Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus crisis: why the shortage of medical supplies? (2020)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

On Friday March 20, the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management (Alaska) appealed for donations – not of money but of swabs to test for COVID-19:
  Due to global demand, there is no definite shipping date for more swabs. Based on the current demand of 250-280 tests a day, Anchorage will run out of swabs by Sunday March 22. 
Another appeal followed on Saturday March 21 – this time for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There was an immediate need for examination gloves (but not made of latex), respirators, surgical masks, medical gowns, and face shields that protect the eyes. 

The shortage of PPE exposes medical personnel to infection. ‘I figure I probably won’t make it through all this,’ says Emergency Room nurse Kellen Squire, RN.   
  We don’t have enough ventilators. We don’t have enough drugs to sedate the number of patients we’re anticipating. Imagine having a tube jammed down your throat and being conscious the whole time — and these COVID patients are intubated for days, even weeks. 
It would probably be easier to list items that are not in short supply than items that are.  

But why?

There are many reasons. Most, however, are directly or indirectly connected with the system of production for profit not use.

Especially important are new products that might radically change the situation for the better. Like a vaccine. Like material for tests that yield results in a matter of hours rather than days. But they can make a big difference only if made widely available – and as soon as may be technically possible. 

Unfortunately, this is not in the interest of the producing company. The way for it to maximize its profit is to take out a patent on any new product and exploit to the full the monopoly position that the patent temporarily gives it. That means delaying the start of large-scale production and charging an exorbitant price. For examples of the harm done by patents in the healthcare field see my article here.

But to return to the problem of short supply of things that have long been in wide use.

Shortage at times of heightened need is largely attributable to the practice known as ‘just-in-time’ or ‘lean’ manufacturing or the Toyota Production System. This practice, first developed in the 1970s in Japan at the manufacturing plants of the Toyota company, has since spread throughout the world. The basic idea is to avoid space, labor, and other costs associated with storage by producing only to satisfy demand definitely known to exist – ideally, only to meet orders that are already in hand. Maintaining production capacity or inventory to cope with possible demand above this level is considered wasteful. A similar approach is taken to minimize storage costs at retail outlets.

When demand suddenly leaps upward, as it does for medical supplies during a pandemic, the just-in-time system ensures that there will be very little if any spare production capacity or inventory to help satisfy the increased demand. With sufficient investment it should still be possible greatly to expand output, but this inevitably takes time – and in an emergency time is short.

Consider, for example, the German diagnostic firm Qiagen, which makes a genetic analysis kit used for coronavirus testing. The ‘normal’ level of its output enables the testing of 1.5 million patients per month. In mid-March Qiagen announced that it aims to quadruple its output of COVID-19 test reagents within six weeks. This is quite impressive – but the number of people requiring to be tested is also rising very rapidly. 

A rational system of production for use would enable society to maintain reserve production capacity and inventory of essential goods adequate for foreseeable contingencies. True, not everything that can happen is foreseeable and mistakes of judgement will always be possible.
Stephen Shenfield

Counter-response (2020)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website
The following is Stephen Shenfield's counter-response to Paddy Shannon's response to The coronavirus, bats, and deforestation article.
My account of the nature of coronaviruses and their probable origin in bats was based on a number of recent articles by specialists in relevant scientific disciplines, mainly virology and epidemiology. I made the mistake of naming only one such source – Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading. For those who wish to explore the topic further, the other specialists on whom I relied were: Tara C. Smith, who teaches epidemiology at the Kent State University College of Public Health and whose article ‘The Animal Origins of Coronavirus and Flu’ was published in Quanta Magazine on February 25; and two teams of Chinese researchers, mostly from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, whose articles in the March 2019 issue of National Review of Microbiology (here) and in Nature 579 (2/3/20) (here) also provide further references.

The works of William H. McNeill and Jared Diamond do not provide much of an introduction to epidemiology. Neither is a specialist in epidemiology or in any other scientific discipline. They are historians (Diamond may also be considered an anthropologist) with an amateur interest in epidemiology. For a real introduction to epidemiology, see the text by Caroline Macera and her co-authors

Turning to substance, there is a process of mutual adaptation of viruses and their animal or human hosts. The danger to the host arises when the virus adapts to the host faster than the host adapts to the virus. This is a temporary situation: the danger passes once the host has caught up, as seems to have happened with Ebola. However, a virus that is new to a specific host can wreak havoc in the period before that host successfully adapts, as shown by the tragic fate of the aboriginal people of the New World. 

As for the argument about the danger inherent in excessively rapid human expansion into hitherto untapped areas of the natural world, I first encountered it years ago in a book by an epidemiologist that I have not managed to track down. I still find it persuasive. 

It is not particularly dangerous if the boundary between tapped and untapped areas shifts gradually, giving people enough time to adapt to the unfamiliar bacteria and viruses encountered in the newly exploited areas. However, if the boundary shifts too fast then humans will indeed be exposed to and defenseless against the ‘new’ pathogens. 

