Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Party News Briefs (1958)

Party News from the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hemel Hempstead.—Will all those members and sympathisers who live in the Hemel Hempstead area and who are interested in the formation of a group in the area, please communicate with: B. N. West, 44, Adeyfield Gardens, Hemel Hempstead.

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Propaganda.—At the termination of the Speakers' Classes, which have been held by the Propaganda Committee at Conway Hall, six of the twelve members are taking the Speakers' Test and, if successful, will add to the number of official Party speakers to the list and so enable the Propaganda Committee to extend their programme in 1958. The class was most successful and it is to be hoped that arrangements can be made in-the near future to run another series.

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Film at Head Office.—Although no meetings were held during the last three Sundays in December they will recommence this month, the first being held on January 5th. 

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Why the B.B.C. does not understand.—On 10th December the Overseas Department of the B.B.C. telephoned the S.P.G.B. and asked to speak to Mr. Gaitskell. When they were told that we are the Socialist Party, and Mr. Gaitskell has nothing to do with us, the clerk who was making the call was astonished. She did not know there is a Socialist Party that is not the Labour Party. If the B.B.C. had not refused for 20 years or more to let the S.P.G.B. put the Socialist case on the air, perhaps the B.B.C. staff would have known that there is a Socialist Party.

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Lewisham Branch.—We would like to draw attention to the notice of meetings organised by Lewisham Branch, published in another column. The meetings are held fortnightly on Monday evenings. It is hoped that members will attend and bring along sympathisers and make this venture a success.

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Islington Branch have taken over the arrangements for the Tower Hill lunch hour meetings each Thursday. Despite inclement weather, these meetings are being well attended and members who are in the vicinity should try to get along and support the meetings.

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“Socialist Standard.”—Each January a particular reference is made to the Annual Subscription form for the Standard. A form appears in this issue and it is to be hoped that readers will use this and ensure a regular delivery each month.

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Tottenham Branch Secretary writes that Comrade T. H. Fowler died in October last. Comrade Fowler was 80 years of age and joined the Party in 1913, regularly attending propaganda meetings and selling literature. He was always a willing helper in the canteen at Party Conferences and socials. Until earlier this year he was an enthusiastic worker. It is with regret that we learn of his death and extend sympathy to his relatives.

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Extract from letter from Comrade H. Wheatley, Nottingham :—
“My trade-union, the A.U.B.T.W. makes Free-card presentations on 50 years' membership, and myself being included this year, I screwed up pluck to seek permission to face an audience for the first time: a vote of thanks from the recipients really, a very few words; then used the Union-cards of 50 years ago and to-day as emblems of a deeper and broader outlook, hoping that also applied to each individual member; but 50 years was slow progress with results that still left them, fighting old battles repeatedly, pointed out the need to understand the present system, and then realising the identical interests of ALL workers, they must eventually see no reason for division

After much revision and cutting, I got through two closely packed pages of urging to look to the future (yes, I had to write it—managed better that way) and drew quite an embarrassing applause. Our leaflets were spread over a spare table, and on count just over 25 each were picked up.

Seeing I had avoided naming the "Party," I think it speaks volumes for our clear case, that an official should state he soon knew just where I was leading—The S.P.G.B.

The more hopeful side is the 30 or so of working Trade Unionists—and their wives—who probably never heard their position put this way before. An effort to follow up by a S.P.G.B. speaker to address their branch met with the usual coldness—they can’t get them in—just pay their dues and depart. This still in mind for further pressure."
Phyllis Howard

Letter: Are workers worse off? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. W. Jennings (Harringay) quotes from Marx's "Capital" the following passage (page 661, Glashier edition): -
 Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.
Mr. Jenning's asserts, without evidence, that the workers are getting better off and that "they do take a greater share of the wealth produced." On the strength of this he writes: "Perhaps, after all, Marx was not infallible.”

Marx was not infallible, but Mr. Jennings has yet to show Marx wrong on the point at issue. If Mr. Jennings had looked further into Marx’s writings, he would have seen that Marx made it perfectly clear that he was referring to the worker’s position relative to that of the capitalist. Thus, on page 631 of the Glaisher edition he dealt with the increase in the workers’ purchasing power and added :—
  But just as little as better clothing, food, and treatment, and a larger peculium, do away with the exploitation of the slave, so little do they set aside that of the wage-worker.
Secondly, a moment’s reflection should have shown Mr. Jennings that the workers can, as Marx explained, receive a larger amount of the necessaries of life without receiving “a greater share of the wealth produced.”
Editorial Committee

The Workers' Socialist Party (U.S.A.). (1931)

Party News from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers in the U.S.A. are invited to communicate with the Workers' Socialist Party of the United States, at 315, East 14th Street, New York City.

The Workers' Socialist Party are our agents in the U.S.A., and the "Socialist Standard" is obtainable from them at the above address.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Mystery of Rising Prices (1957)

From the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standar

An interesting letter from a reader appeared in the Daily Mail on 26th April of this year: interesting because it put a question that baffles most people and because nobody gave the answer.

Here is the question: —
  “In these days of mechanisation it seems strange that most manufactured goods should get dearer. Our wonderful new methods are claimed to give up to ten times the results achieved by older manual methods. Can anyone explain this apparent paradox?”
It is a fair question, and the facts as stated are beyond dispute. Almost every day our newspapers carry reports of some startling increase of productivity, and alongside them announcements of higher prices. What then is the explanation of what the writer of the letter calls “this apparent paradox”? There are several factors, three of which are important. Firstly, the effects of increases of output are almost always wildly exaggerated; secondly, there are large industries in which productivity is falling; and thirdly, prices rise because it has long been government policy to take actions which inevitably raise prices. This last has by far the largest effect, sufficient to offset other changes that might otherwise lower the price level.

Governments and the Price Level
Continually since 1939 it has been the policy of successive governments, National, Labour and Tory, to inflate the currency; that is, to increase the amount of notes in circulation far beyond the amount that would have been sufficient to keep up with the growth of production, trade and population. The note issue in 1938 was under £600 million; it reached £1,400 million in 1945, and is now over £2,000 million. At one time most economists knew well what the effect on the price level is when an inconvertible currency (i.e., not freely convertible into gold) is excessively expanded: now they have forgotten or, like the politicians, prefer to turn a blind eye. Governments do this because, whatever they may say about wanting prices to fall or to keep steady, they really prefer gently rising prices and wages and profits, which give so many people the illusion of being better off. Also they wonder whether a fall in prices might mean a really big rise in unemployment, which would lose them votes.

The measure of the inflation of the currency can be seen in the fact that a gold pound, the sovereign, can be sold for three times its face value of 20/-. Another mark of inflation is the progressive fall of the pound in relation to the dollar. In 1938 the pound would exchange for 4.86 dollars. In 1940 it was reduced to 4 dollars, and in 1949 to 2.8 dollars. In 1932 the American dollar had already been cut to about half its gold content. Some economists expect a further devaluation before very long in Britain. This inflation is then largely the cause of prices being generally at least three times what they were in 1938.

If the government wanted to do so, they could limit or reduce the amount of currency and thus stop the price rise or bring about a fall. Several governments have done this in the past, including the Russian government in 1947.

Misleading Claims about Increased Productivity
We see, then, that even if there were a big increase in productivity through the use of more efficient machinery and methods or other causes, its effect on lowering prices could be offset by the government’s currency policy. But the claims of increased productivity are themselves widely misunderstood and exaggerated.

