Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Notes On Party History pt.2 (1954)

From the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the inaugural meeting the E.C. had been instructed to open a fund for the purpose of establishing a Party Press and to submit a scheme in connection with this.

At the first E.C. meeting a committee of three was appointed to consider and report on the question of a Party Organ. It is curious to recall that until a few years ago the Socialist Standard was always referred to as the "Party Organ."

The Committee eventually reported on the result of their enquiries to the E.C. meeting of the 30th July, 1904. In their report that stated that the cheapest estimate they had received was from Jacomb Bros., who quoted £7 10s. 6d. for 3,000 copies of an eight-page paper. The E.C. decided to accept this estimate, to go ahead of the money could be raised, and to find out if branches were in favour of publishing a journal without delay, and the extent to which they would be prepared to support the venture by cash guarantees from members and willingness to take quantities of the journal when issued. 

The E.C. then came to the question of title. The following five proposals were submitted: —
The Socialist News.The Socialist Standard.The Socialist Republic.The Red Flag.Socialism.
It was unanimously agreed to recommend to branches that the journal be called "Socialism."

A delegation of the E.C. visited all branches for the purpose of explaining the E.C.'s proposals with the object of raising funds to publish the paper as soon as possible.

The cash guarantees from members amounted to £4 13s. 6d.; Islington branch guaranteed to raise a further £9. The branches undertook to dispose of 1,300 copies monthly. It was then decided to issue the journal immediately. An Editorial and Management Committee of five members was appointed from the Executive Committee.

After receiving the votes of branches on the name of the paper the E.C. found that four of the names received exactly the same number of votes. They then took a vote on the four names, the result of which was that "The Socialist Standard" was decided upon.

On the 1st September the first number of the Socialist Standard came out. It contained eight pages; was four inches longer and an inch and a half wider than the present "S.S.," and had three columns to a page. Its price was one penny.

The first column on the front page contained an editorial from which we quote the following paragraph:
"In the Socialist Party of Great Britain we are all members of the working class, and cannot hope that our articles will always be finely phrased, but we shall endeavour to lay before you on every occasion a sane and sound pronouncement on all matters affecting the welfare of the working class. What we lack in refinement of style we shall make good by the depth of our insincerity and by the truth of our principles."
The paragraph that followed this contained a prophecy that, alas, has not yet come to pass.
"We shall, for the present, content ourselves with a monthly issue, but we are confident that the various demands upon us, by the quantity of matter at our disposal, and by the growth of the Party, will necessitate in the near future, a weekly issue of our paper."
At first articles were printed from non-members, but the confusion caused soon led to the decision to print only articles from members. The columns of the paper were always open, however, to opponents to express their criticism of the Party and its policy.

The printing of the paper was done by Jacomb Bros., one of whom, A. E. Jacomb, was a founder member of the Party. Some time in 1907 Jacomb Bros, ran into trouble. A. E. Jacomb had written a book on the Woman Question which did not find favour in government circles. This book was censored. The police visited the printing premises to seize unsold copies and destroy the type. In the process they "accidentally" smashed the printing machines and thereby put Jacomb Bros. out of business. However, in spite of many vicissitudes, A. E. Jacomb continued to handle the Party's printing. He had an original method of quoting. He found out what the other quotations were and quoted less! He also forgot to send in his bill promptly and used to wait months for payment. By 1921 the burden became too much for him and he had to give up.

Two years after the Socialist Standard commenced we ran into trouble—a libel action. The front page of the August 1906 number contained an article headed "Found Out." Underneath the title was a lengthy sub-title: "Labour Leaders Sell the Union Members and their Apologist Gets a Warm Reception." The article gave a report of a mass meeting at which Richard Bell, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, defended his and the Executive's action in accepting an arbitration finding in opposition to the decision of a conference of railwaymen. The Socialist Standard containing this article was sent to all branches of the Railwaymen's Union. Bell took action against the Party for libel. At first writs were issued against each member of the Executive Committee. Eventually two of the members were accepted as defendants—Anderson and Fitzgerald—both of whom were out of work at the time. The proceedings dragged along for months. At last, on July 15th, 1907, the case came up before Mr. Justice Darling. Mr. C. F. Gill, K.C., with two other barristers, acted on behalf of Richard Bell, instructed by his solicitors; Anderson and Fitzgerald conducted their own case. In summing up Mr. Justice Darling said that under the rules the Executive Committee were not bound to obey the majority of the members who were employed by the North-Eastern Railway and who voted on the question, but they had to consider the interests of the society as a whole. If the plaintiffs had not betrayed their trust they were entitled to a verdict.