Historical experience is of limited relevance to the current situation because in the past the boundary was relatively stable and now it is not. This partly a result of the capitalist drive for profit, partly also a result of the pressure of rapidly growing human populations (in Africa, for instance).  

I should add that rapid human expansion is not the only likely source of unknown diseases. It may not even be the main such source. I am especially concerned about the reactivation of long-dormant bacteria and viruses from earlier ages frozen in the permafrost as the ice melts. See, for instance, here

I agree that there are many other valid reasons to preserve the rainforest, some of them even more important than the threat of pandemics. But it is not essential for an article devoted to one specific reason to indicate all the others.

All socialists, of course, will agree with Comrade Paddy Shannon’s last paragraph.
Stephen Shenfield

Blogger's Note

See Also:

American Parties and the Unity Question. (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the information of readers whose knowledge of the "Socialist movement" is limited, a few explanations may be helpful before dealing with the subject under discussion.

The Weekly People is the organ of the Socialist Labour Party of America—an organisation claiming to be "a bona fide strictly revolutionary party of Socialism." Until its unfortunate "endorsement" of the "Industrial Workers of the World," such a claim could be well sustained.

The latter organisation (I.W.W.) declares as its object "the propagation of the principles of Industrial Unionism with a view to the establishment of an organisation based on the 'class struggle' and aiming at the overthrow of the Capitalist system and the establishment of a Socialist Republic."

The "Socialist Party" of America is a curiously motley conglomeration of "Socialists" of all shades and hues. Like the Social Democratic Party and the Independent Labour Party of Great Britain, it is dominated by "leaders," whose main concern is to gain seats—anyhow, on any kind of vote—in the Parliamentary body which they affect to believe will be induced eventually to "legislate" away the privileges of the class which maintain army, navy, and police to conserve such privileges; the S.L.P. of America had hitherto consistently opposed the S.P. of America in that vigourously picturesque style which their British comrades (the S.L.P.) seek vainly to imitate.

But the S.L.P. of America has recently clamoured for "Unity." Its National Executive Committee resolved, among other things, "That if conference succeeds in agreeing on conditions for uniting the two parties, steps be immediately taken that one joint National Convention be held to adopt a platform, constitution and resolutions, to nominate candidates, etc."

The S.P. of America has unceremoniously— through their Executive, without consulting the rank and file on such a momentous issue, quite in the style of the secret junta which "guides" the S.D.P. of England, rejected the overtures.

The Weekly People of March 28th contains an article entitled "Unity" from the pen of its editor, the veteran fighter, De Leon.

It is significant of much that the editor of the ofiicial organ of a party which—rightly enough —urges the necessity of "discipline" should in that organ, through seven good fat columns, assert that his contribution is "independent." "I speak from this independent platform as one of the many people active in the Socialist movement. I do not here represent the S.L.P."

It is unnecessary to do more than quote from the report of a meeting held "under the auspices of the S.L.P." on the 11th March in New York, to show the utter confusion that reigns since the birth of the S.L.P's unfortunate offspring— the parentage of which it now vainly endeavours to repudiate. The lecturer stated "De Leon showed an absolute lack of knowledge of Industrial Unionism." De Leon—unwittingly endorsing our declaration in the Manifesto with regard to "Industrial Unionism,"—charged the lecturer with using the language of "veiled dynamitism," that is, of enunciating the principles of Anarchy.

Now what bearing have these things on the "Unity" question? They constitute the very germ and essence of the question as it affects the S.L.P. De Leon bases his argument for "unity" on the ground, mainly, that the Stutgart International Congress has "thrown a bridge across the chasm" which separated the warring American factions (the trophe, an you please, is De Leon's). The declaration was "seriously defective," nevertheless, in a new-found fervour of loyalty to a Congress which includes "Socialistic" freaks of all descriptions—including the "Rudimentary Zionist-Socialists," he sees the hope of uniting for common action, "Militant Socialism to-day sees in Unionism a fact of greater moment to the Revolution than the conquest of a few seats in the political parliaments." "Therefore, walk into my I.W.W. parlour (it isn't really my parlour, you know) and we can compose all our little differences. "Nay, my pretty little flies, I will e'en merge my personality into your political reflex, which you shall project when in the web." The succulent lamb is merged into the commanding personality of the lion, but subsequent investigation fails to discover traces of lamb.

The plea put forward in the article on "Unity" that before the day of revolution, simultaneously with the action of straight, revolutionary bodies, "just so necessary may be the looser methods" of parties — which the S.L.P. is still prepared to "clear the decks" for — the suggestion that it may be found to be but "a matter of the practical distribution of functions" marks perhaps the lowest point to which the S.L.P. has fallen through its dallying with Anarchy, and its impatience to gain adherents to "Socialism" by the offering of palliatives in the shape of bettered conditions for the worker. "See if you do not believe that the life of the lumber worker may be improved, shorter hours established, etc." (Weekly People, 21/3/08.) "If a union could step into the field that could weld the whole of the workers of the building industry into a solid mass it would soon attract members, and by winning strikes, organise far more men than are organised to-day." (Industrial Unionist, March '08.)

