Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In The Train: Bermondsey Bunkum Baulked (1909)

A Short Story from the November 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Characters: PETER PIP—a Bermondsey voter.
                     VIATOR—a traveller.

Scene. Third-class “smoker ” on the S.E.C. Railway. Peter Pip is seated in corner smoking his pipe. Enter Viator, who takes opposite seat.

VIATOR : Good evening. I suppose things are pretty lively just now down Bermondsey way?
PIP : Yes, the election’s in full swing—all three candidates are hard at it.
VIATOR : Who do yon think will win ?
PIP: Oh! The Socialist, Dr. Salter. He’s bound to get in. I and my mates are for him, anyhow.
VIATOR : I thought the doctor called himself “Labour” candidate.
PIP : Well, it’s all the same. Labour is Socialism, isn’t it ?
VIATOR : May I ask you some questions by way of trying to answer yours ?
PIP : Certainly.
VIATOR : Well then, the doctor was chosen by your local branch of the I.LP., wasn’t he ?
PIP: Yes.
VIATOR : The local branch had to get sanction from the National Council of the I.L.P. ?
PIP : Why, yes, of course.
VIATOR : Of course you know that before the doctor could be run as a candidate for Parliament, the I.LP. had to get sanction from the Labour Party executive, being affiliated to that body?
PIP : That’s so.
VIATOR : The candidate must sign the Labour Party ticket and agree to obey the Party whip?
PIP : Yes.
VIATOR : One of the conditions to be agreed to is, I think, that the candidate must stand as “Labour,” and not as “Socialist.”
PIP : Quite true.
VIATOR : Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a Socialist should not be allowed to run as such, and that if returned he must obey the Labour Party whip, nine times out of ten voting with the Liberals?
PIP : It never struck me like that. But all the same Salter’s a real good Socialist. Why just look at his programme!
VIATOR : Ah, let me see it. (Pip hands him a copy of the election address.) Yes! I thought so. Same old story.
PIP : What’s wrong now ?
VIATOR : The first article in his confession of faith is the dear old “Right to Work Bill.” Hum!
PIP : But you surely don’t condemn the “Right to Work Bill?”
VIATOR : No need to: it condemns itself! What about the clause empowering a municipality to find work for the unemployed? If the unemployed are not satisfied with the kind of work allotted them, or the rate of pay, and refuse to do the work, the municipal authorities, who are representatives of the master class, have power given them to haul the offending workers before a magistrate. That means six months gaol! Fancy a Socialist voting for such a measure.
PIP : But I say—
VIATOR : Next item. General Eight-Hours Day. Well suppose you get it—and mind you, you have got to get it from the masters; many of them are in favour of it and would vote for it. That fact alone ought to make you suspicious of it. “Timeo Danaos et dona ferantes.” That’s French or Figian—you know, for “When the masters send you a gift horse, look in the beggar’s mouth.”
PIP : (Rather uneasily, feeling he is being “got at ”) Well but—
VIATOR : But me no buts! Can the master class—or employers as you call them— can they or can they not speed you up in the factory to the highest possible pitch, 8 hours day or no 8 hours day ? Aren’t they doing it now? If you are going to cross the road to vote, vote for something that’s to do you good!
PIP : I think you will have a job to get round the next item.