What the jury thought, after hearing the case, may be gathered from the trifling nature of the damages. They found a verdict for the plaintiffs for 40s.!

The August 1907 number of the Socialist Standard contains a report of the case. Some of the statements in that report are more libellous than the original article. The front page article on the case concludes with the remarks: "This is our first libel action, but it may not be our last. We will take that risk and others that may arise."

A well-dressed man, who had listened to the case, went over to Anderson and Fitzgerald afterwards and said to them, "You did very well boys"; then he gave them a sovereign to buy themselves drinks. What actually happened was the group of members who had turned up all went to a coffee shop and spent the money on a dinner.

On the Rocks (1975)

Theatre Review from the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Mermaid Theatre has revived Bernard Shaw's play On the Rocks, written in 1933 and given an up-to-date ring by the present depression. It is Britain that is on the rocks, with the unemployed protesting and the Prime Minister at his wits' end. Enter an ancient left-winger who tips off the Premier about Marx, and a lady homeopath, who prescribes a rest in which he reads all Marx's works.

Act two: Prime Minister, converted, is announcing the nationalization of practicality everything thereby winning approval from financiers, landowners, police etc. and the disapproval of the working class. Defeated by a Tory-Labour alliance, he retires from politics, accepting the left-wing sage's (Shaw speaking) view that a dictator is the solution.

It is excellently performed by a capable cast; much of On the Rocks is great fun. The types — trimming Prime Minister, choleric Tory, working-class representatives fiery and intellectual and stolid — are as recognizable as the situation, and Shaw's digs and quips are highly enjoyable. Who could resist the diagnosis that the Prime Minister ails not from overwork but because his brain is unoccupied?

The trouble about it is, of course, the message. For the sake of the play, overlook the idea of Marx's economics being absorbed in a fortnight; be charitable, and let pass also the allegation that nationalization is Marxism. What Shaw argues in this play is that democracy is no good. It had led nowhere and the working class has had enough of it. What they want is to be told what to do by a strong man who not only knows the answers but has the will to enforce them.

Shaw was speaking post facto, apparently without realizing it. Mussolini and Hitler had established themselves by 1933. Shaw expressed his admiration of them; On the Rocks contends, with the voice of one who has seen everything else tried, for more of it. Their rise was for the reason given, that democracy had failed. Yet how had it failed? The European countries had had one or two generations of full or partial suffrage: during which Labour and social-democratic reformism, for which Shaw was a spokesman, had promised the earth and produced only misery. As a result, large numbers of working people thought democracy useless, and were ready to listen to the demagogues who said so.

It is Shaw's Fabianism that is shown on the rocks and waggishly saying it needs a strong man to rescue it, regardless of expense. An evening at the Mermaid can be recommended — good theatrical entertainment, and food for thought.
Robert Barltrop

Youngsters (1965)

Book Review from the April 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Generation X by Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson, Tandem Books, 3s. 6d.

The authors' avowed intention is to get young people talking about war, sex, marriage, drugs, politics in fact, everything that makes the jolly old world go round. Recent developments in mass communication mean that problems are more concentrated, more universally shared, quickly absorbed, used up and cast aside. This, say the co-authors, is the young persons' problem; the pressure of social and scientific development at the expense of biological time.

According to which random selection of this book is sampled, one could emerge with an attitude of great hope for a glorious future in the hands of an up-and-coming generation, or leave one's money to a dogs' home and hightail off to a Trappist Monastery. The authors' claim that their collective work destroys the myth of the existence of the so-called average teenager is made good.

Hamblett and Deverson interviewed characters ranging from stalwart christians to thugs so mentally sick that they see salvation as a big punch-up; a young high-class tart who aspired to marriage and children; the deb, who thought the world was fab; haters of the status quo; one dreadful youth who wanted to sponge on his parents and others for the rest of his life. (The pity is he lives in Stoke-on-Trent, and not Blegrave Square, so he will not get very far in his vocation.)