The fundamental error underlying Industrial Unionism as understood by its advocates has been well exposed by Comrade Fitzgerald (Socialist Standard, Oct. '06), who, debating the question of Industrial Unionism with a representative of the British S.L.P. said, "The mere adoption of a Socialist preamble does not constitute a union a Socialist union." The declaration on paper of a Revolutionary object, it should hardly be necessary to remind the S.L.P., is no guarantee of its aiming at genuine performance. Fitzgerald clinched that matter once and for all by quoting the words of a delegate to the first Convention of the I.W.W. at Chicago. "We are here as working men, and as such we do not recognise the Socialist or any other 'ist."

Further, it will usually be found that a "common purpose " is almost certain to be followed by common action. The "Fabian" and "Clarion" school of "Socialist" for instance is sometimes thoughtlessly credited with the "purpose" of establishing a Socialist Republic. An acquaintance with "A Modern Utopia" "The Sorcery Shop" and other Utopian twaddle of that description will reveal the gulf that separates the "purpose" of Utopists from that of genuine Socialists.

Unity is only possible on the lines laid down by the S.P.G.B. in the January number of the Socialist Standard, 1906, in a communication addressed to the International Socialist Bureau. "That admission to future International Socialist Congresses shall be open only to all avowed Socialist bodies that accept the essential principles of Socialism, i.e., Socialisation of the means of production and distribution, union and international action of workers, Socialist conquest of the public powers by the proletariat organised as a class party recognising and proclaiming the class war. adopting an attitude of hostility under all circumstances to all sections of the capitalist party."

No one recognises the signal services that De Leon has rendered to the proletariat more than the S.P.G.B., no one so ready to recognise the sterling worth of the rank and file of both English and American S.L.P. The more urgent becomes our duty to seek the destruction of organisations which will inevitably commit their members to a sojourn in the dreary wilderness of Reform, or land them in the slimy bog of Anarchy.
A. Reginald

The Law of Value and the Dearness of Commodities. by Paul Lafargue (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Economic materialism, or to be more exact, economic determinism, which allows us to explain human evolution and which provides a scientific basis for history, and the law of value, the key to the secrets of commodity production, dominate the theoretic work of Marx.

The law of value demonstrates that the value of a commodity is constituted by the quantity of human labour therein incorporated. Allow that, says the Belgian economist, Laveleye, and Marx will prove to you, with his iron logic, that capital is unpaid labour, stolen labour.

The law of value, which culminates in such a frightful conclusion, has been the nightmare of the economists; those amongst them who have any scientific pretensions have take the field to overthrow it. All those who have attacked it have proclaimed, with as much exultation as the “socialistic” intellectuals, who for this ten years past announce from time to time “the decomposition of Marxism”, that they have demolished the law of value, although this does not prevent new combatants, judging incomplete and in vain the wrecking work of their forerunners, from going on the warpath to make mincemeat of it.

The law of value, which has victoriously withstood all the assaults of the economists, alone can explain the general rise in the prices of commodities, the cause of  which has been vainly sought. I will try to demonstrate this.

To propagate communism, to organise the workers in a class party and to struggle for the conquest of the public powers — to study the theoretic work of Marx and to use the two powerful intellectual tools, economic determinism and the law of value, that he has put at our disposal for interpreting historical events and economic phenomena, are yet some of the best ways to honour the memory of the militant agitator and communist thinker.

#    #    #    #

The rise in the prices of commodities is general in the commodity producing countries of Europe and America; it is felt as far as China, which is scarcely beginning to enter capitalist civilisation. This rise is the more extraordinary as a general fall in prices would rather be expected, since, one after the other, industries are using more and more perfect machinery, which, in multiplying tenfold and a hundredfold human productivity, lower the prices of their products.

The dearness of necessaries weighs heavily upon the workers, who, if they do not buy iron girders, electric machines, silken stuffs and other industrial products, live upon bread which should be cheaper, since the production of wheat, which forty years ago, was in France from 14 to 15 hectolitres to the hectare, is to-day, thanks to agricultural progress, from 19 to 20 hectolitres.

Newspapers and magazines inquire into the causes of this disconcerting economic phenomenon. The recognised defenders of capital, without bothering their heads very much, have unearthed the true cause; they declare unanimously that the workers’ higher wages and expenditure for luxuries and holidays let loose the tide of rising prices in the capitalist world. This cream tart has not quite satisfied the economists, who attribute its loosing to gold.

Some say that the quantity of gold serving commercial transactions is insufficient, although it increases every year by half-a-million of francs. Gold being relatively rare, its price, according to the law of competition, should rise, that is to say that the same quantity of gold should buy more merchandise; and it is precisely the contrary; one must give more gold for the same quantity of merchandise.

