Monday, January 6, 2014

Voice From The Back: Zillionaires And Nonsense (2014)

The Voice From The Back Column from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Zillionaires And Nonsense
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has told people to stop bashing the super-rich. 'Mr Johnson accused ‘everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Nick Clegg’ of bullying the group he defined as ‘zillionaires’ and said the most rich of all should receive ‘automatic knighthoods’. ........ Mr Johnson said the rich deserve our ‘humble and hearty thanks’ for their contributions to charity and the exchequer - quoting figures that say the top 1 per cent pay 29.8 per cent of all UK income tax’ (Independent, 18 November). Since Mr Johnson's zillionaires tend to get knighthoods anyway we wonder at his concern for them, especially when all their wealth has come from the exploitation of the impoverished majority.

No Recovery For Some
It is often difficult to get up to date figures about poverty in Britain but a recent survey backed by public money has come up with some current statistics. 'Nearly nine million people across the UK are living with serious debt problems, according to a new report. The Money Advice Service (MAS) also said very few people were making any attempt to get professional help. The problem is particularly acute in five English cities, where more than 40% of the population is struggling to repay debt. According to the survey, 18% of Britons, 8.8 million people, consider they have ‘serious’ financial issues’ (BBC News, 27 November). These figures give the lie to political nonsense about a so-called economic recovery.

Not So Glamorous
The following scene is a common one throughout capitalism. 'The line for the soup kitchen starts to form at dusk, and by the time it is fully dark more than 200 people are waiting to be fed. There are toddlers in prams, and military veterans in wheelchairs’ (Times, 29 November). The scene is not all that unusual but this is not happening in Asia or Africa but in modern sophisticated Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. Every night for 27 years the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition has given a hot meal to some of the 53,800 homeless estimated to live in Los Angeles. Behind the chauffeur driven limousines and expensive cocktails of the Hollywood cinema dream factory lurks the sordid reality of modern capitalism.

Harsh Reality
British MPs like to pat themselves on the back and boast about improving living standards, but recent information from official sources paints a completely different picture. 'Food poverty in the UK has now become such a big problem that it should be seen as a ‘public health emergency’, a group of health experts says. In a letter to the British Medical Journal, six leading public health figures warned poor nutrition could lead to a host of problems. It comes amid reports that people are struggling to feed themselves. The UK Red Cross has started asking for food donations for the first time since World War Two. And in October the Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks, said the numbers of people it was helping had tripled to 350,000 in the past year’ (BBC News, 4 December). Poor nutrition for thousands of workers in one of the most developed capitalist countries in the world despite politicians boasts is the harsh reality of the profit motive society.

Poverty Stricken Millions
'More working households were living in poverty in the UK last year than non-working ones - for the first time, a charity has reported. Just over half of the 13 million people in poverty - surviving on less than 60% of the national median (middle) income - were from working families, it said. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said low pay and part-time work had prompted an unprecedented fall in living standards’ (BBC News, 8 December). These figures underestimate the extent of the problem as the JRF's annual Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report was written by the New Policy Institute and tracks a range of indicators, including government data and surveys covering income, education and social security, and has a very frugal concept of what poverty is. In the 2011-12 period, the amount of earnings before a household was said to be in poverty was £128 a week for a single adult; £172 for a single parent with one child; £220 for a couple with no children, and £357 for a couple with two children. How many of the ‘we are all in this together’ MPs could survive on £128 a week?

The Vienna Butchery (1927)

From the September 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader who lives in Vienna sends us the following letter on the so-called "Revolt" in Vienna, which ended so tragically. The letter arrived too late for insertion in August issue.—Ed., Comm.
July, 22nd, 1927.

Last year a Russian film called "Potemkin" made the round in Germany and Austria; its main feature were a successful revolt of Czarist Russian marines in the battle cruiser "Potemkin," and its sequel in Odessa—the crushing by Czarist soldiers of a people's manifestation of sympathy.

