for “failing to fulfil the Plan”?) and we may expect to hear of further screws loose in the bureaucratic machinery of the Russian State.

Maurice Hindus, in “Humanity Uprooted," points out that the peasants control the bread basket and are the backbone of the Red Army. They do not want Socialism, and are unlikely to want it until it has been established elsewhere. Their “interest in social affairs” shows every sign of taking the form of hostility to the Government which professes to speak in the name of Socialism and whose attempt to i impose it from above has inevitably been a failure from the first. The activities of the Communists in Russia have cleared the way for the development of capitalism.

The workers in Russia or elsewhere cannot emancipate themselves simply by supporting the imposition of political disabilities upon the capitalists. They can do so only by organising consciously and politically as a class for the capture of the powers of government in order to convert the means of life into the common property of all.

For this Russia is yet very far from ripe.

The Stalinist doctrine of “Socialism in Russia Alone” is a fantastic Utopian myth, as harmful in its effects upon the minds of the workers as its kindred chimeras, the Fabians’ “gradualism,” the I.L.P.’s "Socialism In Our Time" — in fact, the entire outfits of opportunist reformers in Western Europe and America. 
Eric Boden

"Where have all the socialists gone" (1965)

From the May 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

This was a question headlined by a Daily Mail writer. Mr. Walter Terry, on March 15th. He answered it himself: “They've joined the Government, one by one." As Socialists haven’t gone anywhere, and certainly not into the Government. it had better be explained at once that the people Mr. Terry had in mind are the so-called “Left Wing" leaders of the Labour Party. He names Barbara Castle, Anthony Greenwood and Frank Cousins along with others who, invited by Harold Wilson to take government jobs have done so, and as public critics of government policy their voice is no longer heard. What could be more natural? Having got the government and the policies of their choice what else should they do? But Mr. Terry’s point is that the things the Government is doing and saying are not at .all to the liking of the rank and file admirers of these “left wing" leaders.

He had been reading the letters of protest and dissent in Tribune and the New Statesman and quotes as a typical example: “I, for one, feel utterly disheartened . . . Where have all the socialists gone? What was the election fight all for?”

Mr. Terry tells us how he sees the situation:
  Suddenly the Left Wingers feel cheated. Coddled and encouraged by the Prime Minister, they now have a chill feeling that they have been taken to the cleaners . . . Over Vietnam, defence and foreign affairs generally they discovered belatedly that instead of pursuing what they would call Socialist policy, the Government, in different words, treads a similar road to the Tories. Even on steel nationalisation, the virility symbol of Socialism, there is a nagging doubt (justified too) that, somehow, someone will try to dodge it.
It is plain to see that the Labour voters Mr. Terry wrote about are in a state of extreme confusion. The election was not fought by Tory, Liberal and. Labour parties about the issue whether capitalism should be replaced with Socialism, but about which group of politicians should have the job of looking after the domestic and foreign problems of British capitalism. They have not been “taken to the cleaners." they took themselves. If they had given a little thought to the nature of capitalism and Socialism and to the political outlook of the electorate they would have known beforehand that government policies after the election had to be capitalist policies. The electorate did not and does not want Socialism and was not asked to consider it as a possibility.

And Mr. Terry is just as muddled as they are: steel nationalisation is not a “virility symbol of Socialism.” It has nothing to do with Socialism and even from a vote-catching point of view is about as virile as King Charles’ head.

The talk of nationalisation does however provoke a more important question, that of the sad outcome of the idea some Labour Party forerunners had when they first took it up. They—and this included Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb and Keir Hardie—declared their aim to be “Communism ", meaning by the term what Marx meant and what the S.P.G.B. means,— a social revolution involving the abolition of class ownership of the means of production and distribution, the wages system etc. They did not imagine that nationalisation, which merely puts the government or a government appointed board, in place of the private capitalist or capitalist company, was Socialism. They, or at least some of them, did not even share the illusion that nationalisation has any advantage for the workers inside capitalism. What they did think was that the nationalisation of monopolies and large-scale industries would provide an easier structural framework for a Socialist working class to introduce Socialism.

