Thursday, October 11, 2018

Trial and Error (1959)

Book Review from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Call The Doctor. By E. S. Turner, (Michael Joseph, 21s.)

In an age of X-rays and artificial kidneys, there is no excuse for anybody thinking that the stomach is an oven where food is cooked by heat from the liver. No doctor now prescribes the gall of a bull mixed with vinegar, or wine made from six live vipers. Yet this, apparently, once passed for medical science. At this distance, it seems incredible that the patients stood for it; we can only hope that we are less gullible today.

The book starts as it intends to go on, shocking us with the Salerno rules for the mediaeval physicians; (“When feeling the patient’s pulse, allow for the fact that he may be disturbed by your arrival and by the thought of the fee you are going to charge him"). It tells of the vogue for revolting medicines and antidotes, one of which—the bezoar stone—was discredited by trying it on a criminal after giving him a large dose of corrosive. The wretched man was found crawling like an animal around his cell, with blood streaming from every orifice of his body. There is the story of the quacks, (“The cheapest and safest Way of bringing forth ye Venom of ye Secret Disease .. . Sold by J. Sherwood, Bookseller") and the bodysnatchers, who supplied the doctors of the 18th and 19th centuries with their subjects for dissection. For hundreds of years, the physicians fought the over-indulgence of the well-to-do by drawing off rivers of their blood and administering tons of violent purgatives, and probably committing vast slaughter in the process.

Mr. Turner has a lot of surprises for us. Who knew that The Lancet was founded as a truculent rebel journal, which earned the disapproval of the Royal College of Surgeons by revealing the substance of medical lectures and reporting horribly bungled operations? Or that, before the day of anaesthetics, surgeons worked so fast that some could amputate a leg in the time taken to sprint a hundred yards? The operations were particularly gruesome—as late as the 1890's, the surgeon wore a frock coat which he kept behind his theatre door and which was sometimes so stiff with blood and filth that it could have stood up on its own. Equally sickening is to read about the ignorance of the sources of infection. About the doctor who carried in his pocket some remains from the abdomen of a woman lately dead of childbirth fever—and wore the same clothes when attending later confinements. Sometimes the doctors were reluctant to change their ideas. Here is plenty of ammunition for those who think the medical profession has always been an obstinate, unprogressive lot.

Yet when we have recovered from our disgust and surprise, what is there in this book? A little disappointment; the subtitle—A Social History of Medical Men—is hardly justified. There is no suggestion that the medical and surgical advances of the 18th and 19th centuries were related to the achievements of the Industrial Revolution. The 1914-18 war, one of the great disruptive social influences of the 20th century, gets a couple of paragraphs. Could it be that too much—over 500 years—is crammed into too little—just over 300 pages?

To satisfy Socialists, Call The Doctor must have pointed out that medical science cannot be excepted from the principle that our knowledge expands with the development of society's wealth-producing capabilities. That modern medical research and techniques reflect —and are made feasible by—the advance of modern industry. Anaesthetics could not have happened without the Industrial Revolution and it is hardly necessary to say that machines like the iron lung can only be made in a factory. The introduction says that the book is limited to an examination of the doctor as a member of society. Yet it ignores the influences which make society what it is.

Doctors and Patients
What position does the doctor hold in society? Although most of them would not concede it, they are members of the working class, compelled at times to defend their material interests. Twice during the past 50 years—in the National Insurance Bill of 1911 and the National Health Bill of 1948—the government has imposed changes on the doctors' working conditions. On each occasion, amongst the clouds of nonsense which they talked, the medical men could be descried resisting anything which they thought would lower their standards. Mr. Turner recalls the words of one doctor who opposed the 1911 Bill: “. . . we have a commodity . . . and we are practically monopolists of that commodity . . . are we going to demand a fair price for our services?” No shop steward could have put it better.

And the patients? Mr. Turner says, on the old Poor Law days,
  Among these were consumptives in crowded dwellings or sunless valleys, and workmen discarded by the industrial machine with their inner economy wrecked. What they needed was what no doctor could supply: food, fresh air, decent houses. All the practitioners could do was palliate their lot or give them illusory hope with bottles of cheap medicine.
Nowadays we are all on the National Health and some of the diseases which took their toll in the Poor Law times have been suppressed. But others have taken their place and always the effort to cure them is complicated by the fact that the majority of patients are compelled to work for their living.

Overwhelming Question
If, after the centuries of trials and spectacular errors which this book relates, the medical men are at last getting to grips witth their problems, we are leftivith one overwhelming question. How much more effective would they be, in a world free from social disease? ,

Obituary: Robert Macloughlin (1959)

Obituary from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 7th May, 1959, our old comrade Robert Macloughlin died peacefully in his sleep.

Mac’s life was an example of remarkable courage. He first joined the party in 1915; about the same time he was involved in an accident which eventually caused him to lose his sight and his hearing. Despite these handicaps, Mac kept his sense of humour and remained mentally and physically vigorous. He swam and took long country walks, lectured to blind clubs and served on the party’s Executive Committee. He was a consistent attender at propaganda meetings and conferences, and at one time was very active in the Trade Union movement.

In recent years he developed cancer and, although he fought against it in typical style, the illness took hold on him. He underwent a long time in hospital but still kept his interest in Socialism, donating his collection of books to our Head Office library and attending the 1958 Conference. He lived out his last days happy in the company of party members. No obituary of Mac should forget the comrades who cared for him, reading to him and taking him to meetings and for walks. “To all and everybody, thanks a million.” That was how Mac ended his will.

A few weeks before his death, Mac told his friends that he was ready to die, satisfied that he had done his best. He chose as his epitaph:
I have done what I have done, becauseI could not have done much less, butmight have done much more.

What is Democracy? (1959)

From the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people support, usually in some vague, ill-defined way, the principle of democracy. However, if one questions people as to exactly what democracy is, the replies are varied and usually unhelpful. Majority rule; the rights of minorities; the freedoms of speech, thought and the press; the right to vote; the right to organise in Trade Unions—all these will be mentioned by one person or another as being essential ingredients of democracy. Democracy, though, has become such a dangerous, emotionally charged word that McCarthy carried out his witch-hunts under its banner, workers slaughter each other in its name, and people are incarcerated in gaols and prison-camps in defence of its holy writ.

It is a confusing concept that permits the perpetration of slavery in the name of freedom, slaughter in the name of peace, oppression in the name of tolerance, and what is perhaps more important, minority government in the name of majority rule.

In this country, the result of the party system so far has been that power has remained in the hands of the “right" people. The Labour, Tory and Liberal parties, either as Her Majesty's Government or Her Majesty's Opposition, are pledged to the support of the status quo —which means the continued subjection of the working class and the preservation of the sanctity of private property.

Basically, of course, the reason that enables these parties to continue in this way is the passive support of workers for the kind of world that we have today. Although workers may grumble and agitate about specific problems, and even join large-scale protest movements about such things as the H-bomb, it is only among Socialists that one finds a conscious desire for complete social change.

In other words, the theory of democratic control by a majority means in practice a rigid control by a minority supported by the passive acquiescence of the majority. In this sense “democracy" is a hollow term which cloaks class ownership.

Of course, the ruling class and government know this better than most, and consequently play on workers' acquiescence and apathy through the vast means at their disposal—the press, radio, cinema, television and so on. Every kind of phony idea and concept is dinned into the working class by these means—“patriotism" (not so effective now, this one); “gracious living"; “getting on"; “making a world fit for heroes to live in";—all these, and a thousand more, bombard workers from all directions.

