Friday, September 5, 2014

The Idealists! (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

All that is vile in politics is well represented in the Labour Party. The grasping after fat jobs; the petty bickering over positions of influence; and the changing of ideas and programmes to suit the political weather.

Those who in opposition foam and froth over disarmament, when in office pushed forward a programme of Naval and Air Force development. Those who proclaim the rights of small nationalities, when they had their chance to fulfil their promises met the claims of Indians, Egyptians and others with threats of force and cargoes of bombs.

Based mainly upon the single idea of personal advancement, what else can be expected of these "Leaders of Labour"?

Ramsay MacDonald, J. R. Clynes, J. H. Thomas, vie with one another at pleasant social functions as to which can talk in the most honied tone calculated not to disturb the wealthy host who provide the tempting repasts.

They preach little homilies to the workers on the merit of working hard for the employers and giving them a square deal; they boost Wembley and parade their sound adherence to all the capitalist doctrines of Empire, they ape the manners and conceits of the ruling class, who in private laugh at them for their folly.

Dinners and social functions take up a great part of the time and energy of the more prominent Labour members.

Mouthers of windy and empty phrases; accomplished diners-out; settlers of strikes—with honours to the employers; trimmers of sails to suit political winds—for the securing of pelf and place; such are the crew the votes of the working class and the permission of the employers have placed at the political helm.

And yet, what self-sacrifice on the part of the rank and file has taken place to push these self-seekers into affluence! What a desire for improvement has backed these efforts whose fruition is barrenness!

The workers allow high wages (or salaries!) to be paid to these industrial and political bigwigs and thus make the jobs attractive and an inducement to the unprincipled adventurers. Those who are on the look-out for a career in which they can climb see such a career in these movements; and a career, moreover, that is easier than in ordinary business—brass, wind, and unscrupulousness being the main qualifications required. The "intellectuals" find an easy opening and crawl in and up.

The history of the "labour" movement the world over is to a great extent the history of sacrifice by the workers and betrayal by the "intellectuals."

Finally, is it necessary to attend gorgeous functions and to be tricked out in knee breeches in order to help on the emancipation of the working class?

First Steps In Socialism: Who Are the Working Class? (1913)

From the April 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who are the working class? Many members of the working class, who dress after the fashion of their masters, and ape their manners, would repel with lively indignation and scorn, the suggestion that they belong to "the backbone of the country," the working class. They think that between these "hewers of wood and drawers of water" and the "upper ten" there exists a class whose fortunes and interest are with neither.

The idea is falacious. Manners may make the man, or nine tailors, working in harmony and with might and main, may accomplish the same feat, but neither manners nor the tailors give a man his class status. Nor can the nature of the person's daily occupation draw the line of class distinction, though the fact of any occupation at all being followed goes far in the direction of placing the subject in the ranks of the despised and rejected.

Many imagine that the working class are those who perform what they are pleased to refer to as manual labour, as distinct from those they are even more pleased to call mental workers. But if this is so, where is the line to be drawn?

Who, think you, has to exercise the greater mental activity—the booking clerk serving out tickets or the signalman passing the passenger safely on to his destination?—the office dignitary who works out the amount of the joiner's wages or the joiner involved in the intricacies of staircasing and hand-railing?

As a matter of fact a little consideration will show us that it is impossible to draw the line anywhere, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as a distinction between manual labour and mental. The brain is the centre of all activities. Every muscle in the body, therefore, derives its power of movement from the brain. It follows, then, that every muscular activity must be mental as well.

On the other hand, there is no possible means at present known by which any mental activity can find outlet to the world save through the exercise of manual or muscular effort in some form or other. A thought cannot be written without the muscular effort of wielding the pen, cannot even be spoken without the muscular exertion of moving the lips. So all mental labour that does not perish fruitless in the head wherein it is generated, must be manual as well as mental.

What is it, then, that divides the community into classes? What is that there is common between all those who constitute each class, yet is not common to the different classes? The answer to this last question, when we find it, may throw some light on the first.

If we take a survey of those about us, our fellow members of society, we find them a motley crew. Some are old, some are young; some fair to view, some we shouldn't care to be mistaken for; some are big and strong, some small and weak; some are good like ourselves, some are awful perishers. But none of these things can form the basis of a class division.

Shall we say that all the strong, or the good, form a class by themselves? Then class cannot go by families. There can be no working-class families, or other-class families. For there are long and short, strong and weak, plain and comely, in every family; and though, of course, all crime is with the working class, not all the working class are criminals.

