Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fighting For Freedom. (1916)

From the August 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since August 4th, 1914, when this country entered the arena of European slaughter, the ruling class have used every means in their power to force working men into the Army on the pretext that the crushing of Prussian militarism would mean freedom, and therefore that the men (some of them, of course) would return to this country much better off than they were before the war. The reason put forward to support this was that a crushed Germany could no longer hold a place in the world's markets, and the trade lost to her would come to this country, resulting in more work and an improvement in the position of the working class.

We Socialists have shown this argument to be false from beginning to end. One has only to enquire into the economics of capitalism and the history of the capitalists themselves to see that they have no more regard for the welfare of the workers than the torpedo has for the ship it is about to destroy. To those workers who think that all will be well when Germany is defeated this article is addressed.

First we must go to the rock-bottom facts that the present system of society is based upon the private ownership of the means of living; that a comparatively few people own and control the means of production and distribution, with the result that the great mass of mankind are enslaved to the owners of these means, which they have to operate in their masters' interests.

It is not for the purpose of providing people with material for heating purposes that miners are allowed to go down into the mines, but simply to make profit for the mine-owners. Houses are not constructed for human habitation, but because the owner knows that there is profit in the business. These examples are typical of the whole capitalist system; profit is the be-all and end-all of it the world over, so much so, in fact, that if some improvement is recommended in the working conditions of the employees which is likely to interfere with the output the improvement is not adopted, though the lives of workers are endangered as a consequence. When the toilers ask for an increase of wages to meet the increase in the cost of living, they are in the main met with a blunt refusal, and should they strike and during the strike dare to touch one particle of their masters; property, even for the purpose of feeding themselves and their dependents, the military are brought out to shoot them at their masters' bidding.

Briefly, then, that is the position of the workers in modern Christo-bourgeois society: divorced from the means of production, working for a subsistence wage, their life is one perpetual fight against starvation from the cradle to the grave.

Politicians at election times talk glibly of the poverty of the workers and hold up some pet nostrum as a cure for the disease. But the poverty-stricken find after they have elected the thieves to power and the so-called remedies are placed on the statute book, their position is not improved one iota.

Small wonder that the position of the workers has not improved, for by returning to Parliament men of the Liberal, Tory, or so-called Labour type  they have voted for the perpetuation of the present system of society, and so long as capitalism lasts poverty, misery, and degradation must be their lot.

Now just as the capitalist politician is prepared to dangle before the eyes of the workers these various reforms in order that he shall be returned to Parliament, so they have been prepared since the war broke out to gull their victims into thinking that by fighting the Germans they would be fighting for freedom, and that none of the evil consequences that have attended other wars would attend this one.

Equally guilty of leading the workers up this blind alley are the so-called representatives of Labour. Most of them have assisted the masters to run the war by using the same dirty, underhand tactics that characterised them in times of peace. Ben Tillett, for instance, who once wasted his breath calling upon God to strike Lord Devonport dead, has been going up and down the country as recruiting sergeant, telling the workers some tales of his experiences on the front and holding up the bogey of "German tyranny" in order to induce men to go and fight the Germans in the interests of the very class of which Lord Devonport is a member. But there are times—although it is not often—when these gentry speak the truth, and having done all he could to get workingmen into the Army, Ben actually has settled himself down to thinking of the position of the workers after the war.

In an article in "Reynolds's" of June 18th Tillett tells us, among other things, that "the eternal struggle between capital and labour is bound to be more acute than ever it has been in the past." With this view we Socialists agree, but what then of the freedom the workers have been fighting for? Where is it? An answer is needed, but a logical answer will not be forthcoming from Ben Tillett and the crowd that, like him, live upon the backs of the toilers. They know their game too well, and a logical reply from them would open the eyes of the workers to such an extent that their occupation would be gone.

We have been told by scores of people that we should no longer see old soldiers selling bootlaces or turning organs. But since when has the attitude of the masters changed so favourably towards our class. Ever since the war broke out the ruling class have taken advantage of the crisis to rob and exploit the workers more than ever. At this very moment there is an agitation to burst up the food rings, smash the milk and other combines and trusts which have shown how much the capitalists are concerned with the welfare of their slaves. So make no mistake about it, fellow workers; the antagonism of interests between you and your masters will no more be wiped away by killing Germans than it was by voting Liberal or Tory after having a ride in a motor car.

And just as you will find the after-the-war conditions against you in this country, so also will the Germans, Austrian, Hungarian, French, Belgian, Italian, and Russian workers find conditions worse than ever after the slaughter is over. Then perhaps you will sit yourselves down and ask in your saner moments what have we been fighting for. We still depend on a boss for a job, still are subject to unemployment and the visit of the bailiff.

