Sunday, January 3, 2016

The power of unreason (1997)

From the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why has irrationality become so powerful an urge at this stage of capitalist development?

Where I live there’s been a noticeable growth of charity shops in town, a more reliable sign of the times, we suppose, than what the politicians tell us. One shop is selling Billy Graham tapes for 30p. My mate buys one (to record over). Then:

“So you like Billy Graham?" His eyes are on full beam.

“Er ... he’s all right like ... I mean, yeah." Nervously my mate coughs, transfixed by those eyes, unable to escape, unable to admit the real reason he’s buying a cheap tape.

“He’s wonderful, you know. I found Jesus through him. We all did. Do you believe in our Lord Jesus?”

"Well er ... no, not exactly ...” 

“You will when you’ve heard that. Here, have a leaflet. Take another. Jesus loves you."

He laughs confidently, as do the rest of the staff. Billy has changed all their lives. My mate backs his way out of the shop, making ingratiating noises. The stare never leaves him. Hugely discomfited, like a bird after a near- miss with a tarantula.Why is irrational faith so hypnotic? Why do religious people always cause such acute embarrassment while remaining immune to it themselves? Why is Unreason such a powerful force? A picture emerges: the Christian as ideological terminator, Cliff Richard with an Uzi. You can’t stop them, you can’t argue with them. You just better run.

Speaking of Terminators, I’ve been reading about "technofear" in the weekend rag. Lots of guff about humans turning into machines. Are machines taking over? Is it science fiction or fact? Readawlabahtit!!! What bollocks. If they did, they wouldn’t be so stupid as to operate a system of artificial shortage, would they? If humans learned a thing or two about reason and logic it would be a bloody good thing in my view. In fact, if the world was run by a pinball machine I shouldn’t think anybody would be any the wiser.

Of course technofear exists. Everyone is terrified these computers are going to do us out of gainful employment. Eventually this might well be the case. So-called "expert systems" are a serious attempt to replicate all the diagnostic and prescriptive abilities of a human expert, without his or her irritating tendency to take weekends off, get ill, go on strike or die. Programmers in the trade are expressing considerable surprise at the unenthusiastic response of the human experts whose brains they wish to pick. Some experts have displayed open hostility to the new technology. Next it’ll be sabotage. The programmers are bemused by ail this lack of co-operation. Why don’t these people want to have their expertise enshrined on disk? Why won’t they let us build machines to replace them? They scratch their heads and mutter words like “Luddite” to each other

This is a sorry case of what happens to some people when they overspecialise, I reckon. The programmers have forgotten the plot. Somewhere behind the loops of an algorithm Planet Earth recedes further and further form their view. Finally the light at the end of their tunnel vision goes out.

Capitalism is logical! (erm ...)
But is it just a case of a few techies doing us all out of a job? I think there’s more to this technofear than that. I think people are afraid of science and reason because they are the gods of the modern age and just look what a mess the modern age is in. In this society, people are increasingly afraid of the internal logic of the system. Because it leads to more pollution, closed wards, less freedom and less security. But this is logic built on sand. If there are wars, it is logical to build weapons. Capitalism proceeds therefore to build weapons. It follows its own logical architecture. It never questions its own foundations, however. War is not logical, but nobody has noticed. It is also possible to build a perfectly logical case that people should starve, if you accept the premise that it is all right for individuals to own food that other people need. That is what our society is faced with. Humans are starving. Capitalism is following the correct logical route. So it must be logic that has brought about this disaster. People are frightened of reason itself because they know from experience that reason levels cities and reason breaks hearts and reason always has really convincing reasons for it all.

In the circumstances, reason begins to look like the poisoned chalice. Religion—a state of benign Unreason—profits from this.There is a powerful sense that Chaos would have been better than the "Order" our logic has created. It is better to believe without evidence, because the evidence points to terror.

Or maybe our culture is at bottom genuinely frightened of logic. Anticipating that we will lose our title of Most Intelligent Species to the incipient binary hordes, we fall back on that ragged and bullet-riddled flag of distinction, the human “spirit”. Not having the faintest idea what a “spirit” is exactly, we only know that machines haven’t got one, so at least we can still crow about being special. We then blithely make a fetish of our own ability to think irrationally, as if this was somehow what made us great in the first place. Besides, illogic is more appealing to our prejudices, given that logic can often take you where you don’t want to go.

And isn’t this irrational flag-waving spirit-soaked species just painfully aware of what a disaster their society is? Doesn’t every newspaper broadcast endless proof of that? Like a supremely bad planetary manager, aren't we convinced that at any moment someone or something is going to come along and give us the sack, and that we deserve it? Underneath it all, everybody knows what a rational intelligence would do about the absolute capitalist system, but nobody wants to admit it.

So why is irrationality so powerful an urge? Perhaps it is nothing but our emotional swell, our hearts beating against our minds, that other force in us which is young as a child and older than all reasoning. The human race is still in the dark and in the dark ages, struggling with its shaky mastery over the planet, an unaccomplished student in the school of thought which it has built for itself. It is now at a desperate stage where it begins to suspect that its skill and cleverness have carried it too far, over the edge and into the abyss. It turns its fear and rage on the rationality that brought it to the very ledge where it now teeters. It’s as if, to recall the myth of Prometheus, we have decided that Prometheus was wrong and Zeus was right. Science has betrayed us, cries a voice in our heads, we should have remained ignorant! So the gift of Prometheus is flung back in his face by people tired of being scorched.

And yet socialists get tired of such knee-jerk anti-rationality. Unreason burned science at the stake for stating the obvious again and again. Nowadays, unable to summon up on demand an auto-da-fe to broil our uncomfortable knowledge, we seem to have buried our heads in “individualism" and telly soaps to avoid thinking at all. Rooted to the spot, like rabbit before the headlights or my mate before the Christian, we stare uncomprehendingly at the chaos bearing down on us, and blame ourselves for its design and manufacture.

