Monday, January 2, 2017

The Anti-Socialists at Tottenham. (1909)

Party News from the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tottenham—where the I.L.P. have long since ceased from troubling and the S.D.P.  are at rest—has been honoured. The Anti-Socialist Union decreed that our time had come. Tottenham was to be saved from us, and we of the S.P.G.B. were to be finally and definitely put to rout. Well, we heard of the coming conflict, and trembling—with joy awaited the day of battle. Did we prepare to meet them by attacking their meetings, singing and shouting "Red Flags." etc., and generally behaving as hooligans to prevent them getting a hearing? No, such inwardly tactics would have implied a lack of confidence in our own propaganda, and is at all times an insult to the intelligence of the people. Knowing the work we have accomplished in Tottenham, and that no real argument can he brought against Socialism as propagated by the Socialist Party, we at all our meetings advertised the ruining of the Anti-Socialists, and advised our hearers to attend their meetings, listen courteously to what was to he said against Socialism, and judge for themselves. At long last they came—they saw and were conquered! Down upon Tottenham swooped the legions of the Anti Socialist League. Three or four specially prepared gramophonic orators, each guaranteed to we able to emit “Daily Expressions” about Socialism for at least ten minutes headed each attack.

Two such attacks on Sunday evenings fizzled out immediately our ordinary meeting commenced; then a Saturday evening appearance was tried, but again they packed up their traps and stole silently away, leaving large and enthusiastic audiences listening to our speaker. Despite reports to the contrary in the Daily Express, there was no organised opposition, no fighting, there was no I.L.P., either, to applaud or assist them at those meetings—only laughter and jeers at the ignorance of the Anti-Socialists. With their armoury of absurdities they courted disaster and were defeated—and disgraced. Complaining that they had been denied a hearing, they were offered a platform with a guarantee of a peaceful hearing, but refused. They funked the debate they challenged us to. They referred us to their head office, who refuse to take up the challenge, and now, exeunt the Anti-Socialist Union. It is to be placed on record that a "Tottenham Labour League” has been brought into existence by a few local politicians seeking notoriety, “to fight the Socialists of Great Britain/' and taking up the cry of the unemployed in the interests of the master class, have successfully wrecked what little organisation the unemployed had. In this they were assisted by men who still claim membership in the I.L.P. and S.D.P. The President of this precious “Labour" League is Councillor A. E. Harvey, I.L.P. Its Vice-Presidents include several well-known local Liberals. Their actions are being watched by the local branch of the S.P.G.B., and should that league live much longer it may be the subject of a future note.
Alex Anderson

Editorial: Our New Year Message. (1920)

Editorial from the January 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the commencement of another year it may be expected that we should send out to our fellow workers the Customary New Year message. It is, however, one of the penalties of advancing years in the life of a journal that it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything fresh to say upon the recurrence of such a monotonous event as the birth of another year, or to put pen to paper upon such an unsuspicious occasion without dropping into platitudes. But to-day “ye gods” are kind—ye gods for the moment being those very honourable and proper personages, the Prime Ministers of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

These gentlemen have issued a New Year’s Message to “Our Fellow Citizens of the British Empire," and as luck would have it, their opening sentence fills the aching void for this year, at all events—provides a sort of text for a New Year sermon.

Says their bigbugships: “The war, in shaking the very foundations of ordered civilisation, has driven all thoughtful men to examine the bases of national and international life.” Well, let us assist in that examination.

Ye gods, as might be expected, find that the “hope of a 'brotherhood of humanity’ reposes on the deeper spiritual fact of the 'Eternal Fatherhood of God,’” and declare that “In the recognition of the fact of that Fatherhood and of the Divine purpose of the world, which are central to the message of Christianity, we shall discover the ultimate foundation for the reconstruction of an ordered and harmonious life for all men.” That is their message—now for ours.

If anything has become clear “both through the arbitrament of war and through the tests of rebuilding a life of peace” (as the Premiers say), it is that all the goodwill and spirit of brotherhood in the world go down before the force of economic interests. It must necessarily be so. Take the case of two men struggling for one job. Does the spirit of brotherhood dictate that one should stand aside for the other? Then what of the men’s children? No, the divergent interests of the two men dictate that they fight it out to the very last gasp. To fail to do so is death, and not very heroic death either.