Hard Won Rights
This is not to suggest that the hard won gains of adult suffrage, secret voting, organisation of Trade Unions, freedom of speech, and so on, are not important. Of course they are, but it is equally important to realise that they were not granted to the working class by philanthropic, liberal-minded rulers who were abdicating their power. They were wrested from the ruling class after years of struggle, and the dead of Peterloo, the Tolpuddle martyrs, and all those who have suffered for such causes bear witness to the fact that it is the working people themselves that must work out their own destiny.

Paradoxically enough, these hard-won rights are often used as a justification for our rulers to enlist our support in fighting wars or oppressing others. But of one thing the workers can be sure—wars are not fought over democracy or democratic rights. This appears obvious from the war-time line-ups of states—some ostensibly “democratic" and others flagrant dictatorships. So in the last war, one could find varieties of both, specimens on either side of the front. Similarly, today one finds that countries such as Portugal and Spain are looked upon as allies, while in South America, the many dictatorships are often in alliance with “democratic" America.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that terms like “freedom" and “democracy" are not absolute and must be examined in their social context. To talk of “freedom" today, in a world of social and economic class domination, is as absurd as talking of the “democracy" of the Western capitalist countries, all of whom practice in one form or another the suppression of minorities and the flouting of majority wishes.

Limited Meaning
So it is that, under capitalism, democracy can have only the most limited of meanings, and is usually given a meaning and justification that is completely opposed to its theoretical principles.

The principles of majority rule and the recognition of the rights of minorities can only really achieve practical fruition in a world freed from economic and social domination. It is only with the establishment of socialism that people will be able consciously to effect their wishes through democratic practice. Only then will today’s empty and hollow cry of “democracy" bear a meaning worthy of human organisation.
Albert Ivimey

50 Years Ago: Shorter Hours In 1909 (1959)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his address to the Economic Science and Statistics section of the British Association Professor Chapman said:
  "These changes" (i.e., in the character of the world’s work) "all tended to specialisation, to concentration, both in working and leisure, and to constant demands for the curtailment of the working hours of the day.
   "In the course of long investigations he had found no instance in which an abbreviation of hours had resulted in a proportionate curtailment of output. There was, indeed, every reason to suppose that the production in the shorter hours seldom fell short of the production in the longer hours, and in some cases the product or its value had actually been augmented after a short interval. He (Professor Chapman) sought also to show that the value of leisure would inevitably rise with progress and that the working day would become less in the future."
From Socialist Standard, October 1909, quoted from Daily News, 27 Aug., 1909.

A Straight Talk on the Election (1959)

From the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the general election campaign gets under way, we shall probably see more and more posters of Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Gaitskell, gazing in fatherly protective benevolence upon the passing voters. Each party will say that they are more able, more sincere, more knowledgeable than their opponents. The Tories will say they will give us good government — the Labour party that they arc the party with working class interests at heart. In fact, the intention and ability of politicians can have little effect on the problems which they try to solve. We shall hear a lot, during the election, about war and insecurity; these are just two of the problems which exist not because any government wishes them to, but because capitalism inevitably produces them.

Capitalism and War
Capitalism is a social system in which all the things which are necessary to make and distribute the worlds wealth —such as land, factories, railways and steamships—are owned by a small section of the world's population. This class, because of their ownership of the means of production, can live without having to work for a wage. On the other hand, the working class are compelled to sell their ability to work to an employer, for they have no other method of getting a living. The capitalists invest money in industries and, because they must have a return on their investments, those industries produce wealth with the motive of profitable sale. This means that industries throughout the world are constantly seeking cheap, abundant fields of raw materials, profitable markets for their products, and trading routes to connect them to their overseas markets and sources of supply. When "peaceful" competition cannot win these, a war breaks out. That was the cause of the last two world wars and of the minor outbreaks in Korea, Egypt and so on. A future world war will quite possibly be fought with nuclear weapons. These have been developed because each capitalist power must always strive to arm itself more powerfully—which means more destructively — than its rivals. This has made war an even more urgent problem, which cannot be solved by a conference between prime ministers and presidents. There is only one way certainly to abolish war. That is to abolish capitalism.

Capitalism and Poverty
The Conservative Party have been telling us that we are all prosperous. Yet the latest figures show over ten million people in this country getting less than £10 a week. (Contrast this with the 700 who share £6 million a year after paying tax!) It is true that workers are buying houses, motor cars, television sets and so on; the fact that we must resort to mortgages and hire purchase to obtain these things is proof of our restricted access to the good things in life. Whatever personal possessions we have, we always find that our wage packet is, generally, roughly sufficient to keep us in food, clothing, housing and entertainment with very little—if anything—to spare. That is why we always have the cheap and trashy—the pre-fabs and council houses, the mass produced clothes and furniture; we just can't afford anything better. Because our livelihood depends on our wage, we are the people who really suffer in a slump, or if we lose our jobs through sickness or old age. The Manchester Guardian of 21st April, 1959, reported the case of a 70-year-old lady who lived in an attic and who. after paying her rent and part board, fuel and 2s. 6d. for a wireless relay, was left with 7s. 9d. a week for everything else. That sort of tragedy is never removed by a Budget or a national insurance scheme, because it originates in the economic depression of the mass of society. It can only be removed by ending capitalism.

Until this happens we shall continue to suffer the insecurity which drives many people into mental hospitals and transforms others from co-operative human beings into anti-social criminals. Crime and violence will flourish and with them the escapist drugs and tranquilisers. This inhuman system is supported by the Labour, Conservative, Liberal, Communist and other parties. What has the Socialist Party of Great Britain to offer?

We invite you to consider the case for Socialism. This is a social organisation based on the ownership of the world’s wealth by the world’s population. When it is established, everyone—man or woman, whatever the colour of their skin —will have completely free access to society's common pool of wealth. There will be no privileged class enjoying the best things in life whilst the majority of people make do with the shoddy. There will be no wars to settle the competition between opposing capitalist groups. There will be no division of interest, such as exists today between employer and employee, to cause strikes and other social dislocation. Everybody’s interests will be the same—to co-operate in producing the best and happiest world which humanity is capable of, for the enjoyment and benefit of the whole of mankind.

This is no empty dream. Socialism can be established tomorrow, if the people of the world understand it and want it. Then they can send their delegates to the seats of power—such as Parliament—to carry through the formal process of establishing Socialism. That is why we are a political party. Our membership and funds are small, which prevents us nominating more than one candidate at this election. He is not a great leader who promises to work miracles. He is not a leader at all for we do not believe in leaders. He is an ordinary member of the working class and of our Party who holds with us that only Socialism can solve the world’s problems. That never has been popular —the millions have so far always preferred their Macmillans and Gaitskells, the reformist programmes of their parties, and the troublous world that they stand for.

All My Own Work (1959)

The Marlborough Tapestries at Blenheim Palace.
From the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

All this summer in the Diploma Gallery of the Royal Academy there have been exhibited 60 signed charming paintings by Sir Winston Churchill and like the pavement artist he can truly say "All my own work.”

There are landscapes, "bottle scapes," etc., interiors of Blenheim showing tapestries, depicting victories of his ancestor, the 1st Duke of Marlborough.