It is an elementary principle that if by some means the amount of labour required to produce an article could be reduced to half, the price could be halved, but we would expect this to take place only after the new method had become the typical one in at least a large part of the whole industry. If one firm only had possession of the new method they would not cut their price to half, but would use their favoured position to make larger profits, perhaps reducing the price a little in order to capture trade from their less efficient competitors.

But before we get to this point we have to be sure that what looks like a doubling of productivity really is what it seems. And here we are only too often presented with misleading information by newspapers that probably do not have full information (because firms rarely disclose it) and which, in any event, are more interested in sensationalism than in accuracy.

News of new machinery is usually presented in the form that some new machine attended by a small number of workers will do the work of a much larger number working by hand or with another machine. It is in this form that announcements about the power-driven coal cutters is reported; and recent examples have been the automatic factory and office machines loosely described as “automation.” But though we may reasonably assume that some increase in productivity is expected, this kind of information tells us nothing at all about increased productivity. Increased productivity in the last resort means producing an article with less labour, and to know to what extent this has been achieved we need to know about all the labour, including that required to make and maintain the machine. Often this information is not disclosed, as is pointed out in the booklet on Automation, published by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

An example a few years ago was a report that “the world’s biggest signal box” had been opened by British Railways at York. In almost all the newspaper reports the item seized upon as news was that 27 men could now do the work formerly done by 70 men in a number of separate signal boxes. Doubtless the change over will in time produce some real saving of labour, but most of the Press reports omitted to state that the new box cost £500,000 (Manchester Guardian, 1st June, 1951). It will take a long time before the saving of the labour of 43 signalmen equals the amount of labour taken up in construction.

The coal mines are an interesting example. Astonishing claims have been made about the increased productivity expected from the use of machinery in the mines, but the annual output of coal per worker employed in the coal industry has remained practically unchanged in the years 1951 to 1956, at about 315 tons per year, compared with an output of about 330 tons a year 70 or 80 years ago; which brings us to another important factor often overlooked.

Declining Industries
The coal mines are typical of a number of industries in which the general trend is for output to fall not rise. When coal mining was in its infancy the rich seams near the surface were exploited and output was high. As these are exhausted miners have to go deeper, and poorer seams are extracted—with the result that more and more labour is required for each ton of coal. New machinery helps, but if the labour required to make the increasing amount of machinery produced in the engineering trades for the use of the coal industry is taken into account, the real fall in output is even greater than is shown by the above figures.

In an address to the Rotary Club of Los Angeles (reported in Manchester Guardian, 15th Feb., 1957), the chairman of the Socony Mobil Oil Company, Mr. B. B. Brewster Jennings, surveyed a number of the raw material industries and showed that what is true of coal is true of many other industries:
  “. . . raw materials all over the world are harder and costlier to get. We have seen this very clearly in our own coal industry, in which year by year more non-productive work is needed for every ton of useful coal. For most of our raw materials the picture is much the same.”
He instanced copper, the American oil industry, with more and deeper wells to produce the same output of oil, and iron ore in Canada. His conclusion was that man’s ingenuity will keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for these materials, but only at the cost of more and more capital being invested to do it; which is another way of saying that more labour is required in these industries for each ton of output.

This general trend in the raw material industries shows itself in the fact that raw material prices in the last half century have risen considerably more than the rise of the prices of manufactured goods. And it explains why we so often read that industries which are known to have introduced new machines and methods which reduce the labour required in manufacture (e.g., the motor industry) nevertheless announce higher prices “because of the increased cost of raw materials.”

The Real Increase of Productivity
The real increase of productivity in industry and transport, etc., as a whole is consequently not the very large amount conveyed by sensational newspaper reports, but on a much more modest scale. The Earl of Halsbury, managing director of the National Research Development Corporation, who has written much about “Automation,” was merely restating the accepted view among economists who have studied this problem when, in a recent interview, he said: —
  “Productivity in the United Kingdom rose at one and a half per cent. per annum in the United Kingdom for the first forty years of this century. It’s now rising at three per cent, per annum, double the old rate. . .” (Everybody’s, 16/2/57)
In America, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, productivity (i.e., the output per worker) in manufacturing industry rose between 1929 and 1953 by 70 per cent. As the period covered is 24 years, this means an average yearly increase of under 3 per cent. (Times, 18th January 1956).

Is this a gloomy view ?
The real facts about productivity may be a shock to those who believe that “automation” will bring a paradise of a workless world and to those who believe that capitalism can offer a spectacular rise of the standard of living. Actually a 3 percent increase of productivity each year could double output in about 30 years, but capitalism presents another gloomy aspect, that its wars and armaments make nonsense of the increase of productivity. Almost all of the increase of productivity of British industry in this century has been swallowed up in the expenses of armaments (now nearly 10 per cent. of the national income) and in succeeding destructive wars, which in a few years can destroy the achievements of a quarter of a century.

Socialism the Only Way to Secure the Benefits of Productivity
Socialists have the only hopeful answer to these gloomy facts of life under capitalism. Only Socialism can end war and armaments and thus stop that waste of production. Equally important, only Socialism can secure that the labour force and the materials now devoted to the financial, trading, and other activities necessary to Capitalism but needless in a Socialist system of society, can be freed for the production of useful articles and services. In this, Socialism offers the certain prospect that the output of useful articles could in short time be doubled. But this involves the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism in its place.

And, incidentally, to go back to our starting point, the problem of the writer of the letter to the Daily Mail will be solved in a way he has not thought of. Under Socialism prices will not be high or low; there will be no prices!
Edgar Hardcastle

Communist Commotion (1957)

From the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

FREE HARICH, SACK HARRY,” painted with true Communist zeal in large white letters on the roadway greeted the faithful as they entered Hammersmith Town Hall over the Easter week-end to receive their annual dose of dogma from the cardinals of King Street, and to indulge in some public confessions of political sins. This slogan was not a rabble-rousing challenge to strike fear into the hearts of Yankee capitalists or warmongering Tories; it was directed not outwards, but inwards, to the heart of the Workers’ Mass Party itself. Harich is the young intellectual imprisoned by the East German government, and guess who Harry is? Yes, none other than Cardinal Harry Pollitt. Alas! we confidently predict that this slogan will have as little effect in altering the status quo as others which have appeared on walls from time to time to enliven the working-class scene have had (e.g., “Hands off Guatemala,” “End Eden’s War,” “Chuck The Tories Out,” etc.). Harry is still there, and so, presumably, is Harich – but in a different place.

The irreverent slogan was, however, a sign of a definite air of revolt which hung over the proceedings, a revolt which, if not quite amounting to “ruthless self-criticism,” was at least an indication of a fairly advanced state of political masochism. Cardinal J. Gollan, the Party secretary, had to announce that 7,000 of the faithful had left the flock during the preceding year: others were all too ready to voice their doubts, especially about the Russian intervention in Hungary. One delegate remarked that in 22 years he had never known a Congress that had such a ‘type of discussion getting down to it.'” (Observer, 21/4/57). The college of cardinals, including Gollan, Matthews, Mahon and Pollitt, struggled manfully with incantations and holy writ to exorcise the devils of heresy.

Representatives of the Labour press were excluded from the conference. Could this be because Mr. Peter Fryer (who resigned from the Daily Worker over the treatment of his reports from Hungary and who was later expelled from the C.P.) was the would-be representative for Tribune?

