Friday, May 10, 2019

A Board of Trade return . . . (1907)

From the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Board of Trade return gives the number of persons killed on railways in the United Kingdom last year in course of public traffic as 1,169.

Of these 166 were passengers, 438 servants of companies or contractors, the remainder trespassers, suicides and persons passing over level crossings. The number injured during the year was 7,204. In addition 45 servants and 28 other persons were killed, and 13,211 people injured upon railway companies’ premises, but in which the movement of vehicles used exclusively upon railways was not concerned.

The Premier Railway System. And Those Who Work It (1907)

From the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few instructive extracts are given by the Paris Herald from an article by Hector Macfarlane in a recent number of the Railway Magazine upon the L & N.W. Railway whose greatness as “the Premier line ” we are called upon to join with the author in eulogizing, and whose stupendous wages bill it seems to be expected we shall contemplate “in wonder and amaze.” The income of this company for the year of grace 1906 was considerably in excess of £15,000,000 and it is anticipated that the present ideal of £20,000,000 will be realised within a few years.

Of this £15,000,000 no less a sum than £5,300,000 was paid in salaries and wages. This amount includes the salary of the General Manager who, it is alleged, is in receipt of the fairly adequate “dot” of £7,000 per annum. Of course all the members of the staff are not remunerated upon the some generous scale— quite. A number only receive £3,000 or £2,000, and even £1,000 and less is well within the experience of a considerable number. In fact, according to an examination made by the Railway Review it would appear that there are some in receipt of less than £53 per annum seeing that £53 is the average which the Railway Review informs us the total wages bill works out to per head. But then it must not be overlooked that every one of these something less-than-a-pound-a-weekers, have by the exercise of thrift and temperance and whole-souled concentration upon the business of the Company, an opportunity (nearly free and moderately unfettered) of rising to the position of General Manager at £7,000 a year—general managers being always products of such exercises! And if they don’t seize their opportunities they have no one to blame but themselves.

But even if it be objected that as there is only one manager, the odds against the aspirant for managerial position are, as that anti-betting organ, the Daily News would say, somewhat “long,” there is always the unanswerable retort that these bottom dogs have the gratification of knowing that they are working for “the Premier line of Great Britain” — absolutely the only Premier line in this happy island. No employee of any other line can say as much or nearly as much. The solace which the L. & N.W.R. submerged tenth must derive from that reflection when the baby wants new shoes and Johnny's trousers refuse to stand another patch, and the bread-and-dripping diet begins to pall, must be incalculable— worth another pound a week (or thereabouts) at least.

But Mr. Macfarlane has more information for us. The debenture holders, it appears, draw £1,000,000 per annum as their share of the proceeds of the work they don’t do, while preference, guaranteed, and ordinary stockholders annex a matter of £5,000,000 in return for their kindness in providing the means for the working of the Premier transit system. In view of the fact that many of these have probably never seen the great company in action (indubitably an inestimable loss to them) it will he readily agreed, and by none more readily than the less-than-a-pound-a-weekers who merely do the work of the line, that the stockholders' annual share of the income estimated by the Railway Review as representing an average of a paltry £73 per head per annum, is by no means excessive.
Filius Populi

The Reward of Intellect. (1907)

From the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Publishers’ League, in a bulletin directed against the tariff on type-setting machines, reports that the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. has bought up over 600 patents, of which about 50 are used, the others being “locked up” for the purpose of perpetuating the Mergenthaler monopoly. Mergenthaler invented the machine. He died in poverty. The concern which “capitalized" and exploited the invention has become one of the strongest monopolies in America.
Labour (St. Louis).

S.P.G.B. Lecture List. May, 1907. (1907)

Party News from the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard


Click the picture to enlarge.

Party Notes. (1907)

Party News from the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month the open-air propaganda commences in real earnest for the season. A Lecture List appears on the back page, but this does not include the week-night meetings.of which most branches are holding two or three each week.

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I have to announce another change in the address of the Head Office. After May 1st it will be located at 22, Great James St.. Bedford Row, London, W.C. The removal is another sign of our continued progress.

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When the Party was formed its postal address was the Communist Club, 107, Charlotte St., W. There our letters were received and we held our Executive Meetings. But we had no proper office, and the business of the Party was conducted by its various officials at addresses as wide asunder as Ilford and Watford, Tottenham and Tooting. Later we took an office at 1a, Caledonian Road, which was somewhat inconvenient for South London members, and where we were not permitted to exhibit our name at the front door. Afterwards we removed to a larger and more central office at 28, Cursitor St, and now we are installed at 22, Great James Street.