The “real foundation for the ordered development of the world’s life,” therefore, is the unification of their material interests. Not while one class lives on the toil of another class can there be harmony; not while the wealth produced is the subject of a struggle between those who produce it and those who do not can there be peace. The only way is to make the interest of all the same. How can it be done?

The reason of the conflict of interests in the society of to-day is that the people are on two different economic planes. One section own the means of life, the other section own only the means of operating those means of life—their labour-power. It is dear, then, that those who do not own the means of living must either wrest those means of living from the owners or sell their labour-power to those owners for the means of subsistence. This means of subsistence is part of the product of their labour.

There must, then, always be, in the first place, a struggle over the division of this product of the workers’ toil—this struggle is the wages struggle. And in the second place there must be a struggle for freedom on the part of the enslaved workers.

The ground is clear enough now. Harmony can only be established by destroying the private ownership of the means of living. This is the Socialist remedy.

The "ultimate foundation for the reconstruction of an ordered and harmonious life for all men" we declare, in contradiction to ye gods the Six Premiers, lies in making the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth the property of the community, and using them to produce wealth for the use of the community, instead of for sale. 

That is our New Year message. To that consummation, which will open a way to a harmonious life for all men and women by harmonising the economic interests of all men and women, we urge all members of our class to devote their attention in the new year that has come upon us. So shall we find emancipation and happiness in years to come.

About Books (1953)

Book Reviews from the January 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spartacus was the leader of the third, and greatest, slave revolt against Rome (about 73 B.C.). A Thracian by birth and a gladiator, he rallied an army of slaves and, over a period of years, by adroit generalship, he defeated army after army of Roman soldiers sent against him, until the revolt was finally suppressed with great cruelty.

It was almost inevitable that a writer like Mr. Howard Fast, who selects the subjects for his novels from the struggles of exploited peoples against their oppressors, should eventually write a book about this revolt. His latest book, Spartacus,” published by The Bodley Head (13/6) may not be such a gripping story as some of his earlier writings, but it is splendid reading and is to be recommended.

This story is not a chronological history of the slave rebellion. It is more in the nature of a symposium, the story being told through the mouths of a variety of characters each of whom views the revolt from a different angle. Licinius Crassus, the Roman general who led the army that eventually defeated the slaves; Lentulus Gracchus, a shrewd, successful Roman politician; Lentulus Batiatus, who kept the school for gladiators at Capua from which Spartacus escaped; Marcus Tullius Cicero, who later became the famous Roman philosopher, writer, politician, orator and consul; David, a fictitious Jewish rebel slave who in the book was closely associated with Spartacus from beginning to end of the revolt; these are some of the characters who tell the story and discuss the problems of chattel slave society.

A number of these problems have their parallel in present day capitalism, as, no doubt, Mr. Fast intends us to realise. Instance, unless the slaves could destroy the chattel slave system there was nowhere for them to go and nothing for them to do but to struggle until they were either killed or driven back into slavery. So it is with wage workers. Unless they abolish capitalism, struggle how they may, they will remain an exploited class.

The author gives a clear analysis of the Roman republic. It was a world in which the majority had nothing whilst a few had almost everything. Those who owned so much, needed protection from the slaves who produced it for them. The Roman soldiers, in the main, were peasants who had been driven from their land in order that slave plantations could be developed. The slave plantation had turned them into landless paupers. They had no more to defend than the rebel slaves whom they were sent to fight against. Those who owned nothing, who possessed no slaves, had to march their feet off, live in filth and squalor, wallow in blood and die fighting the slaves, in order that the slave owners could live in comfort and luxury. Had the Roman soldier but realised it, he had more to gain from a slave victory than from a slave defeat.

The job of the Roman politician was to be an illusionist, to convince the landless Romans that they had power, that they were the strength and glory of Rome, that they were free and that their freedom was precious, that they controlled their civilisation by their vote, to make them feel proud and superior because they were not slaves. Then, no matter how they stank, how hungry they were or where they slept, they felt proud and ready to defend the society that kept them in that condition against those who were their companions in misery—the slaves.

