Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Old, Old Story. (1916)

From the January 1916 of the Socialist Standard

A trade-union conference was recently held at the Central Hall, Westminster, at which three ministers addressed the delegates with the avowed object of gaining their influence against any movement by munition workers for an increase in wages. The ministers, with their usual contempt for the representatives of the workers, delivered their speeches and took their departure. What they had said, though economically unsound, contradictory and absurd, was to be taken as gospel and transmitted to the workers. The delegates made no attempt to expose the ludicrous mistakes and wilful misrepresentations contained in the statements of the three ministers. They came to heel, and carried out the instructions of their masters—as good labour leaders have always done in the past.

Asquith figured first, and destroyed the case of his colleagues before they spoke. Four-and-a-half million workers, one-third of the total, had received an average increase of three and sixpence per week. An increase of a fraction over 5 per cent. for the whole of the working-class. He then showed that the cost of living had risen in the same period by 30 per cent. Thus proving that the working class of this country had sustained a reduction in wages of 25 per cent.

No wonder that Mr. McKenna followed with the remark: “I am not sure that I am very fond of explaining to an audience of this kind why, in the present circumstances, it is contrary to the interests of the State to put forward claims for higher wages in particular trades.” The State having, without friction, achieved a 25 per cent, reduction all round could, of course, afford to pay for the overtime worked in those particular trades and even grant a substantial increase in wages but, that would not be business, and besides, the rest of the workers might want a rise as well. We pass over the insinuating remark that the speaker dislikes the task of dissuading the workers from attempting to improve their conditions. He is no doubt fully alive to its contemptible nature. The insinuation is only one trick in the miserable game played by professional politicians and their colleagues the labour leaders.

Mr. McKenna then proceeded to argue that higher wages means higher prices. He may or may not believe in this oft exposed fallacy. But he is confident of one thing: it is a convenient doctrine to impress upon the workers. Especially that section of the workers completely at the mercy of the masters because they are unorganised. Millions of workers, who's wages are below the average, and who are unable to distinguish the real cause of their poverty, are easily persuaded that their fellow-workers are responsible for some of it when they strike for higher wages.

"Very large wages” said Mr. McKenna, “have been earned in many cases. Now, half the trouble would never have arisen if those large wages had not been lavishly spent.’’

Mr. Asquith had previously demonstrated to the delegates that the workers had sustained a 25 per cent. reduction in wages. Thereby proving that their purchasing power had been reduced. But Mr. McKenna bad the audacity to tell them that four-and-a-half million workers whose actual wages have only fallen by 15 per cent. instead of 25 per cent, are responsible for half the trouble, because they spent this fictitious increase, together with their overtime money, instead of saving it. Note, too, the concern of the little brother of the very poor. “The larger demand amongst that section of the community which was enjoying higher wages and higher income sent up the price of the article and diminished, therefore, the power to purchase of their poorer neighbours."

The whole burden of Mr. McKenna’s speech is summed up in his concluding sentences. “Those who demand higher wages must show themselves worthy of higher wages. They must show they can save in the interests of the State and their neighbours, their families and themselves . . . That is the demand you have to make, and, until you can do so, you are not justified in asking for higher wages for a special trade to the injury of all other classes of the community."

His speech was a transparent attempt to raise a popular outcry against that section of the workers who, in the present crisis, could by organised action demand and obtain a substantial—though temporary increase in the price of their labour-power.

It was reserved for Mr. Runciman to insult the intelligence of the assembled delegates. Many labour leaders profess Socialism. Mr. Runciman, of course, knew the extent of their Socialistic knowledge—nationalisation of industries and the like so, after informing them that the Government had spent forty millions buying up sugar, he gravely informed them that it was “one of the greatest Socialistic experiments ever entered upon by any government.” They also purchased wheat from India, the United States, Canada, and the Argentine in enormous quantities. “That” he said, “was Socialism again, but it was Socialism on a business basis, and I should always be prepared to do business on those terms.” And the delegates, well, they quite appreciated these profound remarks because they coincided with their own limited knowledge and confused ideas of Socialism. We read, therefore, without a symptom of surprise that the conference “decided to send to the members of all trade unions copies of the speeches and commend the appeals to their earnest and favourable consideration.’’
F. Foan

The Good Time That is coming. (1915)

From the April 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

To-day we are being told that this is the last war — the war that is to end war. The world that emerges from this inferno, we are given to understand, will never be as in the past. We are wading through a sea of blood, but it is to a New Jerusalem, and a system where antagonisms between nations and classes will have disappeared and rivalry in armaments will have gone for ever. There is to be an enduring peace, in which the legitimate purpose of our lives—“production, and buying and selling"— will go on uninterruptedly—especially the buying and selling of the workers. So say all the capitalist hacks, political, religious, and philosophical.

