Thursday, February 4, 2016

Should We Attack Religion? (1926)

Editorial from the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are still many people who think we made a grave error in publishing our pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion." Some would explain their objection on the grounds of a sentimental regard for the feelings of the weak, or the elderly, who find some sort of consolation in religion. Others regret it on the score that it will lose us voters, and support. It was felt to be a gratuitous smack in the face to an institution comparatively harmless and inoffensive.

There are several answers to these points, most of which are contained in the pamphlet itself, but perhaps two recent happenings, considered entirely without prejudice, will make the position clearer than any amount of abstract reasoning.

To the New Statesman of June 12th, a correspondent sent a letter on “The Churches and the General Strike." In the course of it he quotes from the June number of the Dominican magazine Blackfriars, an article by Father J. B. Reeves, on the relations of Catholics to the State. The italics are the correspondent’s, and the quotation, he says, is merely an example. Here it is :—
We refuse to uphold or assist anything in so far as it repudiates the traditional claim of the Catholic Church in England to be the supreme judge in England of all moral questions that may arise here; and we hold that all economic, social, and political questions are moral questions.
It should be clear from that pronouncement, that we are attacking no harmless survival of the picturesque past; no merely cheerful social centre for the simple and the gentle, the humane and the kindly. No! We launch our offensive at what claims to be the supreme judge of all economic, social and political questions in England, or, for that matter, elsewhere.

But wait a minute. Are there any qualifications to the Catholic Church's modest claim? What would an apologist say ? Would he contend the point was a purely academic one, and could have no validity in practice? In that case, it was not worth making. Would it be urged that it was an arrogant assumption, confined to the Roman Church and its communicants? To that we should reply directing attention to Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords; the noble work of all kinds of Christians in the late Great War, work of a political character, "advocating adhesion and loyalty to King and Country, and conducting parties of fellow Christians into the shambles. Would it be pleaded that the claim of “supreme judge,” is merely a rhetorical flourish—the Catholic Church having no political power— and merely indicates that the "supreme judge” would limit itself to the giving of advice. We have something to say on that head, too. On what ground does the judge expect his advice to be followed? Obviously by the power he wields over those he is judging. And what power does the Catholic Church, or any church, wield over its adherents? In our opinion, that of fear, based on ignorance. The common dislike of death, the sadness of bereavement, the fear of the Unknown, the dread born of ignorance, these are combined and manufactured into a bogey by the Church. Death becomes an obsession, and the Church makes a fat living by trading on the fear of dying. This is the power of the Church over the people, a very real power of which governments have availed themselves, time and again.

But there is one further point. Is the question as stated in the quotation, entirely academic? Those who read Cardinal Bourne’s declaration during the General Strike will be able to answer it themselves. For those who did not, or who have forgotten it, we quote from it the following : —
There is no moral justification for a general strike of this character. It is a direct challenge to a lawfully constituted authority, and inflicts, without adequate reason (his italics), immense discomfort and injury on millions of our fellow countrymen. It is therefore, a sin against the obedience which we owe to God, who is the source of that authority, and against the charity I and brotherly love which are our due to our brethren.
All are bound to uphold and assist the Government, which is the lawfully constituted authority of the country, and represents, therefore, in its own appointed sphere (his italics) the authority of Cod himself (our italics).
So now, with the two quotations, you have a complete philosophy of the function the Church would like to perform in the State. Combine the two, and you get this :—
The Government represents God himself: the general strike is a sin against God: we, the supreme judge of social, political and economic questions charge you with disobedience to God. 
It needs but to add, that the Cardinal’s message appeared in the Government’s strike organ, The British Gazette, of May 12th, for the connection to be seen between religion and government. Anticipating i quibbles about the respective merits, or utterances of Anglican as against the Roman or the Free Churches against either, we submit that it was RELIGION that spoke, and the British Government that utilised it. It was religion that spoke, its voice a little husky with saying the same thing for thousands of years, but religion true and authentic. One can imagine the Cardinal turning a regretful eye on the stacks of thumbscrews, racks and stakes of a more accommodating period, but we wonder whether his philosophy will undergo a subtle change when "a lawfully-constituted Socialist “Government” (forgive the anachronism) succeeds that of the capitalists. May we live to see it; and the Cardinal too.

