Saturday, May 6, 2017

Human Nature (1951)

From the December 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all the bugs that have ever bitten the working class, the Human Nature one is perhaps the most persistent as well as the most illogical. There is certainly no socialist who has not heard repeatedly the statement that Human Nature is against Socialism, or that the people of this country would not stand for socialism.

Of course the words they choose to clothe their arguments are just as incorrect as the objection itself. It is Human Nature to eat when you are hungry, to drink when you are thirsty, and to sleep when you are tired. These things are part of the inherent nature of human beings as indeed of all biological organisms. Nothing can alter this and nobody wants to change it— least of all socialists. What is meant by Human Nature, as used by those who trot it out as an objection, is not human nature at all, but human behaviour. Now human behaviour is quite another thing and its roots are to be found principally in one’s environment and the economic conditions which influences one’s physiological make-up.

Man behaves in the way he does, very largely, although not completely, because of the conditioning he receives from his environment, since he is a social animal and lives in a community.

Normally a Bishop would not steal food, but if he were placed in an environment in which he had no choice but to steal food or die of starvation, his behaviour would be dictated by his environment. He would thus break the 8th Commandment, and be forced to excuse or justify himself by the unfortunate conditions in which he found himself (or which surrounded him).

Now what does the objector find in socialism which warrants his statement that human nature (behaviour) would not stand for it? His only answer appears to be that the workers would not tolerate the regimentation, the filling up of forms, and being told to do this, that, or the other. Indeed not only has the objector a false conception of human nature, but also (as usual), a completely false conception of Socialism. Who knows what the workers will or will not stand for? At least we can be sure that they have stood for two world wars almost without a murmur; and at present they appear to be standing for the preparation for a third.

In England they have stood for rationing for about 12 years, and with the end not yet in sight. They have stood for conservative and labour governments. "The labour party promised them everything and gave them nothing; while the conservatives promised them nothing and saw that they got it.” They have been through crises of unemployment and privations galore, and have received untold promises of better times to come if only they tighten in their belts and work for the common good. But in the end there still remains the struggle for their livelihood and the division of society into two classes, one of which owns the means of production and exploits the other.

Where therefore do the human nature objectors stand? Surely they are condoning the existence of a system which means the continuance of their own exploitation, whether they know it or not? Human nature (behaviour) can be made to tolerate some strange things. What socialism in effect means is the emancipation from exploitation by a ruling class, and if the workers won’t stand for their own emancipation, then things are certainly in a bad way.
Horace Jarvis

What's next for privatisation? (1989)

From the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
"They have monopolised everything that it is possible to monopolise: they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolised the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long time ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air — or of the money to buy it — even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessaries of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless they had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think so and say so. Even as you think at present that it's right for a few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: 'It's Their Land , It's Their Water'. It's Their Coal', It's Their Iron', so you would say ‘It's Their Air', 'These are Their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?’”
— Owen to his fellow workers in Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Whatever Happened to "Full Employment"? (1974)

From the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In The "Queen's Speech” on 29th October Mr. Wilson included a pledge about unemployment. "My government”, it read, "in view of the gravity of the economic situation, will as its most urgent task seek the fulfilment of the social contract as an essential element in its strategy for curbing inflation, reducing the balance of payments deficit, encouraging industrial investment, maintaining employment, particularly in the older industrial areas, and promoting economic and social justice.”

Maybe Labour Party supporters are reassured by this mumbo-jumbo, but they ought to examine the small print very carefully. If they do they will notice how the form of the pledge about dealing with unemployment has been discreetly watered down. Now it is part of a “strategy”, along with other aims, all of them dependent on the nebulous "social contract”, and the word “full” has been dropped. And all of it stems from the grave economic situation — their euphemistic way of describing a normal crisis of capitalism, aggravated by the inflation that Tory and Labour governments alike have brought about and are still promoting.