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Each succeeding change involved a greater expense, but the growth of the Party enabled us to meet it Our new office is larger and more comfortable, also better ventilated than any of the preceding ones, hut it is still more expensive. however, we have signed an agreement for twelve months certain, and have no doubt that all members, when they view it, will appreciate the change and redouble their efforts for the Party, to enable the additional cost to be met.

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The Economic and Speakers' Classes will continue at the new address. The former will be held on May 9 and alternate Thursdays at. 8 p.m. J. Fitzgerald is the conductor. The Speakers’ Class will be held on May 16 and alternate Thursdays, under the guidance of J. Kent. All comrades are invited to these classes.

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J. A. Lain has been expelled by the Tottenham Branch, for voting for a Mr. Broadbent, a nondescript candidate, once a member of the S.D.F., at a recent election.

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The West Ham Branch have broken out on new ground, having commenced meetings in South West Ham. the stronghold of Mr Will Thorne, M.P. More power to their elbow. 

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R. H. Kent and F. E. Dawkins visited Nottingham on April 7th. The weather was very unfavourable, but they held a meeting and sold a good quantity of Socialist Standards.

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Romford Division Branch are tackling some new districts. They cordially invite those who have regularly attended their meetings during the past season to ‘‘screw up their courage to the sticking point" and join the Party. The S.P.G.B. Club has removed, owing to expiration of lease, from 43 to 39, York Road, Ilford and new members will he welcomed.

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The Battersea Branch is forging ahead The premises having been sold they were compelled to give up Sydney Hall, but soon found other suitable quarters.

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Copies of the photograph taken at the recent Annual Conference can now he had from Head Office, 22 Great James Street, Bedford Row, W. C. at ninepence each. Postage twopence extra.
Adolph Kohn

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Order The Socialist Standard through your local newsagent. If you have any difficulty in obtaining it regularly, please communicate with the S.P.G.B., 22 Great James Street, Bedford Row, W. C.

The Century of Capitalism: What the Nineteenth Century Stood For (1907)

From the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The nineteenth century was the century of capitalism. Capitalism filled this century to overflowing with its commerce, its industry, its manners, its fashions, its literature, its arts, its science, its philosophy, its religion, its politics and its civil code, more universal than the laws imposed by Rome upon the nations of the ancient world. The capitalist movement, starting from England, the United States, and France, has shaken the foundations of Europe and of the world. It has forced the old feudal monarchies of Austria and Germany and the barbaric despotism of Russia to put themselves in line; and in these last days it has gone into the extreme east, into Japan, where it has overthrown the feudal system and implanted the industry and the politics of capitalism.

Capitalism has taken possession of our planet; its fleets bring together the continents which oceans have separated; its railroads, spanning mountains and deserts, furrow the earth; the electric wires, the nervous system of the globe, bind all nations together, and their palpitations reverberate in the greatcentresof population. Now for the first time there is a contemporary history of the world. Events in Australia, the Transvaal, China, are known in London, Paris, New York at the moment they are brought about precisely as if they happened in the outskirts of the city where the news is published

Civilised nations live off the products of the whole earth. Egypt, India, Louisiana, furnish the cotton, Australia the wool, Japan the silk, China the tea, Brazil coffee, New Zealand and The United States the meat and grain. The capitalist carries in his stomach and on his back the spoils of the universe.

The study of natural phenomena has undergone an unprecedented, unheard of development. New sciences, geology, chemistry, physics, etc., have arisen. The industrial application of the forces of nature and of the discoveries of science has taken on a still more startling development; some of the geometrical discoveries of the scientists of Alexandria, two thousand years old, have for the first time beenutilised

The production of machine industry can provide for all demand and more. The mechanical application of the forces of nature has increased man’s productive forces tenfold, a hundredfold. A few hours’ daily labour, furnished by the able-bodied members of the community, would produce enough to satisfy the material and intellectual needs of all.

But what has come of the colossal and wonderful development of science, industry and commerce in the nineteenth century? Has it made humanity stronger, healthier, happier? Has it given leisure to the producers? Has it brought comfort and contentment to the people?

Never has work been so prolonged, so exhausting, so injurious to man’s body and so fatal to his intelligence. Never has the industrial labour which undermines health, shortens life and starves the intellect been so general, been imposed on such ever-growing masses oflabourers. The men, women and children of the proletariat are bent under the iron yoke of machine industry. Poverty is their reward when they work, starvation when they lose their jobs.