Surely, with the existing knowledge and power to produce wealth in abundance, there must be a way out of the difficulty. No human being need suffer poverty and starve in the midst of such prodigious resources as are at mankind's disposal to-day. Society can be so organised that the needs of all can be satisfied. The present system of society must be abolished by the working class, organised in a Socialist Party, capturing the means by which the masters hold supremacy to-day. namely, the political machinery, and using it to take control of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. In a state of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of these means and instruments there can be no conflicting interests to promote war or to breed poverty, because the common interest will bind each member to work for the common good.

Moreover, when you fight for this you fight for something more in conformity with the terms of fighting for freedom; it is, in fact, the only thing worth fighting for.
R. Reynolds

Refusing support for lost causes (1995)

Book Review from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The History of the Social Democratic Federation by Martin Crick. Ryburn Publishing. Keele University Press.

A good history of the SDF has long been needed. This is not a good history, but neither is it useless; indeed, the author has clearly spent some time with the archives of the Federation, particularly investigating its local activities in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and there is much within the 300-plus pages which is educative.

Unlike Tsuzuki, whose book Hyndman and British Socialism  was published in 1961, this study recognises that the SDF was more than just Hyndman, much as the latter failed to understand this himself. Hyndman was a racist who has no place in a socialist organisation (the 1900 conference had to pass a resolution condemning his anti-Semitism) and an arrogant authoritarian who could not have survived outside of a small political sect which he controlled. Hyndman has been given too generous a place in the historical record of the socialist movement in Britain.

There are eight references to the SPGB in this book, each of them mean and disparaging. This is par for the course: Crick is clearly the kind of historian for whom the repetition of cliched prejudice comes easier than objective analysis. Otherwise he would have surely pointed out that unlike the SDF, which first sucked into the embryonic Labour Party and subsequently into the formation of the Communist Party, the SPGB resisted support for lost causes and stuck to its revolutionary principles.

Of more detailed historical significance, the few pages devoted to the departure from the SDF of the so-called impossibilists, who were to form the SPGB in 1904, is badly confused. Briefly, Crick suggests that there were three positions within the SDF in the early 1900s: the impossibilists who opposed working in capitalist trade unions; the SDF Left, led by Quelch, who supported activity in the unions but wanted political independence; and the SDF Right (mainly from the north of England) who wanted the SDF to become a trade-union party. Now, it is quite correct that there were SDF members who wanted the SDF to join a trade-union-based alliance, and the Federation did end up joining the Labour Representative Committee for a while together with the Fabians and the rest, but the description of the "impossibilists" is far from accurate.

For a start, the so-called impossibilists were divided between the De Leonists in Scotland, who theoretically at least adopted the position of opposing the existing unions and seeking the formation of socialist unions. In reality, even these people who were to form the British SLP in 1903, realised that times were not propitious for the establishment of separate socialist unions and many of them were active and militant trade unionists in Scotland. As for the London "impossibilists", who were to be active in the formation of the SPGB, it is pure nonsense to state that they were against working in the unions. For example, Jack Fitzgerald and H. J. Hawkins, the two London impossibilists whose expulsion from the SDF helped precipitate the formation of the SPGB, were respectively members of the Builders' Union and a delegate to the TUC three times, and a member of the London Trades Council. Indeed, those who have taken the trouble to research seriously the early history of the SPGB are aware that many of its founder members were militant union members. True, there was an early debate within the party about the need for socialist industrial unions, in which E. J. B. Allen was their greatest advocate (he subsequently became a close friend and comrade of Tom Mann, the syndicalist), but, despite the considerable respect which many early SPGBers, including Fitzgerald, had for De Leon's ideas, the party was committed to a recognition of the class struggle and this necessitated, at least until the political movement was bigger, working within the existing trade unions.

Incidentally, Crick makes much of the SDF's Marxism, but he should remember that Hyndman preferred his own writings to be studied rather than Marx's and there was actually a ban on Marxian economic education within the SDF: Fitzgerald was thrown out partly for running just such study classes. As a lesson for socialists, the history of the SDF, which ended its existence in the 1940s as a pathetic right-wing dinner club for Labour MPs, is that its greatest moment came in 1904 when the real socialists transcended it.
Steve Coleman 

The Passing of a Founder Member (1956)

Obituary from the October 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to record that our old Comrade Hardcastle passed away on September 15 at the age of 93. He was one of the only two survivors of the group that founded the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904.

