Monday, May 1, 2017

Just another May Day? (1961)

Editorial from the May 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Each year, as the first of May comes round, it is our custom to reflect upon its significance for the working class. For the better part of fifty years we have devoted either the editorial or leading article of the Socialist Standard to May Day.

We do not need to check on every past issue to know what all those editorials have said. If there is any essential difference to be found between them it will be in their growing awareness, as each May Day comes and goes, of the widening gulf between the present and the past. The May Day of today is but a pale shadow of those gone by.

All those editorials will have spoken about the origins of May Day in the struggles of workers in the past. Of the way in which it has gradually been losing its meaning for them in the present. Of how its message has been distorted and degraded over the years by so many people and parties claiming to be Socialist—but who are far from being so. Above all, they will have reflected on how an event born in the spirit of the international brotherhood of the working class has become an occasion for displays of the crudest nationalism and military pageantry, and of the way in which an idea that, for all its shortcomings in practice, at least had some relevance to the movement of revolutionary Socialism, has deteriorated into an annual charade for the prime benefit of the Labour reformists of the world.

And how long will it be before they cease to keep up even this pretence? The charade is already developing into farce. May Day, if it is not dead, is rapidly dying.

What, then, are Socialists to make of May Day? Convinced that the only hope for the world lies with international Socialism and that May Day should be a unique occasion to demonstrate this, what are we to think of its debasement by the reformist prattlings of Labour leaders or the parades of nuclear missiles through Moscow’s Red Square? Should we be disheartened by such travesties of the meaning of May Day and write it off in despair? Of course not.

Say what we will, May Day reminds one of the few occasions capable of enthusing workers to come together and demonstrate politically. That we consider their politics to be wrong only serves to confirm that it is the duty of the Socialist Party to seek to convince them that our policy is right. May Day gives the opportunity—from our platforms, through our literature, and by discussion with them as individuals—to do just this.

This year we are holding two open-air rallies, one in London and the other in Glasgow. Each of them will be followed by a large indoor meeting in the evening. It is for each and every member of the Party in both cities to do his utmost to make them a success. The results of the Party’s effort at Easter, in spite of atrocious weather, show what can be done.

In a world of sordid nationalism and political reformism, the cause we stand for is international Socialism. Let us then demonstrate for this, the only fundamental thing worth demonstrating for, more confidently and more effectively than ever before, this May Day, 1961.

For we should not regard it as just another May Day. On the contrary. It is a further opportunity—a fine opportunity—to spread the message of Socialism.

Let us make the most of it.

Editorial: Our Motto For May Day. (1911)

Editorial from the May 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The month of May, named from Maia, the Roman Goddess of Spring, is reminiscent of ancient games and festivals, of the growing warmth of the sun, of the lengthening day, the opening flowers, and the perennial re-birth of Nature. Even in the stony deserts in which we live, move, and have our being some little influence of May is felt. May is, indeed, symbolical of the springtime of life. What wonder, then, that the one-time merry month should be looked upon as emblematic of a newer social phase, of the re-birth of Society, and of the germing of hope in the breasts of workingmen?

Yet sadly enough must it be confessed that symbolism is impotent. It is but a pale reflex of things that matter. Demonstrations that were to stimulate the workers into interest in their class mission, that were to induce them to clamour for the end of slavery, turned directly into a vain clamour for eight hours’ slavery. The promised revolt of the workers against exploitation became an ardent support of Liberal capitalism with its vague promises of reform. Such is ever the danger of mere enthusiasm, mere spasmodic emotion that is not based consciously on class interest, and is not recognised as such on every day equally with May Day.

As we have been told, we have reforms; but we ask, is the gulf between the classes narrower or wider than before ? We have had years of Liberal-cam-Labour legislation, yet the chasm between the classes is wider than ever. We toil harder. Our real wages are less. Despite trade booms and growing wealth, there is more and wider spread poverty now than when the Liberals went into office, as even a prominent Liberal statistician is moved to confess. This is “progress” under reform. It is the ashes into which the I.L.P. policy of advance to “Socialism” by the reform method turns in practice. There is no hope for the proletariat in the futile endeavour to build up Socialism by an accumulation of reforms within capitalism. Reform does (and must, in accordance with economic laws) entirely fail to keep pace with the worsening trend of capitalism ; and pursuit of it still leaves the gulf to widen, and our emancipation to be achieved.