VIATOR: Then I’ll go under it. Minimum wage! Minimum fiddlesticks! Do you suppose the labour market is a thing to be played with so? There was a "maximum wage” law as the result of the dearth of labour after the plague in the middle ages, a law strengthened by far more severe penalties than any a capitalist government is likely to attach to a mere "minimum wage” enactment in these days of “freedom of contract”—the futility of the attempt to enforce this law should be a lesson for all time. When labour was scarce the labourer was master of the situation, in spite of the Statute of Labourers which the employers of labour themselves caused to be enacted, in their anxiety to obtain labour power cheaply, but which they were compelled to evade. Now that labour power is so terribly redundant the masters will remain masters of the situation, minimum wage laws notwithstanding, for starvation will compel evasion on the one hand, and profit-hunger on the other. But if such a law can have any effect at all in preventing sweating, there is one counterbalancing factor that will rob it of all benefit to the working class. When any one talks to you about minimum wages, shorter hours, and so on, don’t forget that grim spectre at the worker’s elbow—his constant competitor— machinery. Every restriction placed upon the exploitation of labour power, makes for the advantage of machinery; every lifting of the price of labour-power handicaps it against machinery. So far then as a minimum wage law can affect the situation it can only result in the extended use of machinery and the factory system, and the further displacement of workers.
PIP : That seems to make the struggle hopeless. (Removes his hat, wipes his brow, and looks out of the carriage window.)
VIATOR : It makes Socialism the only hope, at all events. (Pointing) That’s a very nice piece of land over there, isn’t it? Look well nationalized, wouldn’t it? “For sale. Apply Law, Jaw, Wynstun & Co.” I see your worthy doctor has “nationalization of land” on his card. In Japan they have nationalization of land; in Russia the mines are national; in Germany the railways are national property. Yet the proletariat (that’s you and me, you know) who work all those services are not a whit better off—worse off in some cases. German and Belgian State railway workers for example.
PIP : That’s true.
VIATOR : Then : “Municipalisation of means of transit, lighting, water, milk, electricity and power.” Let’s see. In Bermondsey you have all these things run either by the County Council or the Borough Council. Milk, you say,—better milk. Yes, quite so, but a doubtful advantage if you’re a milkman out of a job. Can’t you see, my dear fellow, that you can nationalise and municipalise ’til you’re black in the face, but so long as you leave the masters in full possession of the political power, they will take good care to keep top-dog?
PIP : Surely you will support the next item : “Votes for all men and women of adult age”?
Viator : The principle’s all right, but as a vote catcher it’s all wrong. Besides, aren’t there enough votes now to get Socialism if they were used properly? What we want to do is to educate the present working-class vote— which greatly preponderates—as to the meaning of Socialism, not to bother about extensions of the franchise, and above all, not to use such issues, however much we may agree with them in principle, as bait to catch the voles of those who are opposed to us on the question of Socialism.
PIP : (With an air of conscious superiority) Well, you must agree that raising the amount of old age pensions and lowering the age limit, as our candidate suggests, would be a good thing ?
VIATOR : Yes! for the master class! Shifting the burden of the aged poor off the rates on to the taxes, neither of which affect the worker tuppence. No' if that's the best your doctor can do for you you might as well vote : for Dr. Cook.
PIP : What shall I do then?
Viator : Stop at home this time and don't vote. I tell you the disease Bermondsey is suffering from can’t be cured by medicine. What is wanted is a surgical operation. Here you are, this will tell you all about it. Read this (hands him a Manifesto). Full details - how to cure poverty and when you're tired of messing about with quacks and their nostrums, take your courage in both hands and try “the knife.” Here’s my station. Good night! (He gets out. Pip is left thinking.)

