Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The "Labour Movement" (1967)

Book Review from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Left edited by Gerald Kaufman (Anthony Blond, 18s.)

This book is a collection of essays by supporters of the Labour Party, mainly journalists, on what is called "the labour movement": constituency Labour parties, trade unions, the co-ops, the left-wing press, the "fringe left" and so on. The essays are of varying quality and interest.

In recent years Labour has shed its old confused ideology (trade unionism, nationalism, anti-imperialism) and become "a classless, radical, pragmatic Party". Roy Hattersley, now a junior Minister, describes the changeover which was completed in the years after the 1959 defeat: the determination to get power at all costs; the jettisoning of old slogans because they didn't appeal to voters; the employment of public relations techniques to catch votes.
Efforts were concentrated on what came to be known as 'target voters', that tiny percentage of the electorate whose decision to vote for one party or the other (and whose decision to vote at all) can be changed by persuasion and propaganda. Their habits, their hopes, and their aspirations were projected as the keynotes of Labour's campaign.
Could Labour's opportunism be stated more frankly?

Over 70 per cent of Labour's money comes from the Unions which raise the money through a political levy. All members of affiliated trade unions pay this levy unless they can be bothered to contract out. Many don't bother. Many, perhaps most, don't know they are financing the Labour Party (and organisations like Anti-Apartheid and the British Committee for Peace in Vietnam). In other words, much of Labour's money is got by subterfuge. Yet one writer discussing this issue on connection with the co-ops, tries to contrast the Tory and Labour attitude to the matter:
Though the Tory Part has never shown qualms in accepting money from companies who give their individual shareholders no option in the matter, it would not be in accordance with the democratic principles of the Labour Party to act in the same cavalier manner.
This is hypocritical to say the least. If Labour is so concerned with democratic principle on this matter, why did they, so soon after getting power in 1945, replace contracting-in by contracting out? If they are so sure that no-one is giving money to their party through apathy, ignorance or fear, why don't they restore contracting-in? Or, are they afraid of what might happen to their funds?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain gets a brief mention in an essay on "the fringe left" by Llew Gardner. Gardner has the illusion, obviously inherited from his days as a member of the so-called Communist Party, that:
Involved in a strike, an SPGB member is likely to stand up to tell his fellow workers that their wage claim is pointless and that they must unite to destroy the capitalist system.
While it is true that Socialists always draw attention to the ownership of the means of production by a privileged class, the Socialist Party does not say that strikes are pointless. We have always urged workers to keep up the struggle for higher wages and better working conditions all the time, under Labour as well as Tory governments, in war-time as well as peace-time. In fact, no other party has given such unqualified and consistent support to this economic side of the class struggle. Gardner's lie is particularly insolent from a member of the strike-breaking Labour Party who now writes for the Daily Express.

And talking of insolence, how dare the publishers ask 18 shillings for a mere 180 pages?
Adam Buick 

Is Bernard Shaw a Judge of Socialism? (1941)

From the April 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Commenting on Mr. W. J. Brown's broadcast "Is Hitler a Socialist," Mr. Emrys Hughes, editor of Forward (March 15th) takes Mr. Brown to task and warns him against underestimating Hitler. Mr. Hughes does not disagree with Mr. Brown's proof that Hitler is not Socialist: "Of course Hitler is no more a Socialist than is Winston Churchill, and Brown had no difficulty in disposing of that delusion." So far, so good, but Mr. Hughes backs up his opinion by calling in Bernard Shaw's recent opinion of Hitler. But is there any reason to suppose that either Hughes or Shaw is competent to recognise a Socialist when he sees one? Mr. Hughes, it is, who for years has told the workers that nationalisation or State capitalism is Socialism. Indeed, it is highly probable that Mr. Hughes is one of those in the Labour Party who told Churchill that he was supporting Socialism just after the last war, when Churchill was reported to have spoken in favour of nationalisation of the railways. Mr. Hughes is certainly a bad guide and Shaw is even worse. Writing in the Sunday Dispatch (March 9th, 1941), under the head "The Amazing Winston Churchill," Shaw discovers that Ramsay MacDonald was at one time a "revolutionary Socialist," and praises Mussolini and Hitler (along with Lenin and the ex-Kaiser) for their contempt of the Parliamentary system and for the "revolutionary social changes" they brought about.

The truth is that Shaw, whatever merit he possesses in other directions, and in spite of much pertinent criticism of capitalism, is a most untrustworthy guide to Socialism. Before Mr. Hughes again advises anyone to take Shaw's advice on Socialism, or on Hitler, he should take to heart the following statement made by Shaw in an interview given to the Sunday Referee (October 2nd, 1938):—
You know what I think of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini—two  highly capable revolutionary and proletarian leaders, who are giving their people as big a dose of Socialism as they can stand.
It looks as if Shaw's answer to the question "Is Hitler a Socialist?" would be: "Yes he is, he is a Socialist like Churchill, Lenin, the Kaiser, and Ramsay MacDonald.
Edgar Hardcastle

Some Notes On Party History (1954)

From the May 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The meetings of the Provisional Executive Committee were concerned with all the arduous spade work involved in starting an organisation literally from scratch. The Party members had nothing but knowledge and enthusiasm; no office, no literature, no meeting places, no organisational system and no funds. All the plans had to be made and the bricks gathered to build a structure that would serve as a jumping-off ground. There were few members with time to do the work; all committees and sub-committees were made up by ringing the changes on members from the same small group. In the circumstances what they accomplished was astonishing, and a tribute to their energy.