Little did the people of Vienna dream that they would so soon have a real life experience of the terrifying scenes they saw last year from a comfortable chair in a picture palace. And if the numerous English, American and other foreign visitors who stop in this city at this time of the year on their continental pleasure trips, and whom a considerate censor had prevented from seeing the Potemkin film in their own countries, they have now been able to learn and to appreciate Czarist Russian manners and methods in grim reality in the fair city of Vienna, "the city of songs and music on the blue Danube, the centre of art and of culture."

Anyone who, like the writer, happened to be on the Friday (July 15th) afternoon on the beautiful Ringstrasse, could not but become the terrified witness of scenes not one whit less revolting and gruesome than those he had seen in the said film. Police. mounted and on foot, and gendarmes firing into a mass of unarmed and fleeing civilians, screams of falling men, women and children, under a sky laden with the smoke-clouds from a burning building. And a hundred men, women and children are now lying in their graves,  a mass grave, as befits members of the working class to which they all belonged; a thousand others left to continue the battle for life with broken limbs and shattered nerves, many of them still in the hospitals at the time of writing, fighting between life and death; two hundred in prisons awaiting trial fro lawlessness and incendiarism; such is an episode in Capitaism's career—the sequel to "Bloody Friday in Vienna."

What had happened? What was it all about? What had aroused this special anger and fury of the powers that be?

Had the poverty-stricken mass of the city's workers suddenly lost their patience and their temper, and broken into the comfortable quarters of the rich and wealthy? Had they tried to ease their and their families' wretched lot by forcibly seizing some of the goods with which the countless stores are filled to the roof tops? Had they made a determined attempt at gaining access to the good things of life they produce and store up for a favoured few? Had the workers suddenly come out of their dens and hovels with the set purpose of establishing themselves in the elegant and spacious garden villas and mansions of the "Cottage" or the "Ambassador's quarters"?

Had the sumptuous palaces of the Rothschilds', the F├╝rst Liechtenstein, and the innumerable other palaces of the city been seized by the "common" people? Had the warehouses been attacked and plundered? Was property in danger? Could it be that the workers marched up to overthrow the Capitalist order and to proclaim the Socialist Commonwealth?

But though the fear of these things, which was stimulated by a general shutting of shops, betrays the existence of great social inequalities—"injustices," if you like—that will sooner or later force a correction, not one baker's or tailor's shop, and not one villa in the "Cottageviertel!" was in danger. And even the fact that the scene of that terrible collision between working men and the powers that be was the "Palace of Justice" (the Law Courts of Vienna) does not do more than provide an accidental omen.

This attack, however, of July 15th, silly and stupid as it would be in any circumstances had nothing to do with Socialism. though the party that pretends to stand for the interests of the working class in this country, namely, the Social Democratic Party, cannot be acquitted of a large measure of the guilt for the massacre of so many working class lives. This guilt lies in the awful confusion which that party creates among working men and women by identifying them with, and wasting their energies on, all kinds of minor issues and reforms. The workers are dragged into every kind of political fracas, the petty squabbles of the innumerable organisations, and thus become easy preys of Bourgeois intrigues.

Only class-unconscious workers could have been so staggered by the acquittal of the two nationalists who shot dead a social democratic working man and a boy at Schattendorf last January as to begin a "wild strike" and a march to Parliament with the disastrous consequences that followed.

For let us make it clear that these thousands had come for no other purpose but to protest against the acquittal of the two murderers; they soon found the police, mounted and on foot, confronting them and moving them on in the usual police style, until the sight of the "Palace of Justice," with more police and showers of bullets, provided the signal to a maddened crowd to set fire to the building. In vain did the well-tried "leaders of labour" endeavour to appease the infuriated masses from resurrected barricades, in vain did the Social-Democratic mayor himself mount a fire-engine to save the burning building, but—is it necessary to say—after an all-day and night struggle the police and military eventually "cleaned" (as they put it here) the streets.

With a more or less obscure object the Social Democratic Party declared a partial "general" strike. On Wednesday, the 20th, the victims were laid to rest, and now things are "normal" again. The "labour market" is relieved to the extent of the murdered and mutilated workmen, and by an increase of the police force supplied by members of the S. D. Party, ready, as that party always is, to assist the Capitalist class in maintaining and perpetuating Capitalist order.

