Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Does Socialism Offer You? (1927)

From the September 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

At present we who are workers are employed by Trusts, like the Soap, Oil or Electric Trusts; by companies not yet combined into Trusts; by Governmental and Municipal bodies; and by private individuals. In each of these cases people who have more money than they require to meet their needs use what is over either to buy shares or to buy what may be called "means of production," that is, machinery and whatever else is necessary to produce something that can be sold for a profit. This way of spending the surplus money is called investing capital, that is, spending money with the object of getting back more money that is paid out.

Nearly everything that we need to-day— food, clothes, and the rest—are produced by an organisation that has capital at its back, and therefore with the object of making a profit. That is why bad food is often produced, shoddy clothes are often made, houses that you can nearly blow over are often built, and the workers who produce the needed goods are paid such low wages that many of them spend the whole of their lives in a state of poverty that often takes away the wish to remain alive.

The Socialist intends to have all this altered. Instead of somebody, or some company, having to buy the machinery and other things before food and clothes can be made, he says, let the land and machinery belong to the whole of the people, and let us arrange things so that some will make machinery, others will plough the land, some will go down in mines, others will drive the trains, and so on. As each took an equal part in making what we all needed so each would take an equal part in using what was made.

Now if we had such a state of affairs we would only make the best things we could, and we would make them in the best way. Everyone that could would take his part in making things, so that they would be neither rich unemployed nor poor unemployed. Everyone would take his part in eating, drinking, and wearing whatever was made, so that there would be no one in poverty. As there would be no milkman or baker wasting his time going up streets where milk and bread was already being supplied; no travellers wasting their time trying to get business away from another traveller; no bill posters, printers, and others wasting their time printing and pasting up lies about different kinds of goods; no enemies without or within for young men to waste years in armies, navies and other services in the "noble art of war,” there would be no lack of hands to make everything that was needed, of the best material, and in the best way.

Now people will say it is very silly to write in this way, as the idea of everyone working together in such a manner is impossible—each will want to get the lion's share of what is made and do as little as he can. When, however, everyone understands that by not doing his part either in the work or the consuming he is only hindering the producing of things, and therefore, in the long run, doing himself an injury, then there will be, in the main, neither slacking nor greediness. Besides, there will be so little work for each to do and such an abundance of things to be got that these inherited vices will soon disappear. 

Cracks in the Russian Dictatorship (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The signs that the stranglehold of the Communist Party dictatorship is faltering are the most heartening news out of Russia for a generation. The nature of the urgent pressures compelling the changes of policy has yet to be revealed, but whatever they are they give ground for hope that the Russian workers may before long begin to acquire the elementary rights of organisation and propaganda so long denied them. In the early days—before they became so mealy-mouthed about it—the Communists admitted and defended the dictatorship and decried “bourgeois democracy.” Their text-book was Trotsky’s “Defence of Terrorism"—this of course in the days before a new party group moved into control, exiled Trotsky and found that he was a “capitalist agent".

Later on, with an eye on votes at elections, the British Communists denied that the Russian regime is a dictatorship and claimed it to be “true democracy.” For evidence they pointed to the embodiment of numerous rights in the Constitution; as if similar paper “rights” are not the stock-in-trade of all dictatorships from Franco’s to Peron’s and Tito’s. Since, in Russia, only one political party is allowed by law and only a very small minority of the population were able to belong to a political party at all; since there are no democratic elections, only the “right” to vote in each constituency for the one candidate approved by the Communists; and since nobody can publish political propaganda or hold meetings except under Communist Party control, the Constitutional rights are not worth the paper they are written on.

Now there is this sudden change of attitude, including permission to American journalists to visit Russia, move about freely, take photographs and report more or less what they liked.

At the same time Russian foreign policy has likewise undergone a drastic change.

The Case of the Doctors.
The other outstanding reversal of policy was the announcement that the nine doctors arrested for murder and attempted murder of Russian leaders had been released and their accusers arrested instead.

