Saturday, June 12, 2021

Taxation and the workers. The budget and the bottom dog. (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The introduction of the Budget has once more provided the Labour Party with an opportunity of demonstrating their utility to the master-class and their utter uselessness to the workers ; and right nobly have they risen to the occasion. While hundreds of delicate, half-starved women are being told by unemployment committees that they are not genuinely seeking work these redoubtable champions of the under-dog can find nothing better to do than to kick up a shindy over a tax on silk stockings !

Not only do they find themselves in the company of Liberals such as Runciman and Co. and Tories such as Colonel Gadie, of Bradford and other representatives of the employers of the West Riding, but that notorious organ of democratic enlightenment, the “Daily Mail” also rallies to their support and condemns the fiscal folly of the chameleon Chancellor. How inspiring ! What enthusiasm the spectacle must awaken in the breasts of those who seek to persuade us that the Labour Party is entitled to the support of Socialists !

Now, frankly, fellow-worker, what do these taxes matter to you? Have you ever known them make any practical difference to your condition in the long run? When, for instance, the man who won the war (you know who I mean, of course) bilked the tyrannous landlords of a halfpenny in the pound on the unimproved value of their estates, to provide money for battleships, did you buy a car or take a tour to the Riviera? Of course not ! You went along to your job just as you always had done or you lined up at the Labour Exchange along with hundreds of thousands of others in a similar plight; and such has been your lot whatever taxes have been put on or taken off. Nor is the reason far to seek.

Why are taxes imposed at all? That is the question you must first answer if you are to arrive at any understanding of the matter. As hinted above they are imposed for the purpose of providing for the expenditure of the State. The Labour Party themselves have on occasion shown that the greater proportion of that expenditure is upon the armed forces. Do those forces exist for your benefit? Is it for your sake that the Navy guards the products of the farms and ranches overseas, of the tribute of the gold-fields and of the cotton, cocoanut and other tropical plantations? Is it on your behalf that aircraft terrorise the inhabitants of India and Iraq, where the oilfields are? You only need to remember what happens when a large strike is on to find your answer. Then another branch of the services is told off to see that you do not lay unholy hands on the products of the labour of your class. You are forcibly reminded that in the land of your birth you are the bottom-dog whenever you seek to challenge the "justice” of your subsistence wages.

Of course there are not lacking fatuous boobs who profess to believe that taxation can be and is used for what they are pleased to call “social amelioration” as a primary object. The facts are all against them. Take any form of non-militant expenditure such as that on education, sanitation, the relief of destitution and the like and you will invariably find that such expenditure is manifestly totally inadequate to raise the workers above the level of mere profit-producing machines.

The “education” provided is such as will fit the child for absorption in due course into the factory, shop, or office of the boss. It is primarily an education in discipline necessary to capitalism. The instinctive curiosity of the child is smothered under a heap of “facts” systematically loaded with the cant and prejudice of religion and patriotism. That is all that education means to the workers beyond the rudimentary three r’s.

The sanitation provided in working class areas is the minimum necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases to the areas occupied by their exploiters. It is notoriously inadequate to prevent the workers sinking to the C3 level ! After a century of sanitary legislation the slum still survives, a standing menace to healthy social development.

As for the relief of destitution by such methods as insurance, these have been shown in these columns repeatedly as being nothing more than attempts to economise by centralisation—the alternative to extra police protection. Once again the sums given are nothing more than will actually prevent the masses of the destitute from raiding the food stores.

The entire machinery of government thus exists simply for the purpose of preserving the system by which the workers are robbed of the greater portion of the fruits of their labour. It is, therefore, a matter of indifference to the workers how taxes are raised. The essential point to bear in mind is that the sums raised are utilised in opposition to the interests of the workers.

Reformers and taxation-tinkerers of all kinds endeavour to establish some connection between taxes and the workers’ condition in order to claim their electoral support. Protectionists try to maintain that certain forms of taxation will increase employment. Free Traders pretend to oppose them on the ground that such taxes will increase the workers’ cost of living. Neither side have ever proved their case; but even if they had the fact would contain no consolation for the worker.

Whether the workers are busy or idle they are poor and the boom is inevitably followed by the slump. So much for the Protectionist. America is eloquent testimony to the fallacy of his arguments. The Free Traders, whether they call themselves Liberals or Labour men have nothing better to offer. Even were it true that taxes on commodities materially affected their prices for any length of time (which is a mere assumption) how does that affect the workers? Wages are based upon the cost of living of the working-class as shown in last month’s issue of this paper. If there is any truth in the dogma that “the consumer pays” then a rise in the cost of living is “passed on” to the consumer of labour-power, i.e., the capitalist employer ! In actual practice, however, quite irrespective of the incidence of taxation, the workers are engaged in a continual struggle to prevent wages sinking beneath the level of subsistence.

Protectionists and Free Traders alike simply represent the interests of different sections of the exploiting class. The Cobdens and the Brights no less than the Chamberlains were concerned with screwing the maximum amount of profit out of their slaves and simply used the cry of “Taxes” as a means to dupe them on the political field. The triumph of Free Trade was the signal for an all-round reduction in wages.

The Labour Party claims to have inherited the mantle of these Liberal hypocrites. So far as the Socialist is concerned they are very welcome to it. Socialism remains the only means by which the workers can achieve their emancipation from poverty and subjection. The Socialist therefore does not advocate this or that method of financing the State, but only the capture of the machinery of government by the consciously organised working class for the purpose of establishing Socialism and ridding us of the instrument of oppression for ever.
Eric Boden

The conflict between religion and Socialism. (1925)

Editorial from the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much space has been devoted to this subject in the correspondence columns of the “Daily Herald” since the appearance of an article in which Mr. Wheatley expressed his opinion that there is no reason at all why a Catholic should not be a loyal member of the Labour Party. On this occasion Mr. Wheatley chose to pretend that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party, and that to show that the Labour Programme is compatible with the acceptance of Catholicism is the same thing as showing that Socialism is likewise compatible with it. The force of Mr. Wheatley’s argument is completely destroyed by his own definite assertion elsewhere that the Labour Party is not a Socialist Party. (See April Socialist Standard and Forward, 3rd November, 1923). It is, therefore, not surprising that the Editor of the “Daily Herald” declined to insert a letter pointing out Mr. Wheatley’s contradiction of his own argument. This is strictly in accordance with the “Herald’s” well-known principle of throwing open its columns to all shades of opinion—which agree with the Editor’s. If the opinion disagrees the columns are still open to those who can afford to pay the usual advertising rates.

The controversy was carried a stage further by the assertion of Mr. C. Diamond that a Catholic could not be a Socialist, but could be a member of the Labour Party because that body is not a Socialist Party. Mr. Diamond is the Editor of the “Catholic Herald,” and has three times stood as a Labour candidate with the official endorsement of the National Labour Party. He was accepted each time
  “In face of the fact that he distinctly declared that while he was a Labour man he was not a Socialist Candidate” (Catholic Herald, 23rd May, 1925).
He wrote to the “Daily Herald” (8th May) and after quoting from our pamphlet. “Socialism and Religion,” in support of his views, went on :—
  “Mr. E. Van der Velde, leader of the Belgian Socialist Party in his “Essais Socialistes,” p. 148, says: “To be at the same time Catholic and Socialist, is not only a contradiction but a practical impossibility.” ….
   Cardinal Mercier declares “all the Popes who were witnesses of the dissolving action of Socialism—Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV—condemned Socialism. The present Pope, Pius XI, condemns it.”
  It is surely only fair to Catholics and Socialists that the truth should be known.”
The Editor of the “Herald” added his comment as follows :—
  “Mr. Diamond, who has been three times a Labour candidate, must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view. He must know also that the controversies between Catholics and Socialists (and, indeed, Liberals as well) on the Continent have no counterpart in this country.
   Mr. Diamond accused Mr. Ben Spoor of having stated that the Labour Party was not Socialist. Mr. Spoor has denied that in our columns, but Mr. Diamond offers him no apology.”
With regard to Mr. Spoor and the statement he was alleged to have made, Mr. Diamond informs his readers that he is still engaged in a search for the exact quotation (23rd May). But surely the request for an apology is a piece of impudence, coming as it does from the “Daily Herald” Editor in view of his refusal to publish the admission made by Mr. Wheatley or to publish a similar admission made by Mr. Snowden and sent to him after the publication of Mr. Diamond’s letter. Other correspondents whose letters the “Herald” selected for insertion claimed Father O’Meara, of Corpus Christi Church, Brixton, and Father Hagerty, as Catholic priests, who are also Socialists.