The Communists saw in the march once more the advent of the social revolution, though it is not all certain whether they will survive its defeat.

"The Recruiting Sergeant." (1927)

From the December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canadian Election Statement (1986)

Classic reprint from the Winter 1986-7 issue of the World Socialist
The following classic statement of the socialist case at election times was issued as a leaflet by the Victoria Local No. 2 of the old Socialist Party of Canada at around the time of the First World War.
Although not nominating candidates in the pending election, the Victoria Local of the Socialist Party of Canada desire to place some of the leading ideas held by the Party before the electors who are giving consideration to the problems confronting us at the present time—problems which we are convinced can only be solved by the abolition of the present capitalist system, based on the class ownership of the means of production, and the substitution therefor of a system of social ownership and production for use.

There are two classes in society—the Working Class and the Capitalist Class. All other party divisions tend to obscure the real clash of contending interests.

All wealth is created by the application of labor to natural resources. This being so, how is it that the Working class—the producers of all wealth—frequently lack even the barest necessaries of life?

The reason is that the natural resources, i.e., the land, mines, factories and transportation facilities are owned by the Capitalist class, and the worker can only gain access to them when an employer can make a profit out of him.

To any student of modern social and industrial conditions, who carefully considers the evidence, it is apparent that our present system is rapidly reaching the point when a breakdown is inevitable. The Capitalist class who control industry, and, in order to maintain themselves in power, must also control the legislative, judicial and administrative functions of the State, have proved themselves incapable of organizing affairs so as to provide all the people with the necessaries essential to maintain life.

Even in this "Last West," in periods of frantic "development," at no time were all employed under conditions fit for human beings and at wages sufficient to maintain a moderate standard of comfort for the worker, and the family dependent on him.

But even were all employed at a "living" wage, the reason for the existence of a Socialist Party would still continue. With the ever-increasing perfection of the machinery of production and the more efficient organization of the producers of wealth, the worker of to-day is able to produce in a few hours a far larger output than formerly could be in treble the time; but this increased product, instead of reducing his hours of labor, thus giving him greater opportunities for culture and the pleasure of life, is retained by the owners of the machinery of production and is used to force him to accept an even lower standard of life than hitherto. Instead of the larger output made possible by the increased productivity of the machine being used to raise the workers' standard of life, it is used to dispense with a portion of the labor army, and the growing problem of the unemployed, with all its attendant misery, suffering and degradation, is a ghastly witness of the failure and mismanagement of industry by the Capitalist class. This is the rock on which Capitalism will meet its doom.

It has been conclusively proved that a standard of life better than that enjoyed by the best paid artizans is possible with the expenditure of less than three hours per day in labor of all able-bodied men, if society were but organized on a sane basis, and realizing also that the social evils of to-day, which are the despair of "statesmen," and towards the solution of which the "reformers" can at best only be compared to the efforts of Mrs. Partington to drive back the waves of the Atlantic with her mop, the Socialist points to the absolute necessity of the means of production being taken over by, and managed in the interests of the whole people, instead of in the interests of an ever-decreasing minority.

The Socialist Party has nothing in common with the person whose whole efforts are expended in social reform. Social evils are almost invariably the result of bad economic conditions; the study of Socialism will make this clear.

The Capitalist class, who appropriate all the wealth created by the Working class over and above the amount necessary to permit of the continued existence of the latter, maintains itself in power only by its control of the machinery of the State, thus entrenching itself in possession of the wealth secured in the exploiting process of modern production.

When the Working class fully realize the utter hopelessness of any real improvement in their condition as long as Capitalism lasts, they will unite under the banner of Socialism to capture the machinery of the State, take over the means of production, and manage industry in a manner certain to ensure to all a healthy, happy life, with the fear of poverty absolutely abolished.

We urge you to study the literature of the movement, educate yourself in every phase, and take your place among those who are to-day trying to rouse the Working Class from the apathy and ignorance which alone stands in the way of their emancipation from the thralldom of wage slavery.