The war that will end war is the capitalist excuse for war —for what even they are ashamed of. Because they are ashamed the rulers of each country endeavour to fix the blame upon their opponents. So long have they preached the blessings of peace and commended themselves for its lengthy duration (as if anybody but they desired to break it), that no words are strong enough to describe their provocation. “The rights of small nationalities"; “Scraps of paper," and outrages—without which no war has ever yet been prosecuted—are daily recited with melancholy repetition in the capitalist Press, that they may sink into the minds of the workers, become part of their thoughts and loom large in their conversation, and appear to them as reality—as substance, instead of shadow—as something that matters to them.

In order that the flow of recruits may continue, unstinted praise is lavished on those who have joined. They are all good fellows and the brainiest of fighters now, though but a few short months ago many of them were “just poor creatures without initiative or ability." But the ruling class wants them to-day because they are strong and can be trained to fight.

So, in the columns of the Press, they fall upon their necks, woo them with colour posters, and whisper to them of “our" common nationality. We are all brothers to-day, they plead; one nation, one class, one interest, and one purpose. What grandeur there is in the thought that all our differences have been swept away and we are absolutely united against our common foe! Never can there be a relapse. When, in the future, differences arise and class antagonisms—but there, that is unthinkable—are we not one!

How beautiful they all read —the fairy promises of those who need your help! The gaudy futurist pictures of those who are stricken with the deadly fear that they may lose some of their wealth, or that their power to exploit you may be curtailed or purloined by the capitalists of another nationality. They may well commend you for your patriotism, for it is their country you are fighting to preserve to them— their country, and they hold the bonds, the scrip and the gilt-edged securities.

Would you have your country, they plead, ravaged by the foreign invader as France and Belgium have been ravaged ? Will you submit to slavery, outrage, and murder at the hands of the Germans, or will you bring your “strong right arm" to bear against our common enemy and preserve unsullied, our glorious nationality from the deadly peril of German Militarism?

These are words on their lips; but business is in their minds, though they dare not speak the whole truth. If they did they would say: We are at war with the capitalists of Germany for markets, in order that we may increase our trade and profits. Our share in the earth is at stake; our land, mines, railways, and factories may be lost to us, or tribute may be levied upon them by the invader, as has been done in the case of the property of the Belgian capitalists. Keep the German out, or you will be his slaves instead of ours.

According to Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Harcourt, “forced labour for private profit amounts to slavery." This definition exactly describes the condition of the working class in every capitalist country, England included. For every worker being divorced from the means of life is forced to labour for the profit of some capitalist or capitalists.

So the workers in all capitalist lands were slaves before the war. How, then, can they be made slaves by the Germans? But their slavery can be intensified, it may be retorted. True, but not necessarily by reason of a change of masters. Conditions for the workers must intensify as a result of capitalist development, by the simple process of replacing men with machinery, and with women and children, thereby increasing the unemployed and furnishing the capitalists with the necessary power to reduce and to speed up their workers

The economic whip, the spur of the “sack," is far more effective as a slave-tickler than was over the lash of the ancient slave-driver. The capitalist has the experience of history behind him; he goes by results, and knows that the wage slave, driven by the fear of hunger, is more effectively under his control, more amenable to discipline, and has less independence and spirit, than chattel Slaves and serfs. Docility and efficiency are the attributes of the slave, and the wage-slave possesses these in a fuller measure than slaves nave over possessed them all down the steps of time.

When society has once passed out of the stage of chattel-slavery there can be no general return to it. Those trifling exceptions affecting comparatively small numbers in different parts of the world —such as peonage, indentured labour, and the forced labour of the Belgians who receive rations for work performed —these forms only go to show the similarity of conditions for those subjugated—a mere subsistence, under any form of slavery, including capitalism. It is impossible for the workers to be inflicted with something they already suffer. But can the war remove the infliction?