The horrors of crucifixion and gladiatorial combat, the depraved morality of the Roman leisure class, the comradeship within the many-tongued slave army and the hopes and fears of the slave leaders are splendidly dealt with in this book. It is well worth reading.

In an introductory note the author tells that, with the help of friends, he had to publish this book himself in America. Owing to the political temper of the times no commercial publisher would undertake the publication and distribution of such a book in the U.S.A.

Penguin Books are publishing a new series on the development of English society. It is to comprise eight “Pelican” books with the following titles:
1. Roman Britain.
2. The Beginnings of English Society (From the Anglo-Saxon Invasion).
3. English Society in the Early Middle Ages.
4. England in the Late Middle Ages.
5. Tudor England.
6. England in the Seventeenth Century.
7. England in the Eighteenth Century.
8. England in the Nineteenth Century.
All except the first of this series have been published. Each book is by a separate author and each author is a specialist in the period about which he, or she, writes.

The authors have had a free hand with their work, with the consequence that each has put his own emphasis on different aspects of social development, but, in general, the series is good.

Certain chapters in these books are complete essays in themselves and very useful essays, too. Instance the chapter “John Wesley and the Road to Salvation,” in “England in the Eighteenth Century,” by J. H. Plumb.

The influence of Wesley’s early life and his parents is dealt with. When, after 1738, he started to preach his Methodism and to build the organisation of Methodist chapels he was helped by the fact that the newly developed industry in this country was creating a number of new towns which had no churches. The tie-up between the Anglican church organisation and the state was such that the Anglican church ignored the new towns and so Wesley had a clear field. He had a violent dislike for radicalism and preached that the people should have no share in government. For him, the way to reform the evils of society was to transform the will of the individual. He preached thrift, abstinence, hard work and concentration. It was the Puritanism of the previous century shorn of its political radicalism. To an embryo capitalist class, striving by thrift and frugality to accumulate greater capital this teaching had a great appeal.

Wesley was intensely superstitious. He believed in witches and the possession by devils. His teaching called for no exercise of the intellect and appealed to his uneducated working class audiences. The owners of the workshops and factories that were growing up all over England, following the inventions of Savery and Newcomen, Arkwright and Hargreaves, the Darby’s of Coalbrookdale and others, were demanding more and more child labour. Poverty stricken workers had need of the few pence that their children could earn. Wesley taught that play was unworthy of a Christian child, that a child’s sole education need be only a knowledge of the Bible and the Catechism, that for the sake of its everlasting life a child should be at work. So, a Methodist could regard his overworked children with complacency. Methodism flourished through discipline and toil in the ugliness of suburbs and the industrial villages of England.

But the Methodist teaching destroyed its own objective. Wesley himself wrote, at the age of 84. that, through diligence and frugality many of his disciples were increasing their wealth and, as their wealth increased so did their pride, their anger and their desires of the flesh. Although the form of Methodism remained, the spirit was vanishing.

This Pelican History of England is, in total, very useful. There is another Pelican book entitled “Pre-historic Britain” which, although not one of this series, is a useful addition to it as a prelude to the series proper.
W. Waters

The Savage Eye (1960)

Film Review from the January 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE SAVAGE EYE, at present showing at the Curzon, is something of an emotional block-buster. Staggering out into the neon lighting, the dazed cinema-goer finds himself asking, “Is life really as dreadful as this, are people usually so hopeless and despairing?” or worse still, "Am I one of them?”.

Certainly the eye is savage enough giving a conducted tour of present-day society as seen by a bitter, disillusioned and dejected divorcee. Finding herself in a spiritual vacuum, she wanders about the city, draws her alimony cheque regularly, and spends much of her boredom increasing her disgust at the behaviour of human beings. Sourly she views the world at large from the pavement, and a singularly depressing view it is. Bad debts at the dog tracks, screams for blood at wrestling matches, vicious brawls in pubs. Men looking for women, women looking for men. and fat ladies pedalling wildly on stationary bicycles in a beauty parlour. Candid shots of gaping mouths, sagging waists and false smiles. Yet beneath their phony, gilt-edged pretensions, people struggling for recognition, love and affection. Even in one of the most pitiful and truly horrific scenes of the film struggling for their health at a faith healing ceremony ("Dear God, it's her liver. Move along friend and pray awhile.”) During all of this she conducts a cynical and at times slightly pretentious dialogue with a resonant manly voice that identifies itself as “Your inner self, your angel,” and the unhappy wanderer is finally persuaded to face reality and come to terms with the people she despises so much.

