Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Soul of Man under Socialism (1956)

From the October-December 1956 issue of Forum

Most people think of Oscar Wilde as the writer of The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest or that great poem. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Few think of him as a propagandist of socialism, or even a revolutionary thinker. Very few have taken seriously an essay written in 1891—The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and yet this short work has much to commend it.

Wilde was not a “professional revolutionary"; he had little understanding of economics, and had probably never read a word of Marx. He was a “Utopian.” Still, even to-day, The Soul of Man is worth reading—even by scientific socialists.

Socialism and Reformism.
Wilde was no reformer. Of the “very advanced” school of reformers he said: "They try to solve the problem of poverty,  for instance, by keeping the poor alive"; or, he added, by amusing the poor. But, he continued, this is not the solution to the problem of poverty—it is an aggravation. "Accordingly, with admirable, though redirected, intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.”

Wilde also felt that the worst slave-owners were those who were most kind to their slaves, who were the most altruistic and charitable, as they prevented the horrors of me system being realized by those who suffered from them. “Charity,” he wrote, creates a multitude of sins.” The only real and lasting answer to poverty was to reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty would be impossible; to establish Socialism (or Communism) where “each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society . . . ”

Individualism and Authority.
By converting private property into common property and substituting co-operation for competition, society will become a healthy organism; it will give life its proper basis, its proper environment. Socialism, thought Oscar Wilde, will lead to Individualism, or what we would probably term “individuality”—the free expression and development of each individual in his society. Socialism would be, must be, a completely free society, a way of life free from authority and coercion. He saw authority and compulsion as the negation of a society of free individuals, as the enemy of “Individualism.” He writes: —
  “What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either under no necessity to work for a living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial for them, and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men of culture—in a word, the real men, the men who have realized themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realization.”
But the great majority, says Oscar Wilde, have no property; they are compelled to do uncongenial work, “and to which they are forced by the peremptory unreasonable, degrading tyranny of want. They are the poor . . . ” Later in the essay Wilde returns to this lack of Individualism in our present- day society and the dangers of authoritarianism in future society. For, he says: —
  “ It is clear . . .  that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For while under the present system a very large number of people can lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and happiness, under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any freedom at all . . .  Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others.”
Wilde thought that private property had crushed “Individualism ” and the creative spirit in general. But, with the abolition of private property, there would be a healthy and beautiful Individualism; for no one would waste his life accumulating things and symbols of things. Most people exist, but in a socialist world they would really live.

Here Wilde runs parallel with Engels when the latter says that with the seizing of the means of production by society, man for the first time emerges from mere animal conditions into really human ones—from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. “Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time lord over Nature and his own master—free” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific).

Engels and Wilde.
Engels was a “ scientific socialist.” He was in the main scientific, analytical, in his approach to social problems. Wilde was not. He saw poverty, degradation, a lack of freedom or “ Individualism,” and he did not like it. It revolted him. He looked upon Socialism not only as the solution to the problems thrown up by private property but as something desirable in itself, as something beautiful, ennobling. Engels saw it as the logical outcome of social processes.

But for all that, The Soul of Man Under Socialism does give us something. It warns us of the dangers of authority; and it gives us a vision of a future society where all can develop their individual capacities quite freely. Wilde was probably the last of the “Utopians”—and the most human. Let us also be a little “utopian” at times. “ Progress is the realization of Utopias.”
Peter E. Newell

Cooking the Books: More Hot Air About Banks (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Shock data shows that most MPs do not know how money is created' Guardian columnist Zoe Williams began her article (29 October). She was publicising the results of a survey of MPs by the banking reform group Positive Money which claimed that it showed that '85% were unaware that new money was created every time a commercial bank extended a loan, while 70% thought that only the government had the power to create new money.'
This reflects not the assumed ignorance of MPs, who actually got it right, but the confused use of the word money. This is now used to describe two different monetary phenomena. First, what in America is called 'fiat money', money issued by administrative decision by the state as notes and coins and electronically. Second, what used to be called 'bank credit', loans banks make to businesses and individuals. This is now called 'bank money', so banks are regarded as 'creating money' every time they make a loan.
This confusion misleads some into thinking that banks can create money in the same way that the state can, by a mere 'stroke of the pen'. Williams herself wrote that 'all money comes from a magic tree, in the sense that money is spirited from thin air'. But not all money (in the contemporary usage of the word) does, only fiat money – and that doesn't create any new wealth, just more claims on wealth. What commercial banks lend is not 'spirited out of thin air'. It is already existing money that they lend on from what they themselves borrow from depositors and the money market.
Bank lending certainly has the economic effect of increasing spending. It is this that gives rise to the illusion that they are 'creating new money'. But what they are doing is making available, to those who want money to spend, the money of those who don't want to spend theirs for the time being. This is not creating new money, only activating existing money. That's precisely the economic role of banks and their usefulness to capitalism.
As the article (which currency cranks are always citing, though not this passage) in the March 2014 Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin puts it:
'Banks receive interest payments on their assets, such as loans, but they also generally have to pay interest on their liabilities, such as savings accounts. A bank’s business model relies on receiving a higher interest rate on the loans (or other assets) than the rate it pays out on its deposits (or other liabilities). (. . . ) The commercial bank uses the difference, or spread, between the expected return on their assets and liabilities to cover its operating costs and to make profits'.
Their business model is not based on spiriting money up from thin air and charging interest for the loan of it. That would be too good to be true. They have to have the money – or at least have to obtain it fairly quickly, as the German central bank, the Bundesbank explains:
'The banks also keep a constant eye on the costs that may incur by granting loans and creating book money. For example, if the customer uses the new credit balance to transfer money to an account at another bank, from the bank's point of view money will be flowing out. The bank then often has to recover this money, for example by taking out a loan from another bank, or by "refinancing" itself with a loan from the central bank. Alternatively, it can persuade savers to invest cash or credit balances at the bank in the form of savings or fixed-term deposits.' (Link)
In other words, in the end (if not immediately) they have to pay for what they pick from the ‘money tree’.

Progress in Peckham (1914)

Party News from the March 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Peckham Brunch celebrated the first anniversary of its taking over the premises in Albert Road by holding a social on Sunday, Jan 10. This event, which was held at the branch premises, and was the first of its kind ever attempted by the branch, was a great success.

Although not marked by any events of outstanding importance, the past twelve months have witnessed sound and steady progress of Socialism in Peckham. The constant propaganda on Peckham Triangle; the opening up of new ground at Pepys Road, New Cross, at Hanover Park, Rye Lane, at Asylum Rd, New Cross, and at Father Red Cap, Camberwell, has resulted in a steady increase in membership and record sales of literature.

At one of our outdoor meetings a local Liberal challenged our comrade Joy to debate It appears, however, that this must have been done in the heat of the moment, for when we got into communication with him be declined to accept any title to the debate which would allow our representative to place the position of the Socialist Party before the audience. 'This, of course, made the debate impossible from our point of view.

With the advent of winter we recommenced our indoor meetings at our Albert Road Hall on Saturday evenings. An economic class is also being held— on Friday evenings. Friends and opponents in the district are cordially invited to these meetings, at which good discussions take place, while those agreeing with our principles and policy should at once join with us. In Peckham, as elsewhere, there is a mass of working class superstition, ignorance, and confusion to be cleared up. and to accomplish this needs the organised efforts of all who realise that the way to emancipation lies through Socialism.
Branch Scribe.

Socialist souvenirs (2009)

Book Review from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Les souvenirs de Charles Bonnier. Un intellectuel socialiste européen à la belle époque'. Ed. Gilles Candar. Septentrion, Paris.

In a footnote that Engels added to the 4th German edition in 1891 of his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State he mentioned that “a French friend and admirer of Wagner” did not agree with a remark of Marx’s about the early family. The friend in question was Charles Bonnier, who at the time was a young man in his late 20s (he was born in 1863 and died in 1926).

Bonnier was a member of the French Workers Party and a personal friend of its leading figure, Jules Guesde. Because of his knowledge of German he represented the party at international congresses. He had originally planned to pursue an academic career, in linguistics, in Germany but was barred under Bismarck’s notorious Anti-Socialist Law. Instead, he went to England where he lived from 1890 to 1913, teaching in schools and to students in Oxford and, later, as a professor in French Literature at Liverpool University.