The Russian official announcement of the release of 15 doctors (hitherto the existence of six of them had not been disclosed, only nine having been mentioned as having been arrested), read as follows:—
   “As a result of verification it has been established that Professors [here followed 15 names] implicated in the case were wrongfully arrested by the former Ministry of State Security of the U.S.S.R. without any legal grounds.
    “The verification has shown that the charges against the above-mentioned persons were false and the documentary data on which the investigation workers based themselves were unfounded.
    “It has been established that the testimony of the arrested men, allegedly confirming the charges made against them was obtained by workers of the investigating section of the former Ministry of State Security through the use of methods of investigation which are inadmissible and most strictly forbidden by the Soviet law."
(Daily Worker, 6 April, 1953.) 
Naturally the Daily Worker tried to make the best of this acutely embarrassing disclosure by presenting it as proof of the “justice and strength" of the new government. What they were not able to show, because it did not and could not happen under the Russian dictatorship, was that at any time between the arrests and the release, any journal in Russia, or any public figure, or any political party, or any member of the Russian “parliament," or any lawyer, publicly stated inside Russia that there were doubts about the guilt of the arrested doctors. From the moment of the first announcement the men were treated as guilty, both in Russia and in the columns of the Daily Worker, yet there must have been many people in Russia well aware of the kind of methods used to obtain admissions of guilt—and in any event the arrested doctors had never even been tried.

It is this latter circumstance that makes nonsense of the line now taken by the Daily Worker of pretending that the doctors never were held to be guilty, but only charged and awaiting trial. Replying to an article in which the Daily Mail had said that the men "were found guilty of crimes they had not committed," the Daily Worker in an editorial on 8 April, 1953, wrote:—
     “As is frequent in matters concerning the Soviet Union the Mail is quite wrong. The doctors had not been found guilty, for the simple reason that at the time of their release they had not yet been brought to trial."
As it happens we need only look back over issues of the Daily Worker to see whether it is true that the men were held by that journal merely to have been persons arrested on a charge but not yet deemed to be guilty.

The Daily Worker of 14 January not only reproduced the Russian Tass Agency report which referred to them as “guilty" and “criminals" but the Worker added, on the authority of its own Foreign Editor, that “five of the nine doctors . . .  got their orders from 'Joint’—the American Joint Distribution Committee." Another report in the same issue described them as "medical killers who became monsters of the human race, who trampled the holy banner of science, who dishonoured science, were paid agents of a foreign intelligence service."

In the issue of 28 January the report of a speech by Mr. Harry Pollitt contained a jibe at the capitalist Press and the “Right Wing Labour statesmen’’ for their attitude to the case of the doctors. He said:—
       “We understand their fury at seeing their pals caught red-handed before they have been able to do all they were ordered to do."
The Communist excuse for holding them guilty before their trial was that they had "confessed.” Thus an article in the Daily Worker of 23 January replied to a criticism made by Vernon Bartlett by saying :—
       ". . .  the Moscow doctors are being denounced for crimes which they have confessed to committing" (Italics are the Daily Worker’s).
It went on to say that Vernon Bartlett’s paper does not accept evidence given at such trials anyway.

Now the admission by the Russian Government that the "confessions” were extorted and were false not only destroys the validity of confessions in this case but casts doubts on the confessions and on the "evidence" in all the long series of trials under the dictatorship,

Of course we still do not know the whole truth about the doctor case. They were made to confess that they were paid agents of a foreign organisation but now their accusers are arrested. Will these accusers now be tried in public and tell the whole story about the source from which they got their orders, and about the circumstances under which Ministry of State Security officials regarded it as part of their job to extort false confessions? And shall we be told why six of the doctors now released were not reported to have been arrested? Can it be that they had not confessed?

With the decision to release the doctors the Russian authorities also gave a declaration that
     “Every Soviet citizen can so assured that his personal freedom and civic rights are fully guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S.S.R.—and Soviet law will strictly observe and defend these rights."
(Daily Worker, 7 April). 
Such assurances are worth nothing. They could become more of a reality if the Russian workers were allowed to form political parties of their own choice— but this will involve a more drastic change in Russia than any so far reported.
Edgar Hardcastle

Taking it gradually (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Fabian Society is a century old. As a matter of fact, the Fabians have always seemed old — a sort of intellectual remnant from the days when it was fashionable for well-intentioned people of affluence to proclaim the moral desirability of socialism. The Society derives its title from an old Roman General called Fabius Cunctator who believed that the way to win a battle is to defeat the enemy bit by bit. One hundred years after the Fabians came on the political scene the advance to socialism by means of gradualist legislation is so imperceptible that we can safely assume that the Fabian army is not even on the field of battle, let alone close to victory.