They then faced the problem that the workers had not been won over to an understanding of Socialism—and their reaction was to run away from it. On the plea of wanting to do something immediately to solve the worst evils afflicting the workers, (including the abolition of war), they rejected the S.P.G.B. case for the paramount need to propagate Socialism and work for Socialism and went in for “practical" politics, by which they meant getting a Labour Government elected.

They had already in effect given up the struggle for Socialism Labour candidates seeking election could not hope to get votes from non-Socialist workers by telling them that nationalisation was of no practical benefit here and now but would be useful later on to get Socialism, so they more and more claimed that nationalisation was an end in itself, something leading to lower prices and better wages and that it would be good for all, including the rest of the capitalists (other than those whose industry was being taken over).

Time, and actual experience of nationalisation at work, have had a savage revenge on the defeatists who propagated the original theory that the way to get Socialism was to organise and fight for something else. The predominant leaders of the Labour Party know that an electoral campaign seeking a mandate to nationalise all industries would bring them certain defeat. Nationalisation is an irrelevance to capitalists and workers alike; it has little bearing on the actual problems facing British capitalism and none at all on the position of the workers. If all that Mr. Terry’s wrongly called “Socialists” have lost is the chance of having some more state capitalism they haven’t lost anything worth having. Why not forget it and start thinking about Socialism?
Edgar Hardcastle

Watford Branch Report. (1909)

Party News from the September 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since last there appeared a report from Watford the various reform parties here have been improving their game of political gymnastics, adding much to the confusion of the working class. A brief report of their doings will be strictly in order at the present juncture.

About six months ago a change took place: a small section of the S.D.P. who had got tired of the juggling their organisation indulged in, left, and joined the Socialist movement, namely, the S.P.G.B. Others who had got tired in then- fight for reforms have retired from the political arena fed up—an end the reformers generally come to. A third section, the professional jugglers, now wondered what they were to do to be saved. Well, they decided to let the S.D.P. die and have a queer burial, and it was so. Now for inspiration to bring about an external change. Ah! they said, we’ve got it. Socialist unity is what is wanted; let us form a Socialist society that will organise the Socialists of Watford under one banner. They called a conference of the various organisations in the town, including the S.P.G.B.

Needless to say, we replied pointing out the absurdity of calling a conference together to form an organisation to unite the Socialists of Watford when they were already united in the Watford Branch of the S.P.G.B.

Nevertheless, either with good or bad intentions (and it matters not which to us), a Watford Socialist (sic) Society was formed with about twenty members. Its business, the secretary stated, was to preach Socialism and nothing but Socialism. Have they done so?

The first active part they took in the political field was to support candidates at a local election who ran on the ordinary reform program— fair wages, right to work, municipal houses, etc., definitely stating that their interests were not party interests, thereby ignoring the class struggle. Well, they got defeated; and the secretary of the society, asked what he thought of the result, said, “All I have to say is that it shows the futility of running a Liberal as a Socialist.” Thus was it confessed that the first political fight they took part in was in support of a Liberal.

Next they decided to run open-air meetings and this is where the unity comes in. Their first speaker was Mr. Wilson Temple, of the Wimbledon Socialist Society (birds of a feather), who was speaking for an hour or more on the futility of advocating reforms and the necessity of preaching Socialism. When he had finished his address one of our comrades asked him, if his position in regard to reforms was as he stated, why was he speaking for and assisting an organisation whose members believed in and preached reform. He replied by saying that “The Watford Socialist Society do not advocate reforms,” whereupon our comrade told him that he was afraid he did not know much about the organisation he was speaking for. This state was fully borne out by the chairman of Mr. Temple’s meeting, who said “I must say, friends, that I am not in agreement with the speaker’s attitude with regard to reforms.” Oh! WHAT UNITY!