Others pretend that gold abounds, that the mines of Africa and America have thrown so much of it upon the market, that its price, still according to the law of competition, is depreciated every day and that it is to stop this decline that the Transvaal mining companies are trying to form a trust.

However, during these last sixty years, whatever has been the quantity of gold produced, it has always been immediately and completely absorbed by the needs of commercial transactions, of which the volume increases yet more rapidly than the amount of gold thrown upon the market. The American crisis precisely began by an insufficiency in the quantity of gold that the banks of New York and other cities had at their disposal; and in order to curb this financial crisis, which, as always, preceded the crisis of over-production, it was necessary to import from Europe all the gold available.

Nevertheless, it is in the variations of the value of gold that we must seek for the cause of the general rise in the prices of commodities.

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Gold and silver, because of their special qualities, have been chosen from all the metals to be monetised and to serve for national and international means of exchange. The capitalist nations thought that once for all their values could be established in the proportion of 1 to 15, that is to say that 1gramme of gold was worth 15 grammes of silver; and it is according to this proportion that they have struck their gold and silver money. For example, a 20 franc gold piece weighs 6.6 grammes, while 20 silver franc pieces weigh 100 grammes. But this legal proportion, guaranteed by the governments of the bourgeois nations, is a lying fiction, as are the institutions and the principles of capitalist society.

Melt down 3 one franc pieces and you will get a little mass of silver weighing 15 grammes; take it to a dealer in precious metals and ask him to exchange it for 1 gramme of gold; he will refuse – he will ask of you 36 grammes of silver for 1 gramme of gold; for at the current rate the kilogram of gold is worth 3,427 francs and the kilogram of silver 95 francs, that is, only one-thirty-sixth as much. And if he knows a little of the history of monetised metals, he will tell you that since 1838 the legal proportion between gold and silver has been real but once: in 1861; and he will add that from 1833 to 1864 the variations of the legal proportion were maintained within narrow limits; but that in 1872 began the fall in the value of silver, and that in 1876 an English commission was appointed to inquire into the depreciation of this metal.

Variations in the Value of Gold and Silver from 1833 to 1908

Years      Gold                           Silver

1833        1 gramme is worth    15gr. 41

1840        1                               15gr. 12  

1852        1                               15gr. 09

1859        1                               14gr. 70

1861        1                               15gr. 00

1872        1                               16gr. 13

1876        1                               18gr. 56

1908        1                               36gr. 07


The values of gold and of silver then, are not fixed quantities, since they have continually varied in the course of three-quarters of a century. Why have they varied?

From 1833 to 1852 the value of silver falls, since one must give 15 grammes and a fraction of silver for one gramme of gold. During the period 1852 to 1859 the mines of Australia and of California had thrown their gold upon the market. An economist said that gold was depreciated by its abundance; however, in 1857 there broke out in the United States a financial crisis, because, as in 1907, there was not enough gold, because there was disproportion between the volume of business and the quantity of money capital necessary for the transactions.

But two years later gold goes up again and one must give 15 grammes of silver for 1 gramme of gold. And from 1872 down to our day the value of silver decreases constantly. During the period from 1872 to 1908, gold and silver have been produced in great quantity: it is then not their scarcity in the market that can have caused their variations in value.

The reasons given by the economists, therefore, cannot explain these variations in value of gold and of silver, which are explainable only by the Marxian law of value.

From 1833 to 1852 only the old gold and silver mines are worked and the methods of extraction remain the same, that is why the values of gold and of silver are about constant. But from 1852 begins the working of the Australian and Californian gold mines, which being very rich, exact less human labour for the extraction of the metal; gold consequently loses value, while silver, which continues to be extracted with the same quantity of human labour, keeps its value. When the Australian and Californian mines become worked out, the extraction of the metal exacts more human labour, the value of gold goes up again and in 1861 gold and silver are at par, that is to say, their values correspond with the legal proportion.

From 1864 on, silver mines of extraordinary richness are worked in the United States and in Mexico and for the same reasons the value of silver falls, while gold keeps its value.

During the course of the last 75 years gold and silver have alternatively lost value, because the metal extracted contained less human labour, as according to Marx’s law, the value of all commodities of capitalist society (wheat, precious metals, boots, cotton stuffs, etc.), is measured by the quantity of human labour that it was necessary to expend in order to produce them.

When in an industry the introduction of a machine reduces the required labour, not only the commodities produced with this machine lose value, but also, the commodities of the same industry that are produced without its aid: for the same reason the quantities of gold extracted in California and in Australia from 1852 to 1859 and the quantities of silver extracted in the United States and in Mexico from 1872 to 1908 have, not alone fallen in value, but have lowered the value of all gold and of all silver circulating in the capitalist world.

The exhaustion of the Australian and Californian gold mines, in rendering mining as costly in human labour as before, caused the value of gold to rise again; the working of the rich gold mines of the Transvaal with the aid of new mechanical and chemical processes, which reduce the necessary labour, together with the employment of Negroes, of Chinese and Hindoos, but very poorly paid, lowers once again the value of gold.