The men and women who formed the Fabian Society did not set out to abolish capitalism; their expressed purpose was to persuade the capitalists to act in line with humanitarian principles. So, when Sidney Webb announced his “conversion to socialism”, he explained what he meant by the term in a lecture to the Fabian Society delivered on 14 January. 1886:
I call myself a Socialist because I am desirous to remove from the capitalist the temptation to use his capital for his own exclusive ends.
“We must bring home to the monopolist the sense of his trusteeship” stated Webb in this lecture. Entrusting the minority capitalist class with a monopoly over the means of wealth production and distribution, the aim of Webb and his naive colleagues was to encourage the exploits of wage labour to invest their profits for the good of all. The idea of leaving nothing to trust by placing the productive machinery in the hands of all was never accepted.

Oozing with guilty moralism, the founding Fabians were anxious to bring home to the capitalists "a consciousness of the sin of affluence". It was for this purpose that the Fabian, J B Bright, formed the Ransom Society, which was intended to allow “members of the leisure class to redeem themselves” of the moral crime of privilege by “offering money and personal services . . . to the poor”. Poor old Arnold Toynbee felt so bothered by his affluence that he was impelled to deliver a confession to the working class:
We have neglected you . . .  we have wronged you; we have sinned against you grievously . . . : but if you will forgive us we will serve you . . . we will devote our lives to your service. . .
Similarly, Annie Besant, for whom “socialism” took the form of a religious ethic, wrote to J W Ashman on 13 March, 1887:
In sober truth, I love the poor — those rough, coarse people, who have paid their lives for our culture and refinement, and 1 feel that the devotion to them of my abilities cultivated at their cost is the mere base debt that I owe, for my class, to them. (Her emphasis.)
Some of the Fabians tried to make themselves feel better by giving up their wealth and living in poverty. For example, Edward Pease ceased stockbroking which he said was “immoral”, and became a cabinetmaker in Newcastle. Charlotte Wilson, who was married to a wealthy stockbroker, abandoned her comfortable life for a cottage in Hampstead (which was supposed to look like a rustic peasant dwelling) and devoted her energies to raising poultry.

Of course the Fabians, for all their intellectual pretensions, did not understand the nature of the capitalist system. George Bernard Shaw, in the 1930s who was to regard Stalin's Russian Empire as “socialism”, thought that capitalism did not need to be destroyed because it was about to collapse. Writing in the midst of the Great Depression, Shaw foresaw the self-destruction of capitalism:
Our profits are vanishing, our machinery is standing idle, our workmen are locked out. It pays now to stop the mills and fight and crush the unions when the men strike, no longer for an advance but against a reduction . . . The small capitalists are left stranded by the ebb; the big ones will follow the tide across the water and build their factories where steam power, water power, labour power and transport are now cheaper than in England . . .  As the British capitalists are shut up they will be replaced by villas; the manufacturing districts will become fashionable resorts of capitalists living on the interest of foreign investments; the farms and sheep runs will be cleared for deer forests . . .  a vast proletariat, beginning with a nucleus of those previously employed in the export trades, with their multiplying progeny, will be out of work permanently. (An Unsocial Socialist, pp.214-5. 1930 ed. First published in 1884.)
Like many others who then and since have predicted the collapse of capitalism, with the workers having historical transformation imposed upon them, Shaw’s prediction was quite wrong.

Without working class action based on socialist consciousness, there can be no social transformation. The Fabians, however, regarded majority consciousness as an impossibility and addressed their propaganda to the capitalists. This policy was known as permeation — the assumption being that if the educated and morally superior capitalists could be persuaded of the need to produce for use there would be no requirement for the “rough, coarse people" of Annie Besant’s fantasies to bother their uncultivated minds about establishing a new social order. Like all proposals to change society for the working class, Fabianism displayed a contempt for the potential of workers' intelligence.