We have just missed the whole point of knowledge, that’s all. When Prometheus gave us the fire of reason he neglected to mention that we should never allow it to become the private property of a few “specialists". Private ownership of knowledge is like private ownership of food—it is the conversion of a tool into a weapon, and now that the world is empty of tools and stuffed with weapons we cannot be surprised at people’s wholesale retreat into never-never land, where the bad guys (supposedly) can’t get them. In the world of capitalism, illogic is for many the logical response.
Paddy Shannon

The Weakness of the Trotskyists (1944)

From the October 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recognising the class antagonisms that arise from the capitalist ownership of the means of production, the Socialist Party holds that the workers can only solve their problems—poverty, war, unemployment—by the overthrow of the capitalist class and the institution of a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of living.

That this can only be accomplished by the workers sending a majority of Socialist delegates to Parliament is a fact recognised by the S.P.G.B. Thus, in order to do this, the workers must themselves understand Socialism, or, in other words, become Socialists. The S.P.G.B. therefore devotes itself to the unspectacular business of educating the workers—the making of Socialists. When the workers become Socialists they will change the basis of society. Thus the policy of the Party is revolutionary, because it follows the only course that will produce the change.

The Trotskyists, known variously throughout their history as the Revolutionary Socialist League, the Militant Communist League, etc., also claim to be the only revolutionary party in this country.

To examine this claim it is necessary to go back a few years to explain briefly the origin of the Trotskyists. The Russian Revolution in 1917 resulted in the political supremacy of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky. The breakdown of Russian society after World War No. 1 and the inability of the Russian capitalists under Kerensky to deal with the situation resulted in the Bolsheviks being swept into power on a programme of Peace, Land and Bread. The S.P.G.B., basing its analysis of the situation upon the material conditions existing at the time in Russia, pointed out that the Bolsheviks, in spite of their Marxist phrases, could not impose Socialism upon an economically backward country, and that Russia would have to go through a stage of capitalism before a Socialist society could be possible in Russia, and then only in conjunction with the class-conscious workers of the rest of the capitalist world.

After the death of Lenin, the Bolsheviks divided into two rival factions under Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin believed in the possibility of establishing Socialism in one country, whilst Trotsky still believed that the Russian Revolution could be the starting point of a world revolution. The material needs of Russia, living in a capitalist world, resulted in the victory of Stalin, the expulsion of Trotsky, and the building up of a strong pro-capitalist state in Russia.

That the Soviet Union has now a firm place in the capitalist sun and has dropped the facade of Communism, such as the Comintern, is proof of the correctness of the S.P.G.B. method of analysis—historical materialism. This is not the method of the Trotskyists, despite their revolutionary jargon. Their conception of history is just a belief that working-class politics is a game of leaders, that the revolution would have taken place but for the fact that the workers were betrayed by their leaders, that Stalin “betrayed the revolution.” This surface scratching of history is typical of Trotskyist literature. According to them, every political upheaval, every wave of strikes, would have resulted in the revolution but for the fact that workers lacked “revolutionary leadership.”

The revolution is always round the corner. They believe that one day a “ revolutionary situation ” will arise in which they will seise power and lead the masses to victory. This wearisome nonsense abounds in the columns of the Socialist Appeal (the Trotskyist organ).

It is obvious that there is something lacking in a working class that is continually side-tracked. It is precisely because the workers lack Socialist knowledge that reformist leaders rise to power. If the workers’ leaders do not represent the interests of workers, they do certainly reflect the outlook of the workers. When they do acquire Socialist understanding, the workers will not require leaders—revolutionary or otherwise.

Due to the Trotskyist belief in “revolutionary situations,” no explanations of the nature of Socialism will be found in the columns of the Socialist Appeal. As the revolution will take place at any moment, there is no need for this painstaking work. The line of their propaganda is rather like the instructions of a general staff to its army—“Second Front—and the tasks of the working class,” “Workers must fight for equal pay,” etc.

In spite of their claims to be revolutionary, their official policy contains the usual reformist nonsense, such as the “Nationalisation of the land, mines, banks, transport and all big industry." "A rising scale of wages to meet increased cost of living." "Confiscation of war profits," etc.

The Trotskyist attitude to the war is vague and ill-defined. Whilst denouncing the war as imperialist, they want the "unconditional defence of the Soviet Union against all imperialist powers, despatch of arms, food and essential materials to the Soviet Union."

The Trotskyist claim to be revolutionary is ill-founded. Once again we insist that the S.P.G.B. method is the only revolutionary one, and we will continue to do what the Trotskyists do not do—advocate Socialism as the only cure for social ills.
G. Ewbank

Editorial: Breaking the ice (1989)

Editorial from the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Looking back over 1988 and forward to the New Year, how are we to understand what has happened and what is in prospect for us over the next twelve months? We could do worse than to consider, for what it had to tell us about this society and what is possible for the human race, the matter of the three trapped whales. As they floundered miserably in the holes cut for them in the Arctic ice, the response to their plight was unintentionally instructive.

This was a story with what editors (or so we are told) like to call a human angle. There were the whales, one of them a baby, under sentence of death unless something could be done to cut a way for them out into the ocean. And the world rallied to their defence, while the international media headed out into the ice and each day pitifully frozen hacks sent their heart-wrenching stories of the heroic efforts to save these ugly creatures.

In all the excitement, the barriers of the Cold War melted a little more, with the Russians generously sending their ice-cutters to the rescue. When the whales were eventually free, leaving the baby dead behind them as they swam out into the ocean, the media did their best to see that there was hardly a dry eye across the surface of the earth.

This was, we were told, a co-operative blow struck in the cause of world conservation (never mind that in other parts of the world the rain forests continued to fall under the axe, the nuclear power plants still spewed out their deadly residues into the sea, rivers ran foul with pollution and masses of wild life perished under clouds of agricultural chemicals). When life is at stake, cost is of no account; the nastier things in life like nuclear weapons, poverty and starvation are really the tip of an iceberg which beneath the surface is not deadly and destructive but caring, benign and reassuring to the social mass.