One writer of some standing says: “Whatever the result, the world that will emerge when the deluge of blood has subsided will be a world that will be new and strange." But those who understand the system, who analysed it before the war and have seen the anarchy and greed of the capitalists, even while they were calling upon the workers to make sacrifices for them and their country —those who understand the nature of capitalism, expect no fundamental changes.

There will be, no doubt, delirious and fanatical expressions of joy, with, perhaps, a universal holiday—as when a king is crowned —on the proclamation of peace. But capitalism, with all its horrors, will remain to us. Miners will go down to their death in mines known to be dangerous; workers in every town, sunk in poverty, will continue to breed consumption in reeking slums. The un-classconscious workers will still be goaded by the wretchedness of their conditions to strike, and they will suffer all the penalties of daring to dispute with their masters. The confusionist will still be engaged poisoning the minds of the workers with every kind of superstition that can possibly keep them in ignorance and subjection. The outlook of the worker cannot change as the result of war; while the philosophy of the capitalist—which begins and ends with profits —will remain the same in all the countries concerned. The workers of no country need fear to have slavery imposed upon them, for there is no form of slavery, tried or untried, that can mean deeper poverty, toil, and degradation for them.

The “better time that is coming "can only be the result of the workers’ own efforts, after they have fought the class war to a finish. For this is the only war that concerns the working class — that can open up a new world for them. We, who understand this, continue the struggle even in the midst of national strife, because the quarrels of the capitalist rulers of the different countries—no matter how many millions of workers are involved—are as dust in the balance compared with the quarrel we have with the ruling class. We therefore call upon the workers of all lands to make an effort to understand Socialism. that they may be fully equipped for the last war—and their emancipation.
F. Foan

The Prostitute Press. (1915)

From the April 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism has produced many vile institutions, but none more corrupt and degraded than the capitalist Press, by which the workers are systematically hoodwinked and led astray.

Whenever a section of the workers are goaded by the horrible conditions of their existence, into striking, the cheap and nasty Press lets itself go and pours out a perfect deluge of lies. If the men come out in accordance with the wishes of their trade union officials we are told that they have been led astray by demagogues and agitators; if they strike against the wishes of their officials .they are denounced for having thrown over their “responsible leaders ’’!

For example, on the occasion of the strike movement in South Africa last year, when nine of the strike leaders were deported without trial, that organ of light and truth, the “Morning Post,” presented us with the following gems of editorial wisdom:
first editorial.
"Supposing that Ulster were pacified as Warsaw was pacified on a famous occasion, a legacy of hatred and resentment would be left behind that would sooner or later bring to ruin the new system of government. Force, the Liberals have always told us, is no remedy. Certainly, the attempt to apply it to Ulster will lead to utter and perhaps irretrievable disaster."
Second editorial.
“The Union Government seem to have broken the back of the general strike in South Africa . . . Now, these are strong measures, but it is sometimes necessary to be cruel in order to be kind. General Botha was faced by the danger of a most dangerous and calamitous anarchy and he treated the case with the decision and energy of a soldier and a man of courage and character."
As the showman says: “You pays yer money and you takes yer chice."

But not only does the Press drug the workers' minds in the interest of the masters; it also assists them to poison their bodies by booming adulterated and unwholesome products. Who does not remember the “Standard Bread" craze that was so assiduously boomed by a section of the Press some time ago? One might have thought that the sole concern of these newspapers was for the purity and wholesomeness of the people’s bread, instead of which all the wheat sweepings which had been lying in the warehouses for years, and which are generally used for feeding cattle and pigs, were suddenly taken away—one can guess where they went to.

