Thursday, July 7, 2016

The World Socialist Party of the U.S. Turns 100 (2016)

From the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is now just a century since the WSP established itself in the USA. Other such organizations arose at about the same time in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, from similar circumstances: SPGB comrades became world travelers to escape conscription in The Great War, spreading knowledge and understanding of the case for socialism as they went. In the Twenties and Thirties these early parties took steps to form what we now call the World Socialist Movement.
In Detroit, Michigan, British 'slackers' Moses Baritz, Adolph Kohn and others conducted a series of classes on Marxian theory at Duffield Hall. Out of these classes, some 43 individuals, 19 of them belonging to the Michigan section of the “Socialist” Party of America (SP of A), held a conference on 7 July 1916 at which they voted to form a revolutionary socialist party based on the SPGB’s object and principles. They chose to name the organization The Workers’ Socialist Party, since the SP of A objected to 'Socialist Party of the U.S.'
Among these original founders of the WSP(US) were Bill Davenport, its first Secretary; Bill Gribble, a Canadian, its first Organizer; Isaac Rabinowich, usually called simply 'Rab,' around whom Boston Local was to form; and Walter Green, influential in establishing a Local in New York.
With the infamous Palmer 'Red raids' of 1919, the group felt it prudent to reincarnate themselves as the Socialist Education Society. Not till 1931 did the SES Locals in Detroit, New York and Boston reconstitute the Workers’ Socialist Party.
Two good sources for early WSP history are Bill Jerome’s in the Western Socialist (No 4, 1966) and more comprehensive account, Role-modeling Socialist Behavior: The Life and Letters of Isaac Rab, by his grand-daughter Karla Rab (November 2010 (; available on from which much of this present article is drawn.
Isaac Rab speaking from the WSPUS platform.
The Thirties, Forties and to some extent the Fifties were the years of greatest sustained activity for the WSP(US). During WWII, many comrades were drafted, and Party Rules prevented members of the Armed Services from being in the organization; but when draftees returned, they usually rejoined. It was a time of 'keeping the ‘social’ in ‘socialism’' as some comrades put it: party socials at Headquarters and in comrades’ homes were almost weekly events.
In 1947 the Workers’ Socialist Party became the World Socialist Party, thanks to a push from the Trotskyite 'Socialist' Workers Party. The postwar 'anti-communist' hysteria brought a McCarthyist makeover of the Palmer period; it was, if possible, still more artificially contrived — but with the same chilling effect. The WSP’s activities drew fewer newcomers as a result. There were enough comrades to keep things going, although membership was declining.
SPGB Comrade Gilbert McClatchie (Gilmac) paid his first of many visits to the USA in 1954. He got to meet East Coast comrades in Boston, and also visited California on that trip.
Out West, Jack MacDonald was propagating socialist ideas from his bookstore in San Francisco; other Canadian expatriates, like Bill Hewitson (Winnipeg) also turned up in California over the years.
In Los Angeles, W.Z. Miller, Frank Neale, Fred Evans, Walter Henderson and others had formed a Local, sometimes meeting in MacArthur Park. Bill Pritchard, one-time editor of the Western Clarion and a famous co-defendant at the Winnipeg General Strike trial who tied up the proceedings with an epic filibuster, was to become involved with Local Los Angeles as well. A member of the old Socialist Party of Canada (but who left the socialist movement when that SPC expired in 1926), Pritchard found his reputation had preceded him; he was allowed to stay in the U.S. after 1938 on a promise not to 'join any organizations.' And he kept a low profile until the Sixties, when he officially joined the WSP and began writing articles for the Western Socialist. (In 1939 the 'new' SPC had moved the WS to Boston to evade the wartime censorship.)
During Gilmac’s later visits and those of other British comrades following his example, comrades in Boston and elsewhere were always able to arrange speaking opportunities for them, often on the radio where there was good exposure. Cyril May, Jim D’Arcy, Adam Buick (who spent ten weeks with the Boston members in 1964, including an excursion up to the SPC’s Toronto and Montreal Locals) and many others came and took advantage of American propaganda opportunities during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Tony Turner also visited, following his resignation from the SPGB.
By 1966, Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam was reaping the whirlwind in the form of a vociferous and growing anti-war movement, adding to the Civil Rights struggle already engulfing the Establishment. An ongoing debate arose within the party around how to respond to the Civil Rights movement: of course, the right of African Americans to vote was a cause that socialists must support — but was the fight for civil liberties ultimately just an attempt to make capitalism work better? Broadly speaking, Rab argued, it was not, but the drive to establish equal rights for all before the law was essentially a reform, because it did nothing for establishing real equality among all people. It was an illusion to think Black capitalists had common interests with Black workers.
Internally, the party was having a hard time finding members to carry out basic administrative tasks, but it was forging ahead again: a minor renaissance was taking place, with membership growing during the late Sixties in both numbers and enthusiasm. Promising new members like Bill Jerome and Steve Butterfield (who wrote as Stan Blake) joined the party. Both wrote for theWestern Socialist.