Although the hierarchy’s policy obtained an “overwhelming majority” of votes in its support from the Congress, there were some rather frank things said about the Russian intervention in Hungary. For instance, Mr. J. McLoughlin, the famous Dagenham campanologist, was most vociferous: “Don’t dig your heads in the sand,” he said “and ignore Hungary. Terrible things have happened.” And, he added, in a final fling at the platform, “I want to come to the next Congress and see at least a partially new front bench – not the Dutt-Pollitt-what’s-his-name axis.” (Observer, 21/4/57.) Tut, tut, John. flattery will get you nowhere.

J. McLachlan (Scotland); “The Daily Worker told us that there was black counter-revolution in Hungary, but, in fact, there were popular demonstrations against a bureaucratic regime,” he said. “I agree that these were used by reactionary forces, and I agree that the final intervention by Soviet forces was necessary. But terrible mistakes had been made by the Soviet and Hungarian leaders and we should condemn those mistakes at this ingress.” (Daily Worker, 22/4/57.)

Another outspoken critic was Mr. Brian Behan. “At meeting of the executive,” said Brian Behan, “he had moved an amendment that they should dissociate themselves from the crimes of the Hungarian Communist Party. but this had not been printed in the Daily Worker. He had been told that this was due to a technical error (!) and accepted this, but he believed that his amendment should have been reported to Congress.” (Daily Worker, 20/4/57.) Readers who may be prematurely rejoicing at the thought of free speech pervading the upper layers of the Communist hierarchy will no doubt be saddened to learn that Mr. Behan did not gain a place on the new executive: the above statement, and others we shall be reporting later in this article, may offer slight clues as e cause of his unfortunate political demise.

Mr. Fryer was not permitted to put his case before Congress, but copies of a speech he would have made were distributed. A portion of this speech (reported in the Manchester Guardian of 22/4/57) is most revealing, and is worth reproducing here: “You can cross out my name from the membership list with a stroke of the pen. But you cannot cross out the truth about Hungary with a stroke of the pen. The truth about Hungary is known perfectly well to many of you who will vote for the rejection of my appeal. In the privacy of his office J. R. Campbell (editor of the Daily Worker) speaks of Kadar as a puppet. I am expelled for blazoning abroad what Campbell knows to be the truth.”

The Bomb, and Conscription
Male Communists are capable of making some monumentally fatuous remarks, but it takes a female Communist (Comrade Frances Silcocks, from Yorkshire) to reach the ultimate low in fatuity. After dilating on the struggle of working-class women against the horrors of the H-bomb, this Diana of the barricades said: “Now we are told that the Soviet Union is testing the bomb, and we are asked what we say about that,” she said. “We are opposed to tests in any country, including the Soviet Union. But what is the Soviet Union to do? Is it to sit on the fence until we throw bombs at them and they have none to throw back?” (Daily Worker, 20/4/57.) Certainly not, Comrade Frances, we hero mothers of the Communist Party would consider it an honour and a privilege to be liquidated by a real, class-conscious, Soviet H-bomb.

“There was a short, sharp debate on conscription. By 321 votes to 135 Congress defeated a proposal that the Party should fight to end conscription.” (Daily Worker, 22/4/57.) The ubiquitous Mr. McLoughlin also had some words to say on this subject: “The Tory Government had announced a new policy on conscription, but the Communist Party was still committed to it. Why?” he asked. “Perhaps because the Russians have got conscription.” “Don’t be provocative,” called out a delegate. (Daily Worker, 20/4/57.)

The election of the executive committee was democratic in the extreme; 42 members were “recommended” for election, and, would you believe it, “a party spokesman said . . . that there would be 42 members on the new executive.” (Manchester Guardian, 20/4/57.) How convenient! As we mentioned before, careless talk cost Mr. Behan his seat on the band-wagon.

Lest we appear too harsh on the comrades, we should mention that they stage-managed quite a nice little show of “democracy” during the congress. The minority formulation in the draft revised text of The British Road to Socialism relating to “fraternal relations between Socialist Britain and the countries of the British Empire” received a majority of votes over the majority (executive committee) version. However, we defy anyone to show us any fundamental difference between the two drafts as reported on the front page of the Daily Worker of 22/4/57. The debate was, as the immortal bard said, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

A final indication of the degree of democracy which pervaded the congress is that 57 general resolutions submitted by branches were not discussed, and “before delegates had seen them they were asked to agree to remit them to the National Executive, and in the end they did so.” (Manchester Guardian, 23/4/57.)

Cardinal Gollan admirably defined this fine old Bolshevik euphemism for criticism of official party policy in his weighty address to his flock (Daily Worker, 20/4/57). “We use the word ‘revisionist’ advisedly, not as a bit of name-calling, but to describe objective tendencies. These were the contributions attacking the essential basis of the Party, democratic centralism and its leading role.” He later said (Daily Worker, 22/4/57): “Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to fight revisionists all their lives.” Exactly; the modern disciples of Pope Lenin have to carry on the good fight – no wonder they don’t have any time to discuss Socialism.

Another outspoken delegate was Professor Hyman Levy, who denied that the loss of 7,000 members was due to “revisionism,” “but to the attitude of the leaders to events in Russia and Eastern Europe.” (Manchester Guardian, 22/4/57.) Professor Levy “challenged his chairman, Mr. Harry Pollitt, to explain his silence about ‘a gangsterism’ in the Soviet Union. How often has Harry Pollitt been told about this? How often has he told people to keep their mouths shut?” Need we add that Professor Levy’s utterances were nowhere reported in the pages of the Daily Worker! Much prominence was, however, given to a “reply” by Andrew Rothstein, a reply deeply embedded in party dogma. (Daily Worker, 23/4/57).

The recent coming to power of a “communist” government in the State of Kerala in India received much plaudits from the assembled comrades. Cardinal George Matthews said (Daily Worker, 22/4/57): “The victory of the Communist Party of India in the State of Kerala is a portent of far-reaching political developments which will take place among the teeming millions of India.” No one outside the Communist Party phantasy world, however, will be surprised to learn that business in Kerala continues much as before, on sound capitalist lines, and the revolutionary Communist ministers’ ” deeds and sayings in one single day are too bourgeois for words,” according to Miss Taya Zinkin in the Manchester Guardian (24/4/57). ‘She continues: “The Chief Minister attended Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s prayer meeting yesterday, bought a copy of his book on the Gita (Hinduism’s Bible), and asked for an autograph of India’s walking saint . . . Meanwhile the Health Minister, Mr. R. A. Menon . . . told the Palghat Poor Home Society that the beggar problem must be solved by private institutions because the Government can do very little,” etc.