Since the meeting referred to was held they have had other speakers, chiefly S.D.P. members, three of whom have spent the whole of their addresses in advocating reforms such as Adult Suffrage, Right to Work, and all the other nostrums. Thus do they prove that it is only an external change that has taken place; a change in name only. It is the old stuff under a new name. We have never been deluded on this matter. We know that the preaching of Socialism and Socialism only is left to the S.P.G.B., for it is not reasonable to expect figs to grow on thistles. Therefore the comrades of the Watford Branch are keeping the principles of Socialism to the front here, preaching from the basis of the class struggle, the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of the Socialist Republic. Leaving the palliation of Capitalism to the W.S.S’s., the Liberal Party, the I.L.P., the Tories, the S.D.P., and all other supporters of the capitalist class. For as Mr. A. J.Balfour said, “ the best antidote to Socialism is social reform.
Watford Branch

The "Great Man" Fallacy (1909)

From the June 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

In certain circles one becomes so accustomed to hearing Carlyle cited as an infallible authority, especially on matters social and economic, that it requires some temerity to attack his teachings. In those discussion classes and mutual improvement societies connected with the Sunday schools in our towns and cities, the very name of Thomas Carlyle seems to effectually smother one's opponent in controversy. And it is amazing that in many “Socialist” clubrooms photographs of Carlyle and Ruskin adorn the walls as if these “literary gents’’ were not merely democrats, but even revolutionary Socialists.

What, then, is the gospel according to Carlyle? It is that history with its dynastic and class struggles, progress—mental and moral, great nations, important discoveries; all is the work of a few individual clever men. I quote from “Hero Worship.” “Universal History, the history of what has been accomplished in this world, is at the bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realisation and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.”

But there is nothing scientific in attributing history to the work of a few great men. History, according to Carlyle, is but the biography of the great men who have lived in the world. The real problem is: why have certain races qualities, virtues, vices, talents and institutions which other races lack? And history is of utility only when it ceases to be graphically descriptive or effusively personal, and attempts to explain the working of those deeper seated economic and physical forces which mould human society. Great men and even mighty empires are of little import when compared with the working of these powerful economic and physical forces.

Buckle, in his “History of Civilisation” has dealt with physical factors. He lucidly proves the great influence of climate, soil, and the general aspect of nature, showing how the huge empires of India, Assyria, Egypt and Peru were created in luxuriantly fertile regions on the banks of large, navigable rivers. The difference between the Laplander and the Hindoo, the Spaniard and the Anglo-Saxon, can to a certain extent be explained by their physical environments. The industrial habits, the religious conceptions, and the mental life of different races of humans can only be accounted for by admitting the potency of varying environments.

Lewis Morgan, in his work on Ancient Society, has shown the importance of the economic factor. Man is the only creature that can manufacture tools and thus create new environments entirely undreamt of by the tool discoverers. We sometimes say that economic amelioration is the direct cause of moral improvement. Take these four factors: the discovery of cereals (wheat, maize, etc.), the domestication of animals, the use of stone and brick in architecture, the discovery of the manifold uses to which iron can be put —take these few discoveries, and it is not too much to say, that once existing, the battle for civilisation, for power over nature, was won. Says Morgan “The discovery of the process of smelting iron ore was the discovery of discoveries in human experience, without a parallel, besides which all other inventions and discoveries are insignificant." And if one ponders over the place which iron occupies in our every day life we can see that Morgan hardly over-stated the case.

It is probable that humans ceased to eat captives taken in battle not from any moral betterment, but from the fact that it was more lucrative to make them labour for their captors. Slavery thus succeeded cannibalism. This new institution, slavery, radically altered ancient society; it created an aristocratic class living off the labour of the slave, a class with leisure, and by means of that leisure art, science, and literature were cultivated. But I cannot labour this point. Suffice it here to say that as new methods of production were born, as slavery became feudalism and feudalism became capitalism, important social and moral changes also took place.