Mr. Diamond accordingly approached Fr. O’Meara, who was a Labour candidate and is still an active Labour supporter, for his views. The reply is a plain denial.
  “You can deny most emphatically that I am a Socialist” (Catholic Herald, 23 May).
As for Father Hagerty, it seems, according to Mr. Diamond, that he has ceased to be a Catholic Priest “in good standing,” and it is therefore as reasonable to quote his views as representing those of the Catholic Church as it would be to quote the secularist Mr. McCabe on the ground that he had once been a monk.

As the “Herald” made some misleading remarks about the Socialist Party, the following letter was addressed to them, but they refuse to publish it :—

May 19th, 1925.
The “Editor,”
Daily Herald,”
2, Carmelite Street, E.C.

Dear Sir,


Our attention has been called to a letter written by Mr. C. Diamond which dealt with the antagonism between Socialism and Religion, and was published in your columns on the 8th inst. .Your Editorial comment contains the following passage :— “Mr. Diamond . . . must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view.” In view of probable misunderstanding arising from this, we ask that you insert this letter in order that your readers may know that while the Socialist Party claims to represent the Socialist view on religion as on all other matters, it has not claimed and has no desire to speak in the name of the Labour Party to which it is opposed.

As too, smallness of numbers is no proof of mistaken opinions, we would welcome the opportunity to state in the “Daily Herald” the Socialist attitude of opposition to religion because so far only one side of the case has been given publicity.
Yours faithfully,
General Secretary.

What plainly divides Socialism from all kinds of religious belief is that “Socialism is a naturalistic and materialistic philosophy. It entirely excludes the supernatural.” What causes the Catholic and Protestant Church as institutions and the Labour Party as a political body to oppose Socialism is equally plain.

Socialism stands for the abolition of private property in the means of wealth production and distribution; it involves therefore the abolition of the right to “live by owning,” which is at present enjoyed by the propertied class. The Labour Party, while advocating certain reforms which meet with the approval of the Churches do not advocate Socialism. They advocate Nationalisation or State Capitalism, which permits the capitalist to continue living on his investments, the only real difference being that he lends the money to the Government instead of investing it in privately-controlled companies. It is ultimately of no importance to the Churches as property owners or to the rest of the propertied class, how they get their income so long as they do get it. It is equally immaterial to the workers whether they are exploited by private companies to provide that income or whether they are exploited directly by the State. What they must recognise is that the Labour Party and the Churches are in favour of a continuance of the exploiting system with certain minor alterations. Moreover it is not simply a question of material interest. Anyone who cares to enquire into the economic doctrines which underlie the Labour Party programme will find that those doctrines do not treat profit and interest as exploitation, and do not recognise the possibility of abolishing them. Thus Mr. MacDonald in his “Socialism and Society” and Mr. Tawney in his “Acquisitive Society” are agreed that industry cannot be carried on unless the capitalist is paid for the use of his property. Interest is for them not a feature of capitalism which can now be dispensed with along with the system to which it belongs, but a feature of modern industry inevitable unless we destroy that industry and revert to peasant and handicraft production.

Here is a fundamental cleavage between the Socialist and the Labour Party. It is also a cleavage between the Socialist and the Catholic Church.

In his Encyclical “The Condition of the Worker,” Pope Leo XIII. clearly recognised this. Dr. Cohalan, Bishop of Cork, preaching on the Encyclical (see Freeman’s Journal, Oct. 12, 1916) pointed out that most people who describe themselves as Socialist do not deny rights of private property and therefore do not come under the Pope’s ban : Taking over railways, tramways, water supply, etc.
  “By the State … is not Socialism. It does not imply a denial of private ownership, or of succession, or of the wage-earning system. The employees of the State are wage-earners.”
Socialism on the other hand means the abolition of the wages system. It may suit the Labour Party to get votes by pretending on the one hand to be Socialist, and on the other repudiating Socialism in order to attract religious people, but for their own sake the sooner the workers recognise the real facts the better for them. We stand for Socialism with all its implications, the Labour Party from confusion of thought and dishonesty of purpose is not even willing to have the Socialist view towards religion stated in the pages of the “Daily Herald.”

There are, of course, other aspects of this vital antagonism to be considered. Fraser, in the Golden Bough,” draws attention to one of them.
  “It might with some show of reason be maintained that no belief has done so much to retard the economic, and thereby the social progress of mankind as the belief in the immortality of the soul, for this belief has led race after race, generation after generation, to sacrifice the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of the dead. The waste and destruction of life and property which this faith has entailed are enormous and incalculable” (Psyche’s Task).
Mentally and materially the obstruction of effort and waste of resources caused by the superstitions of religion and the conflict of sects is still holding back the human race. The believer in a mythical future life will never whole-heartedly devote himself to perfecting the real life here, which is all he will ever know.

Marx coined the striking phrase “Religion is the opium of the People,” and Lenin in our own day was forced to see the necessity of freeing the workers’ minds from the effects of this drug. He held it to be
  “Of paramount importance …. That a magazine devoting itself to problems of militant materialism should at the same time be conducting an untiring campaign of propaganda for atheism. . . ” (see Communist International, Congress Number, 1922).
Those who want to understand the Philosophy of Socialism and the theoretical and practical relations between Socialism and Religion should read our pamphlet advertised in this issue.

Economics and Ideas. Their influence on Political Institutions. (Part 3) (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued front last month).

Divine Right or Social Contract.

The struggle of the bourgeoisie for political emancipation culminated in England in the Great Rebellion of 1642-48. The chief immediate cause of the outbreak was the dispute over the right of the crown to levy charges upon property owners either by taxes or forced loans without the consent of their representatives. Its general social causes however must be sought in the developing antagonism between the domination of hereditary privilege and kingly prerogative and the political needs of an increasingly commercial society.

As the crisis approached Parliament definitely demanded the right to appoint and dismiss Ministers, and the control of the army. In the six years’ Civil War which followed, the established regime—the “King’s cause” was defended by the nobility and the more old-fashioned of the landed gentry, whilst to the Parliamentary forces adhered the traders of the cities allied with the freehold farmers.

At this stage no purely political doctrine had an appeal wide enough to rally all revolting sections, and we find the morale of the Cromwellian Army—the backbone of the Parliamentary forces, provided by “puritanism,” which in belief was the antithesis to the Catholicism of the crown and in its attitude to life the mirror of the needs of the yeomen farmers and the small traders.

It was not until the first phase of the struggle had ended in a bourgeois victory, and the question of “divine right” answered emphatically in the negative by the execution of Charles, that its theoretical expression was forthcoming. As Stopford Brooke says,
  “the opposition to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings did not enter into literature till after it had been worked out practically in the Civil War. During the Commonwealth and after the Restoration it took the form of a discussion on the abstract question of the Science of Government, and was mingled with an enquiry into the origin of society and the ground of social life.” (“English Literature” p. 132.)
The result of this enquiry showed clearly the wide influence commercial relations of life now had in the sphere of political thought. The productive organisations and customs of feudalism had their origin in the remote and misty past. Through unnumbered generations they persisted with little change and they were looked upon with veneration and believed to have a supernatural origin.

But commerce and money had brought a new form of organisation. The firms and companies of the traders and manufacturers had a perfectly well-known origin. They were deliberately established as a result of definite agreements between men. The law of “contract,” not of “status” or custom, was their basis and safeguard. What more natural then than that the theorists of the new order should suggest that human society and the State were originally formed by a common agreement for the social good and that therefore the governing authority could be repudiated if it violated the terms of the “original contract.”

Such a theory was put forward by Hobbes in his “Leviathan” (1651) and later taken up by Locke and Rousseau. Though Hobbes’ materialistic views met with much opposition on religious grounds the effect of the idea of the “social contract”
“at the time of its first appearance was immense. Its almost universal acceptance put an end to the religious and patriarchal theories of society, on which Kingship had till now founded its claim of a Divine right to authority which no subject might question.” (Green’s “Short History,” p. 615).
In the next phase of the struggle ending in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, the argument of the “social contract” was used with effect in the Parliamentary debates on the abdication of James II. and, in the final indictment against the King, his violation of the “contract” was specifically mentioned.

The Revolution with its “Bill of Rights” vested supreme authority in the House of Commons—the representative assembly of the propertied classes. Following it came another advance in bourgeois political theory by Locke, who cast into more acceptable form Hobbes’ ideas and definitely declared the supremacy of legislative assemblies. Again fact preceded theory. Locke’s “Essay on Civil Government” was the outcome
“not of a pure development of scientific ideas, but of the necessity for having a theory to justify accomplished facts.”
It was
“in truth an elaborate apology for the Revolution of 1688; not ostensibly for its righteousness or policy in the particular circumstances, but for the possibility of such a proceeding being rightful in any circumstances.” (Pollock, “Science of Politics,” p. 65.)
In the new regime the landowners were still predominant but the commercial and banking interests were a great and a growing social power. In the Commons the two rival groups faced each other as the Tory and Whig parties. But many of the wealthier landowners were by now interested also in commerce and finance and the antagonism between the two orders of property tended to become less. The power of the capitalists was manifested in the founding in 1694 of the Bank of England—originally a whig finance company; in the commercial laws based on the “mercantile” principle of accumulating bullion by restricting imports of manufactured goods whilst encouraging their export; and in the trade wars against France which the landed class generally discouraged.