If you are interested, send your name and address to the Secretary, Victoria Local, S.P. of C., Room 6, 1406 Broad Street, and we will arrange to supply you with some of our literature.

Against War When It Mattered

Classic reprint from the April 1984 issue of the World Socialist

July 1917, and the bloody butchery of world capitalism had been unleashed for nearly three years. Workers in their masses were being sacrificed as human offerings to the insatiable god of profit. The recruiting sergeants, in different countries and different languages, poured forth the propaganda of nationalistic hatred. 

And with them, supporting the recruitment for the trenches, were the bogus socialists. Yes, indeed, these so-called socialists, who wave the red flag in peace time and their national flags when the signal for war was given, had spoken loudly of "internationalism" before the war began. Easy to favour peace when there is no war, isn't it? But, because they were tied up in the ideology of capitalism and did not recognise it as a world system based upon a clear class division between capitalists and workers, the phoney socialists abandoned the interest of the working class in favour of the interest of capitalist nations. 

We publish below the Manifesto which was issued in 1917 to be considered by the proposed anti-war conference which was due to be held in Stockholm. It shows that, at the time when it mattered, we socialists held tight to our principles and upheld the case for world peace. 

Since 1917 socialists have been urged to support other wars. Indeed, some of those who were part of the minority of anti-war internationalists in July 1917 were subsequently to create the Russian state capitalist dictatorship which, in 1939, justified the Stalin-Hitler pact in the name of socialism. We have been asked to support "wars for democracy" and "wars of liberation" and even "civil wars for socialism". In every case the World Socialist Movement has refused to support the view that the workers' interest can be advanced in any way by means of capitalist war. It is not only in peace that we have spoken of peace, but in war too, even though the consequences for our members have not been easy or comfortable. 

So, in printing this, the first of our regular "classic reprints", we stand by what we stated in 1917. The parties referred to may now have different names; in different countries the militarist histories have taken different forms; but war in this century is of global proportions and has a single cause: the system of capitalism. And, as war has only one cause, so it has only one possible solution: world socialism.


From Socialist Standard, July 1917

The Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Great Britain

To the proposed International Congress


Residing as we do under the control of the "democratic" British Government, we are not permitted to send Delegates to the Congress to state our views, present our case, and defend our policy, as we so strongly wished. All the more is this to be regretted as our organisation is the only one in the British Isles that takes its stand upon a definite and avowed Marxian basis and follows a policy logically deduced from that basis. 

We hold that the Working Class must march to its emancipation from wage-slavery and the domination of the Capitalist Class, by the conquest of political power. In the British Isles the means wherewith to accomplish this are already in the hands of the workers, as, despite certain anomalies in our franchise, the workers have the overwhelming majority of the votes at their disposal when an election takes place. Hence the great, immediate, and pressing work requiring to be done is the education of the Working Class to an understanding of Socialism -to a realisation of their slavery and the method of their emancipation. 

The Working Class are slaves to the Capitalist Class. While the Workers produce all existing wealth by applying their labour-power to the materials provided by Nature, this wealth, and the instruments necessary for its production, along with the great storehouse of Nature's materials -the earth- are owned and controlled by the Master Class under a system of private ownership that necessitates the selling of the bulk of the products upon the markets. But while powers of production increase by leaps and bounds, the markets grow but slowly. Hence the struggles between the various groups of Capitalists for the control of these markets and the routes thereto so that they may dispose of the commodities the wage-slaves have produced. Practically all the wars of the last three centuries, from the struggle against the Dutch and Portuguese in India to the present colossal carnage which is devastating the whole world, have had their essential causes rooted in the demands of the various groups of Capitalists to control these markets and routes. 