Well, this sounded very nice except that saving two whales had very little effect on this thing called "conservation". It was little more than a publicity orgy. The hacks endured their terrible suffering because their reports helped to sell newspapers and capture viewers in competition with rivals. And selling is of prime concern to this society; indeed it is the motivation for production and distribution. The media give the same kind of attention when it is a case of some grisly crime; if someone had been murdered and raped out in the ice they would all have been there, clutching their microphones, pounding their typewriters, racing to get out the first paperback about it.

And how do we reconcile this sudden concern for life with other events which were happening at the same time? With the government's battle with the nurses over their pay. although they knew that they were fighting not just over wages but over the lives of the people in the nurses' care. There is no doubt — the medical profession have been saying so for some time — that people have died because there has not been enough money available for their treatment. How do we reconcile it with the reshuffling and re-naming of the benefits for unemployed workers, and for others in similar desperate need, with the effect of sinking them even lower into poverty and making their survival even more difficult?

What of the workers thrown out of their jobs because their employment was no longer profitable? In December, soon after the rescue of the whales, the decision was taken to close the shipyards in Sunderland. There had been attempts to find a buyer for the yards but these came to nothing because there was no prospect of profitable production and unless profit is made or promised there is no production. As a result 2000 workers and their families will subside deeper into the cold waters of severe deprivation. Meanwhile, in booming London a leading merchant bank — Morgan Grenfell — plans to close almost all its share dealing operations in the capital, which means giving the sack to 450 staff. The bank was not able to weather the storm of the falling Stock Market and during 1988 they lost over £20 million.

So what happens to that social virtue, that whale-saving concern, which we are told lurks beneath the surface, beneath the obvious cruelty and deprivation of capitalism? Why does it never come to the top, to break us free from problems like war, class conflict, poverty, accidents and diseases which need not happen? Capitalism's essential nature, as a system in which the means of life are monopolised by a minority, lies like a vast sheet of ice over all efforts, no matter how sincere or well-motivated, to organise our affairs in a caring, co-operative, humane way. The reality of this is so awful that it is assumed we need periodic distractions to divert our attention from it — like royal weddings and births, like the sexual eccentricities of the ruling class, like the emotional problems of media stars, like battling to save the lives of a couple of stranded whales.

If that incident proved anything it was that this social system is basically inadequate and can never improve on that. There is a way out which does need the world’s people to think and work together, to bring about a social change which will set them all free.

How foolish indeed! (1969)

Book Review from the April 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx: The Passionate Logician by Joel Carmichael, Rapp & Whiting 35s.

In a preface Carmichael refers to Bolshevism as a branch of the world socialist movement and to China being helped by Marxism “onto a socialist course”. He adds that “doubtless almost half of mankind today is under the direct effect of various interpretations of Marx’s ideas”. Since the core of Marx’s ideas is the abolition of the wages system, and the end of the state machine which he regarded as an oppressive instrument of class rule, how can anyone look at Russian and Chinese state capitalism as interpretations of Marxism? This cardinal misrepresentation is repeated elsewhere in the book.

Carmichael sets out to sketch an individual, to deal with Marx’s life rather than his ideas. But the one useful aspect of Carmichael’s book is in the second chapter on the influence of Hegel. Dialectics is explained in a clear and simple way, which is far from usual. He goes on, however, to make Marx an economic determinist. This is the most common of all misunderstandings of the materialist conception of history. The well-known statement of Marx that “the ideas of the past weigh like a nightmare on the mind of the living” shows that he took other factors into account to explain men’s ideas and actions.

Marx’s Capital is dealt with as though it were something he wrote in order to justify preconceived theories. He is accused of tailoring the facts to fit his ideas, which, outside his egotism, had no real relevance.

Carmichael goes outside the sphere of commodity production to show how things like vintage cars increase in price regardless of labour time spent in producing them. He also writes as though Marx were unaware of the effect of supply and demand upon prevailing price levels.

How little Carmichael understands what he has read of Marx can be seen in his bland assertion that Marx said the introduction of new machinery causes profits to fall. Marx distinguished between the rate of profit and the mass of profit; a moment's reflection will reveal the significance. Yet Carmichael naively asks “how any capitalist could be so foolish as to spend money on machines that are bound to decrease his profit.” How foolish indeed, Mr. Carmichael!

Another of Carmichael’s claims against Marx is that increasing misery has failed to materialise but that rather the opposite has happened.

Most people have learned to live with so many affronts to their humanity that they fail to realise the abject misery with which capitalism surrounds them. Vast stockpiles of hydrogen bombs, hundreds of thousands of children dying from starvation while crops are destroyed, millions in the world’s richest countries living in squalid, rat-infested slums.

Marx’s illustration in which he compares houses in a neighbourhood and the changed attitude when a palace arises beside them shows that he regarded poverty as relative. It is the ever-growing disproportion between socially potential abundance and actual deprivation against which increasing misery must be understood. That capitalism has disastrously failed to harness its immense industrial and scientific resources for the benefit of all mankind, or to any end other than the quest for profits, must be obvious to any objective observer.
Harry Baldwin

Mixed Media: ‘Socialist Opposition to the First World War’ (2016)

SPGB pamphlet on World War 1.
The Mixed Media Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the title of a display held until last month at the Marx Memorial Library, 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1, and organised by them in conjunction with ‘Workers’ School’. It is now moving to other locations inside and outside London until the end of March next year.

More apt is the subtitle ‘An exhibition on working class men and women resisting the war’ as, perhaps advisedly, there is little about the various ‘socialist’ groups of the era. And much of the information that is provided about these groups is faulty, specifically about the British Socialist Party (not to be confused with the Socialist Party of Great Britain—our opposition to the war from day one doesn’t get a mention).

The exhibition is exclusively visual and is presented on twelve glossy, well arranged panels. The images selected are dramatic and well-selected and are particularly good at contrasting the dichotomy between ‘their war’  (senseless suicide of workers on the orders of their ‘betters’) and ‘our war’ (self-organised activity in the factories and in the streets).

