Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Our Prime Minister" (1929)

From the September 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

To justly appreciate the value of a "Great Man” it is wise to study his early life, when he was forming his views. Now, Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald is a "Great Man”—he must be, because he is Prime Minister—to understand him correctly one must look at his past. Let us do so.

I was very much struck with the ease with which Mr. MacDonald carried his top hat and the dignified way he wore his frock coat. Frankly, I was puzzled, as I took him for "a man of the people, raised from obscurity and clothed with a little temporary authority,” as Mr. George Barnes used to say, when he was "doing his bit” at home during the war. But a glance into the past helped me to solve the riddle. I came across an old copy of "To-day,” Vol. VII., January-June, 1887, and on page 66 found an article by Mr. MacDonald entitled "A Rock Ahead.”

In this article Mr. MacDonald is breaking a lance with certain unnamed Socialists to whom he refers as "censors of Socialism,” and in criticising them he makes clear his own position. He writes:—
    "Of course, those Socialists who see in every tall hat the mark of a traitor, in every respectable outline the sign of a money-grabber, and in every appeal to reason a bait of the enemy’s, will not for a moment allow that the coming revolution is to be directed from the study; to be one, not of brutal need, but of intellectual development; to be, in fact, a revolution of the comparatively well-to-do. But, nevertheless, so it must be, to be of any good. By pandering to all the desires of the very lowest class, we may soon gather round us a mob, and just possibly even make a revolution, but the social reconstruction of society will be further removed from us than ever. And yet I scarcely know if with such material a revolution of any sort would be a possibility.”
There, then, you have a fairly clear explanation of the origin of Mr. MacDonald’s "statesmanlike” capacities.

As becomes a man who has climbed to position in spite of motor-cars and biscuit factories, Mr. MacDonald had, in his early days, a fitting contempt for mere hewers of wood and drawers of water such as you and I, fellow-worker, and he expressed his view quite plainly. Here is how he put it:—
     “Intimately, then, as Socialism concerns labour, and despite the efforts made in certain quarters to flout all Socialists who have not been ground in the mill of a labourer’s position, yet labour as such is simply useless for freeing itself. They tell us that the little glory we have, as heads of creation, is due to our being the last forms developed from the higher animals. And that may be true. But there is a second man in us now. That man is the intellect. Socialism is the first stage of its development. The intellect, as it develops, makes us feel our social evils—poverty, slavery, privilege; and our mental needs—leisure, beauty, hope. We become Socialists. The rude and uncultured masses, as a rule, espouse the same cause because the intellectual atmosphere they breathe has taught them to be discontented. The educated espouse it because of its natural justice. The former is the bad ground, the rock ahead; the latter the fruitful soil . . . "
    "We want men who are clear-headed and far-seeing, men who, by moral force, can command respect, and who, though compromising nothing, know how to be reasonable.
Thus, then, did Mr. MacDonald lay down the path to guide him to his present position as chief of the Cabinet that controls the destinies of this great empire. He most emphatically knew “how to be reasonable.” And if, at election time, he exhausted himself working up constituencies by grand tours he was, no doubt, helping the “uncultured masses” to breathe the “intellectual atmosphere.” To people such as we are, motor tours through the deserts may appear almost as curious a way of gaining information of the practical steps necessary to achieve Socialism, as, for instance, Mr. Thomas’s trip to Canada to solve the unemployment question in England. But that is the difference between culture and lack of culture, as Mr. Webb has demonstrated by taking a peerage in order to abolish privilege, and Mr. Snowden by taking. a firm stand on behalf of the British property-owners at the Hague in order, no doubt, to abolish property. All this is very complicated and puzzling to us. But then we are but the uncultured mass whose business it is to present our backs as ladders for the use of the cultured people with ideals who, as they assure us, will bring Jerusalem to this green and pleasant land if only we will be patient and wait long enough.

If these gentlemen, in the course of their climbing, enjoy good dinners, nice wines, and grand tours, is it not fitting for cultured gentlemen like them ? And if we go without our dinners, drink water (if it rains) and tour the labour exchanges, while presenting our backs for the use of the climbers, well, is it not fitting for uncultured mugs like us?

I can hardly do better than finish this eulogy with the closing words of Mr. MacDonald’s article:—
   Remember, then, if one of thy members offend thee, to cut it off and cast it from thee, for it is more profitable that one member should perish than that the whole body should be cast into the hell fire of failure.

Women in Industry. (1929)

From the October 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is it "right” or "fair” that women should continue to hold those positions in industry that formerly were held by men?

Mr. Charles Pilley's article in the Sunday Graphic of August 25th tells us that it is neither.

His first paragraph sounded rather promising. He said, "We are groping for remedies without a true understanding of the nature of the disease.” His last shows us poor Mr. Pilley still hopelessly groping. It is as follows: "It would be instructive if we could learn how many women are working at jobs which once belonged to men at wages below a decent minimum, thus unfairly competing with male rivals and cheapening the worth of labour to the detriment of all.”

We take it, of course, that Mr. Pilley really means the price of labour power.

