Friday, June 23, 2017

Hedgehogs for Blair (1996)

From the November 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Labour continues to be attacked by Old Labour. So what's new? Not much. If you run a tight ship, as Blair does, then you must expect some of the crew to harbour thoughts of mutiny. Austin Mitchell, MP for Grimsby, recently got publicity by comparing Blair's leadership with that of Kim II Sung. In an article “The hedgehog’s view" (New Statesman, 30 August) he dismissed his party’s The Road to the Manifesto in the following perceptive, if not very flattering, terms:
  "The new document isn‘t intended for you as party members. Your role is to endorse it, preferably with acclamation. This isn't the Labour Party as we know it. Our leaders are playing a different game from us. It’s a power game in which different rules apply. They can't tell us all this. So I'll break it to you now, because a squashed hedgehog on the road to the manifesto sees what's going on."
So far, so good. A Labour Party member sees what’s going on. likens himself to a squashed hedgehog—and hints at taking action against the juggernaut that did the foul deed. No. wait a minute, that can’t be right. The juggernaut pictured in the article has a large message on its side “Vote Blair". Does this mean that Mitchell and all the other Labour hedgehogs who are worried about being flattened by the roadhog Blair will refuse to vote for him? No. of course it doesn’t.

For a hedgehog, Mitchell is quite junglewise. in a puerile kind of way. He refers to members, trade unions, branches, councillors and the rest as bit-part players in Tony’s power game, and goes on:
"So the new deal, in an age of media campaigning, is that we pretend our work is important. Tony pretends to listen. Then he gets on with his real job of putting forward what he wants, in our name."
You would think, from all this, that Mitchell would be wanting out from a party that is so obviously a democratic sham. Not a bit of it. A hedgehog has remarkably low expectations, especially after it’s been squashed. Mitchell writes of "a Faustian compact with Tony Blair, on a back me or sack me basis.” and concludes "It’s a pretty good bargain for a party that blew it a decade ago."

Squashed hedgehogs are remarkably masochistic. They are not clever enough to know the difference between capitalism and socialism but they do know that "Most people’s votes are up for grabs, and they are choosing as consumers: what’s the best buy? What will this product do for me? New Labour is a product. The Road to the Manifesto . . .  is our glossy sales brochure."

The last section of Mitchell’s article shows clearly his Fabian reformism. His waffle includes the historically disproved delusion that "Labour in office can move the levers of power to the people." And “Influencing the holders of power is more useful work than futile dream-building in opposition." Nowhere does Mitchell say what the Labour power holders are to be influenced to do— certainly nothing as radical as to change the basis of society from production for profit to production solely to meet needs.

Labour Party members and supporters can choose between Blair who will administer capitalism more or less as the previous five Labour governments have done or people like Mitchell who will (however reluctantly) support Blair who will ditto. But they are not forced to make that choice. If they think that it’s time to replace the system, not its administrators, they will realise they are in the wrong party, leave it and join us in the Socialist Party
Stan Parker

Churchill on War (1948)

From the September 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard
Surely this is the supreme question which should engage the thoughts of mankind. Compared with it all other human interests are petty and other topics trivial. Nearly all the countries and most of the people in every country desire above all things to prevent war, and no wonder, since except for a few handfuls of ferocious romanticists, or sordid would-be profiteers, war spells nothing but toil, waste, sorrow and torment to the vast mass of ordinary folk in every land. Why should this horror, which they dread and loathe, be forced upon them? How is it that they have not got the sense and manhood to stop it? Nowadays the masses have the power in all democratic countries.—(“Step by Step,” p.37, by Winston Churchill. Published by Thornton Butterworth, Ltd.).