Silver money, which has lost 52.5 per cent. of  its value, since a 1 franc piece is worth but fr 0.475, is no longer employed in international exchange; it is current but in its own country because, like the bank note, it is legal tender and can be exchanged for the gold money, which alone can be employed in international exchange, because gold is the monetary standard of capitalist nations.

But gold also has lost some of its value. The metallurgy of gold has been revolutionised in the Transvaal; it there combines in such a superior manner the resources of mechanics and chemistry that it is profitable even when quartz is treated which contains but a few grammes of gold to the ton. Le Génie Civil (December 28, 1907), describes the great establishment for the working of auriferous quartz in New Kleinfontein which treats 280 tons of quartz per hour, of any grade, with a very reduced staff of “hands”. Steam engines work three dynamos of 500 horse-power, two air-compressors for 75 perforating machines and the extracting machine. The quartz is brought upon an endless transporting band into the “mill-hoppers” of the crushing mill, where 200 stamps weighing each from 620 to 650 kilos crush it at the rate of 5 tons in 24 hours. The mud obtained goes through sieves which contain 400 meshes to the square centimetre; then it is conducted – still mechanically – on to the amalgamating tables. The residue of these tables – again crushed – and the auriferous mercury, are refined. The muddy water in which these mechanical and chemical operations have been conducted, are treated with lime and sodio-potassium cyanide, then filtered upon zinc filings which precipitate the gold. Water plays a preponderating rôle in the new cryosurgical (gold working) industry, which extracts even the largest particles of gold from the quartz that it treats with an extremely reduced staff of hands.

One must, in consequence, give a greater quantity of gold than formerly for the same quantity of other commodities. It is, therefore, not goods that have increased in value, but gold that has fallen in value, because its extraction exacts a less expenditure of human labour.

Translated from Le Socialiste by John H. Halls

Our Fourth Annual Conference. (1908)

Party News from the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fourth Annual Conference of the S.P.G.B. was held at the Communist Club on Friday and Saturday, 17th and 18th April, 1908. Comrade Fitzgerald presided, supported by Snellgrove. Comrades Neumann and Anderson acted as Stewards, and Pearson, Hopley and Bigby as as Credentials Committee.

The Report of the 4th Executive Committee to the Conference contained the following: “We are pleased to report a steady increase in the membership and influence of the Party. Over 170 new members have been enrolled during the year, and propaganda has been well maintained; a special feature being the large number of debates held with representatives of all sections of the enemy. . . The Manchester Branch formed during the year is especially active, and promises to prove a splendid base for provincial work. . . . The Socialist Standard has appeared regularly. . . . The first 36 numbers bound in one volume has sold well. The 2nd Edition of the Manifesto has been sold out and the 3rd Edition is selling equally well. The issue of ‘Art, Labour and Socialism’ in pamphlet form has also proved very successful. A 2nd Edition of ‘From Handicraft to Capitalism’ has been issued and the second of the series is in course of production. . . . Leaflets replying to the attacks of the anti Socialists and advertising The Socialist Standard have been extensively circulated.’’

The report was very fully discussed by the delegates, and finally adopted. Fitzgerald raised the question of the reorganisation of the Peckham Branch, questioning the wisdom of the E.C. in not excluding certain elements which had in the past made for disorganisation. During this discussion, Moses Baritz, the delegate from Manchester, presided, the vice-chairman being a member of the Peckham Branch.

The financial Statement was adopted after being fully discussed. Snellgrove and Rose (Tooting) moved a resolution suggesting that branches guarantee to take quantities of the Party Organ proportionately to their membership. This was carried.

The Manchester delegate raised the question, on a motion of urgency, of sending speakers to take part in the campaign at Manchester. It was agreed to send representatives, and a collection to assist in defraying their expenses was taken up which realised £1 5s. 6d.

The two amendments to the Rules from the Tottenham Branch were carried. The resolution from Wood Green urging the appointment of an Organiser was carried, the amendment from Manchester calling for a provincial organiser, being defeated. Two other resolutions, one calling for the appointment of a paid organiser, and the other suggesting the insertion of a summary of the minutes of the E.C. meetings in the Party Organ, were defeated.

The Socialist Standard will, in future, appear on the last Saturday of every month, instead of on the first of the month as heretofore, the resolution to that effect from Tooting being carried by a large majority. All pamphlets issued by the Party are to be, in future, of a uniform size, the Conference agreeing to the resolution from Tooting to that effect.

The Conference then adjourned for tea and to make way for the Social to be held.

The Social proved to be an unqualified success. Comrade Anderson presided and from 8 o'clock until 1 o’clock next morning the revolutionary representatives of the working class danced and sang to their hearts' content. The quantity of talent in the ranks of the Party surprised everyone. Financially, also, the concert should be a great success.