The British Constitution now remained without serious modification for a century and a half, the most important development being the “cabinet system” which placed the executive under the control of the Commons. As an instrument giving political liberty to the exploiters of labour whilst securing the suppression of the producing masses the Constitution was one of the most perfect pieces of machinery in political history. The ruling’ classes rightly revered it as a perpetual guarantee of their wealth and privileges. They lavished adulation upon it. To Blackstone, the jurist, it was—”this noble pile,” whilst Burke went into ecstatic when he contemplated its “delicate equilibrium.” Based upon the right to representation of only a wealthy handful of the population—with an electorate of merely some 12,000 this allegedly democratic constitution was in reality an oligarchic despotism of the few over the many.

Through it was carried out by all due forms of law one of the most callous examples that history records of the spoliation and starvation of a helpless class through the enclosure and appropriation by the large landowners of millions of acres of the “common lands” used by the peasants of England for centuries. As a result of the growing numbers of landless and propertyless and the intense poverty of the new labouring class laws of unprecedented stringency were enforced for the protection of property. Thousands of working-class “criminals” were hanged for stealing no more than five shillings or a sheep, or for firing a rick of hay.

The “Rights of Man.”
The success of the mercantile interests in England in establishing their rule through Parliament gave a stimulus to the bourgeoisie in France—oppressed by economic fetters imposed by a despotism raised upon the remnants of feudalism, bearing the chief burden of a heavy taxation and excluded entirely from political power. Along with the smouldering discontent of the bourgeoisie developed a vigorous attack by the French intellectuals upon all the institutions and traditions of the established regime. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and the authors of the great “Encyclopedia ” directed their shafts of criticism and satire upon the “unreason” of social relations, the despotism of the State over men’s bodies and of the Church over men’s minds.

The English Constitution was eagerly discussed and applauded. In it the French bourgeoisie and their theorists saw the ideal framework of society. Buckle in his “History of Civilisation” gives a detailed account of the extraordinary influence that English literature and institutions had at this time in France. Even Rousseau’s famous work the “Contrat Social,” which became the text book of the revolution, was little more than a development of the ideas of Hobbes and Locke. In it Rousseau declared the irrationality and tyranny of all existing social structure and idealised the “free, independent individual” — the “natural” man. The book had an immense vogue with all the disaffected and its popularity was so feared by the authorities that it was accorded the honour of being burnt by the public hangman.

The philosophers of the “age of reason” were sincere enough in their fierce denunciations of tyranny and glorification of “liberty”—but they could not transcend the times in which they lived. When Rousseau wrote his famous words, “Man is born free and is everywhere in chains,” he was not thinking of the same “chains” as those of the equally famous declaration —”The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Rousseau and those who thought with him denounced the chains of obsolete conventions and beliefs and of legal and political restrictions upon the individual and his goods. They did not conceive of property as a means of enslavement—to them it seemed the guarantee of freedom, of personal independence. Their utopia was a society of independent farmers, craftsmen and traders, and it was from this ideal basis that they formulated the inalienable Rights of Man— “to liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.” It required machinery and the “great industry” to demonstrate the titanic power of slavery latent in the “free rights of property” and the “liberty of the individual,” and thus to lay the basis for the slogan of Marx.

But while the philosophers were indulging themselves with universal principles the merchants, lawyers and politicians were concerning themselves with practical realities. They were not troubled with abstract intellectual problems but with urgent economic, legal and political ones. But the main problems that confronted the revolutionary bourgeoisie in France, though the same in essence as those their English comperes had faced differed in historical setting.

The “grand seigneurs” had not been “corrupted” by commerce to the extent of the English aristocracy. They were still an exclusive, arrogant caste, despising trade, holding ancient feudal rights over the peasantry such as were long extinct in England, and—a most important point, they were entirely exempt from taxation. While the English nobility had faced merely a check to their political domination, only affecting: them indirectly in an economic sense, the French nobility were confronted with a threat to their economic security, to their feudal dues and fiscal privileges—with virtual expropriation. Hence the com¬promise that was achieved with little difficulty in England was in France next to impossible.

When the crisis was upon them the bourgeoisie were reluctantly compelled to ally themselves with the stirring propertyless populace of the cities. It was the “common mob” who took the Bastille. But the traders, the lawyers and the politicians had a wholesome dread of the hungry masses—inflamed with revolutionary phrases and extravagant promises and freed for the moment from their customary habits of subjection. Mirabeau warned the assembly against its “seditious allies.”

Whilst they had need the bourgeoisie readily used the multitude as a threatening weapon against the crown and the aristocrats, but when the strength of the old regime was broken, when
  “the King could no longer collect an army, the force of the crowd was no longer necessary to the Assembly. A kind of Riot Act was accordingly passed under which certain officials might at any time proclaim Martial Law ; to restrain the forces of agitation a censorship was established over newspapers and public meetings and even over the sale of literature.” (Packwood Adams—”The French Revolution,” p. 100.)
Thus the bourgeoisie endeavoured to maintain its newly-acquired and precarious power, to stay the surging forces of revolt that it itself had done so much to unleash and to secure “order”—the bourgeois order of peaceful exploitation.

The great rallying cry that stirred all the sections opposed to the old regime was “liberty ! equality ! fraternity !” But these vague words meant different things to different men. In the mouth of a bourgeois they had a definite, limited meaning. “Freedom” meant—liberation from the tyrannical control which the autocratic rule of the Bourbons had exercised over the lives and property of its unprivileged subjects. “Equality” implied the abolition of hereditary privilege and the guarantee of legal and political equality for all “responsible citizens”—all who possessed property and paid taxes.

When, in June, 1789, the deputies of the “third estate” constituted themselves the National Assembly of France their general aim was nothing more than the abolition of feudal restrictions and the erection of a representative Constitution with a limited Monarchy on the lines of that in England. And when, three years later, the Constitution of 1791 was framed, though prefaced by the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” it divided the people into “active” and “passive” citizens; the former consisted of men who owned property and contributed taxes, and who alone were to exercise the franchise and bear arms in the National Guard; the “passive” citizens were the propertyless multitude who were allowed neither representation nor legal means of resistance. But the “have-nots” proved not quite so “passive” as the “haves” were desirous they should be.

With the further developments—the war, the republic, the inability of the bourgeoisie to consolidate its power, the temporary domination of the propertyless of Paris followed by the dictatorship and “order” of Bonaparte—we need not here concern ourselves.

[Thirteen] years before the Revolution in France, a bourgeois republic—untrammelled by any effete feudal structure, had been set up in America. In spite of its “Declaration” that “all men are born equal” its political system gave the franchise only to property owners, and to show how cynically inconsistent its founders could be, it established the legality of the slave-trade.
R.W. Housley

(To be continued)

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Anti-Fascists. A criticism and our reply. (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Union for Combating Fascism,
29, Slack, Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge, Yks.,
April 29th, 1925.

The Editor,
Socialist Standard.

Comrade :

It is only by chance that I have come across your criticism of the above organisation in your April issue. If any such criticism had been made in “The Clear Light” we should have made very sure that the party so criticised would have had a paper sent to him so that he could meet the attack.

The nature of your attack is such that you can hardly refuse me space in your paper in which to meet it, but I am not prepared even to meet it until Mr. “H” steps from behind the cover of his initial and substantiates his insinuation that behind the N.U.C.F. are people of the itching palm, eager for subscriptions and donations for purposes not associated with socialist integrity. Doubtless he will say that he made no accusation; but he made a certain impression and I challenge him to withdraw his statement.
Alfred Holdsworth, Editor,
The Clear Light.”

Our Reply.
The offending passage was this : “Behind the rank and file of sincere but panicky people who join these freak parties, whether nominally ‘advanced’ or ‘reactionary,’ are usually to be found numerous job-hunters moved by an itch to lay hands on donations and subscriptions. We need not discriminate between the personalities of the N.U.C.F., for as regards possible harm to the cause of socialism there never was much to choose between the unscrupulous and the foggy-minded.”

We understood at the time that a copy of the “S.S.” came regularly into the hands of the Editor of the “Clear Light.” For this omission we offer our apology.

Otherwise we have nothing to withdraw or to apologise for. The only statement made is that there is usually a certain feature associated with freak organisations of this kind. We do not attach great importance to the matter, but the N.U.C.F. could quite easily make its position clear by freely opening all its books and meetings to the public as does the Socialist Party.