In former stages of society, famine appeared only when the earth refused her harvests. In capitalist society, famine sits at the hearth of the working class when granaries and cellars burst with the fruits of the earth, and when the market is gorged with the products of industry.

All the toil, all the production, all the suffering of the working class has but served to heighten its physical and mental destitution, to drag it down from poverty into wretchedness.

Capitalism, controlling the means of production and directing the social and political life of a century of science and industry, has become bankrupt. The capitalists have not even proved competent, like the owners of chattel slaves, to guarantee to their toilers the work to provide their miserable livelihood; capitalism massacred them when they dared demand the right to work – a slave’s right.

The capitalist class has also made a failure of itself. It has seized upon the social wealth to enjoy it, and never was ruling class more incapable of enjoyment. The newly-rich, those who have built up their fortunes by accumulating the filching from labour, live expatriated in the midst of luxury and artistic treasurers, with which they surround themselves through foolish vanity, to pay homage to their millions.

The leading capitalists, the millionaires and billionaires, are sad specimens of the human race, useless and hurtful. The mark of degeneracy is upon them. Their sickly offspring are old at birth. Their organs are sapped with diseases. Exquisite meat and wines load down their tables, but the stomach refuses to digest them; women expert in love perfume their couches with youth and beauty, but their senses are benumbed. They own palatial dwellings on enchanting sites, and they have no eyes, no feeling for joyful nature, with its eternal youth and change. Sated and disgusted with everything, they are followed everywhere with ennui as by their shadows. They yawn at rising and when they go to bed; they yawn at their feasts and at their orgies. They began yawning in their mother’s womb.

The pessimism which, in the wake of capitalist property, made its appearance in ancient Greece six centuries before Jesus Christ, and which has since formed the foundation of the moral and religious philosophy of the capitalist class, became the leading characteristic of the philosophy of the second half of the nineteenth century. The pessimism of Theognis sprang from the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life in the Greek cities, torn by the perpetual wars between rich and poor; the pessimism of the capitalist is the bitter fruit of satiety, ennui and the impoverishment of the blood.

Capitalism, bankrupt, old, useless and hurtful, has finished its historic mission; it persists as ruling class only through its acquired momentum. The proletariat of the twentieth century will execute the decree of history; will drive it from its position of social control. Then the stupendous work in science and industry accomplished bycivilisedhumanity, at the price of such toil and suffering, will engender peace and happiness; then will this vale of tears be transformed into an earthly paradise.

(Paul Lafargue in the Socialist Herald, Milwaukee)

Mixed Media: Ansel Adams (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea

The Ansel Adams exhibition, Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, was recently at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. Adams’s photographic modernism was an attempt to create ‘extraction’ in photography, as opposed to the impossibility of applying painterly ‘abstract impressionism.’ Adams used f/64 focal lengths, small aperture settings, in order to give great depth of field, sharpness and clarity and pioneered a zone system for translating perceived light into specific densities on negatives and paper. The foreboding mountains, river and sky are menacing in his 1942 The Tetons and the Snake River. He was a believer in unfiltered visualization in the sense of Blake’s ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.’

Adams was influenced by Emerson and his social responsibility to humanity and nature, and also Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy which advocated the pursuit of beauty in life and art. Adams wrote ‘I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate.’ His landscapes are a form of worship, a pantheism like Spinoza’s ‘deus sive nature’ which led to his advocacy of wilderness preservation and environmentalism. His 1937 Clearing Winter Storm depicts Spinozist perception ‘sub specie aeternitatis.’ Adams is close to Wordsworth in his sonnet The World Is Too Much with Us which critiques the industrial revolution and materialism which places humanity out of tune with nature.

Adams’s ‘creative photography’ is Wordsworth’s ‘poetry as emotion recollected in tranquillity.’ His rock-pool photographs such as 1960 Rocks and Limpets, and 1969 Sea Anemones are ‘cleansed perception’ like Wordsworth’s ‘the earth, and every common sight/to me did seem/Apparelled in celestial light.’ Adams’s 1962 Stream, Sea and Clouds evoke the Wordsworth line of ‘a sense sublime/of something far more deeply interfused’ or in Adams’ own words ‘I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience.’

Adams photographed US President Carter in 1979 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. As befits a transcendental artist his photograph of The Tetons and the Snake River was included on the golden record on the NASA Voyager spacecraft in 1977. In a 1983 interview in Playboy magazine, shortly before his death, Adams was outspoken in his opposition to the Reagan presidency.