Enough new members joined in the Boston area to revive the LAC, or Local Administrative Committee, which consisted of five younger members (Steve Butterfield and his wife, Connie; George and Karla [Rab] Ellenbogen, and Bill Jerome) and oversaw all activities within the Boston Local, mainly indoor meetings, outdoor meetings held on Boston Common, covering protest meetings, and so on.
The older members like Rab, Harry Morrison and George Gloss, all of whom spoke often on the Common, tended to concentrate at the NAC level, but younger members like George Ellenbogen and Bill Jerome, for instance, might also find their way onto the National Committee. Jerome, elected to the NAC, was quickly co-opted onto the Editorial Committee as well to replace Len Fenton. This was symptomatic of a party in which too few members were having to wear too many hats.
Aware of this problem, the WSP(US) back in 1950 had moved its National Office from Boston to Detroit in an attempt to free up the Boston comrades to do more propaganda work by reducing their administrative tasks. For five years Detroit comrade Irving Canter served ably as National Secretary, but to no avail, and the National Office returned to Boston.
Annual conferences were sometimes rowdy; one comrade from Glasgow returned home with the alarming impression that the WSP(US) was about to implode from infighting. But these fireworks really only registered a predictable frustration among comrades who perceived that very important tasks were not yielding expected results.
By the late Sixties, most party activity was occurring in Boston. New York Local, which in the early years had been the center of activity, had lost its fire. Years went by when no new members joined. Even Sam Orner, an old Wobbly who had led the 1934 taxi drivers’ strike, could no longer inspire anyone apart from his family to join the struggle for a better world. Orner argued that New York Local was not adequately publicizing its existence, but his was a voice in the wilderness.
The mid-Seventies brought one golden moment: PBS Channel 44 offered a half-hour of prime time free on 'Catch 44' to any community group requesting it. The party jumped at the chance, producing three videotaped segments. The first two used a “talking heads” format; the third was a dramatization.
By the end of the 70s, Local New York was defunct. Local activity in Boston was dwindling, too. The World Socialist Party (US) now found itself a party of members at large, placing its organization on a tenuous national basis for the first time in its history. In fact, it was a member at large who did arguably more work for socialism than any other other American comrade during that period. Starting in 1976, Sam Leight, a real estate broker in Tucson, Arizona ran a series of radio broadcasts from which he generated two books: World Without Wages (Money, Poverty and War!) and The Futility of Reformism. (Earlier, Leight had also participated in the NAC as a member at large.)
Late in the Seventies, the Western Socialist dropped to two issues a year, ceasing publication entirely in 1980. The West Coast’s already sporadic activity grew faint. Boston was now the only active center left, yet this was precisely when things took a turn for the worse. From 1973 on, Rab suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease; on New Year’s Eve, 1986, he finally succumbed to pneumonia. The party, doubting its ability to make good use of a bequest from a member, voted to send the money to the SPGB. And in 1982 developers chased the WSP out of its fourth headquarters at 295 Huntington Avenue.
It was a bleak moment for the entire party; the NAC’s administrative functions ceased to be carried out, and the meetings (now held in a comrade’s home) became those of a correspondence committee, its Minutes an occasional 'Report to the Membership.'
Then in 1986, a young recently-joined Michigan member, collaborating with an SPC member from the Toronto area, brought out a new party publication, the World Socialist Review — a shoestring successor to the defunct Western Socialist produced on an office photocopier. After the second issue, Aaron Feldman, the new National Secretary, asked the present writer (a desktop publishing enthusiast) to see what he could do with it, and so a morphed WSR revived the SES tradition of an 'occasional' journal. Boston-area members (Fenton, Mike Philips, Ken Stewart, Karla Rab and myself) did stage a minor rally toward the end of the 80s, in tandem with a speaking tour by SPGB comrades Steve Coleman and Richard Montague; but not until nearly a decade later, in 1997, did a group of us set about re-establishing a functional NAC as a first step toward bringing the party back to life.
The new NAC has had its ups and downs, to be sure, although the continuous revolutionizing of communications and computer technologies has opened up once unimaginable opportunities. The WSM has embraced the Internet, with all the companion parties having linked Websites, blogs, social media and so on. The WSR, thanks to the good offices of Comrade Morgan Miller on the West Coast, was transformed by referendum into a 'print-on-demand' yearbook — a very workable concept that bridges the gap between print and electronic publishing. This should soon allow the WSP to make better use of its resources — although at this writing, only the first such yearbook has been produced, and a second is planned.
And so, after a century, even if the World Socialist Party is not as active as we have been, we are still working to make socialists. Still lacking, unfortunately, is a conscious, political majority of socialists eager to move society on to the next phase of social evolution.
Ron Elbert (World Socialist Party of the United States)

