Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Obituaries: Rolfe Everson and Jack Temple (1968)

Obituaries from the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have recently received the sad news of the death of two old members of our companion parties abroad—Rolfe Everson of New Zealand and Jack Temple of Melbourne, Australia.

Both these comrades were tough, steadfast Socialists. Rolfe Everson, after a spell in the British Army in the First World War, escaped from eighteen months of unemployment only by taking a job shovelling coal on one of the hell-ships of the Twenties running to South America. Back on land, his activities during the General Strike brought victimisation down upon his head and he went to New Zealand, where he started something of a new life and raised a family.

Here he was impressed by the case for Socialism and threw himself into the struggle for a new society. For thirty years he was secretary of the Petone Branch of the SPNZ. He died on January 30 last and a hundred people—family, comrades, workmates—came to mourn him at his funeral.

Jack Temple was one of the pioneers of the Socialist Party of Australia. Like his comrade Bill Casey, Temple was a seaman and it was in the Seamen’s Union that these two found the support to form a Socialist group, towards the end of World War I. In those days, when most of the “radical” organisations were hailing the Russian Revolution as the dawn of Socialism, it took a lot of guts to expose, as Temple and Casey did, the fallacies of the “Communists” and others. These were not the only opponents; Temple lived through the days when, during a Waterside Workers' strike, the Labour-controlled police in Melbourne shot dead one of the strikers.

From the group gathered by Temple and Casey the SPA was formed in Melbourne. Temple, now ashore, worked tirelessly for the party—and often proved, on the many occasions when our opponents’ only argument was to knock a man off the platform, that he could take care of himself in the physical as well as the mental sense.

Jack Temple was married to Ollie Williams, who left the SLP to join the SPA. She also was an active party worker; one of her cartoons was published in the Socialist Standard. She died some years back but Jack’s interests in Socialism, after fifty years’ hard work, did not flag.

He died on January 19 last.

The Socialist movement cannot afford to lose men like Rolfe Everson and Jack Temple. All over the world, Socialists pay tribute to them for their courage and loyalty.

Is Democracy Worth While? (1937)

From the April 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is democracy desirable or not? This is a question that is being heatedly debated of late years, and many people are asking themselves the question very anxiously. Of those who put it some are filled with doubts, others are filled with apprehension. There are a number of people who fear that democracy has become a broken reed that will have to be thrown away, and this view is being strongly urged by some who feel that their economic interests are jeopardised by its continuance.

A good deal of the doubt about the value of democracy arises from a misunderstanding, a confusion as to what democracy really is, and the varying and contradictory definitions given by professional writers on the subject is one of the principal sources of this confusion. Some define democracy as a system of society, others as a form of government. Some define it as a method of procedure, others as an end in itself. There have been writers who have endowed it with mystic powers, giving the impression that if only we had real democracy our troubles will be over. Then there are the people who give a group character to democracy, and speak of bourgeois or proletarian democracy, as if there were different brands of this particular form. What these latter have done is borrowed phrases from Marx and Engels, and given them a quite unintended meaning.

Before there can be any reasonable discussion of the subject it is necessary to be clear about the meaning of the terms used. In the present instance the meaning can be got at by taking the generally recognised way of using the term “democracy," before professors and others commenced giving their exasperating definitions of it.

When the expression is applied to society those who use it frequently intend to signify the poorer section of the people as opposed to the aristocracy. When, however, the general statement is made that during the last century government became more democratic, the invariable meaning is that the governed had more say in the making of the laws by which they were governed. In other words, the basis of government was widened. The franchise was extended so that more and more of those who compose society took part in electing representatives to the places from which political power was exercised. To-day the capitalists rule by the consent of the majority of the people, though this is only so because the workers (who make up the majority) cannot conceive of an alternative social arrangement.

Behind all the confusion over the meaning of democracy there is one general idea, although it is often very little appreciated. When a club, a political party, or a society is spoken of as being democratically organised, the idea intended to be conveyed is that in all of them each member has an equal power in the control. The fact that sometimes this power is not sensibly exercised has led many to lay the blame on democracy instead of placing it where it really belongs. At bottom, then, democracy simply means majority rule—that the expressed wishes of the majority shall always prevail, but that also minorities will have freedom of expression, and will not be penalised for their views.