The text concentrates on the events of Red Clydeside and related themes (three panels) and on anti-war women activists, including Sylvia Pankhurst (five panels). Although there is a necessity to demonstrate that history is not just ‘his story’, the emphasis placed on the latter might be regarded as rather overegging the pudding.

Given the origin of the display, there are surprisingly few references to the Communist Party and Lenin, which will come as a relief to many. The organisers, Mary Davis and Angus Reid, are to be congratulated on their hard work, which will be of interest both to socialists and to members of the general public interested in the period. Viewers must be warned, however, not to allow the images of mass meetings to cloud their understanding of the era. Working class resistance to the First World War was patchy, possible on a large scale only in areas remote from the centre of state power (Glasgow) and often dealt with effects (such as high rents and low wages) rather than the war itself. Steeped from birth in nationalistic poisons, the British working class were on the whole enthusiastic supporters of the war, which makes class-conscious opposition to the not-so-Great War, and indeed all wars, all the rarer and all the more to be celebrated.


For our party’s opposition to the war see our pamphlet Strange Meeting: Socialism and World War One, obtainable (price £4.50) from: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN.

'Throw them to the lions . . .' (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

So They Say: The Boys on the Bandwagon (1978)

The So They Say Column from the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Boys on the Bandwagon

If every expression of moral indignation were worth a pound, many politicians would be wealthy people. This is merely a notion, most of the politicians manage well enough for other reasons. But a showing of respectable dissociation from the latest social skeleton to emerge forms a part of the repertoire. The stimulus need not be a new one. Frequently it is not. The current “scandalous” discovery has political hypocrites of all colours expressing dismay by the bucketful.
More than 3,000 patients in the terminal stages of kidney failure die every year because the treatment which could save them is not available, it was stated yesterday.
Daily Telegraph, 30th November 1977
An all-party deputation of MPs and Peers is now calling upon Mr. Ennals, the Social Services Secretary, to remedy this state of affairs. But what do they expect him to do?

In early November a government offer to supply kidney machines to six regional health authorities was rejected by five of them “on cost grounds”—the running costs of the machines would have worked out at £64,000 a year for each authority. The chairman of the British Kidney Patient Association described the rejections as “immoral” as do the self-righteous MPs. The fact that Mr. Ennals’ department is putting pressure on regional health authorities to curb spending, has nothing to do with them.

Chop Logic

Poland has been much in the news following the signing of a ship-building order with Britain in November. This caused a spate of newspaper reports on the country; in turn these remind us that the Poles refer to themselves as “communists”. In fact their society exhibits the characteristics which, in other countries, are accurately referred to as capitalistic. It is amazing what effect a national boundary can have on the labelling processes employed by newspapers— a process they occasionally refer to as analysis.
On the domestic scene, the drive towards a consumer society has slowed down. Continuing inflation, shoddy goods, shortages of certain products and, in particular, a chronic lack of meat characterize the consumer’s lot.
The Times, 24th November 1977
It was the latter aspect which caught our eye; reading further we found “People do not understand why, in a meat-exporting country, meat is scarce”. Readers wishing to learn the answer to this remarkable riddle arc invited to enquire at any of our meetings.

The Italian Connection

The visit of the Polish leader, Mr. Gierek, to the Vatican in early December illustrates how the so-called marxists seem to have forgotten what Marx said about religion. Or have they? He called it the opium of the people and the Polish leaders, like any other capitalist leaders, have learned that a pipe dream can have its uses. When it is considered that of thirty-five million Poles, thirty-three million are Catholics, the church clearly presents a formidable propaganda outlet.

At the time of the food price riots in Poland last year, the Catholic church issued a call for "solid work” and “sacrifices for the common good” from the Polish people. They also called for the government “to cease its oppression of workers who took part in anti-government protests”. The government, as The Times of 29th November puts it, “did not play fair” however and only gave publicity to the first part of the message. The “common good” representing the pipe dream. With indications that there are further price increases to come, bringing with them the likelihood of protests and disorder, Mr. Gierek has been obliged to ensure that there will be an adequate supply of opium of government approved quality.
Mr. Gierek’s visit was the first by a leader of the Polish party to the Vatican. This in itself would have given it high importance. It has certainly shown the extent of the need felt by the Polish government for some degree of collaboration in Poland from the Catholic hierarchy.
The Times, 2nd December 1977

Sweet Dreams

Up until recently we were under the impression that all the parties of capitalism claimed at least, that they would introduce justice and fair play. The phrases are sufficiently ambiguous and pleasant sounding to be considered as key-stones in any respectable manifesto. In the forefront stood the Labour Party. It was extremely common knowledge that the working man and woman could expect justice and fair play from them in incalculable quantities.

We say the working man because these worthy aims were offered exclusively to him. The non-working man, the capitalist, manages well enough on material posession to require much ethereal property. But the Labour Party has now unearthed a difficulty: Mr. Callaghan has lost the way.
I ceased to worship free collective bargaining more than 10 years ago. There is nothing new about that. I went to the TUC Congress and said that. Collective bargaining is not a means of obtaining justice or fair play, but at the moment I do not know of a better system.
The Times, 2nd December 1977
This is quite a problem. Mr. Callaghan will have to work on it. More likely though that he and the rest of them will do what they have always done, and sleep on it instead.
Alan D'Arcy

Between the Lines: From Soweto to the Indian Reservations (1986)

The Between the Lines Column from the September 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

From Soweto to the Indian Reservations

It is not only in South Africa that the natives have been forced into second-rate "homelands" by the property-owning minority. Capitalism is a global system and its robbery extends far. In On Indian Land (C4, 7 July. 9.55) we were shown how the native Indians, who had once owned 22.000 square miles of land in Northern British Columbia, were placed in reserves of 45 square miles. Some of the older Indians told how Christian missionaries had come and told them not to resist as their land was taken away from them.The fisheries which they once possessed are now the property of Canadian capitalists. Capitalism's defenders boast of the freedom of cultural individuality. This documentary put the lie to that boast.