In the economic field, also, the hopelessness of the endeavour to bridge the class gulf and reduce exploitation is abundantly plain. Increases in wages confessedly fail to keep pace with the rise in prices of necessaries due to the cheapened production of gold. Decreases in hours utterly fail to keep pace with the speeding-up of production and the more rapid exhaustion of the toiler. Consequently there is as little hope in industrial methods as there, is in reform; they are at best but a means of covering an inevitable retreat.

We do not. however, counsel non-resistance. Far from it. That would be suicide. It would place us even more completely at the mercy of our unscrupulous exploiters But it must be recognised that even though we slacken the inevitable increase in exploitation under capitalism, we are, nevertheless. still losing ground, and that victory lies not that way.

"The first step in the revolution by the working class," said Marx and Engels in the "Communist Manifesto," “is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class. to win the battle of democracy." And unless this step be taken the working class will but wallow deeper into the Slough of Despond, despite their struggling. The revolutionary method alone can lead to victory. It alone can help us make the best of both present and future. It alone can result in the end of capitalism and the emancipation of those who produce. Once this is seen by the wage earners their freedom is at hand. Once they become revolutionary in aim, and understand the magnitude of the issue at stake, then all else in their struggle assumes its true subordinate proportion.

The future of humanity depends upon the |consummation of the revolution for Socialism. In this light most of the present trade union and political activity of the workers is seen to be worse than useless, and must be ruthlessly opposed. And for the rest, such as is part of the necessary organisation and resistance of the working class must fall into line and receive consideration only in so far as it is necessary to the revolutionary end which in our guiding star.

No reform can weigh anything in the balance against Socialism, and no reform, no padding of the chains of slavery, can deserve the enthusiasm of the working class. Too often have they allowed red-herrings to lure them from the straight path of their class policy. The energy of the workers must not be frittered away, as it has so often been, in futile demonstrations for utterly hopeless reforms. Their enthusiasm and heroism must be reserved for occasions worthy of them, for the policy that will benefit their whole class, not for a day, but for all time

One thing above all others must inspire them—the need for the conquest of the world by the working class.

On their backs society is built. By their intelligence is its production carried on. And by their labour alone is its wealth produced. Today they are the only necessary class, and upon them must the ownership and control of social wealth devolve. Once the worker's victory is complete classes disappear, and all find health and joy in participating in the needful but immensely lightened labour of the Socialist commonweal. Consequently, on the working class alone does the future of the whole human race depend. As it has been wisely said: militant, the workers' cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity.

Let the worker, therefore, ponder the magnitude of his class mission. He will become ashamed of the pettiness of his present ideals and the squalor of his aims. Let him realise how much depends on him in the present epoch of social change, and he will see that his aim can be no less than Socialism, and his inspiring motto no less than that of the Socialist Party - "The World for the Workers." This we offer as a motto for May Day—and, indeed, for every day until the victory of the working class is an accomplished fact.

Our Message for May Day and Every Day (1934)

From the May 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again May 1st sees the gathering of Labour to march, with banners flying, to the places appointed as centres for speech-making. For over forty years these processions have been an annual Labour event, but the class that lives on Labour still remains solidly entrenched in the seat of power, and, bitter commentary on the periodical display, is kept there with the aid of the votes of the processionists.

It is interesting to recall that at one of these meetings in 1915 Ben Tillett, for long a favourite May-Day orator, addressed the following message to French workers: —
Britain alert, mutually co-operating with France, stands for civilisation, for a spiritual awakening of Europe for the overthrow of Kaiserism, militarism, and the capitalistic vandals whose brutal power is now ravishing Europe, and the world itself.”
("Reynolds,” May 9th, 1915.) 
Nineteen years have passed away, Ben Tillett has gone into a well-deserved oblivion, the “vandals" were overthrown, but armament conferences till give their window dressing performances and newer and more deadly means for murdering are devised. To cap it all Germany, under Hitler, is now staging an official "Labour Day” complete with hammer and sickle, the Communist emblems, alongside the swastika!