Mr. Holdsworth is quite at liberty to use our columns for the purpose of replying to the criticisms of his organisation, and if he does not avail himself of this offer the responsibility rests with him and not with us.
Editorial Committee

New Publications. (1925)

Party News from the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our readers will readily appreciate the hard struggle an organisation like the S.P.G.B. has to raise the necessary funds to continue the publication of new pamphlets on Socialism. Since the object of the S.P.G.B. is the establishment of Socialism and nothing less, unlike other Political Parties—Capitalist and pseudo-labour—we are not likely to receive any assistance from benevolent or vote catching millionaires. No, we are dependent upon you—our members and sympathisers—the Working Class. Fresh literature, which will supply the Working Class with much needed Socialist education, is constantly needed, and the S.P.G.B. is trying to fill the bill though necessarily handicapped by lack of funds. However, in response to the great demand, we have just reprinted the second edition of “Socialism and Religion” and this admirable pamphlet is now on sale (see advert, in another column). The MS. of another pamphlet, one that is long overdue, is now ready. The title will be “Socialism,” and it is a comprehensive brochure of 48 pages, covering every phase of the Socialist position and is the official statement of the Party, of the case for Socialism. We are only held up for want of cash to pay for printing, and we address this appeal to all those who desire the propagation of Socialism to continue. It rests entirely with you whether or not we shall be able to publish this new pamphlet during the coming propaganda season and we urge all to put their shoulder to the wheel to make this possible. Send along your donation—no matter how small—to the Publications Fund Committee, 17, Mount Pleasant, W.C.1.

A Look Around. (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

These birth controllers! 

When we read that “it is from among the population of ‘can’t works,’ and ‘won’t works,’ and ‘ca-cannys’ that we are chiefly recruiting our population,” we anticipate the superior person with the chemist shop economy :—
  “Ignorant people and paid agitators talk of “change of system,” when what we really need is “change of individuals”—health, strength, character, these will allow us in future to increase slowly, but for the moment we need a drastic operation to stop the cancer of poverty which is slowly degenerating our fine nation.”— (Bessie Drysdale, New Generation, March.)
Not understanding what it implies, the birth controller thinks it ignorant to talk and organise for a “change of system.” To suggest a change of “individuals” while retaining a system that enslaves and degrades the masses, is as meaningless as the Christian talk of “Change of Heart.” Apparently the writer is ignorant of the fact that even in the days of chattel slavery human labour power produced considerably more than was needed to maintain the producers. The machinery and applied science of to-day has laid the foundation of a society in which (when capitalist ownership is abolished) all could enjoy luxury with a minimum of effort. Did the workers’ conditions improve after the great slaughter of 1914-18? Have the Malthusian advocates never heard of wheat burnt as fuel, or fish given away as manure in order to inflate market prices? Don’t they know that capitalist statisticians admit that an idle few take nine-tenths of the wealth the workers produce to-day? The Socialist seeks through the self-interest of the workers to change the system because that system is run in the interest of those who are parasites on the social organism. If urging the producers of wealth to gain the comfort for themselves that they make possible for others is an ignorant proposal, then the sooner the workers become ignoramuses the better.

* * *

If Marx had only been English.

Experience has taught us that our opponents’ claim to be able to show the fallacies of Socialist principles never materialises in written or oral debate. It is easy to impute to Socialists a travesty of Marx’s teaching. When equal opportunity to state their case is allowed to those whose principles are based on such teaching, those scientifically based principles win easily. This fact was given emphasis in a recent debate with one of our comrades at Leyton. Despite our opponents’ claim to be able to show Marx’s Labour theory of value unsound, his efforts merely resulted in a lengthy discourse upon the nationality and exile of Marx, coupled with a number of puerile contradictions. The former cheap sneer relies upon that virus of Nationalism. A clerical gent, whose intellectual offerings in an anti-Socialist journal are on a level with the flat earth theory, has also something to say on the matter. Let it speak :—
  “England is no land to change her generous ideals for the enslaving and destructive principles of a German Jew who rewarded her kindness to him in his exile with an unquenchable hatred.—(Prebendary Gough, New Voice, Mar.)
Think of some of the generous ideals capitalism generates for the workers—wars, poverty, prostitution, filthy slums, and the hopeful outlook of the scrap heap. How sad it would be to abandon such ideals for the constructive proposals embodied in the life-work of Marx. That work is summarised in our principles. Their application would abolish the cause of such anomalies by the establishment of the Co-operative Commonwealth.

* * *

Capitalism's incentive.

What solicitude our opponents profess to have for the future welfare of the people with talents. Under Socialism, they tell us, ability would decline owing to lack of incentive. An interesting sidelight on the treatment meted out to-day to those who show any ability above the average is contained in the following. Out of a list of pensions (15) granted during the year ending March 31st, 1924, under the provisions of the Civil List Act, 1910, totalling £1,190, we quote the following average cases :—
  “Mr. William Poel, in recognition of his services in connection with the advancement of dramatic production, £100. Miss Charlotte Mew in recognition of the merit of her poetic works, £15. Mr. Robert Dunlop in recognition of his services to historical study, £15. Dr. Alice Lee, D.Sc., in recognition of her services to the cause of scientific research, £10.”— (Whittakers, 1925.)
What silent commentary upon present-day incentive ! Scarcely a week passes but we read of enormous sums changing hands in the buying and selling of the dolls of the wealthy drones. A glaring headline informs us that it cost “£30,000 to dress a Venus— 2 fur coats £12/100,” etc. (“Star,” 13/3/25). For the labours of those who render some useful service to posterity—an amount truly indicative of our masters’ canting pretence for the welfare of ability. Socialism would encourage excellence in every branch of human activity. Freed from the uncertainty of the future, and with the best conditions prevailing for all, those who may excel will not be relegated to obscurity on a capitalist pittance. They will merit something infinitely greater, the approbation and respect of the whole of society, whose interests will be their own.
W. E. MacHaffie

Goodbye to Bambi (2007)

Editorial from the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Enfeebled by their thrashing at the polls in 1997, the most damaging comment the Tories could think of about Tony Blair was to liken him to a political Bambi – a young, doe-eyed innocent deficient in any ambition or ability to control the wild beasts in his party and their scheming to bring back Clause Four. Those who were closer to the New Labour heart knew differently. Even before all the results were in on that night in May 1997, an iron discipline was being imposed on Bambi’s party. Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian reporter and a Labour supporter, was unable to celebrate Blair’s victory because he was brusquely ejected from the Hall as he was in a “forbidden zone” there. Three years later another Guardian writer, Andrew Rawnsley, recalled the situation: “Power within the party had been concentrated at the top. Discipline was everything. Dissenters were ruthlessly smothered and marginalized”.

According to Blair (and to most other politicians) “The only purpose of being in politics is to make things happen” – which leads to the questions of what are the “things” and whether it is worthwhile, in terms of human interests, that they should “happen”. Naturally, Blair is quite clear in the matter. In his farewell speech to the party members in his Sedgefield constituency he congratulated himself on what he had made happen during his ten years in Number Ten: “As for my own leadership, throughout these ten years . . . one thing was clear to me – without the Labour party allowing me to lead it, nothing could ever have been done” and in more detail: “ . . . more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime, and economic growth in every quarter . . .The British are special, the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts we know it . . . This is the greatest nation on Earth”.

These extravagant claims are based on a number of minor changes in working class conditions which some people – Labour politicians – may choose to interpret as improvements but which, compared to the everyday grinding problems of capitalism, are insignificant. For example we were invited to vote for Blair’s party because they legislated for an increase in paid maternity leave from 18 to 29 weeks; because there has been a rise in rate of employment of lone parents, so that the poverty of people with children may be just a little less severe; because during Blair’s ten years at the helm recorded crime fell, after the passage of no less than 53 criminal justice bills, some of which have created a crisis of overcrowding in the prison service while alarmingly eroding some civil liberties.

At the same time the number of children officially assessed as living in relative poverty rose by 100,000 to 2.8 million, making nonsense of Labour’s stated objective of cutting this figure by half by 2010. Then there has been the matter of governmental sleaze, in which Labour assured us they would be a refreshing improvement after the Tories but which began with the Bernie Ecclestone affair and which was exposed in the recent scandal of the award of honours to anyone rich enough to “lend” the party large sums of money. And of course there has been Iraq, which deserves to be the event by which Blair is best remembered – the war which he secretly agreed with Bush to support, which he attempted to justify with lies about the existence of powerful weapons and which has now plunged that hapless country into a chaos of murder and destruction.

Blair began his time as prime minister with high hopes from an electorate deceived by the Labour Party’s propaganda machine that here was a new, fresh leader to usher us into a secure future. It took some years to expose him as a typically ruthless and manipulative, if highly skilled, practitioner of the cynical art of capitalism’s politics. He will not be missed.