American dreams

We are all individuals, so the story goes. And if we try hard enough, climbing every mountain and taking on every opponent JR-style. we'll make it — whatever "making it" is. This is the old American dream: free market individualism dripping with sugar to make the poison of the rat-race culture taste sweet. In two programmes for children this ideology is presented in all its sickly silliness: Fame (BBC1. 5.10pm. Mondays and Tuesdays) and The Flintstones (BBC1. 5.10pm various days). It should be conceded at once that both programmes are really well made — the former to make viewers join in the soppy sentimentalism which guarantees that every character is either weeping or hugging someone at least once an episode — and the latter because the characters are rich, the humour novel and Fred is the sort of American with a baseball conception of world politics. What unites the two programmes is their picture of history. The Flintstones is the totally unhistorical story of "a prehistoric family" They are depicted as living in the Stone Age, a technological millennium or two ago, in the age of the dinosaurs. But all the social relations of our lives — the family, property, money, employment, unemployment, atomised lifestyles — are present. What a simple depiction of the human nature myth — "however much the productive forces have changed over the centuries the basic features of capitalism have always existed and always will: they are natural and inescapable". Next time you argue with an unhistorical thinker who tells you that, you can bear in mind that s/he has probably picked up such nonsense from childhood exposure to the likes of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.

In the 1950s there were American cartoon programmes for kids about "Little Black Sambo" and other racist caricatures. Ideology creeps in all over the place: even the apparently innocuous Academy For The Performing Arts in New York in which the jolly lads and lasses of Fame strive for Success with a capital D for dollar. My word, it is sentimental to the point of making Nixon's puppy speech look clinical and it is a classic in the art of showing little American (and British) viewers that if they have enough drive they too can shine out in this miserable old world. All the kids from Fame are after stardom (that thing which capitalism gives to one in a million workers before it kills them with a drug overdose) and we are supposed to be after the same big goal. All good fun (that thing which capitalism sells in fun fairs, discos and brothels) but why not have a show about the losers? Failure: an everyday story of highly-talented musicians, clowns and dancers who were too poor to go to the academy and ended their lives existing on a pension and a lot of memories about what could have been.

Hard life

Fighting Back (BBC1. 9.25pm. Mondays) is the nearest thing to Failure available at present. Hazel O'Connor is a one-parent family, retreating from her past and discovering that the system does not permit retreats from poverty and degradation. The first episode (the only one seen at the time of writing) was reminiscent of that desperate frustration engendered by a hopeless system which was so brilliantly highlighted by Jeremy Sandford's Cathy Come Home several years ago.


We live in a commodity society which is dominated by the buying and selling of wealth which, in a sane world, would be freely accessible to all human beings on the sole basis of need. So a programme called Commodities (C4. 10pm. Mondays) had to be of interest. Its main use was in showing the interdependence of the capitalist world economy — the fact that we really are living in one world which is dominated by one economy. The programme on coffee (4 August) was especially educative, showing that those who produce the coffee which is drunk across the globe are the last to get rich out of its production; indeed, it is the tragic paradox of capitalism that many of those people whose hard toil produces the coffee cannot even afford the price of a cup of it.

Wedding of the decayed

Talking of commodities, how many readers will own up to watching the parading of the latest royal commodity (justified on the grounds that she attracts tourists) as another pretty young idler was admitted to the royal parasites' enclosure (23 July, all day. every channel, non-stop)? As Upper Class Twit of the Year married Betty Rubble it was time for all good Marxist TV reviewers to switch off their sets and read A L Morton's vivid account of England in the 1640s.
Steve Coleman

Loyalties. (1922)

Theatre Review from the July 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 20th, "The Silver Box,” by John Galsworthy, was produced at the Court Theatre. The play was written some years ago, and in spite of some care in bringing details up to date, the atmosphere remains rather old-fashioned. But in essence it is as true as formerly, being concerned with the subjection of the propertyless to those who own the means of life. The economic relation is shown reflected in the privilege which in every department of social life is secured to the ruling class, and the savage dissatisfaction of the more spirited among those who suffer by it.

An unemployed man, exasperated by long privations and indignities, steals a silver cigarette-case on an impulse of drunken spite. The son of a wealthy Member of Parliament is also guilty of a drunken freak —makes off with a harlot’s purse. The offences are parallel: but by reason of his fortunate social position the one escapes the consequences of his action, the other is convicted and the tragedy involves his family.

Galsworthy has a clear eye for social antagonisms, of which the most irreconcilable is the conflict of interests appearing as the class struggle. He sees that it is not possible to act upon one set of principles without coming into collision with men who hold to another. "Our loyalties cut across one another,” "To be loyal is not enough,” are the themes of his latest play at St. Martin’s Theatre.

Though the author was not here treating of the class-war, the first observation can with truth be extended to it. The more steadfastly masters’ and workmen prosecute their respective interests, the completer the solidarity of each class, the more intense is the hostility between them. Only when classes are merged in the Socialist Commonwealth will such contention disappear. But let no enthusiast deem, therefore, that employers and employed alike are to be enlisted in the cause of its establishment: that the class which fights with advantage, and to which fall the spoils of the contest, will throw down its superior weapons and restore the plunder, with no other inducement than a perception of the excellence of harmony among men. No. The revolution will be achieved, not only without its assistance, but in despite of its utmost opposition.

From time to time good people, grieved by present misery and impatient for its cure, make a bid for the co-operation of capitalists by endeavouring to formulate a scheme which shall recommend itself to both masters and workers as "a more equitable organisation of social life.” Setting aside the impracticability of arbitrarily modifying the capitalist system, and the question of how far anything other than Socialism would prove a remedy for the evils they deplore, what is less possible than at once to satisfy two antagonistic ideas of equity?— the one requiring the recognition of private property in the means of production, and consequently to the wealth produced; the other holding that since labour applied to the earth is the sole source of wealth, those who produce have a common title to the fruits of their labour.