Ansel Adams: ‘I know that I am one with beauty and that my comrades are one. Let our souls be mountain. Let our spirits be stars. Let our hearts be worlds.’
Steve Clayton


Blind and Deaf to the Natural World (2013)

The Material World column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the advantages of the market ‘mechanism’ – so we are told – is its ability to adjust economic activity to changes in the situation in which it takes place. In particular, investment capital is supposed to flow away from geographical areas where the risks of economic activity are rising into areas where the risks are lower.

Things do often work this way for risks associated with social conditions. Turbulent labour relations, armed conflict, political upheaval and extortion by corrupt government officials are among the risks routinely factored into the expert assessments of ‘business climate’ that guide investment decisions.

However, it is by no means routine for such assessments to take account of risks coming from the natural environment – earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural disasters, and changes caused by global heating.

Earthquakes – no lasting impact?
For example, there is no sign of large-scale capital flight from southern California or the Greater Tokyo Region, both of which are virtually certain to be hit by powerful earthquakes in the not too distant future.

In one chapter of The Coming Tokyo Earthquake (Tuttle Publishing, 1995), Peter Hadfield analyzes how different Japanese companies will be affected. Some will bear much greater losses than others; building firms based outside the danger zone will make a good profit from post-quake reconstruction.

Now, the fund where I had my retirement savings at the time when I read this book invested in Japanese companies, so I wrote to the director of the fund to draw his attention to Hadfield’s analysis and ask whether their portfolio managers took these differential effects into account. I received a courteous reply, assuring me that what I was suggesting was quite unnecessary because earthquakes, though tragic from a humanitarian viewpoint, have no lasting economic impact of any significance.

Water: ‘a good thing in real estate’      
Nor is the rising sea level deterring investment in low-lying coastal areas. In Washington, DC the SunCal company is promoting ‘a new upscale housing development and retail center’ along the River Potomac, right at sea level. Eddie Byrne, SunCal’s vice president of project management, is quoted as saying that the name of the development – Potomac Shores – ‘invokes water, a good thing in real estate’ (The Washington Post, 28 March 2013). And this after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and all the other storms that have been battering the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the US!

Recently I was looking at some internet ads for seaside properties in Florida, built right on the beach and selling for upward of a million dollars. The realtor who placed the ads offered to answer questions about the state of the market, so I took up the offer. No, he told me, house prices are not falling in anticipation of the rising sea level. On the contrary, they are rising. Clearly buyers are not worried about the sea level. I asked how difficult it was to get these beach houses insured. Also no problem, he assured me.      

Carbon bubble?
In August 2012 the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI), a project of Investor Watch, issued a report by Jeremy Leggett and Mark Campanale entitled Unburnable Carbon: Are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble? (www.carbontracker.org). The authors argue that the financial markets overvalue hydrocarbon companies – in February 2011 the combined value of the top 100 coal companies and top 100 oil and gas companies was $7.42 trillion. This is vastly inflated because it ignores the risk that environmentally responsible governments will force companies to curtail operations and leave much of the remaining coal, oil and gas in the ground. When this happens the ‘carbon bubble’ will burst, triggering a financial crisis.

In a response to the report, The Economist (4 May, 2013) notes that in 2012 the top 200 companies spent $674 billion developing new reserves and suggests that they are betting on governments not taking effective action to restrict hydrocarbon extraction. That, after all, has been the situation up to now. In that case the ‘markets’ (i.e., investors) are not mistaken in their expectations and there is no carbon bubble.    

What is the CTI really about? The key person behind it, Jeremy Leggett, has long been committed to environmental causes – in the 1990s he was a prominent figure in Greenpeace International – and also to relying on market mechanisms to solve environmental problems. His real concern is not helping investors maximise their returns or even maintaining financial stability but saving the planet.

How does he hope to achieve this worthy goal? By manipulating the market – i.e., persuading investors, most of whom know little about the environment and care less, that disinvestment from hydrocarbons is not just good for the planet but in their financial interest. It will be marvellous if the subterfuge works! But that’s a rather big ‘if’.

Psychological block
Isn’t it in the interests of the capitalists themselves to preserve the ecosystem? Don’t they depend on it like everyone else?

Of course. The trouble is that they are incapable of rationally assessing their interests. Their money-making obsession creates a psychological block against any idea that they sense may threaten their pursuit of profit. They repel the voice of nature from the very threshold of consciousness, so the question of factoring it into the equation can never even arise. 