The Gospel According To St. Andrew (1907)

From the April 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

Andrew Carnegie, library purveyor and morality expert (what a tribe of experts there seems to be in the world) has been at it again, He thinks “wealth is so obviously unequally distributed that the attention of civilised man must he attracted to it from time to time.” He adds "no amount of charity in spending fortunes in any way compensates for misconduct in making them.” He quotes with approval President Roosevelt's statement that he “would discriminate in the sharpest way between fortunes well won and fortunes ill won, between those gained well as a whole and those gained in evil fashion by keeping just within the bounds of mere law honesty.” and concludes, “There are fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limits; but I say my partners are the people ” !

Dear, good Saint Andrew! His partners are the people. How true ! How trite! Of course they are all in the firm. All partners of the somnolent variety — sleeping partners in short. And while they sleep Andrew may sing on and preen his flight feathers prettily, preparatory to taking his place in the angelic choir wherein he has already, with canny prescience, booked a prominent place, as I doubt not. Well for Andrew, now and presently, if his shrewdness impel him to take his departure before his sleeping partners wake; for I fear the much that it will be woe indeed for Andrew if he should in that day be with us in the flesh. 

“There are fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limit” Most upright judge!  "No amount of charity in spending fortunes in any way compensates for misconduct in making them.” Oh 'a Daniel come to judgment.’ What a lead for the “partners" when they wake!' Under the spur of such urging, under the whip of such counsel, how readily will they locate the owner of the fortune which, despite all its possessor's widely advertised and loudly lauded efforts to dispose of it, persists in accumulating without even a hand-stir effort on the part of its owner; and how quick will they be to recognise this “fortune swollen beyond all healthy limit.” And when they hear the story of Pittsburg and how the history of its rise and development has stank in the nostrils of ‘‘civilised man” for years, in what a flash will come the appreciation of the inwardness of Andrew’s other pronouncement as to the insufficiency of charity to compensate for the methods by which fortunes are built up.

Verily there is a great day in store for the “partners” and for Andrew—when the sleepers wake. And one of the surest signs that the “partners” still snore, is in the fact that Andrew can walk abroad giving off his smug and unctuous dicta without risk of more than a halting effort at half humourous protest even from the most desperately “advanced ” organs of public opinion. Well, the sleepers will not always sleep. There’s a good time coming and the Laird of Skibo’s share in that good time may not be altogether what he would himself design.

And I’m not quite sure that, assuming he has left us before that day dawns, he will be quite happy in that “undiscovered country from whose bourne’’ etc. I claim no special knowledge in the matter, but I am reminded of the story told, upon as good authority as any story of the sort, of the experience of one, Pullman, who at one time was in the sleeping car business (these sleeping care were not much used, I believe, by Andrew’s sleeping “partners” referred to). It chanced that Pullman died and found himself at heaven’s gate whereat he knocked loudly. In response to his peremptory summons Peter appeared and of him Pullman demanded admittance. “And who are you?” asked Peter. “I’m Pullman,” answered the applicant, “ Pullman, of Pullman, U.S.A.” “Ah!” said Peter, “1 think we have heard something of you. Will you be good enough to wait a moment while I refer to my instructions?” And Peter opened a large book on his janitor’s desk. "Well, hurry up then,” quoth Pullman. “I’m not accustomed to being detained in this way. My time’s precious.” Peter turned the leaves leisurely. “Don't worry,” said he. “Time doesn’t matter quite so much here as it does where you came from. Ah! here we are. Pullman of Pullman, U.S.A. M—yes! I thought I was not mistaken. Will you kindly take a seat in the lift yonder.” Pullman entered the lift and waited. The liftman made no sign. “Well, what's the matter? Why don’t you start?” he asked. “There’s no hurry,” replied the liftman. "I’m expecting a few more along shortly. We generally fill up fairly quick.” Pullman stumped about impatiently and one or two more came in, but the lift was still not full. “Come! Come!” he said, “I shan’t get in to-day if you’re much longer. When are we going up?” "Sir,” replied the attendant, “ this lift does not go up!” 
A. James

Breaking the Chains? (1987)

Book Review from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cuba Libre: Breaking the Chains? by Peter Marshall (Victor Gollancz, £14.95)

After a historical account of Cuban politics, the bulk of this book discusses various aspects of present-day Cuba, based largely on visits by the author in 1984. For anyone wanting an introduction to these topics, it will prove very useful.

Marshall makes no secret of his sympathy with Castro and Cuban developments. He points out the contrasts with the squalid and oppressive dictatorship of pre-Castro days, the expansion of literacy and education, the comprehensive health care system. At the same time, he discusses, often at length, many features of Cuban society which clearly show it to be no model for emulation.

Trade unions are basically just government tools, and strikes are illegal. A catch-all statute concerning "crimes against state security", which can result in the death penalty, has been used against workers involved in unofficial unions. There are thousands of political prisoners, even though dissidents are every so often packed off to the United States. Appalling anti-gay prejudice exists. Stress-related diseases are common, and the seventh most important cause of death is . . . suicide. Through identity cards and personal files, the state can exercise close control over every worker and student, each supposed shortcoming being recorded for posterity.

From being a sugar-based economy closely-tied to the US, Cuba has become a sugar-based economy closely-tied to Russia. Marshall notes that such economic categories as profits, interest and wages are prevalent, and adds:
The only difference between Cuba’s economic system now and capitalism is that so-called profits’ theoretically go to benefit the people as a whole rather than individual owners or shareholders, and that every aspect of the economy is developed according to an inflexible five-year plan.
But there has always been a free market, of varying extent, operating in Cuba, and state plans simply do not and cannot plan for everything, as witness the abortive attempts to reduce the dependence on sugar. As for profits benefiting everyone, even Castro has admitted to the creation of "a class of newly rich", and power and wealth are by no means equally distributed.