These memoirs (in French) are not all that political but he does have comments on the personalities of the leading lights of the Second International who he met, not just Engels but Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eduard Bernstein and Paul Lafargue. We learn that Eleanor Marx kept a number of black cats and that Engels had a nephew-in-law who was a Tory.
Adam Buick

A Walden Ponder (2017)

From the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Henry David Thoreau, born two centuries ago in Massachusetts, rebelled against a treadmill existence of toil and tedium. What can we learn from his ‘experiment’ in simple living?
This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, best known as the author of Walden, a book that recounts lessons learned from two years of simple living in a cabin the author built on the banks of Walden Pond, not far from his home in Concord Massachusetts.
‘I went to the woods’, Thoreau explains in Walden, ‘because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach’. Convinced that ‘our life is frittered away by detail’, he took as his motto, ‘simplicity, simplicity, simplicity’, seeking to reduce his needs to what he saw as fundamental, and thereby limiting the time spent labouring to meet those needs and expanding his personal freedom. What Thoreau sought was not the ‘freedom to be lazy,’ however, but a way to ‘live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.’
His ideal of ‘Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose’ amidst the ‘chopping sea of civilized life,’ with its ‘incessant influx of novelty,’ seems all the more attractive today when the ‘hurry and waste of life’ that he had railed against has reached a proportion that Thoreau could not have imagined.
Trivial Pursuits
Looking back, Thoreau’s age may seem quaint now and to have required hardly any further simplification, but that is really our illusion. The same sort of trivia and tedium that distracts and demoralizes us today was already widespread in mid-19th century America. The mania for news, for instance, afflicted the minds of most Americans, as Thoreau writes:
‘After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. “Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe!—and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself’.
With regards to a proposed trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, Thoreau remarks, ‘We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough’.
These passages, which give a taste of the satirical streak that runs through Walden, bring to mind our own age which groans under the dead weight of celebrity chitchat and trivia. The difference between now and then is just a matter of degree. Tuning out most of the news, which he viewed as mere ‘gossip’, was one way that Thoreau hoped to leave his mind free to pursue worthier matters.
When it came to his reading material, Thoreau guarded the entrance to his mind with an extreme vigilance, only granting entry to the classics, by his own account. But anyone who has entered a zombie state after succumbing to too much click-bait can appreciate the benefits of consuming news in smaller portions.
Working Now, Living Later?
In Walden, Thoreau bemoans how people put off living their lives in favour of ‘earning a living’. He writes: ‘But men labor under a mistake . . . By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before’. Thoreau derides people who are ‘Spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.’
This tragic waste of time is all the worse, Thoreau argued, because the labour that must be performed to earn that living usually brings little if any personal fulfilment and satisfaction to the labourer, who ‘has no time to be anything but a machine’.
The late 1840s, when Thoreau was living at Walden Pond, was the beginning of industrialization in the northeast of the country. Forests were being rapidly felled, railroad lines built, and factories were popping up all over the place. Thoreau observes the working conditions of textile factory ‘operatives’ at the time were nearly as bad as those in England, and not surprisingly, since ‘the principle object is . . . unquestionably that corporations may be enriched’.
He was horrified by the tedious, one-dimensionality of work, arising from the increasing division of labour, and wondered: ‘Where is this division of labor to end? And what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself’.
Toward what end?– That is the question Thoreau is always posing. The benefits in increased production from a system that turns the worker into a mere labouring machine seemed very dubious to him.
Meaningful Work, Useless Toil
In focusing his attention on the quality of the work, rather than the quantity of the outcome, Thoreau views are similar in some important respects to those of William Morris expressed in his talk ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’. There Morris writes, ‘To compel a man to do day after day the same task, without any hope of escape or change, means nothing short of turning his life into a prison-torment. Nothing but the tyranny of profit-grinding makes this necessary’.
Thoreau would have agreed heartily with that view of Morris, as well as his contention that no work can be meaningful unless the worker has some hope of occasional rest and of pleasure in the work itself, as well as some tangible outcome from the effort made. 
Both Morris and Thoreau held the same strong aversion to the separation of physical and mental labour that prevailed in their time as in ours. And the mechanically skilled Thoreau, like the artist Morris, preferred to earn a living through work that engaged his body and his mind, working as a land surveyor or manufacturing pencils for his father’s business, while setting aside his nights to keep the journal that served as the raw material for Walden and other books and essays.
Thoreau thought that engaging in physical labour and outdoor activity had a salutary effect on one’s writing as well. He recommends in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers that ‘steady labor with the hands, which engrosses the attention also, is the unquestionably the best method of removing palaver and sentimentality out of one’s style, both writing and speaking’, adding that, ‘We are often struck by the force and precision of style to which hard-working men, unpractised in writing, easily attain when required to make the effort’.
But of course there is a limit to the benefits of physical labour, and in the case of the exhausted worker, he writes in Walden, ‘Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much” to be able to pluck the “finer fruits” of that labour.
Thoreau sought to steer clear of the extremes of the idle scholar or over-worked labourer, believing that ‘The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly’.
Not Political but Radical
Thoreau was living at a time when, at least in the United States, there was no movement on the horizon that sought to end the alienation of labour and class conflict that prevented both ruler and ruler from easily exercising body and brain; and not surprisingly since capitalism was only beginning to take root in certain parts of the country. Even if there had been such a movement, it seems doubtful that Thoreau would have been among its first converts, since politics was something he largely shunned along with the news.
He did support the abolitionist movement, as many of his friends and family members did, and rose to defend John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry at a moment when that was not an unpopular opinion in the north. But Thoreau was never an activist in the movement.
To his credit, though, Thoreau was not the sort of abolitionist who naively assumed that the body politic would have a clean bill of health once chattel slavery was uprooted. He recognizes in Walden that ‘there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both north and south’ and that perhaps the worst of all forms of slavery is when ‘you are the slave-driver of yourself’. 
Thoreau thus points out that chattel slavery is only the most obvious and obnoxious form of enslavement, and that the more subtle forms are in fact the harder to drive out because hidden.
On top of this recognition of the reality of wage slavery and the like, Thoreau also frequently rails against the money economy and the personal dead-end of commerce and trade. In Walden he bluntly writes that, ‘trade curses every thing it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.’ Similarly, in his essay ‘Life without Principle’, he writes that, ‘The ways by which you may get mon­ey al­most with­out ex­cep­tion lead down­ward. To have done an­y­thing by which you earned mon­ey merely is to have been tru­ly idle or worse’.
Toward What End?
His disdain for slavery in all its forms and for the worship of money might seem sufficient grounds to claim Thoreau as a sort of proto-socialist. But I’m not sure if there is much point in drafting him to our cause. And there are many other political tendencies who seem to have him by the beard already. His essay ‘On Civil Disobedience’ alone has been seen as sufficient ground to fashion him the patron saint of non-violent resistance (despite his defence of the über-violent John Brown) or as a sort of anarchist or anarcho-capitalist.
If Thoreau isn’t really a socialist or even a conscious anti-capitalist, what particular value might his works have for workers today? It seems to me that Walden can, first of all, foster and sustain a proud, rebellious spirit. It has an almost immediate spine-stiffening, morale-boosting effect, I find.
And as workers—facing the present age of austerity, precarious employment, and debt—we have almost no choice but to simplify our lives to some extent. We may not want to raise this effort to the level of a movement, since the capitalist class would embrace an ideology that makes a virtue out of the limited possibilities their system offers us. But nonetheless, as individual workers, we face the challenge of figuring out how to limit the amount of time we have to piss away in wage slavery. Thoreau encourages us to think about what is necessary and what is superfluous, freeing us at times from the purchasing mania that advertisers do their best to stimulate.
But the pursuit of a simpler and freer life brings us up against the ridiculous complexity and waste that characterizes capitalism. This system constitutes the very real limitation to our ability to achieve a genuine freedom. Thoreau poses many fruitful questions regarding what constitutes a meaningful life and labour, but the answers cannot be truly found until we have overcome an absurd social system supported by meaningless toil. That does not mean that it is pointless to simplify our life here and now; only that we have to set our sights on a higher goal as well to be truly realistic.
In other words, this bring us back to Thoreau’s fundamental question: Toward what end? And socialists would say clearly in response: Beyond the dead-end of production for profit and toward a new society of meaningful activity to fulfil our human needs.
Michael Schauerte