When the first post-war Labour government came into office in 1945, buoyed up with the fatuous belief that they had mastered capitalism and abolished crises for ever, their committal to deal with unemployment was in very different words. Then it was "Jobs for All” and "Full Employment”. In the early post-war years (due among other things to making good wartime destruction) unemployment was exceptionally low. In several years average unemployment then was under 300,000, about 1.2 per cent., and of course the Labour and Tory governments claimed credit for it.

Since the mid-fifties unemployment has been moving to higher levels, but as late as 1966 in the Wilson Labour Government John Diamond MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, boasted that they had got unemployment down from 1.6 per cent, to 1.2 per cent, and “that is how we propose to continue doing it" (Hansard, 6th March 1966). Capitalism, however, was not listening to Mr. Diamond and by the time they went out of office in June 1970 unemployment had gone up by about a quarter of a million to 579,000 (2.5 per cent.). In October 1974 it was 643,000 (2.8 per cent.), and with unemployment rising in most parts of the world the Government’s advisers are fearful that next year it may pass the million mark, as it did in 1972.

But if the politicians cannot prevent capitalism from following its normal course, with periodical higher levels of unemployment, their thoughts are turning hopefully to disguising it by “keeping the unemployed on the pay-roll”, paying subsidies to firms in difficulties instead of paying the money to the unemployed. A correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph (22nd September) estimated that subsidies to such companies were running at £2 million a week and that the jobs of 100,000 workers were involved. There is nothing the Labour Party will not try to do with capitalism — except abolish it.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Problem of Problems. (1925)

Book Review from the August 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Problems of the Labour Movement,” by P. Braun, price 2d.—The Labour Monthly, 162, Buckingham Palace Road, S.W.

Problems of the Labour Movement. What an imposing title for a booklet. And what an imposition upon the person who parts with his “tuppence” under the impression that he will learn something about the problems. For, throughout the 16 pages of this booklet, which includes a preface by Mr. A. J. Cook, of the Miners’ Federation, the problems confronting the workers are not even stated.

To tell us that there are eleven hundred trade unions in England, and to lament the disorganised state of the workers, both nationally and internationally, is not very helpful.

Unity, Unity, Unity, is the keynote of Mr. Braun’s attempt at outlining a policy for working class action. But one is compelled to exclaim, Words, Words, Words.

John Stuart Mill once pointed out that he who proclaims himself a champion of Liberty generally gained the sympathy of his hearers before he commenced to argue a word of his case. And there is a good deal of truth in this, judging by a type of mind not altogether uncommon in the Labour movement. The words “Unity, Solidarity, Freedom,” etc., among many “Labourist” and “Communist” ranters bring as much consolation as the blessed word “Mesopotamia” is supposed to have brought to the mind of a certain old lady.

All the talk in the world about “Unity” is so much clap-trap, unless it is dearly stated what the workers are to unite for. Even then, as our common experience shows, the plans outlined for unity, are more or less worthless. Not that Mr. Braun outlines any plan, he prefers to leave this as severely alone as the problems he set out to state.

Despite this adverse criticism of the Labour Party, he tells us that “the trade unions must organise an influence on the policy of that party,” and among other things, they are “to try to cleanse the Labour Party of lords, bankers, and merchants.”

What a revolutionary proposal! Why does not Mr. Braun go the whole hog and advise the trade unions to write to John Bull about it?

As though the average trade unionist in his present state of political and economic ignorance of his class position could make any fundamental difference on the policy of the Labour Party. Whilst, as far as the lords, bankers, and merchants are concerned, cleanse the Labour Party of these people and that organisation remains what it has always been, a hindrance to working-class emancipation. Or, as Mr. Braun sees it, “a pathway towards rank and career,” even though it be guided by those Mr. Braun styles as “the Left Elements.”