Before taking power, Castro had promised free elections within a year, but this was soon reneged on. Marshall is aware that direct democracy and workers' control are lacking, and describes Cuba’s political system as a "consultative oligarchy": a small number of leaders monopolise power but consult with others, especially top Communist Party members. This is a pretty feeble form of consultation, however, and ordinary working people have effectively no say in the running of an all-powerful state which brooks no opposition and interferes in all aspects of daily life.

It is clear, then, that Cuba is a capitalist country where workers, far from having broken their chains, are bound by the same chains as workers everywhere.
Paul Bennett

Where Do They Go From Here? (1946)

From the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Slight Dilemma for the War-Supporting "Friends of Democracy"
Wanting to pay tribute to the likeableness of the Italians, the late Lord Castlerosse once remarked that, though every war ends with the war-time allies disliking each other more than they do “the enemy," nobody hates the Italians—not even their allies. It was not a profound thought, but it touched on a truth about the wars of capitalism. Alliances are temporary associations forced upon rivals by the menace of another Power or group of Powers grown dangerously strong. Once the menace is removed the normal rivalries of the allies again come to the surface. (Italy, not being strong enough to be a menace on its own, is wooed by all and has a habit of changing sides—hence Lord Castlerosse's observation.)

We have now reached the normal stage that follows wars of alliances, with the former allies regrouping and jockeying for position for the coming struggle over markets, air bases, spheres of influence and so on. Everyone knows what may be the outcome in a few years' time, though war-weariness, food shortage and the need to make costly preparations for new kinds of warfare, determine that for the present the struggle shall be waged with words.

There is still some talk of “no more war," but preparations hurry on. In Britain and U.S.A. the talk is of permanent conscription and the maintenance of armed forces much greater than they were before 1939. A new Sea Lord is appointed, in Britain, Admiral Sir John H. D. Cunningham. His job, according to the Daily Express (1/3/46), will be retrenchment, but also “the reorganisation of the Navy with new weapons." In Canada the Air Force is to have a strength of more than 30,000, including auxiliary and Reserve units, and the regular force of 16,100 is to be “capable of rapid expansion" (Times, 23/2/46). Its function is to be the “air defence of Canada"—against whom is not stated, but the anxiety to prevent Russia from hearing what is going on and the anxiety of Russia to uncover military secrets there, shows how the military minds are moving. Russia, too, is showing how little confidence is really placed in the United Nations Organisation, and a sign of the times is the unification of land, air and naval forces into a single Commisariat under Generalissimo Stalin (Soviet News, 28/2/46). America keeps its atom bomb from its allies while Russia encourages its scientists to discover the death-dealing secret by giving handsome prizes of £5,000 to several of them (Daily Express, 28/1/46). Australia demands air and naval bases in New Guinea and Stalin declares that “the Soviet people love their army and are constantly concerned to strengthen its might . . . we must . . . raise still more the military and economic might of the Soviet State" (Daily Express, 23/2/46). Russia feels strong enough to pursue an expansionist policy with the inevitable result of provoking hostility in the ranks of the ruling groups in the countries affected, China, Persia, Turkey, etc., and of alarming the British and American capitalists whose economic interests are also concerned. Under the secret agreement at Yalta, Russia, as a condition of declaring war against Japan, obtained from Britain and U.S.A. the right to pre-eminent Russian interests over the Chinese Eastern and South Manchurian railways while nominally preserving full Chinese sovereignty in Manchuria (Manchester Guardian, 12/2/46). China was not consulted and it is ironical to recall how the Labour and Communist Parties, back in 1931, demanded immediate aid to China to stop the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