Directly labour power has been expended by the worker the labour is embodied in the product and as such can be of no further concern to him. It has become the property of the master who bought the labour power. Thus a worker can sell his labour power for a specified time, but not his labour, for it is not his to sell.

It should not be difficult for Mr. Pilley to get the figures of women in men’s jobs (although, as women can perform the work, I do not see the point for calling them men’s jobs), but when he has them, what does he suggest doing about it? His article does not say anything on the matter, so we must presume that he has not thought so far ahead as that. But let us view this question in the light of the Socialist knowledge. The war forced many young women into industry probably very many years sooner than normally would have been the case.

At the same time the introduction of labour-saving machinery so lightened some kinds of physical labour that men were not required to perform many of the tasks on which they were previously employed. Added to this, women’s labour power can often be bought more cheaply by the masters, because of the fact that the future supply of labour power comes into men’s responsibilities. The man’s wages include the upkeep of a wife, a home and a family. A woman’s is the price of her own maintenance, in the main. Again the woman is a more tractable worker. More easily frightened by threats of the sack and less easily organised in trade unions. In some cases her work is better, especially where cleanliness, neatness and dexterity are required..

Then, the fact that so many women leave after a few years’ service, to get married, obviates the necessity of a pension. These are the things which count when the pros and cons are weighed up by the employers. Where women are as competent and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages the employers will take them in preference to men.

It is of no use men kicking against these facts and blaming women for it. They must realise that as the capitalist system becomes more and more developed, these and greater hardships will be suffered by the working-class in their struggle for existence. In their endeavours to obtain more profit the masters will exploit the labour power of the workers, men and women, by every conceivable method. But they, as well as the workers, are in a vicious circle. Trade depression becomes more pressing and continuous, and it is only the lack of understanding on the part of the workers that keeps capitalism going on. International agreements, doles and charities are some of the methods by which the capitalist class try to alleviate the worst of the workers' troubles, but on the day that the workers are ready to vote solid for Socialism the game is up. It only remains, therefore, for the workers to look beneath the surface of all their troubles to find that the remedy for each and every one of them is Socialism. Armed with the necessary knowledge, they are all-powerful and the capitalists know it, and that is why their paid hirelings disseminate so much confusion on the subject.
May Otway

Mr. Belloc and the Servile State. (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our October issue we quoted from the Co-operative News (September 7th), the following passage from their report of an address by Mr. Hilaire Belloc:—
Under Socialism all men were to be in the servile state. There were to be no free men ordering other men about, but the politicians were to do that instead.
We invited Mr. Belloc to defend his mention of Socialism in connection with the Servile State.

We have received from him the following letter, from which it will be seen that Mr. Belloc was mis-reported:—
                                                          “Kings Land,
                                                             “Shipley, Horsham,
                                                                  “October 8th, 1929.
          “The Editor, The Socialist Standard,
“Dear Sir,
     “I don’t know who wrote that sentence as being mine. I never said it or wrote it. The Servile State does not mean the Socialist State: it means a State in which the larger number are compelled directly by law—not indirectly, by economic pressure —to work for the benefit of the rest. In my book, the “Servile State,” I show how the tendency of which such a condition would be the final result, has now been established and is increasing in force.
                                         “Very faithfully yours,
                                                       “ H. BELLOC.”

Labour's Man of Destiny. (1929)

Book Review from the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

James Ramsay MacDonald: Labour's Man of Destiny. By H. Hessell Tiltman. (Jarrold’s. 352 pages. 21s.)

This is a book about James Ramsay MacDonald, P.C., M.P. It is also as much a sketch of the Labour Party, of which he is held to have been the creator.

Ramsay MacDonald is portrayed as a man of great strength of character, who by sheer eloquence and intellectual ability is able to dominate and discipline the Labour Party, in spite of the I.L.P. “ginger” group of unruly schoolboys. An example is given (page 164) of an unofficial gathering of responsible Labour leaders who in 1924 met to discuss whether it was expedient to form a Government with the support of considerably less than a third of the number of seats in the House of Commons. They decided unanimously that it was not expedient. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald arrived upon the scene, and having listened to their arguments, proceeded to riddle them. In a very short time every man there was in agreement with him that they should take office. In contrast, we are presented with another side of his character, his "aloofness” and reserve, his love of the country and of quiet family life, and his having forsaken an academic career to which he is naturally inclined. Mr. Tiltman almost gives the impression that, but for this sacrifice by Mr. MacDonald of his liking for the academic life, the Labour Party would not have existed.

There are many people who hold the opinion that the Labour Party and the I.L.P. in the past were “more socialist” and "more revolutionary ” than they are to-day.

Mr. Tiltman’s book dispels the illusion. The policy of the Labour Party and its affiliated bodies, right from its inception, was reformist. The term socialism when it is used, is defined as being synonymous with municipal tramways, waterworks, and other Government services. Abundant material in support of this is reproduced from speeches and articles, and from local and parliamentary election programmes.

