Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Passing Show: Change of Mood (1959)

The Passing Show column from the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The glad news was heard in a million households on the Friday night after the General Election: the class war is obsolete! Mr. Macmillan announced it on TV. “This seems to me," he added, “ a great gain for the future." This sentiment will be echoed by workers everywhere. For now clerks, dockers, factory-operatives, will be able to put in immediate demands for wage increases and improved conditions, and the employers will agree forthwith. If they resisted, and defended their profits, they would be taking part in a struggle between, classes—between those who own the means of production and those who have to work them. But they won't resist—we have Mr. Macmillan's own word for it: the class war is obsolete.

Perhaps if the employees in Mr. Macmillan's own family firm, the publishing business, took him at his word, we should soon enough see the difference between. Mr. Macmillan, the soft-soap politician, and Mr. Macmillan, the member of the ruling class.

Change of Mood
There was another significant phrase in the course of the Prime Minister’s speech. Before the election we all heard Conservative candidates promising that “it will be even better if you vote for us"; but in his TV speech Mr. Macmillan could only venture as far as "I hope that in the course of the next Parliament it may be possible to maintain the national prosperity," and so forth. Before we voted, it was the indicative mood—“it will be better"; now the ballot boxes are closed again, the mood is subjunctive —“I hope it may be possible.” How soon the victorious party begins to tone down its pre-election promises!

As against all the other parties, the Conservatives start with a great advantage: that very powerful instrument of propaganda, the Press, is largely on their side. In the field of the mass-circulation daily newspapers, the Conservative “Telegraph,” “Mail,” “Express,” and “Sketch,” together have over eight million customers; while the Labour-supporting “Herald” and “Mirror” have a circulation of just under six million (The Guardian, 9/10/59). On Sundays the Conservative papers sell over fifteen million copies, while again the Labour papers sell fewer than six millions. As for the provincial press, both daily and evening, the overwhelming majority of papers support the Conservatives. Apart from this, the British electoral system itself has a bias towards the Conservatives—admittedly small, but occasionally decisive, as in 1951, when the Labour Party had 220,000 more votes than the Conservatives, but twenty-six fewer seats (The Observer, 11/10/59).

Of the two Houses of Parliament, the House of Lords (although its powers are now greatly cut down) has a permanent Conservative majority. As to the elected House of Commons, the results of the Conservative advantages detailed above are soon seen. The Commons just returned should last, with a Government majority of 100, for the full five years, until 1964. If it does, it will mean that in the forty-six years between the “khaki” election of 1918 and 1964. the Labour Party will have had a majority in the House of Commons for only six years. For three years (1923-4 and 1929-31) no single party had a majority: while for thirty-seven out of these forty-six years, the Conservatives will have had a clear majority over all other parties. The only General Election since Asquith was Premier to have produced a workable non-Conservative majority was that of 1945 (the narrow Labour majority of 1950 was not, of course, a workable one and lasted only eighteen months!- And the 1945 result was the product of the holocaust of the Second World War. It seems, in fact, that it takes a cataclysm to unroot the Conservative majority in Parliament.

The only sure way to alter these conditions is to bring about Socialism: and the way to do that is by the steady spread of Socialist ideas. Even if the Labour Party did form Governments more often it would make no difference to the economic system. The Labour Party used to claim it was a Socialist Party, but apparently it is now abandoning this pretence, judging by Mr. Gaitskell’s remark that "Labour wants to make Capitalism work better and more fairly than it does under a Conservative Government'' (The Observer, 11/10/59). As to that, one can only say that there is only one way to run Capitalism, and that, is for the benefit of the Capitalists.

From The Times, 12/10/59:
Pretoria, October 11th.—Five British Socialist publications have been banned as objectionable literature under an official "Gazette" list published here. They are the fourth revised edition of “Questions of the Day,” “Socialism S.P.G.B.,” “Socialist Comment,” “The Socialist Party and War,” and “Socialist Party of Great Britain—its Principles and Policy.” The “Gazette” notice gave no reason why these publications are regarded as objectionable.—Reuter.
For those who have forgotten, South Africa is one of the Western allies, united in defence of democracy and freedom of speech, or so they tell us. It is interesting to observe that the South African Government, by banning these Socialist Party pamphlets, has paid an unwilling tribute to their effectiveness.
Alwyn Edgar

The Passing Show: The BMC Strike (1959)

The Passing Show column from the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The BMC Strike

The recent strike of workers employed on the new small car produced by the British Motor Corporation evoked some curious statements by the employers. The employees were dissatisfied with the rates of pay offered them for the work on the new car, alleging that they meant a reduction in wages. To this, a representative of the management replied:—
The company regard this as blackmail and want it to be understood clearly that they are not prepared to hold any discussions until normal work is resumed. The Guardian, 1-9-59.
Those who defend capitalism sometimes do so on the grounds that free bargaining is the best way to reach fair prices for the goods or services that everyone has to offer. The workers, they say, are not forced to work for any particular employer, or for any particular wage; they are free to bargain, and thus arrive a "fair" wage. This ignores the fact that the workers are in the nature of the case exploited by their employers; no business-owner will employ a man to work for him unless the man brings him a surplus over and above the value of his wages.