War and Secret Diplomacy (1948)

From the September 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

With a fine bold air as of someone daring to tell the truth in face of popular prejudice the editor of the “New Statesman” (31/7/48) declares that “the first necessity is to get back to secret diplomacy.” But immediately his courage failed him, and he hastened to add, as if to excuse his boldness, that “no sane advocate of open diplomacy ever urged that difficult and detailed discussions between great Powers should be carried on in public.” Whether it is sane or not in the eyes of Mr. Kingsley Martin, there certainly have been and are plenty of people who hold that secrecy only serves the interests of the ruling class groups of the world and not the interests of the working class. Even in the ranks of the rulers there have been some who on occasion have declared for the abolition of secrecy. The well-known “Fourteen Points,” proclaimed by President Wilson during the first World War as a basis for reaching peace included as point number one, ‘‘Open covenants of peace openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

It happened to be the view of the President at that time that America had no interest in seeking to enforce the secret treaties made by Britain, France and Russia for the dismemberment of Germany and Turkey, but the Second World War showed that America like the other Powers was quite prepared to enter into secret treaties of her own.

Another and more telling example of the avoidance of secrecy was the declaration of the Russian Bolsheviks when they got power in 1917, that they too would have nothing to do with secret diplomacy. They backed up their words by insisting that the negotiations between Russia and Germany in 1918 should be carried on in the open. But here again there was a reason why the Bolsheviks favoured open negotiations then but have since reverted to the traditional secrecy of diplomacy. In the Proclamation addressed to the peoples and governments on 29th December, 1917, on behalf of the Russian Government, Trotsky declared that “in these negotiations, with the condition that there should be complete publicity, the Russian Delegation would continue to defend the programme of International Socialist Democracy as opposed to the Imperialistic programme of the Governments, Allied and enemy alike” (“Documents and Statements Relating to Peace Proposals and War Aims,” 1916—1918. Pub. Allen & Unwin, p. 107).

At that time the Russian Bolsheviks were hoping to get much support from the war-weary workers of all countries, and therefore had everything to gain by exposing the sordid imperialist aims of the governments on both sides. They had no imperialist aims themselves at the time and were therefore not afraid to make all their declarations about war and peace in the full light of day. By the same token the present Russian Government with troops in half-a-dozen countries beyond its borders, and cherishing the same imperialist designs as every other Power, has, like Kingsley Martin, been converted back to the belief in secret diplomacy—one set of declarations published openly for purpose of propaganda and another set for the secret archives.

War between the Powers in a capitalist world is not caused by secret diplomacy or by open diplomacy but by the clash of economic interests. Only those, therefore, who, in Trotsky's words, are defending “international socialistic Democracy” can afford to put all their cards on the table. It is in the interest of the world working class, though not in the interest of their masters, that all negotiations should be in the open, but overshadowing the secondary question of open or secret diplomacy it is in the interest of the working class that they should repudiate capitalism and its aims and methods at home and abroad, and seek emancipation and peace by organising to achieve Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Dirty Political Work. (1906)

From the January 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lest we forget Mr. H. M. Hyndman's reference to his organisation as being “wholly destitute of political aptitude” he and other prominent members of the S.D.F make a point of reminding us of the fact.

Last month we dealt with Mr Hyndman's description of a certain political compact as a “dirty dodge" although he and his friends have been guilty of similar dodges. which they have termed " tactics."

Now we have Cllr. Jack Jones standing up for "clean” politics and publicly denouncing and apologising for his fellow members of the S.D.F. for indulging in “political dirty work," to wit, moving an amendment at a public meeting called in support of a Literal candidate!

Once the S.D.F. would have considered that it was part of their legitimate work to oppose all Literals and Conservatives, but not now!

Mr. Jack Jones is doubtless well qualified to speak of “political dirty work!” Is he not the S.D.F. candidate for Camborne, opposing a Liberal candidate with money supplied by some person or persons unknown to the said Mr. Jones, as be himself has publicly admitted?