Comrade Hardcastle attended nearly all of the Party Conferences and was present at the last one. He also attended many of the indoor and outdoor propaganda meetings, putting in a regular attendance at Clapham Common. During the last two years failing eyesight limited his attendance at evening meetings, as it was too much of a risk for him to travel far in the darkness. He was a lively, tough little man, who never lost his conviction of the ultimate success of the movement he helped to start on its journey.

In the last week of the illness that brought his life to a close his brain was still alert and he demanded news of all that was happening in the world at large—including the latest developments over Suez.

Although Comrade Hardcastle did not figure on the platform, or in literary columns, he was a staunch supporter of the Party, who did propaganda in his own way.

The final departure of a loyal old comrade is always a sad event; we send our sincere sympathy to his relatives and the expression of our own sorrow at losing him.

Silk Roads, Old and New (2015)

From the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long-distance trade existed well before the growth of capitalism. The Silk Road was a series of routes, some on land and some by sea, that linked China and India to the Mediterranean region. It emerged gradually, so it is hard to date its origin precisely, but it was well-established by the second century BCE. Along it travelled not just Chinese silk to Europe, together with many other goods (pottery, for instance), but also ideas such as Buddhism from India to China.

The original Silk Road was in decline by the 15th century, and Chinese capitalism, in its grab for wealth and power, now has something along similar but far more ambitious lines in mind. Nowadays, though, a great deal of planning and investment has to go into such developments. One such structure is the Silk Road Economic Belt, an overland route through Central Asia, and part of this is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This involves a series of infrastructure projects, costing as much as US $46bn, that will link the Chinese city of Kashgar to the Pakistan seaboard. In addition to roads and upgraded rail lines, this will include an international airport and various energy projects in Pakistan (including wind farms and gas pipelines). In April came the announcement of the first stage, a 720,000-kilowatt hydroelectric power project in the Punjab province of Pakistan, which is expected to cost $1.65bn. It is financed by various state-owned Chinese banks, should become operational by 2020, and will be run by Chinese companies for thirty years.

The other major project is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route Economic Belt (Maritime Silk Road for short). The plans here seem to be less detailed at present, but they involve a route via the South China Sea, then two separate parts, one to the Indian Ocean and one to the South Pacific. In September last year, President Xi Jinping visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka in order to push this scheme. Sri Lanka has in fact already received $1.4bn from China to improve the port facilities at its commercial capital Colombo, as a rival to Singapore and Dubai. China will also be financing the upgrading of the Maldives’ international airport and the improvement of transport links within the island chain.

The two umbrella projects, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, are known collectively as the Belt and Road Initiative. The intention is that, within a decade or so, trade between China and the Belt and Road countries will be over $2.5 trillion. However massive the investments are, the hoped-for profits are even greater. The funds come from various Chinese investment vehicles, such as the Silk Road Fund, and banks like the Export-Import Bank of China. Economics and politics are of course closely linked, and co-operation in terms of security and coastguard operations will all be part of the deal with the aim of reducing tensions and disputes over maritime resources.

The area for the envisaged Economic Belt has a population ‘close to 3 billion people and represents the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential’, Xi said at a talk in Kazakhstan in September 2013. As for the maritime route, a Cambodian minister stated last year that for China and nations in South-east Asia, ‘it is necessary to build a maritime silk road in order to bolster economic cooperation, particularly in the fields of trade, investment and tourism’.

So the Chinese ruling class’s plans for economic expansion and rivalry with the US cover not just the other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa), but also Pakistan and other places in Central, South and South-east Asia. Capitalist competition is forging new struggles over trade routes and resources. 
Paul Bennett

Scottish Home Rule. (1927)

From the February 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the favourite futilities of the Clyde group of Labour M.P.s is to advocate Scottish independence. It has never been explained in what way capitalism administered by Scots from Edinburgh will be better for Scotch workers than capitalism administered from London. Mr. Kirkwood has, however, now learned by experience that it may even be worse.

At an Independent Labour Party meeting in Edinburgh he spoke as follows: -

Referring to a deputation to the Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of the starving children of Dunbartonshire, he said "the officials of the Scottish Office were harder to deal with than those of the English Office."—Manchester Guardian, January 15th.

The simple truth is that capitalism will be just the same as far as the working class are concerned. What is required is another system of society, not new administrators for the old one.

Mistaken Marx (1991)

Book Review from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marxism and Nationalism. By Ephraim Nimni. Pluto Press, 1991

The Socialist Party is a Marxist organisation. We accept the main points of Karl Marx's theories of history, economics and politics. But not uncritically. We differ from Marx on a number of issues, and we have made our own contributions to socialist theory. Without doubt our most serious disagreement with Marx is over nationalism.