But even ignoring the exploitation of the workers, on which the whole capitalist system is founded, and even accepting the arguments about “free” bargaining and “fair” wages, how can the BMC defend its attitude? The workers are not prepared to accept the pay offered them for this particular job, and so stop work until agreement can be reached between the two sides. In doing this they are merely acting in accord with the teachings of the classical laissez- faire capitalist economists (“each acting to forward his own interests will produce the greatest general good”). But the BMC refuse even to discuss the question until the men resume work on the BMC’s terms! When that happens of course, the employers are free to spin out the talks as long as they want to— negotiations, adjournments, deferments committees, re-appraisals—and all the time the men are working on the BMC’s terms. It is exactly as if the men were to say that they would not even start talks until the BMC employs them at the higher rate of pay they are asking. If the men did this how Fleet Street would gasp in horror; how the leader-writers would lash themselves into a frenzy, denouncing such a departure from the established ways of behaviour! But when the employers do it, that’s all right. Fleet Street certainly gasped in horror at the latest BMC strike; but, the reason was that the workers had dared to cease work, instead of accepting whatever the management graciously decided to pay them, and touching their forelocks in gratitude that they were paid anything at all.

Fleet Street denounces forced labour when practiced by the Russians in faraway Siberia; but the only thing which appears likely to satisfy the big newspaper owners, and their class-comrades the big industrialists, is to forbid the workers to strike in any circumstances, and establish forced labour in this country as well.


Religiously inclined people present many problems to the inquiring mind. After the recent crash of a Dakota near Barcelona, which resulted in the deaths of all on board, a man who narrowly failed to catch the plane is reported to have said “God saved me” (Daily Herald, 21-8-59). Does he, one wonders, really believe that the Almighty personally intervened in his case, and put difficulties in his way so that he wouldn't catch the plane? If the Almighty went to this trouble, why didn’t he stop the other passengers catching the plane, or indeed simply prevent it crashing? Perhaps the Christian theologians could answer this question—they must have had a lot of practice—but to the rest of us it remains puzzling. 

In the East

Another event reported the same day is also difficult to understand. At a Buddhist procession in Ceylon an elephant ran amok and killed fourteen people, including eleven women and a child. The Guardian, 21-8-59. Christians pondering on the Barcelona air crash can reflect that their Buddhist rivals will have an even harder time explaining this disaster away.


A correspondent of the Daily Herald (26-8-59) raises the following point:—
I read . . . the other day that there is a plum glut in Worcestershire, and that the fruit would be left to rot. Why can’t they be picked and sent to orphanages, children’s homes and hospitals?
It’s a comment often heard. If there is too much food at a certain time or place, why can’t it be given to those who really need it ?

The answer is that we live under a capitalist system. It wouldn’t pay anybody to transport the surplus fruit from Worcestershire to the people who could eat it. And, by capitalist ethics, what doesn’t pay isn't done. Besides that, to distribute free fruit to institutions like those mentioned in the letter would mean that they would reduce their purchases through the normal channels. This would strike at the profits of the middlemen and the farmers. However generous and kind-hearted such men may be personally, they can only stay in business if they play the capitalist game; and they would have to resist any suggestion which would have the effect of destroying their own trade.

There is a way in which we could distribute the products of society freely to the members of society; and that, of course, is the establishment of Socialism.
Alwyn Edgar

The Passing Show: The Devlin Report (1959)

The Passing Show column from the September 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Devlin Report

The Devlin Report was in line with the opinions of those who see the future of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland lying in the creation of a multi-racial, capitalist society. This strand of thought sees the Africans as being the wage-workers of this society, and wants them treated as wage-workers are treated here, with (ultimately) votes and "free speech" and the rest of the paraphernalia of capitalist democracy. This, in effect, would delude the Africans into believing that they are the real rulers of the country, just as the capitalist class tries to delude the workers in Britain. The result of this would be to turn the Africans (so this school believes) into respectable wage-workers, labouring as steadily for the profit of their employers as the wage-workers do in this country.