In order that the will of the majority may prevail certain conditions must exist which will make it possible to know at any time what views the majority really hold. For this purpose it is necessary that there should be (1) freedom of discussion and means existing for this purpose; (2). freedom and equality of voting; (3) freedom to select those who are to carry out the wishes of the majority, and (4) equality of electoral divisions or districts.

Immediately before the Great War these conditions obtained near enough in most of the advanced countries of the world. Since the War, on the pretext that democracy is a failure or obsolete, these conditions have been modified or nullified in certain European countries.

The first thing that strikes one, in relation to democracy, when taking a sweeping glance over past history, is that the question of the rule of the few or the rule of the many has been a burning one from very early days, and has been productive of considerable internal strife. The source of the strife has, however, been something of far greater importance that lay behind the question of ruling —the economic interests of classes.

The attitude of Socialists towards democracy is determined by the conditions that are bound up with Socialism.

Socialism is a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It is a system in which the wealth produced, and the work of. producing it, will be spread, as far as required, equally over the whole of society. Each will contribute to society to the best of his ability, and each will receive from society the best that can reasonably be done towards fulfilling his needs. In order to carry on such a system democratic control is essential. Each member must understand the possibilities and limitations of society so that each can help in the orderly arrangement of affairs and also so that no one will make unreasonable demands upon society.

Consequently, Socialism needs democracy— the participation of all members of society in the control of social arrangements.

Society at present is based on the private ownership of the means of production, and all laws are made and administered with the object of keeping this system in force. Those who own the means of production, the capitalists, as a class, are directly interested in the continuance of the present system and, consequently, they and their supporters do what they can to prevent a change. The capitalists have no objection to democracy providing the votes leave them in their privileged position. The doubts about democracy have developed when and where the capitalists feared that their privileges might be questioned. Hence, as long as the workers voted for the masters or their henchmen, democracy was all right, but when the workers begin to show a disposition to vote for their own nominees then the question is raised by the capitalists as to whether the workers are intelligent enough to know whom and what to vote for.

The present system is defended and the laws are enforced by.the armed forces, which are set in motion in this country at the behest of the group which has behind it a, majority in Parliament. Before any social change can be brought about it is necessary to get control of political power, and this can be done by obtaining a majority of Socialists in Parliament—the centre of political power—supported by the votes of a class-conscious majority in the country. This is another important reason why Socialists are in favour of democracy.

Marx’s Address for the International, 1864 (1937)

From the May 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reprint of a Famous Speech

(Concluded: first instalment published in April issue) 

We have dwelt so long upon these “facts so astonishing as to be almost incredible" because England heads the Europe of commerce and industry. It will be remembered that some months ago one of the refugee sons of Louis Phillippe publicly congratulated the English agricultural labourer on the superiority of his lot over that of his less florid comrade on the other side of the Channel. Indeed, with local colours changed, and on a scale somewhat contracted, the English facts reproduce themselves in all the industrious and progressive countries of the Continent. In all of them there has taken place since 1848 an unheard-of development of industry, and an undreamed-of expansion of imports and exports. In all of them “the augmentation of wealth and power entirely confined to classes of property" was truly “intoxicating." In all of them, as in England, a minority of the working classes got their real wages somewhat advanced; while in most cases the monetary rise of wages denoted no more real access of comforts than the inmate of the metropolitan poor-house or orphan asylum, for instance, was the least benefited by his first necessaries costing £9 15s. 8d. in 1861 against £7 7s. 4d. in 1852. Everywhere the great mass of the working classes were sinking down to lower depths, at the same rate at least that those above them were rising in the social scale. In all countries of Europe it has now become a truth demonstrable to every unprejudiced mind, and only denied by those whose interest it is to hedge other people in a fool’s paradise, that no improvement of machinery, no appliance of science to production, no contrivances of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening of markets, no free trade, nor all these things put together, will do away with the miseries of the industrious masses; but, that on the present false base, every fresh development of the productive powers of labour must tend to deepen social contrasts and point social antagonisms. Death by starvation rose almost to the rank of an institution, during this intoxicating epoch of economical progress, in the metropolis of the British Empire. That epoch is marked in the annals of the world by the quickened return, the widening compass and the deadlier effects of the social pest called a commercial and industrial crisis.