At some level the capitalists rightly fear that the natural world demands an end to the system they embody. They blind and deafen themselves to nature so that they cannot see they are harming it or hear it screaming in its death agony.
Stefan


Old Gods, New Tricks (2013)

The Halo Halo! Column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since a court ruling in Athens in 2006, it is no longer illegal for Greeks to worship their ancient gods. Just what Dionysus, Apollo and co had done to get themselves declared illegal in the first place is unclear. But anyhow, they’re back, and they’re gaining popularity here and in the US too.

You’d think we’d got enough confusion with the ones we already have. But perhaps that’s it. After 2,000 years we still don’t know whether Jesus is a Protestant or a Catholic, and the Shia and Sunni versions of Allah don’t have much time for each other either. So, with UFO sightings, crop circles and the Loch Ness monster not as popular as they once were, maybe there’s a gap in the mumbo-jumbo market.

Any Christians thinking of converting should find few extra demands on their gullibility. Miraculous deeds and virgin births as a result of liaisons between Zeus and mortal women were ten a penny in the ancient world. They even had a flood myth every bit as good as Noah’s.

Zeus had decided, because of mankind’s wickedness, to destroy the world with a great flood, and Deucalion was advised to build a boat to save his family and animals. After drifting for nine days the flood subsided, and they came to rest on top of a mountain. He was then told by an oracle to repopulate the earth by throwing behind him the bones of his grandmother. Fortunately he interpreted this to mean the stones of mother earth, and these sprang to life as human beings as they fell to the ground.

Another story Christians will have little trouble with is about Heracles and his struggle with temptation.

Bible readers will recall how Jesus, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 days, was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread. (A fairly sensible suggestion – he could, after all, feed multitudes with a few loaves and fishes). But he refused – for the rather puzzling reason that ‘man does not live by bread alone.’

Satan then took him up a high mountain where they could see ‘all the kingdoms of the world.’ If he bowed down before Satan, he was told, all this would be his. (Satan had apparently forgotten that Jesus was the son of God. His dad made it and already controlled the whole lot.) Not surprisingly, Jesus told him to get stuffed (or rather, to ‘get thee behind me’).

The temptation of Heracles, on the other hand, was a real test. In one of his numerous adventures he was out one day when he came to a fork in the road. One branch was a good, wide road but narrowed and got stony as it went on. By it stood a beautiful, gaudily dressed woman calling him. The other fork was narrow and thorny but got better in the distance. By this was a plain, modestly dressed woman. She also called him. These two, it turned out, were ‘Vice’ and ‘Virtue.’

Now most Greek heroes would have grabbed ‘Vice’ and made off her without even giving her time to fix her makeup. But holier-than-thou Heracles chose ‘Virtue’. That’s what you call willpower over temptation.

(His moral standards did sometimes slip, however. In another story we are told that when visiting the king of Thespis he managed to get all fifty daughters of the king pregnant. This amazing feat was carried out in a single night.)

For anyone determined to believe, then, but finding contemporary gods not bizarre enough, there are a number of Greek paganism websites to help, www.hellenismos.us, for example: ‘Any questions that you would otherwise feel embarrassed to ask, ask here,’ it offers. How embarrassed the average questioner is we can only guess, but one asks:
‘I am currently learning the skill of flint-knapping; that is, the skill of re-creating stone-age tools using stone-age methods. As I was practicing the other day I thought to myself, ‘To which God/Goddess would I make offerings to in this regard?’
The answer – obvious really – was ‘For craftsmen and other similar professions there would be a special devotion to the cult of Hephaistos-Vulcanus, and likewise that of Athene-Minerva Ergane, whose domain is especially that of manufacturing in its various forms.’

Jesus Christ! What happens if they find themselves worshipping the wrong bloody god?
NW

50 Years Ago: The Labour Party Itching For Power (2013)

The 50 Years Ago Column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party, itching for power, is like a man listening to the last few football results with seven draws on his pools coupon.

They suffer. They perspire. They are fearful lest a wrong word should shatter their glorious dream.

That was why the Labour Party was so worried about the railway strike which never got started. Perhaps the strike was something of a forlorn hope. But, after all, strikes are the only weapon workers have in their disputes with their employers.

The Labour Party, let it be recorded, did not oppose the strike for any reason connected with the welfare of the railway workers. They opposed it because they judged that it may have damaged their chance of winning the next election; it might have upset their Treble Chance. For Labour, as for other capitalist parties, votes are tremendously important.