Pathfinders: A Rattle of Blockchains (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Blockchains could change our world as much over the next two decades as the internet has over the last two" -  source: -
The thing about revolutions is that it's not always obvious when you're in one. They only reveal themselves in hindsight. Now some are saying there's a new revolution on the horizon that will be as huge as the internet. They claim it will change capitalism, see banks disappear, even abolish global poverty. When we last mentioned this development (Pathfinders, October 2015) investment in it stood at around $360 million. Today it's close to $2 billion, and this may be only the trickle before the torrent ( -
This is the world of the blockchain, and it has implications for socialists too. To understand it though, it's worth understanding something about networks.
Computer networks have in the past followed a centralised model where clients are individual computers communicating via a central server. This client-server structure dates from the early days when computers were the size of basements and operated via 'dumb' terminals capable only of basic input and screen display. Even when terminals got smarter and became PCs, this structure was inherited, and many businesses still use server systems today.
But there are problems with cost and scalability. The network can only be as big and as multitasking as the server can handle. The bigger the network, the bigger the server, the bigger the costs, and the bigger the risks of catastrophic breakdown if something goes wrong. And while the server does the heavy lifting, today's smart PCs are still behaving essentially like dumb terminals.
Consider for a moment an obvious analogy with the state, and centralised state institutions, or any centralised organisational structure. If one applies a top-down exploded view, every hierarchy looks like this. Such client-server structures are historical legacies which remain universal in the capitalist mindset, yet many of the same problems of cost, scalability and risk apply. In addition, these structures are monolithic and unadaptable, and despite massive social and educational advances, smart workers are still required to behave essentially like dumb terminals.
In computing, a new kind of structure, the peer-to-peer (P2P) network, harnesses the power of modern PCs by taking the central server out of the equation. Instead files or bits of files are held on multiple distributed computers, or nodes, and can be disseminated directly to any other node independently of other network operations. Having multiple nodes means parallel processing with no bottlenecks, and it's harder to break, because if a node fails alternative routes exist. P2P is therefore faster, cheaper, more scalable and more robust than client-server systems. But is it more error-prone?
In P2P file-sharing networks, multiple copies of the same data are an advantage. But P2P is now running crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, increasingly popular because unlike bank-mediated digital money the transactions are untrackable. Clearly, multiple copies of the same money cannot be allowed (the so-called 'double-spend' problem), so with no central control or validation, and in an anonymous public network where trust cannot be assumed, what prevents Bitcoin inflating and collapsing in chaos?
Enter the blockchain. Strictly speaking, 'blockchain' is the specific Bitcoin application of a thing called Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), but as Hoover came to mean 'vacuum cleaner', blockchain is now being used to describe any DLT application.
When you make a Bitcoin transaction, the details are distributed across the entire network. To be sure the transaction is unique (ie not a 'double spend') it must be validated. To do this, the system triggers a competition in which freelance 'miners', acting somewhat like accountants, race to validate the transaction in return for a diminishing new-issue Bitcoin payment, which also helps to grow the currency at a controlled rate. Once validated, the transaction is then written into an encrypted public ledger as a permanent record or 'block'. This block is linked to previous blocks and in turn becomes the anchor or link to the next created block, forming an unbroken chain. Any subsequent attempt to tamper with an individual block disturbs the whole chain and results in a network-wide alert. 51 percent of the network, acting in concert, is enough to prevent interference. In plain terms, you can't buy product X on Wednesday and then pretend you didn't buy it on Thursday, at least not unless a network majority allows you to. System integrity is thus maintained, not by central state or bank control but by what could be called a distributed democracy. Barring a direct and unprecedented hack of the block-creating code itself, it's hard to see a weak point in the system. The strong point is that it offers to cut out all the financial middlemen in capitalist commerce. Business gains would be spectacular, which is why investors are throwing money at this.
DLT can in theory be applied to any field where data validation, transparency and integrity are important. Think big and local government, supply lines, transport systems, food quality and provenance, voting procedures, carbon trading, maybe even accreditation of news stories to prevent fake news.
The truth is, nobody is really sure what it can do, and this has provoked some reckless hyperbole. For example, the claim about abolishing global poverty is patently ridiculous. As tends to happen with emergent technologies, DLT is at the centre of a hype storm while still barely developed and little understood even by its investors. Aside from Bitcoin, no blockchain system has progressed beyond pilots and beta tests, although there are more than 400 start-ups. Small wonder some pundits are now saying that it has already reached the peak of expectations and is about to freefall into the 'trough of disillusionment' with its investment bubble bursting.
Yet there remain implications for socialists. DLT suggests a mechanism for a dynamic and decentralised model of socialist democracy and production which avoids the 'double-give' problem in distribution while offering a flexibility and adaptability not associated with traditional centre-periphery structures. More immediately, it could change how workers today understand the word 'organisation'. In the same way that a future subscription-based capitalism could alter mindsets over the need for money (Pathfinders, October), DLT shows how you can decouple regulatory oversight from centralised authority. If you don't need a state to ensure that things work properly, but can utilise the 'power of crowds', then an important prop in capitalist ideology is kicked away. Leaders and centralised elite structures engender cronyism, corruption and monolithic thinking yet many workers remain wedded to the supposed need for them, convinced that anything else would result in chaos. DLT may make them think again by showing them the power and flexibility of distributed democracy in action, and not just in socialist theory.

The Slavery of To-Day. (1914)

From the April 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glaring Facts So Often Unobserved.
There is, apparently, no greater insult one can offer a man than to assert or insinuate that he is a slave. Strangely enough, also, it often happens that the more vehemently he scorns such a suggestion the stronger rises in him an uncomfortable feeling that there is an element of truth in the charge. A man will deny, almost with oaths and curses, that he is dependent upon any one other than himself, while all the time he knows that he lives and moves and has his being only by the will of some person, or persons, stronger than he is. It may, however, be taken that, generally speaking, the majority of working class men and women are quite honest in their conviction that the application of the word “ slave” to them is altogether inconceivable. “What!” a man will say, “I a slave. Why I can change my job to morrow. I need not stay on where I am but can clear out whenever I choose.” True enough, a man can change his particular job, but only for another under the same conditions. True, he may leave his place of employment when be chooses, but unless he is then able to find someone else willing to employ him, the chances are that be will find his sense of freedom considerably curtailed by starvation, or possibly by a police court prosecution for vagrancy. Those members of the working class who repudiate so indignantly the very thought of their being slaves, might ask themselves how much freedom over their own lives they really possess; whether, for instance, they can choose their hours of employment, their rates of wages, the conditions under which they work; whether they can make the same enquiries into the personal character of their master as their master can make into theirs. They would do well to ask themselves whether their boasted freedom extends so far as to enable them to exist without using their mental and physical ability in order to make profit for their employer. As a matter of fact, the habit of slavery, the ethical standard of slavery, has become so ingrained in most people that they are quite incapable of realising how subservient they really are. They meekly accept their conditions of existence as being quite in the natural order of things and resent, often quite fiercely, the very idea that their existence is not all that it might be. They hug their chains, fondle the hand that smites them, fawn about the feet that spurn them. The only freedom they desire is the freedom to continue in slavery. The self abasement of some men and women is appalling in its worm-like grovelling. In the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster is a statue of St. Peter, the “rock” on which the Christian Church is founded. The big toe of this statue has been worn smooth and shiny by the continual kisses impressed upon it by Roman Catholic adherents. Think of the degraded mentality of the men and women (most of them working-class men and women) who are content, are eager, to give such slavish adoration to the memory of a man, who—if be ever lived—is known chiefly as a liar and traitor, fit figurehead, indeed, of an institution that, ever since its inception, has done its very best to degrade and cheat and betray its misguided followers.