In the same way occupation does not supply the test, for the same families frequently supply the workers for both the office, the workshop, and the factory; the salaried black-coat and the waged cloth cap.

What, then, can it be, that divides and unites the people into classes?

There are two things and two things only we can discover that remain fairly constant in certain circles, seldom dividing individual families, though separating families into two great groups and keeping them apart. These are, the possession or non possession of wealth, and the necessity or otherwise of working for money or selling one's energy.

A moment's thought will reveal the fact that three things are intimately connected. People possessing considerable wealth are not compelled to sell their strength and energy in order to live, while those who do not share in the ownership of wealth have no means of living except by means of the sale of their labour-power.

So there we have it. The working class are the propertyless, those, with their dependants, who must sell the the strength of their mind and body for sustenance. What matter whether it is expended in mine or office? What matter whether it is paid for with salary or wages? All these trivialities vanish in the essentials that it provides. The propertyless have to work, to obey, to suffer unemployment, insecurity, and poverty. The propertied live idle and luxurious lives—and dominate.

The working class, then, are all those who have to sell their energy to live.
A. E. Jacomb

From Our Branches. (1906)

Party News from the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dead? Not much. Not by a jugful. Just busy, that's all. Too busy to report, even at times. But alive! O! very much alive. Ask our local Labour-misleading friends the enemy. They may conceivably wish we were dead. It isn't their fault we are not. But we won't die, ingrates that we are. So they try the game of ignoring us. It's a goose game. And their elaborately simulated indifference is worth coming a long way to see. As a sample this: - Before the election the local S.D.F. and I.L.P. who jointly make up a third body—the Labour Church—issued a manifesto. (Incidentally and in justice to the author it should be stated that a considerable portion of the manifesto was lifted without acknowledgment from a pamphlet by C.A. Glyde.) This document urged the workers to abstain from voting. Whereupon the chairman of the I.L.P. Branch (also member of the L.C.) promptly appeared upon the Liberal candidate's platform, moving resolutions of support—an example immediately followed by another of the L.C. As a result the Branch published a repudiation of their chairman's action in publicly supporting the Liberal and called upon him to resign his chairmanship. Of course we could do no less than point out in the press that the action of the Watford I.L.P. was out of harmony with the I.L.P. action all over the country, citing the case of the neighbouring Harrow Branch, which had supported the Liberal candidate, and emphasising the inevitable confusion in the working-class mind such muddled tactics must engender. Also we a asked a few questions! Thus. If the matter was of the importance to warrant public repudiation, would not the only logical and sufficient action of the I.L.P. had been the expulsion of the member? If it had been a private member instead of a chairman would he have been called upon to resign membership? If so why not the chairman? If not what is the value of the Branch action? And would it have been all right if the support of the member had been given the member privately, seeing that it was his public action that impelled the Branch to move? Again would the I.L.P. refuse future support to the second individual mentioned who, as a member of the Labour Church and Trades Council was supported in his candidature for public office by the I.L.P. and S.D.F? And would the LC and S.D.F. publicly repudiate his action in supporting the Liberal. The reply from all these bodies has been a very loud and very interesting silence—the sort of answer we are very familiar with here because the only answer that may safely be vouchsafed. However, the local council elections are at hand, when they will probably hear from us again.

One other matter only may be squeezed into our present note. The Party membership is aware that the police have taken action to prevent our meetings in the Market Square. The Salvation Army, however, are not interfered with. After which exhibition of even-handed justice it will be no matter for surprise that the chief constable's name is Daniel! We have had an interesting correspondence with this worthy which may see the light of publicity in the future. The police fiat came to us at the end of last year's open-air season, so that there has been no particular need for hurried action. But as it seems inevitable that our meetings in the coming summer will be interfered with, we hope the Organisation will take the question into early consideration. Members prepared to accept the hospitality of His Brittanic Majesty's lock-up are urged to communicate with the E.C., to whom the matter has been referred, at once.
The Branch.