The film shows you nothing new. People are seen doing the things you know that they do, living the life that you know they live. But it does make clear the fact that society is made up of people, and that people within modern society need more than new flats, health insurance and hair driers to make them feel that life is worth living. They need to belong, to feel that they are doing something considered worthwhile to the community, to give and to receive. In a society such as ours it is quite obvious that these needs are for the greater part unrealised. Our world is dominated by fear, hatred and confusion, where cash, profit and ‘‘What's in it for me?” are so often the criteria for doing anything. When half the population do not even have their basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter met, much less their emotional needs, how can they find personal satisfaction and harmony in their every-day lives? To retain a sense of ordinary humane values requires a conscious effort. Divorced from emotional security at home, in spite of vast housing estates and modern gadgets: alienated from pride at work, for all the new machinery: still there is little sense of achievement and pleasure.

This is all shown clearly, but the film offers no solution to the problems. Surely to reorganise society on a basis of common humanity and the social considerations of the well-being of all human beings is not such a difficult task. While Socialists may feel that The Savage Eye does not look far enough, it is none the less well worth seeing for it does extend an invitation to its audience to (misquoting the faith healer) “Move along friend and think a while."
John Higgins

A grown-up attitude (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the last Labour Party conference Neil Kinnock made an impassioned appeal to Labour members to sink their differences and rally round his leadership. He asked them to win power for Labour so that they could end the blight and waste of unemployment and make the world a safer place to live in. Kinnock argued that these social evils flowed from the policies of the Thatcher government, thus implying two things: firstly, that unemployment is the result of government policies; and secondly that a change in government will remedy the situation

Poverty and unemployment have indeed increased in the last four years or so. Where the writer lives—Scotland—there are now three-quarters of a million people living below or on the "official'' poverty line and a further quarter of a million working in low paid jobs which place them on or below this line. The poor live on incomes that give a married couple with two youngsters only £59.20 a week, or £8.46 a day. a payment which in real terms is only 25 per cent above Rowntree's official poverty line of 1936, which he considered "the minimum in which physical efficiency could be maintained". These appalling figures apply equally to other parts of Britain. Recent estimates of poverty, using only a slightly more generous estimate than that of the DHSS. put the number of British people in poverty at fifteen million. Once in poverty a whole series of forms of deprivation follow: bad health, poor housing and educational facilities, and so on. Poverty has no respect for age; it hits the young and the old the hardest. One Glasgow pensioner puts its impact in vivid terms: "Eighty-two years old and hardly a stick of furniture to call my own. I can't afford to heat my house and eat as well".

The cause of poverty is not to be found in the policies of the Thatcher government, but in capitalism itself. It is a society of glaring contradictions in which people starve in the face of a mountain of food, where people are homeless and at the same time building workers are made unemployed; where more is spent on amassing weapons of annihilation than on health. Capitalism is blind to need; it exists only to accumulate wealth for the tiny proportion of the population who own the resources of society. Because it is based on the anarchy of the market, from time to time it stumbles into crisis. This, of course, occurs on a world-scale and not just in Britain. We at present are living through such a world depression, in which workers have been thrown out of jobs not because they have produced too little, but paradoxically because they have produced "too much". The trouble with Kinnock and Thatcher is that they assume that governments can do something about it. Slumps, they claim, can be ended through changes in government policy. For Kinnock it is increased government expenditure; for Thatcher it is decreasing public expenditure.