The Fabian concept of “socialism" involved no more than state control over capital — state capitalism. Annie Besant explained what she thought socialism meant when she wrote:
The State has interfered with factories and workshops, to fix the hours of labour, to insist on sanitary arrangements, to control the employment of the young. (Why I Am A Socialist, 1886.)
She was clearly unaware that such legislation had been introduced by Lord John Russell's Whig government as early as the 1830s. Far from having anything to do with socialism, state interference in the running of production was simply a means of regulating the efficient robbery of the wage slave class.

In 1887 the Fabians advocated
. . .  a peaceful and expeditious path to Socialism, through such measures as Nationalisation of Railways. Municipaiisation of Ground Rents and of industries connected with local transit, and with supply of gas and water in the towns.
When the Labour Party was formed in 1906, the Fabians gave it their support. seeing it as the best vehicle for the enactment of their “gas and water socialism". Since then the Fabian demands for state capitalist reform have been met: the railways are nationalised and the local transport services are run by the municipal authorities — the statist notion of “socialism” has been tested and found to be no different from capitalism in private hands.

Since 1906 the Fabian Society has existed as an advisory body, trying to influence, the Labour Party to make humanitarian changes to capitalism. It has published hundreds of Fabian tracts, each packed from cover to cover with futile schemes for making the profit system decent. Their peak membership was in the 1940s, when it was felt that, with sufficient intellectual counselling, a Labour government would be able to eradicate the social evils of capitalism. Since then most people, including Labourites, have regarded the Fabians as rather dull and ineffective preachers of palliation, whose open advocacy of “gradualism” is something of an embarrassment after all the years of gradual failure. All sorts of people have been in the Fabian Society: Wilson, Callaghan, Kinnock, Benn, half of all current Labour MPs — even the founders of the SDP were members of the Society, demanding their right to remain until it was decided that only Labour Party reformists were allowed to be members. Even the Mayor of the self-proclaimed “Socialist Republic” of Islington is a card-carrying Fabian, and we must admit that the Town Hall revolutionaries of that borough do seem to have fallen somewhat under the influence of old Fabius. Writing about the Fabians in the Observer (11 March 1984). Roy Hattersley points out that
While the poor bloody infantry of the local Labour parties footslogged from door to door, the Fabians were providing their ideological bullets.
 With politicians like Hattersley as the ideological gunslingers, we are bound to ask who these bullets were aimed at — and who, in practice, they hit.

When the Socialist Party was formed the Fabians were dismissed with the sort of comments that a master chef might pass on someone struggling to open a can of baked beans. Eighty years later the Fabians are still in the business of moving elegant amendments to the Act of Class Monopoly. For socialists, the existence of these moralising do-nothings has been an obstacle to the urgent task which confronts us. It has not escaped our attention that the Latin word Cunctator has a specific definition: the delayer.
Steve Coleman

Strange Champions of Socialism (1941)

From the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists have long pointed to a significant change that came over political propaganda in the years after the last Great War. Before then it was possible for politicians openly to champion Capitalism and be supported by the workers for doing so. Then gradually they had to change their tactics. The workers were so suspicious of Capitalism that the supporters of it laid stress more and more on the necessity of reforming its abuses, until finally they were falling over each other in their anxiety to show that they were really in favour of “Socialism.” Needless to say what they called Socialism was only the old Capitalism in disguise, but the trick worked. They all in greater or less degree adopted as their slogan “We are all Socialists now.”

This atmosphere naturally continued in a Europe at war, and one might almost gather from some of the speeches that the armies on both sides (not to mention the Finns and Russians) are all striking a blow for Socialism.

Thus, Hitler in his speech at Berlin on December 10th. The following is from the report published in the Evening Standard (the morning papers the following day all appear not to have noticed this passage): —
“Should Nazi methods be victorious, the ruling class in the democracies would have to renounce their dividends of 40 and 100 and 160 per cent. In Germany 6 per cent, is the highest rate of dividend, and 3 per cent, of this has to return as taxes, while the remainder must be disposed of in the interests of the nation."—(Evening Standard, December 10th.)
According to a further report published in The Times (December 11th), Hitler impudently described the Nazi programme as “our Socialist work of construction,” and contrasted it with what he said is the attitude of the ruling class outside Germany, who say:—“ If we lose, our world capitalist structure will collapse and the idea will spread among our peoples that labour is the decisive element.”