The Workers' share of these conflicts has been to slaughter each other in their Masters' interests, to find a grave if killed, or be offered the degrading and comfortless shelter of the workhouse if disabled or maimed. The hardship, misery, want, and suffering following these wars fall always upon the Working Class. Thousands of cripples and tens of thousands of men with constitutions ruined by military service will feel the horrors of the struggle for existence with tenfold bitterness after the war. In the midst of the conflict the Pensions Minister, Mr. G.N. Barnes - a member of the ILP and of the "Labour Party", and "Labour" Member of Parliament for Blackfriars Division of Glasgow - has admitted that over 100,000 men have been discharged from the British Army as medically unfit for Service without allowance or pension of any kind. To soothe the ruffled feelings of these unfortunate victims of capitalist brutality this so-called representative of the Workers said: 
"It has been claimed that these men should be put on pension . . . . inasmuch as the doctors have passed them in . . . . I want to say that they will not get it while I am in the office."-Official Report, col. 254, March 6th, 1917. 
No matter which group of the Masters win the struggle, the Workers remain enslaved. The division of interests is not between the peoples of the world, but between the classes - the Master Class and the Working Class. Not, therefore, in their fellow Workers abroad, but in the Master Class at home and abroad, are the working-class enemies found. 

What interest have the Workers, then, in either starting or carrying on war for their masters? Absolutely none. 

Every Socialist must, therefore, wish to see peace established at once to save further maiming and slaughter of our fellow Workers. All those who on any pretext, or for any supposed reason, wish the war to continue, at once stamp themselves as anti-Socialist, anti-working class, and pro-capitalist. 
Moreover, where the Working Class have the necessary means - the franchise - for their emancipation within their grasp it is clearly an anti-Socialist and treacherous act to urge them to use those means for the purpose of placing political power in the hands of the masters. The flimsy excuses so often used to cover up such acts of treachery to the Working Class merely add evidence to support the truth of this statement. 

Applying these tests of real understanding of Socialist principle and correct action to the organisations in this country claiming to be Socialist, we find all of them except the Socialist Party of Great Britain failing to stand that test. The Fabian Society, with Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Sidney Webb at its head, merely wishes for an extension of the Civil Service system under the control of a bureaucracy, and is opposed to the Workers being emancipated from their slavery .In addition to supporting the carrying on of the war, both the society and its individual members readily support the return of Liberal Capitalists to Parliament. 

The so-called Independent Labour Party is ready at all times to make political bargains with the Capitalists and to urge the Workers to place power in the hands of the masters. Thus Mr. Ramsay Macdonald at Leicester, Mr. Philip Snowden at Blackburn, Mr. F. Jowett at Bradford, Mr. James Parker at Halifax, Mr. G.H. Roberts at Norwich, Mr. G.N. Barnes at Glasgow, and Mr. Clynes at N.E. Manchester all owe their seats in Parliament to bargains made with the Liberals, in return for which they gave their support to Liberals in these and other constituencies. While protesting - in some forms - against the war, and now urging "Peace by negotiation", the ILP allowed its members like Mr. Parker and Mr. Clynes to assist in the recruiting campaign. 

In a letter sent to his constituency on 11th September, 1914, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald said: 
"I want the serious men of the trade unions, the brotherhoods and similar movements, to face their duty .To such it is enough to say ‘England has need of you' and to say it in the right way. 
"They will gather to her aid; they will protect her." Daily Chronicle, September 9th, 1914. 

In the Merthyr Pioneer for 27th November, 1914, the late Mr. Keir Hardie, another ILP Member of Parliament, said: 
"I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting. I know too well all there is at stake." 
How is all this different from assisting in carrying on the war? How clearly it shows the treachery of the ILP leaders and Members of Parliament! 

Moreover, the ILP has allowed its members to accept office in a Capitalist government without making any protest or repudiation. It is true that their 1917 Conference passed a resolution dissociating the organisation from Mr. Parker's action in taking a Government office, but not only is Mr. Parker allowed to remain a member of the ILP, but no protest at all is made when other members, as Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Roberts, accept office under similar conditions. While protesting against German Social-Democrats voting war credits in the Reichstag, ILP members have steadily voted for war credits here. 

The claim of the ILP to be a Socialist organisation is fully repudiated by the actions of its members, of which the above are but examples. 

