Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Greatest City in the Capitalist World (1937)

From the March 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

What it is to be a Worker in London
The following is taken from a review of “Metropolitan Man," by Robert Sinclair (Allen & Unwin, 10s. 6d.). The review is by Francis lles and was published in the Daily Telegraph on February 18th, 1937.
   It is a startling book, but for every startling statement official authority is given. . . . One in every three Londoners dies in a workhouse or a rate-aided hospital. The proportion of tuberculous milk is still as great as a quarter of a century ago. Five out of six London children are not adequately nourished; one in seven is verminous. Consumption deaths among young London women have increased by a quarter in 20 years. Some Londoners are certified every year as dying of starvation. The rapidly increasing rate of suicide—in every group of 13 dwellings in inner London there is someone who will kill himself.

Hamilton. Offer of a Free Copy of "The Socialist Standard" (1937)

From the April 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some reader of the Socialist Standard regularly defaces, mutilates or removes the copy placed in the Hamilton Public Library. In order to prevent inconvenience to other would-be readers, the individual is invited to apply to the Secretary of the local branch of the S.P.G.B. for a free copy.

Two Readers Write about the Russian Trials (1937)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article “What is Wrong with Russia?” published in the March The Socialist Standard, the point was made that Communists, having themselves advocated lying and double-dealing as a form of activity, have no reason for being indignant because they are suspected of having used these methods against prisoners in the series of trials. A Glasgow reader asks us for our authority for the statement that such methods were advocated. It will be found in Lenin's Should Communists Participate in Reactionary Trade Unions? written in 1920. The following extract is taken from the edition published by the American Communists (“Workers' Party of America”): —
   There is no doubt but that the opportunist leaders of the unions will resort to all the dirty tricks of bourgeois diplomacy, invoking the help of the capitalist governments, priests, police, judges, etc., in order to prevent the Communists from penetrating into the trade unions, to force them out of the unions, to make their work within the unions as dangerous as possible, aiding the police to persecute and run them down. But we must be able to withstand all that, to be ready for any and every sacrifice, and even if necessary, to practice trickery, to employ cunning, and to resort to illegal methods, to sometimes even overlook or conceal the truth—all for the sake of penetrating into the trade unions, to stay there and by every and all means carry on the work of Communism.
The publication of this in America led to the Communists being strongly criticised, and they found it very inconvenient to have to defend their declared intention of using trickery, cunning, and overlooking and concealing the. truth, and it was perhaps for this reason that the words were toned down somewhat in the English version to be found in “Left-Wing Communism,” published by the Communist Party of Great Britain. Here the last few lines read : —
   It is necessary to be able to withstand all this, to go the whole length of any sacrifice if need be, to resort to strategy and adroitness, illegal proceedings, reticence and subterfuge, to anything in order to penetrate into the trade unions, remain in them, and carry on Communist work inside them, at any cost.
The case against this sort of thing is a strong one. Ultimately the workers have got to be won over for Socialism by being convinced that the Socialist argument is unanswerable. Trying to win them prematurely by means of trickery and subterfuge is worse than useless. The ruling class and the reformist leaders are bound to win at the game, and the workers will be not more but less ready to listen to what Socialists have to say when they discover that Communists have been willing to trick them.

The second letter, from Mr. T. Roberts, Wealdstone, is largely based on misunderstanding of our position. Mr. Roberts jumps to the conclusion that we have some moral objection to the workers concealing information from the capitalist class. The S.P.G.B. has never held so absurd a view. What we are concerned with is misleading the workers.

Mr. Roberts goes on to argue at some length that the Communists are entitled to lie. He writes: —
    No, they are not willing to submit to the authority of capitalism, whether that authority is expressed directly by the capitalist class themselves or indirectly through traitorous lenders. So what? They double-deal and lie!!? What sanctimonious humbug finds expression in the Sunday School dithering of the writer of the article in question.
   The next step, of course, is clean collars and manicured hands, with the new workers' slogan, “ Play the game, you cads!”
The first thing we notice is that Mr. Roberts does not deny that Communists practise lying and trickery. Indeed, he holds that it is their duty to do so. So we ask again the original question which has roused Mr. Roberts to fury. Why should the Communists be so indignant at the suggestion that they, who preach and practice lying, have perhaps used it to get rid of their Trotskyist and other opponents in Russia?