The scene of this latest exhibition of S.D.F. unity was laid at Stratford Town Hall, at a public meeting in support of the candidature of Mr. C. F. G. Masterman, Liberal, who when he last contested an election (Dulwich) was supported by Mr. J. Hunter Watts, of the S.D.F. Executive, the I.L.P. and by the local Trades Council. Early in the evening the chairman had promised to accept an amendment, and at the proper time Cllr. McAllen and a Mr. Ernest E. Hunter, whom the Stratford S.D.F. had invited for the purpose, mounted the platform to submit it. Mr. Hunter’s right to speak, he not being an elector, was challenged, and an uproar ensued. Then Cllr. Jack Jones mounted the platform and pointing to Mr. Hunter said: — "I have to apologise for the movement I belong to. I never thought they would have stooped so low as to try and get expelled members of our organisation to do dirty work at political meetings. If my Stratford comrades cannot find somebody better to do their dirty work then they bad better leave it alone.”

We are not here concerned with the quarrel between Mr. Jones and the Stratford S.D.F., but we emphasise this point, that, according to the protege of the mysterious rich man who is financing bis Camborne candidature, to move a Socialist amendment is to do “political dirty work!”

How circumstances alter cases !

When Cllr. Jack Jones, Mr. H. Quelch and other prominent members of the S.D.F. supported the recent Parliamentary candidature of Mr. J. J. Terrett, at Stratford Town Hall, without the sanction of the S.D.F. Executive, as required by the rules, was that clean or dirty political work ?

When John Burns, whom the S.D.F. now denounce as a traitor, an apostate, and the like, last stood for Battersea, was he any the less a Liberal, a traitor to the working class. an apostate, than he is now? Had not the S.D.F. previously declared that Bums was a "self seeker and a traitor to the cause of the people” and that he was “firmly caught in the nets of the Liberal Party”? When therefore the S.D.F. Executive not only instructed their Battersea branch to support Burns but permitted Cllr. Jack Jones to go to Battersea to canvass for him, was that clean or dirty political work ?

When the S.D.F. Executive gave permission to one of their number, Mr. Daniel Irving, to sign the L.R.C. Declaration, a few months after the S.D.F. Annual Conference had decided not to rejoin the L.R.C., was that clean or dirty political work ?

When six branches of the S.D.F. recently demanded that the Executive should poll the organisation as to whether W. Thorne should be repudiated as an S.D.F. candidate, because he had signed the L.R.C. Declaration at the request of the Gas Workers" Union, which is paying his expenses, and is consequently running as a "Labour" candidate, and the S.D.F. Executive broke the rules by refusing to take the poll, was that clean or dirty political work?
Jack Kent

A Tooting Tootle (1914)

Party News from the October 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

A propaganda week has once more been carried to a successful issue by the Tooting Branch. Every night speakers addressed good audiences from the van in the Broadway. The merits of our literature were proclaimed, with gratifying results. Free discussion and open platform, as usual, ensured orderly meetings. The steady and persistent flow of propaganda carried on for a number of years in Tooting has its reflection in the branch membership, and the formation of a Wimbledon branch before the summer season ends is a probability as a result of good Saturday-night meetings held there. The fight is also carried into Balham (Ormley Rd.) on Thursdays in the presence of large and attentive audiences. Altogether five good meetings are held every week (weather permitting), which enables the branch to coach its half-a-dozen young speakers and so equip them for the lecture fist.

Newsagents in the district have been induced to stock the "S. S.,” a committee having been formed with that object. In short, the Tooting Branch is active and is growing as a consequence. But there is much to do yet. The Tooting audience with its sympathetic attitude must be got to realise that there is more satisfaction gained by joining up and entering into the fight with us; nay, more, that it is their duty to do so.