The Manchester Guardian felt impelled to take up the challenge that Germany is “Socialist ” and the rest of the world capitalist: —
"He [Hitler] depicted the war as a struggle between two systems—that of the Socialist German people, on the one hand, and the Capitalist governing class of Great Britain, on the other. For Hitler—or, rather, for Hitler’s hearers— there is in Great Britain no 100 per cent. Excess Profits Duty, or income tax at 8s. 6d. in the pound, nor are there any Socialists like Bevin or Morrison in the war effort of the democracies."—(Manchester Guardian, December 11th.) 
Those who know the case of the S.P.G.B. will recognise that we, and we alone, are in a position to reject all of these specious arguments. It may be true that profits in Germany are normally restricted to 6 per cent., but knowing the unlimited corruption of high Nazi circles, and the commanding influence exercised by big capitalist interests, it is unbelievable that they do not find a variety of ways of evading the law. What is more, even if the law’ were enforced, the restriction of dividends has nothing whatever to do with Socialism and has never been supported by the S.P.G.B. It is not even a means of lessening the inequality of wealth under Capitalism. It still leaves the owners of big investments their colossal incomes, and their opportunities to continue accumulating wealth on which to receive the permitted percentage. They are quite willing the put up with some temporary interference with their freedom of action, counting on a still bigger harvest of profits when the restriction ends.

Much the same can be said from the Socialist standpoint of E.P.D. and a high rate of income tax. They have no serious effect on the existing inequality of accumulated wealth of income.

As for Mr. Morrison and Mr. Bevin, Socialists have never ceased to point out that schemes for reform are not Socialism, and that the administration of Capitalism does not become Socialism because there are among the members of the Cabinet men claiming to be Socialist.

*      *      *

Hitler was rather nasty about Eton and our other " public schools ” (“public” in about the same sense that the Labour Party’s “Socialist” public utility corporations are public). He said: —
"Their State is governed by quite a thin upper class, which class always sends its sons to its own educational institutions. They have Eton College. We have the Adolf Hitler schools, the National-Socialist education institute, and the national political schools. They are two worlds. In one of them are the sons of the people; in the other only the sons of a stupid aristocracy and financial magnates. I admit one of these worlds has to perish."—(The Times, December 11th.)
The Times was able to retort that when Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, was over here he tried to send his son to Eton.

The Daily Express (December 10th) added a little piece of information about some of Eton’s sons:
Among greetings from Old Etonians received on Founder’s Day at Eton—which is celebrating its 500th anniversary—were:—
A letter from 64 OEs in a German prison-camp,
A telegram—in Latin, as the custom is—which read:— “Etonians fighting for the fatherland, for honour, for truth at —, remembering the playing-fields of Eton, salute her. Floreat Etona. Gordon-Canning, H.W.T. 1907, Pitt-Rivers A.M.G., Ramsay E.W.S. 1912."
The signatures are those of Captain R. C. Gordon-Canning, former member of The Link; Captain George Pitt-Rivers, pro-Fascist Dorset squire; Captain Ramsay, M.P.
The place from which the wire was sent was " indecipherable."
Hitler went on to say that from the English public schools like Eton come the only men who “play a role in the State, while here (in Germany) the men who play a role come from the people.” (Manchester Guardian, December 11th.)

Hitler here is claiming merit for the fact that careers under Nazidom are open to men drawn from the ranks of the poor. Even it were wholly true instead of being only partly true—Goering and Papon were never poor—it in no way supports his absurd claim that there is something Socialistic about Germany. Socialists are not concerned with earmarking the plums of capitalist industry and administration for ambitious “sons of the people.” We do not agree with Mr. P. Thorne (son of Will Thorne, M.P.), who wrote to the Daily Herald (December 14th) saying:—“As we are fighting for Democracy, and as most of the ‘ high-up’ jobs go to the ‘old school tie’ candidates, isn’t it time the sons of the workers gained access to these public schools? ” 

As for the reference to the public school education of British politicians, Hitler is only echoing what the Economist wrote a few weeks ago. In an article, “The Supply of Brains” (Economist, November 23rd), it was stated that “the public schools turn out perhaps 10,000 boys a year; from this tiny fraction—about 2 per cent.—of each year’s graduates to life we select the great majority of those who are to be given an easy road to the top. The selection is clearly not one of merit.”