This slavish attitude of mind is to be found in relation to every phase of society. “Be humble, be meek, be docile,” is the motto given to the workers from press and pulpit and platform. It is, of course, all to the advantage of the capitalists to keep obscure the fact that the working class live in a condition comparable only to that of the negroes as described in such books as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the difference being that the whip of Legree, instead of being of plaited cords, is now the threat of starvation. The position after all is very simple. While the members of the employing class hold in their hands the means of wealth production, that is, while they control the means whereby the necessaries of existence are produced, then it follows inevitably that they possess the power to give or withhold, just as it may so suit them, the actual necessaries of existence. This really means that all outside the employing class only exist by sufferance. “This man is useful to us,” say the employers. “We will therefore give him sufficient to live on, so that he may continue to be useful to us.” Or they will say: "This man is no good for our purpose. He is too weak, or too stupid, or too independent. We can make nothing out of him. Therefore be can live if he is able, die if he must. In any case it doesn’t matter a damn to us which he does as long as we are not bothered with him.” And so the men and women of the working class live or die just as it suits the capitalists They are not slaves—no, perish the thought! Why, they have a vote—some of them. They have freedom of choice to cast that vote in favour of Mr. A.. Conservative, or Mr. B. Liberal! Rule Britannia, Britons never shall be slaves!

Strange, is it not, and pitiful, that men and women who are intelligent enough in their employers’ business should, when it comes to a question of their own particular concerns, become so hopelessly befogged and befuddled as to preclude any possibility of correct reasoning or logical sequence. Though such a state of affairs is perhaps hardly to be wondered at. The malnutrition of their bodies and minds, their early training in capitalist ethics, the nonsensical superstition designated as religion which is forced down their throats when they are children, all have gone to make the workers, not only dependent upon the capitalists for their scanty means of life, but dependent on them as well for their way of thinking. The majority of the working class think in terms of Capitalism, instead of from the point of view of working-class interests. It is alleged that Socialists are endeavouring to bring about a revolution. At any rate they are trying to revolutionise the ideas of their fellow workers, to make them realise their present ridiculous and degrading position. That is the first object of the Socialist written and spoken propaganda. The slave must first understand that he is a slave and why he is a slave before he can make any attempt to break his fetters. Economic freedom can only be won through intellectual freedom, and intellectual freedom is altogether incompatible with the slave-morality with which most of us have been permeated. To bring his fellow-workers  to a perception of things from the standpoint of the Socialist philosophy must be the great aim of the Socialist.
 “Keep on—Liberty is to the subserved whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quelled by one or two failures, or any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.”
F. J. Webb

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Critical Research (2017)

Book Review from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'What is Critical Social Research, Vol II'. By Babak Fozooni. (Fastprint publishing, £8.99)

The blurb on the back says that Babak Fozooni 'writes from a working class perspective' and he does indeed write from a position of wanting to see capitalism replaced by a system without production for sale and without wage-labour. He defines 'critical social research' as social research that goes beyond surface appearances to bring in capitalism as the underlying factor.

The book is a collection of articles on various subjects ranging from the psychology of sex to football in Iran and cricket in Afghanistan. The one on 'Guy Aldred and proletarian atheism' is of interest as Aldred moved in the same milieu as us and at one time considered himself an 'impossibilist'. He is more widely promoted and known as an 'anti-parliamentary communist' though he stood for parliament on a number of occasions. The view attributed to him – that the sort of atheism promoted by Richard Dawkins is inadequate – was also expressed in our 1910 pamphlet Socialism and Religion which criticised the atheist/Freethinker approach to religion of trying to refute it by reason without taking into consideration the social conditions that gave rise to it, giving the impression that capitalism without religion would be acceptable.

In the article on football in Iran, Fozooni makes the point that football was promoted by the government as a means of 'nation-building' to rally people round the Iranian state. Football internationals perform the same role of course in 'nations' that have already long been built.
Adam Buick

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Lying "Daily Herald." (1914)

From the May 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who has not heard of the “Daily Mail’s” exclusive account of the massacre of the Legations at Peking by the Boxers; of the minute details of the awful carnage that didn’t happen? Why was the “exclusive news” published ?

Briefly, the object was to boom the “Daily Mail”—to foster its circulation. And that is the reason the Press to-day is so dangerous to the cause of the working class. The proprietors will publish anything if it pays. Crippen’s confession that wasn't confessed; speeches by politicians which were never delivered ; battles that were never fought and victories that were never won ; Boers’ blood-curdling brutalities toward natives, and voteless Uitlanders’ unspeakable sufferings. Even the once stately threepenny “Times” showed its foresight and commercial keenness by printing during the height of the Irish campaign a series of letters over Parnell's signature which he did not write, but which were purchased from Piggott for a few thousand pounds.

This is the great lying Press, and when we have stated— as we often have—that the Socialist Standard is the only clean and reliable working-class paper, we have frequently been met with the cry: “What about the 'Daily Herald’?” The “Daily Herald”—the paper which, after declaring advertisements taboo because advertisers always dictated the policy of the paper, printed more advertisements than ever, and, like Oliver Twist, asked for more.

Our answer to this question has invariably been that the “Daily Herald” was like the rest of the Press, with the added offensiveness of its Socialist pretences to make it worse.

Just take one example. Larkin has been very widely boomed, praised, and slobbered over by the “Daily Herald” and Syndicalists and Labourites generally. To make a meeting pay it has only been necessary to bring Larkin there, just as, earlier, Victor Grayson was the “star turn” who would assure a “full house.” Hence, while Larkinism lasts the "Daily Herald” means to exploit it.

Mr. Asquith, or, as he is fondly known to students of history, Lord Asquith of Featherstone, elected to contest East Fife again as a result of his taking the office of War Minister.

The question in many minds was, would the Prime Minister be allowed a walk-over, and among certain elements, will the man responsible for those two graves in Featherstone Churchyard be allowed to go scot free back to Parliament.

On the morning of April 1st, however, the flaring headlines of the “Daily Herald" met the gaze of passers by : “Larkin for East Fife.” “To beard Asquith in his own den.’’ “Official Statement.” “If Tories ready to shirk a fight Jim is ready for the fray.” Such were the heavily leaded lines which abstracted the pence from working-class pockets.

The “Daily Herald” went on to say : “The announcement was made yesterday afternoon when he [Larkin] arrived in Dublin from England. Later an official announcement from Liberty Hall Dublin, Mr. Larkin’s headquarters, confirmed the statement that Mr. Larkin will be a candidate in the forthcoming bye election in East Fife. He starts from Dublin for the constituency at once.”

In the body of the paper we were informed :
   “Intense interest was taken in the statement from London that Jim Larkin bad decided to stand, and there is every prospect of an exciting contest, as a result of which Mr. Asquith may be easily ‘outed.’”
In the leading article much space is devoted to the “irony” of the situation that finds Mr. Larkin fighting Asquith in East Fife after Asquith had placed him in prison. The leader winds up thus:
  “More power to Jim Larkin. In the political as in the industrial arena he is thorough-going and loves to tackle the biggest enemy in sight.” 
The day following this leader the lying paper published a special cartoon on its front page, showing election posters bearing the words: Vote for Larkin.

The scare head-lines again extracted the halfpence from Lansbury’s dupes, “Larkin will surely fight,” they announced, and then they went on to talk about bis prospects. To add piquancy to the paper a notice was printed boldly across it, thus : “What to ask Asquith. Don't give him a single vote TILL he answers these questions! ” Then follow certain silly questions for an intelligent worker to ask.

Now one might think from all this that there was to be a fight in East Fife and that Mr. Jim Larkin was to be the anti-liberal champion. After such “authoritative” news, of course, it was only to be expected. But once again it was only the sensational lies of the muck-heap Press struggling to keep up a circulation. Now let us prove it.

Turning to Larkin’s own newspaper, “The Irish Worker,” for the same week (dated April 4th), we find a leading article, a column and a half in length on the matter of East Fife. The whole of this is written in a vein of fierce condemnation of the lying Press for printing such downright lies as that Larkin was standing for East Fife.

Such phrases as “ brazen-faced monstrosities,” “creatures paid at so much a line,” are used against those who issued the election news. We read on as follows: “He [Larkin] has never had any intention of fighting East Fife, never thought of Fife . . .  He does not bother about Parliamentary action ; has no time to waste at present about elections ; he thinks that politics is a dirty game and the present politicians are dirtier than the game they play at, and rather admires sanguinary Asquith for his game of bluff,” etc.

Is further proof required of how low the “ Daily Herald” is ? Is it necessary to adduce other evidence of the dirty and lying nature of this emulator of the Yellow Press ? We venture to ask the nominal editor of the journal in question, Mr. George Lansbury, for an explanation of such brazen lying. Of course we do not expect to get one. Mr. Lansbury, if we are to believe the deposed editor, is simply the nominee of the wealthy supporters of the paper.