"Independence" and Sentiment. (1911)

From the June 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The leaders of the Independent Labour Party have assuredly found the right way to deal with any of their followers who attempt to kick over the traces. Understanding the sentimentalism with which the I.L.P. is pervaded, J. Ramsay MacDonald, Keir Hardie & Co. are able, by working upon this feeling, to sway any assembly of I.L.P-ers in which they find themselves to practically whatever position they desire. An illustration of the success of this manoeuvre can be seen in reading the report of the recent I.L.P. conference at Birmingham. The whole tone of the meeting was such as would have been more applicable to a dormitory of love-sick young ladies than to an assembly of Members of Parliament and self styled economists and politicians. During the debate following the report of the I.L.P. Members of Parliament there were several outbreaks on the part of certain members of the rank and file. Even Lansbury—with an eye, possibly, to the future chairmanship of the Labour Party—made several rather unkind remarks.

P. S. Stewart started the ball by pointing out to the assembled delegates that in the division on the Right to Work amendment to the address on the King’s Speech, only a little more than 20 Labour Members had voted. He went on further to protest against neglect of Parliamentary duties by members who left Westminster to fulfil £5 week-end engagements.

F. W. Jowett reminded those present how in 1909 the Labour Party decided to move a reduction of the tea tax, but at the last moment refrained from voting when it was seen that there was a danger of defeating the Government; pointing out that this policy of waiting upon the Liberal party was still adhered to by the Labour Party as a whole.

Lansbury in his speech told the delegates that when the question of the Welsh colliers was raised in Parliament, only 17 Labour men went into the lobby for fear of endangering the Government.

R. C. Wallhead “was not satisfied with the Labour Party, and there were certain Labour Members he would like to see out of the House.”

The impression forced upon one by reading the report is that the I.L.P. members in Parliament are quite content to acquiesce in the coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberals. The admission was made by J. R. MacDonald that Labour Members are in the habit of appearing on Liberal platforms. Keir Hardie told those present that many Labour Members felt they were bound to be the friends of the Government, and give a general backing to those who had given them so much—the “so much” including the “super tax of 6d. in the £ on big incomes, important land taxes, and the valuation of land, and Old-Age Pensions.”

He went, on to say that “ The Government’s programme for this session contained an Osborne Bill, a Mines Rill, the Shop Assistants’ Bill, an Insurance Scheme against Unemployment and invalidity, which were all the outcome of I.L.P. propaganda. The Tories would fight these measures tooth and nail, and therefore there was bound to be a more kindly feeling towards the party that was going part of our way than towards those who were fighting us every inch of the way.” This in spite of the fact that he had complained just previously that the Labour Party thought too much in terms of Liberalism, and his remark that he feared the Liberals with their Social Reform much more than the Tories.

The debate ended in moonshine. The “meta-physical and philosophical” speech of MacDonald, the “heart to heart” talk of Lansbury, the earnest, touching, passionate, eloquent (adjectives fail) peroration of Keir Hardie, apparently reduced the assembled delegates to a state of speechlessness. At any rate, the whole matter dropped. The I.L.P. members in Parliament will go on in the old sweet way, pandering to the Liberals, speaking from Liberal platforms, fulfilling week-end engagements at £5 per time, joining committees in connection with the forthcoming Coronation festivities, writing well-paid articles for the capitalist Press. And through it all they will protest against their claim to independence being in the slightest degree impugned. Moreover, the pity of it is that thousands of the members of the working class still believe in their specious promises and the sentimental cant in which they delight to indulge. The Socialist Party has truly much work in front of it, not only in combating the avowed capitalist parties, but still more in fighting such parties as the I.L.P., which, under the guise of Socialism, is endeavouring to lead the workers into a more degraded and more servile condition of life than even the one in which they now find themselves.
F. J. Webb

The Working-Class Position: A Personal Chin-wag (1912)

From the October 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is often said that the civilised man cannot understand the savage. If this is true (and of its truth there can be little doubt) it is at all events not altogether surprising. The more surprising, and not less correct, statement is that the civilised man does not understand— himself.

It may be as correct to say that the savage does not understand the civilised man; but the ironical element of the situation is that the “superior” being (to remove any doubt I had better say that by this I mean the civilised man) not only has to see the savage through the savage’s eyes in order to understand him, but he has to see himself through the savage’s eyes in order to understand himself.