Come, Mr. Roberts, let us know why the indignation ?

The series of Russian trials are quite a good illustration of the dangers of this policy. If lying is to be effective it is essential that it shall not be found out. But when used on a large scale, sooner or later some of it is bound to be found out. In the case of the Russians, to take only one instance, there is the “confession" of the prisoner who said he was plotting with Abramovitch in Russia, while actually the latter was in Brussels, seen by large numbers of delegates at a conference there. (Mr. Roberts, we notice, does not refer to this.) The result is that among wide circles of workers there is now a suspicion that the trials are not what they seem, and time and energy are now being devoted to that controversy which might have been devoted to more important things.

In passing, it may be remarked that Mr. Roberts jibe about clean collars, and so on, is singularly ill-conceived. One of the recent trends sponsored by Stalin in Russia has been just that— the slogan for clean collars for men and cosmetics and fashionable clothes for women. Though why 'Mr. Roberts should object to workers having these things is a mystery to us. Does Mr. Roberts insist on wearing a dirty collar and is he, in his view, a better revolutionary for doing so?

Mr. Roberts goes on to justify double-dealing as used by the Communists against MacDonald, Snowden and Thomas. Which only shows how little Mr. Roberts knows of the Communists or their methods. The worst lies and double-dealing used by the Communists were not against these men but for them. At election after election, Communists, knowing they were lying, roused the workers to vote for these men, representing them as fit and proper persons for workers* votes. It did not deceive the capitalists, but it did deceive the workers.

May we now ask Mr. Roberts to tell us what useful purpose this lying has served, useful, that is, to the working class and the Socialist movement ?

Mr. Roberts raises many other points, mainly concerned with the reason why the S.P.G.B. doesn’t produce evidence of discontent in Russia, evidence of faked confessions, etc.

What Mr. Roberts forgets is that the Communists, who, as he admits, believe in lying and trickery, also control the Russian Press, the Russian postal, telegraph and telephone services, and almost every source of information.

And doesn't Mr. Roberts perceive that the repeated mass trials themselves are evidence that some discontent exists in Russia?
Editorial Committee.

The Passing of Snowden (1937)

From the June 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bitter Truths For Labour Voters
Philip Snowden had some praiseworthy qualities. He was determined, uncompromising according to his lights, and largely indifferent to what he regarded as the fickle moods of the crowd. He fought hard and disinterestedly for many of the causes to which he was attached. Yet his career, early and late, is, to Socialists, not an example, but a warning, a warning of the sterility of reformism. Indeed, the Socialist might well sum up Snowden’s life by saying that it is a pity such gifts as he had were never at any time devoted to Socialism. The Socialist Party, unlike Snowden’s lifelong admirers and associates, did not discover him to be wrong only in 1931. At the first, and unceasingly thereafter, the S.P.G.B. denounced Snowden’s theories and activities as being harmful to the Socialist movement, Never at any time did we join the misguided or dishonest band who called on the workers to put their trust in the Snowdens and MacDonalds of the I.L.P. and Labour Party. Only now, nearly 40 years too late to be of any use, do some of his erstwhile worshippers discover what Socialists knew from the beginning, that reformist organisation and effort does not lead to Socialism.