For a long time there was no central office and the E.C. used to meet fortnightly in a room at the Communist Club in Charlotte Street.

At the first meeting of the Executive Committee, after the Inaugural Meeting, it was reported that the following branches had been formed: Islington, Battersea, Wood Green and Paddington. A committee of four was appointed to organise the membership into branches, and another committee of three to consider and report on the question of a Party journal.

As the new party had come into existence without literature of its own a list of pamphlets was drawn up and sent to branches with the recommendation that they confine themselves to this literature for the present.

The E. C. were not happy about some of the pamphlets on the list but they had a limited choice. Members and speakers were complaining about how frustrating it was to hold meetings and have no literature to distribute explaining the Party's views. The titles of some of these pamphlets sound rather curious now. Here is the list: —
"Socialism and the Worker," George.
"Wage, Labour and Capital," Marx.
"Socialism and Radicalism," Aveling.
"No Compromise," Liebneckt.
"The Social Revolution", Kautzky.
"How I became a Socialist," Morris
"Jones Boy, " Spokeshave.
"Commune of Paris," Marx.
"Socialism and Drink," Russell Smart.
"The Meaning of Socialism," Widdup.
A Committee was appointed to draw up a Manifesto to the working class of Great Britain and a Manifesto to the Second International; Reeves were to be approached to see if they would dispose of the copyright of the Communist Manifesto. In due course Reeves replied that the Communist Manifesto was still in print and they had no intention of selling the copyright.

It was decided that Party letter headings must have the Object of the Party printed on them but the selection of address to be used as Central Office was left to the General Secretary. The latter decision was unavoidable because the address had to be wherever the General Secretary was lodging for the time being. As he was almost penniless he had a habit of moving frequently.

Finally Kautzky was to be approached about permission to translate the Erfurt Programme. We will have more to say about this later.

At the second meeting of the Executive, on the 25th June, arrangements were made for a series of mass meetings to be held in different parts of London for the purpose of raising funds and making the Party known. The General Secretary was further instructed to write for delegates credentials for the forthcoming Congress of the Second International to be held in Amsterdam. It was taken for granted that the Party would automatically affiliate to this body. Later developments brought about a reversal of this attitude.

A Resolution was also carried at this meeting that the special meeting of members to discuss the attitude to trade unions to be held on Saturday, July 9th, and that only those who had signed the Party's Declaration of principles be admitted to the meeting. The Special Meeting was held at the Food Reform Restaurant, Furnival Street, E.C. There was a considerable conflict of views on the attitude to be adopted towards trade unions, and the meeting adjourned without coming to any definite decision. The E.C. was requested to arrange a further meeting. As the trade union question was a thorny subject for the first two subject for the first two years of the Party's history, before a definite attitude was agreed upon, we will consider it at some length in later notes.

The International Socialist Bureau was the body that conducted the business of the Second International between Congresses. As the Bureau declined to recognise the Party a letter was sent to H. M. Hyndman and H. Quelch, as representatives of that body in this country, requesting them to use their influence in the direction of securing due recognition of the Party by the International Congress.

Eventually the Credential Forms arrived, and then the fun began; the problem of finding members who could make the journey, and raising money for expenses. J. Kent was approached to represent the Party, on the understanding that all or part of his expenses would be paid. He replied that he was willing if part of his expenses was paid. Money was collected and sent on to him, but he subsequently wrote that he could not travel as the amount subscribed did not help much. This letter came before the Executive meeting of the 15ht August. Lehane (the General Secretary) reported that immediately he received Ken's letter he proceeded to the address of the Party Treasurer, R. Elrick, who advanced the sum necessary to cover the expenses. Lehane made an appointment by wire with Kent for the following day, Friday the 12th August, and handed him £2 18s. which, with the sum of £1 11s. 4d. previously collected, made up £4 10s. in all. Kent then undertook to proceed to Amsterdam the following morning, The state of Party finance may be gathered from the difficulty in raising such a small amount as 4 10s. Part of it came from a collection at the Special Meeting of members.

A few days later Kent notified the Executive that he had arrived in Amsterdam and that A. Pearson, who was paying his own expenses, had turned up and joined him as a delegate of the Party.

The report the two delegates brought back from the Congress was a shock to the members and fundamentally altered the Party's attitude to the Second International. At first attempts were made by correspondence with the Bureau to get our views on the unsatisfactory state of affairs put before the parties affiliated to the Congress. The basis of the complaints was (1) That representation at the Congress was chaotic and (2) That delegates from organisation with no socialist basis were admitted to Congress.