Mr. Wilson is doing his best to gather as many of them as he can. He celebrated May Day, for example, by propounding a plan to ". . . make a reality of the Commonwealth . . ." (although there was nothing very new in what he said—just some more mucking about with Imperial Preferences).

He also threw in his now customary make weight about the Labour Party not being prepared to see Britain as a second rate power.

Now all this may have been palatable to retired colonels in Bournemouth and to the floating, drifting voters whom the Labour Party has wooed so coyly for so long. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the Socialism which Mr. Wilson protests he stands for, nor with the working class interests he professes to defend.

There must still be some members of the Labour Party who can remember the days when strikers were people to support and when patriotism was something of a dirty word. What do they think of their party, as they watch it take its inevitable path to the status of a fully fledged party of capitalism, with power as the one and only object of its miserable life?

(From ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard June 1963)

'A Banner with a Strange Device.' (1908)

From the September 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Shoreditch Branch of the Social Democratic Party has a banner of which, no doubt, the members are exceedingly proud. It bears what at first sight would appear “a strange device.” But when one recollects the hopeless confusion obtaining in the ranks of the S.D.P., when one remembers its pro-capitalist tactics and propaganda, ’tis not such a very strange device after all. “Reform Delayed is Revolution Begun” it reads, but it must not be regarded as an injunction to the working class to oppose reform with the object of beginning the revolution. That is not the intention of the Social Democratic Party, as is evident by a reference to the list of “immediate reforms” (commencing with the most immediate— “the Abolition of the Monarchy”) of which its program is composed, it appears on the S.D.P. banner as a warning note to the exploiters. “Do you wish the revolution delayed?” asks the S.DP. of these, "because if you do, pass the reforms we advocate in our program. We know,” they sometimes add, “these will not affect the position of exploiter and exploited in the least, still, pass them as soon as possible.” They will assist the exploiters to maintain their supremacy, and therefore it will be to their interest to pass them.

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If any member of the Shoreditch or any other branch of the S.D.P would like to dispute the conclusions we of the S.P.G.B. draw, the columns of The Socialist Standard are always open. We may, after all, be wrong. We are not popes and claim no infallibility. We are always willing, and indeed anxious, to hear the other side, and to give all our readers an opportunity to hear it also. We know the Social Democratic Party claim that they object to palliatives "if they obscure the issue.” Well, what is the issue? Briefly, it is that so long as capitalism endures the workers must be poor. Exploitation of the working class by the master class is the essence of capitalism. Exploitation means that the wealth which the working class alone produce is taken from them, and therefore they are poor, degraded, brutalised. The master class will not get off the backs of the working class as the result of appeals by the S.D.P. or anybody else. The workers will he enslaved so long as they remain there, and therefore nothing but the establishment of the Socialist Republic will avail. The advocacy of anything short of this obscures the issue, side-tracks the working class, causes them to devote their energies to reforms instead of to organising for the revolution, and ultimately lands them in the bog of disappointment and despair. If, as members of the S.D P. sometimes state, they are opposed to the advocacy of reforms if they obscure the issue, they should at once give up the program by which they set such store, and work only for the revolution. That, of course, means leaving the S.D.P. and joining the S.P.G.B.

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The receipt of a copy of this paper is an invitation to subscribe.

Some Indiscretions of Wm. Thorne, M. P. (1908)

From the September 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our old friend, William Thorne, M.P., writes a very nicely typed letter, on Gasworker Union note, in reply to questions addressed to him by a correspondent relative to certain actions of his own and the position of the “Labour” Party. The letter deserves a wider publicity and it, or most of it, shall have it.

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William writes: “I beg to say that I have never actually supported Mr. Percy Alden during the last Parliamentary election, but I remember attending a meeting at which I was chairman, which was held at Tottenham sometime prior to the General Election, when Mr. Alden was the adopted Parliamentary candidate, and I spoke a few words in his favour.”

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That’s clear enough, isn’t it ? When you take the chair for a man and speak in his favour you are not actually supporting him, you’re only— well —it’s ridiculous to say that’s support! Good old Bill. Let’s try some more.

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“I have known Mr. Alden for many years . . and I have always found him a very good man in advocating the claims of the workers, both in regard to hours and wages, etc., and he was one of the most active men upon the Central Committee in forcing the hands of the local authority in bringing about better sanitary conditions for for the workers.”

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But Bill wouldn't support him for that. Not actually! Don’t support good men, Bill, don’t. Only say a few words in their favour.