Facts and Promises. (1915)

From the April 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

The great slaughter still rages! Carnage and desolation follow in the wake of the contending armies. The spirit of murder animates the ruling class! Like all other wars, this war is economic in its origin. Like all other wars, it is being waged in the interests of the master class. Like all other wars, it is fought mainly by the working class. Roughly there are about 20,000,000 workers engaged in the senseless and brutal task of destroying each other. When this frightful carnage is ended to the satisfaction of our masters, what benefit will accrue to those workers who are shedding their blood? Almost every available means has been used by the ruling class and their hirelings to lure the working man into the vortex of war. From the campaign in the Press, down to the wholesale "sacking" of employees of military age. Into all trades and callings have the Army officials forced their way; the latest phase of their recruiting campaign being that of urging the Grocers' Federation of Great Britain to dispense with all their available men to become "cannon fodder," and engage women for the work in the shops. At the same time they urged employers to assist members of their staffs who, by enlisting will make "considerable financial sacrifice." Apropos of which we cull the following from a letter in the "Daily Chronicle" (25.3.15): 
"Sir,—I am an old soldier, and served my country for two years in Africa. I am married and have a family of 7 children. On the outbreak of the War I rejoined the colours. My employers posted handbills all over the place offering 10s. a week to all married men who enlisted, and free house and coal, and our jobs back when we came home. But what happened after they found our fleet was too strong for the Germans and that Kitchener was going to get all the men he wanted or could equip, and that they were in no danger of losing their works? They suddenly stopped paying the 10s. a week ; - a little later they stopped the coals, and now they say soldiers' wives will have to pay house rent, and we are not in a position to guarantee you your employment on your return."
And yet the British capitalist class through their Government entered this conflict on the pretext that Germany had refused to recognise the “scrap of paper" guaranteeing Belgian neutrality. This conduct is typical of the attitude of the master class toward those whom they trap into fighting their battles for them. 

Some of those now doing the vile work of their paymasters on the Continent will return some day to the same conditions of slavery in factory hells and mines for just a subsistence wage, lucky indeed if they get that. The greatest of all wars will still continue, and maybe some of those now “somewhere in France" will then be engaged in a strike or lockout against the masters, probably to be shot down by their military comrades in the struggle for a miserable subsistence. This, then, will be the return for all the arduous toil and suffering of the trenches.

We urge the workers of all countries to organise as a class to gain control of the political machinery in order to establish the Socialist Commonwealth, whence shall arise happiness, comfort, and luxury for all. Speed the day!