“The British Road to Socialism”
Some heretic voices were even raised against this blueprint for revolution (1957 version, with all the latest tactical amendments and deletions to match the day-today, struggle. E. & O.E.). A genuine, old-fashioned kind of Bolshevik is T. Connor who “opposed the draft as a revisionist (ouch; that word again) programme, and he was fighting for a return to revolutionary Socialism. He moved an amendment calling for the formation of workers’ councils and councils of action through which power would be seized.” (Daily Worker, 22/4/57.) Cardinal J. R. Campbell rebutted this idea, evocative as it is of sterner, ruder, Bolshevik days. “The amendment put forward by Huyton, suggesting that workers’ councils and councils of action would elect a Socialist Government, proposed to substitute for the pure milk of Marxism the skimmed milk of Trotskyism,” he said. (Laughter). May we remind the reverend Cardinal and all the sheep who laughed so heartily at his witticism, that once upon a time “councils of action,” “workers’ councils,” “united fronts,” etc., were all the rage on the revolutionary front. For instance, a circular issued by the “Red International of Labour Unions” came into our hands (Socialist Standard, March 1923) before the word “Trotskyism” (one of the foulest swear-words in the Communist vocabulary) was invented. This circular advocated the concentration of “all available strength” by the formation of “councils of action through the medium of conference composed of delegates from trades councils, trade union branches, and district committees, working class local and national political organisations, unemployed organisations, co-operative societies and guilds.” Stick that in your milk and skim it, Campbell. Cardinal Campbell opposed the nationalisation of certain types of land, not because it is not Socialism, but because “it would also lead to endless complications pushing masses of people on to the wrong side of the class struggle.” (Daily Worker, 22/4/57). Yes, but which side? With true revolutionary zeal the good Cardinal also opposed the policy of “no compensation,” because it “would alarm those we are seeking to neutralise, would create the maximum opposition and make most difficult a peaceful transition.”

To prove that the female of the Communist species is more deadly than the male, Mrs. Gwen Shield moved an amendment to reject the draft’s proposal to compensate former owners of nationalised industries. “She wanted them to get only the opportunity to work and when prevented by physical incapacity to get National Insurance benefits.” (Daily Worker, 22/4/57). Good news for all you capitalists!

What of the Future?
Thousands of members have left the Communist Party during the past year, and many more may do so after this year’s conference, which has conclusively proved the party hierarchy’s refusal to budge one inch from its rigid pro-Russian line. But the “hard core” will carry on, for, in Cardinal Pollitt’s own words, “We all owe everything to the party, whatever we do and whatever our job” (Daily Worker, 23/4/57).

Professor Levy summed up the Communist Party’s political influence thus: “The working class of this country have constantly rejected the Communist Party,” he said. “You keep on talking as if you were the leading group.” (Manchester Guardian, 22/4/57). Whatever future party line the diehards adopt in following the tortuous changes in the policy of the Russian ruling class, it will inevitably be anti-working-class and anti-Socialist. The Communist Party’s past history has been a chapter of misrepresentation, trickery, deceit and humbug. Its future is likely to be no different.
Michael LaTouche

Karl Marx and Enoch Powell (1976)

From the November 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Suppose that on the occasion of some of these crises, the nation were to rouse itself to the effort of getting rid by emigration of some hundreds of thousands of superfluous arms, what would be the consequence? 
That, at the first returning demand for labour, there would be a deficiency. However reproduction may be, it takes a space of a generation to replace the loss of adult labour. Now the profits of our manufacturers depend mainly on the power of making use of the prosperous moment, when the demand is brisk. Compensating for when it is slack. 
This power is secured to them by the command of machinery and manual labour. They must have hands ready by them, they must be able to increase the activity of their operations when required and to slacken it again according to the state of the market, or they cannot possibly maintain the pre-eminence in the rate of competition on which the wealth of the country is founded.”
This is quoted by Marx in Capital Vol. 1, p. 595: “Lectures on Colonies” by Professor H. Merivale, Oxford, 1841.

But in fact, says Marx: “it is capitalistic accumulation that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital and therefore a surplus population.” Marx called this the Industrial Reserve Army.

Lessons for teachers (1988)

Book Review from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why don't teachers teach like they used to? by Rachel Pinder. (Hilary Shipman. 1987. paperback £6.95)
I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand
This old Chinese proverb forms the opening lines of Rachel Pinder s informative, sometimes amusing and always very readable book. Having spent her working life in teaching and the last ten years before retirement as headteacher in Inner London, she relates the history of teaching by both "progressive'' and ' traditional" methods over many centuries up to the present. In the process she exposes confusion, if not total ignorance, as what constitutes "traditional" methods; what has. and has not. been tried; and the results achieved by the different methods.

In 1510. Dean Colet. founder of St Paul's School, criticised "traditional teaching by rule and formal methods". Richard Mulcaster. High Master of St Paul's in Tudor times, complained about teachers who "think it the best that boys should fruitlessly run through all the rules learned by heart but not understand." Elizabeth Lawrence in The Origins and Growth of Modern Education goes even further back, quoting Plato: "Enforced learning will not stay in the mind. So avoid compulsion and led your child's lessons take the form of play". It appears therefore that "progressive" methods have been advocated and used for 2.000 years. Does that make them "traditional"?

Professor Jean Piaget, an eminent Swiss psychologist, refers thus to John Amos Comenius (1592-1670): "Comenius may undoubtedly be considered as the founder of a system of progressive instruction adjusted to the stage of development the pupil has reached." Comenius said that learning should be in four stages: examine; question; investigate; determine. In 1641 he was invited by Members of Parliament to visit England and set up a school system based on his principles; unfortunately the Civil War intervened.

Although the beginnings of "progressive" education are often credited to Rousseau, it is obviously much older than that. In a review it is neither possible nor desirable to quote every example but the following extract from Richard Edgworth's (1744-1817) Essays on Professional Education perhaps gives a key to Mrs Thatcher's obsession with "returning to basics"
  The first object should not be to teach them reading or grammer. or Latin or arithmetic . . but gradually to give them the desire to learn and the power to attend . . . they must be taught to think (our italics)
Politicians' exhortations since 1976 that schools should "get back to basics" shows an alarming degree of ignorance and apparent unawareness of school inspectors' reports over the past 100 years. The latest of these, in 1981. bears great similarity to one within over a hundred years ago:
 There is no evidence that a narrow curriculum, concentrating only on the basic skills, enables children to do better in these skills: HM Inspectors' surveys suggest that competence in reading, writing and mathematics may be improved where pupils are involved in a wider programme of work and if their skills in language and mathematics are applied in a variety of contexts.
In 1858 the Newcastle Commission was appointed to investigate education and make proposals. One of these was that children should be examined annually by an inspector and schools paid "by results". This was introduced in 1862 and Robert Lowe. Vice President of the Privy Council for Education said in the House of Commons:
  I cannot promise the House that this system will be an economical one and I cannot promise that it will be an efficient one. but I can promise that it shall be one or the other. It it is not cheap, it shall be efficient; if it is not efficient, it shall be cheap.
Examinations were based on a centrally controlled curriculum and although teachers were not forbidden to teach other subjects, there was great pressure to ensure that children would pass the examination rather than that they should learn anything worthwhile. The system worked as far as government expenditure was concerned; this dropped from £813,441 in 1861 to £636,806 in 1865. In Curriculum Change in the 19th and 20*h Century Gordon & Lawton quote from the 1871 school log-book of a Welsh headmaster:
  Believing that one-fourth of the school time that was devoted to subjects not recognised by the government and consequently not paid for by grants, had the effect of keeping a well-informed school but causing the percentage results to be lower than those of schools that are mechanical in their working and unintelligible in their tone. I have been compelled against my inclination to arrange that less time be devoted to them in future and more time to those that pay best.
However this teaching by rote did not produce workers adequately fitted for their role and the system was gradually eroded, being finally eradicated in 1890. How long will it take this century for realisation to dawn that "traditional' teaching, according to official definitions, not only stunts the mind but will produce a generation ill-equipped to provide adequately the labour required by modern capitalism?