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The letter proceeds: . . . "I am a member of the Labour Party in the House of Commons, and all members of that Party are pledged to abstain from identifying themselves or of promoting the interests of the other great political parties, and I carry that principle out so far as possible. I believe in perfect discipline in regard to organisation and political parties, and in my opinion the Labour Party in the House of Commons would be absolutely useless if it did not preserve its entire independence of the other parties, in the House. I do not believe that any of the members of the Labour Party are prepared to support candidates of the other political parties, but if they do, they are committing a breach of the Labour Party’s constitution.”

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Lovely! Bill believes in perfect discipline — as far as possible, He is fixed and immovable— except now and again. He is stern and unbending—not ’arf he aint — only in places he gives. The Labour Party would be absolutely useless if it did not stick to its constitution and refuse to support candidates of other political parties, and Bill didn't support such a candidate. He only gave him a little assistance'

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Good old William. I wonder if he read that letter over before he let it go.
A. James.

“Social Peace” in France (1908)

From the September 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another example of the harmony existing in the present social order is provided by the recent disturbances in and around Paris. In spite of statements to the contrary, and wilful blinking of the facts, the Socialists’ contention that there exists in society a class struggle—a state of war between capitalists and workers—is borne out daily by our own experience as wage workers, and by passing events recorded (or suppressed) by the newspapers.

In and around Paris on the first of May, 1906, strikes were declared in many industries : the eight hour work-day being the principal demand. These resulted mostly in victory for the masters. However, the workers in the building trades, particularly the labourers, the masons and bricklayers, did not lose heart, but have kept up an unremitting battle for better conditions by means of other methods than big strike movements. They practised a continual harassing of the contractors, striking in detail without notice, practising “Sabotage” until, indeed, they have gained, piecemeal, some useful concessions.

This “sabotage” is worthy of some attention. Many French workers, finding the carefully prepared strike so often a failure, and the matching of Labour’s centimes against Capital’s gold louis such a long and painful process, have taken to this form of “passive resistance.” For instance, the masons and labourers would strike a certain yard or building and be quickly replaced by a fresh gang of their comrades, who would proceed to “make mistakes” in the measurements of the work, or would develop a tired feeling so that the work would not get finished, and generally “raise Cain,” thus proving very expensive strike breakers, get discharged, be replaced by yet another set of “hands,” who would “help” the employer in the same way. This would go on until the latter found it would pay him best to concede the men’s demands. Of course it is very unkind of the saboteurs, but it seems more intelligent than starving on strike for three or six months. The contractors, becoming vexed at these attentions, played a little card of their own, and in April declared a lockout, which, had it continued would quickly have involved 200,000 men. However, the employers found it more paying to open the yards again after a few days, and until recently things jogged along in much the old style.

Now we gather that a strike has been on for some time in the sand-pit district of Draveil, some eight miles from Paris, and that there have been some encounters between the police and military and the strikers—begun, doubtless, in the usual way, either by a striker punching a strike-breaker or vice versa, or, as is often the case, by some act of police provocation.

The Building Trades Federation now declared a 24 hours general strike as a protest against the repressive measures of the Government, and a large body (five to ten thousand it is reported) of strikers went out to the strike district to demonstrate in favour of their comrades, the sandpit labourers. The forces of wholesale slaughter were let loose upon the demonstrating workmen, with the result that many were injured upon both sides and several of our fellow workers were killed.

The English papers, as usual, served their masters well by reporting the affair in such manner as to prejudice, as much as possible, British workmen against their French brothers. Divide and rule is the masters’ motto, and indeed, in the Press they have a powerful means of keeping the workers fighting one another instead of uniting to fight the common enemy —the masters.

The Government’s next step was to arrest eight prominent members of the General Confederation of Labour (C.G.T.), this being followed by the declaration of a 24 hours general strike, which, owing to the numerically weak membership of the C.G.T., was rather an exhibition of weakness, although several newspapers could not be brought out and others were published under great difficulties. When later, the electrical workers struck for a short while, the military engineers were quickly at hand to replace them.

Now these stirring events arise directly from the efforts of working men to improve their lot and the endeavours of the masters to retain their privileges. Further, such events are not confined to Paris or to France, for this country has its Peterloo, Featherstone, and Belfast, America has its Colorado arid Homestead, and so on throughout the capitalist world.

The game of profits versus wages is seen to break out into barricades and sabring and shooting; the class struggle cries aloud for recognition. It is irrepressible because the workers are robbed, and are beginning to know it. Here then is generated the energy essential to the overthrow of King Capital. Here his undesirability is perceived by the worker, and the desire to get rid of him is bred.