The outlook of the savage upon life, and his “inlook” upon himself, can only be understood by the civilised man through the reconstruction of the social system in which the savage lives. Only after doing this; only after building up anew the social system based upon the free and common access to all the sources of wealth and the free and common enjoyment of the social wealth, is it possible to realise the self-abnegation, the sinking of the individual in the community, which is characteristic of the mentality of the savage and the barbarian.

On the other hand, so accustomed has the civilised man become to the life he is living, so perfectly do his conceptions of things as they ought to be fit in with things as they are, that all the unfitness and inconsistencies and incongruities of his environment are hidden from his sight.

If he could only realise that things as they are make his conceptions of thing as they ought to be! If he could only understand that, in order to perceive things as they are he must view them from the place where they are not! If he could only grasp the fact that before he can conceive things  as they ought to be,” he must release his mind from the rusty fetters of things as they are!

An ethnologist of sufficient standing to get his bread buttered on both sides and round the crust by the approved capitalist method of “skating on the surface” of his science, has told us concerning the North American Indians, that they could not be induced to work steadily for wages; they laboured for a time, but would suddenly become tired of it, and would rather sacrifice what they had earned than continue to work a day or two longer and complete their contract. This was a mystery to the “scientist,” but it should be illuminating for the civilised man who is willing to stand in the savage’s shoes in order to understand himself.

In the savage mind the selling of one’s energies to another is prostitution of the vilest kind, and a thing not to be contemplated without disgust—and who can say that he is not right? ,

The savage may have his hardships, but he is a free man. However hardly the seasons may press him, or the elements contest his right to exist, while he does exist he lives. All that is good in nature is his in abundance, with the single exception of food. He has room to live in, and he has time to live. For him the sweet breezes blow fresh and untainted, and the scented dawn ushers the day of joyous life. His work is performed in the sun and air of open day, and no stingy balance is struck between what he has consumed and the power he has gained from it. Only when the seasons have been unpropitious and niggard does he know want, and anxiety as to his livelihood is foreign to him, for all his hard poverty and his slender resources.

The savage views his strength, his skill, his courage, as sacred to the purpose of making the most of life; as social assets contributory to the social welfare, and one holding that view can hardly do other than regard the man who gives over his strength and skill to another for a price as a prostituted person and scorn him as such.

This view is the correct one. notwithstanding that our “high civilisation” does not permit us to perceive it save through the fresh, dear vision of primitive man. Think! The strength of human muscles, the intelligence of the human brain, have been wrought out of untold ages of strife with the external world, the human struggle for a living. They have been perfected through an appalling space of evolution in order to make a bed of roses for the chemical compound which controls them. But from this high purpose they have been diverted. They have been sacrificed to Mammon—the historic mactation before which all others pale.

Yes, so low have the strength of human muscles and the intelligence of the human brain fallen in the hey-day of our “high civilisation,” that they are devoted to the base end of increasing existing values, of producing profit for a class of absorbant, but nevertheless inactive, chemical compounds, who would soon resolve into their simple elements if they were left to their own resources.

O! foul prostitution!

* * *

What this prostitution means to the victims of it strangely enough they are the last to perceive. They give up every joy of life in order to gain bare half rations. While they pour out their heart’s blood in a torrent of wealth for others to riot and exult in, they sink to the floor of their threshing dens overwhelmed with the grain they produce but may not eat, and perish for want of the wealth in which they are buried.

When some novelist paints with vivid touch the wretched Roman slaves toiling in the wheel, and muzzled in order that they shall not eat the flour they are grinding, the modem toiler feels cold-footed spiders running over his face. Yet his own position is very much the same. The muzzle is exchanged for blinkers, but he still painfully grinds the corn which he may not eat; he still wears his life out in unrequited labour, i and drains the cup of misery to the very last I bitter dregs.