We Socialists have always contended that lying is the common character of the capitalist Press, and is not confined to the German section of it; and our attitude is justified by our opponents. Even Lord Selborne, in a letter to the “Times" says:
“The Press Bureau consistently slurs over bad news and exaggerates good news. The Press lays every emphasis by poster, headline, and paragraph on that side of the war which is flattering to our pride. It keeps further in the background the news which is disagreeable to us, and the result is that our sense of proportion is being destroyed and that perspective is ceasing to exist. I could multiply instances of what I mean. Frequently, lately, we have seen the roll of casualties of some battles in Flanders amounting to two hundred, three hundred, four hundred men, or even to half a battalion. These casualties took place in February, January, or December, but who can recollect that at the time we received any impression of such loss by the news published? The fact is that these casualties have usually occurred when we have lost a trench or a line of trenches, and the men holding them have been killed or made prisoners. A day or two after this had happened we were probably told that a trench which had been lost had been brilliantly recaptured, but we had never been previously told that we had lost the trench, and we were never told at the time what the loss of the trench or its recapture had cost us.”
Here we have an admission by a leading light of the capitalist class that the people are deliberately being gulled by their penny and halfpenny oracles.

When capitalist society is a thing of the past the Press will be run by the people themselves for its true purpose, viz., for the dissemination of news, and only then will it be free from the hypocrisy, lying, and cant that characterise it to day, because then there will be no capitalist interests to bolster up and no subject class to be kept in mental darkness.
H. T. Edwards

Votes for Ladies (1999)

Book Review from the November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sylvia Pankhurst. A Life in Radical Politics. By Mary Davis, Pluto Press.
Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of the famous suffragette leader Mrs (Emily) Pankhurst, will have done at least one thing for modern feminists: drawn their attention to the complexity of the votes issue before 1914.
Most people will probably think that the suffragettes who chained themselves to railings, knocked off policemen's hats, etc were demanding universal suffrage, i.e. votes for all adult men and women. Actually—and this was a conscious policy decision by the Women's Social and Political Union to which they belonged—they were campaigning for "Votes for Women on the Same Terms as then obtained for Men". But before 1914 not all men had the vote; owing to a property qualification, admittedly fairly low, only about 70 percent of them did. To have extended the vote to women on these terms would (according to one figure quoted by Mary Davis) have enfranchised less than 8 percent of women. Nearly all married women would have remained voteless as their family's "property" was in the name of their husbands.
The WSPU was aware of this and was prepared to go along with it. This meant that what their militant tactics aimed at was, in the contemporary phrase, "Votes for Ladies", votes for rich women. In other words, they were not democrats who were campaigning for votes for all women but, whether intentionally or not, people whose policy would have strengthened the political power of the propertied class by increasing the proportion of capitalist voters at the expense of working class voters. No wonder the Socialists of the time opposed them, as did many ordinary democrats.
However, not all suffragettes were in the WSPU and not all of those in the WSPU favoured this policy aim, Sylvia Pankhurst among them. In fact she fell out with her mother and elder sister over the issue and was expelled from the WSPU in 1914. Her branch became the independent East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) which pursued a different strategy, of including working class women and demanding universal suffrage.
When the war broke out, the WSPU went super-patriotic. The name of their paper was changed from The Suffragette to Britannia and they began, as Sylvia Pankhurst put it, to hand "the white feather to every young man they encountered wearing civilian dress". She moved in the opposite direction, opposing the war. In 1916 the ELFS changed its name to Workers Suffrage Federation and in 1917 its paper Woman's Dreadnought became Workers' Dreadnought; in 1918 the WSF became the Workers Socialist Federation. The WSF was one of the organisations involved in the founding of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1921. Pankhurst, however, was by this time an anti-parliamentarian (so much for votes, for men as well as women) and was opposed to the new party seeking to be affiliated to Labour. For this she was denounced by Lenin as an "ultra-leftist". She lasted only six months in the CPGB before being expelled.
The Workers' Dreadnought continued to appear until 1924 and was a valuable source of information and documentation on the opposition groups in Russia, including those who argued—as indeed did Pankhurst herself—that Russia was heading for state capitalism not socialism. Mary Davis records that in 1923 Pankhurst set up a rival unemployed organisation to that of the CPGB, "the Unemployed Workers' Organisation (UWO), whose slogan, 'Abolition of the Wages System', was supposed to expose the 'reformist' nature of the demand of its rival—'Work or Full Maintenance'". This could only have been a gesture, but one Socialists can appreciate.
By 1924 Pankhurst had tired of the working class and radical working class politics and reverted to being essentially a single-issue reformist. She remained a feminist (deliberately choosing to become "an unmarried mother") advocating such reforms as the introduction of maternity benefit. In 1948 she joined the Labour Party. But from the 1930s on her main centre of interest became Ethiopia. She championed its cause against fascist Italy and came to be a friend of Emperor Haile Selassie. In 1956 she went to live in Ethiopia where she died four years later at the age of 78 and is buried there.
It has been reported (Times, 18 August) that Gordon Brown is supporting the idea that the vacant plinth at Trafalgar Square should be filled by a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst. Evidently, he is unaware that she once advocated the abolition of the wages system and money. Still, come to think of it, better a statue to someone who held this view however briefly than to some warmonger.
Adam Buick