At the end of last year this branch vacated its old premises, for the sole reason that they were more expensive than useful. This trifling circumstance has been has been commented on by a member of one of the several utopian reform associations of this district as an indication of our decline. On the contrary we have much reason to be gratified with an all-round improvement—increased attendance at branch meetings, an enthusiastic desire to make our influence felt when opportunities offer, and a healthy condition of the funds. This, by way of warning to those who await our funeral not to be over-sanguine (and kindly note that in The Socialist Party we do not "tell lies in the interests of the organisation." The performance of the fatuous pseudo- Socialists are always interesting, if not instructive. On Feb. 7, Mr. John Clark, M.A., S.D.F., was permitted to lecture at the Peckham Liberal Club on the "Points on which Socialists and Liberals can agree." Needless to add, the usual stale list of impossibilist radical reforms were advocated with the usual sentimental fervour.

During the election contest in the neighbouring constituency of Deptford, a local official of the S.D.F. displayed the "vote for Bowerman" placard, notwithstanding the gentleman's plain declaration to his fellow trade unionists that "He had always been a Liberal, and would probably remain one." Therefore, one is not surprised to read in the official journal of the London Society of Compositors that Mr. Bowerman "has been welcomed by the majority of Liberals in the district, many of whom worked strenuously to secure the return of the Labour Candidate." Incidents like the foregoing constantly recurring show the necessity for a genuine revolutionary Socialist Party apart from those whose political tactics are marked by confusion, pusillanimity and compromise.
W. K.


Although this branch has only been fairly active during the winter, the literature sales have been well kept up. We held a splendid "No vote" meeting on Saturday, Jan. 13th. Plenty of questions and opposition were the order of the day.

One sequel to this meeting was a lengthy discussion in a local paper, in which our position was upheld against the Liberals, who talked about political suicide, disenfranchisement, etc. Several young fellows are studying Socialist literature in order to properly grasp our position before joining the party. All things considered, all is well.


We have held some encouraging meetings at Streatham Drinking Fountain, where we have found a favourable spot for open-air work. Comrade Moore has debated with a local Progressive whom he had no difficulty in disposing of.

Standards and Manifestos have sold well, and the special Party Election Manifesto was got into circulation so effectively that we have been credited by the local Liberals with losing them the seat. We have opened premises at 29. The Parade, Upper Tooting Road, where any evening after 8 we shall be glad to welcome any who desire closer acquaintance with the Party Principles.
A. Barker

Fighting Human Nature (2014)