Let Mr. Braun and all those who talk so glibly about “Unity” take note that, as the fundamental problem confronting the workers is how to get rid of their exploitation and poverty, the basis for the organisation of the workers, must be the ending of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. But this means Socialist education, something more than opposition to the trickery of MacDonald, Thomas and Co. Given an intelligent working class, bent upon the removal of the real cause of their troubles, and Capitalism, let alone the MacDonald’s, and the Thomas’s, could not exist. The Socialist Party insists that the first step to unite the working class is to teach the workers that Socialism is their only real hope.
Robert Reynolds

Notes by the Way: The Basque Children (1937)

The Notes by the Way Column from the October 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Basque Children

The rescue of Basque child refugees from General Franco's bombers was a natural gesture of sympathy on the part of workers' organisations in France, England and elsewhere. It provoked in certain quarters some disgusting exhibitions of religious and properties-class hatred and meanness. Although many Catholics actively associated themselves with the refugee committees, some of their less humane fellows used all their influence to prevent the children from being rescued and have since sought to get them sent back. On the plea that the children's religious faith was being harmed they were quite prepared to see their lives endangered. What they fear, of course—and rightly so—is that new contacts may start the children thinking for themselves and freeing themselves from religious shackles.

Other protesters, wealthy people who had never been known to object to the miserable half-starved lives of British children, suddenly became indignant at the idea of spending British money on foreign children while there is so much need for charity at home. The cost of upkeep of the refugees exposed the niggardliness of unemployment child allowances.

The whole gang, aided by some of the viler newspapers, gave distorted publicity to the unruly behaviour of some of the refugee boys. Smug town councils demanded that their lives and property be safeguarded and the hooligans sent back to be bombed. What did they expect of children who have seen the fabric of life destroyed by brutal war? And why not some of the tolerance they habitually show towards the periodical hooliganism of university gangs?

A news item (Sunday Express, September 19th, 1937) provides an interesting parallel with the protests against the refugee camps. The Swanage Town Council has asked the War Office not to send any more Officer Training Corps camps to the neighbourhood on the ground that the university men in the O.T.C. were guilty of various acts of hooliganism and were beyond the control of the local police. One councillor, a magistrate, added that the Territorials (not drawn from university ranks) were much better behaved.

The same gentleman, however, also disclosed something else which was getting the goat of Swanage shopkeepers, the fact that the O.T.C. camps bring all their supplies with them and buy nothing from the local shops. Perhaps this was the reason why so many voices were raised against the Basque children.

Rural Workers Who Cannot Afford Fresh Milk

The Shop Assistant (August 21st, 1937) publishes the following extract from the annual report of the Medical Officer of Health for the St. Faith's and Aylesham rural district of Norfolk: —
In the rural parts of this district there is a large number of households where fresh milk is not used, but the supply is by tinned milk. It is curious to find this occurring near farms. There are some cases in which the reason is given that too great a distance has to be covered to obtain milk, but in the majority of cases it is because the families cannot afford it.
The really curious thing about this is not that it happens, but that the medical officer finds it curious. It is typical of capitalist industry everywhere.

Building workers who cannot afford to live in the houses they build (sometimes even when these are so-called "publicly-owned" council houses), shipbuilders who cannot afford to travel, textile workers who are badly clothed, bootmakers with leaky boots, telephone linesmen who cannot afford a telephone. Yet the doctor finds it curious! What has a better claim to be regarded as curious is that workers who see and feel every day the results of private ownership should go on accepting it.

Mr. McGovern is Amazed

In the recent by-election at Springburn, Glasgow, at which the Labour Party candidate, Mrs. Hardie, was elected, Mr. McGovern, M.P., advised the members of the I.L.P. to refrain from voting. One of his reasons was that, although the Labour Party claims to be Socialist, the word "Socialism" was never mentioned once in Mrs. Hardie's election address (The Times, September 7th, 1937). Now, it would indeed by remarkable if a Socialist Party were to run candidates on a non-Socialist programme. Actually what has happened is not at all remarkable since it comes from the Labour Party, which is not Socialist. Where can Mrs. Hardie have learned this trick? Perhaps she learned it from her old acquaintance, Miss Jennie Lee. In 1928 Miss Lee was elected at a by-election at North Lanark. She was the I.L.P.’s nominee and they financed her. Her election address not only contained no reference to Socialism, direct or indirectly, but she did not even mention the I.L.P. or her membership of it. Mr. McGovern should see her about it.