The Conference reassembled at two o’clock on Saturday and proceeded to tackle the remainder of the Agenda. It was first decided to take the item second on the agenda, standing in the name of the Battersea Branch: “That no Candidate of the Party, if elected, shall take the Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution.” The discussion was opened on behalf of the Battersea Branch in a brief speech. Hopley (Paddington) opposed on the ground of triviality. Hutchings (Tooting), Neumann, Snellgrove (Peckham), Denford, Wren supported the proposition, while R. H. Kent, A. Barker and Fitzgerald opposed. The Conference agreed to proceed to the next item which was to the effect that all Party business on which a vote is taken, voting shall be for and against. This was agreed to. 'The discussion placed on the Agenda by the Edmonton Branch, on the question of “Socialism And Religion” served to again bring into strong contrast the position of our Party as against that of any other party professing to be Socialist. In the discussion it was made plain that while it was unnecessary and undesirable to impose a test of membership on the subject, it must be clearly recognised that active Christianity was incompatible with the active participation in the Socialist movement. Pearson (Edmonton), Anderson, Neumann, Snellgrove, Jackson, Watts and Fitzgerald contributed, and the Conference agreed to request the E.C. to make the Relation between Religion and Socialism the subject of an early pamphlet.

The important subject remaining, viz, “The attitude of candidates of the Party if elected to any public body,” was deemed too large to be adequately dealt with in the time then remaining and it was agreed to call a Party Meeting to discuss it.

The Conference was the most successful yet held by the Party and bodes well for the future.

The Proletarian Revolution. by Karl Marx (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wholly absorbed in the production of wealth and in the peaceful fight of competition, French capitalist society could no longer understand that the ghosts of the days of Rome had watched over its cradle. And yet, lacking in heroism as bourgeois society is, it nevertheless had stood in need of heroism, of self-sacrifice, of terror, of civil war, and of bloody battlefields to bring it into the world. Its gladiators found in the stern classic traditions of the Roman republic the ideals and the form, the self-deceptions, that they needed in order to conceal from themselves the narrow bourgeois substance of their own struggles, and to keep their passion up to the height of a great historic tragedy. Thus, at another stage of development, a century before, did Cromwell and the English people draw from the Old Testament the language, passions and illusions for their own bourgeois revolution. When the real goal was reached, when the remodelling of English society was accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakuk.

Accordingly, the reviving of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; it served the purpose of exaggerating to the imagination the given task, not to recoil before its practical solution; it served the purpose of rekindling the revolutionary spirit, not to trot out its ghost. . . .

The social revolution of the nineteenth century, however, can not draw its poetry from the past, it can draw that only from the future. It cannot start upon its work before it has stricken off all superstition concerning the past. Former revolutions required historic reminiscences in order to intoxicate themselves with their own issues. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to reach its issue. With the former, the phrase surpasses the substance; with this one, the substance surpasses the phrase. . . .

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, rush onward rapidly from success to success, their stage effects outbid one another, men and things seem to be set in flaming brilliants, ecstacy is the prevailing spirit; but they are short-lived, they reach their climax speedily, then society relapses into a long fit of nervous reaction before it learns how to appropriate the fruitB of its period of feverish excitement.

Proletarian revolutions, on the contrary, such as those of the nineteenth century, criticise themselves constantly; constantly interrupt themselves in their own course; come back to what seems to have been accomplished in order to start over anew; scorn with cruel thoroughness the half measures, weaknesses and meannesses of their first attempts; seem to throw down their adversary only in order to enable him to draw fresh strength from the earth and again to rise up against them in more gigantic stature; constantly recoil in fear before the undefined monster magnitude of their own objects—until finally that situation is created which renders all retreat impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out: —
“Hic Rhodus, hic salta!”                       Karl Marx.

Blogger's Notes:

Though it isn't noted in the Standard, this passage is an excerpt from Karl Marx's 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon'. The wording in the passage suggests that it's an earlier translation of Marx's text, probably Daniel De Leon's 1897 translation, which was reprinted by Charles H. Kerr and Company in 1907. 

An explanation of how it came about that the SPGB had access to De Leon's translation of Marx is possibly touched upon in Robert Barltrop's 'The Monument: the Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain':
  "Kohn became a socialist in his teens and was still very young when he set up as a bookseller. A minor flood of socialist works was under way in America, and Kohn became agent for their sale in London. Hence the regular journeys across the Atlantic, and the appearance on socialists’ shelves of books printed and published by Charles H. Kerr and Company, Chicago. Kerr’s was a small co-operative before the first world war it provided an entire library of theoretical and polemical works. Some of them were first-time translations of European social-democratic writings and of Marx and Engels: the great third volume of Das Kapital had its first — and for almost fifty years, its only — English publication from Kerr’s in 1909. There were Marx’s historical works; Engels’s Landmarks of Scientific Socialism, Socialism Utopian and Scientific, and Origin of the Family; Joseph Dietzgen’s Positive Outcome of Philosophy; Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society; Paul Lafargue’s Social and Philosophical Studies and The Right to be Lazy; and many more."