Towards the end of the book Rachel Pinder talks of education which is not based only on lessons but also on the involvement of parents, family and friends in widening children's experience and therefore knowledge. This is a concept with which socialists would not disagree.
Eva Goodman

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Socialist and Trade Unionism - Part 3 (1912)

From the January 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 3

The anti-trade-union “Socialist” even goes so far as to declare that a Socialist organisation or journal cannot legitimately criticise trade union action — cannot offer comment upon a strike that has failed, and point out mistakes that have been made, and courses it would have been wiser to follow.

The argument used to support this contention is that a strike, and also the object of it, is a sectional concern, and that therefore the Socialist organ that enters upon the subject is guilty of sectional action contrary to the class basis of its principles.

Here again we have the old trouble — the shibboleth; the tyranny of terms and theories. The class idea is only partly understood.

When we speak of the class basis of Socialism we imply its direct and irreconcilable antagonism to capitalism and the capitalist class. Our organisation, our politics, our activities, are based upon the recognition of the class struggle. That is all.

Now the first phase of the class struggle which the workers are up against is the struggle to live in the present. This is quite as real a part of the class struggle as the endeavour for emancipation itself, though some otherwise enlightened wage-slaves whose lot is a comparatively easy one, seem unable to realise this.

The very elements of this struggle to live are “class”. True, a strike is sectional in a certain narrow sense; but it is only a sectional phase of a class effort; it is a part of the struggle of the working class against capitalist aggression.

As a matter of fact, this phase of the class struggle — the fight for wages and conditions — can only assume this sectional aspect. To assume an entirely “class” aspect involves the General Strike in its complete form. That, of course, can never come, because it presupposes organisation so far in advance of itself as to make it reactionary: organisation calling for Socialism, not for improved wages and conditions.

It is not, then, inconsistent with the revolutionary position to render support to trade unions in any action they may take upon sound lines, or to criticise their actions when they are unsound.

From what has been said it is clear that the Socialist Party cannot be antagonistic to the trade unions under present conditions, even though they have not a revolutionary basis. On the contrary, it cannot even wish this base to be changed for the revolutionary one, since the revolutionary material does not exist in sufficient quantity to enable unions restricted to such to perform their necessary functions.

What the Socialist Party must, however, be hostile to, is the misleading by the trade union leaders and the ignorance of the rank and file which make such misleading possible. But we call the manifestation of this hostility by a very good name — propaganda.

As to the future attitude of the Socialist Party toward trade unions, of course, the present penman has no warrant to speak. But to give a strictly personal view, it seems hardly conceivable that the trade unions will fail to adapt themselves to the growth of revolutionary knowledge amongst their memberships. There at present appears to be no reason why they should not. There is nothing fixed about their bases which would preclude the change without the whole structures toppling to the ground, always provided, of course, the one essential condition for their maintenance — a revolutionary rank and file — is at hand.

And even when the time comes when the revolutionary element among the membership could secure a narrow majority in a vote there seems to be no obvious reason for purging the organisations of those who do not hold the revolutionary opinion. Such a course could hardly avoid weakening the unions in their proper sphere of action under capitalist conditions, and would not strengthen them for the revolutionary purpose of the future. In addition, to do so must inevitably be to set up rival trade unions on a reactionary basis, and this would defeat the object of the revolutionaries in taking the step of revolutionising the unions.

For when it becomes a question of the respective strength of revolutionary and non-revolutionary unions, and more particularly as the first increased in strength, economic necessity would force men to hide their political convictions and creep into the organisation which offered them the best prospects immediately, just as it forces revolutionary workers to-day to join economic organisations on a non-revolutionary basis, and dominated by reactionaries and traitors.

To make political convictions the test of membership of organisations which men are forced to join on pain of economic penalty, therefore, is pre-ordained to defeat its own object.

And what good could be expected? The two functions of economic organisation are—immediate, and ultimate. The first is non-revolutionary, the second revolutionary. But though the two are so different they are not antagonistic. The non-revolutionary is not anti-revolutionary. To fight for present life does not delay the overthrow of the present social system. When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle.

Moreover, after his conversion his methods on the economic field differ little from those he previously was compelled to follow. His greater knowledge will save him from many blunders in the field, will show him how little he has to hope for from the struggle he is compelled to make. But substantially the efforts of the revolutionary and the non-revolutionary unionist on the economic field are reduced to the same plane; that is, they must endeavour to restrict competition amongst themselves; to organise for collectively withholding their special quality of labour-power.

It is on the political field that the two part company and become antagonistic.

It is not difficult to understand this. The immediate object of economic organisation—the only one which present trade unions have—is non-political. It cannot be fought out on the political field. The arena is the labour market.

On the contrary, that other and future function of economic organisation, which is to take over and administer things when the workers have obtained political supremacy and destroyed the power of the State, that function cannot begin to be active until the workers have fought out the struggle upon the political field.

All fit material, revolutionary or non-revolutionary, for the struggle on the economic field, the resistance to capitalist encroachment, can and must prosecute the fight together. But directly the political is entered upon, one is necessarily working for or against the revolution, and the non-revolutionary worker of the economic field becomes an anti-revolutionist in the arena of politics.

It is just because this is so that it became necessary to organise a separate political party of the workers. It was necessary to leave the workers the instrument of their resistance to capitalist encroachment while the weapon for capitalism’s overthrow was being forged. Had the requirements of the two objects been the same, had the non-revolutionary worker been unnecessary in the present struggle upon the economic field, or had he been of any use in the revolutionary struggle, then the political and the economic organisations might have been one.

This seems to indicate that, as the revolutionary element in trade unions grows stronger, the same difficulty that at present makes it impossible to impose any political restriction upon their membership—that is, that disruption would result—will compel the unions to relegate all political action to political organisations.

Thus with the gradual spread of Socialist views and the consequent change of men’s minds, the unions may gradually become the fit instrument of what final purpose of economic organisation may have, without the purging process.

For it is difficult to see, at the present time, what is to be gained by the expulsion of such members as have not then embraced the revolutionary idea. The strength of the Socialist movement can never be judged by the strength of the economic organisation, whatever the supposed basis, but by the power of the working class political party, hence the presence of un-class-conscious workers in economic organisations avowedly open to such cannot well mislead. And at all events they will be present in such economic organisations as are ostensibly closed to them when those organisations are strong enough to influence their chances of obtaining work.

Of course, if the economic organisation was formed to “take and hold” in the face of the political supremacy of the master class, things would be different—a different material would be required. But economic organisation is not demanded for that purpose, but for carrying on production and distribution when the political party has achieved its purpose. It seems logical to suppose that, since production and distribution will not then be carried on by the revolutionaries alone, even the reactionary labour power may be better organised inside the economic organisations than outside.

However, interesting as these speculations are, they are rather outside the province of the present articles, which concern the attitude to-day of Socialists toward trade unions. This attitude cannot be one of hostility, though it devolves upon Socialists to combat the unsound action of trade unions and trade unionists, as also the ignorance from which these unsound actions spring. But when trade unions take action on sound lines it becomes Socialists to remember their class allegiance and give them support.
A. E. Jacomb


The Socialist and Trade Unionism - Part 2 (1911)

From the December 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 2

We have seen that, in order that the ordinary laws of the competitive market shall find those presupposed conditions in the labour market without which they do not operate, in order, that is to say, that labour-power shall exchange for the cost of its production instead of the cost of its production shaping itself according to the rate of its exchange, combination becomes necessary on the part of the sellers of labour-power.

But the object of this combination, not being revolutionary, does not essentially demand that the combination shall be on a revolutionary basis.