The End of the Day (1975)

From the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
The less well-off (95% of the population) live in cities, sometimes in old-age homes, more often in their own apartments. In New York, lots of them have lived in their own apartments for 30 or 40 years. The bathtub is in the kitchen, the toilet in the hall, and the apartment may be on the fifth or sixth floor of a walk-up. Their lives are circumscribed by their church and maybe a friend or two. Their children are too busy with their own lives to spare any time. So they spend their days watching television. In summer they would like to go outdoors but in most areas there is no place for them to sit and they are too frightened of muggers to go to the park. THEY’VE WORKED HARD ALL THEIR LIVES and they may have saved a couple of hundred dollars but they want that money to go to their grandchildren and they would rather die than touch it. Gradually they just wither away, alone, unnoticed, unattended and uncared for  . . .  A great many elderly people are so poor they must live in cockroach-infested rooms in dingy rooming houses or welfare hotels.
The above sounds the sort of thing you could read in the Socialist Standard any month over our seventy years and it might seem eccentric of us to be quoting ourselves at such length. But it isn’t. It’s not even from our American companion journal, the Western Socialist. The quote is from The Guardian and is from one of its New York correspondents, Jane Rosen; the only liberty taken is to put one phrase in capitals. The Guardian gives it a heading: “The American Way of Lingering Death”. The article certainly justifies it. What an indictment of the whole appalling capitalist jungle it is. This is the story of the vast majority of the population who constitute the working class. This is America, agreed by everyone to be the richest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen. God's Own Country. The Land of the Almighty Dollar. And who produces all that unbelievable wealth? Well, who else can it be, if not the working class? (Nobody would even suggest that God makes any of it.) So it’s just too marvellous, isn’t it? The working class works hard all its life and produces wealth that makes Croesus or Midas look like church mice.

It’s true that even the capitalist doesn’t take it with him. He has to engage tax lawyers to cheat the revenue out of as much as possible when he dies (as he has been doing that all his life this is clearly fair and consistent). At any rate, that is one problem the working class are not bothered with. The tax man is not going to waste time with their derisory couple of hundred dollars. So we can confirm (in case anyone doubted it) that the net result of a worker’s lifetime of hard work is just his own bag of bones. And instead of the evening of life being reasonably pleasant and restful before the inevitable end arrives, we find that the article under review has a special quote: “When I went to sleep at night, I used to pray I wouldn’t wake up.” Which is the sort of sentiment you would expect from the poor devils who are confined to the Gulag Archipelago (and they have those in many countries in the world besides Russia). Living in a concentration-camp society, it is only natural to pray for a merciful release from a life worse than death. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about America, the Land of the Free.

Of course, the sad part is that there is not the slightest sign that any of these aged poor, with nothing to do but think of the life they are leaving behind (or which is leaving them behind), get a glimmer of insight, late in the day, into the society which has swindled them out of the fruits of their lives. Has in fact conned their whole lives off them. Perhaps it would be too awful a thing to contemplate at that stage of the game, when it’s clearly too late to do anything about it. But unfortunately there is no reason to believe that even that is the reason. The workers who spend their lives working to produce the good life for a small minority of parasites without, for the most part, even thinking as to what it’s all about and why they should be the victims of this iniquitous social set-up, don’t think any harder when the end draws nigh and they can see with appalling clarity that they have been robbed of all that they have worked for. As they finish up with nothing, that must surely be clear even to the blindest worker.

It is even sadder to note that another worker in the picture doesn’t cotton on to this, either. Jane Rosen who writes the article is capable of writing a piece that is both cogent and compassionate about the lot of the elderly members of her own class. But you will look in vain for the slightest sign that she understands the truth behind the sordid scenes she (quite movingly) writes about. And this despite the fact that she tells us that many old-age homes are run by capitalist sharks who batten on their victims in a way that makes a concentration camp seem a not-unfair comparison. As these operators are flouting the law in their machinations, they can look for protection— and get it—from no less than Nelson Rockefeller, formerly the Governor of New York and now Vice-President of the USA. This scion of Rockefeller the First, a legendary figure in the history of truly vicious exploitation, is himself supposed to be a comparatively nice guy (well, it would be difficult not to be)—though he inherits the blood-soaked billions without complaint, of course. But he regards it as an integral part of his duty as a ruler of the system, to ensure that the robbery and degradation of the working class goes on unimpeded till death.

Jane Rosen knows all this and writes very ably in describing it. But she sees no more clearly than the wretches—members of her own class, of course, although perhaps she would be loth to admit this—she writes about, that all this misery in the midst of dazzling wealth is the result of legalized fraud and could be altered almost unimaginably by a change of society to social ownership.
L. E. Weidberg

Picking the winner (1970)

Book Review from the February 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Selection of Parliamentary Candidates, by Michael Rush. Nelson Political Science Library 63s.