We know Mr. Lansbury. A little while since be stated at Bow Baths that the S.P.G.B. was financed by the rich, but he never had tho courage to admit his “mistake” when, in reply to our official challenge, he failed to produce any evidence. We have memories of Lansbury in the old S.D.F. and his fine power of handling the truth cautiously. But as it is said that “While the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return,” it is open to Mr. Lansbury even now to take his courage in both hands and come forward and explain that lie in his paper which is just about the limit of lies.
Adolph Kohn

Mind Your Own Business. (1914)

From the June 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

A remark one hears very often is: “Mind your own business.” The Socialist Party of Great Britain is out to teach the working class to do this, but the workers are unconscious of their slavery; they prefer to look after their masters’ business rather than their own.

The business of the proletarian is merely to understand his class position in society. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is frequently explaining this on the platform. The workers to day produce all wealth in society, but, for their noble efforts, receive back from the capitalist class —the shirking class—just sufficient to enable them to exist, with a view to turning out more profit.

Why is it necessary for the working class to become conscious of their position in society? Firstly, because they would be minding their own business. Secondly, because, under the present system of society, no worker can claim that he has the right to work—which is the only way he is able to exist—for that right is in the hands of the master class. Thirdly, because no work is given to the worker unless the master can make a profit out of his labour. Fourthly, because, with the destruction of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism, every worker will be producing wealth in the interest of the whole community.

The worker does not mind his own business when he concerns himself about rates and taxes; talks of “our own trams,” or “our Dreadnoughts,” because he is spoofed by the agents of the capitalist class, who are continually misleading the dull and unconscious worker. Why, the workers do not get sufficient wages to buy good, wholesome food, let alone pay rates and taxes! Such things as these are no business of the working class, as the rates and taxes are paid by the property-owning class; and, since the working class own nothing but their labour-power, why not mind your own business?

The worker of to day can be compared somewhat to a motor car. He is given just sufficient petrol (food) to enable him to continue production. When he is not wanted he can stand still, but unlike the motor car, which loses nothing when not wanted, the worker is physically deteriorating by starvation.

Why are the workers worse off? Because they do not mind their own business. Imagine an intelligent working class able to produce all the wealth in society, and after all the energy is pumped out of them, politically ignorant enough to allow masters to rob them of the fruits of their labour.

What good has the capitalist done to the workers? No good at all, in fact, the very system produces misery, degradation, and disease.

Now, the question is. how are you going to alter it? Firstly, by understanding what Socialism means -THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A SYSTEM OF SOCIETY BASED UPON THE COMMON OWNERSHIP AND DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE MEANS AND INSTRUMENTS FOR PRODUCING AND DISTRIBUTING WEALTH BY AND IN THE INTEREST OF THE WHOLE COMMUNITY. When the working class understand this they must organise in the S.P.G.B., the only Socialist party, for the capture of the political machinery which controls the force that keeps them in subjection to-day

Therefore, workers, wake up and start to-day to Mind your own Business !

Walthamstow Reports. (1914)

Party News from the July 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The forthcoming season holds great hopes for the Socialist Party in this locality, and the resumption of outdoor propaganda meetings has called forth all the enthusiasm of the branch membership.

As is inevitable in a district where there are two pseudo-Socialist organisations, we have been afforded a considerable number of opportunities to attack the enemy: opportunities that have been taken advantage of, as will be seen.

As the local District Council Elections took place recently the B.S.P. put up two candidates for the Higham Hill Ward in the persons of Messrs. Ramsey and Friedberg.

They placarded the neighbourhood with "Daily Herald” posters bearing the appeal: "Vote for Friedberg and Ramsey,” and there was a special edition of the “Daily Herald” published, called "The Walthamstow Election Number.”

In support of their nominee’s candidature, the B S.P. held meetings, and at those held at Higham Hill Road, at question time they manifested the fact that they wished the members of the Socialist Party anywhere but there.

On the eve of the poll their speaker was Jack Jones of South West Ham; they also had on their platform, Mr. Ellis of the I.L.P., from Buckhurst Hill.

At question-time we put our questions and our Comrade B. Young asked for their platform to oppose, which request was, as usual, refused;. and further questioning culminated in their chairman losing his temper and hurling at our Comrade Young the threat to "come down and twist his neck.”

This threat was, of course, as idle and worthless as their "reply” to the questions of the members of this party. The said reply invariably being: "I was in the Socialist movement before you were born, and I know more about economics than any member of your party.”

"Simply this and nothing more.”

This "reply” and their refusal of their platform to our Comrade Young, are eloquent testimony to their courage and their confidence in their case.

That other organisation of political tricksters and fools (it is difficult to tell which preponderate), the Independent Labour Party, happened to choose the same evening and spot (Hoe Street Station) for holding week-night meetings as had this Branch, so that on May 6th we had to conduct our meeting in opposition to the LL.P.

However, Comrade B. Young addressed the larger of the two crowds on our behalf, and on Wednesday, May 13th, a comrade bringing the platform very early, secured the foremost pitch.

On his arrival, Mr. Peel, of the I.L.P., became so chagrined at this that after hurling a string of epithets such as “scum,” "blackguard,” and "slanderer ” at our comrade, he threatened to horsewhip him.

This "gentleman,” along with his crony, Campbell, manifested by this means, and by his abuse of the Socialist Party when any of its members question them, the rottenness of their case and the weakness of their position.

Our speaker again proved too good for the I.L.P.’s speaker, a leather-tongued individual who said he was proud of West Ham (notwithstanding its filth) because it bad three Socialist (!) Councillors.

We had a large and attentive audience, whilst the I.L.P’er addressed a meeting of their local branch.

We are also giving the Anti-Socialist Union’s speakers a warm time, counteracting, by questions and interpolations, the effect of the rubbish they trot out.

Boys! we are fighting a winning fight, so see that the “promise of spring” is fulfilled. Gird up your loins and have at them!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ourselves and the "Manchester Guardian." (1914)

From the August 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fair play is supposed to be a peculiarly English characteristic. And the Liberal Party and its Press claim to represent "all that is beat” in the policy and character of the English people. But note the application where Socialists are concerned.

A reviewer, signing himself R.C.K.E., attacks the S.P.G.B. with false statements while reviewing a book by a priest. The Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. sends a reply, that is appended below. One might imagine that in the interests of their so-called “fair play” this Liberal organ would have published that reply. Nothing of the sort. We print their answer with the attempted excuse that a letter “containing the substance” of our reply had already appeared in their paper. In reality this statement is false. A letter signed “Socialist” appeared that criticised some of their reviewer’s statements, but it did not deal with the activities of the S.P.G.B. nor explain what publication of ours the priest was quoting from. Even then, incomplete as “Socialist’s” letter was, the reviewer’s only reply was a falsification of Marx's statements and position on religion.

Their reason for refusing to publish our reply is fairly clear. We referred to our pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion” for several extracts, from Marx’s own writings, showing that our attitude was in line with his views on religion, thus exposing the falsity of the reviewer’s claim to state the Socialist position on this matter. Hence the excuse of the Liberal editor in refusing us space for a reply to a cowardly attack made upon us under cover of a review.

One other point remains. The reviewer’s initials, R.C.K.E., are exactly those of a certain I.L.P. candidate in a particular municipal election. Every reader of our paper is, of course, aware of the anti-Socialist attitude of the leaders of the I.L.P., and their cringing and crawling to the Liberal Party has been exposed over and over again in our pages.

The using of the columns of a Liberal paper for an underhand attack upon Socialism and the Socialist Party is exactly what we should expect from an I.L.P.' er. The sliminess of the attack, the crawling away when challenged, and the similarity of the initials, all point to this I.L.P. candidate acting as an agent of the Liberal Party through the medium of the “Manchester Guardian" as he was equally in his election address when advising the workers to support the second —and openly avowed — Liberal candidate in the above-mentioned municipal election. 
Ed. Com. 

N.B. If Mr. R. C. K. Ensor objects to the above, the columns of the “Socialist Standard” are not closed against him as those of the “Manchester Guardian” were against us.


25th June, 1914.

To the Editor of the "Manchester Guardian.” 