Lenin once described the older colonial powers as the “older and fatter bandits," and sought to stir up resistance movements in all the colonies. Russia now, with its many encroachments on territories round all its frontiers and its demand for Mediterranean Islands and North African colonies, is seeking to enter the ranks of the fatter bandits. This threatens both British and American capitalism, hence the clash between Mr. Bevin and Mr. Vishinsky and the American note to Russia and China protesting that Russian policy in Manchuria “ would be contrary to the open-door policy and would constitute clear discrimination against Americans who wanted to join Manchuria’s industrial development ” (Manchester Guardian, 6/3/46). Britain, however, is not strong enough alone to hold the too far flung empire in the face of the growing strength of the Capitalist-Nationalist movements and the emergence of Russia as a world Power, and it is to meet this situation that Mr. Churchill proposes what is, in effect, an Anglo-American alliance against Russia. In an editorial the Manchester Guardian (5/3/46) puts the point of view of the more sober and far-seeing sections of the capitalist class, a view that may be summed up in the phrase "It is better to give up something in order to more firmly hold the remainder.” The Guardian says:—
  "What the Government must do during this transitional period is to think out again from the beginning what are the vital interests of the British Empire and how these can best be defended. Even if we can rid ourselves of our temporary commitments it is difficult not to feel that our imperial strategy will have to be trimmed a little from nineteenth century ideas if we are not to overstrain our resources. Much will depend on the development of India during the next twelve months, but we should not forget that the map of the Empire will look very different when India is a free and independent country. This in turn will affect our judgment as to the value of the Middle East and the Suez Canal, though the latter will certainly remain high on the list of priorities. But it may be that we shall have to rely more . . . on co-operation with the Dominions (and Egypt?) and less on our own strength for the defence of outlying bases.”
Here then is the situation in the matter of postwar groupings of the Powers, and what do those who supported the war against German and Japanese capitalism in the simple belief that it would make the world safe from dictatorship and war think of it now? With Russia taking the place of Germany as the threatening expansionist Power what are they going to do? Where do they go from here? Already the language of the capitalist Press is precisely the same as it was about the Nazis. The Daily Mail (5/3/46) demands a "showdown.” The Russian demand on Persia is the “latest example of power-politics. Russian policy in Persia is dictated by strategic considerations and the search for oil. If Persia gives in, the vital interests of the British Empire will be affected.”

Soviet methods, says the Mail, “bear a depressing resemblance to those practised by Hitler between 1933 and 1939.”

The Liberal Manchester Guardian talks in the same tone: "We can try 'appeasement ’—which could not end until we, too, became a Communist colony, or we can try firmness on behalf of the things in which we believe ” (6/3/46).

"Firmness,” of course, is a nice way of saying that we must have military force and be prepared, in the last resort, to use it.

Where, we may ask, will the Labour Party "friends of democracy” be standing in the coming clash with Russian interests? On the side of  "democracy”? But do they not recall how, between 1941 and 1945, they were able to swallow their denunciations of Russian dictatorship and sing the praises of that alleged "democracy”? Will they be asking us to fight against Russia because it is not a democracy?

Before they drift into that tragic situation it would he well to pause and consider just how successful was the recently ended "war for democracy.” What have they to say about Mr. Churchill’s reading of the present condition of Europe? "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe . . . all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow. . . .

The Communist parties, which were very small in nil these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.” (Churchill’s speech in U.S.A., Manchester Guardian, 6/3/46.)

Mr. Churchill added the revealing admission: "Whatever conclusions may be drawn from these facts —and facts they are—this is certainly not the liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace.”

So the second world war for democracy has produced, according, to the man who presided over the British Government with the enthusiastic approval of the Labour and Communist Parties, not liberation, but Russian totalitarianism in place of German totalitarianism. The crusade for democracy has not succeeded, it has still to be fought.

Addressing our remarks to the workers of all lands, we ask again that consideration be given to the Socialist case against supporting capitalism's wars. Our position is clear. We asserted in 1914 and again in 1939 that war arises because of the clash of capitalist trade and strategic interests. It does not solve the problems of the working class and does not safeguard democracy. Russia is indeed a dictatorship, and the clique that holds power there, like ruling groups in the rest of the capitalist world, will stick at nothing to maintain their own power and privilege, but we are not in any circumstances prepared to be drawn into supporting a future war against Russia any more than we were prepared to support the past wars. We urge the workers of all lands, no matter whether their exploiters are of their own nationality or foreigners, to abandon the fatal doctrine of nationalism and concentrate on the one thing that matters, ridding the world of capitalism and establishing Socialism. For this it is necessary for the workers to turn their backs on the rivalries of the Powers and give their allegiance to the international Socialist movement.
Edgar Hardcastle