A careful reading of history will show that human societies advance by stages, each one of which is marked by equitable organisation—according to the ideas of the then ruling class, and tyranny—according to the revolutionary class. Once it was the rising capitalists of England who shattered feudalism in what Walton Newbold aptly calls "the great struggle for Right, the Right of Property in Hand and Credit.” Next will come the turn of the workers, who will set free for the service of mankind the great powers which capitalism, though it has developed them, cannot profitably em- ploy.

To the working class, then, belongs the mission of putting an end to economic conflict, and so to the hatred and wretchedness which grow from it. With its emancipation the world takes another leap forward. For the worker to be loyal to the aspirations of his class is enough: for devotion to the Socialist ideals is in our day the truest service to the human race.
N. P. M.

Material World: ‘I Feel I am a Slave’ (2016)

The Material World Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
There are now 53 million domestic workers worldwide, 1.5 million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia alone, where recruitment agencies fly in 40,000 women a month to keep up with demand.
In the Gulf, the International Trade Union Confederation says that 2.4 million domestic workers are facing conditions of slavery. Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch says that ‘in many houses these women have absolutely no status – they have been bought’. The International Domestic Workers Federation estimates that families save $8bn (£5.1bn) a year by withholding wages from their domestic workers. ‘With kafala and other legal systems around the world that give no labour rights to migrant women, you are giving almost total impunity to employers to treat these women however they like,’ Begum says. 'It’s startling what cruelty can emerge when one person has complete control over another.’
Marina Sarno explains ‘I had no time off, no time to rest ever. Even when I was trying to eat, she would be calling me: ‘You are not here to rest. I paid a lot of money for you.’ To her, I was a slave. I was not a human.” Marina told her agency that she was being mistreated, but they said she had to stay until the end of her contract. “They said, ‘Your madam has paid good money for you’” (Guardian, 24 October).
Yet we should not consider such conditions as only applicable to the Middle East. In the UK there is the 2012 Domestic Worker’s Visa, designed for cleaners, chauffeurs, cooks and nannies from outside the European Union, who are accompanying overseas employers to the UK. It too is a system that ties overseas domestic workers to just one employer refusing them the right to change their employer in the UK. 15-16,000 Overseas Domestic Worker visas are issued to private households each year (around 200 visas are issued annually to those working for diplomats). The charity Kalayaan, which helps migrant domestic workers believes it facilitates and institutionalises the domestic servitude of workers. The old system allowed them to change employers once they were brought here, giving them a straightforward escape route if they experienced bad treatment. They could find a new job and apply to get their visa renewed. This system was praised as a model of fair play. The UN described it as ‘instrumental in facilitating the escape of migrant domestic workers from exploitative and abusive situations’.
The UK’s government position is that only a tiny proportion of those here as domestic workers are abused and exploited. However, Human Rights Watch said it had found serious abuses of migrant workers by foreign employers in the UK. ‘We have documented the forced labour of domestic workers; they have been made to work extremely long hours without breaks or days off, paid very little or not at all, psychologically abused and not provided with food,’ said Izza Leghtas.
‘Alia’ came to the UK as a maid. She said her passport was taken from her, she was made to eat scraps of food and sleep in a cupboard. ‘They promised me they were going to pay me more, but they didn't pay me. I started in morning at 06.00 until midnight. I didn't have any break and they never let me go out,’ she said. ‘I feel I am a slave, they told me you have no right to be questioning us because you are just a housemaid,’ she recalled. Alia eventually managed to escape, but by leaving her abusive employer she breached immigration rules and is now an illegal migrant. Her only option is deportation.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill reported that ‘In the case of the domestic worker’s visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery’. The now 2015 Modern Slavery Act only provides for a six month period of leave for those domestic workers conclusively identified as trafficked.  For someone who has been trafficked he or she is expected to find employment within 28 days (the time limit specified by the rules) and during this time the worker has no recourse to public funds so may be destitute. They have to apply for the six-month visa having secured employment so need to search for and find employment with no clear immigration status. The worker needs to find an employer who will agree to employ them in their private household in spite of the six months limit to their visa and who will support an application to the Home Office. Last September the campaign group the Migrant Rights Network argued:
‘We are left with a provision which hasn’t taken account of the promised review and which offers so little leave it is worthless in practice. Worse there is a likelihood that these workers,  still not fully recovered from the effects of the trafficking, left with no evidence of their right to work, destitute and with the same pressures to support their families which led them to migrate in place, will be pushed into exploitative employment or even re-trafficking.’

English Social Democratic Parties - Part 2 (1955)

From the August 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 1 here.

January, 1884, the Democratic Federation brought out a weekly periodical, "Justice,” which had a hard struggle to exist owing to lack of funds, and was eventually taken over by the Twentieth Century Press, a publishing company whose share capital was provided by small subscriptions from workers and small organisations. A monthly periodical was also issued privately with Belfort Bax and J. L. Joynes as editors. The title of this publication was “To-Day” and it claimed to be a journal of Scientific Socialism, but would open its columns “to all expressions of advanced opinion.” Its contributors were drawn from a very wide field, including Eleanor Marx. Morris, Lafargue, Hyndman, Shaw, Havelock Ellis, Walt Whitman, Michael Davitt, Stepniak, William Archer, and Henry Arthur Jones.

Just before the Democratic Federation changed its name another section of the Radicals formed the Fabian Society in January, 1884. The Society was mainly composed of people drawn together to discuss the “higher life” ideas of Thomas Davidson and was infused with an “intellectual” atmosphere; its smug and self-satisfied members were keenly conscious of their mental superiority to the rest of society. They were opposed to sweeping changes, proposing to gradually permeate society, both “Upper” and “lower” classes, with a leaven of “advanced” ideas until it had imperceptibly changed its form. They were to be the intellectual leaders of the bovine herd. The new form of society at which they aimed eventually emerged as State Capitalism, though they designated it Socialism.