Between the Lines: The detestable Lord Wyatt (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the November 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who funds the Tories?

Here’s your starter for ten points. Fingers on buttons, now. Ready? Right: Which of the following give millions of pounds every year to the Conservative Party?
  1. Elderly pensioners who want to be kind to others.
  2. A secret group of freemasons based in Chingford.
  3. Millionaires and multi-millionaires who stand to gain by policies which they think will make them richer and more able to exploit their wage slaves?

Do I hear a buzzer? Yes, you are right, it's number 3. Now for five more points - big scores here: on which TV programme was the above answer given? Was it
  1. Neighbours - that everyday story of how millionaire capitalists are screwing the workers?
  2. All Creatures Great and Small? (No, that was the Liberal Party conference you are thinking of. Take your hand off your buzzer and try again. And we'll have no crude jokes about Cyril Smith and David Steel either, thanks very much.)
  3. Panorama - BBC1, 9.30pm, 1 October.

Yes it was 3 again. Now, for a bonus point, who can tell me which party has in it’s principles the statement that "all political parties are but the expression of class interests"? Is it
  1. The Labour Party (Take your hand away from that buzzer - it should be obvious to everyone by now that they have no principles).
  2. The Tory Party - (No, they claim, contrary to the clear evidence shown on Panorama that they are funded by big business, that they stand for everyone's interests.)
  3. The Socialist Party. And once again - surprise, surprise - bring on Cilia Black to sing Imagine - the third answer was correct.

Millionaires devote money to a political party that they think will uphold their interests. The Tories will probably seek ways to punish the BBC for allowing such an obvious truth from being exposed. But who can blame the bosses for putting their money into the Thatcher mob.

The pity is that the workers do not follow their exploiters’ example and put their time and money into the only party which stands for their class interests: The Socialist Party.

The Detestable Lord Wyatt

Woodrow Wyatt is a detestable specimen of capitalist politics. He began life as a Labour faker. He is now a Tory Lord. He writes a weekly political column for the News of the World which is filled from end to end with crass, prejudiced, ill-informed, sickening bigotry.

Wyatt’s thoughts belong in the tabloid gutter where he is paid to pour out the kind of rubbish which leads workers to believe Thatcher's latest exercise in Orwellian speech: her promise at the Tory conference that the present government is committed to creating a "classless society".

Wyatt is a leading force behind a new law, currently going through parliament. The law professes to seek to eradicate bias in TV. In fact, it is the most powerful censorship law ever attempted by any government in relation to TV.

Even Lord Whitelaw has warned that the law would be a charter for the government to force documentary-makers to reflect its views. This new law, which will force the BBC and ITC to allow the government to reply to any adverse criticism of it (even from comedians or in factual news stories) will push TV further away from any claim to being an open and critical medium.

It will mean that while the likes of Wyatt can defame and attack bodies such as the trade unions in his weekly column with impunity, TV producers will be legally forbidden to attack the obnoxious ideas of the Wyatts of this world unless they are prepared to ask the government to have equal time to deny what has been said.

There is an irony - a bitter, tragic irony - in the fact that just as the Stalinism which gripped the media of one half of Europe is being de-clawed, here in Britain the neo-Stalinists of the Tory Party are sharpening their claws more than ever - all with more than a little help from their millionaire financial backers. 
Steve Coleman

Obituary: Albert Baker (1992)

Obituary from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Albert Baker
East London Branch regret to announce the death of comrade Albert Baker. Comrade Baker, who was well into his nineties, joined the old West Ham branch as far back as 1923. He worked for the Post Office before retiring many years ago.

The branch is the basic unit of our Party, essential to its democratic functioning, and an active branch is maintained by its members being prepared to take on a whole range of tasks. Comrade Baker was one such member of the West Ham branch, at one time one of the most active branches of the Party, acting at various times as literature secretary, dues collector, chairman of outdoor meetings, Conference delegate, as well as playing his part in the parliamentary campaign the branch ran when the Party contested the East Ham South seat in the 1950 General Election.