It seems likely that this trend of thought will prevail in the counsels of the ruling class, although for the present the British Government, and British officialdom in Nyasaland, seem to have been won over to the “settler" views of the white Rhodesian landowners, who regard the Africans merely as labourers on the land who must be kept in submission at all costs. But whatever the ruling class thinks and does, the view of the Socialist Party is clear. The only way to bring about a sound society, and to secure the free development of the human personality, in Nyasaland as elsewhere, is to establish Socialism.

Beating and Killing

The Devlin Commission allowed the Government one or two crumbs of comfort. It found that at the famous meeting of Congress leaders on January 25th “there was talk of beating and killing Europeans," and that when the trouble started “the Government of Nyasaland had to act or abdicate" The Observer (26-7-59). As to that, those of us who have frequently come into contact with white settlers from Kenya and Southern Africa can only say this: that if every settler who talked of beating and killing Africans were put in jail without trial, then the Africans would have to govern themselves, for there would be too few whites left to do it.

Religious Wars

A recent television broadcast of Bertolt Brecht's play “Mother Courage and Her Children" elicited this information in the Radio Times (30-6-59):
The Thirty Years’ War 1618-1648 was a religious war waged by the King of Sweden and the Protestant Princes of Northern Germany against the Catholics under the Emperor of Austria, aided by Poland and France. It ravaged the whole of Europe and killed half its population on the battlefields or by plague and famine. It brought no advantage to either side.
Socialists, in the light of the materialist conception of history, realise that the Thirty Years’ War was not a religious war, and that men do not murder each other merely because they are of different religions—or we should have civil war in this country between the Anglicans and Catholics, who now dwell peaceably together. The Thirty Years’ War was fought, like other wars, because the ruling classes of the countries taking part believed that they would get something out of it—either an increase of their wealth, or at least the safeguarding of the wealth they already had. But the Christians hold up their hands in horror when they hear the theory that the Thirty Years’ War (and others like it) was not a religious war. Such beliefs, they cry, are atheistic and blasphemous, and people who hold them are merely encouraging the spread of materialism.

How the Christians love to claim the slaughter and the devastation for their own!

Sidney Webb

The spate of speeches about Sidney Webb on his centenary mostly contained some sad, head-shaking references to the praise given by the Webbs to the Stalinist system in their book “Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation?" (This was the title of the first edition: the Webbs even went so far as to remove the question mark in subsequent issues.) For example, Lord Attlee’s speech, reported in the Manchester Guardian (14-7-59):
Webb tended to deal too much with institutions and not enough with people, and that may have accounted, Lord Attlee thought, for the extraordinary aberration towards the aid of his life of' his admiration for the Soviet Union.
But why arc these Labour Party men, these Fabians, so surprised? Sidney Webb spent his life working for Fabianism, the slow conversion of private capitalism into state capitalism. Then he and his wife went to Russia, and found their ideal system, state capitalism, in full operation; so, being honest if misguided people, they wrote a book praising it. What is so surprising in that?
Alwyn Edgar

The Passing Show: National Anthems (1959)

The Passing Show column from the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

National Anthems

There is a famous story to the effect that the King and Queen of a foreign country used to hold hands whenever their National Anthem was played, and say to each other “Darling, this is our tune." But apart from monarchs, National Anthems appear to have few friends in these unpatriotic days. The writer has often been nearly trampled underfoot in the fierce rush for the exits which cinema audiences make at the end of the programme, in order to avoid having to stand through “God Save the Queen.”

This has no doubt given our rulers pause for thought. For centuries the workers have been encouraged to rally round the flag, and defend their masters' profits on the battlefield, by the singing of patriotic songs and anthems. This was so useful to the ruling class that they could hardly be expected to let the habit die out without some effort to preserve it.

“God Save Nato"

If a third world war comes, it seems likely at present that the NATO powers will all be on the same side. So the latest production in the patriotic song line is the “NATO hymn,” copies of which were sent recently to many schools in this country. The help of God is freely invoked, the Almighty making his appearance in the very first line. The exact aim of the hymn is a little obscure. The first verse says “ Let . . . violence disappear.” while the second demands “ Build up the power of right . . . Let NATO grow in might, and put its foes to flight.” How exactly NATO is to put its foes to flight, and violence is to disappear simultaneously, is not made clear. Presumably the NATO armies are to be trained to spring out from behind convenient corners, and all shout “ Boo!” at the same time: at which the Russians will burst into tears and run away.