This book was originally a thesis for a PhD and has the vices and virtues one would expect from this. It has obviously been carefully researched and no doubt the facts can be accepted as authentic. It will probably be useful to students as a work of reference. But for the general reader it must be frankly admitted that it is boring to a degree.

This is the fault of the subject not of the author. Even the most avid follower of current politics (assuming such people even exist) will hardly find their blood pressure rising as they learn how the main parties come to select their candidates for parliamentary elections. How much does it matter if the Tories choose their candidates in pairs, man and wife being both suitable, very much like Noah arranging his passengers for the Ark? In practice, all this sort of thing makes little or no difference at all to the working of the political set-up.

The author is terribly concerned (as indeed are many others) with the fact that in the very many “safe” scats, the process of selection by the local party caucus is tantamount to selection of the MP. So it is. And so what? The author fails to worry about the real problem, which is why the seat is safe in the first place. And the answer to that, clearly, is that the voters can be relied upon to elect a certain breed of capitalist candidate, normally Tory or Labour (a Liberal safe seat is no doubt these days a contradiction in terms). If that situation altered, if the voters decided to do some of their own political thinking, then the apparent power of the local caucus to send its man to Westminster would be rudely shattered. And the author’s main worry would be a thing of the past.
L. E. Weidberg

South Africa’s “Communists" (1970)

Book Review from the February 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class and Colour in South Africa, by H. J. and R. Simons, Pelican. 21s.

Most of this book is a history of, or rather an apology for, the Communist Party of South Africa, which is not surprising since its authors were both prominent members of that Party at the time of its dissolution in 1950.

The CPSA, like so-called communist parties everywhere, had a shameful record of twists and turns in accord with the changing policies of state capitalist Russia. At one time it backed the white racist Labour Party and its alliance with the Afrikaner Nationalists; at another it was demanding a Black Republic. Then it violently denounced all other labour and nationalist groups; later it sought a "people’s front” with them.

The CPSA became committed to demanding a Black Republic after its 7th Congress in January 1929. The Simons — and this is typical of their apologies — claim this decision was reached democratically and not forced on the Party by the Communist International. Again, when in 1931 a number of the Party’s leaders and prominent trade unionists were expelled, according to the Simons this was another free decision.

A number of embarrassing episodes are glossed over. The Simons merely record without comment the execution of Lazar Bach, then a leading member of the CPSA, when he went to Moscow on its behalf in 1935. Then there is their Party's attitude to the Second World War. "Unlike communists in English-speaking countries, and without any prompting or instructions from outside”, we are told, “the party’s central committee went into opposition immediately on the outbreak of war”. They called for an immediate peace and pointed out to the Africans, Coloureds and Indians the hypocrisy of the government’s claim to be fighting for democracy while denying them the most elementary democratic rights. After the invasion of Russia in June 1941, of course, the CPSA was all out for the war. Now they opposed strikes and urged African and other workers to settle their grievances “while avoiding any stoppage of work”.

There is also much more than meets the eye behind the Simons’ special criticism of the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) and its policy of non-collaboration (e.g., boycott of elections to Native and Coloured councils) with the government. The Simons suggest that this was a policy of inaction that particularly appealed to the Coloured teachers who led the NEUM since it gave them an excuse not to engage in activities like contesting elections that might endanger their jobs. Maybe, but the CPSA has good reason to try to discredit the NEUM since, as a trotskyist-influenced and more radical body, this is their main rival for the support of African, Coloured and Indian political activists.

It is facts like these which suggest that other parts of the book are probably unreliable too.
Adam Buick

“What Would We Do Without Leaders?” (1929)

From the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

On October. 22nd, 1928, Mr. Andrew Fisher died; peacefully, and "full of years and honour." Three months later occurred the death of "Jerry," an old ram well known in one of the great American stock-yards. Mr. Andrew Fisher, affectionately known as "Andy," and the old ram were both "leaders." Mr. Andrew Fisher was a "Labour” leader, "Labour” Prime Minister of Australia in 1914. He achieved fame by coining a phrase which was well known, if not exactly cheering, to the troops during the Great War. This was his pledge, on behalf of Australia and the Australian workers, to fight to "the last man and the last shilling.” Some 200,000 Australian Trade Unionists enlisted, and many thousands were killed, wounded or missing in keeping Mr. Fisher’s pledge. Mr. Fisher was not one of these. He preferred pursuits less strenuous and dangerous than war. We are told by a writer in the "Manchester Guardian" (October 23rd) that "the only relaxation he allowed himself was an occasional game of golf." The German humorist who said that the pledge meant England’s determination to fight to the last Scotchman, evidently did not know that Mr. Andrew Fisher was a Scot.