Looking at these brought to mind Southey’s poem “Battle of Blenheim" with its unanswered question "What good came of it at last"? For there are other kinds of items "signed W.S.C." not in any Exhibition. They range back right through two World Wars to the Boer War which was being waged as this century came in. What a ghastly painting it would make: all the millions of dead, blind, insane, widows and orphans doomed in the wars supported by the Marlborough line.

But look a little closer. While W.S.C. could truly sign his paintings “All my own work" his signatures given in Wartime are basically your signatures. You, the working class, who in your overwhelming majority at election times sign your voting slip for Capitalism under its labels Conservative, Liberal. Labour, etc.

Time is now upon you again to give the O.K. to your wage slavery, wars, H-bombs etc., or for you to strike a blow for the freedom and brotherhood of all mankind. You have time before then to become a worker for Socialism. Read and understand the simple facts of your class position: get in top gear as soon as you can. For you, the working class are the power that can rid the world of the vast horrors of capitalist civilisation.
Ted Kersley

From The Branches (1959)

Party News from the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bethnal Green Campaign
Comrades will have been well informed regarding wavs and means in which the Party’s election campaign can best be served. The week before the election will be the busiest, so—apart from the work that has been done—please leave plenty of time and energy for the first week in October, to support meetings, sell literature and generally assist in Party work. Comrades not in London can make full use of the additional literature available to circulate it as far as possible and so acquaint workers of the Party's case and the work to be done for Socialism. Turn to pages 146/7 for more election news.

Hyde Park
On Sunday afternoon, September 6th, a poster drive was held, mainly to advertise the evening's meeting and Party literature. Several comrades paraded with the posters and over ten dozen Standards were sold. This activity was likened to a miniature May Day, and there is no doubt that whenever possible the Central Literature Sales Committee will organise similar events.

Denison House Meetings
At the time of going to press the first of the two meetings on War was held on September 6th. Comrades Coster and Grant addressed an audience of over 100—75 per cent. being non-Party members. Collection and literature sales were very good indeed. The meeting on September 27th will be reported in the next issue of the Standard.

Paddington Branch organised a propaganda trip to Nottingham on Sunday, September 13th. Several members from the Branch travelled by road. A general get together was held at a Comrade's house in the afternoon—about 20 members and sympathisers were contacted and the outdoor meeting with an audience between 300 and 400 people was addressed by Comrade May. Literature sales were £2 and the audience was very interested.

The Nottingham members have made plans to continue their good work during the winter months. One of the schemes is to hold introductory discussions after branch business every Wednesday evening. Comrades and sympathisers are keen and are working enthusiastically for the Party.

The Central Branch Secretary would like to contact Comrade W. Reynolds, of Hatfield, whose address has changed. The Secretary has had letters returned.

Delegate Meeting
The Delegate Meeting date has been altered to Saturday, October 31st, and Sunday, November 1st, due to the General Election date. Members will be fully occupied until October 8th, and it has been agreed that the postponement would be advisable. Will Comrades noting this please pass on the information to others.

Hackney and Islington Branches
The Branches are holding Saturday evening meetings in Hyde Park from 8 p.m. Members and speakers are invited to assist and support the meetings.

Ealing Branch
Ealing Branch has just finished its most successful outdoor season at the Gloucester Road station. The line weather has enabled meetings to be held regularly without interruption and attendances and literature sales have been consistently good.

The Branch's propaganda trips to Southsea have also been most successful. The meeting held on Sunday. 13th September. run in conjunction with Islington and Kingston branches, was particularly good. Speakers spoke for about six hours all told to good attentive audiences. Useful literature sales are reported.

Members are asked to note that an Economics Class is due to begin on Friday, 30th October, and will continue on alternate Fridays afterwards. Tutors will be Comrades Hardy and Coster.

We have been notified of the death of Comrades Snellgrove and Atherton. Both these comrades had been members of the party for a long time and did a great deal of work for Socialism. Obituaries will appear in a later issue of the Socialist Standard
Phyllis Howard

Darwinism and Marxism (1959)

From the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Darwinism and Marxism both reveal in their respective spheres an ordered pattern of evolutionary development. Because one deals with the world of organic nature and the other with the world of men organised in Society, we can say that Marxism begins where Darwinism leaves off, yet together they form two halves of a unified cosmic whole.

That both Marx and Engels were highly gratified with the publication of The Origin of Species there was no doubt. Marx said, “It provides the basis in Natural History for our own theory,” while Engels comments on “Darwin’s emphasis on struggle and the discomforting of the conventionally religious who believed in the harmonious co-operation of organic nature.” Yet both Marx and Engels were critically conscious of the limitations of Darwinism and its shortcomings.

What are the limitations of Darwinism? We may begin by saying that while Darwinism can account for the emergence of a biologically gifted creature from a simian ancestry, it cannot adequately explain man himself. By this is meant, man, not as a bare biological entity but as a social animal, capable of entering into definite relations with his kind via a form of economic organisation unprecedented in the animal kingdom.

It is true, animals adapt themselves to their environment and within narrow limits can change it. But the animal world is itself a largely unchanging one, certainly not a transformative one. On the other hand, humans live in a world which they change and which changes them in turn. Moreover, men do not alter the environment as the result of organic or instinctive activity. They do not confront it with their bodily organisation but through their social organisation. Their mode of adaptation is not one of tooth and claw but of tools, techniques and division of labour. Men never face nature as bare individuals, or directly, as a fish in water or a bird in the air, but always as socially organised productive units.

Because men act upon their environment not as biological units but social units their environmental adaptations are social ones, via the medium of economic production. Thus the launching of the “Queen Mary” or the test flight of a Viking aircraft are not adaptations to the elements by way of fins, gills or wings: they are society’s adaptation to the elements through a given division of labour.

It may be said that ants and bees are organised for production. But their organisation is the outcome of innate responses and will be reproduced ad infinitum. The economic organisation of men is not innate. It is not instinctively regulated, but consciously directed. This economic organisation is not “inside” an individual but outside of him. Simply, it is men entering into productive relations with other men. This does not presuppose some voluntary act, but the conditions in which men find themselves. For it is only by the necessity of economic organisation, in which men enter into such production relations with other men, that the production and reproduction of themselves becomes possible. So while human economic organism is external to each single man he is indissolubly connected with it by his relations with other men who are indispensable for his existence.

This interdependence of human beings expressed through their economic organisation reveals that the bond between man and man is not metaphysical or psychological, but practical. Men discover each other’s bodies and actions, before they discover each other’s minds. Men need one another in order to live before they need one another in order to converse. Consciousness is social before it is individual. The “us” is discovered prior to the “me.” Before there is a man there are men.

Humanised Environment
Men are born into a set of social relations which they do not determine although these relations provide a range of possibilities, which, if actualised by men, can change or modify these relations and thus initiate a new range of possibilities and set new limits. While men are environmentalised humans they are nevertheless able to humanise their environment, and this progressively so. And this humanised milieu is reflected in towns, cities, roads, canals, bridges, machines and power stations, etc. Thus men are able to change their environment and be changed by it in a way not possible to an animal economy. That is why different environments have produced different men, be it the Australian bushman, Athenian gentleman, the Roman centurion, the medieval knight, serf and guildsman, or wage worker and capitalist.

Man’s environment is not something over and above him, a set of natural conditions to which he must conform, not something against which he operates, but something through which he operates. Man’s environment is a humanised environment because it is the externalisation of human economic production. Human society is not something in which men stand in contrast to an externally imposed nature; human society is the interaction between nature on the one hand, and man and man united in economic production on the other. Nature, then, in that it becomes itself the subject matter of men’s productive activities, is social nature and historical nature. This is the essence of historical materialism.