Dear Sir,

The Executive Committee of the Socialist Party has had its attention drawn to an attack upon that party by your reviewer, R.C.K.E., in your issue of June 4th., under cover of a review of a book by Henry C. Day, and at its meeting on June 23rd it was resolved that the following reply be sent you.

The attack is contained in the following sentence :
  “For instance, in discussing Socialism and religion and trying to show that Socialists are anti-Christian, he devotes almost eight continuous pages (a third of the chapter, and the culminating third) to quotations from a manifesto of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Now either Father Day knows that this ‘Socialist Party of Great Britain’ consisted of a few dozen wholly unimportant persons, a microscopic secession from the old S.D.F., itself a small and non- representative body, or he does not.”
No evidence is given by your reviewer for any of his statements about the Socialist Party, bat any schoolboy could see that neither the number nor the importance of the members of the S.P.G.B. is in question. Father Day is evidently quoting, not from our official Manifesto, but from our pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion,” of which we have sold several thousands, published a second large edition, and are still selling large numbers. This pamphlet sets out the Socialist position on religion, which was doubtless the reason Father Day need it in preference to the various shufflings of those who claim to be Socialists without the slightest justification. If your reviewer had discovered any error or mis-statement in the pamphlet it is regrettable that he did not point it out, his obvious duty, instead of trying to sneer at its authors; though the latter method is one in common use where argument is absent.

May we enquire, also, since when it was decided that numbers formed the ultimate test of truth. We would remind our critic that a statement is correct or otherwise by reason of the truth it embodies and the evidence brought to support it, irrespective of the status of the makers. And what is meant by the somewhat pompous statement that the S.D.F. were a “non-representative body”? Organisations represent the views of their officials, or their members, or some set of ideas or principles. The Socialist Party of Great Britain claims to represent the principles of Socialism, the scientific basis of which was laid down by Marx and Engels. Both were strong opponents of Religion, as the various quotations from their writings in oar pamphlet prove. The above claim was set forth in our Manifesto issued in 1905 (which has run through five editions), but up to this moment not one of the organisations exposed therein, nor any of their members, have been able to meet a single argument put forth, or to show any error in our case. Perhaps your reviewer would like to try his hand.

As stated above, the question of numbers is beside the point; but even here your reviewer is open to the same charge as he brings against Father Day. Either he knows our activities and work or he does not. If he does then his suggestion that we no longer exist when he says our Party “consisted of” etc. is entirely contrary to the truth. If he does not, then he is evidently quite prepared to make statements while in absolute ignorance of the facts.

We may mention that, apart from numerous branches in London, we also have them in Bedford, Nottingham, Gravesend, Manchester, Southend-on-Sea and Watford.

In London alone we run over 50 propaganda meetings a week—a number larger than the published lists of B.S.P. and I.L.P. combined. We publish our own monthly organ the “Socialist Standard,” and have issued several pamphlets. In addition, unlike the I.L.P. and Labour Party, the membership of our Party has full and direct control of the policy and actions of the Party.

In fairness to our members and your numerous readers, we ask for the insertion of this reply. Yours on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain,
A. Kohn,
General Secretary.

Manchester Guardian.”


A. Kohn, Esq.,
   The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain,
       193, Grays Inn Road, W.C.

Dear Sir,

We are obliged to you for your letter referring to our review of Father Day's book. We have, however, already published a letter containing the substance of your criticism shortly after the review appeared, and we fear we cannot return to the subject again at this date.
                                                                                       Yours very truly,
                                                                                                  for the Editor
                                                                                                              A. G. W.                                 

The Motive Behind The "Boy Scout" Movement. (1914)

From the September 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

For over a century and a half Lancashire has been the centre of the greatest sweating system the world has ever known, and a glance through the pages of working-class history reveals facts that makes the blood boil to think of; how for years the little children of the working men were driven into factories at the age of six and eight, when mere babies, to work their poor little bodies away from early morn till eve, week in week out, year in year out, till they eventually went down to early graves, providing luxury and enjoyment for the heartless scoundrels who opposed tooth and nail all legislation attempting to improve the lot of factory workers.

It is, therefore, with curious feelings that we read in the “Manchester Guardian" of the 1st July last, the report of a meeting held in Manchester at which Gen. Sir R. Baden-Powell delivered a speech in support of an appeal for £250,000 for the Boy Scout Movement.

The meeting was composed of business men, and the slimy unctuousness of the address was worthy of its listeners, the offsprings of the worst hypocrites known to history.

Oar poor little kiddies who, in the majority of cases, get their schooling while earning their dearly bought bread, are to be roped in and taught “to co-operate with each other for the good of the country." Why? A little further on the noble general explains. He said, when asking his audience to contribute liberally, “I do not want you to do that merely out of a spirit of charity, but rather from a business point of view.” Thus he exposes the hypocrisy of the whole thing. He says in so many words that the movement is not advocated for what good it may do the boys but in the interest of the master class. When we hear of capitalists, who have gained their wealth through the sweating and murdering of their white slaves, stepping forward and contributing hundreds of pounds to a movement of this sort, it behoves us at once to look beneath the surface and see what prompts their sudden and alarming generosity. Men who are willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, for the sake of a few hundreds per cent., don’t throw away good money for nothing, and a careful examination of Baden-Powell’s address will show the particular way in which the masters will benefit.

We will make a few extracts from his speech for purposes of illustration. He says “We try to teach them (the Boy Scouts) one or more handicrafts. Call them hobbies if you like, but hobbies lead to energy and inventiveness and to using fingers as well as brains, so that no man with a hobby is likely to become a waster in later life.” Of what use are wasters to the masters? money invested in them would not yield an adequate profit. “Then we try to give the boys health by teaching them to look after themselves. Millions of hours' work are lost now-a-days through ill-health," not to speak of the annoyance and loss of profit caused by sick employees interrupting and putting out of time the steady and mechanical flow of daily operations. “We try to teach them to be helpful to others . . .  in that way he has learnt service to his fellowman, and the idea enlarges into service for men generally, and for his (!) country, and into self-sacrifice. . . . The barriers are to a great extent artificial, (!) and the more classes mix with each other the greater friends will they become, the better will they recognise each other's merits, and the better will they be able to co-operate for the good of the country." Hear! hear! Mr. General, but, of course, not that common corduroy clad country that lives in back alleys and feeds (sometimes) on boiled beef (!) and carrots And now for the climax. “At any rate let me come still nearer to you gentlemen in Manchester. We will find from experience that the boys who cultivate the ideas and habits of the Boy Scouts prove more useful to employers of labour, they do their duty not ! from fear of punishment, hut because it is their business to play the game to the best of their ability. Their discipline is founded on that playing for their side, and not for themselves. They come into business for what they can contribute to it, not for what they can get out of it. "

The above extracts give the key to the whole business. The value of the movement is that it will turn out boys with all those virtues suitable for steady, obedient, self-sacrificing workers, who will die rather than do anything to injure their employers, and it will make human labour-power more efficient and cheaper. The boys are taught how to husband their energies and live cheaply. What effect will this have on the lot of the working class? Wealth will be turned out by fewer workers; there will be more competition for fewer jobs; wages will fall. Thus by reducing waste to a minimum, lowering the necessary wages, and increasing the unemployed army, the Boy Scout movement is shewn to be anti-working class and in the interests of the masters.

If further proof is required let us glance at those who contributed so lavishly to the fund. The Fine Cotton Spinners & Doublers Association, who on several occasions lately have locked out their workers, contributed £250. Pilkington Bros., the famous glass manufacturers, one of the largest firms in St. Helens, contributed £100. One of the brothers is a Liberal and the other is a Tory. Who said Liberal capitalist and Tory capitalist interests are not identical? Lord Ashton, the carpet manufacturer of Lancaster, whose workmen were recently out on strike, contributed £25. And to clinch the argument a big engineering firm named Mather & Platt, Ltd., sent the following letter to Baden- Powell, which appeared in the ‘'Manchester Guardian" of the same day (1.7.14). “As we find that the boys in these works who are Scouts make the beat workmen, every encouragement will be given to extend the movement amongst them, and we are therefore glad to support your appeal by giving a promise of £500 to the Endowment Fund. There seems to be little doubt that the Boy Scout training tends to produce a better class of workman all round, and we hope that many other large employers of labour will answer your appeal in a generous spirit." We think no more damning evidence could have been produced than that contained in this letter.