Incidentally, he should also recall that it was the I.L.P. which reduced to a fine art the practice of pretending to be Socialist but running as candidates of the Labour Party on a non-Socialist programme. How else does he suppose that some 200 of its members got themselves into Parliament at the 1929 General Election? Mr. McGovern himself first got into Parliament as candidate of the Labour Party, which he knew was not a Socialist Party.

It is true that Mr. McGovern and his associates in the Independent Labour Party now include at least the words “Socialism" and “Socialist” in their election addresses, but they have made little other change. Votes are still solicited on every kind of reform; which means that the candidates know quite well that they are dependent on the votes of non-Socialists.

It is reported that Glasgow members and branches of the I.L.P. are returning to the Labour Party because they disapprove of Mr. McGovern’s action in advising them not to vote for the Labour candidate.

French Workers Learn by Experience

Fools are said to learn by experience. The working class are not fools—just doped with capitalist propaganda and blinded by leader-worship—but it seems that many experiences are needed before they learn. Every Labour Government, no matter where it exists, is an attempt to defy the truth that the only way that capitalism can be administered is a capitalist way. But still Labour Governments come and go, each one blind to the truth and oblivious of the fate of the last. In 1929 the Labour Government in Great Britain went into office “accepting the present order of society ” (Mr. J. H. Thomas, Daily Herald, July 6th, 1929). Its principal pledge was to reduce unemployment. Two years later it was out on its neck, with unemployment at a record height and capitalism jogging along. The Labour Party was still prepared to accept the present order of society, but the owners of the present order of society for the time being were not prepared to accept the discredited and not-very-competent Labour leaders. Major Attlee and his associates are now busy dressing themselves up for another performance, as purblind as ever.

In the meantime the French Labourites have tried a similar experiment, marked by the same infantile hopefulness in the impossible. In Great Britain in 1929 the Labour Government depended on Liberal votes in the House of Commons. In France the Labourites formed a coalition government with the Liberals, under the premiership, of Leon Blum. After running for a year Blum was forced to quit and hand over the premiership to a Liberal, still maintaining the "Popular Front,” though already the workers are sadly disappointed. It is to be hoped that they will learn how little can be done until capitalism has been got rid of.

Three newspapers which gave approval to Blum’s Government (Daily Herald, Manchester Guardian and The Times) have recognised the simple facts of the situation.

The Daily Herald (June 22nd, 1937), in an editorial, says that Blum fell because “he did not possess the confidence of the big men of property, of the financiers, and the bankers"; which provokes the thought that if Blum went into office prepared to govern "within the present social regime” (his own words, The Times, May 2nd, 1936), yet supposed he could do so without having the confidence of those who own the present social regime, it is time he began to wake up to realities.

The Times Paris correspondent has shown a remarkably clear appreciation of the role of Labour Government and of the narrow limits within which they can diverge from traditional Liberal and Tory policy. On August 23rd, 1937, The Times published an article from him in which he wrote that Blum’s “Socialist” Minister of Finance
Does not seem to have realised that within the framework of the capitalist system social reform can be paid for only out of the profits of industry, and that if the entrepreneur is frightened out of his wits profits disappear. . . .
Two weeks later (The Times, September 7th, 1937), in another article, he wrote: —
M. Blum now supports the Radicals because he has realised that, short of provoking a dangerous upheaval, the problems of a capitalist system must, if they are to be resolved with capitalist support, be met by capitalist methods. . . .
One action of the present Popular Front Government which is highly praised by the British Labourites is the amalgamation of the railways into a single company in which the Government will hold a majority of the shares. The workers expect that it will benefit them, a point on which they will be better informed when they have seen it at work. Just now the French railway shareholders are feeling grateful to the Popular Front Government, because the nationalisation scheme had the result that “ their shares have actually enjoyed a remarkable boom on the Bourse ” (Manchester Guardian, September 1st, 1937).

This recalls the way in which British capitalists supported the Labour Government’s London Passenger Transport Board, which, of course, had no more to do with Socialism than the French railway nationalisation has.