It is the unity of this double interacting process between collective man, i.e., men socially organised in production and nature which constitutes the warp and woof of human society and marks it off from the rest of the animal kingdom.

The infant born as a biological entity into human society does not face a natural environment in which its growth and maturity are dependent on a pre-determined pattern of behaviour or innate responses. He is born into a social organisation and adapts himself to society. The biological unit born into a humanised environment becomes an environmentalised human with a humanised nature which comprises the characteristic human qualities—language, consciousness and self-consciousness, i.e., individuality. It is then socially organised men, organised through the instrumentality of economic production, who are able to act on and through their environment and, by changing it, change themselves. It is this interacting process of man and his environment and the changes which result which constitute the law of historical development. It is not, then, the history of man in isolation, of abstract man, it is the story of active man entering into concrete, productive relations with others of his kind. It is the story of associated man who in changing the world has changed himself. “By acting on the external and changing it, man changes his own nature.” (Capital, Vol. 1, p. 198) “All history,” proclaims Marx, “is the modification of human nature.” Human nature, far from being, as believed by many Darwinists, a constant in world history, is a variable which can within wide limits be modified by man’s social and historical development. It was for this reason that Marx and Engels saw the limitations of Darwinism when they were fitting in that other half of the cosmic picture. The story of man is, then, the story of associated man, the story of what makes his social organisation and what makes him.

It was this other half of the cosmic whole which showed how from the economic production of associated man grew ritual, convention, social authority, and from which there evolved art, ethics and law, and the State, called by Marx the social superstructure, and because, in the evolution of society, the superstructure has become more remote from the economic foundations of society, it is imagined by many to have a life of its own. It was Marx who showed how these “flowers of civilisation,” ethics, law and politics, could only grow and be nourished from the economic soil.

The Dynamic of History
It was historical materialism which showed that the starting point of history is the nature and intensity of man’s needs and how man in order to more adequately satisfy old needs improves his tools and productive techniques and in the process discovers new needs. The dynamic of history is the interaction of man’s needs, and the changes in productive and technological processes in order to meet them; and by needs Marx meant not the bare vulgarised formula of mere food, clothing and shelter, for these themselves undergo qualitative changes. He included the whole of social culture, art, aesthetics, philosophy, science, as constituting formative human needs. The change in the quality and character of human needs and the technological means of gratifying them is the keynote to changes in human society and human nature. In fact, part of Marx’s massive indictment of present society was that its class conditioned character was inadequate to satisfy human needs at any worthwhile human and cultural level.

But if human needs and the search for the means to gratify them have constituted the principle of historical evolution, then who have been the active carriers or agents of this change? Here Marx’s answer was, from the point of historical research, revolutionary and revealing. Out of the needs of men, he said, arose the division of labour and from it arose specific vocational activity which came to confer social and economic advantages on those who performed them, and from being organisers and custodians of tribal property there evolved a privileged section who acquired class control over the productive resources and who held the unprivileged rest to economic ransom via exploitation.

Since the breakdown of primitive society human needs have been conditioned and expressed in the form of class needs, and the drive for the expansion of fresh outlets to gratify needs has been via class interest and activity. An extant ruling class will seek to preserve the conditions in line with its class needs and interests. Another class will seek to actualise and extend in line with its own needs the possibilities of economic development inherent in the old set-up in line with its own class needs. There is thus a struggle between the old and new contending social factions which, as Marx says, either ends in the overthrow of the old class or in the common ruin of the contending factions.

Marx showed that class struggles have, since the breakdown of early tribalism, taken a line through slavery, feudalism and capitalism. He also showed how the evolution of class society had brought about the conditions for the abolition of classes and the possibilities for realising a classless order.

Perhaps without unduly straining the meaning of the term, the materialist conception of history, we could call it the labour theory of history. For it was Marx and Engels who showed the vital part played by the labour process in the formation of human society and hence man himself, and were thus able to shed light on a subject which the subject-matter and nature of Darwin’s investigation could not adequately deal with. That was the transition of a special kind of anthropoid ape to human organisation.

Dismissing the notion of a bare individual man, living apart from associated man or, what comes to the same thing, apart from society, we are forced to the conclusion that sub-human anthropoids were unwittingly forced to associate in some primitive form of economic organisation and it was this economic activity over vast periods of time which compelled them to become man in the making and finally men. It was this pre-labour process, because labour does not strictly begin until man has become a tool-producing animal, which co-ordinated their activities and by bringing them together increased their mutual support and widened these activities and multiplied their mutual efforts.

Social Evolution
“Natural selection”—”the survival of the fittest,” have no determination in the making of human society. Mutual co-operation certainly, though not in the biological sense, but by a primitive economic organisation of sub-humans interacting with its environment, which modified it and was modified by it in turn. Via social inheritance, cumulative changes were continuously transmitted and with the richer and more diverse and ever-growing experience, came ever-increasing ability to carry out productive acts to more complex levels. Finally, consciousness becomes the directing agent in production and man emerges. It is not man’s biological gifts which constitute social life, but social life which facilitates and gives them expression in a socially organised way.

It was in the formation of this labour process that articulation became increasingly necessary as a means of communication. It was this impulse that developed the larynx of our simian ancestry and by means of greater and greater modulation, it finally came about that man learned to speak to man. Speech thus became the expression of human consciousness and itself the practical outcome of the need of socially organised existence.

While Darwinism dealt with biological evolution which included man, Marxism dealt with the evolution of man himself, i.e., associated man or human society and in doing so filled in important gaps left by Darwinism.

It might be said Darwinism is accepted today and Marxism is not. Darwinism, however, appeared as a threat to religion, not private property. Marxism threatened the existence of both.

It would be an overstatement to say that Darwin’s theory is accepted in a real sense. A Society such as this, without real social direction and purpose, and whose economic forces work blindly and destructively, must reflect this in its social attitudes and theories. That is why magic, fetishism and religion remain the mirrors of a distorted reality. Even “science” retreats before “the higher truths.” To accept scientifically and objectively man’s link with the animal world presupposes a humanity and humility inconsistent with a set of social relations itself based on the domination of man over man, and which generates in its decline a vast malaise and a neurotic impulse to self-destruction.

Only a classless society will have the humanity to objectively proclaim its link with the animal world—only a socialist society will fully acknowledge both Marx’s and Darwin’s great contribution to the intellectual heritage of mankind.
Ted Wilmott

Charles Darwin. His Life and Work (1959)

From the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charles Darwin was born 150 years ago, on the 12th February, 1809. There was little in his early life to suggest its subsequent course. He was the son of a prosperous and popular general practitioner in the town of Shrewsbury, and was sent with his brother to a Shrewsbury school. There his headmaster was Dr. Butler, father of the well-known author of Erewhon, Samuel Butler. In later years Samuel Butler conceived a bitter personal antipathy to Darwin, and wrote a series of books, articles and pamphlets opposing his theory and charging its author with personal culpability.

Darwin's father was an able practical psychologist before Sigmund Freud was born. Charles (the son) has described him in detail in the Autobiography (Autobiography of Charles Darwin, now published with all the deletions included by his granddaughter, Nora Barlow, Collins 1958) he wrote for his children. His father weighed 24 stone, and was quite a public character in the town. His treatment of his patients was most successful. "He told me that they always began by complaining in a vague manner about their health, and by practice he soon guessed what was really the matter. He then suggested that they had been suffering in their minds, and now they would pour out their troubles, and he heard nothing more about the body."