After the failure of the revolutions of 1848, all party organisations and party journals of the working classes were, on the Continent, crushed by the iron hand of force, the most advanced sons of labour fled in despair to the Transatlantic republic, and the short-lived dreams of emancipation vanished before an epoch of industrial fever, moral marasmus, and political reaction. The defeat of the Continental working classes, partly owed to the diplomacy of the English Government, acting then as now in fraternal solidarity with the Cabinet of St. Petersburg, soon spread its contagious effects to this side of the Channel. While the rout of their Continental brethren unmanned the English working classes, and broke their faith in their own cause, it restored to the landlord and money lord their somewhat shaken confidence. They insolently withdrew concessions already advertised. The discoveries of new gold-lands led to an immense exodus, leaving an irreparable void in the ranks of the British proletariat. Others of its formerly active members were caught by the temporary bribe of greater work and wages, and turned into “political blacks." All the efforts made at keeping up, or remodelling, the Chartist Movement, failed signally, the Press organs of the working class died one by one of the apathy of the masses, and, in point of fact, never before seemed the English working class so thoroughly reconciled to a state of political nullity. If, then, there had been no solidarity of action between the British and the Continental working classes, there was, at all events, a solidarity of defeat.

And yet the period passed since the revolutions of 1848 has not been without its compensating features. We shall here only point to two great facts.

After a thirty years' struggle, fought with most admirable perseverance, the English working classes, improving a momentous split between the landlords and the money lords, succeeded in carrying the Ten-Hours Bill. The immense physical, moral and intellectual benefits hence accruing to the factory operatives, half-yearly chronicled in the reports of the inspectors of factories, are now acknowledged on all sides. Most of the Continental governments had to accept the English Factory Act in more or less modified forms, and the English Parliament itself is every year compelled to enlarge its sphere of action. But besides its practical import, there was something else to exalt the marvellous success of this working men’s measure. Through their most notorious organs of science, such as Doctor Ure, Professor Senior and other sages of that stamp, the middle class had predicted, and to their hearts' content proved, that any legal restriction of the hours of labour must sound the death knell of British industry, which, vampire-like, could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood, too. In olden times, child murder was a mysterious rite of the religion of Moloch, but it was practised on some very solemn occasions only, once every year perhaps, and then Moloch had no exclusive bias for the children of the poor. This struggle about the legal restrictions of the hours of labour raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten-Hour Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.

But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour, over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands." The value of these great social experiments cannot be over-rated. By deeds, instead of argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands'; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the working men's experiments, tried on the Continent, were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed in 1848.

At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that however excellent the principle, and however useful in practice, co-operative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. It is perhaps for this very reason that plausible noblemen, philanthropic middle class spouters and even keen political economists, have all at once turned nauseously complimentary to the very co-operative labour system they have vainly tried to nip in the bud by deriding it as the Utopia of the dreamer, or stigmatising it as the sacrilege of the Socialist. To save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of the economical monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labour.

Remember the sneer with which, last session, Lord Palmerston put down the advocates of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill. The House of Commons, cried he, is a house of landed proprietors. To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working classes. They seem to have comprehended this, for in England, Germany, Italy and France there have taken place simultaneous revivals, and simultaneous efforts are being made at the political reorganisation of the working men’s party.

One element of success they possess—numbers: but numbers weigh only in the balance if united by combination and led by knowledge. Past experience has shown how disregard of that bond of brotherhood which ought to exist between the workmen of different countries, and incite them to stand firmly by each other in all their struggles for emancipation, will be chastised by the common discomfiture of their incoherent efforts. This thought prompted the working men of different countries assembled on September 28th, 1864, in public meeting at St. Martin's Hall, to found the International Association.'

Another conviction swayed that meeting.

If the emancipation of the working classes requires their fraternal concurrence, how are they to fulfil that great mission with a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices, and squandering in piratical wars the people's blood and treasure? It was not the wisdom of the ruling classes, but the heroic resistance to their criminal folly by the working classes of England that saved the West of. Europe from plunging headlong into an infamous campaign for the perpetuation and propagation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic. The shameless approval, mock sympathy, or idiotic indifference, with which the upper classes of Europe have witnessed the mountain fortress of the Caucasus falling prey to and heroic Poland being assassinated by Russia: the immense encroachments of that barbarous power, whose head is at St. Petersburg, and whose hands are in every Cabinet in Europe, have taught the working classes the duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; when unable to prevent, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations.

The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes.

Proletarians of all countries, Unite!