The whole speech by Baden-Powell, following the old time-dishonoured game, is invested with that slobbering religious humbug we know so well, that pretends to be interested in the spiritual welfare of the children. Fancy putting on the pretence of the children’s welfare before those who are responsible for the state of affairs obtaining in Lancashire at present. Father Vaughan, speaking at Liverpool on Sept. 10th, 1913, said that passing through Lancashire he could not help being struck by the small stature of the lads around Liverpool and Manchester towns, small, badly-grown, bow-legged, and narrow-chested lads. Many boys and young men looked bleached, not to say anaemic, as though they suffered from want of oxygen, nitrogen, and wholesome food. ("Leader," 11.9.13). And those who are the cause of these conditions responded nobly to B.-P.’s appeal ! ! !

Another of your heroes, O working men is, therefore, at the bottom, but another of the tools of the master class. All the so called great men of today, whether soldiers, sailors, clerics, or politicians, are only the holders of briefs for the capitalists. “All are but ministers to wealth, and feed its mortal flame."

The measure of a movement's value to the working class is to be gauged by the attitude the masters adopt towards it. Religious movements, land movements, Boy Scout movements, etc., are backed liberally by the masters, then obviously these movements are in the interest of the masters and against the workers’ interests. The Socialist movement has the undying antagonism of the masters, then obviously workers should back it. In spite of Powell's soft phrase about wiping away the barriers between the classes, the class war exists and must continue to exist until the exploiting class is wiped out of existence.

The whole vast edifice of modern civilisation is built upon the basis of exploitation and all means are employed to provide the most efficient exploitable material. When workers firmly grasp this elementary fact the cries of those who 'boost' the various movements for "improving” the workers' lot, without attacking the exploiting system itself, will fall upon deaf ears, and the good work we are doing will have received its recompense.

The Socialist View of the German Atrocities. (1914)

From the October 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present conflict between the Powers of Europe is a tragedy of the first magnitude; but like most stupendous tragedies, it has its humorous aspects for those who are not entirely led away by the superficial. One of the most laughable spectacles of the day is the universal outcry about what our innocent masters and their saintly hirelings of the Press and pulpit are pleased to call the “atrocities of the Huns.” Mark ! it is not here denied that there have been appalling outrages committed by the Kaiser’s hosts. That is not the question with which we are at the moment concerned. It is the capitalist hands upheld in horror, and the round-eyed astonishment of our good, kind masters, that engage our amused attention.

They are astounded and shocked to a marked degree at every manifestation of the rules of warfare adopted by the German military authorities, and run whining like chastised curs about the world, complaining in a childish snivel of every method that presses hardly upon themselves, but which, for various reasons, does not, for the moment, commend itself to the allies.

What the reasons for all this singsong of nauseating hypocrisy are is pretty obvious, and will be returned to later. But for the moment let us deal with the ludicrously clumsy effort of Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian author, to exploit the bestial fruits of a bestial system for the benefit of the master class of Britain, France, Russia and Belgium.

Maeterlinck is often spoken of as the “Belgian Shakespeare,” and it may be noted that the English bard himself was not above prostituting his talents in order to curry favour with the great ones of the earth. Henceforth, then, the admirers of Maeterlinck may claim for him a further point of Shakespearean resemblance, by the evidence of a very foolish article of his which was published by the “Daily Mail” and the “Evening News” (Sept. 14th).

Speaking of the atrocities Maeterlinck says:
   “It is not true that in this gigantic crime there are innocent and guilty, or degrees of guilt. They stand on one level, all those who nave taken part in it. . . . It is, very simply, the German, from one end of his country to the other, who stands revealed as a beast of prey . . . We have here no wretched slaves dragged along by a tyrant King, who alone is responsible. Nations have the government they deserve, or rather, the government they have is truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation.
  “If eighty million innocent people select and support a monstrous King, those eighty million innocent people merely expose the inherent falseness and superficiality of their innocence; and it is the monster they maintain at their head who stands for all that is true in their nature . . .
   “They must be destroyed as we destroy a nest of wasps, since we know that these can never change into a nest of bees.
   “And even though individually and singly the Germans were all innocent and merely led astray, they are none the less guilty in the mass.   “This is the guilt that counts . . . because it lays bare, underneath their superficial innocence, the subconscious criminality of all.
    “No influence can prevail on the unconscious or the subconscious. It never evolves. Let there come a thousand years of civilisation, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and of education, the subconscious element of the German spirit, which is its unvarying element, will remain absolutely the same as it is to-day; and would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy.”
This is the pronouncement of one of the “master-minds” of Europe. It is, presumably, the best this burning patriot of Belgium could do to reduce the “modern Huns” to their proper level, immeasurably below the race under King Albert. Let us see, however, if this pronouncement is logically sound, where it must inevitably lead us to.

On the West Coast of Africa is a large tract of country called the Congo Free State. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of that country it was found that in the great forests of the region there grew abundantly the trees from which rubber is obtained. As usually happens when white men discover defenceless natives in a country whose virgin forests are rich in rubber trees, the aborigines were enslaved and compelled to gather the rubber for their white masters.

The particular case of the Congo Free State formed the subject of a British enquiry by Commissioner Casement, whose report disclosed atrocities more villainous, if that were possible, than anything which has yet been charged against the Germans in Belgium.

The sickening details it is not necessary to more than touch upon. Terrorism was the foundation of the Congo system of exploitation. How the feet of natives were cut off because the amount of rubber they collected did not (as indeed, it never could) satisfy the greed of their masters; how the unfortunate blacks were suspended over slow fires and roasted to death; how a country was devastated in order to pile up wealth for foreign invaders: all this can be read elsewhere by those whose memories need refreshing.

To pile up wealth for whom? For Germans? Oh no! for Belgians. If the German “culture” found its expression in the stark outrages of the smiling plains of Belgium, Belgian “culture” asserted itself in the blood-reeking shambles of the Congo rubber fields. If the German “culture” as exemplified at Louvain and Tirlemont, was incidental to the stirring and (as our capitalist masters will have it) not ignoble romance of war, the Belgian “culture,” as displayed in the African forests, was an integral part of the noble arts of peace. So much for the merits of the respective instances.

Now how may the arguments of Maeterlinck be applied to the case of the Belgian “culture” on the Congo? The acts of violence and outrage were admittedly monstrous. The chief responsibility for them was brought home to that inhuman monster, Leopold, the late King of the Belgians, who made millions out of the death-agonies of braver, cleaner, better, and far lees savage men and women than himself. Here was a “monstrous King,” if ever there was one.

Are we to say, then, with the author of “The Blue Bird," that this “monstrous King” of the Belgians “stands [or did stand] for all that is true in their nature” ? Are we to declare that he, and those who governed with him, were “truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation” ? Are we to assert that the Belgian, “from one end of his country to the other, stands revealed as a beast of prey” ? Are we to conclude that “a thousand years of civilisation, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and of education,” would find the Belgian people so callous, so brutalised, so low in the scale of human development, that the “morality and mentality of the nation,” as exhibited, according to the arguments of Maurice Maeterlinck, on the Congo, “ would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy” ? If so, then the “modern Huns” would be performing a worthy service to humanity at large by blotting the Belgian race off the face of the earth.

It is not only the Belgians, however, who have proved themselves to be quite the equals of the Germans in the matter of perpetrating outrages that “stagger humanity.” In this respect Russia is so notorious that it is hardly necessary to do more than whisper the name How the Press of the world rang, a decade or so ago, with the infamies that made the names of the Tzar and his Cossacks stink in the nostrils of men! The mention of Father Gapon will suffice to refresh even the memory of the sycophant Maeterlinck. The latter says: "Through the whole course of history two distinct will-powers have been noticed that would seem to be opposed, elemental manifestations of the spirit of our globe : the one seeking only evil, injustice, tyranny, and suffering, while the other strives for liberty, the right, radiance, and joy. These two powers stand once again face to face ; our opportunity now is to annihilate the one that comes from below.” How much less than “a thousand years of civilisation,”  has sufficed to evolve from “the subconscious element ” of the Russian spirit which gave us the callous butchery of the unarmed workers in St. Petersburg on “Bloody Sunday,” which has asserted itself in a never-ending stream of misery rolling its pitiful flood across the dreary waste to the appalling doom of Siberia, that has glutted its blood lust in innumerable pogroms against helpless and inoffensive Jews—how much less than “a thousand years of peace” has been sufficient to develop out of this unpromising material that “will power” which “strives for liberty, the right, radiance, and joy ”!