From its first issue in 1904 the Socialist Standard pointed out that Snowden was not a Socialist, but a Radical, concerned not with the abolition of capitalism but with the useless task of reforming it. Only now when Snowden is dead does everyone else perceive this. The Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill writes (Sunday Express, May 16th, 1937): —
  Was he really a Socialist? Personally I doubt it.
   I do not believe the Marxian aberration ever obsessed his keen intelligence.
  He was a green-eyed, savage Victorian Radical, a later and more sharply defined edition of John Morley, with a double dose of what Mr. Bonar Law once aptly expressed as “Sympathy for the underdog.” In finance he was a Gladstonian purist—Free Trade, Gold Standard, Strict Discharge of State Obligations to Creditors, Frugality and Cheeseparing in Public Expenditure.
The Times (May 17th, 1937) remarks that Snowden’s conversion from Liberalism to Labourism “did not, in fact, deprive Radicalism of a devotee.” The Liberal Manchester Guardian, ever an admirer of Snowden, tells us that his Budget in 1924 was the bright spot in the first Labour Government’s record; "Liberals liked it because it was shaped on the most traditional of Liberal lines. The City liked it because it abolished the corporation profits tax, and was a model of sound finance.” (Manchester Guardian, May 17th, 1937.) Reynolds's News, the Co-operative journal, finds that that Budget ”was certainly not what might have been expected from a Socialist Finance Minister, and might quite well have emanated from the Liberal and Conservative benches.” (Reynolds's News, May 16th, 1937.) Professor Harold Laski, in a full-length article in the Daily Herald (May 17th) says: —
   In essence he was a Benthamite Radical whose association with the Labour Party was less because he was a Socialist in the full sense of the term than because he was a stout egalitarian who saw no defence for the present social order.
   Free trade, disarmament, social reform, control of the drink traffic, the rigorous taxation of those who could afford to pay—these were his political principles.
And again: —
He had not an atom of the revolutionary in him.
Why the Astonishment in 1931?
All of this is true, but why should Snowden’s associates suddenly turn and rend him because, in 1931, his lifelong Liberalism led him to support the National Government in order to prop up capitalism? Why should Laski denounce Snowden, in view of his own admission that Snowden’s attitude in 1931 was not a matter for surprise, but “was inherent in all that he was”? If there were any who supposed Snowden to be, not a Liberal but a Socialist, they never had any real ground for so doing. Snowden himself was comparatively frank and plain on the subject. Writing in the Manchester Guardian Commercial Reconstruction Supplement (October 26th, 1922) he said: —
   The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle: it does not accept the teachings of Marx . . . .
    . . . .  The Socialism of the Labour Party is just a matter-of-fact practical aim for the extension of the already widely accepted principle of the democratic ownership and control of the essential public services.
    The nationalisation . . . .  of public services does not carry the Labour Party further than many Radicals, who would vigorously disclaim being Socialistic, are prepared to go.
This was one half of Snowden’s creed; the pathetic delusion that capitalism ceases to be an exploiting system when the State or a statutory board becomes the direct agent of exploitation. (Snowden’s death occurred in the midst of the busmen’s bitter strike protest against the Transport Board!) The second half was his notion that capitalism, administered by the Labour Party, can be humanised. He dreamed of transferring wealth from rich to poor while maintaining the capitalist system. What, then, is the true explanation of the 1931 crisis, and the collapse of the Labour Government? It was the final bankruptcy of the theories held by Snowden and his party. Hard experience was showing that capitalism can only be administered in a capitalist way. The Socialist contention was proved up to the hilt.

In an untenable situation Snowden took the line which was strictly logical for him and his radical-reformist party, but many of his associates withdrew at the eleventh hour. They who had entered office on Liberal support and were carrying on negotiations with the Liberals, they who had been part of the War-time Coalition Government, suddenly pretended to abhor contact with openly capitalist parties. It is hardly surprising that Snowden denounced them with force and venom.

Who Betrayed the Workers?
It is only natural that the present leaders of the Labour Party should try to clear their own bedraggled reputations by throwing mud at Snowden and MacDonald. Many of these men, Laski for one, and the I.L.P. and Communist Party leaders, will now say that they always knew what manner of men Snowden and MacDonald were; that they were never Socialists, but only Radicals. What, then, is their defence against the charge that they deliberately hoodwinked the working class year after year? Why did they not tell the truth about the Labour leaders and the Labour Party before 1931?