A Word in Season. (1908)

Editorial from the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

May-day.

To all whose hearts beat true to the cause of oppressed humanity—English, German, Dutchman or Jew; black, white, yellow or red; without distinction of race or sex—fraternal greeting!

To all who suffer the torments of capitalist oppression, who hunger and thirst amidst mocking plethora, who are weary of to-day and apprehensive of to-morrow—English, German, Dutchman or Jew; black, white, yellow or red; without distinction of race or sex—fraternal sympathy and, this May-day message: Hope!

Hope, the eternal, the very spirit of May-day. It presided at the village festival in days when romance still dressed life in other hues than drab; it quickened the nimble feet of youth footing it on the green; it disputed with Time the unexpended years to the credit of robust middle age; it passed magic fingers over the seamed and shrunken visage of ripe maturity, blotting out the battle scars of three score years and ten. It was resurrected in every rising blade of green, and in every bursting bud.

And now, when the maypole is a tradition, kept alive only by novelists, and publicans’ signboards, when promise of good crops gladdens so little those whose bugbear is a glutted market, when the brightness of Spring only accentuates the dinginess of modem existence, each recurring May-day still bids us—Hope!

Hope for the workers of the world;—but not, mind you, in indolent inactivity or feeble effort —there is no hope in that. Nor in gay procession or flaunting banner, or the passing of empty resolution. Nor in blind following after the loud, or unenquiring acceptance of the outpourings of passionate hearts. Nor in numbers, nor in barricades, nor in the heroic devotion of those who dare to “seal their faith with their blood.” Nor in charity, or love, or justice, or the “inalienable rights of man.” There is no hope here.

The hope of the workers lies in their Socialist knowledge. This only can strike the shackles off their limbs and take them up out of the capitalist house of bondage. This only can remove the barriers of national conceit and race enmity so strong for the upholding of this capitalist house of bondage. This only can save them from the blandishment of the all-promising misleader and the sophistry of the self-seeking demagogue.

For the study of social science teaches that if it is not exact truth that all men are brothers, at least it is certain that the workers of all countries are bound together by the bond of common interest, and that the struggle of the future is not between English or German, Dutchman or Jew, but between the workers of all countries on the one hand and the capitalists of the world on the other.

The study of social science also marks out the road to be followed with such distinctness that the wiles of the Jack-with-a-lantern are without avail. Everywhere the harrassed workers are falling victims to place-hunting traitors trading on the name of Socialism. Such are particularly prominent on May-day, with procession and banner, shallow as they are blatant, and promising everything — if you will only follow them.

Socialism can never be betrayed by such men : it is only Ignorance that falls a victim. A thorough grounding in economics, industrial history, and so forth is the sure eradicator of party “bosses” and political pimps. Only when the workers understand their own politics can they exact faithful service from those they elect to high places, or confer power upon them against the enemy. Therefore our appeal to you this May-day is, not for faith, for faith may be betrayed, not for following, for followers breed usurpers, but for your companionship in the study of working-class history, working-class economics, and working-class politics. For in this way alone can we realise the hopeful promise of May-day—the overthrow of the capitalist system of society, and the consequent emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex.

Publications Received. (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Basis of Trades Unionism." by Émile Pouget. (Freedom Office). “The Unemployed Problem,” by (G. N. Barnes. (I.L.P.) “The Weekly People" (New York). “The Socialist Weekly" (Japan). "Labor" (St. Louis). "Industrial Union Bulletin” (Chicago). “The Russian Worker.” “Gaelic American." “The Keel" (Tyneside). “Freedom."

A Simple Statement. (1908)

From the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a system of human society, based on the common ownership of the means of production and the carrying on of the work of production by all for the benefit of all. In other words, Socialism means that the railways, the shipping, the mines, the factories and all such things as are necessary for the production of the necessaries and comforts of life should be social property, so that all these things should be used by the whole people to produce the goods that the whole of the people require.

That is no Utopian dream, but the necessary outcome of the development of society. It used to be supposed that anything like the collective carrying on of an enterprise was impossible because the personal supervision and control of the owner was necessary to the success of any such enterprise. But we see to-day that the greatest undertakings are those which are owned by joint-stock companies, in which the personal supervision of the proprietors is quite impossible, and in which the business is managed and carried on by paid officials, who might just as well be paid by the community to carry on the enterprise in the interest of the general body of the people as be paid by a few wealthy men to carry it on for their profit.

To-day goods are not produced to satisfy human needs; they are simply produced to provide profit for the class which owns the means of production. It is only for the sake of this profit that the property owning class owns these means of production. As a consequence, we have shoddy and adulterated goods produced. Also, as this profit is simply the difference between the value of the work which the working people do and the amount they receive in wages, the actual producers never receive the equivalent of what they produce, and therefore are never able to buy it back again. It happens, therefore, that, as the machinery of production increases and workmen are able to turn out more goods, they are thrown out of work, and they, with their wives and children, are in want and misery, not because there is any scarcity of things they need, but because there is more of them than those who produced them can buy.