Another good comrade has passed away. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Snippet (1914)

From the April 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is pleasing to note (vide the "London Typographical Circular") that the booklet recently issued by the Army authorities was printed in a Trade Union shop. It will, no doubt, also be the pleasing result of those T. U. circulars, that the new recruits will wear T. U. clothes, use guns made in T. U. shops, and fire T. U. bullets into T. U. craniums.
T. A.

“Hyde Park Orator” (1934)

Book Review from the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his “Hyde Park Orator" (Jarrolds, 287 pages, 10s. 6d.), Mr. Bonar Thompson has written a somewhat irritating but entertaining book. He tells us about his early life in Northern Ireland, his introduction to working-class life in English industrial areas, his contacts with trade unions and labour organisations, and his strenuous and not always very successful efforts to earn his living as cheap-jack in the market-place, and as platform speaker and entertainer.

He has done and seen many things, and has learned how to describe them vividly enough—this, in spite of Sean O'Casey's criticism in the Preface —and many of the things he says are worth saying. He cuts through a great deal of humbug and pretentiousness, and shows up many of the weaknesses of working-class organisations. While his criticisms of men and movements are often one-sided and malicious (he has a savage paragraph on the S.P.G.B.), it does no organisation any harm to hear what it looks like to a keen, even if prejudiced, onlooker.

Nevertheless, the whole book is made needlessly irritating by Mr. Thompson's efforts to pose as the hard-bitten, work-shy cynic, who was never himself a believer in the principles to which he professed adherence. In adopting this pose he has been preceded by Mr. Walton Newbold, and in neither case is the claim true. Mr. Thompson’s pose ought to deceive nobody. He himself remarks on a sensitiveness to ridicule which he says he finds highly developed in the working-class movement. It is no doubt partly this sensitiveness in him which makes him so anxious to disclaim ever having shared the illusions of those around him. At an early age he acquired a dislike for the kind of work and working conditions which alone were open to him. This was only natural, but his pretence that he has spent a lifetime dodging work is ludicrous. In spite of his claim he has had to work very hard indeed to maintain a precarious existence. Workers cannot escape the evils of working-class life by adopting poses or practising self-deception.

Needless to say, Mr. Thompson often forgets his pose. He boasts of having lived by deception of the workers, but gets very indignant regarding Labour Leaders who, according to his account, are working a “racket" no worse than his. He sneers at the workers for being so credulous and sheep-like, but turns and calls them ungrateful when they do not give him generous collections. After all, according to Mr. Thompson’s philosophy, why should the workers pay him for his strenuous orations if they can hear them for nothing? If for reasons of inexperience, necessity, or sentiment, Mr. Thompson offers the wrong wares for sale, or offers them in the wrong place, he should be the last to complain. And although he chides the workers for their credulousness, he is furiously angry with the S.P.G.B., which at least never shared his and the Labour Party's illusions about leadership, the value of emotional appeals, the impending collapse of capitalism, etc.

It is a pity that a man with Mr. Thompson’s experience, who has unlearned many false lessons, should have allowed bitterness to stand in the way of recognising that the failure of so many reformist activities does not in the least touch the solid basis on which the case for Socialism really rests.
Edgar Hardcastle

A Letter from a Glasgow Docker (1947)

From the June 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since 1932, when the Glasgow dockers broke away from the Transport and General Workers’ Union and formed their present organisation, the Scottish T. & G. W. Union, they have opposed the English dockers’ struggles for decasualisation of dock labour. Recruitment to the Glasgow Union has (with one exception) been always based on the hereditary principle and restricted to docker’s sons.

Coincident with the forming of a Ministry of War Transport Dock-Labour Scheme in April, 1941, was the heavy bombardment of the main English ports which resulted in Glasgow becoming the busiest port in Britain. To meet with this situation, the Government transferred hundreds of dockers from London, Liverpool, Hull, etc., to Glasgow and allowed about 1,500 local men who could prove work at the port before September, 1939, to join the scheme. The English dockers (members of the T.G.W. union or “Bevin’s union, as it is dubbed) were treated in a disgusting manner by the Glasgow Union. Glasgow union members had priority for employment which meant that the most unpleasant, irksome and ill-paid jobs were the lot of the English dockers.

The 1,500 Glasgow men were not allowed to join the union and were prevented from joining any union or forming one.