A favourite subject in debating societies is: what would be the present condition of England if Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo, or Europe if William the Norman had lost the battle of Hastings, or of European civilisation if the Greeks had been beaten at Salames? These questions carry us into the heart of the question of genius and its effect upon social and economic conditions. Carlyle, of course, would answer: without the existence of these mighty men the history of the world must have taken different channels, their influence was incalculable. The Socialist, however, will say: it mattered little to the mass of the people, the working class, whether Napoleon won or was soundly thrashed at Waterloo. National boundaries to-day might be slightly or greatly different, but it is probable that the application of steam power to manufacture would have been the same, and this application caused a revolution more radical and permanent than any ever made by a mighty warrior. Napoleon was beaten at Waterloo, and we are surrounded by social and economic inequality and injustice. Had he won we should still be living in a capitalist state—and one need not say more than this. For the working class that great battle did not mean a higher or a lower standard of living, but, as was usual with all such conflicts, it implied: which nation shall be the paramount buccaneer? For is not capitalism making uniform the lives of the working class in all countries? As Herv√© has so well put it, “There is at present no country so superior to any other that its working class should get themselves killed in its defence.”

Let us take, for instance, those great improvements in machine production which were the gift of the nineteenth century to progress, and we shall see the fallacies involved in Carlyle’s heroic theory. Modern spinning machinery is said by Hobson to be a combination of about eight hundred inventions. And necessity is the mother of invention. The inventor must live in a suitable age, he must be adapted, in harmony with his environment. Lord Lytton in his historical novel “The Last of the Barons” gives us a living picture of an inventor who was born, as we say, before bis time. This work is based on events which occurred in the fifteenth century. It shows the inevitable failure of the inventor of a machine in such an age, before a population of workers divorced from the land, and before the spirit of “economic rationalism,” the desire to invest money to make money, had been born. As Lytton puts it; “The grim age devours ever those before, as behind, its march; and confounds in one common doom the too guileless and the too wise.”

The position of the great man as inventor in the middle ages is thus obvious. He was accused of being a wizard, a sorcerer, or a necromancer. The fate that befel Roger Bacon was probable, perhaps inevitable. We cannot explain the great discoveries of any epoch as due solely to a large number of those “accidental” variations whom we term men of genius. We must account for the development of machine production by the presence of factors favourable to, and the absence of factors unfavourable to, the application of thought to machine invention. And the middle ages, with their intricate guild restrictions, their fantastic chivalry, the extremely local markets and the position of the peasants on the land, all contributed to form an environment unsuitable to the use of power machinery on a large scale. The age thus shapes the work of the “great” men.

If we divide history m the orthodox manner into the Old Stone, the New Stone, and the Bronze Ages, and give to each period its appropriate discoveries, we shall see that not only do we owe a debt of gratitude to “Humanity,” but also that progress is universally due to the combined efforts of millions of unknown individuals, just as the chalk cliffs of England are formed of the residue of countless myriads of minute organisms. Says Clodd, “Not many noble nor mighty are called to the euduriug tasks of nature. It is the minute agents, unresting and wide-spread, that have been the efficient causes of much that is grandest in earth structure.” So in social history. Mallock has recently said that the working class is not underpaid but wantonly overpaid, because, forsooth, the manual labourer as such is no more efficient than he was in Roman times. The growth of productive power, of course, is due to the √©lite, the mental and moral few, the real aristocracy! But why return to Roman times ? Why not to our quassi-simian forerunners? Surely they, houseless, without tools or the knowledge of fire, were in the position the workers deserve to be in to-day—would be in but for the spontaneous initiative and all-round mentality of our monopolisers of “directive ability.” But Marx’s wonderful chapter on Co-operation dissolves the sophistries of Mallock. “It is not because he is a leader of industry that a man is a capitalist; on the contrary, he is a leader of industry because he is a capitalist” Truly the capitalist is not a great man, he is not a monopolist of ability; he simply has that peculiar mental and moral twist which adapts him to modern economic conditions.