Beaverbrook Outbids the Labour Party

Not only on foreign policy, but on home policy also. Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express is interesting as an example of the way avowed defenders of capitalism can outbid the Labour Party at the game of vote-catching by social reforms. A few of the planks in the Daily Express's policy during recent years are: Higher wages, paid holidays, shorter hours, State control of banking, and now the drastic curtailment of inherited wealth by means of much heavier death duties. (“There is only one serious complaint to be made against death duties. They are not nearly steep enough”—Express editorial, September 15th, 1937.) So successful is this policy that the Daily Herald's 2,000,000 circulation has fallen a bad second to the 2,400,000 of the Express.

It can be said, of course, that Beaverbrook has one policy for the Express and another for the Evening Standard. This is an old game of the Press barons. While Odham's Daily Herald backs the Labour Party’s new pension scheme, a regular contributor to Odham’s People (August 22nd, 1937) poured cold water on it.

“Not for the Prime Purpose of Making Profits"

Lord Beaverbrook, in a signed pronouncement in the Evening Standard (September 9th, 1937), has this: —
The Daily Express is not run for the prime purpose of making profits. This newspaper is a public institution, which, in the national interest, sacrifices money to the main plan of serving the public.
We now await an invitation from Beaverbrook to serve his public by stating the Socialist case in the Daily Express, and we know that with the price of newsprint rising the Daily Express will not try to reduce its size in order to save profits, and we expect when Beaverbrook dies he will turn out to be a poor man—worth only £2,000,000 instead of £5,000,000.

It is all very noble and touching, only we don’t believe it.

The Ellerman Fortune—What Price Social Reforms?

A news item in the Evening Standard (September 8th and 9th, 1937) gives a staggering jolt to the hoary belief of the Labourites that you can gradually tax the capitalist out of existence and find yourselves sliding imperceptibly into Socialism. Sir John Ellerman, after a life of accumulation of the proceeds of the exploitation of the workers, left property worth £40,000,000, of which £17,000,000 was in cash and Government securities. Under the death duties the State took £22,000,000, leaving a paltry £18,000,000 for the heir. On the authority of Sir William Cox, manager of the Ellerman estate, the Evening Standard states that the value of the estate has increased in four years back to the original level of £40,000,000! This as any economic textbook will tell you, must have been due to the brains and work of the present Sir John Ellerman, but the Evening Standard says it is due to the all-round rise in share values:—
Some people have expressed surprise at so rapid an expansion. An examination of the increase in the values of property and securities during the last four years shows that such a growth is by no means exceptional.
It looks as if it will take capitalism quite a long time to die from death duties.

Simultaneously with the above news item, the Labour Party published its brand-new plan for old-age pensions of £l at 65. It will cost £80,000,000 a year, rising in ten years to £90,000,000 a year. As however, under a Labour Government “there will be strict limits . . . to what is practicable to add to the Budget,” the scheme is to be a contributory one: the workers are to pay 1s. men and 9d. women per week in order to qualify (see “ Labour’s Pension Plan,” " National Council of Labour,” 2d., page 29).

When the Labour Party say that expenditure of £80,000,000 a year is not practicable they don’t mean that the Ellerman’s cannot afford it, but that they won’t pay.

The moral of which is, get rid of capitalism, but as the Labour Party pamphlet goes on to say, rather unnecessarily: —
We shall not be living under Socialism during the period of office of the next Labour Government.
The Labour Party should ask Lord Southwood, who is associated with Sir John Ellerman in the recent purchase of Illustrated Newspapers, to tell them about the Ellerman fortune. Lord Southwood (formerly Mr. Elias) is head of Odhams, who own the Labour daily, the Daily Herald.