To struggle for higher wages and better conditions is not revolutionary in any sense of the word; and the essential weapons in this struggle are not revolutionary either.

True, the real interest of the working class demands that the basis of every working-class organisation shall be revolutionary—but that is because it demands the revolutionisation of the whole system.

But first of all it demands, not the revolutionising of the basis of working-class organisations, but the revolutionising of the workers themselves.

For how can it be supposed that any mere paper-based revolutionary basis is going to help in the attainment of a revolutionary end if the only force behind it—the members constituting the organisation—have not the revolutionary consciousness?

When the Socialist Party was formed it was formed for a revolutionary purpose. The first thing to be done, therefore, was to put it on a revolutionary basis. This was defined in a declaration of principles. Only those who can accept these principles are admitted to membership, for only such are fit material for the prosecution of the revolutionary purpose.

On the other hand, trade unions are necessary, not to overthrow the present system, but to resist capitalist encroachment under the system. In this case the essential basis is that which will serve for the organisation of the fit material for the purpose in view.

To fix upon a revolutionary basis in this case and under present circumstances must be one of these two things: If it is made a condition of membership it must, because of the smallness of the number of those who have reached the revolutionary stage, render the organisation futile for the purpose which calls it into existence; on the other hand, if the revolutionary basis, having been laid down, is ignored—is not insisted upon as the indispensable condition of admittance to membership, then the organisation is not a revolutionary foundation in the first place, and the revolutionary idea is degraded, and the workers are deluded and confused in the second place.

For the principles of an organisation can only have two virtues. First, as a basis of organisation—a test of membership; secondly as a guide to action. Apart from these, principles are not worth the breath that avows them.

And if the principles are not first made the basis of organisation, if they are not accepted by the membership as pointing the way to their object, they cannot become the guide to action.

Clearly, then, the attitude of the Socialist toward trade unions is well defined. When he says that labour-power has the commodity nature he says that it must express its value through a struggle in the labour market. Both these statements force him to the conclusion that the non-revolutionary phase of the struggle between the classes is as inevitable as the revolutionary. Therefore he would not either reduce the trade unions to impotence by closing them to non-Socialists, or spread confusion by getting them to avow principles which are not necessary to their object, and which the members do not hold.

He must, therefore, accept trade unions as they are, and, realising that all their grave and undeniable faults are but the reflection of the mental shortcomings of their members, realise that it is in the latter that the revolutionary foundation is necessary, and act accordingly.

It is hardly necessary to say that those so-called Socialists who would close the economic organisation to the non-Socialist would do two other things besides. They would bar the Socialist from the non-Socialist trade union, and they would shut the doors of the Socialist political organisation to all members of such unions.

The logic of this is, first, that the non-revolutionary struggle in the economic field is not necessary, or

That the struggle against capitalist encroachments is revolutionary.

If the struggle is not necessary it is, of course, quite logical for a Socialist party to demand that its members shall have none of it. On the other hand, if the struggle is revolutionary it is perfectly logical for the Socialist to demand that the economic organisations formed to prosecute that struggle be revolutionary also.

The present scribe has never met with one of these gentlemen whose faith he is attacking, who, being asked the plain question: “Is it necessary for the workers to struggle for better wages and conditions for better wages and conditions of labour”, would dare answer no; or who, being asked if such struggle is revolutionary, dare answer yes.

So our non trade-unionist critic, in his mad endeavour to restrict the actions of the class-conscious worker to the purely revolutionary object, gets himself into a most illogical position. He starts by declaring that nothing but Socialism concerns the Socialist. He perceives that this implies that the Socialist must be able to detach himself from the world that is, since it is not a Socialist world. Well, everything must be distorted to fit his pet theories. He professes himself able to so detach himself. He declares that he can view all things “as a Socialist”, which with him means from the standpoint that nothing matters but Socialism. When he is put to the question of his attitude toward trade unions he shuts his eyes and jumps.

Of course, it is a rather awkward situation. To say that the Socialist can view all things from the standpoint that nothing matters but Socialism is an easy matter, but it wants a deal of upholding when the worker has got to view the labour market from the standpoint of the seller of labour-power. Is he, if he understands Socialist economics, and therefore all the better understands the necessity of the struggle against capitalist encroachment, to give up personal participation in the struggle? Is he, directly he becomes armed and equipped for the battle of the future, to be rendered powerless and paralytic in the equally necessary struggle of the present?

If, when a worker attains to class-consciousness, he ceases to require food, clothing and shelter, ceases to be a vendor of labour-power, ceases to be under the necessity which all commodity owners are under—of fighting for the realisation of the value of his commodity, in this case labour-power; if, in short, he ceases to be anything but a pure abstraction in whom even the charitable raven could find no want to minister to, no lodgement for a beakful of material sustenance, then it might be logical to say that no Socialist can belong to a trade union.

But if the class-conscious worker still must live by the sweat of his brow, or rather by the sale of his potential energy, then he must resort to the instrument which make the conditions of a sale, as distinct from the conditions which environ the chattel slave’s dole.

Among these instruments, for a certain number, are, under present conditions, trade unions on a non-revolutionary base. And as far as the Socialist thinks them necessary to his personal economic welfare, as far, that is, as economic pressure forces him to, he is right and justified in using them.

And when I speak of economic pressure I do not mean merely the degree of it which marks the border-line of semi-starvation. Economic pressure, it is too often forgotten, commences with the first atomic offering of economic advantage, and the degree where the individual is sensible of it and consciously influenced by it, is here or there as circumstances decide.

The critic who would “determinedly and consciously” fight the trade unions “out of existence” provides no alternative instrument for carrying on the struggle against capitalist encroachment now. When he offers us economic organisation upon a revolutionary base he tells us that the resistance on the economic field has to cease until he has made his revolutionaries! Even the advocates of “Industrial Unionism” were not so blind as this, for they, recognising that not only the revolutionaries were necessary to the present “bargaining or higgling for better conditions”, belied the “revolutionary” foundation of their organisation by leaving it open for non-revolutionaries.

The only shred of argument the anti-trade-unionist can find in support of his attitude is the plea that the trade unions are political organisations. But here again he is bereft of reason. A political organisation is an organisation composed of those who organise for the political purpose. There is no such trade union in the whole wide country. Trade unionists organise for economic reasons, not political—not even to attain economic ends by political means. If the wirepullers lead them into taking political action they do not make them political organisations, but, in the storm of dissension and disruption they arouse, prove their essentially non-political character. It takes more than a few political tricksters, battening upon the ignorance and apathy of the membership, to constitute a trade union a political organisation, just as it required more than a few reactionaries in the Socialist Party to constitute that organisation a reactionary body.

But the whole purpose of economic organisation is a mystery to the particular type of opponent whom the present writer is combating. They say that it is impossible “at the present stage of capitalist development, for trade unions to take only economic action”. How they arrive at this conclusion appears when they declare that the Socialist position “insists upon the political and economic organisation of the working class for the capture of political power”.

If economic organisation is a means to the capture of political power, then it may be argued, with some show of reason, that trade unions are political organisations and therefore can take only political action.

But it is ridiculous to talk of economic organisation for the capture of political power. Such an object at once makes the organisation political, not economic. If men organise for the purpose of “bargaining and higgling for better conditions” by combined action on the industrial field, then their organisation is an economic one. If they organise to attain the same end by political means, then it is a political organisation as well as an economic one.