But these criticisms no doubt approach the subject from the wrong angle. Patriotic songs do not, and are not meant to, appeal to reason; they rely on rousing the emotions. G. K. Chesterton remarked that to say ‘‘My country, right or wrong,” was like saying “My mother, drunk or sober.” But “My country, right or wrong,” is just the feeling that a national anthem aims to instill. The NATO hymn is well in the tradition of previous patriotic anthems.

Even the Manchester Guardian, which whole-heartedly supports NATO, found that the NATO song's invocation of God stuck in its gullet. It quoted Sir John Squire's famous verse (21-4-59):
God heard the nations shout
  “Gott strafe England" "God save the King,"
God this, God that and God the other thing.
  "Good God! said God. "I've got my work cut out."
The Manchester Guardian thinks that a righteous God will be on NATO’s side; but his help, it believes, ought to be asked a little more decorously. This will, no doubt, not prevent the paper urging us on to battle in any third world war just as it did in the first two.

The Poverty of "Our" Judges

The Labour Party, which claims to represent the organised workers, appears to be angling for the support of a small group of labourers who have not yet formed themselves in a union affiliated to the T. U. C. The sons of toil in question are the county court judges and the Metropolitan magistrates. The Labour Party when in power attempted to enforce a wage-freeze on the miners and railwaymen, but it is not doctrinnaire about these things. One of the Ministers in the post-war Labour Government was Mr., now Lord, Silkin; and he realises that there are some people who ought to be free from the wage-restraints he and his colleagues recommended to the workers. In 1957 the county court judges’ salaries were raised to £3,750 per annum, and those of the Metropolitan magistrates to £3,400 (Manchester Guardian, 13-5-59). Now they are to be raised again, to £4,400 and £3,800 respectively. No one in the Lords spoke more enthusiastically in support than the Labour Lord Silkin. “There is no doubt in my mind," he said, "that a good many of our county court judges particularly, and magistrates, have been living in relative penury in the last few years—certainly since the war.”

What a wonderful word "relative” is! No doubt the judges and magistrates are poorer than the richest members of the ruling class. But if Lord Silkin is so worried about the "relative penury” of the judges, why couldn't he spare a word for the poverty in which many members of the working class have to live? There’s nothing relative about that.

“Something For Nothing”

Field-Marshal Montgomery said at the Founders’ Day celebration at the Royal Hospital. Chelsea, "I shall be very sorry when National Service comes to an end, as 1 think it is good for young people to learn to give something for nothing.” (Observer, 21-5-59.) 4

Such [as] a thrust in the stomach with a bayonet?

But Lord Montgomery needn't be sorry. For the ninety per cent. of the population who belong to the working class, their entire lives are spent giving something for nothing. Their employers exact surplus value from them: the value of their work over and above what they are paid. Without the workers giving "something for nothing” throughout their working lives, the capitalist system would collapse.

Perhaps that is what Lord Montgomery is afraid of.
Alwyn Edgar

The Passing Show: Hand in hand (1959)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are continually being asked by reformers to put their objective—which is, naturally enough, Socialism— into cold storage and instead use their time and energy to support “immediate demands," such as the abolition of the H-bomb, the ending of the new laws in Rhodesia, action by the N.C.B. about miners’ unemployment, and so on. But the only objective, immediate or otherwise, of Socialists is Socialism. And if the efforts of the world’s reformers had in the last fifty years been used to work for Socialism, their “immediate demands” would probably by now be unnecessary.

South Africa

Prominent among the objects of the reformers’ interest is South Africa. They abhor apartheid. The result of their reforms would be to give the African workers the same opportunities as the white workers: that is, to work on equal terms for the South African capitalists. The objective of Socialists is to free both white and black workers from wage-slavery, and to end the evils of capitalism in South Africa as elsewhere

Hand in hand

The aims of the reformers in regard to South Africa are, in fact, exactly the same as the aims of the capitalists in regard to South Africa. The present state of affairs in the Union is the result of the political dominance of the large farmers, who are determined to keep the land (which gives them their economic and political power) for themselves, and to deny the Africans any political or educational equality, since that would only strengthen the Africans’ desire to own the land themselves, instead of merely working on it for the benefit of the white owners. The farmers wish to keep the Africans in subjection, as uneducated hewers of wood and drawers of water. But this is in direct contradiction to the desires of the South African capitalists, who want an educated working class, and one which is not made discontented by being deprived of the vote. The South African landowners strongly oppose giving the Africans the vote, since propaganda will no longer fool landless men into believing they can never be anything else: but the capitalists do not think that the grant of the vote will deprive them of any power, since they can see that in much of the capitalist world the workers possess the vote and yet make no attempt to use it to overthrow the capitalist systems (private or state) which sit on their backs.