Pathfinders: Digging Up Old Bones (2007)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Politics and ideologies are in reality best understood not as imponderable excursions into the deeper truths of society but as products mass-produced off a production line and sitting on ideological supermarket shelves with brightly coloured labels, often red, blue, yellow or green or some novel mix thereof. One thing which you cannot fail to have noticed about commodities generally, and which these ‘soft’ commodities share with ‘hard goods’ like washing machines, cleaning products and tinned spaghetti is the inane compulsion to keep rebranding themselves with the legend NEW! in a big starburst banner just next to the price. As with NEW! pasta shapes, so with NEW! Labour. As with NEW! blue-whiteness, so with NEW! blue sky thinking. As with ‘revolutionary’ NEW! hair colour, or our special NEW! improved recipe, the manufacturers are challenging you to do what is probably impossible, and spot a difference that doesn’t exist, due to a change they didn’t make on a formula they didn’t modify. Why the manufacturers do this, in a fast-changing world where novelty has a short shelf-life, is too obvious to need spelling out, but one has a deep-rooted suspicion that many consumers too are so accustomed to these everyday revolutions that they would manage to find a difference between ‘old’ cola and ‘new’ cola even if there wasn’t one. This may be because they desire to see themselves as sophisticated and discerning customers with subtle palates that can detect changes at homeopathic levels, and thus they delude themselves and their peers, and in so doing become accessories to the grand illusion, perfectly trained pavlovian customers of capitalism.

Anyone who remembers, say, the adverts of the 1970s will have a strange feeling of detached deja-vu when seeing modern commercials for ‘revolutionary new products’ such as sunglasses that react to light (aka ‘reactolites’ in the 1970s ), but the feeling is somehow detached because nobody seems to remark on the fact that this is yesterday’s leftovers being served up as fresh. Perhaps to the extent that we stop bothering to protest, we join those consumers who can detect non-existent changes to recipes and in our own way become complicit in the grand illusion, finally for the sake of a quiet life pretending we don’t remember or don’t care. Meanwhile those who don’t remember previous incarnations will of course be under the happy impression that they are getting the newest and the brightest and the best of everything.

So it is part of the heavy labour of any forward-looking revolutionary to be backward-looking as well, in order to recall all the previous times society, debates, ideas and individuals have trod the same paths and been down the same blind alleys, and to remind those who are listening that the most heavily signposted routes are usually the ones that don’t go anywhere. And where politics, or its twisted and malicious great-aunt, religion, impact on the one truly novel field of human endeavour, science, the same dead hands of bigotry beckon us down the same old cul-de-sacs, winding along scenic back roads that skirt the evidence and obscure the real lay of the land.

So it is with the ‘controversy’ over Darwinian evolution. Just when you think, after the recent court judgments in America against it, that creationism is becoming a laughing stock and the American public are finally becoming tired of being caricatured as vegetable-brained hicks who praise the Lord and marry their sisters, the debate convulses once again, a bubble emerges from the fetid swamp, and a NEW! argument explodes over the scenery. Neoconservatives, it seems, are now at war with the religious right in an attempt to reclaim Darwin as the ideological figurehead, not of the scientific liberal progressive agenda, but of red-blooded two-fisted Republican screw-the-other-guy frontier capitalist values (‘A Split Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin’, New York Times, May 5). The argument of the neo-cons is of course that evolution, being ‘red in tooth and claw’, and involving the ‘survival of the fittest’, is perfectly suited to the conservative view of capitalism. Never mind that the first of these phrases was coined by T H Huxley and the second by Herbert Spencer, Darwin is held up as the perfect justification for any amount of callous disregard by the rich of the vast majority of the world’s poor population, and the only people persistently getting in the way of this wonderful ‘proof’ of capitalism’s natural and therefore inevitable provenance are those silly religious evangelists who don’t seem to understand how to intelligently design capitalism’s propaganda machine.

And it is at this point that the reactolite factor sets in. People new to this debate might screw up their eyes, dazzled by the spectacle of conservatives being pro-Darwin and fighting their own religious brethren. But there’s more. What would they make of the logical extension to this scenario, which is the emergence of a liberal progressive element opposed to evolution? Yet the world has seen it all before, where the conservatives championed Darwin and the liberal progressives championed creationism. It was a sell-out gig, it was a set-up, it ruined careers, and it made history. It was the Scopes Monkey trial of 1925, a trial so bizarre that the defendant deliberately got himself accused as a teacher of evolution even though he was actually a football coach, where his friends were on the prosecution counsel, and where the jury was instructed by the defence not to find him innocent. The story of this world-famous publicity stunt, engineered entirely by the defendant and his team of bible-baiters, is hugely entertaining and too long to indulge here (but look it up in Wikipedia).

Why the pro-evolution lobby, and people like Clarence Darrow and H L Mencken, would want to crucify the religious right in public is not difficult for any scientifically-minded progressive to comprehend, especially one with a sense of humour. But, asked Stephen Jay Gould, in his perceptive article on the subject, what on earth possessed a liberal and progressive, three-times Presidential candidate like William Jennings Bryan, a man who had devoted his life to social reform, to lead the prosecution, in what he must have known was an ambush (see Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, 1999)? Bryan, ever since lampooned as the villain of the piece, was according to Gould motivated not so much by any fondness for the theory of creationism or its adherents as by a truly messianic hatred of the iniquitous implications of what had already by then become known as Social Darwinism, a vicious ideology of social callousness which owed more to Spencer than Darwin and whose consequences in social inequality and poverty Bryan had spent his life trying to battle. Gould, himself a lifelong bitter opponent of creationists, nevertheless manages to paint a sympathetic portrait of a decent man consigned to history as a buffoon, who found himself on the wrong side for the right reasons.

To socialists this is all old hat now, and they won’t be tempted into the debate between neo-cons and evangelists in the neo-neo-Darwin saga. They know that Darwin wasn’t a social Darwinist, that capitalism doesn’t show the survival of the fittest but in fact destroys the healthy host and preserves the degenerate and useless parasite, and also that the enemy of your religious enemy is not necessarily your friend. Those addicted to the NEW! however might end up scratching their heads over this one.
Paddy Shannon

The Illusion of Freedom (2007)

From the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are always being told that we live in a free society, but do we?
It would appear that a ban has been introduced on spontaneous protest within one kilometre of Parliament. According to a recent feature in the Sunday Times, as a form of low-key protest against this, a man called Neil Goodwin regularly dresses up as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, holds a placard carrying the slogan “Not Aloud” and stands within the vicinity. This means, of course, that he is liable to get into trouble, and he has indeed been arrested several times. Many of the passing crowd think he is a tourist attraction and on one occasion, when a policeman told him to move on, one of them said, “It’s a free country, isn’t it?”, whereupon the man is said to have shook his head ruefully.

But surely in Britain, we live in a free society with the right to protest? It’s a democracy after all; we have a choice of leaders to vote for. And in between elections, there are a whole host of issues we can give our voices to in order to make a difference to the world around us, knowing that we won’t get jailed for our views or actions. So maybe our tramp is just an eccentric exception.

People power is in evidence everywhere and more and more we see individuals and groups “standing up for their rights”: minorities of every kind have a voice. The right for a woman of a certain religious persuasion to wear a black mask over her face while teaching…the right for gay couples to adopt children…it sometimes seems we have rights spilling out of our ears.

And democracy, it would seem, is proliferating with the advance of technology – through participation in phone-ins and on-line voting you can give your view on everything from road pricing to who should be ejected from Big Brother.

Again, society is so much less formal than it used to be. Everybody is on first name terms and we dress more casually than previous generations. It can be easy to believe it when we’re told that class doesn’t exist any more and that we no longer have any superiors to doff our caps to.

And what about all that freedom of choice for the consumer? The range of brands and products you can buy in any high street store or supermarket is mind-boggling.

Big business, too, is seemingly much more aware of our needs than it used to be. We have an increasing number of companies practising “customer care”, “responsible companies”, trying their hardest to please customers and employees alike. And if they do something we don’t like, we can sue them.

But we don’t have to scratch the surface very hard to see that our tramp in the first paragraph is only one small example of the ways in which our freedom is restricted.

A lapse into Grumpy Old Man mode evokes cash-strapped local councils trying to squeeze more and more money out of us and at the same time clobbering us with a barrage of regulations: smoking bans, parking fines, fines for not putting rubbish in the correct recycling container, or, as happened to one no doubt bemused man, for momentarily placing a drinks can on the pavement while tying a shoelace.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, we are herded like cattle to be searched at airport queues for anything that may be vaguely dangerous.

On a more sinister note, there is a government proposal that children are to be fingerprinted when applying for a passport. Additionally, according to Labour’s recent crime review, every child will be assessed to see if they are likely to turn to crime. Those that comply with a certain profile will be “actively managed” by social services. Also mentioned in the review are ID cards, mobile fingerprint readers, crowd scanners and an expansion of the DNA database of people who have committed no crime. It seems we are all to be guilty until proven to be responsible adults.