From the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critics sometimes say that socialist society will not work, on the grounds that people are by nature greedy or selfish or lazy or whatever. Here we examine one writer’s arguments to the effect that people are naturally aggressive.
In his book On Human Nature, the sociobiologist Edward Wilson asks, ‘Are human beings innately aggressive?’ His answer is Yes, and here is part of his reasoning:
‘Throughout history, warfare, representing only the most organized technique of aggression, has been endemic to every form of society, from hunter-gatherer bands to industrial states. During the past three centuries a majority of the countries of Europe have been engaged in war during approximately half of all the years; few have ever seen a century of continuous peace.’
Let’s look at Wilson’s arguments, and consider some facts about human behaviour. Before going any further we should look at his definition of aggression: ‘Any physical act or threat of action by one individual that reduces the freedom or genetic fitness of another’. This is odd in that it implies that only individuals, not governments, armies or companies, can commit aggression.
With regard to those who blame aggression on environmental rather than genetic factors, he writes:
‘They forget that innateness refers to the measurable probability that a trait will develop in a specified set of environments, not to the certainty that the trait will develop in all environments. By this criterion human beings have a marked hereditary predisposition to aggressive behaviour.’
So in certain circumstances humans may behave aggressively. The extent of this probability is said to be measurable, presumably by such methods as counting the number of murders and other violent acts per head of the population.
It is important to appreciate that Wilson is not arguing that aggression is an inevitable part of human behaviour, since he accepts that it will not emerge always and everywhere (and that women as a group are less aggressive than men). He is well aware that it can vary greatly over time even within a single society: he cites, for instance, the Semai of Malaya, who were entirely peaceful until recruited by the British colonial authorities in the 1950s to fight against guerrillas. They then became extremely bloodthirsty. And there have been recent claims that the extent of violent crime in England and Wales has fallen, with only about one half of the number of violent incidents that there were in 2002. No doubt the details of the statistics are questionable, as is the claim that a rise in the price of alcohol is in large part responsible. But similar trends have been reported in other countries too, so it is likely that there is a real change here. This just emphasises the point that aggressive behaviour is influenced by other aspects of society.
Notice, moreover, that one can turn Wilson’s argument round and claim that humans are innately peaceable, by restating his claims as follows:
‘Peace has been endemic in every form of human society. There have been plenty of years when European countries have been at peace rather than fighting.’
This argument for innate peaceableness is entirely parallel to that for innate aggression, and at least as convincing.
Consider, too, your own behaviour. Some people have a shorter fuse than others, and we all get angry from time to time, but how often do you react to perceived mistreatment with physical aggression or even the threat of such action? Human society would surely be impossible, or at best very unpleasant, if people really used physical force even a large part of the time. That simply is not how people behave.
Wilson also argues:
‘Most significantly of all, the human forms of aggressive behavior are species-specific: although basically primate in form, they contain features that distinguish them from aggression in all other species.’
There is no general aggressive instinct applying to all animals, and humans are far less aggressive and violent than hyenas or lions, for instance. Wilson seems to be claiming that humans show only some of the possible aggressive responses found in the animal kingdom, hence there is something specifically human about people's aggressive behaviour, therefore it must be genetically inherited. But what is supposed to follow from this?
In fact he sees human aggression as ‘a structured, predictable pattern of interaction between genes and environment’. He does not appear to believe that anyone can predict whether individuals or groups will behave aggressively in any particular situation, so all that is left is the claim that genes and environment interact to affect how we behave. Which is neither surprising nor worrying.
Wilson examines some hunter-gatherer societies, and then summarises his position:
‘Human beings are strongly predisposed to respond with unreasoning hatred to external threats and to escalate their hostility sufficiently to overwhelm the source of the threat by a respectably wide margin of safety.’
The question of how violent hunter-gatherer and other tribal societies really are remains controversial (see Edward Helmore in the Observer, 3 February 2013) but his examples show no more than that people sometimes act aggressively and that various cultural and environmental factors determine whether they in fact do so (such as the reliability of food supplies).
In addition, we should examine to what extent Wilson’s claims discredit the idea of socialism. If people really were ‘predisposed’ to react violently to each other, especially to strangers, then he might have a case against an egalitarian stateless society. But in socialism there will be no ‘external threats’ of the kind he envisages, so nothing follows about the impossibility of such a way of organising society.
Nothing Wilson says argues against the following claim:
‘it is part of human nature to be able to become aggressive and to wage war. But how and when we become aggressive is controlled by our cultures rather than by our genes.’ (Marvin Harris: Cannibals and Kings)
The Socialist Party’s pamphlet Are We Prisoners of Our Genes? discusses a number of other arguments about the way human behaviour is supposedly controlled by our genetic inheritance.
Paul Bennett

Porn and Real Life (2014)

The Proper Gander Column from the September 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

For some reason, porn films don’t tend to get reviewed or discussed on the telly very often. This gap in the market was recently filled by The Golden Rules of Porn (More 4), a pornucopia of x-rated movies. In this show, Grace Dent and some talking head porn stars, comedians and viewers, give a knowing, tongue in cheek guide to pornos from the last forty years. The clips sourced from VHS tapes are so grainy that the editors at More 4 hardly needed to fuzz the genitalia out.
100 seminal porn films were surveyed, from Flesh Gordon to I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight. Not-so vital statistics were gleaned from the films’ 573 sex scenes, including how many featured steamy shower scenarios (5 percent), whips (8 percent) and men with moustaches (more than half). 42.23 percent of chat-up lines involved puns and innuendos, although in real life an opening gambit based on fixing plumbing isn’t likely to have the same outcome as in a skin flick. And few people meet and ‘get it on’ as quickly as the 72 seconds of the average porno pair-up.
The programme highlights the gulf between porn and reality, but there’s also a gulf between how the programme describes porn and porn in real life. Porn is presented as something kitsch, made by enthusiastically happy stars whose sexploits have afforded them luxury pads with their own swimming pools. The other side of porn – how it exploits and cheapens those pushed into it – isn’t mentioned. Some statistics not cited by the show are that 37 percent of women in porn films were child victims of forced sex, 33 percent met the criteria for depression, 50 percent had lived in poverty within the last year (California Women’s Health Survey) and 88 percent of porn films feature physical aggression (US Department of Justice report, 2004). The long-term impact of pornography on its consumers was also ignored by the programme. The average age at which Americans first watch hardcore porn is 11 (, and this can lead to distorted views on self-esteem and relationships. The role which pornography has in society should be discussed more often, but not as trashy clip shows like The Golden Rules of Porn.
Mike Foster