The British Socialist Party has been just as ready - if with less success - to try and enter into arrangements with the Capitalist parties for seats and offices. At General Elections they have shown their impartiality by advising the Workers to vote for Capitalist candidates of the Tory brand in some constituencies - as South Hackney, Norfolk, etc. - and for Capitalist candidates of the Liberal type in other constituencies. The one MP who until recently was a member of the BSP -  Mr. W. Thorne owes his seat to the Liberals and Tories in West Ham combining to make him a present of that constituency. In the early days of the war he, with Mr. Hyndman, Mr. Hunter Watts, and others, took a prominent part in the recruiting campaign, calling upon the Workers of Great Britain to take up arms for the slaughter of their fellow Workers on the Continent, although Mr. Hyndman admitted that whichever side won the Workers would not benefit a single jot. Just lately Mr. W. Thorne has returned from a trip to Russia, taken, along with Mr. O'Grady and Mr. W. Saunders, on behalf of the British Capitalists, to persuade the Russian Workers to continue the war on the Eastern side. 

In the ranks of the BSP a division of opinion has developed, resulting, after a struggle between the two sections, in the secession of the defenders of the war - Hyndman, Hunter Watts, Lee, Irving, and the rest - and the formation by the secessionists, of the National Socialist Party .The absurdity of the title is balanced by the merit it has of showing how completely pro-Capitalist and anti-Socialist these individuals are. 

The BSP has now joined hands with the ILP in a so-called peace propaganda, but the confusion and double-dealing lying behind this movement is shown most glaringly by the fact that both these organisations remain affiliated to the Labour Party that has whole-heartedly supported the war from its inception.

One of the rewards given for this support was the appointment of Mr. J. Hodge, "Labour" Member for Gorton, as Labour Minister. Within a week of his appointment he tried to show his utility to the masters by threatening to use the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act against the Boilermakers of Birkenhead, who were protesting against the rotten conditions imposed upon them by the employers. 

The organisation calling itself the Socialist Labour Party has never understood how the Workers are enslaved, and for years has propagated what it calls Industrial Unionism as the method of emancipation. Its attempts to reconcile this position with its claim to be a political party has led to such confusion in its ranks that when the war broke out it was divided as to whether it should support or oppose it. 

THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN alone takes up the Socialist position here. At the beginning of the war we pointed out the essential factors forming its cause which we have given above, and we have steadily and consistently pressed this view by all the means in our power, and maintained it upon all occasions without change or deviation. Thus we said in the first issue of our official organ to be published after Britain's entry into the war (Sept. 1914): 
"THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN . . . whilst placing on record its abhorrence of this latest manifestation of the callous, sordid and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands, who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home. 
"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity . . ." 
While in the February 1915 issue we said: 
"We . . . declare again that there was nothing in the conditions of any country which justified Socialists voluntarily supporting either side in the war, and record our condemnation of such action as a betrayal of Socialist principles arising from lack of political knowledge and unsound political organisation." 
So, with our own hands clean and our every action in accord with the CLASS struggle and the solidarity of the interest of the Working Class the world over, we bring before the international proletariat our DEMAND FOR PEACE without any change of attitude or re-adjustment of policy. We stand for PEACE without reference to terms, since the fruits of Capitalist war are the Masters', and only the pains and penalties thereof the Workers'. 

The grim humour of the claim that Britain is fighting to "crush Prussian Militarism" is clearly shown by the fact that a Bill is being passed through the liberty-loving, democratic British Parliament establishing "Militarism" in a far worse form than either the present Prussian or the late Russian rulers ever attempted. Men who have crossed the seas because they refuse to accept military service are to be forced into the army of the "allied" country they may be in or brought back to serve in the army here! 

To the Socialists of other countries we extend our fraternal greetings. As soon as conditions will permit us to do so we shall endeavour to join forces with our Comrades for the purpose of establishing a Socialist International Congress where Socialist policies shall be decided, where misleaders and tricksters who use the name and fame of Socialism will be exposed and denounced, where the message of Socialism will be sent forth to the toilers of all countries in clear and unmistakable terms, where the gage of battle against the Capitalist Class will be thrown down to the clarion call: 


20th June 1917                                                                    193 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1.