With the end of hostilities, the English dockers were sent to their home ports, most of them with bitter feelings regarding the Glasgow Union.

When the National dock strike took place in October-November, 1945, the 1,500 Glasgow (non-union) dockers were the first in Scotland to join the national movement for 25s. a day, etc.

One outcome of the 1945 strike was the agreement to take joint action in any subsequent disputes, an agreement endorsed by the Glasgow union membership.

In January-May, 1946, the 1,500 Glasgow “non-union’’ men were dismissed without a word of protest from the local union, in fact the dismissals were approved of by the union. 

When the recent strike took place in Glasgow about the “redundancy” of 500 union members, the union coined the slogans “Square deal for the Clyde” and “Scottish cargoes for Glasgow."

Faced with the fact that in July the new, Government-approved, dock-labour scheme commences and its certainty of further redundancies in London, Liverpool and elsewhere, some of the dockers in London (not members of the T.G.W. Union) went on strike for a few days to demonstrate their solidarity with the Glasgow men.

The Glasgow men are now back at work on the agreement that an inquiry be made on the needs of the port of Glasgow.

The results of that inquiry won't be substantially different from the “Fact-finding” committee set up by the Government which recommended the dismissal of 800 men—watered down to 500.

The Glasgow men take a very narrow and insular view of T.U. activity, and are only militant on local, sectional questions.

The larger unions, whilst democratic in formal structure, are still dominated by rank and file apathy which permits the sway of the permanent officials.

The whole dock industrial scene is one of internecine intrigue and struggles between the smaller unions and the T.G.W. Union.

The unofficial “National Port-Workers Defence Committee’’ is, despite its naive trust in the Labour Government, probably the brightest development so far, from a class standpoint.

As certain as anything can be is national dock disputes after July of this year when the Government rationalises the dock industry.

These are, briefly, the facts. The whole dock union organisation throughout Great Britain is in ferment with the approach of entire Ministry of Labour control of the industry and strikes, disputes, and union wrangling will be accentuated.
T. A. Mulheron

Who can boss? (1905)

From the April 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Roosevelt will fight the Trusts! So were the American people in particular and the civilized world in general told when he was put in power. Such of the American people as had knowledge smiled, if they did not, they should have done. The Beef Trust was impeached, and found guilty of conspiracy to fix prices, secure illegal rebates from the railroads, and stifle free competition. The United States Circuit Court of Illinois granted an injunction against the Trust on the foregoing counts. But the Trust did not worry—it simply continued in the same old way. On the 31st of January, 1905, the newspapers stated their belief that criminal proceedings would be taken against the firms constituting the Trust. Speaking an the following day at Philadelphia, Mr. Roosevelt urged, among other things, more federal control of commerce and particularly of railroads. “ Neither this people nor any other free people ” he declared, "will permanently tolerate vast power conferred by vast wealth in a corporate form, that does not lodge somewhere in the Government a still higher power of seeing that this power is used for and not against the people as a whole." In New York, on the same day, a railroad Trust, believed in financial circles to be the largest of its kind, was brought into existence. Mr.W. H. Newman, president of the New York Central Line, was appointed president of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and S. Louis lines, popularly, known as the “big four.” This combination consists of nearly thirty distinct lines, and controls all the great routes from New York to Chicago, with the exception of the Pennsylvanian railway. The final aim of the Trust is to make practically one system from the Atlantic to the Pacific and to form one huge combination with a capital of seven billion dollars (£1,400,000,000). On the following day a Cotton Trust was formed, with a capital of a hundred million dollars (£20,000,000). It comprises almost all the mills in Massachusetts and some in the other New England States. The reason given for its formation was that the northern mills could not compete with the southern and they had to amalgamate in order to exist. The paragraph significantly concludes thus: “The new Trust proposes to reorganise the business of the mills it takes over, on the basis of economical production and new processes of weaving. There will be economies effected in the labour and management of the mills.” Thus the Trusts show their contempt for the powers that be. Not a President goes to the White House without their permission. As Mr. William Allen White points out in the New York “Collier’s,” “The people howl for Roosevelt and whoop it up for reform, until the railroads begin issuing passes and contributing to the campaign fund. Then these same dear patriotic people get in special trains, eat free railroad grub, corrode tneir insides with free railroad liquor, and hurrah for “the old man ” who sees the railroads run the government.”