Discontent is as strong now as ever it was, but it is still politically ignorant discontent, and while it remains so it will be, as in the past, the sport of flaming orators like Ben Tillett—and Adolf Hitler.

Bands and banners are symbols of emotion and can lead a column equally well to their goal or to destruction. The path to social freedom cannot be cut out by mere emotional outbursts, there are too many entanglements on the way. Those who have enjoyed the emotional uplift of the march and the meetings afterwards relapse into their customary grooves. In the main their revolutionary fervour is just the pastime of a particular day. It will continue to be so until the workers give as serious and thoughtful consideration to their social conditions as they do to the getting of their daily bread. When the mass of the workers adopt this attitude they will lose their admiration for oratorical outbursts and cease to waste their time on fruitless displays.

No great knowledge is needed to understand the workers' social condition. The position is so simple that one is almost astounded to find how much effort is needed to induce workers to examine it seriously. In a few words it may be put as follows:—

The wealth of the world is produced by the workers, but the capitalists, by their ownership of the means of production, own the product of the workers' labour. In return for their productive labour the workers receive in the form of wages only sufficient, as a rule, to keep them living and producing. The wealth remaining enables the capitalists to enjoy their lives of ease. The capitalists are in control of the political machinery and use it to keep the workers in their condition of subjection. The workers by their votes put the capitalists in possession of this political machinery at election times. The problem for the workers is how to get rid of their subject condition. The solution is to abolish the present private ownership of the means of production and substitute for it common ownership. This can be accomplished by the workers sending delegates to Parliament for the purpose, the delegates to act as their servants to carry out their instructions. The workers would then obtain control of the political machinery and be able to break the power of capital.

The position is just as simple as this and does not need a fanfare of trumpets to demonstrate it. It is a message for every day and not only for specially picked occasions. It speaks the same language in every land and to every race. It has neither a religious nor a nationalist outlook. It points out the unity of interest of the workers of the world and their common antagonism to capitalism.

Finally it was, it is, and it will be our message for every day until the last of our chains have parted and we are entering the new free social conditions that one day will be our heritage.

A May Day Message (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first day of May once had a significance which has now become only a tradition. It was a day of hope and rejoicing at the awakening of Nature from its winter sleep and the promise of bright days and good crops. The wet, dark days of winter were past, and the dry, sunny days of summer were coming, and it was an occasion for fun and frivolity. The festival is old and takes us back to the flowery times of old Greece and Rome. Our forefathers celebrated the day with festivals in the villages with dances round the maypole.

But these are dull times, and our opportunities for gaiety are limited by our toilsome hours providing profit for masters. Yet a pale shadow of these celebrations still drifts about on May Day. Just as the ancient joyous and colourful festivals reflected the spontaneous outburst of less rigid times, so the modern ghost reflects the strictly commercial character of to-day. In the parks beribboned railway vans and the like have a "busman’s holiday.”

The Labour movement celebrates May Day in its own particular way. The first conference of the International Workingmen’s Association adopted a resolution stating that the limitation of the working day was the first step in the emancipation of the working class. When the first conference of the second international met in Paris in 1889 they seized upon this resolution, reaffirmed it, and set aside the first of May in every year for Labour demonstrations in favour of an eight- hour day. Since then the first of May has been haunted by the spirit of reform.

Every year larger and larger processions form up behind banners representing almost every conceivable reform, and, with bunting flying, march to arranged spots where platforms are set up to enable Labour leaders and cranks of different descriptions to rant and rave or discourse sweetly to the enhancing of their own reputations and the satisfaction of masses of discontented workers who have not yet discovered the real source of their discontent and the remedy. The proceedings end with the passing of pious and empty resolutions which do not carry the working-class movement a step further on the road to emancipation.