As to the French workers, recent events show that they as well as other workers need to get control of the armed forces in order that these may no longer be used against them : the road to this control lies through Parliament. The workers must get behind the guns: to march up to their muzzles—the practical outcome of the “direct action” favoured by so many French workers and trade unionists—is simply suicide.
John H. Halls

The Society of Tomorrow (1908)

From the September 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The result of all the more or less ingenious plans of the future society is but to demonstrate the possibility of the Socialist System. All who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by the social transformation easily persuade themselves of the excellence of the future society. Even the petit bourgeois – the small capitalist – having the presentiment of his impending ruin, being tormented by the knowledge of his insecurity and filled with a feeling of vagueness, is quite ready to say “Yes, Socialism is an excellent thing, but, alas! it is Utopia!” And to show you the Utopian character of Socialism he invokes, first, human nature; secondly, the indestructible selfishness of humanity that results in the war of each against all; and thirdly, the opposition of those who possess, which he declares impossible to overcome.

How does the Marxian conception comport itself in order to reduce to nothing this triple impossibility?

Human nature! This has been invoked every time there has been any question of advancing a stage in history. The slave-holders called to witness this same human nature in order to clinch the absolute impossibility of the abolition of chattel slavery. In his “Politics”, Aristotle, “the giant of antique thought”, sought to demonstrate that the Greeks are by their very nature destined to dominate the rest of human kind as masters. Nature is eternal. And every dominant class desires – quite naturally – to eternally prolong the rĂ©gime which secures its domination and enjoyment: it considers, therefore, its own system as natural. Its nature becomes Nature itself. It does not see beyond its own interests, and it confounds the laws of its own conservation with those of the universe. It suppresses history – which only exists by changes – and invents a physical theory of society, which theory seeks to persuade us that inequality between men socially is as eternal and necessary as that between the organs of the body. The laws of Nature are not slighted with impunity, therefore the system of the exploitation of man by man is, according to the exploiters, a law of Nature. Every revolt against it is consequently madness or a material impossibility.

To these interested sophisms the Marxian conception opposes the true history of humanity. It demonstrates the fact of the perpetual changes that occur and have occurred in forms of production and appropriation.

Human society is a particular case in universal evolution. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable. Everything is variable. By showing that the struggle of the classes is at the base of history, Marxism unveils the historical mechanism and shows that every given social form is entirely relative, entirely conditional.

Classes and systems succeed each other and differ from each other. Thus all objections drawn – by the hair – from that much invoked “human nature” are destroyed. Marxism does not recognise man in abstracto. It knows only the owner of the slave, the feudal lord, the capitalist, the proletarian, and other “historic categories”. It replaces the vague and confused by that which is concrete and clear, and abandons generalities to the psychologists, philosophers, and metaphysicians.

Better still – by analysing scientifically the capitalist system, the Marxian shows not only that Socialist society is possible, but also that it is necessary. Collective organisation of labour is possible because it exists. It is present in the factory, in the mines, in the great stores, in the great financial establishments. It circles the world by railway and ploughs the ocean in Dreadnoughts. Individual exploitation is in flagrant contradiction with this collective organisation. From this come crises – catastrophes which demonstrate more and more that the capitalist system is becoming impossible. Soon it will be no longer for us to show the possibility of Socialism. It will be the task of the partisans of the present tottering system to prove the possibility of its continuation by any normal and progressive development.

As to the selfishness of individuals and of classes, not only does Marxism not deny it, but it utilises it to organise the proletarians into a class party, preoccupied above all with its interests, which, happily, are in complete accord with those of the social organism and of true civilisation.

There remains the third objection – the third pretended impossibility of Socialism – the resistance of those who possess. The Marxian conception is easily victorious. Socialism becomes possible just in the same degree as great capital absorbs smaller capitals, and production on a great scale supersedes small-scale production. Socialists have not to expropriate the owners – they will only expropriate the expropriators. They will restore to society the property which has been stolen from society. They do not fight private ownership of objects of immediate consumption. They struggle against capitalist property, against the oligarchy of property – the monopoly of the means of production.

The possibility – nay, more, the inevitable historic necessity – of Socialism springs thus from the play of economic forces. The organisation of the working class and the conquest of political power by this class indicate the first stages on the route to be followed.

(Ch. Rappoport in Le Socialisme. Translated for the Socialist Standard.)