But, says the Britisher, this is all in America and it does not follow that similar things occur or could occur in England. We have no such Trusts. Let us see. On January 30th of this year, news was published of the amalgamation of two most important cotton-spinning associations. Between them they controlled over 30,000,000 spindles, out of England’s total of 45,000,000, the world’s total being 110,000,000. In October, 1904, the Scottish and North of England Iron and Steel Masters met and arrived at an understanding, the result of which was very soon shewn in a reduction of the wages of the employees of the firms concerned. Recently the Cornish producers of china formed themselves into an Association. Even the capitalist papers refer to the London Coal Trade as “the Coal ring,” whilst that of the Billingsgate Fish merchants is well-known. The American invasion to capture the Tobacco trade taught the English manufacturers that the only way that they could fight a Trust was by forming another and the Imperial Tobacco Company was the result. The Liquor monopoly is of course a Trust, the strength of which is largely due to the policy pursued by the lopsided “Temperance” reformers. At the present moment, the “one-man grocer” as he is called, is much agitated about the statement that the Mazawattee Tea Co. is about to open 300 to 400 shops in the country for the retailing of its tea and other commodities, but it is no trade secret that the vast proportion of the retail grocery shops belong to similar mammoth concerns. The provision shops, too, are often merely distributive depots for the wholesale houses, whilst few of the “master” bakers are other than managers for, or “tied” tenants of, the millers. Then we have the Wall-Paper Trust, the Type-Writer Trust, and so on. Here, as abroad, industry after industry becomes trustified. The only way in which the capitalists of any country can hope to secure and maintain a hold upon the World’s Markets is by these large combinations of capital, with their resulting more systematic methods of organisation and “effective economies in labour and management.”

This ever extending growth of the Trusts means a more and more precarious existence for the workers. The ever-improving machinery that these large capitals can operate should prove to the workers that they have no effective weapon with which to fight them and resist their aggressions. The Trade Unions with their few thousands of pounds cannot hope to successfully fight the Trusts with their millions. The power of the machine alone will almost crush them, but the machine and the large capital combined in the Trust they cannot fight. The lesson of the class war must be brought home to them. Just as in the United States the capitalist papers admit the control of the Government by the Trusts, so will it happen here in England. The only way of salvation for the workers lies in the transformation of these Trusts into national property and the organisation of industry on a co-operative basis of production for use and not for profit. No capitalist party will legislate for this— they dare not, on the pain of self-extinction. The only party that dare go to the legislative assemblies to do this is the Socialist working-class, organised on the lines of the class war, with its tactics and policy in accord with its principle, with a clear knowledge of the fact that rent, profit, and interest exist because the workers—the wealth-creators—are robbed of the wealth they produce, whether taken from them by private capitalists or by the capitalist state or municipality. A revolutionary Socialist party alone can act in the real interests of the workers, and for the workers of this country that party is The Socialist Party of Great Britain.
E. J. B. Allen

It's our planet (1987)

Editorial from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The central question — "Why must society live under the threat of nuclear annihilation?” — can be answered only by reference to the way society is presently organised. We live in a society which is dominated by the principle of competition and divided into capitalist class and working class. Just as there is struggle between workers and capitalists there is also struggle between capitalists of one country and capitalists of another. We therefore find antagonistic nation states all competing with each other to secure and expand their national economic interests and political ambitions. To do so. one state must gain at the other's expense. This leads to conflict and, when diplomatic methods have failed, to war. Humanity needs to scrap the artificial division of the world's people into social classes, national states, political units and economic blocs — to scrap the social system which is the cause of war in the modern world.

The enemy is not the latest weapon but the system which makes such weapons necessary. A look at technology shows why the social context is so important. Technology is neither good nor bad in itself, but it is there to be used. It is the values and priorities of society which determine how technology is applied and for what reasons. We live in a society in which the requirements of capitalist economics are paramount, while the effects of those requirements, and human needs, are of secondary concern. It is therefore no surprise that technology has been transformed from something to be welcomed into something to be feared.