Although Marx and Engels had declared that workers have no country and urged the workers of the world to unite, this was not their only statement on the matter. They also made a distinction between "historical nations" (such as Poland and Ireland) and "non-historical nations" (such as the Czechs, Scots and Welsh). Historical nations met with their approval because, as independent states, they could be progressive in terms of capitalist development. Non-historical nations, on the other hand, were doomed to be assimilated into the more progressive states (with "democracy as compensation", as Engels put it). Non-historical nations were not viable as independent states in a capitalist world, argued Marx and Engels, and any movement for state independence in such nations could only be reactionary. The nation is largely cultural and linguistic whereas the state and its machinery of government is a geo-political entity.

Nimni also claims that Marx and Engels got it wrong on nationalism—but from a different point of view to us. He says that socialists can legitimately be nationalists, though not necessarily statists, given the widespread concern on the issue. His book is mainly a defence of Otto Bauer on nationalism. For Bauer, a member of the Austrian Social Democratic Party in the early years of this century:
Integration of the whole people in their national cultural community, full achievement of self-determination of nations, growing spiritual differentation of nations—this is the meaning of socialism.
Which calls into question Bauer's and Nimni's understanding of capitalism and socialism. Certainly socialism will allow the fullest linguistic and cultural diversity, but to make this the basis of a political programme is something altogether different. Marxism explains how workers are exploited and unfree, not as individuals or particular nationalities, but as members of a class. From this perspective, identifying with a class provides as a rational basis for working class political action. The objective would be a stateless world community of free access. Given that nationalism does nothing to further this understanding, however, it is an obstruction to world socialism.
Lew Higgins

The Ragged Trousered Reactionary (1994)

From the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

An East End geezer with bad attitudes - so goes the prevailing view of Alf Garnett, working class bigot. Attempting to correct this characterisation on Channel Four's Without Walls (October 25, 9pm) was Garry Bushell, bad lad from the Sun and fellow East Ender with questionable attitudes. Bushell claimed that Alf Garnett represented not a stigma on society but was instead something akin to a cultural icon, saying that it was a tragedy that Garnett had been taken off the air by the BBC.

Whether it was his intention or not, Bushell only succeeded in demonstrating that he was a far more worrying feature of society than Garnett himself, if only because he is real and Garnett was a sitcom creation. It is not that Alf Garnett has no place on our television screens -  far from it. Till Death Us Do Part, In Sickness And In Health, et all were invariably well-written vignettes of social commentary. All the characters, from Garnett himself to his "scouse git" of a son-in-law fiercely believed they were right on the issues that mattered this demonstrating that they were fully human, unlike the opinionless automatons that inhabit most other sitcoms. Furthermore, the programme was always structured in such a way that Garnett's idiocies were all too apparent to most viewers.

If Bushell was merely railing against a perverse political correctness which sweeps all unpleasant subjects under the carpet, he would have had a point. But his agenda was wider than this. Bushell's argument was that Alf Garnett, albeit in caricatured form, represented all that is Best of British. Patriotism, loyalty, sparkling wit, salt-of-the-earth characters and a knees-up down at the pub. The real world of Alf Garnett, claimed Bushell, was a world where families stayed together, where you didn't have to lock your door at night, and where you could walk the streets in safety. The verbal brawls between Alf and the "Scouse git" were indicative of a wider battle for the heart of British society, between good old traditional values and liberal permissiveness, between Land of Hope and Glory and the hippies and the dropouts. But it is a battle which now appears to be over, with Bushell wearily intoning that "the spiritual heirs of the Scouse git have won".

With this the working class has been subsumed by a "culterati" who knows everything about every culture except their own. If Bushell is to be believed, the working class is now only to be found in traditional men's clubs in pockets of the East End of London, eating their jellied eels and swigging pints of lager.

This is ironic indeed, for it is precisely the false and stereotypical view of the working class that has been so tirelessly promoted by what Bushell terms the "culterati" of metropolitan society.

Tattoos out for the lads!
In truth, this image of the working class is as much of a caricature as Alf Garnett himself was. But it is a caricature which Bushell needs. Without it, there will be no Garry Bushell with a column in the Sun. Bushell needs his good guys and his bad guys, his icons and his hate figures to survive. Bushell's good guys are working class lads with the union jack tattoos, and Alf is their patriotic guru.

Perversely, he claims that genuine patriotism "is not based on hatred but on hope and pride", but where was the hope and pride in Alf? Buried under a very large mountain of hatred. Hatred of blacks, "poofs", long-haired layabouts. Northerners, foreigners, trade unionists, republicans and communists.