Under the present system, therefore, the very increase of wealth is too often a curse to the wealth producers, simply because those who produce have no ownership in the means of production, and no control over the wealth produced.

Under Socialism, as the means of production would belong to the whole people, the whole people would have control of the things produced. Every increase of wealth then would benefit the whole community. Under the present system increased wealth means increased penury and suffering for the many. Under Socialism increased production would mean more leisure, more wealth, more means of enjoying life, more opportunities for recreation for everybody.

By the discoveries of science, the inventions of genius, the application of industry, man has acquired such power over nature that he can now produce wealth of all kinds as plentifully as water. There is no sound reason why poverty and want should exist anywhere on this earth. All that is needed is to establish a more equitable method of distributing the wealth already produced in such profusion. That is what Socialists propose to do. The work of production is organised, socialised; it is necessary to socialise distribution as well.

What is to be done to supplant the present system by Socialism; to substitute fraternal co-operation for the cut-throat competition of to-day ? The first thing necessary is to organise the workers into a class conscious party; that is, a party recognising that as a class the workers are enslaved through the possession of the means of production by another class; recognising, too, that between these two classes there is an antagonism of interest, a perpetual struggle, a constant class war, which must go on until the workers become possessed of political power, and use that power to become masters of the whole material means of production. When that has been achieved, the war of classes will be at an end, because the division of mankind into classes will have disappeared, the emancipation of the working class will have been accomplished and Socialism will be here.

Correspondence. (1908)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrade,

As an instance of I.L.P. valour, the following facts may be interesting.

Mr. A. Woolerton (I.L.P.) having informed me that he was willing to debate his position against that of the S.P.G.B “with the best man” we had, “in any hall, at any time,” I introduced the matter at our branch meeting.

I, as secretary, wrote accepting his challenge, and asking him to lay the matter before the branch of the I.L.P. to which he belonged. The E.C. of our party gave permission to Comrade Baritz to debate with Woolerton.

I saw Mr. Woolerton at the Coal Exchange on Jan. 5th, when he wished to inform me verbally of his decision. I asked him, however, to communicate by letter as it was branch business. Having enclosed a stamped envelope in my letter, I wrote a post-card on Jan. 27, asking when I could expect an answer.

Comrade Baritz, having been informed by Mr. Woolerton that he had replied to my letter, I sent the following letter to Mr. Woolerton : — 
 Our Comrade Baritz informs me that you told him you had replied to my letters asking you to debate with our organisation.
  As no such letter has reached me, I enclose a missing letter form which, when completed, can be forwarded free of postage to The Secretary, G.P.O., London. You only can fill in the particulars required as to time and place of posting. On receipt of this form at the G.P.O. they will forward an acknowledgement to you of receipt on a form used for this purpose
  If you will kindly show or send me the form of acknowledgement I will consider the letter has been posted. Failing this, of a copy of your letter, I can only conclude you have not posted same and act accordingly.
Yours sincerely,
Jim Brough.
1 can only conclude that Mr. Woolerton has not sent any letter to me, or that the letter (if sent has miscarried). If the latter be the ease he is either not sufficiently interested his missive to make enquiries concerning it, or not man enough to send a copy of the original.
Thanking you in anticipation of insertion. 
Yours fraternally,
Jim Brough.


Party Notes. (1908)

Party News from the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

The formation of a branch in the neighbourhood of Wimbledon will soon be possible. Will any readers in that district, who have hitherto refrained from joining in the absence of a branch, communicate with the Head Office?

#    #    #    #

Propaganda is to be restarted in Surbiton on Saturday evenings. Will all cycling comrades and others available, make a note ?

#    #    #    #

John Smith was expelled the Tottenham Branch on April 6th for supporting the candidate of another political party at a local election.


Socialism? (1908)

Book Review from the May 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and  Agriculture by  Richard Higgs. I.L.P., 1d.

The title of this pamphlet is a mere catchpenny. The only heading it merits is that of "Capitalism and Agriculture," for the author's idea of Socialism is purely that of capitalist collective enterprise. The first word in the title might therefore with advantage be obliterated, for the discussion of wages, of present municipal farms, and of other aspects of capitalism is not the discussion of the relation of Socialism to agriculture, which, indeed, the author does not deal with at all. This is typical of the I.L.P. and of its publications; and its writers and speakers would be better employed in studying Socialism rather than giving that title to a certain phase of capitalism.

The author says "The Farming land is the key to the problem of poverty," and that when a considerable portion of farming land comes under the control of the people" a living wage will be paid ; a regular supply of skilled labour will be available at all seasons and a six days week and the eight hour day will become possible." This is the author's idea of Socialism. It is nothing but the old middle-class cry of "back to the land." At present it is the first duty of a Socialist to make Socialists, and that requires a knowledge that is lacking in the author of the present pamphlet and by the organisation that has published it.
B.