The father wanted his sons to follow medicine, so to Edinburgh they both went. Charles has described the incredible dullness of the lectures at Edinburgh which, he said, "were something fearful to remember." After being bored to tears by the lectures, Darwin junior attended two operations in the theatre, "two very bad ones, the second of a child . . . but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again."

After two years at Edinburgh University, Darwin senior realised that his son had no wish to become a Doctor of Medicine. He therefore persuaded him to go to Cambridge to study Divinity and become a clergyman. "Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman. (Page 57.)

At Cambridge, Darwin attended the lectures of John Henslow, the botanist who was to give him one of the main interests of his life, Natural History. "No pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles."

The second great influence was Chas. Lyell's Principles of Geology, in which is set forth a logical sequence of explanation of changes in the Earth's crust.

Henslow was a great influence in more ways than one because it was through Henslow, Darwin finally volunteered to accompany H.M.S. "Beagle." "The voyage of the 'Beagle' has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career" (page 76). The story of that voyage is still one of the best travel books ever written.

While collecting and classifying specimens of the South American coast, Darwin was forcibly struck by the similarity of giant, almost archaic, forms of life and their small European counterparts, giant lizards, huge turtles, prehistoric-looking armoured reptiles, giant bats, and the like, and the fossil record. Assiduously mastering Lyell's method in geology, he made records of coral deposits and drafted his paper, which explained the rise of the coral reefs by the gradual subsidence of the sea-bed.

Returning to England two years later he took several years to sort his records, finally publishing The Voyage of the Beagle while attending London Scientific Society meetings and residing in Gower Street. Although unusually strong as a young man, he now showed signs of ill-health. After returning to London, he married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, of the pottery family of Etruria.

"Divine Revelations"
Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus, was a quite outstanding and noteworthy thinker, actively following scientific progress, and composing a poem, Zoonomia, in which the idea of the evolution, or gradual development of various species, was expressed on purely conjectural grounds. Charles himself, in reading it, was quite unimpressed, although Samuel Butler almost accused him of plagiarising it.

Erasmus probably owed a good deal to Lamarck, the French 18th century naturalist, who was the Lysenko of the great French Revolution of '93, and whose book, Philosophie Zoologique, was a daring exposition of evolutionary change due to adaptation.

In 1839, Darwin was already assailed with doubts of Divine revelation :
  But I had gradually come by this time to see that the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindus, or the beliefs of any barbarian.
  The question then continually rose before my mind and would not be banished—is it credible that if God were now to make a revelation to the Hindus would he permit it to be connected with the belief in Vishnu Sara, etc., as Christianity is connected with the Old Testament? This appeared to me utterly incredible.
  By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported—that the more we know of the fixed laws of Nature the more incredible do miracles become—that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us—that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events—that they differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me, to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses—by such reflections as these, which I give as not having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.
Some time later, in July, 1837, Darwin had already started his first notebook on the Origin of Species.
  Everyone who believes, as I do, that all the corporeal and mental organs (excepting those which are neither advantageous or disadvantageous to them) of all beings have been developed through natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, will admit that these organs have been formed so that their possessors may compete successfully with other beings, and thus increase in number. (Page 89.)
In September, 1842, Darwin decided to move out of London and finally settled at Down, just outside Bromley in Kent. In this house the world-shaking masterpieces, Origin of Species and The Descent of Man were composed.
  In October, 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement, Malthus on population and, being well-prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence that goes on everywhere from long continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances, favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.
  Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work. (Page 120.)
After planning to work for several years on this theory by collection of evidence, Darwin received a letter containing an Essay On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type, from a remarkable naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, then in Malaya, which "contained exactly the same theory as mine." Under these circumstances the two scientists agreed to submit their papers to the Linnean Society together.

Origin of Species
The Origin of Species was published in November, 1859, and the fat was in the fire. The first edition of 1,250 was sold out on the day of publication—and the storm broke. Few writers have experienced the flood of abuse, attacks and onslaughts which its author now encountered. Its reception was a mixed one. On the one hand, the Church and the parsons foamed at the mouth, on the other, the more enlightened spokesmen of the growing capitalist class were not slow to seize on the "survival of the fittest" and use it to justify unscrupulous exploitation. Didn't Darwin, the great scientist, say, it was those best fitted who survived ?— and therefore the richest were "the fittest"—and so on. His fellow scientists were equally divided. These arguments were being used by Labour Party writers, like Ramsay MacDonald, 50 years later in Socialism and Society, etc.

No mention of Darwin's work is really complete without reference to T. H. Huxley, the brilliant Science teacher at the Royal College, who assumed the rĂ´le of Darwin's gladiator. He it was who sought out the enemy, and attacked and destroyed him. His popular lectures at the Working Men's Colleges were attended and enjoyed by. among others, Marx and Engels.

It should nevertheless be said that outside their special subject of Biology, neither man had any original contribution to make. Huxley remained a fairly orthodox Liberal and supporter of British foreign policy all his days.

In his imperturbable loyalty to scientific fact and forthright espousal of the result of his researches, come what may, Darwin ranks with Galileo or Marx. He could equalliy with Marx have written as conclusion to the preface of h book, "Pursue your course and let the people talk." While the battle raged, he sat, or rather, lay down, and went on collecting facts. What Marx did for the domam of Economics, Darwin undoubtedly did for Biology. Both men found their subjects in a mess, like an old battlefield littered with the rubbish of exploded notions, and the corpses of false theories strewn about.

The Origin of Species, like Capital, was a gigantic broom, sweeping away the accumulated junk and placing the whole subject on a firm and logical footing. In the subsequent discoveries of Mendel and the whole science of Genetics is its direct result. This evidence of the evolution of Life, due to environmental causes is obviously of paramount importance to the Marxian theory of the Evolution of Society.

Darwin's theory is not entirely flawless—the chief difficulty being the impossibility of actually proving permanent mutations, which he was the first to see. Also "the fittest" need not be confined to the individual members of a species, as Kropotkin and others have shown.

When all this has been said, Charles Darwin will nevertheless forever hold his place as the great pioneer, whose indefatigable energy supplied the evidence which became the signpost to the scientific study of Life.

His was the torpedo which sank Noah's Ark.

Darwin's Bulldog (1959)

Book Review from the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

In all the controversy aroused by the publication of Darwin's theory during the last century one man towered head and shoulders above his contemporaries. That man was Thomas Henry Huxley.

As Dr. Cyril Bibby so convincingly shows (T. H. Huxley, Watts 25s.), Huxley had clearly appreciated several years before the publication of the Origin of Species that varieties of structure within a group had come about by modification of an original type, though he had no conception, yet, of evolution as a widely embracing principle.

Darwin's idea of natural selection provided a conceivable mechanism for such evolution and Huxley accepted it "subject to the production of proof that physiological species may be produced by selective breeding." In those days, Mendel's work had not provided the understanding of the laws of inheritance. "Darwin is obliged to speak," Huxley said, "of variation as if it were spontaneous or a matter of chance."

Having satisfied himself that Darwin's idea merited support—Huxley threw his abilities and inexhaustible energy into "smiting the Amalekites," i.e., demolishing its opponents, chiefly churchmen and statesmen as well as a few obstinate scientists.