But the case of our anti-trade-unionist opponent does not come within the limits of either of these descriptions. He tells us that the “bargaining or higgling for better conditions in itself is no concern of Socialism”,—though he puts it that way to obscure the fact that he means that they are no concern of Socialists.

If he does not mean this there is no sense in his remark, for Socialism has no senses, and so can have no concerns.

As the economic struggle is no concern of the Socialist, and all the members of the economic organisation are to be Socialists, the economic organisation cannot be concerned with the economic struggle, it cannot be an economic organisation.

As the economic organisation that isn’t economic has for its purpose the capture of political power, it is a political organisation. A pretty picture our opponent’s tangle makes when it is straightened out.

But stay, there is one frail thread’s end not yet taken up. It will be claimed, perhaps, that the organisation exists to use economic means to capture political power, and is economic. This is the only argument left.

But then what are these means? There are but two possible replies. One is the reply of the Anarchist—the General Strike. The other is the reply of the Industrial Unionist; it is that they must “SEIZE AND HOLD THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION, in defiance of the armed forces”, in defiance, necessarily, of the political power they desire to capture.

The Socialist position does not “insist upon the political and economic organisation of the working class for the capture of political power”. 

The Socialist position is that the capture of political power must be the work of a political party, the fruit of political action. The capture of political power is necessary to enable the economic action of taking over the means of production to be proceeded with. Therefore it is madness to say the Socialist position “insists upon the . . . economic organisation of the working class for the capture of political power”.

The Socialist position is adequately laid down in the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party thus: “The working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government”. That was true when it was adopted. Let all beware of adding or taking away a word.
A. E. Jacomb

(To be continued.)

The Socialist and Trade Unionism: The situation reviewed (1911)

From the November 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist attitude toward trade unions and trade unionists?

The Tyranny of Theory.
This is a question which has been agitating certain minds of late—minds which are so overwhelmed with the Socialist theories of political economy that they have lost the power (if they ever had it) of analysing the conditions prevailing, and of judging how far and how completely those conditions warrant the application of the theories.

Starting from the theory that it is inevitable that the condition of the workers will get worse while capitalism lasts—a pronouncement which, under proper and careful definition is perfectly correct—they arrive at the conclusion that trade unions are not, never have been, and never can be, of use to the working class.

These gentlemen are usually men who have given some attention to economic science, who have assimilated a multitude of worthy and irreproachable theories regarding the laws of capitalist society; but, from absence of the judicial mind, they accept these theories without sufficient thought as to their limitations, and as to the conditions which qualify them, and without which they cannot be true. Hence these right and proper theories become mere shibboleths, hobble-skirts about the ankles of those submerged and lost in verbal fashion. It is inevitable that such people will argue (I had almost said think) “in terms of contradiction”.

For instance, they will accept the theory that capitalism presupposes competition, and also the theory that competition tends to monopoly, yet they expect the laws of competition to operate in cases where the conditions of competition have given place to those of monopoly.

Of a Mind with the Capitalists.
These critics and opponents of ours admit—nay, more than that, they are too blatant to be confined within the limits of a mere admission, they assert—the commodity nature of labour-power. They recognise that the owners of the commodity labour-power, like the owners of all other commodities, must always struggle for the best price in order that their commodity may, in the long run, realise its value. Yet, strange confusion of ideas, while admitting the necessity of this continual fight, they would deny the workers the weapons of the struggle—trade union combination and the strike. In this they are so far anti-Socialist to be in perfect accord with the capitalists themselves.

Of course, what blinds them to the true state of affairs is another half-digested theory—that the return to labour is determined by the cost of subsistence. They argue that therefore the resistance of the workers is also determined by the cost of his subsistence, and that he has no need to fashion any other forces than that of his bare, naked will not to give way before he has to; that combination, that organisation, which is so potent and vital a factor on the political field, on the economic field is utterly worthless—a snare, a delusion, a pitfall, a gin, a chimera, a mirage, an obfuscation. The workers are to have none of it. The laws which arise from free competition are quite sufficient, under all capitalist conditions, to give the workers all they can get under all the circumstances of capitalism.

Forgotten—that the cost of subsistence is not a fixed point; forgotten—that the standard of subsistence is not entirely independent of the workers’ power of resistance; forgotten—that the statement that the wage (in the long run) is the reflection of the value of the labour-power is a statement of the effect of a law which implies the highest resistance on both sides; forgotten—that competition leads to monopoly.

Conditions undergo Change.
With the development of capitalism the conditions of the labour market undergo change. Wage-slavery remains, it is true—no changes reach down to that fundamental condition. But on the side of the purchasers of labour-power there is a tendency to restrict competition. As the smaller employers are crushed out the men find themselves haggling with fewer but more powerful antagonists; as rings and trusts and combines and masters’ associations spring up free competition conditions are upset, and the laws which arise from such, and operate only while such conditions obtain, are more or less modified, or displaced by laws which arise out of monopoly conditions.

Let us take any gigantic exploiting concern—the combined railway systems of this country, for instance. No intelligent person will claim that there is the same play of free competition among them as purchasers of labour-power that there is among the employers in many industries. True, the railways as a whole have to compete with other industries for the raw, untrained labour-power in the first place, but after that competition practically ceases. Time was when the companies did “poach” one another’s signalmen, drivers, and guards, but now, to all intents and purposes, the “skilled” railway worker has but one possible employer.

To talk of the laws of free competition in this case is a bit wide of the mark. The worker in no longer free to sell himself to the highest bidder, for there is only one bidder. Competition on one side is dead, and the laws of competition hobble along with one foot in a muddy furrow. It would be folly to expect anything else.

Now as there is but one employer that these men can sell their labour-power to, they have not the opportunity of putting themselves up to auction. The only thing they can do is to refuse or threaten to refuse to sell their labour-power upon the offered terms. This, of course, is the strike or the threat to strike.

Trade Unions Necessary.
It is perfectly clear that such a proceeding as this must be collectively engaged in. It is perfectly obvious also that this means combination, organisation. So some form of union becomes the necessary instrument to correct or counterpoise the monopoly conditions set up by the development of combination among the masters.

Combination on the workers’ part has the effect, undoubtedly, in such circumstances of considerably increasing their power of resistance, for now the very extent of the employers’ needs becomes a source of embarrassment to them. It was no difficult matter to replace a few “malcontents”, but to fill the places of a large and well-organised section is a very different matter.

With the development of capitalism there is necessarily an increased tendency toward this obliteration of competitive conditions by combination among the masters. The only answer to it at the moment is for the workers to shift their line of resistance from the individual to the collective. Who denies this is an individualist, an anarchist, to the core.

Make no mistake about it, without some form of organisation the men are helpless in face of the present combination and growing tendency to combination on the part of the masters. Yet the very law which our critics adduce against us, the law that labour-power will, like all other commodities, realise its value in the long run, presupposes that they shall continually struggle for better terms. It is only out of this contention of opposing forces that the law operates.

Now our opponents tell us that trade unions and strikes are no good because when a victory is obtained the law of wages “ . . . sharp racks to pinch and peel” and so reduce things to the old level.

The Struggle Must be Maintained
This deduction can only be drawn from half-understood theories. While it is true that all their struggle in the labour-market cannot raise the workers’ remuneration above the line fluctuating about the subsistence level, while it is true that any alteration of that subsistence level must, if maintained, result in a corresponding and nullifying intensification of the exploiting system, it is true also that the struggle must be made.

With all the workers’ struggles, say our critics, the economic laws decide that their enjoyment of the wealth produced shall be determined by the necessary cost of subsistence. But they forget to say what would happen without the struggle.