Looking at the wider world, we have innocent people routinely held in prisons, with that bastion of western democracy, the United States, habitually ignoring Habeas Corpus in places like Guantanamo Bay.

There are millions of people worldwide, many of them children, working in conditions that rival those of the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries look like a fairground game. Not to mention the number of people working for pittances in call centres and other soul-destroying jobs.

So what is the truth of it? Are we more free or less free than we used to be? On the one hand, we seem more prepared to stand up against authoritarianism. But on the other hand, there seems to be a lot more of it to stand up to.

By and large, any concession of rights and privileges by our leaders, any freedoms won by trade union activity or direct action, are limited in nature. Governments as a whole, acting on behalf of capitalism, concede just as much freedom as they think we need to do our jobs effectively and keep contributing to “the economy” (for which read the profits of the rich minority).

In some ways capitalism has had to relax its attitude to the people who produce its profits. The rigid old social divisions were counter-productive, and people are more street-wise as a result – but don’t use their power effectively. Efforts are mostly directed towards ameliorating one narrow aspect of the capitalist machine while leaving capitalism itself, and the repressive governments that do its bidding, alive and well.

As proof of this, the newspapers every now and then toss their rich lists at us, to rub our noses in the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us. This despite the ever increasing competitiveness that compels businesses to spend less and make their goods and services as cheaply as possible. The resulting squeeze hits the ordinary working person, while our lords and masters rake in ever increasing profits.

And as long as we hit our deadlines and keep the money rolling in for our bosses, it doesn’t matter what we wear while doing it, or whether we call our boss Richard instead of Mr Branson. We still know our place. And what capitalism gives us with one hand, it takes away with the other much larger one.

Capitalism limits our freedom in so many ways because it rations us by the amount of money we earn and carries with it a mass of rules to make sure we don’t overstep the mark. Most of us in Britain are undoubtedly more fortunate than many in other parts of the world, but we are all chained to our jobs, our pensions (if we are lucky enough to have either), and to our governments.

So how do we really become free? If the examples above haven’t made it obvious, we need to realize that it’s not a free country in any meaningful sense. Then we need to question some ingrained attitudes.

We don’t have to live in a world full of leaders who do nothing but lead us up the garden path. We don’t have to accept that money is essential to making the world go round. And we don’t have to take for granted that oppression will always be with us.

We need to see the world as a whole because capitalism itself is a world-wide system and as such produces world-wide problems. The only effective route to freedom is its world-wide abolition and replacement with a classless, moneyless, world society without governments or national boundaries – socialism.

In socialism we wouldn’t be free to do whatever we wished. But the constraints on our personal freedom would be self-determined by local communities agreeing as equals and not imposed on us by the state or one of its local government offshoots. Whatever freedoms we decided to sacrifice would genuinely be for the good of the society we lived in, i.e. the people around us and the world at large.
Rod Shaw

Camouflaging class rule (2007)

From the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Our society is routinely described in terms that camouflage the reality of exploitation and class rule.
The story goes like this. Everyone is basically equal. There is no ruling class as we are all citizens in a “democracy.” We live not in capitalism (that outmoded concept) but in a classless “market economy” where we are all consumers, taxpayers and investors (if only through our pension schemes). In some countries the camouflage is taken one step further: the social system is officially defined to be not just democratic but actually socialist. Those who insist on pointing out the reality behind the camouflage are labelled “extremists,” denied access to the mass media, and banished from respectable society.

This camouflage is so familiar to us that it is easy to assume it has always existed. In fact, it is quite a recent development in historical terms. Pre-industrial ruling classes never thought of pretending that they did not exist. On the contrary, they glorified or even deified themselves as intrinsically superior beings. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who for many centuries was considered the fount of all wisdom, wrote that some people are slaves and others masters in accordance with their natures. Feudal law highlighted class by specifying in detail the dress appropriate to each class and making it illegal for people to wear clothes inappropriate to their station in life.

The situation started to change when the thinkers of the Enlightenment (such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu) questioned the doctrine of natural inequality as well as other received ideas. In 1789 revolutionaries overthrew the French monarchy and aristocracy in the name of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. But some of them (Babeuf and his followers), disappointed that the revolution had failed to achieve these ideals, wanted to go further and strike at the roots of property itself. For the first time a ruling class felt the need for some camouflage.

In Britain, where the transition from feudalism to capitalism was accompanied by less political upheaval, the need for concealment did not become urgent until later. Democracy was condemned as a dangerous extremist notion, while the class structure continued to be sanctified by religion and custom. Nineteenth-century British economists like Ricardo and Adam Smith talked quite openly about the division of society into classes. They were closer in this respect to Marx than to their twentieth-century successors (see the article on Smith in January’s Socialist Standard). You may also recall a verse in the nineteenth-century hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful that goes:
“The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, He made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate.”
British ruling class attitudes shifted in face of the growing movement for universal male suffrage represented by the working class Chartists. The capitalists began to wonder whether they had exaggerated the threat inherent in political democracy. Perhaps it would not endanger class privilege all that much, provided that at the same time they made greater efforts to indoctrinate the workers. That is why the 1867 Reform Act, which first extended the franchise to part of the working class (male householders), was followed by the 1870 Education Act, which first made provision for general elementary education. “We must educate our masters,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Robert Lowe cynically remarked.

By the early twentieth century the ideological transformation was complete. Capitalist society could now be defined as “democracy” and its demands imposed in the name of democracy, as when US president Woodrow Wilson christened World War One “a war to make the world safe for democracy.” The class structure was henceforth to be camouflaged rather than openly justified. It was also about this time that there appeared new economic theories – in particular, the marginalist school – in which class was no longer a central concept.

With the rise of the so-called “communist” regimes in Russia and elsewhere, a similar fate befell the word “socialism.” The new class system in these countries was defined as “socialism,” just as the old class system in the West was defined as “democracy.” But the essence of the matter was the same: in both cases, in mainstream or official discourse the real class structure of the society simply did not exist. In the countries under Communist Party rule, just to say that there was a ruling class was grounds for condemnation as a “Trotskyite” or “counterrevolutionary.” (For an example from the Chinese “cultural revolution” see

The camouflaging of class rule generates endless hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is not one of the more appealing character traits. But, as poet Matthew Arnold remarked, “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” The prevalence of hypocrisy is a sign that it is no longer possible openly to justify certain evils, showing that there has after all been some progress in human thinking. Class society is now on the defensive, and there is no way to defend the indefensible.

What free access means (2007)

From the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Socialists often describe socialism as a society where there will be free access, but what could this mean in concrete terms?
Socialism will be a society of free access to what has been produced. This does not mean alcohol being made available to children or anyone being able to get hold of guns. But there’ll be no money, credit cards or cheque books, no artificial barriers to people having what they’ve decided they want. But how would free access work, and would it lead to a free-for-all and chaos as people just took more and more?

It doesn’t matter whether they’ll be called shops, stores or warehouses, but there will be places where people will go to collect goods. Whether it’s food, clothes, electrical gadgets or whatever, these places will in some ways be like the shops that exist nowadays but in other ways will be rather different. There will be no price tickets, check-outs or security guards. There’ll be no ‘buy one get one free’ offers, no brightly-coloured promotions trying to pressurise you into buying certain goods. There may well still be shop assistants, whose task it really will be to assist people rather than talk them into purchases. There will still be plenty of choice, and probably more real choice than exists today, when you can ‘choose’ among masses of near-identical products. If you want food, no doubt you will go with a shopping list and make sure that you load what you want into the shopping trolley. And then you’ll just leave, since you won’t have to pay for anything.

Another big difference between the shops of today and the warehouses of the socialist future will concern the quality of what is in them. Everything will be the best quality, as production for use means there would be no point in producing cheap food or shoddy goods. Nowadays, the cheap and tacky are for those who cannot afford to buy the best, an idea which will be completely alien in socialism. A ‘prestigious’ brand name or logo will not be used to inflate the price of something or to make the consumer fit in or feel a cut above the rest.

Having only the best doesn’t mean that we’ll be eating caviar all the time, just that — even if you’re having bangers and mash for tea — you’ll be having the best of its kind. Furniture or TVs won’t be designed to wear out: a sensible use of resources would involve making things to last and recycling as much as possible.

The standard objection to the socialist account of free access is rooted in a view of human nature. People would take and take, it may be claimed, irrespective of what they actually wanted. But a bit of thought should show that this objection does not hold water. For one thing, the people who live in socialism will be convinced of the superiority of this way of organising society and will not act against its interests. And further, think about the things you consume and whether you would really benefit from hoarding them. Most people can only consume fairly limited amounts of milk or bread or toilet paper and won’t need to keep cupboards full of any of them. Even in these days of home freezers, where people do stock up on some foods, they don’t keep massive amounts of anything. In a society of free access, you’ll always be able to get more butter or dog food from the local warehouse, so you won’t need your own mountain of either.