The Inefficient Russian Dictatorship

One of the popular features of Communist propaganda in the days before they became ashamed of dictatorship and went all democratic was the argument that dictatorship is so very efficient because it doesn’t waste time on talk and doesn’t allow the “stupid” rank and file, in their ignorance, to elect rogues and fools to positions of responsibility. (Nowadays the Fascists can be heard putting over the same arguments.) If ever there was a living example of its falsity the Russian dictatorship provides it. Never a day passes now without more declarations by the Russian Government that its hand-picked men in high places are corrupt and inefficient, rogues and fools, spies and wreckers. One instance out of many is of special interest because it relates not to one of the original hand-picked regional dictators but to the man who was picked to succeed one who had been thrown out only a short while ago. He is Abdullah Rakhimbayev, Premier of the Soviet Republic of Tadjikstan.

He was appointed as recently as 1934 to succeed a former premier discovered to be a "counter-revolutionary." The new genius was instructed to clean things up. This, according to the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Herald (September 13th, 1937), was how he did it: —
   Rakhimbayev was revealed here to-day to have lived like an Oriental potentate, with a harem of three wives.
   One of the wives was an Uzbek, the second was a Tartar, and the third an Ossetian, from Georgia.
  Rakhimbayev, it is asserted, inherited his feudal attitude and habits from his father, a prominent landowner.
   He used to travel about Tadjikstan with the pomp once accorded to the Emir of Bokhara.
   Peasants were treated with the utmost contempt by the Premier’s retinue, and on one occasion 500 collective farmers were forced to trudge eight miles to meet Rakhimbayev.
  (Rakhimbayev was appointed in 1934 to succeed a counter-revolutionary. He was instructed to “bring back Tadjikstan into the proper road of a model Socialist Republic.”)
With all its faults, democracy was never so stupid and stultifying as dictatorship, and it will take more than the new fake democratic constitution to clean up the mess produced or perpetuated by dictatorship in Russia.

Labour Programme of the Indian Nationalists

Mr. V. V. Giri, Minister for Labour and Industries in the Indian Congress Government of Madras, spoke on July 25th about the policy the Government will pursue: —
   You all know that Congress stands for the fundamental rights which have been described by the famous Karachi Resolution. Chief among them being freedom of association and combination, freedom of speech and of the Press, living wage for industrial workers, limited hours of labour, healthy conditions of work, protection against economic consequences of old-age, sickness and unemployment, abolition of contract labour, right of labour to form unions to protect their interest, and a suitable machinery for settlement of disputes through conciliation, substantial reduction in agricultural rent or revenue paid by the peasantry, control over exchange and currency policy to help Indian industries and bring relief to the masses, control by the State of key industries, and ownership of mineral resources and control of usury.
   I do not for a moment claim that this programme is cent, per cent. Socialism, nor do I say that it must satisfy all Socialists. But I am bound to admit that these fundamental rights should be the basis for all workers to unite and organise the economic life of the masses, by organising every peasant in every village and every worker in every industry.—(Indian Labour Journal, August, 1937.)

Good Old Capitalism

The blessings of this capitalist era: —
   Ours is an age of banditry, piracy, civil wars, savage aggressions, guerrilla struggles, frontier fights, gangsters, gunmen and graft, interesting for future historians, never dull for those of who stay alive. —(Daily Express, September 22nd, 1937.)
   No one who examines the evidence can doubt that, actually, the use of torture is more widespread to-day than it was half a century ago.—(Report on treatment of prisoners: “The Accused. An International Survey,” issued by the Howard League for Penal Reform.) 


   One result of the inquiry into nutrition had been a relisation of the deplorable malnutrition which existed to a smaller or greater degree in all countries of the world. This inquiry had demonstrated in a remarkable manner the fact that malnutrition could not be eliminated without a general improvement in the standard of living.
   Vital statistics showed clearly the connection between poverty on the one hand and ill-health and premature death on the other. Even in advanced countries death rates were 60 per cent. higher in poor areas than in well-to-do. Infantile mortality was as 2 to 1, while the death rate from tuberculosis was as 4 to 1. Could they reconcile it with their consciences that such contrasts should continue to exist? Would the general mass of the people continue to tolerate them?—(Mr. Bruce, representing Australia, at the League of Nations Assembly, September 21st, 1937. Times, September 22nd.)
Edgar Hardcastle