At the first General Meeting of the Party on the 18th September the following resolution was carried unanimously:
"That the E. C. be instructed to prepare a statement of the position in Great Britain, go into the whole question of representation at the International Socialist Congress and carry on an agitation throughout the world for the purpose of clearing the air of confusion regarding the true basis of the Socialist Movement."
The E. C. carried out the instructions contained in this resolution as far as they could. The January 1905 number of the SOCIALIST STANDARD contained copies of correspondence with the Bureau. The front page had a message "To the Socialist Working-class" in English, French and German which, after a general criticism of past Congresses, contained the following:
"The Socialist Party of Great Britain is strengthened in this opinion by facts well known here which show clearly the principles animating many who took part in the recent congress at Amsterdam. Our delegates thereto found such organisations as the Independent Labour Party, the Labour Representation Committee, the Social-Democratic Federation, and the Fabian Society claiming and obtaining admission as Socialist organisations. Thus were seen the defenders of capitalism, the upholders of Child-slavery, the friends of Compromise and Reform, and the catspaw of the Bourgeois reaction generally masquerading as Revolutionists, prostituting the name and spirit of Socialism, and confusing the workers on questions of vital importance"
"With the object of placing future International Congresses on a definite Socialist basis, and securing proper and proportionate representation of all bona fide Socialist Parties thereat, the S.P.G.B. is preparing a memorandum for the consideration of the International Bureau and the Socialist Parties affiliated in the hope that measures will be adopted to as far as possible prevent the recurrence of past confusions and place the working-class of the world on a united and revolutionary platform."
The Executive Committee reported on their efforts to the first Conference in April 1905. The Conference then passed the following resolution:—
"That only Socialist Organisations recognising the class struggle in theory and practice should be represented at the International Socialist Congress.
"That disputes between the various parties in each country as to the genuineness of their respective organisations be settled by Congress itself."
After further correspondence with the Bureau we eventually withdrew from the International as our points were not conceded. From that time on a critical attitude developed towards prominent champions of social democracy and we had, at times, to dissociate ourselves from some of their actions. In 1906 we called A. Bebel to book for a telegram he sent to "Reynolds" hailing the Liberal victory as a triumph for the progressive forces. Bebel, along with Karl Liebknecht, had been an outstanding figure in the German Social Democratic Party during the last quarter of the 19th century. The correspondence we had with him on the subject occupied six columns of the SOCIALIST STANDARD in 1906. The STANDARD was then double its present size.

In the next contribution we will come to an important landmark in the Party's history; the production of the first number of the SOCIALIST STANDARD in September 1904.

(To be continued.)

Buying the baby (1988)

Film Reviews from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Babies, it would seem, are big business. Having first tried to sell us the glossy lifestyle of the young, upwardly mobile careerist, unencumbered by little more than a filofax, two recent films (and others are on the way) are now trying to humanise the stereotype with the addition of a baby or two.

Diane Keaton's latest film, Baby Boom, is about a successful young businesswoman who is suddenly landed with a baby — not her own — and discovers that life a s high powered management consultant is more difficult when nappies and bottles have to be combined with brief cases and business meetings. When ultimately faced with the choice between baby and career, not surprisingly the oh-so-cute baby wins. Keaton leaves Manhattan for a dilapidated farm house in Vermont. That is in the autumn. By spring she has not only fallen in love with the local vet (Sam Shephard), but she's also turned a recipe for apple sauce into a million dollar baby food business. A typical story of life as a single parent.

Three Men and a Baby offers us essentially the same kind of story. Three men-about-town, living in a shared apartment, have a baby dumped on them which messes up their lives in all kinds of predictable, if faintly amusing ways. But again, sentimentality will out. Despite all the complications the baby causes, they can't part with her.

Apart from the presence of a baby, there are a couple of other features that these two films have in common. Firstly, there's the manner in which the heroes/heroine come by the baby in the first place. In both cases the child is simply dumped upon them. In much the same way that soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty expand their cast by one of the main characters suddenly discovering that they have a child/parent/spouse that they didn't previously know about. How can these people so carelessly lose relatives all the time? In Baby Boom this part of the story is particularly implausible. We are supposed to believe that Diane Keaton "inherits" the baby from distant cousins. The implication, I suppose, is that a woman in her position would not actually choose to have a child and so has to have one thrust upon her in order that she can discover the maternal feelings that lurk just below the surface. Why they didn't just resort to the stork or the gooseberry bush, I don't know. It would have been about as believable as "inheriting" a child. 

Secondly, there's the rather curious idea that, having tried to sell us the life-style that goes with being young, rich, independent, successful and so on, we should now "buy the baby" to complete the package. In other words, having been kitted out with the executive brief case, the designer clothes, the Porsche and the penthouse, the next step is to acquire the baby as a means of humanising what is otherwise seen as a soulless existence.

Buried somewhere underneath all that gooey sentimentality there's probably a positive message of sorts, namely, that human relationships are important. But these two films are cute, not incisive. They address a tiny minority of people who have pursued a certain kind of life-style at the expense of all else. The majority of us didn't need to be told that human relationships are important — many people in capitalism have little else of value in their lives — nor that children are simultaneously frustrating, demanding, messy and also a source of joy and fulfilment. Or maybe I'm being too generous and the truth is much more simple: that films about cute kids make money.
Janie Percy-Smith