Both are doomed to failure. In the 1970s government expenditure increased four times yet unemployment rose from half-a-million to two million. Faced with such problems. Denis Healey, the Labour Chancellor, imposed the first round of spending cuts in the social services. The Thatcher government has carried on where Labour left off in the belief that cutting public expenditure and reducing taxation would stimulate investment in industry. What both miss is the fact that slumps are natural features of capitalism. As an economic system capitalism has been characterised by booms and slumps throughout its historical development. Only when business confidence is restored by the prospects of renewed profitability will investment recommence and unemployment fall as output increases. Claims that Labour or Tory can get Britain working are fatuous and also encourage people to believe in simplistic notions of good and bad governments.

At the moment the very mention of the word "Thatcherism" is enough to make a left winger foam at the mouth, to seethe with anger and indignation. The reaction is quite understandable. Thatcher and her crowd, in their exhortations to the unemployed to get on their bikes and find work, and their comparisons of striking miners with international terrorists, are callous and calculating. The trouble is that their rhetoric and complacency amid a multitude of personal disasters distract people from examining the system they represent and fix attention on personalities. Not so long ago the personification of evil was Edward Heath. Since then he has become a good guy, although not as good as Kinnock.

Although we cannot compare the government performances of Thatcher and Kinnock, comparison can be made between former Labour governments and the present Tory one. In the area of trade unionism the left argues that present Tory policy is designed to shackle and weaken organised labour. We would agree with this verdict, but is the Labour Party any better? During the so-called winter of discontent James Callaghan, Labour Prime Minister,

said in the Commons (January 1979) that "everyone has the right to cross a picket line and I hope they will do so". Remember also it was Labour back in the 1960s through Barbara Castle's white paper In Place of Strife — who tried to impose upon the trade unions measures not dissimilar to present Tory policy — for example secret ballots, cooling off periods, and so on. Moreover Labour s treatment of strikers is no more sympathetic than that of Thatcher. During the last Labour government the vicious Special Patrol Group was used on pickets at Grunwick; troops were used to break the firemen's strike; and the public sector workers opposed to Labour's "social contract" (read contrick) were vilified and hounded

Thatcher is also accused of running down the social services and of creating more inequality by making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Indeed inequality has increased, but again has Labour done better? Under the last Labour government there were cutbacks on spending in health, education and housing. The Child Poverty Action Group reckoned that children were worse off under Labour than they had been under the Heath government of 1970-74. It was during the Wilson/Callaghan government that the Fight the Cuts demos began. What inflamed much of the protest was that while the working class was bearing the brunt of the economic crisis the rich were seeing their incomes increase. During the Heath government the proportion of wealth owned by the top 1 per cent fell from 30 per cent to 22.5 per cent; under Labour it climbed to 23.5 per cent in 1975. 24.9 per cent in 1976, and so on upwards. The original reason for Labour coming into being was to redistribute wealth and this they have failed miserably to do.

The past experience of Labour gives us nothing to cheer about and neither do we believe that things will be much different if Kinnock gets elected. Blind faith in leaders has got the working class nowhere. In the 1950s the darling of the left was Nye Bevan, who led the fight within the Labour Party for unilateral nuclear disarmament — that is until he became the shadow foreign minister and asked members not to send him naked to the conference tables of the world. In other words, without the bargaining counter of the nuclear bomb. More recently, another former pacifist—Michael Foot— outdid the Tories in his jingoism during the Falklands War. He, along with Tony Benn, was a member of the Labour Cabinet which introduced Polaris behind the backs of their own MPs. How can we believe that Kinnock will prove different, particularly when surrounded by such well-known "socialists'' as Hattersley and Kaufman?

There is no doubt that the Labour leadership is once again ready to give full support to British capitalism. This does not surprise us; since Labour has no idea what socialism is. it has no notion of how to achieve socialism. Both the Tories and Labour are out to run capitalism. They may disagree as to the best way to run the system but they have the same objective. But capitalism has shown itself to be incapable of operating in the interests of the working class. Kinnock or Thatcher represent the politics of the nursery. Why not join the grown-ups in the struggle for socialism?
Bill Knox

Editorial: Alright for some (1985)

Editorial from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not the exclusive brain child of Home Secretary Leon Brittan to increase the deposit an electoral candidate must lodge against securing a defined proportion of the vote. The idea has been around for a long time, as inflation has reduced the significance of the £150 deposit as a deterrent against frivolous and eccentric candidates; its implementation would concentrate the contest into the hands of the few big parties with a chance of being elected. The predictable protests from the smaller parties, such as the Ecology Party, may have forced second thoughts on the government; such opposition has succeeded whenever the idea of putting up the deposit has been floated in recent years. Although of course Leon Brittan does pride himself on being an unusual Home Secretary . . .