In support of his argument Bushell called up fellow journalist Paul Johnson who claimed that "the working class are always patriotic and think Britain is a great country", but what irks Bushell, Johnson and used to irk Garnett is precisely that so many workers - and they are working class in the proper sense of the term even if they don't correspond to Bushell's image of it - aren't patriotic and think society in countries like Britain is going down the chute, Plenty of workers see that they have nothing in common with the ruling class and the laugh-a-minute Royals. How many would now volunteer to give their lives in defence of them as they did in 1914?

It is hard to believe, but Bushell seems unaware that patriotism, and its bedfellow nationalism, have brought hatred and violence on a horrendous scale to the world and that British patriotism has been one of the worst offenders. That hatred is often lurking behind the agenda of nationalists and patriots was demonstrated by Johnson, who stated that because of the all-pervasive hegemony of the culterati, "the whole question of race in this country is not debated . . . it is taboo". What question, we might ask, does he have in mind? We can only wonder, especially as he also commented that race-baiter-in-chief Alf was a veritable "fount of working class wisdom", and did so without a hint of irony in his voice.

To a large extent, Bushell and Johnson actually undermine their own case. With the likes of them around, on TV and in print, there is no need for a fictional Alf Garnett at all. His spirit is alive and well, and Bushell and Johnson -  both, to compound the irony, members of the despised "culterati" - are his heirs. But there is a problem with this. Black TV presenter Darcus Howe commented during the programme that Alf Garnett "made me smile on a cold and and miserable night when I had no money". Who could reasonably say the same of Bushell?

The last word though must go to Alf's creator Johnny Speight who described his creation as not the "Best of British" - whatever that may mean - but as "a loutish, ignorant, raucous peabrain". Are you listening Garry? Are you listening Paul? And have you ever felt you've been had?

Ruined By Riches. (1926)

From the September 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
The extraordinary wrongness of our present industrial system is shown once more by the outcry at the bumper crop of American raw cotton. One would think that a record crop of this kind would be greeted with delight by the user as well as by the ultimate consumer as a guarantee of abundant raw material, low prices and correspondingly brisk expanding trade. But it appears that in the world constituted as it now is, abundance of raw cotton is a positive calamity. Stated coldly like that, the only possible inference from the assertion is that the world is quite mad. The facts are, we believe, that in value the export of British cotton to India, for instance, is now greater than in 1913, but the volume is from various causes very greatly less the volume exported in 1913. This state of things is al very well for the banker and the financier; it is ruin to the unfortunate operative who is on permanent short time; because to him, the volume manufactured is everything. But there must be something wrong with a system in which a trade can flourish financially while the people who are engaged in it are in desperate straits, and in which the prospect of ample raw material takes on the air of a positive calamity. — (Daily News, 11/8/26.)
We have said this often. Now they say it perhaps it will carry more weight.

Labour Government Lock-Out (1948)

From the December 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Evening News reports (29/9/48) that 2,000 miners employed at Betteshanger colliery "may face the sack unless they reach an agreement with the National Coal Board over a wage dispute . . . "
"The men were told that if they fail, the Board will consider closing Betteshaanger colliery, and 2,200 men will have to seek work elsewhere. The negotiations were being conducted by the Kent Mine Workers' Association and the Board's headquarters in London. The South-East Regional Coal Board were acting as 'forwarding agents.'"
"Neither side would admit more than that secret negotiations were in progress.
"It appears that the colliery had been running at a loss for some time, and the Board was believed to have told the men bluntly that costs must be cut if it is to continue in operation."
Here then is one more proof that the workers fare no better under Nationalisation that promised "full employment" and an end to the "bad old days of the private owner." It is also an answer to those Trade Union leaders who would assure the workers that the "boss" is no more, they're "our" mines and railways, etc., now. The threat of closing Betteshanger does not seem to differ much from the lock-out used by the former private owner when resisting wage demands. There is one little difference though, and certainly of no interest to the worker, that whereas formerly the mineowner would close down and lose, now, under Nationalisation, as a former stockholder, his investments are secure, backed by the workers' "very own Government." Whatever happens at Betteshanger, it will perhaps prove an object lesson for workers, who have clamoured for Nationalisation, thinking that such schemes would better their conditions, and believing that Labour Governments can run capitalist industry in the workers' interest. One thing is certain, that they must "pay their way," this meaning at a profit, for investors in Government stock, and as Alfred Edwards, M.P., who recently left the Labour Party, said when speaking of the possibility of steel Nationalisation: "If the Government bought a steel works for a million pounds the owner would still be  getting his three per cent. interest on that million if a depression came—but the workers would be walking the streets."

Workers should remember that they are only allowed to work and be exploited in the interests of profits. No profit, out on the street, whatever Government is running Capitalism.
G. Hilbinger