"Jerry" was a leader of sheep. He used to lead them to the slaughter-house, just like "Andy,” but he was one up on his Labour colleague. Whereas "Andy" at most only sent 200,000 Trade Unionists into the Army, "Jerry” scored some 7 million among his kind of sheep. And while some of Andy’s victims came back, more or less whole, none of Jerry’s sheep ever escaped to tell the tale. On the other hand it has to be admitted that Jerry only succeeded in getting his sheep to commit suicide. Even Jerry might have failed to get them to murder each other, as did the world’s workers in their masters' war.

Jerry and Andy were both highly esteemed by the Capitalist class. Jerry was valued and popular in the stock-yards, and Andy was offered (but refused) a knighthood.

Jerry and Andy both died peaceably in their beds.

Mr. Siegfried Sassoon, in a poem called "Base Details,” has portrayed the type of non-combatant military "leader” :—
If I were fierce, and bald and short of breath,
   I'd, live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death,
   You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
   Reading the Roll of Honour. “Poor Young Chap,”
I’d say—"I used to know his father well;
   Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.”
And when the war is done and youth stone dead.
   I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.
And any workers who "don’t know what they would do without leaders ” and are wondering how the Capitalist class will get their "cannon fodder” for the next great slaughter, will be relieved to learn that Australia soon found a suitable successor to Mr. Fisher. Less than two weeks after Andy’s death, Mr. Theodore, director of the Australian Labour Party’s campaign in the elections, referred to the action of his party in supporting the last war, and added:—"No one can impeach the Labour Party on its loyalty to Australia, Great Britain or the Crown. Whenever the test has been applied. Labour has never flinched from doing its duty.” ("Manchester Guardian,” November 18th, 1928.)

What would the Capitalist class do without "Labour” leaders?
Edgar Hardcastle

The Passing Show: African Edition (1960)

The Passing Show column from the March 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don't do as I do

Sir Roy Welensky has made the point several times recently that African politicians in the Rhodesian Federation must not presume to aspire to the Premiership. For example, in a statement reported in The Times (18/1/60) Sir Roy said: “Ambitious African leaders wanted a break-up of the Federation because it would mean fulfilment of their personal ambitions to be Prime Ministers and Ministers of black States."

Socialists have their own opinions about "ambitious African leaders," or about ambitious leaders of any nationality. But if anyone can lecture others about their "personal ambitions to be Prime Ministers," surely Sir Roy Welensky can't. He used to be Premier of Southern Rhodesia, and is now Prime Minister of the Rhodesian Federation. Another case, it seems, of "Don't do as I do, do as I say.”

Capital is safe

Any capitalist who is still dubious about the new independent capitalist states now being set up throughout Africa can take heart from a letter written by Sir Robert Kirkwood which appeared in The Times of 27/1/60. Sir Robert, writing from Jamaica, points out that: “When I first came here, 20 years ago, the average white Jamaican openly and vociferously argued, and genuinely believed, that the “black man" was quite incapable of running the country. And even conservative coloured and black Jamaicans averred that universal adult suffrage could never work here."

But the British ruling class decided to set up the West Indies as an independent federation. The result has been a great development of capitalism. As the letter says: "More economic progress has been achieved in the short time since Jamaicans elected under universal adult suffrage took over the Government than in the previous century."

Even capital owned by Europeans is quite safe: “Nor have I ever detected that our politicians' felt the slightest inclination to penalize capital of any description going about its legitimate business."