The dispute which will always be most notorious was that with the Bishop of Oxford, Dr. S. Wilberforce ("Soapy Sam") at the meeting of the British Association, in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Oxford. This specious prelate took it into his head to taunt Huxley in person, inviting him to inform the gathering whether he claimed descent from an ape on his maternal or paternal grandparents' side, said Huxley:
If then, the question is put to me, would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs those faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion—I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.
This sort of crushing rejoinder was an augur of what was in store for a succession of opponents, from Richard Owen, the anatomist who unsuccessfully disputed Huxley's proof that the Great Apes had more in common with man they had with the monkeys, to William Gladstone, the Grand Old Man of Liberalism—who took time off from Parliamentary duties to try to refute Darwin and Evolution by claiming that the Genesis story was supported by scientific research.

Those interested to read the details of these and other debates cannot do better than consult Dr. Bibby's work. Huxley's was a virtuoso performance. When one gets the slightest inkling of the amount of blind ignorant prejudice, intense personal hatred, and violent hostility that any opposition to orthodox religious views elicited in those days, his achievement increases in stature.

Huxley was the gladiator—"Darwin's Bulldog" they called him—who did not hesitate when circumstances were favourable to draw the consistent conclusions from Darwinism that petrified the Victorians. He went to Edinburgh, of all places, and bluntly told an audience that "he had no doubt of the origin of man from the same stock as the apes," when Darwin was cautiously writing that perhaps "light would be thrown on this subject."

To us, in slightly more enlightened days, the question naturally arises, "How on earth did he manage it? " How was it possible for him to occupy the most important teaching posts and eventually administrative control of the College of Science? How could he maintain his position successfully as Chairman of the first London School Board and practically direct its first efforts, a minority of one in a group of professional churchmen?

First, there can be no doubt of his consummate professional ability. If not the first biologist, he was undoubtedly the first biological teacher of his own or or any other age. A host of his students from H. G. Wells to Ray Lankester, agree that he was the best teacher they ever heard.

Secondly, by his adroitness in knowing exactly what to say, and when and how to say it. Probably his invention of the word "agnostic" was a "fig-leaf for materialism" as Lenin called it. It enabled him to get the ear of audiences, and the Press, to put the case.

But, perhaps most of all, there was his transparent sincerity and integrity, which even his wildest opponents could not question.

Yes, undoubtedly, he knew that his lectures to working men would bring the response they did. Working people flocked to hear him, Marx and Engels among them. A brilliant expositor, in complete command of his subject, his speeches sprinkled with witty asides, T. H. Huxley packed the halls of the towns of England (and Scotland and U.S.A.) for years.

And how he revelled in it! Working Men's Institutes all over the country vied for his attention. The mere list of his offices and appointments is staggering even today. This was the man who in his speech when receiving the Darwin medal could say:
I am sincerely of the opinion that the views which were propounded by Mr. Darwin 34 years ago may be understood hereafter as constituting an epoch in the intellectual history of the human race. They will modify the whole of our thought and opinions, our most intimate convictions. But I do not know, and I do not think anybody knows whether the particular views which he held will be hereafter fortified by the experience of the ages which come after us.
This was the man who wrote after his experiences as a boy in the East End of London that he "used to wonder sometimes why these people did not sally forth and get a few hours' eating and drinking and plunder to their heart's content before the police could stop and hang a few of them." Later in life he said, "I remain true to my plebeian order" and, "if I am to be remembered I would rather it should be as a man who did his best to help the people."

Dr. Bibby is to be congratulated on a superb piece of documentation.

Thomas Huxley on the 
death of his son (1959)

From the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
"As I stood behind the coffin of my little son the other day, with my mind bent on anything but disputation, the officiating minister read, as part of his duty the words. “if the dead rise not again, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” I cannot tell you how inexpressibly they shocked me. Paul had neither wife nor child. or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that was best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn. What! because I am face to face with irreparable loss, because I have given hack to the source from whence it came, the cause of a great happiness, still retaining through all my life the blessings which have sprung and will spring from that cause. I am to renounce my manhood, and, howling, grovel in bestiality? Why, the very apes know better, and if you shoot their young, the poor brutes grieve their grief out and do not immediately seek distraction in a gorge.”

From The Branches (1959)

Party News from the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Winter Lectures
Winter indoor propaganda has been arranged for branches with lectures following branch business in many instances, apart from specially organised propaganda meetings. In London, the Propaganda Committee have planned a series of theoretical lectures at Denison House, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Victoria. Five weekly lectures, commencing Sunday, November 8th to December 6th. The lectures commence at 7.30 p.m. promptly. These should prove very interesting and useful for members and sympathisers, and if, as hoped, the series prove successful, a further programme will be arranged for the New Year. Regular support will ensure this. Full details on the "Meetings” page.

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Gilmac in America
A brief resume of Comrade Gilmac's trip is on page. . . . There is no doubt that the visit was excellent in every way, and it is hoped, that such annual visits will become regular, and that our comrades from the West will, in the not too distant future, be able to pay reciprocal visits to Britain.

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Bethnal Green Election
The team work of many comrades before and during the election was very stimulating. Details of the campaign are given on page. .. .

During the Campaign a lot of canvassing of the S.S. took place and the total sales were something like 500 copies. Canvassing had, prior to the election, been taking place in an intensive way for a couple of years.

We want to make a particular effort here to recall on these S.S. buyers, and for this reason, we have made the following canvassing arrangements. We hope as many members as possible can come along to help, as there is a lot of work to be done.

Sunday, 1st November, 11 a.m. - Regal Cinema, Well Street.
Friday, 6th November. 7.30 p.m. - Regal Cinema, Well Street,
Sunday, 8th November, 11 a.m. - York Hall, Cambridge Heath Road.
Sunday, 15th November, 11 a.m. - York Hall, Cambridge Heath Road.
Friday, 20th November, 7.30 p.m. - Odeon Cinema, Hackney Road.
Sunday, 22nd November, 11 a.m. - Odeon Cinema, Hackney Road.
Sunday, 29th November, 11 a.m. - Regal Cinema, Well Street.

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Nottingham Branch
Nottingham Branch continues well with outdoor propaganda. During the pre-Election week-end, Comrades Baldwin and D’Arcy held propaganda meetings very successfully, despite the fact that at one meeting the Labour Party candidate and his supporters became agitated because they wished to hasten our meeting so that they could address the crowd. This was not greatly appreciated by the Nottingham audience who give regular support to our meetings, which are held every week-end—election or no election. During the week-end, many pamphlets were sold, as it was so early in the month, the October Standards had not then arrived.

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Ealing Branch
Will all members and sympathisers note that the Economics Class has now begun and will continue fortnightly, alternating with ordinary Branch business meetings. The second class will be on Friday, 13th November, commencing 8 p.m. sharp.
Phyllis Howard

A Succesful Campaign (1959)

Party News from the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The election is over. The squabble between the Labour, Liberal and Tory candidates for your votes has now been settled. The fact that the Tories won is from our standpoint the same as if the Labour or the Liberals were the victorious party. All three of them stand fundamentally for the same thing, the private property system based upon the exploitation of wage labour. Amidst all the furore and heat generated by the representatives of the contending parties, there was only one candidate who stood apart from such arguments as whether purchase tax should be reduced or the old age pensioners get a ten shilling increase.