The teaching of Carlyle, that we hold certain ideas of economics and morality because of the influence of individual clever men, is now predominant and taught in our schools. We know how history is written. It is the deification of the Empire builder, the mighty king, the great statesman. It is worship without limit. The old historians could not condescend to discuss social conditions and ordinary events. Minute descriptions of the personal habits of the great king, his likes and dislikes, the contour of his features, the colour of his hair—this makes up our school history. The stage is occupied with gorgeous display, while the mainspring, the common human machinery in the background, the fret and toil of ordinary humans which makes the servile show possible.is ignored as too obscure and petty to chronicle. When I read the history of Greece I am not impressed by the oratory of Demosthenes or the statesmanship of Pericles. But I note that Corinth alone contained slaves by the thousand dozen, and I ask: what was the economic condition of this class? what did they know of science or art or literature? Dickens has spoken of men and women who all go in and out at the same hours, to do the same work; people to whom every day is the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next. These are the people history should speak to us about, and not of depraved parvenus and braggart buffoons of royal descent. Then I say to every working man and woman: before you read the life of Cicero or Aristotle or Julius Caesar, before you become immersed in trivial biography, study well the conditions of life and labour of your social ancestors in Greece, in Rome, in the middle ages. The proper study of a working man is working-class conditions.

To Alexander the “Great” the position he obtained meant a development of his faculties and the possibility of exercising his talents which otherwise might have lain dormant. The position of a powerful king or a privileged class might allow the cultivation of intellectual charm or physical beauty by a chosen few. But Lincoln well said that no man is good enough to be another’s master without the other’s consent. There is no such thing as a good despotism. What are dubbed good despots are viler than bad ones, for without making for stable or genuine progress, they create a flabby, servile people, devoid of initiative or activity. No permanent progress can be made except by improving the common human material. Democracy is the only possible method of preventing a single “great” man from becoming, by a union of talent and opportunity and ambition, a good or bad despot, a terrible source of oppression. But even despots can only reign long when they correctly represent the interests of a dominant class. Socialism is the only possible method of preventing a class from monopolising the great machinery of wealth production, and perverting science and the arts to their own ends. And Socialism would not eliminate genius. It would merely prevent humans of genius and those super-privileged men of talent whom we have often mistaken for such, using any class as a milch cow from which to extract “economic rent."
John A. Dawson

Exhibition Review: Slaves of Fashion (2018)

Exhibition Review from the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

India was one source of the cotton that was used in the mills of Lancashire and so clad many people. An exhibition by The Singh Twins at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool deals with this and other aspects of the production of raw material and finished clothes, emphasising the role of European, especially British, colonialism; it is on until 20 May and then moves to Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

A series of light boxes and paintings, together with contemporary objects, make up the display. The works include many references to historical events and individuals, mainly from other collections in Liverpool; for instance, one Indian woman, who grew up in Britain and campaigned for women’s rights, is depicted wearing a ‘Votes for Women’ badge from the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Textiles have a long history in India, and in the fourteenth century, Europeans apparently believed that the source of cotton was lambs growing on trees! But it was not just cotton, as there were also silk and cashmere industries. Indigo was used to dye fabrics, especially military uniforms; one depiction here of Mumtaz Mahal (the Taj Mahal was built in her memory) shows her wearing jeans, to demonstrate the true origin of denim.

In India cotton was not just a crop, it was also made into clothing, but this did not fit in too well with the priorities of emerging British capitalism. As pointed out in the display, the nascent British textile industry was protected by the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1721, which banned the sale of finished cotton clothing in Great Britain, and made it illegal to wear imported silk and calico garments. Raw cotton was not included in the prohibition, so that could still be imported for processing. Further, it is possible that one cause of the Bengal Famine of 1770, which resulted in ten million deaths, was the insistence of British plantation owners that Indian peasants grow indigo rather than food crops. After the abolition of slavery, Indian workers were transported as indentured labourers to sugar plantations in South Africa and other places.