The Society was soon joined by Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Annie Besant and Sydney Olivier. Most of the early members of the Fabian Society were government officials, and their occupation led them to believe that they were in a position to influence legislation in the direction of their aspirations. After 60 years of their efforts one result they appear to have achieved is to make the exploiting machinery work more smoothly! In the direction of education, however, their members have accomplished some good work examples of which are Sidney Webb’s “History of Trade Unionism,” Graham Wallis’s “ Francis Place,” and the voluminous and pointed ridicule of Bernard Shaw. The establishment of the London School of Economics was also an offspring of their work. For the rest they were opposed to the foundamental ideas of Marxism and drew economic nurture from Stanley Jevons' antiquated supply and demand theory of value. At the end of Hyndman’s “Economics of Socialism,” there is a chapter entitled “The Final Futility of Final Utility” which is a crushing answer to Fabian conceptions of economics.

The social position of most of the Fabians, government officials and professional men, was responsible for their snobbish outlook; they felt themselves to be the destined leaders of the movement for social regeneration. One of their members, Ramsay Macdonald, expressed this outlook clearly in an article he wrote for “To-day,” in March, 1887, entitled “A Rock Ahead.” This is how he put it:
“I would therefore plead for stronger and stronger efforts in intellectual circles, and a vigorous propaganda amongst the thoughtful and reasonable; that thus the ‘party of physical needs’ may be weakened, and Socialism stand forth before the eyes of men, a stage in the process of intellectual development. When we are strong in the strength of intellectual faith, the discontented will be at our command, and as explosive as ever. We may have to use them or we may not; but should the worst befall their destructive power will be skilfully directed; it will not cause ruin, but will clear a way; it will be the instrument, but not the life; the tool, but not the designer.”
Could intellectual priggishness go farther than this? And this was the man who eventually became the first Labour Prime Minister!

In spite of their false ideas on Economics, however, some of the Fabians, Bernard Shaw was an example, did realise that those who lived by the sale of their labour-power belonged to one class opposed to the Capitalist class, and that however high their apparent wages or salaries were they were all paid on the basis of subsistence; what it cost them to live in order to do the job for which they were paid. Here is an instance from one of Shaw’s early writings that is worth while bringing to light again:
"The division into classes with various standards of comfort which always occurs among slaves, and which is due to the necessity for educating and maintaining the slave who is a doctor or a barrister very much better than the slave who is a mere hewer of wood and drawer of water, makes the highly skilled slave despise the unskilled, the unskilled hate and envy the skilled; makes the upper regard classification with the lower as an intolerable degradation, and the lower spurn classification with the higher as a hypocritical effort to reconcile him to his inferiority. Organisation of the proletariat, and recognition by them of their common interest, is thus defeated by class feeling, which is always bitterest among the worst off. It is doubtful whether Dukes habitually despise beggars; but it is certain that butlers despise scullions, artisans, labourers and professional men tradesmen. The solicitor's daughter must not know the young lady from Peter Robinson’s, nor will the ‘amalgamated engineer' permit his wife to demean herself by visiting the spouse of the carman. The proprietors, on the other hand, though their properties vary in size, seem to understand that they belong to the same class; and so, whatever petty jealousies and disputes as to precedence may arise between them, they are always united against the proletariat. There is a saying that a man can be no more than a gentleman (a gentleman being one who lives by robbing the poor). There is no such saying as that a man can be no more than a worker, there is, on the contrary, a widely spread feeling that he cannot be much less, short of being a convict or a pauper. Hence the proprietors succeed in maintaining their privileges against enormous odds in point of numbers. The proletariat, excepting the fragment in the trade unions, are a mere mob; and even the trade union regiments seem to mistrust one another far more than they hate the enemy, to whose ranks everyone of their individual members is eager to desert if a commission there be offered to him."
(From "Our Corner," September, 1887.)
If one makes allowances for some looseness of phrasing and for the backward organisation of the workers at the time, it will be seen that Shaw here senses the social division into two antagonistic classes and also what constituted a member of the working class. He had no illusions about the social status of the so-called intellectuals; he appreciated that they were just members of the working class. Where he went astray was in believing that this section was marked out to lead and direct the movement for social emancipation.

The confused outlook of the Fabian Society was illustrated in the report they submitted to the 1896 Conference of the Second International, which contains the following paragraph:—
"The Fabian Society discards such phrases as 'the abolition of the wages system' which can only mislead the public as to the aims of Socialism. Socialism does not involve the abolition of the wages system, but the establishment of standard allowances for the maintenance of all workers by the community in its own service, as an alternative to wages fixed by the competition of destitute men and women for private employment, as well as for commercial profits, commissions, and all other speculative and competitive forms of remuneration. In short, the Fabian Society, far from desiring to abolish wages, wishes to secure them for everybody."
What else is this but State Capitalism? How far the Fabians got with their scheme for social regeneration is revealed by one of the founders of the Society, E. R. Pease. In his “History of the Fabian Society” he sums it up in words that are just as true today as when they were written in 1925:
“But it must be confessed that we have made but little progress along the main road to Socialism. Private ownership of capital and land flourishes almost as vigorously as it did 30 years ago." (Page 243.)
That is an expression of the final futility of the policy of permeation—despair.

Towards the end of 1884 there was a split in the Social Democratic Federation and some of its most capable members, including the majority of its Executive Committee, broke away to form another party, the Socialist League. The cause of the split was a mixture of personal feeling and dissatisfaction over policy. The practical policy of the Social Democratic Federation during elections, a policy that it kept to during most of its existence, was the making of pacts with the opposition to fight whatever government held power; at one time they accepted support from the Tories to oppose the Liberals and at another time they did the reverse. In 1884 it was alleged that money from the Tories was accepted to support two of their candidates against the Liberals, who formed the government of the day.

There was a personal antagonism to Hyndman on the ground that he was ambitious and was trying to dominate party policy, but there was also a more important difference, the one that eventually destroyed the Socialist League, an opposition to political action that pushed it over to the anarchist position. At first this appeared as a claim by its prominent members that the workers were not yet sufficiently advanced to justify the putting up of Socialist candidates for election and that for sometime to come the party should concentrate all its efforts upon educating the workers; in time this attitude drifted into an opposition to parliament itself, as a perfidious instrument of Capitalism, a body in which it was impossible to do anything except lose one’s head and one’s principles. In the eyes of the League, therefore, parliamentary action became a thing that was tainted with evil and should not be touched.