The association of protests against mere effects of capitalism with the May Day demonstration continues to cloud its proceedings. It expresses the clamourings of hosts of people who have their own little corner of discontent, and sworn enemies unite on the platforms to entertain the large audiences. Nationalists, unemployed, Communists, trade unionists, anti-vivisectionists, labourites and reformers of myriad hues unite in more or less vague protestations against the powers that be— protestations that are utterly futile because there is no effective power to back them up.

Our May Day message is now twenty-eight years old, but it is still the same, and it is still fresh and to the point. The capitalists own the means of production and distribution, and owing to this they are able to keep the worker a toiling slave. Ownership of the means of production and distribution is assured to the capitalists through their control of political power, a control that the worker gives them when he votes them into power at election times. The way to freedom lies through dispossessing the capitalists of the power they wield and the instruments they control. This can only be accomplished by obtaining control of Parliament for the purpose of establishing Socialism. This is the common task of the workers the world over regardless of race or colour. The purpose and the determination necessary are the same on every other day of the year just as much as it is on May Day.

As spring awakens hope let it awaken those who are sunk in apathy to the real promise of the future, and stir them to grapple with the fundamental problems of working-class life.

On this May Day then, as usual, we send forward a message of fraternal greeting to our fellow-workers of all lands, whether they be Jewish or German, Hindu or Russian, white or coloured. We urge them to join with us in the work of overthrowing the power that keeps them in bondage and to refrain from placing trust in ideas of leadership or in vague aspirations that only have the heartbreaking end of disillusion and apathy.

The Vegan Revolution (2017)

The Proper Gander column from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Simon Amstell is carving himself an interesting career, graduating from presenting Popworld and Never Mind The Buzzcocks to writing and directing for television, alongside gigs as a stand-up comedian. His work often draws on his ruminations about his own life, and his vegan diet has drawn him to his latest work. Carnage (BBC iPlayer) almost pulls off the tricky feat of combining sci-fi, comedy and satire in the mockumentary format to raise some important questions about societal change.
The film is made in the year 2067. By this time, the populace is vegan: peaceful, polyamorous young adults can’t understand how people used to eat animal products, while some older people join support groups to deal with their guilt and shame at having been carnivores in the past.
Through clips, newsreel and talking heads, Carnage looks back on the history of animal-free diets since 1944, when The Vegan Society was formed. The movement was slow to attract support, with vegans getting little positive exposure to the wider public. 70s TV shows featuring dowdy, stilted vegans presenting an array of beige food couldn’t compete with the excitement of Fanny Craddock mutilating a pig in the Royal Albert Hall. Most people didn’t think about what they were eating because ‘the animals people were consuming stopped looking like they’d ever been animals’, thanks to the fast food industry and its gaudy marketing.
Despite increasing awareness of the risks of an animal-based diet, such as susceptibility to heart disease, obesity and cancer, and the dangers of intensive farming spreading diseases, there was still a ‘meat-driven political culture’. This was challenged in 2010 when the UN announced that veganism is essential to limiting climate change because of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by the livestock industry. Increases in flooding incidents over the next few years reinforced concerns about changing weather patterns and their causes.
After an epidemic of ‘Super Swine Flu’ in 2021, intensive farming was banned. ‘Sadly, chickens people had been eating were so genetically modified it was very difficult for them to celebrate the news’. Then followed ‘the era of confusion’ when people wanted to act more responsibly, but weren’t sure how, until inspirational role models emerged. Hip activists and chefs on the telly spread a positive message about veganism: ‘we’ve got to shock people with love. We’ve got to shock people with compassion’. Other signs that the vegan movement was growing were 2024’s hit musical about the cruelties of the dairy industry and Albania winning the Eurovision Song Contest with a power ballad about veganism. The movement was galvanised when a prominent activist was killed by a member of the Great British Meat League. This, along with the pro-meat vlogger vlogging ‘This is England! We aren’t lentils!’ makes a link between right wing politics and eating animal products. In 2032, the argument for veganism was strengthened when technology was invented which can read and translate animals’ thoughts, such as ‘I am not a cheese factory. I am a goat’. Three years later, eating animal products was banned in the 2035 Bill of Animal Rights.
Carnage throws a lot of ideas from the screen, through faked footage, archive clips and Amstell’s sarky narration. Sometimes its serious message about the supposed advantages of veganism gets clouded when a scene veers too close to Brass Eye-style satire, but the gags prevent the film from sounding preachy. The scenes from abattoirs, of cows being shot and chicks on a production line speak for themselves. But Carnage isn’t just about veganism; it also explores what makes a cause popular enough to create lasting change.
Could as significant a shift as mass conversion to veganism happen within capitalism? In Carnage, the transition sounds fairly straightforward: scientists show that eating animal products is bad for the environment and cruel, support for this view grows among the public and government, and legislation bans the meat and dairy industries, leading to utopia. In real life, it’s doubtful that the capitalist class would be so flexible, considering the economic clout of these industries. Would popular pressure and the changing climate be strong enough reasons for capitalism to be reformed in this way? Even so, mass veganism - if desirable - could only happen within capitalism if vegan-friendly industries became more profitable for their owners.
The programme starts to explore whether such a shift could only happen as part of wider change. One of the future experts looking back links the eating of animal products with the acceptance of hierarchies: ‘The Queen, despite being just another animal, was above all British people, so I suppose we thought that we should be above something’. Unfortunately, Carnage doesn’t expand on the notion that if we reject hierarchies between people we would also view animals as equal. Instead, it focuses on the how the future road to veganism gets played out in the media, and the viral videos, performance artists, social media campaigns and telegenic role models probably would be part of any growing movement.
The BBC tends to hide its more challenging output away on its iPlayer service, and Carnage is worth finding if you’re hungry for some food for thought.
Mike Foster