This is a thought-provoking exhibition which covers both historical and present-day issues.   
Paul Bennett

The Passing of Another Old Member (1935)

Obituary from the September 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Old members of the Party and numerous sympathisers will be sorry to learn that Comrade J. S. Bird, of Southend, passed out on May 26th last.

For about 20 years he was Secretary of the Southend branch, helping to run the pre-war propaganda meetings and keeping the Branch together during difficult times, particularly during the war years. Those who knew his sturdy cheerful figure in those days will be surprised to hear of his early death. Until recent years he regularly attended Party headquarters on behalf of the Branch, fetching THE SOCIALIST STANDARDS and dealing with other matters that are essential but are out of the limelight. A few years ago he had a serious accident that permanently crippled him and compelled him to give up active Party work, although he still did anything he could to help spread the Socialist message.

Comrade Bird was a member the Party can ill afford to lose. He is another one of those we will sadly miss. He was quiet, dependable, and an enthusiastic worker—one of the type that is the backbone of any organisation. We deeply regret his loss, and his relatives have our sincere sympathy.
Gilmac.


The Planners of Capitalism (1942)

From the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists have had to contend with multifarious groups and parties that held, and hold yet to-day, the view that every inroad of the capitalist state into the realm of industry is a step in the direction of Socialism.

Seeking support on those lines is the major party —the Labour Party—which stands for the nationalisation of the main industries of the country, with compensation for the owners at a fair rate of interest by giving them government bonds, equal to their assessed capital. The Labour Party has been influenced by such people as the Fabians in the shape of G. B. Shaw and the Webbs, who have contributed much to the doctrine of State control, along with the I.L.P. which, in the past, declared that it would convert the Labour Party to Socialism, by which it really meant State-capitalism, and even now is only critical of Russian State-capitalism on democratic grounds.

A later arrival was the “Communist” Party, which made the wildest claims for the “dictatorship of the Proletariat” that they declared was in operation in Russia.

But the “Workers’ State" picture has somewhat faded over the years until to-day sociologists have some difficulty in differentiating the State system in Russia from that of Nazi Germany. The question now arises as to why the Labour movement plumps for State control of one kind or another. In the first place, State control can be viewed as being in line with the centralisation and concentration of capital, “for capitalist development had its genesis in the expropriation of the pigmy property of the many into the huge property of the few,” and State boards, corporations, trusts, nationalisation and the like are but parts of the higher evolved capitalism.

Illustrating this is the statement of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Food that there will be the closing of half of the retail shops by midsummer this year which means that some 300,000 “small man" businesses will be “telescoped,” and their trade taken over by the bigger organisations. (News Chronicle, April 6th, 1942.)

This “freeing” from the world of business of a type that has attempted to rise above the proletariat, that has given his children a better education, forms a nucleus from which come the sometimes brilliant men with ideas who flow into the parties of the “left," and as trained writers, intellectuals and professionals, make well thought out schemes for the planning of capitalism, motivated, you may be sure, by the prospect of filling the requisite posts in its administration. Against the planners, the Tories, representing the solid property owners, and holding high office in the state for decades, appear reactionary to the suggested new order of things, and resent the move to superannuate them to a back seat politically. For against the Tory conception that a man’s worth—his substance—is the amount of property he owns the embarrassing newcomers have the “revolutionary” cry of “equal opportunity,” and declare that ability should he the test of a man’s right to income, so away with private property. Let the State take over for Socialism now! Whilst this haggling goes on as to which type of capitalism should be adopted, and who is to run it, the great majority of “base” mechanics, the proletariat, must be thinking that they have a role to play in this era of change and are fearful that totalitarianism and State capitalism are of one piece, that their liberty, and thus of humanity, depends on what part they play.

We declare that we Socialists have earned the right to be listened to, for of all sections of the working-class we have been true, whilst the concept of Socialism has been distorted, and used as a cover to march our class from one morass to another, their labour-power bought and sold like merchandise, their children snobbishly belittled.

We still propagate that you must abolish the wages system, must fashion a society to your needs, a class-less society, where mankind passes from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Will you hear us? 
Frank Dawe