But aren’t there other goods for which these considerations won’t apply? Well, again, people won’t need several cars or ten dining-room tables. There probably are some items which people may well want a lot of: no doubt it will vary from individual to individual, but clothes, books, CDs and DVDs might be good examples. In some cases, producing extra copies (say of a CD) requires very little extra resources. There might well be first-class public libraries or comprehensive book-recycling schemes, which would obviate the desire to own individual copies of some books. And clothing won’t be subject to the whims of fashion as it is now, so people won’t want new outfits each year. In general, the whole idea of consumerism, of possessions making you happy, won’t apply.

The point is not that we can explain in detail now just how the demand for every item will be realised in socialism. Rather, we can just set out some general principles about how free access would function and suggest that the human nature objections to it are based on a very narrow view of how human beings behave under capitalism. The combination of socialist consciousness and good old common sense will ensure that people will take what they need rather than all that is available or all they can carry.

A society of free access, then, will mean what it says. People will select their weekly food needs and take home what they’ve chosen, without anyone asking them to pay for it. They will choose clothes, furniture, sports gear, lawnmowers in the same way. And they will know that none of what they’re eating or using is dangerous or nasty, that none of it has been produced in an environmentally-unfriendly way or to make a profit for a few rather than to satisfy the needs of the many.
Paul Bennett

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Economic cycling (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, laid down a “golden rule” that the government’s current spending and its income from taxes should balance, not every year as hard-line fiscal conservatives want, but at least over a complete “economic cycle”. But how measure the beginning and end of one of these?

The trend of economic growth (additions to GDP) under capitalism is upward but not smoothly in a straight line; rather it is like the teeth of a saw, only with each peak being higher than the previous one, with a trough in between. Brown’s Treasury officials defined a cycle as the time between two peaks of growth above the long-term trend. So, if the long-term growth trend was, say, 2.5 percent then, if for a number of consecutive quarters, it was above this level, that counted as the beginning of the cycle, which could be considered as coming to an end the next time this happened.

This is reasonable enough in principle. The trouble is that it is open to manipulation by redefining the long-term growth trend. Which is what the government has been accused of by the opposition. And is why the financial editor of the Times, Graham Searjeant, wrote an article headlined “We need new economic cycle to understand changing world” (26 April). He was just interested in defining a measurable economic cycle so as to establish a period over which government spending and income balance. But government spending and taxes are irrelevant to the economic cycle as such.

In the 19th century, it was generally accepted that the economic cycle lasted about 10 years and was measured from one financial crisis to the next. Marx shared this view, and described the course of capitalist economic activity as typically taking the form of “a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, overproduction, crisis and stagnation” (Capital, Vol. 1, ch. 15, section 7).

Marx saw financial crashes as being a symptom of industrial overproduction (in relation to market demand). As the market for a key product expanded, the firms producing for it all invested in expanding their productive capacity in the expectation of it being them who would benefit from the increased demand, with the result that when the new productive capacity came on stream output proved to be greater than the demand; sales fell off meaning that firms had less money from which to repay loans contracted to expand productive capacity; credit (loans) became harder to get; creditors demanded repayment in cash; in the end a financial crash occurred.

Searjeant’s argument for a “new economic cycle” is that today industry has become less significant:
  “Conventional economic cycles lean heavily on factors specific to industry, such as investment in new capacity and changes in materials and parts. But UK industry is now too small to drive the cycle, which is as well because manufacturing has been in near-recession for years”.
He speaks instead of “an economy powered by London financial services”. In answer, two points can be made. While UK industry is not so important as before, world industry – as in China, India, Brazil, etc – is and the world economy is driven by world industry, which is still liable to crises of overproduction. Second, financial services are dependent upon and subordinate to (world) industry since the services in question are precisely services connected with world trade in industrial and agricultural products, including hedge betting on how their prices will move. The production of material things is still the basis of the economy.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Wild West. The Myth and the Reality. (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this rapidly changing world, the form of entertainment indulged in by the majority of the population in the industrialized countries has undergone many changes in the last 50 years. Not only have the forms of dancing, popular music, films and literature changed, but the fictional character also.

There is, however, one familiar figure who has been our constant companion on the screen and bookstall during all these years. In silent “flicks,” talkies, colour, Three-D, Cinemascope, he still remains the same—long, lean and suntanned; with Stetson hat and pistols, his mount well-groomed—our old and ever- popular friend, the Cowboy.

Popular Appeal
To the densely-herded urban masses whose wide-open spaces are confined at best to a small suburban garden (or for the less fortunate, a cactus in a flower-pot), the unrestricted country of the American West has a vast appeal.

It is probably the fictional Westerner’s apparent freedom that is the real attraction. Our celluloid and paper-pulp hero spends his time destroying the forces of evil, be they represented as Indians, rustlers or land-grabbers. He is gallant with the ladies, and never fails to defend or restore legally-owned property. Sometimes he is on the wrong side of the law, forced into this position by some ruthless landowner, or a victim of the financiers' guile. In spite of these lawless trends, however, our hero's basic goodness still shines through. Faced with this dilemma m their hero, the film producers' usual way out is to get him conveniently killed.

Modern man is generally tied down to one job, often tedious and uninteresting. The Westerner is aloof from this. He never seems to be very closely tied to any full-time occupation, even when he dons the uniform of the U.S. Cavalry. To imagine oneself able to undertake any adventure, or punish any infamy, is a wonderful escape from punching the time-clock.

The Western film or story has generally a twofold approach. One shows a desire for justice and for the removal of tyranny. The other depicts violence and. quick action as opposed to thought and reasoned movement. The stories are seldom complicated. The viewer or reader does not have to rack his brain over subtle psychological mysteries or unpleasant social problems. The stories are easy to write and the films cheap to produce. They are ideal products for a mass market.

A Glimpse into the Past
At this point, let us look at the birthplace of these modem legends, and roll back the years.

The term "West" in American history covered each stage of the frontier as it moved towards the Pacific from the early Atlantic seaboard settlements. We take up the story when that frontier had reached the Mississippi River.

It was the Spaniards who first moved up into what are now Texas, New Mexico and California, and explored the Mississippi. They built churches, mission stations and settlements. At the same time the French were moving along the Great Lakes and the rivers from Canada and extending over the plains to the Rockies. A few were priests, but the majority were fur-trappers and traders. These latter mixed freely with the wandering Indian tribes.

The English were the next settlers, consolidating and developing as they went. In time they came to represent a new rising Capitalist class, viewing the New World as something more than just a possession of an overseas absolute monarch.

Francis Parkman who, in 1846, journeyed from Kansas over the Oregon Trail to the foot of the Rockies, mixed with the Indians and noted their habits. In his journal he writes at length about the French trappers and trail-blazers and their inter-marriage with the Indians. He noted something else that was to have a more important effect on history—the settlers' wagons heading for Oregon and California, Mormons striking out into the wilderness to found a new home in Utah, the adventurous seeking the new-found gold. America was in the process of making another frontier.

The United States, having purchased Louisiana and secured Florida, was still faced with a foreign power in the south-west. In 1821 Mexico had become independent of Spain, and the lands over the Rio Grande passed to her. Land could be purchased in Texas for 12½ cents per acre, or one-tenth of the price that the U.S. Government charged for land. Within a few years about 20,000 Americans, mostly southerners, moved into Texas. A smaller number travelling by sea had secured land in California.

Mexico had officially abolished slavery, but the newcomers, fresh from the slave-owning south, had no wish to become peasants. Hired labour was rare, so Mexico looked the other way. The rapid changes of Mexican government made the Texans uncertain of the status of their slave property. In 1835, Santa Anna abrogated certain states' rights (this included Texas) and these economic and political struggles led to the Texans' declaring a provisional government. Some 200 of them were besieged and slaughtered in the fortified mission-station of the Alamo, but the siege gave time for the Texans under Houston to form an army and get support from the U.S. Houston avenged the Alamo by capturing Santa Anna and destroying the Mexican Army.

The final result was that the lands north of the Rio Grande were annexed. Five new states were formed in the Union, and all except California were declared slave states. They were, however, too lightly populated and unsuited for one-main-crop agriculture to be affected by that form of property. The growing industrial north did feel, however, that the Mexican War had given more power to the slave-owning south.

The Self-made Man
The rapid expansion of America in the west brought great personal opportunities. A land that had no old-established ruling class flung up its new Capitalists and developers from among those of humble birth. Individualism or, better still, individual property rights became the order of the day.

The man, who through luck and resource, amassed money was a being to be looked up to. Not being tied down with the ideas of aristocracy, making money and not how it was made, was the new Capitalist ethic. The Press slated those who returned from the West to a somewhat less lucrative but probably more secure life in the East Failure was against the nation and the destiny of America.