The “legitimate business" of capital being, of course, to wring surplus value out of the workers. Sir Robert warns of the dangers of thwarting the "rightful ambitions" of the native ruling class:
I am certain that most of our present West Indian leaders, who have earned general commendation from Europeans resident in these parts, as well as in their missions abroad, would have been capable. only a few years ago. of leading revolutions, bloody revolutions, if their rightful ambitions to govern in their own homes had been indefinitely and unreasonably deferred.
The letter goes on to assure fainthearts that the African nationalists, too, only wish to develop capitalism in their own countries:
Although I nave not visited Africa myself. experienced and reliable Jamaican friends of mine who know the leaders in Kenya. Nyasaland. the Rhodesias. etc., tell me that most of these men. though dedicated and even fanatical nationalists, are, for the most part, far from holding radical views in economic matters. My friends consider that once elected to power these men would seek advice and assistance, and govern with a sense of responsibility and attention to what is best for the, economic, development of their respective homelands.
It is obvious that Sir Robert Kirkwood, at least, does not see any danger to capitalism when formerly colonial countries become independent.

Diamonds thicker than dogma

The diamond producers of the Western world let the Central Selling Organisation of the De Beers group of companies handle virtually all their diamonds: thus this South African concern is able to maintain high prices and high profits for the shareholders of the diamond companies. The Observer (24/1/60) called it “one of the most efficient organisations for resale price maintenance that capitalism has yet produced." But recently the Russians discovered large new deposits of diamonds in north-cast Siberia and in the northern Urals. It was feared that once the exploitation of these new mines got under way, the Russians would export their surpluses, and undercut De Beers organisation. This would mean a slump in prices and in profits. But now all is well. The Russians have agreed to let the Central Selling Organisation market all the diamonds they export to the Western world.

As The Guardian says (19/1/60): "The agreement to channel these sales entirely through the De Beers organisation shows that the Soviet authorities have no intention of underselling South Africa, but intend to fall in with the price maintenance arrangements of the African producers in order to get the best possible returns.” So the Russian and the South African capitalists join hands to safeguard their surplus value.


The recent banning by South Africa of a number of the SPGB's pamphlets has led to a certain amount of publicity for the party there. An article appeared in the Johannesburg Star on November 3rd. 1959. There are the sneers which one might expect when a capitalist paper deals with a Socialist Party, but at least the article contained the following:
The SPGB believes in no war. no leaders, no bosses, no capitalism, and no Soviet Communism. It believes in the common ownership of the means of produring and distributing the world's goods, and does not believe that Russia or China any more than the United States or Britain have achieved this.
Free publicity for the Socialist Party can hardly have been one of the results the South African Nationalists aimed at when they clamped their censorship down on our pamphlets.


You may not be interested in boxing, but it could hardly have escaped your attention last summer that a certain Ingemar Johansson had taken the world's heavyweight title from the previous holder, Floyd Patterson. The South African government believes, however, that such knowledge as this would be seditious for all except the white population of South Africa. As it was reported in the Johannesburg Star (14/7/59):
Non-whites arc not allowed to see any film containing "scenes of intermingling of Europeans and non-Europeans.'' That is why non-whites have been banned from seeing the film now circulating of the recent Johannson-Patterson world heavy-weight title fight. Johannson is white, hut Patterson is a negro. So the film cannot he screened at all in non-white cinemas. And in those where non-whites may sit in the gallery and whites in the stalls, the non-whites have to wait outside until this newsreel ends before taking their seats.
If the South African government really thinks that this will keep the coloured population ignorant of the fact that a black man and a white man fought for the title, they must be well out of touch with reality.
Alwyn Edgar

Why War? (1973)

From the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ask that ubiquitous, approachable fellow the Man In the Street about the reasons for war and the chances are that his reply will be one of many variations on the same theme. He will probably say that wars are caused by greed, or belligerence, or power-lust, or simply by mistakes. The common theme is that wars are fought for ideological reasons and that with better people, or better ideas, or better leaders, they need not happen.

This does no more than lead us to the next question: what is responsible for the people, the ideas, the leaders, the mistakes? The 1914-18 war, for example, can hardly be called a surprise or a mistake because Europe had been preparing for it, openly and directly, for about forty years, and under all sorts of leaders.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Germany was an expanding competitor to the established powers of Europe, who had already grabbed most of the markets and raw material sources known in the world. Germany could expand in only one way — by force. That was the background to the arms race and the militarism of the early 20th century and to the great war which followed. The war of 1939-45 was a continuation of this same process, with the Nazis expressing the frenzied ambitions of the German ruling class.

The “peace” conferences after 1945 did not settle any disputes; they merely adjudicated and compromised between a multitude of opposing interests and so carved up the world that the stage was set — as it was in Indo-China and Korea — for the wars of the future.