Editorial: Here We Go Again (2017)

Editorial from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the third time in as many years we are being asked to make a decision for the capitalist class. Last year it was whether Britain PLC should or should not remain in the capitalist EU. The year before it was about which set of professional politicians should run the state machine on behalf of the capitalist class. Now, we are being asked to do this again.

The reason Theresa May gave for calling this election is distinctly undemocratic. The parliament elected in 2015, she said, was not sufficiently compliant with what the government wants over Brexit, therefore it must be dissolved.

It is true that the rather inaptly named Fixed Term Parliament Act does require two-thirds of MPs to vote for dissolution but Labour, the only party with a one-third blocking minority, was never going to employ this, if only to avoid being accused of being afraid to put their policies before the electorate. Besides, most Labour MPs will have seen a premature general election as a chance to get rid of the Corbyn leadership and resume their careers. Labour loses, Corbyn falls on his sword and their chance to become ministers is brought forward from 2025 to 2022.

So, here we go again. This time many more will probably, and understandably, abstain. But, despite the antics of the professional politicians, parliament remains the route to political power and, given that the electorate is made up overwhelmingly of members of the wage and salary working class, in the final analysis a general election is about whether or not the working class is prepared to leave political power in the hands of the capitalist class.

We have no illusions on that score. We predict that, unfortunately, the capitalist class will win this election as all previous ones, whether represented by Tory, Labour, Liberal, Nationalist or Green politicians. All these parties agree that the legal right of rich individuals to own the means of living should remain intact and that production should continue to be in the hands of profit-seeking enterprises, even if some of them may wish to tinker with the system or try to impose unrealisable demands on it.

But, in voting to continue with capitalism, those who bother to vote will be voting for the problems in fields such as housing, health care, education and the environment to continue, because the root cause of these problems is capitalism and its economic imperative to put making profits before satisfying people's needs.

We socialists will still be going to the polling stations to show that we consider the vote a potential weapon that the working class can use to dislodge the capitalist class and clear the way for the establishment in place of capitalism of a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production so that they can be used to turn out what people need. But, except in the few constituencies where they will be candidates standing for this, we shan't be voting for any of the candidates on offer but instead casting a write-in vote for world socialism by writing this across our ballot paper.