In Bethnal Green for the first time in its political history a Socialist candidate was standing. The issue before the electorate there was not whether they would get a bit more if he was elected, but the recognition that the system under which we live is unable to satisfy our needs materially as well as mentally, and only by changing it would we be able to live a full and satisfactory life. Socialism was the issue put to the electorate.

899 people responded to our objective. That was the number of votes we polled. Our opponents may chide and jibe us, but we would rather have no votes at all than the millions that are misguidedly given to the representatives of capitalism.

The party members rallied round magnificently for the work the election entailed. Thirty thousand election addresses and the same number of election broadsheets were distributed. Six hundred Socialist Standards were sold during the canvassing drives. The Tory, Liberal, and Labour candidates were challenged to state their case at our meetings but were disinclined to avail themselves of this opportunity. We held five well-attended meetings at different halls and questions were asked about many aspects of the Socialist case. Our comrade Read was invited along with the other three candidates to speak before a selected audience. He showed, much to the delight of the audience and to the discomfiture of the other candidates, not where they differed, but in actual fact how much alike they were in their policies and objects.

Members can congratulate themselves on a job well done, bearing in mind that our task is a gigantic one and the greater the obstacle the sweeter the success.
J. G.

The Affluent Society (1959)

Book Review from the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the May and June Socialist Standard we reviewed Galbraith's book "The Affluent Society” in respect of his views on Marxism. We promised to review the book as a whole, but other subjects intervened. We have now been able to make good the omission.
Professor Galbraith's book The Affluent Society (Hamish Hamilton. 25s.) is in refreshing contrast to the academic tradition of bourgeois economics. Not only does he raise questions never formulated in orthodox circles, but he also tries to answer them. His particular concern is with the nostrums, attitudes and values of politicians, pundits and businessmen. These ruling ideas are characterised by him as “The Conventional Wisdom.” What he calls ‘‘conventional wisdom,” we as Marxists would term aspects of the ideological super-structure of capitalism. Of “the conventional wisdom,” he says: —
. . . to some extent [it] has been professionalised. Individuals most notably the great television and radio commentators, make a profession of knowing and saying with elegance and unction what their audiences will find most acceptable. But in general, articulation of the conventional wisdom is a prerogative of academic, public or business position. . . .  It is one of the rewards of high academic rank, although such a rank is also a reward for expounding the conventional wisdom at a properly sophisticated level. (Page 9.)
He further states: —
The conventional wisdom having been made more or less identical with sound scholarship, its position is virtually impregnable. The sceptic is disqualified by his tendency to go brashly from the old to the new.
Professor Galbraith maintains that production has become the major preoccupation of American capitalism and to an ever increasing extent of Western capitalism, generally. It seems that the ruling ideas—“conventional wisdom’’—sees it as the alchemy for solving all social problems. His central theme can be stated in his own words:—
The ancient preoccupation of economic life—with equality, security and productivity, have now narrowed down to a preoccupation with productivity and production. Production has now become the solvent of the tensions once associated with inequality, and it has become the indispensable remedy for the discomforts, anxieties and privations associated with economic insecurity. (Page 93.)
Nevertheless, he thinks there are reasons for the preoccupation of conventional wisdom with ever greater production. If production is ever increasing, they argue, then a greater amount of goods can be distributed among the poor without any corresponding loss to the rich. This will also have the effect of giving a greater semblance of security to the mass of the people as well as taking off the edge of the demand for greater social equality.

People, notes Professor Galbraith, identify economic security with regular employment. The greater the employment, the higher is the level of production. Thus, increase of production is looked upon as the essential means of maintaining employment. In this way argues, “conventional wisdom,” security can be provided for the working population. High pressure advertising sales techniques and propaganda, called by them economic theory, is the dynamic for promotion of sales and increasing production.

Once in the more rarified climate of Victorian days, classical bourgeois economics taught the greater the supply of goods the less would be their marginal utility, that is the less urgent would be the desire of people to satisfy their wants. But the wheel has come full circle. Now the opposite is being taught, i.e. the greater the supply of wants the more urgent for people will their wants become. This refinement of economic sophistication has already been enshrined as “The Theory of Consumer Demand.”

The Sovereign Power
Bourgeois utility theory classically formulated the economic fiction that the consumer is the sovereign power of the economic realm. Via the operations of the market, it is he who is supposedly able to discriminate down to the most subtle nuances, his various wants. It is this subtle ability of consumers to assess the finest shades of the intensity of their desires in a given state of supply of goods which determines the marginal utility, i.e. the market price of the goods they buy. Production, we are solemnly informed, merely serves to gratify their whims.

Professor Galbraith notes that the range and multiplicity of goods offered for sale is not so much determined by the alleged “independent consumer” but rather as the outcome of high pressure publicity and sales techniques of firms engaged in production. In accordance with production for profit, capitalists seek to maximise profits by maximising production. Not only do the various lines of production seek to sell the greatest amount of goods possible, but they seek via advertising, to create wants and so, in the act of production, set up a demand for their products. We may add so far as the consumer being the sovereign power of the economy, he is not even a free subject in the world of consumer choice. The pervasive and persuasive power of ad-mass have seen to that. Not only has the modern wage worker no say in what he produces, he is having less and less say in what he consumes. 

The author points out that ever greater production, and this means almost exclusively the products of private enterprise, is the “conventional wisdom’s” yardstick for measuring economic achievement. Whether the products are good, bad. or indifferent is no concern of the economist. In line with his “objective science," he must remain on such matters, ethically neutral. Or as Professor Galbraith wryly puts it “The first step was to divorce economics from any judgment on the goods with which it was concerned." It would thus appear that it is the occupation as well as the preoccupation of the economist to try to increase demand, so as to increase production, to further increase demand, to further increase production, ad infinitum—ad nauseam. The germ of a|l modern economic theory is to lower consumer resistance.

Production for Production’s Sake
Professor Galbraith sees the major preoccupation of the American set-up and elsewhere, as one of seeking to increase production regardless of what is being produced. Production for production's sake it would appear has become the aimless dreary goal of American and Western capitalism. Such a goal he thinks can only end in social and political bankruptcy.

In one sense capitalism can be regarded as production for production's sake. But here we must sharply differentiate from Professor Galbraith’s view, who sees it merely as an end in itself. True, capitalism is a system without conscious regulation or social purpose. It does not follow, however, that it is purposeless. While one of the essential conditions for commodity production is that commodities must possess use-value, the turning out of such is entirely subordinated to the aims of capitalist production production for profit. This is the restless, never-ending process of capital accumulation. Each act of production has its beginning and end for one purpose—production of surplus value i.e. unpaid labour. It is the expanded production of surplus value which initiates and regulates the expanded production of commodities. In this sense capitalist production can be regarded as production for production's sake.

Professor Galbraith never discusses capitalism at this level of abstraction. It seems the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our social set up. but in our “conventional wisdom.” What is wrong, according to Professor Galbraith, is not the social system but the system of ideas. Not the inherent nature of capitalism but the inherent conservatism and inertia of social thinking. In that case, phrenology or psychology would appear to be more relevant to the studies of the problem of our times than economics.

Ideas and Class Interests
But whatever may be the sins of omission and commission of “conventional wisdom” at bottom it is the expression of private property relations and hence committed in some form or another to the defence and perpetuation of the status quo. An ideology cannot be treated like the alleged love of a man for a woman—“ as a thing past.” So while in his own mind the author may be clear as to what he is attacking he is unclear as to what it is that “conventional" wisdom is really defending.