If higher wages are answered by speeding-up and improved methods of production, the tendency toward this is always present. Machinery and methods develop with stationary or even falling wages. If every vestige of the workers’ power of resistance was blotted out, so that the only limit to plunder was the physical law that a given amount of food can only produce a given amount of energy, still the means of production would tend to develop, because though that given amount of food could never be made to produce more than a given amount of energy, that energy may be made, by improved methods, to create a greater amount of wealth.

To cease to struggle, therefore, is no means of escaping from the tyrant competition of machinery. On the other hand, to cease the struggle is to reduce human labour-power even below the commodity status. The labour-power of the wage-slave is no more than a commodity because of the wage-slave’s propertyless condition; it is no less than a commodity because he has a power of resistance. Why is the labour-power of a horse not a commodity? Simply because the horse has no power of resistance. The wage-slave owns his labour-power. He is free to take it into the market and fight for the best price for it. The horse does not own his labour-power, hence it is he and not his labour-power who is the commodity. In this respect the chattel slave and the horse are alike, and the fact is reflected in the remarkably similar treatment accorded to both.

These things show, then, the folly of the argument that the struggle of the workers in the economic field for better conditions under capitalism is futile and superfluous because the economic laws determine what those conditions shall be. The laws of the exchange of the commodity labour-power are the laws of free competition. To formulate them is simply to indicate what will happen under given conditions, which in this case include a continual struggle on both the buyer’s part and the seller’s part.

The struggle, then, is presupposed. Therefore every means that strengthen the workers in that struggle are good in so far as they do so. Organisation, then, becomes necessary to the workers as a foil to that organisation among the capitalists which tends to disturb free competition and set up new conditions. What form shall the organisation take?

The critics who stand so much upon their theories without troubling to make sure that all the conditions necessary to their veracity are present when they apply them, says that organisation must be founded upon a revolutionary and class-conscious basis. Good.

But the same critic will inform us, out of the plenitude of his theories, that all institutions are based on economic conditions. At any rate, the need for combinations among the workers arose long before the knowledge of the working-class position so essential to class-consciousness became general. Indeed, the basis of the trade unions to-day is evidence amounting to almost proof that such knowledge is not wide-spread even now. The material, then, for a class-conscious trade union movement did not exist when the first unions were formed—it does not exist even to-day. In face of these facts how could it be expected that the trade unions could, or can at present, be based upon class-conscious principles?

There is this essential difference between the Socialist movement and the trade union movement: the former was called into being by the need for revolution—the latter was not. It must be recognised that the need for the workers to struggle for the best conditions under capitalism is as real as the need for revolution. In this struggle for the highest price for labour-power the trade unions did and do represent the highest form of weapon which it was or is possible to fashion with the material to hand. So far, then, they are good.

The strike, of course, is the force behind all trade union organisation. A trade union is a combination for the purpose of making it possible to collectively withhold labour-power. All the union’s operations are conditioned by the progress made in that direction. Therefore if trade unions are good the strike is good also—though least good, it is possible, when it passes from a standing menace to an active hostility.

Now our critic, who is fond of throwing words into high-sounding phrases and then risking his life for them, tells us that strikes are guerrilla warfare, and therefore are useless. But strikes and the menace of strikes are not guerrilla warfare. On the contrary, in certain circumstances and for the purpose they aim at—the resistance of capitalist encroachment—they are the last resort, the only form of warfare left open.

It is true the opponent of the Socialist attitude tries to play tricks with himself, tries to detach himself from all his human qualities and make himself the mere embodiment of an idea. He claims to view the struggle in the labour-market from “the Socialist standpoint”. The view from this elevation is, according to him, that anything which does not directly forward the emancipation of the working class does not concern him.

The possessor of this strange attitude of mind prides himself ostentatiously on having reached that high scientific pinnacle where he is quite beyond the reach of every activity, mental or otherwise, but the abstract idea—Socialism. “Scientifically and logically”, he argues, “to the Socialist, as a Socialist, nothing matters but Socialism”. If a man could stand as the mere receptacle of the one idea, Socialism, the logic of this position might (or might not) be conceded—but scientifically the position is unsound. For the scientist may not stop where the logician does: he has to ask what are the essentials of Socialism. The first essential he discovers is—a human race. Without humanity there can be no Socialism. Directly he admits this he discovers that, even as the frigidly pure, passionless, scientific exponent and advocate of Socialism the every day affairs of men do matter, for assuredly if any calamity threatened to blot Man out of the scheme of things, to obliterate one of the essentials of his scientific obsession, it would concern him.

Such an admission, of course, is fatal to the position that the Socialist, as such, is concerned with Socialism alone. For if he is under the necessity of being concerned, in the last analysis, with the existence of the material for his Socialist society, then he has to find reasons for drawing a line anywhere, in matters that affect the condition of that material.

Such reasons do not exist—he is on an inclined plane.
A. E. Jacomb

(To be continued.)

Home Rule in a Nutshell (1911)

Book Review from the November 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Home Rule in a Nutshell, by J. MacVeagh, M.P., Price 3d.

It is significant for the members of the working class – in Ireland or elsewhere – that there is no direct mention or statement of their position and problems anywhere in this pamphlet. While as if to emphasise its concern for the chosen class we are told on page 3 that “the impulse of Nationality comes from higher than earthly powers”.

What a consolation to those who find themselves put to so many shifts in endeavouring to account for the shortcomings of Home Rule! All through the plea it is the owning section of the Irish race – whether agricultural or manufacturing – whose interests are considered and argued for on every page.

Perhaps this accounts for the short-sightedness of the author when he tells us, in italics, on page 6, that “The Act of Union has . . . crushed Irish trade and industries”, while on page 7 he says “so far back as the middle of the seventeenth century England began to legislate to destroy Irish industries . . . The great woollen industry was destroyed by an Act of the English Parliament”. And on page 8 we are told that “every industry to which Ireland turned was destroyed by England by the imposition of prohibitive duties or by the closing of ports”.

That fifty years elapsed between the middle of the seventeenth century and the Act of Union hardly seems a sufficient reason for saddling the actions of both periods with the same single result. How much the  Home Rule movement is a capitalist movement is shown when our author boasts that “Ireland gave generals and soldiers to fight for Great Britain in South Africa” (p. 18), and has given to the British Empire some of its greatest statesmen, generals, diplomats – men like Henry Grattan, Edmund Burke, O’Connell, Parnell, Govan Duffy, Duke of Wellington, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener” – all, be it noted, toadies and lickspittles of the English ruling class.

While reference is made to the famine of 1847, not a word is said regarding the fact that it was not lack of food that caused the dire calamity, but the selling of the foodstuff to pay rent to Irish, as well as English, landlords.

On page 60, however, the truth appears. “The United Irish League is a sort of Farmers’ Trade Union”, we are told. Exactly. Hence its opposition to the agricultural labourers’ attempts to improve their miserable position. And among the chief causes of the so-called improvement that has taken place in late years is given, “five years of Liberal administration”!

Two things, however, are done well in the brochure. One is the showing of the hopelessness of the physical force movement against England – a movement that unfortunately contains a large number of the working class in its ranks. The other is the exposure of the humbug of the self-styled loyalists of Ulster with their threat of civil war if a Home Rule Bill were passed.

The facts and figures given in the latter connection are the most valuable in the pamphlet.
Jack Fitzgerald