* * *

Fellow workers, you can only live once. Ask yourselves how you are spending that one life which you may spend. Ask yourselves how much of that life you spend upon yourselves, and how much upon those who hold you in their grip in order to batten upon you, as the ant battens upon the aphis which it “cultivates.”

What do you know of the sun and fresh air? There are 168 hours in a week, and lucky you if you have for six or eight of those hours “a place in the sun.” The rest of the time you are either slaving or recuperating. One hour in twenty, one day in twenty, one year in twenty: —that is your lot and portion in your own life. You exist for thirty years, on the average, and you “live" for eighteen months!

O! those eighteen months of crowded delirium. overshadowed as they are by the pinching poverty which requites toil, and the anxiety of caring for the morrow; purchased as they are with so many years of weary effort and hopeless drudgery; drenched as they are with the blood of murdered hopes and wet with tears: are they worth it? are they worth it? are they worth it?

When I hear an old man of the working class, whose life has been cast in the common groove of those about him. whose back has bent to the common burden, and whose hair has whitened in the common woe—when I hear such a man declare that he has not had enough of it and more than enough, and wish himself young again, then I will say, yes, perhaps they may be worth it.

* * *

Where is the need for all this grinding, wearing. anxious poverty? The savage never knew it. He starved only in the rare and exceptional season of dearth. The barbarian who came after him, and the early husbandman who ploughed with slow oxen, and sowed broadcast, and threshed out the summer’s grain with a flail in the dull days of the winter; who spun each thread of yarn for his clothes through his fingers, and shot the shuttle for every strand for his wearing—these never knew the anxious care and stint in which the modern worker fashions his strength into wealth for others' keeping.

The average wheat crop in medieval England was four bushels an acre, and it was garnered with great labour—the average crop at the present day is thirty two bushels, prepared for with the steam plough, the Darby Digger, and (latest word in such matters) the motor plough; sown with the seed-drill, hoed with the horse hoe and cultivator; cut and tied with the reaper and self-binder; threshed out and winnowed and cleaned and sacked by the threshing machine. Yet the sickle and the flail gave the workers plenty to eat and abundant leisure, while all these aids to easy production have brought them only unceasing drudgery and starvation.

Why is it ?

* * *

The cause is very simple: the means of living have fallen into the possession of a few. As a result the others are compelled to prostitute themselves by selling their labour-power. For this they receive as much as it costs to produce. But this amount is almost constant, hence all the benefit of the improved machinery and methods goes to the employing class. And the growing surplus which the workers produce, which they are unable to buy back and consume because it it surplus—because it is product exceeding what they are paid—this surplus heaps up in the warehouses and gluts the markets, and then workers are thrown out of work because they have produced too much.

The evil does not stop here. As a constant succession of workers are thrown in the streets to starve, they, clamouring at the factory gates for employment, compel those in work to work longer and harder and for less money than ever. So in the end the machinery has only fixed toil more surely upon the worker, and confirmed him in his poverty.

* * *

There is only one escape for the workers. They must take possession of the means of producing wealth and use them to satisfy their needs and to lighten their labour. They must decline to be the beasts of burden of an idle class, and must demand that all able-bodied adults within such limits of age as may be found necessary, shall contribute their share to the necessary work of satisfying the social needs.

Why should any able person escape the labour of supporting himself or herself? Why should any class be permitted to throw on another class the burden of supporting them? The colossal impudence of it is overwhelming.

The way lies through the capture of political power, by means of which the master class retain their hold upon the means of production. It is through Parliament that the Army, Navy, and Police are controlled, hence Parliament must be captured by the working class. Having secured control of the armed forces production and distribution must be organised on a new basis—a basis of common ownership of both the means and the product. Then production will continue as long as goods are needed, instead of only so long as they can be sold.

That system of society is Socialism. Study Socialism and work for it.
A. E. Jacomb