Of course, now that “gallant Belgium,” “democratic France,” and “upright and honest Britain" are linked with Russia in the greatest of all atrocities, we are bidden to forget all these things. More even than this, these very barbarities which Russia has inflicted upon her subject races, and particularly upon her,working class, are adduced as evidence of the “great sacrifices” Russia has made on behalf of freedom. And as if this did not achieve the very height of imaginative extravagance, a writer in the “ Daily Chronicle” of September 24th coolly informs us that “Russian bureaucracy and autocracy is (sic) a legacy from Germany and German influences. Ever since the days of Peter the Great. Russia has been governed under ideas which have been supplied her by the Prussian Junkers, and now the time has come when the whole Russian people see the chance of freeing themselves from these influences for ever.”

That Germany must bear the blame for all the innocent blood that has soddened the soil of Russia since Peter the Great’s day is ludicrous enough in all conscience, but the spectacle that we are invited to gaze upon, of the Tsar and those who rule Russia “under ideas supplied by Prussian Junkers,” waging war in order to gain the freedom to govern according to the beatific traditions of Western Liberalism is too much for our sobriety. Albeit, it demonstrates with what rubbish these prostitutes of the Press are prepared to insult the intelligence of the working class in order to bolster up the case of their paymasters.

France, also—democratic, chivalric France—has her gobbeted pages of history. The Massacre of S. Bartholomew is a classic example of foul treachery and degraded brutality that will stand so long as dastardly human deeds find s recorder at all. The history of Paris, however, bristles with shameful atrocities, among which it is sufficient to instance—not the suppression, don't think it was that - but the bloody vengeance wreaked upon the workers of Paris for the Commune of 1871. After the fighting ceased 30,000 working men, women, and children of Paris were butchered in cold blood, while the conditions under which those were interned who were to be transported to New Caledonia are too revolting to be printed here. Let those who find themselves impressed with the idea that barbarity is the special attribute of the “modern Huns” read the history of the Paris Commune, and a new light will break in upon them concerning another of Britain's allies.

Nor is Britain herself above the perpetration of atrocious outrage, both at home and abroad. The Boer War furnished examples enough, in spite of official whitewash. The Boer general, Beyers, has just stated that every Boer farmer’s house was a Louvain, and Smuts, with all his fervent turn-coat patriotism, could not deny the statement he could only endeavour to draw the curtain over it

The history of the British rule in India, where famine has succeeded famine, and multitudes have sunk down in their wretched hovels and die of starvation whilst their white masters were exporting the grain Indian people had grown, puts Britain on a level with any Huns, ancient or modern.

But let us come nearer home. How many working-class butcheries have been perpetrated in these islands of recent years? Only three years ago the same military support which has now been given to capitalist France was promised and rendered to the railway magnates of England in order to enable them to force their men to continue to work for 16s and 17s. a week That ended in butchery. Tonypandy is another instance that will be fresh in the memory of many, while we have the testimony of the Liberal politician who “saved the Government” from defeat, Mr. Handel Booth, that in Dublin during a recent labour struggle, women of the working class were dragged from their homes by the hair of their heads and brutally batoned by the police. The same witness also affirmed, what was amply borne out by others, that one of the victims of the struggle was felled by a police truncheon, and then deliberately beaten to death by several policemen as he lay helpless on the ground.

How did the modern Huns of capitalist Britain meet the charge of these cowardly atrocities, committed at their behest and in their profit-mongering interests, and witnessed by one of their own politicians? By resorting to that rich product of Western Liberalism — a sham enquiry—and appointing legal bullies to bully the awkward witness out of Court.

The “Hun” in the British master class is revealed in a thousand places. At the very time that the war broke out instances were causing unpleasant attention to be turned to our masters’ methods. There was the callous butchery in Dublin, engineered by rival politicians, when four people were done to death, among whom a woman was shot dead, and a boy who was killed received a bullet wound in the back and a bayonet thrust in the thigh. The war came opportunely to divert public attention from this Irish “Louvain.” Again, when war broke out thousands of men in the building trades in London had been for many months deprived of their sole means of livelihood—condemned, together with their wives and children, to starvation because they refused to sign a degrading and economically undermining contract form. No snuffling Harold Begbie thought to ask of the starving victims of that “battle for liberty,” the ironic question : “What will you lack'. Sonny?"

British history, ancient and modern, at home and abroad, is a veritable fabric of atrocity, which can find no parallel in the history of any other race on earth. The early invaders of India may have perpetrated orgies of bloodshed that only the whole European civilisation has been able, after nineteen hundred years of Christian humbug, to surpass; the industrial magnates of America may have provided, in the piping times of peace, examples of lawless violence so open, so naked and unashamed, as to startle even us ; but for long exercised, persistent, callous brutality, which is none the less fiendish because it has evolved the cunning to mask itself with legal shams and social sophistries, one can find nothing approaching the industrial history of England.

Let those who want to whine about the atrocities of the Germans first explain away the methods by which the peasantry of feudal England were deprived of their lands and driven from the countryside to become factory slaves ; let them cleanse, if they can, the fortunes of the great cotton families of the blood and agony-drops of the thousands of working class children who were murdered to make those fortunes ; let them blot out from the memory the scores of shamble scenes from Peterloo to Dublin, in which unarmed British workers have fallen to British bullets; let them tell us what higher “culture” than that of the “modern Huns” is indicated in the preventable sacrifice of railway shunters’ lives, the raising of the load line of ships, the contemptuous ignoring of the laws of the mining Acts because the fine for launching 400 miners into eternity is only £24.

Maeterlinck and other sycophantic “intellectuals,” playing their prostitute part in the upholding of that system which gives them their “place in the sun,” may rail and rave as only they know bow, about the German atrocities, but their motives are clear enough. They desire to do two things to inflame the workers of Britain, France, Russia and Belgium against Germany, and to hide the truth.

And the truth is that atrocity is not a national attribute anywhere or at any time. On the contrary, atrocity belongs, not to nations, but to systems. It is of the very nature of all systems of plunder, and it was and is the common attribute of the Huns of Attila, the Huns of the Kaiser, and the Huns of Asquith, Penrhyn, Claude Hamilton & Co, and the Huns of Rockefeller and of Carnegie in America, Werner, Beit & Co in South Africa, Tipoo Tib in Central Africa, and White Wolf in China because all these ancient and modern Attilas were or are engaged in the robbery of their fellows.

The Maeterlincks and other lickspittles of the capitalist class hope, by their outcry against the German atrocities, to obscure the fact that THE atrocity is not Louvain or Tirlenoont or Rheims, but the war itself ; not the blood of unarmed victims spilled at the instance of German bullies of the master class, but the whole hell of horrors which has been let loose upon the world by the MASTER CLASS of Europe—Belgian, French. British, and Russian no less than German. Of this colossal atrocity, the bestial and inevitable fruits of the robbery of the working class of the world, Louvain and the other German outrages are but a part,  and a comparatively insignificant part.

Refuse, therefore, to have your mental balance upset by the squealing of those who raise the cry of “German barbarism.'' There can be nothing but barbarism in those who have launched fifteen millions of working men in the field of death in order to decide who shall control the markets where the wealth stolen from the workers may be sold. And those for whom the ; Maeterlincks speak would welcome ANY atrocities that would, by obsessing the public mind with the false idea that atrocity is a national trait of the German race, prevent the workers from realising that it is the common characteristic of the whole capitalist class, as is revealed in every mill and mine and shunting yard in Britain, in the Carnegie massacre at Pittsburg and the Rockefeller holocaust in Ludlow City, in the Italian brutalities in Morocco, in the rubber shambles of the Congo and the Putumayo, in the death-trap compounds of the Rand, in the slaughter of Socialists by the new-risen and triumphant capitalists of China and Japan, and in the uncountable acts of barbarity by which the capitalists of every country the wide world over establish and maintain their position of plundering dominance over the working class.
A. E. Jacomb