The Economist went on to suggest a remedy: "The social barriers will be broken down, not when a few poor boys go to the rich boys’ schools, but when a lot of rich boys go to the poor boys' schools —as they do in France, in Germany, in Scandinavia, in America, in the Dominions, in Scotland (until very recently), in fact, everywhere but in England.”

It would seem from the reference to Germany in this connection that the Economist rather agrees with Hitler. Yet it is only necessary to note that all of the countries mentioned are countries with the usual gulf between rich and poor, capitalists and workers, to appreciate that the remedy remedies nothing.

Socialists, of course, know the remedy. Not sending the rich to the poor schools, or vice-versa, but abolishing a class-divided society which perpetuates riches and poverty.
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: The New Year Outlook. (1915)

Editorial from the January 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

We write on the eve of a New Year. It is no fault of ours that the strings we touch respond with doleful note. Only hypocrisy can furnish at such a time as this the light words which are considered seasonable and appropriate to the completion of another round of the calendar. Even the thoughtless mob, into whose pates it is so difficult to get an idea, take on the gloomy mental tone which the wholesale butchery now in progress everywhere impresses, and find escape in judicious circumspection from the obviously ridiculous. Thus by general consent the customary "Merry Christmas" of our greeting has been reduced to a "Happy," and we are wishing and being wished the ominously qualified "Brighter New Year."

Alas! the "vanity of human wishes"! Any discerning mind can see that, black and lowering as is the visage of the year departing, that of its successor is infinitely more threatening still. All the fighting and bloodshed of the past four months, terrible as it has been, has not in effect been a part of the main struggle, but only the fight for the field whereon the main conflict is to be decided. The real butchery us yet to come. Not for such preliminaries as have so far been worked out have the resources of nations been strained for half a century; not for such military child's-play as has comprised the war up to now has invention been added to invention in the making of the instruments of mechanical slaughter. For the full exploitation of these the ground had to be prepared by long and strenuous toil. The late fighting has been no more than a cover for this preparation It is left for the New Year to provide that appalling welter of blood in which the awful efficiency and progress of modern armaments are about to prove themselves.

On the eve of such a catastrophy every sound must he a note of mourning, and the very atmosphere must lie heavy and stifling with the presence of Doom. Tho air in charged with ruin for victor and vanquished alike and millions of working-class homes this unhappy Now Year will pay in blood and tears for capitalist greed and working-class ignorance.

To tho Socialist, however, every capitalist operation, however foul and bloody it may he, has some element of working-class good in it. The present tragedy is no exception to the rule. The workers will learn from the conflict many things which tho “fog of war,” together with tho fog of our pastors' and masters' lying and deceit, cannot obscure. Thoy will learn, for instance, just tho value of working class lives in tho estimation of those who have grabbed the world. They will learn— those who come through it alive, whose interests they hate really been fighting for. They will learn many other useful lessons also, which will readily suggest themselves to the mind of the initiated.

In a matter more directly connected with our propaganda, too, the war will certainly have the beneficial effect of clearing the atmosphere. It has for long been the habit of the Labourites and others in this country, and those occupying a similar position abroad, to boast that they held in their hands the instrument which would make it impossible for the ruling class of Europe to carry on a great war. This instrument was the General Strike. We all know how persistently it was stated that the organised workers of the various countries would, immediately on the outbreak of war, paralyze the war mongers by “downing tools"! Yet where is there to be found a single instance, in the whole vast war- stricken expanse, of this "heroic” policy coming to fruition ?