Not one of the young people interviewed seemed to be aware that teenagers having no great family liabilities, are a golden egg for the purveyors of certain forms of merchandise. They frequently expressed a fear of war, and blamed their parents for the world's mess. They did not hint that this attitude was common in the 1920s and that the youth of those times supported a second world war, and enrolled in movements like the Nazis, which would have left the maligned Edwardians aghast.

They regard their youth as a time for enjoyment, without a damn for the future, or as a personal Gethsemane before entering the adult age. The long years of wage earning are not looked forward to by the lower income groups but there is a sense of resignation, a need to find a "nice" partner later on, and settle down. This same adult world they see as false, hypocritical and unctuous. The Bomb is blamed for the sense of restlessness and indifference; way out sensations, drugs, sex and speed are candidly recognised as forms of escape from this possible doom. Is it just the Bomb or is it a vague realisation of the frustrations of working class life that awaits these young hopefuls?

All sorts of the youngsters expressed sympathy for coloured folk, and some put the opposite view with an extremity of violence. Few showed any signs that the sum total of their ideas is vastly different from their parents'. Fears of the future, contempt of past generations for their follies, a desire to adjust to new techniques unrestrained by past morality, are nothing new. Young and old have yet to learn that the way to a new society free from poverty, race-hatred, war and class antagonism is by the abolition of private property. This can only be attained by understanding the nature of the problems and the social relationships we experience, and by acting accordingly—in short by political organisation and action.

The mass of ideas expressed in Generation X spring from a support, no matter how qualified, of propertied society. When all is said and done it's much ado about nothing!
Jack Law 

Cooking the Books: Is He a Leninist? (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

On a visit to Singapore last month the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, opined: 'Europe can’t protect itself and preserve its standard of living and social structure if it has to absorb millions of Africans’ (Times, 10 August). Is this true and, if it is, what would be the implications?
Apart from betraying an obvious race prejudice (why just pick on Africans?), he seemed to be saying that if millions migrated to Europe from outside this would have a detrimental effect on living standards by driving wages down.
This assumes that the migrants actually find jobs, but no employer is going to employ them unless they produce more than their keep which can be pocketed as profit and, if migrants do this, they will be contributing to more wealth being produced. This would have some effect on the wages of the low-paid jobs they would be doing but the wages and standard of living of workers generally would be unaffected.
Also, Europe has an ageing population and so capitalism here will need millions of workers to fill the gap as older workers retire. But Hammond is a politician not an economist and his concern is not losing the xenophobic vote to UKIP.
Suppose, for a moment, that he was correct and that the standard of living in Europe did depend on keeping out people from Asia and Africa, what would that mean?
That there’s a conflict of interest between people from different parts of the world, that the people in Europe should unite to defend themselves against ‘swarms’ and ‘millions’ from outside. Which is what Oswald Mosley’s post-war Union Movement preached and what Anders Breivik raved on about. It would also mean that people in Asia and Africa should unite against the people of Europe. In short, it would be a justification – and recipe – for race war.
It would also lend some credence to the Leninist theory of imperialism, particularly in its Maoist form. To try to explain why a majority of workers in Western Europe did not rally to the Bolsheviks after they seized power in 1917 he came up with the idea that the workers in the ‘imperialist’ countries had been bribed into supporting capitalism by being given a share of the proceeds of the imperialist exploitation of the rest of the world. Mao took this a stage further by changing the slogan at the end of the Communist Manifesto to ‘Oppressed peoples of the world, unite’.
Which also implies a conflict of interest between workers in different parts of the world.
This theory was wrong. Workers in the developed capitalist countries got (and get) paid higher wages because the value of their labour-power was higher than that of workers in the other parts of the world. In fact because their productivity was higher too they were robbed of a higher proportion of what they produced, even though workers in less developed countries suffered (suffer) much lower wages and much worse conditions of employment.
So, is Hammond a Leninist? Not really, as he’s not saying that the standard of living of people in Europe depends on exploiting people in Asia and Africa, though his view could be interpreted as implying that employers in Europe are paying workers a higher wage than they would otherwise have to. But no, he is just a racist, and judging by his singling out of Africans not even a pretend one out to steal UKIP votes.