In the new areas the State machine was weak, and weakened further by the great regard for property. Nothing must stand in the way of the “go-getter." There was little restraining influence on wealth or the way it was secured. Laws tended to be flouted openly when they stood in the way of personal advance.

The Gold Rash
In 1848 gold was discovered in California, and before long the country was over-run with prospectors. Whereas in other areas the settlers followed hunters and turned the land under the plough and spade, in California the principal attraction was gold. Mostly the newcomers came by ship, round Cape Horn, or broke the journey by the short overland route through Panama, but some crossed the continent by waggon, a long and most dangerous journey. Wandering Indians and the hot, arid desert valleys were but two of the problems to be faced. The waggon train scout, Wm. Manley, reported graphically of these emigrants' torments.

San Francisco became the centre of the Barbary Coast and, as was to be expected in a gold-rush community, catered for every vice. At this time in the settlement only two per cent. of the population were women, and to meet the shortage boatloads of ladies of uncertain virtue were sent out from the eastern states and from Europe. The reader can get some idea of the turbulence when he considers that from 1848 to 1856 there were some 1,200 murders and only three official hangings In the San Francisco area, especially as the population only numbered some 20,000. California, not deriving its wealth from the slaves or the soil, developed what was in fact a new financial and Capitalist outlook.

Pike's Peak and Oscar Wilde
Another gold rush started in 1858, when gold was discovered in the Pike's Peak area of Colorado. The same stream of wagons, with some prospectors even pushing their belongings on handcarts, creaked across the plains. It was in this area that Horace Tabor, “the Bonanza King," arose; living in splendour, he even built an opera-house in Leadville. To this flamboyant and noisy setting came, on a brief visit, the prince of aesthetes, Oscar Wilde, who declared the miners to be "Capital fellows, and not at all rough."

One settlement that stands out from all the rest was the Mormon headquarters at Salt Lake City. They built a city in the wilderness after many hardships, a town that in many ways was an example to others springing up at this time. They showed how a group of people with a strong communal sense could accomplish a more stable way of living than the purely individualistic elements.

The War
When the Civil War broke out, the Confederate South counted on support from the Mid-west, principally on the point that these areas had always used the Mississippi as an outlet and the Confederates controlled the sea outlet of New Orleans. The Confederates overlooked the railways : the West could now link up directly with the industrial eastern states, and so the economic grip of “Old Muddy" was broken.

The Pacific States being so far from Washington, there was always the threat of secession from the Union. Representatives from these states had to make a long sea voyage round America; only the hardy and the poor attempted the covered wagon overland route. The North, aware of these problems, speeded up the railway programme. In 1869 the two lines met at Ogden, Utah. The gap was filling in, the wilderness was being conquered.

The Mid-west prospered because of the War, and by the fact that England and the rest of Europe had bad harvests in the 1860s. Industrialization was creating a new market to be satisfied, and exports of foodstuffs increased.

The Coming of the Cowboy
In the vast central area called the Great Plains, settlements were few and far between. Towns sprang up round the mining camps, and it was these places that dominated the scene. The Plains were not considered to be of much use other than for Indians and hunting. They were areas that wagons passed through, but not to settle; the gold and the sunny fertile valleys of the Pacific were the main attraction. Here, on these plains and deserts, was America's last frontier.

Texas and the south-west had always been a cattle-raising country, at least near the Rio Grande, way back in Spanish times. It was in these lands that the Vaquero or Cowboy lived and learned his trade. The Cowpuncher was a man who worked in the railway stockyards as a grader and loader, and later the name was applied to all ranch workers.

As a result of Texas joining the Confederates in the Civil War. she was cut off from the sea and the Mississippi by the Union forces. A surplus of cattle resulted, as there was no market available. Faced with ruin after the war. like so many other cattle-men Joseph McCoy conceived the idea of driving the sellable surplus cattle along the Chisholm trail to Abilene, thence by rail to Kansas and the eastern states. The cattle could live on the herbage that fed bison; it was just a question of linking-up with water courses and holes. This was the commencement of the great cattle-drives that still figure so much in the cinema and magazines.

The increased industrialization of America and Europe led to a need for more and more meat. Profits went up, and it became the age of the cattle kings and the cowboy, owners of great herds like Chisum and Kennedy. This period of the fictional saga was not very long in fact, yet it has provided thrills and entertainment for millions since that time.

By 1871 some 600,000 head of cattle were driven to various points north from Texas, and the idea caught on. Cattle-raising and driving spread right up to Montana.

The cattle kings, like the miners, brought wealth to many small towns, but like them it was sometimes transient; The ranch-workers, miners and settlers who worked hard and were often isolated for long periods tended to get together whenever possible. If they were in a religious mood, then large camp meetings were held, at which fervour and emotions ran riot. At the other extreme, the saloon played quite a part in the growing towns. People who were often without the means to create or study tended to "bust loose" in town. These saloons provided drink and refreshment, women, gamblers, bullies and thugs, and the social get-together.

It is in this cattle age that we find the now almost legendary figures of the West. The sheriffs and bad men, like the Earp Brothers, “Bat” Masterton, Sam Brown, Plummer and Frank Loving, not forgetting the old favourites Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill. Some of these characters would have been better confined to the pathological ward.

The end of the frontier was near, however. At Abilene, T. C. Henry sowed "winter wheat" and it was a success. The plains could now be turned under the plough, and settlers moved in in great numbers. From this arose the struggle between the ranchers and settlers, the battle between the unfenced range and the boundary wire. By the 1880-90s. improved agriculture and grasslands, as well as improved stock and irrigation, won the day. The ever-spreading railways killed the "big drive" and the “Lead Steer." The vast open range was out; it was no longer good business to wander for days looking for grass and water. Output could be increased in a smaller space. The mines also were being grouped into large concerns, and the prospector became a mine-worker. 

The Redskin
It is as well we take a brief glimpse at the original occupant of this land, the Indian. Small in numbers, therefore of no great use to the slave-owner or the farmer and industrialist, he was generally regarded as a form of dangerous vermin. Whatever the Abolitionist may have said about the evils of slavery, or what tears he may have wept over the Negro, he certainly never extended these sentiments to the Indian.

The Redskins' main source of food was the bison, herds of which often covered the plains for miles. The settlers, the railways, sportsmen and Government policy soon reduced the bison to a few thousands. The Government thought this would keep the Indians tied to their reserves, make them devote more of their time to agriculture, and cease their wanderings and tribal warfare. Unfortunately for the Indians, the reserves got smaller and the game for food less and less. People with a Stone Age culture, they found it hard to grasp what was happening. At one time a number of them, so disturbed by the numbers of trains and wagons passing over their land, pathetically tried to go east because they thought everyone had left there. 

Attacks on Indian camps by soldiers were by no means unusual. This is a point that the film moguls generally omit from the typical “western.” In 1876, for example, a Colonel Reynolds attacked a Sioux camp at Powder River and burnt it out, the temperature at the time being 40 degrees below zero. The Indian braves counter-attacked and drove the soldiers away. These incidents caused a great meeting of the Sioux tribe, Cheyennes and Arapahoes on the Little Big Horn, under Sitting Bull and Two Moon. It was this gathering that defeated General Custer, an incident that the ardent Western fan must have seen portrayed many times. Indian risings occurred all the way down to Mexico. Like the Mau-Mau of our own time, the Indian terrorists’ tactics did not tend to improve their position or gain them much sympathy.

The Apache War of 1883-85 is the one in which the famous Geronimo took part. With 35 men and over 100 women and children he engaged 50,000 U.S. troops, 500 Indian scouts and a hostile armed populace as well as the soldiers of Mexico for about 18 months before surrendering.

The last violent uprising came rather late. A prophetic dream and ritual dance having its origin in a Nevada reserve soon spread among the Indians. Some 350 Sioux deserted their Dakota reserve. U.S. cavalry intercepted them and under Hotchkiss guns as protection started to disarm them. A chief began the ritual ghost dance and donned his war-bonnet. The immediate fighting resulted in the deaths of some 200 Indians and 60 soldiers. Thus ended once and for all any attempt by the Indians to get their problems solved by violence. Properly-defined reserves and infiltration into the mass of the population with their many trades and occupations soon left the Indians as living museum-pieces.

The development of America, like the advance of industrialization in Africa and Asia, is one of the principal aspects of Capitalist society. The old tribal organizations are broken up by the unstemmed tide of investment for profit. Capitalism, now more or less universal, likes to look back on some aspect of its earlier days. From the American viewpoint, the glorification of the early West does just this.

One point the magazine and film producers seldom show is that a large land mass was brought under cultivation and development in a fairly short space of time by people who, generally, were far removed from the much boosted and vaunted violence so usual a feature of their films and stories.
Jack Law