Angry Christians, Hot Dogs and Venezuela (2016)

The Halo Halo! column from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘A majority of millennials now reject capitalism’ reported the Washington Post (26 April) after a recent Harvard University poll concluded that 51 percent of people between 18 and 29 do not support the system and only 42 percent said they did. More interestingly, 33 percent said they supported socialism.
Let’s not start winding up the World Socialist Movement just yet though, our job isn’t quite done. The Washington Post pointed out that ‘Capitalism can mean different things to different people’, and noted ‘Bernie Sanders is profoundly changing how millennials think about politics’. Ah, Bernie Sanders, that American capitalist politician who thinks he’s a socialist. Perhaps someone should inform the Washington Post that ‘Socialism’, too, means different things to different people.
Whether the rightwing Christian Post website has been bamboozled by Bernie, too, is not clear but some joker seems to have told them that socialism has been established in Venezuela and they’re not happy about it. And that Harvard poll has pushed them right over the edge. Anyone browsing their website be warned, you can almost feel their anger and indignation blasting its way through cyberspace and smashing against the inside of your computer screen.
This survey, they say, ‘goes to show you that higher education can’t fix stupid – especially when it’s flowing from the mouths of anti-capitalist educators’. ‘These educators’ they go on, ‘take advantage of their captive audiences, rambling on with their vast “knowledge,” mistaking the blank stares and half-smiles in the room as “interest” having no idea that if they heard themselves in playback, they’d probably stab themselves with their pointing sticks’.
And we thought Christians were such nice, peaceful people. ‘Before all you anti-capitalists jump on the socialist bandwagon’, they warn us, ‘why not first take a look at what’s happening in Venezuela, that pitiful place on the globe where it takes a wheel barrel full of cash to buy a hot dog’. Ah, hot dogs are involved. No wonder they’re angry.
‘I know American socialists are far above eating hot dogs’ their writer explains, ‘and probably prefer munching on exotic tree bark, but if a hot dog is what’s available thanks to your beloved socialism, needing a wheel barrel full of cash to buy one is a bit much, wouldn’t you say?’
It descends into a bit of an incoherent rant after that, although a few paragraphs later we do get a clue about their anger or, at least, their confusion.
Still seething about nasty university lecturers who, although they don’t actually blame them for the economic situation in Venezuela, they do hold responsible for the result of the Harvard poll, and inform us, ‘Venezuela happened – amidst their attempts to paint a rosy picture of socialism, omitting from their lectures historical facts about the collapse of communism in the Eastern bloc’.
Well, Christian Post, here’s a historical fact for you.  There was no communism or socialism in Russia and the Eastern bloc, or in Venezuela for that matter. What they had in Russia, and in Venezuela was just another form of capitalism – administered by the state instead of by big business. And, as we saw in Russia, state administered capitalism is just as useless as private capitalism.
As for your concerns that ‘The International Monetary fund says this year Venezuela’s inflation rate will rise to 500% while other experts predict 700%. That’s why you need wheel barrels loaded with worthless cash to buy hot dogs’. Well, that’s capitalism for you – private or state run. And, we seem to recall, capitalist America too had a bit of a depression back in the 1930s.
And more recently (See ‘Recent census data shows that half the population qualifies as poor or low income, with one in five millennials living in poverty’ and ‘In 2011 child poverty reached record high levels, with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households’.
Rest assured, when we have real socialism, even in America you won’t need a wheel barrel (or wheelbarrow as we call them on this side of the pond) to collect your hot dog – you just won’t be that hungry.
Pass that on to Bernie, will you?