Why, after the first Labour Government (described by the I.L.P. New Leader as “to an overwhelming extent an I.L.P. Government,” New Leader, February 8th, 1924), did Mr. Maxton and the I.L.P. go on appealing to the workers to support Snowden and the Labour Party at elections ?

Why did not Professor Laski tell the world in 1921 what he suddenly blared forth in 1931?

The Communists are in the same mess as Maxton. After the Labour Party’s War-time antics, after the first Labour Government, after the “betrayal” of the General Strike in 1926, we still found the Communist Party telling the workers to vote for Snowden and MacDonald and the rest of them—“Ramsay Mac,” as the Workers' Weekly affectionately called him in 1923.

They are all in the dock with Snowden. If 1931 demonstrated the bankruptcy of his theories so it did of theirs.

Snowden’s life work was to help build up .the I.L.P. and Labour Party, and then, in his later years, to try to tear them down again. Work for Socialism brings no speedy apparent triumphs like the formation of Labour Governments, but it also avoids waste of effort like Snowden’s.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Tragedy of Middle Age (1937)

From the July 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Manchester Guardian of June 8th and 9th, 1937, publishes two articles dealing with the unemployed women in the cotton towns. Socialists are continually being told that Socialism will destroy the sanctity of the home and family life, and the Guardian gives some interesting examples of what capitalism has done. The article commences:
  “Continued unemployment has made its most disastrous inroads into family life. Married sons and daughters with children of their own have as much as they can do to support themselves." It then goes on to illustrate the miserable condition of the elderly women operatives, mainly spinsters and widows, who cannot get work and who have to rely upon various charitable organisations. “These women normally remain at work at least until they are sixty." Many women even object to taking the old-age pension because it separates them from their accustomed mill life. The Manchester Guardian correspondent notices also the psychological aspect of this particular unemployment problem.

He says, “For instance the tremendous asset of inherited and acquired skill and the habit of sustained and continued interest in work are disappearing among younger women and girls. Few of these have ever had steady employment themselves, or have lived in homes where the steady employment of parents has set the mould of family life. The lack of this habit of work has made the placing of girls and young women between the ages of 18 and 30 a most difficult thing. At the Blackburn Exchange it was recently found that there were 700 young women with no binding home ties for many of whom work was available in other places in a great variety of occupations." Work was offered in wireless, biscuit, and chocolate factories, also domestic service. Not many were prepared to take advantage of these offers, and the writer of the article puts it down to the gregarious habits of three generations and the undermining of their independence through lack of regular work. Amongst the elder unemployed women the writer says there is a sense of frustration and a constant fear lest health should go, and lest there should be any diminution of the regulation sources of supply. When viewing their budget he gives the following among other pitiable details. A single woman’s income of 16s. leaves her with 3s. 1d. for food when all her other expenses are paid. Dependence upon gifts and jumble sales for renewals of clothes and household goods. If out of benefit the extreme difficulty of getting medical supplies, such small things as lint bandages and spectacles, things which, as old age approaches, become more necessary, especially after long periods of under-nourishment. There is little variation in their diet, they simply have to leave out some item of food when they wish to vary it at all. Perhaps leave out dried fruit when they include jam.

Finally, the Guardian correspondent is staggered to find that an unemployed woman of 50, if she lives another 20 years, will cost the State £700. Then, summing up what can be done, he says: “A great deal can be done on the human side by clubs." On the economic side the position is hopeless. The woman is not adaptable, and “the outlook is very drab and costly."