The "fog of war,” we are aware, hides many things from our view. Wo know, for instance, that we have not been told the truth with regard to the attitude of tho German Social-Democratic Party in relation to the war. Hence we are chary of criticism in cases where we may possibly not be in possession of all the facts. This, however, is obvious: If any attempt was made in Germany to put the policy of tho General Strike into operation, that attempt, in its utter failure to even so much as become an item of news, is as destructive to the theory as would be the failure to make the effort. But with regard to tho advocates of the General Strike as an anti war measure in this country we are not in tho dark. Mr. Keir Hardie, for example, one of the more prominent of those at home who have toyed with the idea, has written to tho Press denying that he has told the workers not to enlist, adding : “I know too well what is at stake.” It is not out of this frame of mind that anti-war strikes are developed.

In this direction, as in many others, events have proved the truth of what we have consistently contended, namely, that the political conquest is the essential preliminary to any action involving the defeat of the present controllers of tho political machinery. No wild words or frenzied ravings about "taking and holding” on the one hand, or “general striking” on the other, can replace political control. At the very outset this is shown in the adoption of martial law. more or less stringent according to the necessity of the case, by every country involved in the war. By this simple means the ruling class, through their servants the “heads of State” can deprive the people of every constitutional right if they so desire—can compel them, even, to go into the field of battle and there offer their bodies to the bayonets of tho "enemy.”

What sheer rubbish, then, the war has proved all this talk of anti-war strike to be. To its advocates the opportunity came, and it found thorn powerless to avert war. The reason of the failure is easily seen. No matter whether the proletariat proceed against the master class by way of General Strikes or political conquest this one condition is essential to the carrying out of the operations—knowledge of working class interests, or, as we say, class consciousness. Only this can save the workers from being swayed by national sentiment when war is let loose. For this reason it is impossible, quite apart from the question of whether the step could be successful, to initiate a General Strike against war.

The only thing that can undermine the power of the ruling class is working-class political knowledge; the only way in which the political control can be wrested from the ruling class is by political action based sternly upon sound working-class political knowledge. The spectacle of the impotence of the so-called Socialist parties of Germany, Austria, and France, has proved this, whatever splits and quarrels may be revealed with the passage of time, and it is for us to drive home this further lesson of the war.

Meanwhile, the capitalist Press is travestying the position of the Socialists. Aided by treacherous reactionaries of the M Beer type, our masters’ newspapers play tho game of pretending that the Macdonalds in this country, and the Vanderveldes and Bernsteins on the Continent, are the Socialists. We hope next month to issue a strong repudiation of the actions of these men.

‘To End All Wars’ (2016)

From the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Working Class Movement Library in Salford is running an exhibition to mark the centenary of conscription in WW1 (it’s on till the end of April).  By late 1915, there were too many casualties and not enough volunteers, and the Military Service Act of January 1916 introduced conscription. The display contains both original documents and wall panels with illustrations and texts. It has a lot of interesting material, especially on the role of women in opposing the war and on opponents of the war who have previously been known mainly to their families. Presumably because of the library’s holdings, it emphasises the role in resistance of the No-Conscription Fellowship and the Independent Labour Party, with particular attention to activities in the north west of England, towns such as Hyde and Bolton.

Altogether in Great Britain (the Act did not apply in Ireland), there were 16,000 conscientious objectors (COs); compare this to the over five million who fought. Taking a stand as a CO required a great deal of courage, and over 6,000 spent time in prison. There is a short account of the two Basnett brothers, who were sent to Kinmel Park barracks in North Wales but escaped from there and managed to remain at large. Many COs agreed to undertake ‘non-combatant’ work, which involved things such as sewing mailbags and pulling ploughs: it was supposedly of national importance, but in fact its purpose was almost entirely punitive.

Alexander Haycock performed hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs, but was later the ILP MP for Salford West in 1923–4 and again 1929–31. Fenner Brockway, who helped found the NCF, did hard labour in Walton Prison in Liverpool, became a Labour MP and ended up in the House of Lords. Both stood for reforming capitalism.

Across the road, Salford Museum and Art Gallery is hosting an ongoing series of exhibitions on the war under the theme ‘Salford Remembers’. This has some displays on the allotments developed locally to support the war effort, and material on Salfordians who were COs, nurses or soldiers, including some killed in France or at Gallipoli.

It also notes that eleven COs from Greater Manchester died in prison or shortly after their release. No COs were executed, but mistreatment led to the deaths of quite a few. 
Paul Bennett