The identity of aims between the reformers and the capitalists has come out strongly in recent weeks. No journal, perhaps, can claim to speak for British capitalists with as much truth as The Director, the journal of the Institute of Directors. And in its April issue it shows great hostility to the South African Government's latest face-saving plan. Hoping to side-track the Africans’ demands for political equality, Dr. Verwoerd has announced his plan to create five Bantustans out of the present native reserves (which cover only one-sixth of the Union's territory) and to hold out to Africans in the Bantustans the hope of eventual political independence. The Africans would thus regard the Bantustans as their real homes, and would be treated in the much larger white area (including all the industrial districts) as a mere drifting population. But capitalism requires a steady, settled, tied-down, working class: and The Director damns the scheme comprehensively, dismissing it finally with “The Bantustan plan, in short, looks half-baked and wholly impracticable, politically and economically."

Spinach collecting

The supporters of South African capitalism in the South African Parliament itself similarly attacked the Government’s bill to segregate whites and non-whites at college, by creating new universities for Africans only. “Situated in remote rural areas," The Observer (12-4-59) reports, “and cut off as far as possible from contact with Western civilisation, the ‘universities’ will be too small to provide anything like the facilities available at proper universities." But universities under a capitalist system exist to supply the capitalists with the upper ranks of the workers in their industries and in their state services. The Opposition was therefore much disquieted with the repeated statements of Government M.P.S that “the separate universities would restore to the African his ‘Bantu culture.’"

What was this “Bantu culture" that had to be preserved and promoted, inquired an Opposition M.P. To answer his own question he turned to the chapter headed “The Culture of the South African Bantu" in the most famous of apartheid documents, the Tomlinson Report.

Bantu Culture, declares the report, embraces “Bride price" polygamy, ritual practices, ancestor worship, the brewing of beer and the collection of wild fruits and spinach.

And the collection of wild fruits and spinach is scarcely a preparation for work in the higher levels of capitalist industry.

Afrikaaner industrialists

The division among the whites in South Africa is not between English and Afrikaaners, but between the capitalists and the landed interests. Hitherto capitalist industry has been owned chiefly by English speakers, and the land mainly by Afrikaans speakers. But South African industry is growing year by year, and more and more of it is owned by Afrikaaners. The Manchester Guardian (13-4-59) says:
At the same time it is known that influential people in the growing Afrikaans industrial and commercial world are apprehensive about the effects on world opinion and on the economy of the country of such measures as the bill to create separate African “states." the bill to impose stringent forms of job reservation (for whites) on industry, and the bill to impose university apartheid.
Here lies the real danger for the supporters of apartheid—the increasing strength of capitalism. But when the South African capitalists have gained their inevitable victory, and have given the African workers equal rights with the white workers, then the only change that matters, in South Africa as in the rest of the world, will still have to be accomplished: the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a Socialist society.

Sir David in trouble

Sir David Eccles has been getting into trouble again. He told a German audience that the British royal family was all the better for its Hanoverian blood (The Observer, 3-5-59). Great exception was taken to this in the British newspapers. What they principally objected to was that anyone should mention the subject at all. It is never admitted in polite political circles that Prince Philip is German (coming from the German family that rules over the lucky Greeks) and that the Queen is part German (the family which occupies the British throne having been German, and having married Germans, from 1714, until the future George VI broke the custom by marrying an English-woman). Sir David Eccles will get no further in politics if he drops any more bricks. He must learn that the successful politician doesn't say things merely because they are true: he only says what the audience wants to hear.

“Love Thy Enemies"

The Archbishop of Canterbury, returning from a tour of the Far East, tells us that the Japanese “are a lovable people” (Daily Herald, 29-4-59). And a fine, appropriate sentiment it is from the head of a church which claims to advocate love and kindness. Only one criticism: why didn’t the Archbishop tell us this between 1941 and 1945, when Britain was at war with Japan? All we heard then from the bishops were exhortations to work harder and fight more fiercely to wipe out the bestial, inhuman Japs. But there it is. When British capitalism requires the organisation of a wave of hate, all its subsidiary concerns do their bit to help: and that includes the Church. Now, when the Japanese are our allies against the Russians, the latter, who were lovable from 1941 to 1945, have become bestial and inhuman, and it is the Japs who are lovable. How thankful the Church must be that the average man seems to have no memory.
Alwyn Edgar