There could really have been no other result. The world today — capitalist society — is based on the class ownership of the means of producing wealth. The world is divided into states and power blocs, the ruling classes of which are forced to dispute over access to markets, raw material fields, communications and so on.

That is why so many world powers stand guard over the oil of the Middle East, why the Suez Canal is so sensitive a spot in world affairs, why the Russians and Chinese fought over the industry and communications around Vladivostock.

As long as capitalism lasts there will be a conflict of interests; in other words, war is caused by capitalism and cannot be avoided under that social system. The tragedy of this is that the Man In the Street has no reason to go to war; his interests are not involved. Yet he is the one who does the fighting.

He does this because he can see no alternative, which brings us back to his replies to our original question. In fact, Socialism will abolish war because it will bring a community of interests; it will be a society without frontiers, without nations, without classes, without conflict.

The Labour Party (1971)

From the July 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Capitalist Party

Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution, in speaking of securing for, “the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible . . ." is vague and open to a number of conflicting interpretations. "Common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange . . . " is completely meaningless when one realises that the means of exchange are inseparable from the rest of the framework of the capitalist system. For the means of exchange exist only to facilitate the exchange of commodities, and commodity production is production for the market and not for the satisfaction of human needs. It is in fact the basis of capitalist production. Through exchange the capitalists realise the fruits of their legalised robbery of the working class, their surplus value; hence the impossibility of the community commonly owning institutions and mechanisms which exist solely to serve the interests of a minority ruling class.

That the Labour Party can display such ignorance of the nature of capitalist society is understandable when one realises that they have embraced all the ‘new’, short-lived and inadequate theories of orthodox, respectable and academic economics. But even if their object had been beyond reproach in its phrasing, this would still not have made the Labour Party a socialist party, for a party is more than just a declaration of intention. Its organisation, its teachings and its behaviour are the essential things to consider when one categorises any party and judged by these things the Labour Party must be condemned as just one other of the parties that seek to run British capitalism, its working class origin notwithstanding.

The party of Socialism in this country is the Socialist Party of Great Britain which made Socialism its one and only Object in 1904, that is two years before the Labour Party as such was born. The Labour Party, by contrast, had no programme in its Constitution until 1918 because, “it did not wish to exclude Non-Socialists . . . ” (S. F. Markham M.P.) and in the famous policy statement of that year, Labour and the New Social Order which was supposed to have committed the party to Socialism, the word is not even mentioned. The Labour Party then, as now, was concerned with votes above all and was afraid to frighten the electorate. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, saw that only a class-conscious working class could build Socialism. It made its task therefore the advancement of an unadulterated, uncompromising Socialist programme. When the Labour Party did get round to using the term Socialism they simply made the task of imparting Socialist ideas twice as difficult; instead of educating they confused.

Every one of the measures introduced by the Labour Party during its governments has been completely compatible with the structure of capitalist society, and the opposition shown by Tories to measures of State ownership and control is not an opposition to the basic principle as such, but merely represents differing views on the advisability and timing of such measures. The past actions of Tory and Liberal governments, and of other frankly capitalist governments throughout the world, prove that State ownership is just one of the forms by which capitalist ownership can be safeguarded. This holds good for Russia too, for there the new ruling class exploits the workers directly through the State machine and their surplus value can be taken by them openly or disguised as salary form.

The Labour Party has also for years been guilty of encouraging the belief that the system in Russia was Socialist, and one of the claims made for a Labour government at the end of the last war was that it would be able to talk more successfully to a ‘Socialist Russia’ than a Tory Government! The only party that was able to present a Socialist analysis of the Russian Revolution, and that from its very beginning, was logically enough the Socialist Party which, using its Marxian understanding of economics and society, was able to show that the revolution could not produce Socialism but would industrialise and modernise Russia on a capitalist basis suited to needs of a giant 20th Century nation.

Opportunism was inevitable in a party where the bulk of members are only needed to pay their dues, to help at elections and to assist in fund raising. As a party the Labour Party is now a battle ground for the professional politician and for the seeker after power and prestige. Many of the founders of the Labour Party had a completely different view of the future of their party but they built on working-class backwardness not on a class-conscious, enlightened support. And so the distortion of their vision was inevitable.
Melvin Harris