The Ecology Party is not among those classified as frivolous; that is reserved for the likes of the Raving Loony Monster Party, or Screaming Lord Sutch (who seems to win more applause as a daft parliamentary candidate than he ever did as a singer) or Commander Bill Boakes with his mixture of traffic, public hygiene and race neurosis. The opposition to the increase argues that it will not prevent such devaluation of the elections; it will simply confine the frivolous candidates to those who can afford it.

The argument for the higher deposit rests on the assumption that Screaming Lord Sutch is playing games when he stands for parliament while parties like Labour and Conservative are giving the matter a proper gravity.

But this is to confuse minority opinion with frivolity. What of the bigger parties? How do we describe an organisation like the Conservative Party, which has a long history of presiding over intense human misery and deprivation yet still claims to stand for a Better Britain? Are we expected to take seriously a political party which tells us that mounting unemployment and ever harsher impoverishment for the working class is really prosperity? Should we laugh or cry when Tory speakers assure us that the terror and pain and murder of war is really the height of glory and human achievement? It is surely frivolous for the Conservatives, after their appalling record of repression of the mass of the people, to persist in asking for working class votes?

Then what of the Labour Party? They tell us now that unemployment is avoidable, that it exists in Britain today by Thatcher's own personal design and that they have the cure for it. Yet they know that during their last term of power the figures of people out of work doubled; they know also that they began the financial fumbling with state expenditure restrictions which they now castigate as the road to longer dole queues, as if spending cuts were the Tories' exclusive policy. Is not this toying with the truth frivolous? The Labour Party now makes great play with the Tories' warring relationship with the unions, implying that they have the secret of a better, more productive way of handling industrial disputes. In this they ignore the history of their own governments, going back to the 1920s and 1930s. during which they were constantly in conflict with the workers over their policy of lowering living standards for the useful, productive class in society while protecting the privileges of the parasitic minority. Are the Labour Party to be taken seriously, when they now ask for the votes of trade unionists on the appeal that they will give them a better deal?

In this sorry mess, it is easy for the Liberal/SDP Alliance to denounce the Tories and the Labour Party as the Old Gang, implying that a New Gang under Steel and Owen would not have the same problems. But the Alliance produces no policy which is basically new or different from those of the Old Gang; it simply rehashes what the other capitalist parties have to offer, relabels it and promotes it through different salespeople. Is not this a frivolous waste of time? The same can be said for organisations like the Ecology Party, who attempt to analyse some of the problems of capitalism but offer remedies for them which leave the basic cause untouched. No worker should regard appeals to vote for reformism under yet another name as anything other than a sour joke.

In contrast, the candidates which the Socialist Party of Great Britain puts forward at elections are in deadly earnest. Socialists aim at capturing the seats of power, to dispossess the capitalist class and transform the basis of society from one of class ownership of the means of life into one of communal ownership. Very few votes are registered for that proposition, against the name of a socialist candidate. We have never approached anywhere near saving our deposit, so Brittan's proposal may be cripplingly expensive to us. But the lack of support for the ideas of socialism is not a measure of their validity; what socialists have to say is desperately urgent.

We argue that capitalism is essentially a social system which cannot meet the needs of the people. It must repress us with wars, poverty. famine, disease, ignorance, frustration . . . The parties which ask for our votes on the grounds that they can eliminate these problems while keeping capitalism in existence are claiming to be able to do the impossible; they are the ones who must not be taken seriously.

Only a social revolution can get rid of the ailments which afflict human society today. That revolution cannot be masterminded by leaders; it must be carried through by a politically conscious, participating working class, worldwide. This is at present a minority viewpoint but it is anything but eccentric or frivolous. It is the very stuff of social progress to a free, co-operative, abundant world.