Under capitalism technology has not been used to secure a peaceful planet but to increase the dangers and consequences of war. Technology has not been used to create a safe energy supply but to develop one which could kill whole populations.

Politicians who run, or seek to run, the present social system argue that we need weapons which kill people in order to protect people; that it is in our interests that governments continue with a nuclear energy programme because it is economical, while accidents such as Chernobyl clearly demonstrate the danger which such programmes represent. They say it is only natural that the world should be divided into competing national states and economic blocs; despite the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the system where wars coincide with endless peace talks, economic booms follow economic slumps, they still make political promises which are destroyed by economic realities.

Is this a form of madness? By the standards of capitalism such contradictions are quite logical; indeed quite necessary. To allow world capitalism to continue is to gamble with our future, with the very conditions of life itself.

We need to abolish the state of affairs in which the community as a whole exercises little democratic control over society apart from voting for politicians to run the madhouse for another four or five years. Instead, we need to organise politically to place the means of life — including energy production which is a basic requirement for any society to function — under the democratic control of the whole community and not just governments or groups of experts.

We need to abolish the out-moded and old-fashioned division of the world into nation states. Instead we need to cooperate on a world basis to meet our material needs and energy requirements. Only in a socialist society will the community be able to make decisions about energy production which are based on what is safe and in the human interest (including our shared environment) instead of decisions based on, and limited by, economic considerations. Only in a socialist society, when human beings can relate to each other as fellows and not as units of labour to be exploited or national enemies to be destroyed, will the nuclear threat really be removed. It is quite clear that in any future confrontation we will all be affected regardless of where we live. As Chernobyl has shown, a nuclear energy disaster can spread across whole continents. A nuclear war will be far worse — perhaps the ultimate disaster.

This does not need to happen. Socialism needs mass understanding and support — and then the world will be changed. To begin with workers might like to consider the proposition — "This is our planet. We want it back”.

Pathfinders: Desperate Deal in Davos (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Not many people can be unaware that there is an antibiotic crisis looming, caused by big pharma moving out of antibiotic research into more profitable fields of enquiry, like hair restoring or erectile dysfunction.  Ask most people why this is happening and they will probably tell you it's because drug companies are run by greedy psychopathic bastards who couldn't care less about public health.
Back in October 2012 this column pointed to the fact that, for a number of very good reasons, drug companies simply couldn't make any money out of antibiotic research and that this amounted to the human race being failed by its own market system.
Confirmation of this has been provided by pharmaceutical companies themselves. At the recent Economic Forum in Davos, 85 drug companies signed a joint declaration promising to invest in antibiotic research if governments would agree to develop 'transformational commercial models' (BBC Online, 21 January).
The document, signed by Pfizer, Merck, Glaxo-Smith-Kline and Johnson & Johnson among others, stated that the current economic development model had 'largely failed' and that the 'formidable' (i.e. expensive) challenges of antibiotic research were the reason most companies had pulled out of the field.
What they mean is, they're not charities and they're not going to run at a loss, and if governments won't help meet the costs, new antibiotics aren't going to be made, even if we die of bubonic plague as a result.
This is as direct from the horse's mouth as it gets. Now even capitalist companies are frustrated at the operations of the market system. Will governments work out a deal with the drug companies? Maybe.
What speaks volumes is that they have to have this discussion at all. If capitalism really worked the way its promoters and propagandists like to claim, we wouldn't need all these special fixes and deals and arrangements and restructurings and 'transformational commercial models'. It would just work. Trains would run. Houses would get built. People would get fed. Antibiotics would get made.
The fact that it doesn't work is attested by, among other things, these desperate Davos conferences. Instead of an economic powerhouse, capitalism looks more like a patient under 24 hour supervision in an intensive care unit, kept alive only by the greatest of collective will and effort.
This isn't the first time capitalism's economic logic has failed the entire human race. In 2006 the Stern Review described climate change as the 'greatest market failure the world has seen'. Well, so far, but a sudden outbreak of death by gonorrhoea, laryngitis, TB or tetanus from a minor cut might very well change people's minds about that.
One wonders what it will take to make people realise that abolishing capitalism isn't just one of several viable options, it's already an urgent survival imperative.
Either capitalism goes, or homo sapiens might. This planet isn't big enough for the both of us.