In actual fact ideology and material class interests are inseparably connected. Because Professor Galbraith inverts social reality by making ideas conventional wisdom—the basis for his social analysis, instead of the economic soil from which they grow, his picture of extant society has an “Alice Through the Looking Glass” perspective. He wants society to be a national undertaking designed for human ends. It is “conventional wisdom” which prevents it. But he fails to come to grips with the substantial reality of the situation, by being unable to see that social production is not geared to social interests but private interests, i.e. owners of capital, and thus the objective source of conflict between the interests of a few and the needs of the whole of society. Conventional wisdom itself is a reflection of that conflict.

Professor Galbraith may flay “conventional wisdom” with invincible logic, but the final illogicality rests with him. He wants “the ruling ideas" to give up their preoccupation with increasing production, but the fact remains that the self expansion of capital, and hence expansion of production, is the basic law of capitalism's existence. Nor is logic his strongest point when he reproves the “ruling ideas” for the reluctance to spend money on social reforms and the readiness to spend money on armaments. It is true both come out of profits, but social services are a “luxury" to be kept within bounds. Armaments are a necessity for the defence of capitalist interests.

Ideas and Logic
Professor Galbraith dwells on the aimlessness of a social set-up whose goal is production for the sake of production. What he ignores is the fact that the national allocation of productive resources towards social ends cannot be undertaken in a society where capital is the form of man's domination over man. He comments acidly on, the nature of our social transactions, but he evades the crucial issue that the very nature of extant society compels the major social transaction to be a cash one and where the social scale is marked off in pounds, shillings and pence, or the equivalent currency and status and prestige values are part of the norms of social assessment. Indeed, in the country where Professor Galbraith lives, it has been said that to be a “failure" is the toughest thing on earth. Such are the set of values, inevitably reared in a set-up whose ruling injunction is — exploit or be exploited.

One can agree with the author that the thinking of “conventional wisdom" is riddled with contradictions, illusions, illogicality and pretensions. But disguised motivation is the heart of all ideologies. Yet the dilemma which Professor Galbraith sees is not as he thinks the dilemma of “conventional wisdom,” it is the dilemma of capitalist society. It is part of the social paradox that whatever the illogicality of conventional wisdom, thinking its basic assumptions are logically consistent with the requirements of class conditioned society. They may see the social reality “through a glass darkly," but at least they see it. Professor Galbraith's idealistic “glass" having no material backing to it. he fails to see reality, he only sees through it.

Nevertheless, it must not be thought that conventional wisdom is ideologically a closed shop. It is always absorbing new entrants into the Establishment. It has accommodated many heretics in the past, it will accommodate many more in the future. Keynes was once regarded by conventional wisdom as a heretic, says Professor Galbraith, when he formulated his “General Theory of Employment." Now vide the author “Keynes . . . was also on his way to constructing a new body of ‘conventional wisdom,’ the obsolescence of some parts in its turn, is now well advanced." It is true that the author tells us that the enemy of “conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events" (page 10). But never does he relate ideas to the economic realities and development of capitalism. Seeing ideas as Kantian "things in themselves." he simply relates ideas to other ideas. It thus becomes the process of the puppy chasing its own tail.

Like most ideologues he does not see the conflict of ideas, including his own as in reality a conflict between the productive forces and the social relation within which they work, but as a struggle between progressive and non-progressive forces. In essence the social problems are not the obsolescence of ideas, but the obsolescence of a system which has outlived its social usefulness. Whether capitalism produces more or produces less from the standpoint of productive activity and human creative energies it will always remain a society materially and culturally impoverished. Not until productive sources and activity are freely and commonly shared in a classless society can the rational allocation of resources towards human ends become the ruling principle of social life.

Professor Galbraith has many telling things to say about capitalism. Yet in the end his own “brave new world " is an American capitalism entrenched behind new lines of defence. He may think he is in hot pursuit of progress. No doubt if he runs hard enough he will catch the coat tails of the Fabians of the 1880’s. If he runs harder still he may come abreast of their notions of a reformed and more humane capitalism.

And so at the end. Professor Galbraith stands for capitalism. albeit a reformed capitalism. If asked then where his basic loyalties lay, in all honesty he would have to reply “on the side of ‘conventional wisdom'."
Ted Wilmott

Tough at the Top (1959)

From the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Accounts appeared in the press recently of a report published by the Institute of Directors summarising the results of a questionnaire that had been circulated at random among some of its members, 5,000 out of a total of 32,000. Replies were received from 61 per cent. of these.

The investigation, carried out by the Institute’s Medical Research Unit, is part of a long term programme to “define occupational hazards,” and to give a picture of a top executive’s daily existence. More than two-thirds of those questioned stated that they arrive at work by 9.30 a.m., travelling in cars—self-driven except for 6 per cent. Another one-fifth travel by public transport. More than half work late hours and at home, and some work on Saturdays.

Three-quarters stated that their holidays last year were not more than three weeks. Less than 10 per cent. work less than a full day and 90 per cent. spend three-quarters of their time in executive work outside the Board Room.

In their replies 64 per cent. of the directors attributed their success to experience alone. Only 14 per cent. had a University degree. And although more than 60 per cent. of directors may attend a “Business Lunch" once or twice a week, a third lunch at work in staff canteens and dining rooms.

In reporting the above, the Daily Telegraph (27.10.59) had this comment:—
  The average Company Director’s job may have certain compensations, but it is far from enviable from the point of view of long hours and punishing effort . . . Life is indeed tough at the top.
The firms employing these directors, according to the report, are not extremely large undertakings judged by present day standards. 50 per cent. have a capital issue of less than £10,000 and only one-fifth have more than £1 million employed capital. These figures would eliminate most of the large combines and state-controlled industries.

Most of these directors who have a “tough time” are with firms who have to face keen competition in the business world and to quote the article “their position is far from enviable"—as it is for the majority who have to work for their living.

The Director-General of the Institute, Sir Richard Powell, is reported as saying that: —
  To pin down the occupational hazards of executive life it was necessary to know how a man spent his day both at home and at work. The answers, and we have only quoted those of most general interest, will provide our medical director, Dr. H. Beric Wright, with a basis for further research, the aim of which is to keep the director fit and on top of his job.
Well! Well! Keep fit! Most of us lower down the wages scale are below par; and millions of working hours are lost through sickness and injury. Now we see it extends to those “at the top.” In this rat race of an existence the highest possible efficiency must be maintained. Although they have a higher standard of living than most, how many would be secure if their job folded up? We have an idea they would be annoyed if told that their interests are identical with the interests of the rest of the working class.

When we read of those “at the top” we might ask “the top of what?” They may be at the top in the way of remuneration for looking after the interests of their employers, as are Service Chiefs, Cabinet Ministers and others, but those really “at the top” are those who own sufficient wealth to enable them to live without having to sell themselves to an employer. This is the dividing line by which one can judge to which class one belongs; Socialists say that all people who have to sell their energies to an employer are members of the working class.

Picture the “City Gent” complete with bowler hat, rolled umbrella and Daily Telegraph, after fighting his way into the “sardine tin” of a railway carriage, managing to get the above-mentioned article within reading distance. Perhaps he will feel better when he is convinced that those at the top (which he hopes to reach) have a tough time of it.

There is no mention of the real “top” —no mention of private planes, seagoing yachts, palatial residences, and all that money can buy. That “top” is above the clouds. Don’t trouble to look.