It seems that, as far as these workers are concerned, Socialism will not rob their family life of any of its sweetness. These women workers have done everything that they should have done from the standpoint of capitalist morality, and such is their reward. They have been good wives and mothers. They have started work at a tender age (some at ten years). Married early and continued at work whilst doing their duty to the State by providing it with future wage slaves. They have been thrifty, even taking up mortgages on houses in order to have a roof over their heads in old age. Full of proud independence, they have paid into coffin clubs—no pauper burial for them, kept their houses clean and neat, and lo! at fifty years of age they are stranded high and dry. Each one of these women, viewed by the parsimonious eye of the Relieving Officer, is going to cost £700 until she is safely under the turf. Why don't they die at fifty? What capitalism really needs is a brave new world, where all the industrially useless die off. Those that fall by the wayside and fill the hospitals, those inconvenient compensation-seekers should just fade away, leaving not even a memory. £700, the price, say, of a new car, or a fur coat, or a banquet, or twenty years of a worker’s life. Why won’t they die at fifty?

Just recently money has been poured out like water in a senseless display of Coronation finery and bunting. Beautiful women have each flaunted hundreds of pounds upon their persons. Hundreds of other women have been employed in getting these gaudy butterflies ready for their display. Meanwhile, hundreds of lonely, miserable women are facing the prospect of trying to live on an average of about £35 a year till they die.

Still, there is no satisfying some people. These women even object to leaving work and taking the old-age pension. They like the atmosphere of the mill. It offers a human interest, the back-chat of their fellows, but what an indictment of capitalism. The old and worn-out women clinging tenaciously to hard and laborious work, rather than face the struggle and loneliness of a pensioned backwater. The young, we are told, are even more awkward. They won’t shift over to other employment, not even to be a nice little slavey. They, of course, are demoralised by intermittent employment. They are not thrifty nor imbued with that fine, independent spirit for which their mothers were so richly rewarded. Maybe there is some hope that they will not be such malleable clay as their mothers, either, and that they might even ask for more than £700 for twenty years of useless life. Socialists are often also told that Socialism means the end of individuality. How do these women clothe themselves? Out of jumble sales. All individual models: some other individual’s. Also gifts of other people’s hand-me-downs. When they eat their individual 3s. worth of food they can each individually decide whether it shall be jam or currants.. Such soul-crushing poverty could perhaps be understood were it the result of profligacy or wastefulness, but it has been shown that these workers have worked hard for years, and the youngsters simply haven’t had the opportunity. It could be understood if we simply could not produce enough for all. Such was the common poverty of primitive times, but to-day there is no excuse for lack of food, clothing and shelter for any individual. The Guardian correspondent notices "fear of the future” and “frustration” as part of the outlook of the unemployed. This is typical, however, of employed workers as well. The average wage of £2 10s. to £3 cannot but bring frustration, and fear is engendered at the very thought of losing even that miserable amount. Even in the country districts, amidst abundant fresh air, the signs of undernourishment are painfully apparent. The' agricultural worker’s wage is totally inadequate and unemployment in the country is even more hideous than in the town. The writer of the articles sees no hope except through humanitarian and charitable channels. Next to the crushing effect of poverty comes the crushing effect of charity. It must, however, be administered tactfully, says the writer. Oscar Wilde had something to say about charity. He said it created a multitude of sins, one of which was gratitude. He said also that the best among the poor were never grateful. “They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient and rebellious." Among these people, then, let us look for our Socialists. The Socialist says: Let us take away the ownership of the land and factories from the present owners and make them the common property of all. Let us make all those people who now perform no useful function do some useful work in production and distribution. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, policemen, canvassers and a host of other people who waste their efforts on useless work, including society beauties, who don't work at all, and the hundreds of people who minister to them. All of this energy could be pressed into service for the community, and the hours of labour considerably lessened. We will have plenty of leisure. We are all so work-weary that we do not really know how to play at all. Socialism will give us time to learn. Socialism means the abolition of poverty of the mind as well as the body. Capitalism means crooked bodies and crooked minds, but not all are so malformed that they cannot think in their own interests. To these we appeal to come and help us to clean up the mess.

Only through the establishment of Socialism can we get rid of poverty and unemployment. Only then can we get rid of Charity and her hateful sister Gratitude.
May Otway