The financial backbone of the Socialist League was William Morris.

Owing to international connections, principally through Eleanor Marx and Frederick Lessner, the League attracted attention that had been withheld from the Social Democratic Federation; an attention that the latter had partly lacked on account of the antipathy of Marx and Engels to Hyndman. The League soon had its own periodical, the “Commonweal,” the first number appearing in February, 1885, edited by Morris and Aveling. The March number contained congratulatory messages from Liebkneckt, Bebel, Lafargue, Vaillant, Kautsky, Frankel, Lavroff, Stepniak, and Domela Nienwenhuis (the latter, an adherent of Marx at the time, was responsible for the rise of the social democratic movement in Belgium, but he later became an anarchist).

From the beginning a strain of anti-parliamentarism ran through the League’s pronouncements and the May, 1885, number contained an article by Joseph Lane opposed to the capture of parliament. In November, 1885, the League published a pamphlet on the forthcoming General Election which concluded with the words:
“Compare this ideal which we International Revolutionary Socialists offer you, and which it lies in your power to realise, with the miserable pettiness of parliamentary life, and the mean lies and hollow pledges of an election contest, and then surely you will agree with us that it is your business NOT To VOTE but to prepare yourselves to bring about the SOCIAL REVOLUTION, and to accept its happy consequences.”
The leaflet contains quite a good statement of the position of the workers and criticisms of political parties, but it does not give any indication of how Socialism is to be achieved. All it has to say on the point is “if you will but claim it, you will be the world!” It would certainly have been helpful if some idea had been given of how the claim was to be implemented other than by voice and pen. In the course of a few years the League was completely captured by the anarchists and ceased to have any further influence on the progress of the working class movement.

The first page of the first number of the “Commonweal” contains the Manifesto of the League: it was the clearest and soundest attempt to formulate Socialist principles put forward in England up to the end of the Nineteenth Century. The following are some paragraphs from this Manifesto which speak for themselves:
  “We come before you as a body advocating the principles of Revolutionary International Socialism; that is, we seek a change in the basis of Society—a change which would destroy the distinctions of classes and nationalities.
  “As the civilised world is at present constituted, there are two classes of Society—the one possessing wealth and the instruments of its production, the other producing wealth by means of those instruments but only by the leave and for the use of the possessing classes.
  “These two classes are necessarily in antagonism to one another. The possessing class, or non-producers, can only live as a class on the unpaid labour of the producers— the more unpaid labour they can wring out of them, the richer they will be; therefore the producing class—the workers—are driven to strive to better themselves at the expense of the possessing class, and the conflict between the two is ceaseless. Sometimes it takes the form of open rebellion, sometimes of strikes, sometimes of mere widespread mendicancy and crime: but it is always going on in one form or other, though it may not always be obvious to the thoughtless looker-on.
  “We have spoken of unpaid labour; it is necessary to explain what that means. The sole possession of the producing class is the power of labour inherent in their bodies; but since, as we have already said, the rich possess all the instruments of labour, that is, the land, capital, and machinery, the producers or workers are forced to sell their sole possession, the power of labour, on such terms as the possessing class will grant them.
  “These terms are. that after they have produced enough to keep them in working order, and enable them to beget children to take their places when they are worn out, the surplus of their products shall belong to the possessors of property, which bargain is based on the fact that every man working in a civilised community can produce more than he needs for his own sustenance.
  “This relation of the possessing class to the working class is the essential basis of the system of producing for profit, on which our modern Society is founded.”
  “Nationalisation of the land alone, which many earnest and sincere persons are now preaching, would be useless so long as labour was subject to the fleecing of surplus value inevitable under the Capitalist system.
  “No better solution would be that State Socialism by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation; no number of merely administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism.
  “The Socialist League therefore aims at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism, and well knows that this can never happen in any one country without the help of the workers of all civilisation”
As far as it goes there is not much that the Socialist would object to in the above and it is noteworthy that it appeared before the Erfurt Programme of the German Social Democratic Party had been formulated. On the back of the same number of the “Commonweal” is printed the “Provisional Rules,” the preamble to which is a replica of the Preamble to the Provisional Rules of the first International Working Men’s Association, which was written by Karl Marx. The Rules themselves have one important defect; they give the Central Council too much power, including the power to dissolve branches.

Engels showed his preference for the Socialist League by contributing two articles to the “Commonweal”; one was a criticism of [Broadhouse’s] translation of portions of Capital, and the other was a brief history of the previous 40 years. The latter was reproduced by him in his 1892 Preface to “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.”

During the few years of its existence the “Commonweal” published some excellent propagandist articles but also a good deal that was weak, vague and misleading. Its attitude to political action in particular was confusing and conflicting; it hunted with both the hare and the hounds, gradually throwing its weight more and more against political action and flirting with the anarchists. Morris was its most prolific writer, producing articles on a wide variety of subjects; some of his poems and essays that appeared in this periodical were later reprinted in book form and constitute a large part of his claim to popularity. There were two noteworthy features of the “Commonweal”; it did not contain any advertisements except those relating to meetings and similar activities, and it was entirely controlled by the League itself.

(To be continued)

Bloggers Note:
Gilmac is incorrect on a couple of points in the article. 
  • Rather than being responsible for the rise of the social democratic movement in Belgium,  Domela Nienwenhuis was in fact a pioneer of the social democratic movement in the Netherlands. See his wiki page for more details.
  • In Gilmac's original text, he makes reference to Engels penning a piece for Commonweal, where he criticises "Henry Broadhurst" for his inexpert translation of portions of Capital. Broadhurst was in fact an early Lib-Lab MP. Gilmac meant to write 'Broadhouse'. See the links here and here for further information on this. The latter link suggests that 'Broadhouse' was, in fact, a pen name for H. M. Hyndman. I have no idea if this is the case and, if true, I have no idea if Engels knew 'Broadhouse's' real identity when he penned his barbed piece for Commonweal.