After the General Election of 1906, 29 Labour M.P.’s found their way to the House of Commons. (In the preceding Parliament there had been only four.) This was largely due to "compacts” and "understandings” with the Liberals. According to Mr. MacDonald one very important factor was the discontent that set in after the Boer War, which made their propaganda, which included a "criticism” of that campaign, acceptable to a larger percentage of the electorate. (See appendix, page 287.)

The author leads us up to the war. The Labour Party, after having drawn up a resolution in opposition to the Government’s "policy which had produced the war,” deserted MacDonald after the debate in the House of Commons, almost to a man. It must, however, always be remembered that Mr. MacDonald’s stand on the war was never based upon the Socialist refusal to defend the interests of the national groups of the capitalist class, but upon opposition to the Government’s foreign policy. He was of the opinion that, when "we were in it, it had to go on." Several speeches, articles, and letters (including the recruiting letter sent to the Mayor of Leicester) are reproduced in this book.

To those who lay great stress upon the fact that Ramsay MacDonald risked political suicide because of his war policy it may also be pointed out that Mr. MacDonald did not imagine that he was permanently destroying his career. He made a speech in the House of Commons on August 3rd, 1914 (see appendix C, page 285), and said : "I not only know, but I feel that the feeling of the House is against us. I have been through this before, and 1906 came as part recompense.” As indicated above, the 1906 elections showed a tremendous comparative increase of seats in the Labour Party’s favour. Far from anticipating political suicide it would seem that Mr. MacDonald expected his policy of criticism to capitalise in an eventual increase in the Labour Party’s representation in the House of Commons.

Mr. MacDonald is an astute politician, but he seems to have made some miscalculations in 1914—as, indeed, did many others.

For the rest, the book is sketchy and makes somewhat tedious reading. The author is too anxious to show Mr. MacDonald as a "great” man. That MacDonald has broken down the obstacles of a humble start in life, has been a good husband and a father may be very true. But how "great” would he have been had he preached Socialism, instead of preaching the advanced Liberal doctrines on which the Labour Party is built? Like others, he would have lived in comparative obscurity, his qualities unnoticed because they did not bear the hall mark of success as estimated in a capitalist world.
Harry Waite

A Communist Sums up the Communist Party (1929)

From the December 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Quoted from the November 1929 issue of the Communist Review:
  Indeed, what with the anxiety of the “Rights” to prove themselves to be “Left,” the Party leadership is in such a state of confusion that one almost stands aghast at the situation. I will illustrate the criticism. First examine the way in which the anti-war question is being handled, and especially the Russo-Chinese crisis.
  In Workers’ Life of August 30th, headlines of a splash article on the Russo-Chinese crisis proclaim : “Hostilities have broken out.” It goes on to tell that we are on the brink of world war. We must “Organise demonstrations and strikes against the war-makers' Government.” The first paragraph of the article qualifies the headlines. The second and third paragraphs hold America responsible as the devil behind the Chinese Government. The fourth tells us that the Labour Government is assisting the Border States to prepare for war. But it does not say a word as to what the Labour Government is doing in relation to the Russo-Chinese war. How shall we get the British workers to strike against the Labour Government because America is pushing the Chinese on to war in Manchuria is not explained to us at all.
   Then, please turn up the next issue of Workers' Life, September 6th, and it will be found that the Russo-Chinese crisis has vanished into thin air and nobody knows why. There is no news of the strike we were to call the previous week; no news of the world conflagration that was overwhelming us. This also has vanished. Surely we ought to have been told how this happened. But by September 13th the Russo-Chinese crisis quietly re-appears.
  Can we hope to win influence amongst the workers so long as the most serious questions are treated in such an irresponsible manner? The Party appears to be wildly gesticulating and nothing happens, except that we continue to report decline in sales of Party papers. Is it surprising? (J. T. Murphy, in the Communist Review, November.)

The British Communist Party (1967)

From the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Thirtieth Congress of the so-called Communist Party meets in Camden Town Hall at the end of this month the delegates will have before them a new draft of their programme The British Road to Socialism. There is nothing new in the draft. It is merely a watered-down version of the old programme in line with the change from Daily Worker to Morning Star. The vanguard role of the party gives way to that of being little more than the tail-end of a reformed Labour Party:
  It is not the aim of the Communist Party to undermine, weaken or split the Labour Party. On the contrary we believe that the struggle of the socialist forces within the Labour Party, to make it a party of struggle and socialism, will grow (p.25).
  The Communist Party and the Labour Party in which the right wing has been defeated, will be the political organisations of the working class primarily responsible for the success of the building of socialism (pp. 33-4).
Of course by Socialism they mean nothing of the sort but nationalisation or state capitalism, to be achieved through Parliament and the ballot-box. So after nearly fifty years the Communist Party reaches the position once held by the Labour Party.

When the Communist Party of Great Britain was set up in August 1920 it stood, like all affiliates of the Communist International, for a policy of armed minority uprising to seize power. Lenin and the Bolsheviks firmly insisted that all their supporters should split from Social Democratic parties and set up independent communist parties. This was duly done in France in Tours in December 1920, in Germany in Berlin the same month and in Italy in Leghorn the following February.

After the failure of the German uprising in 1921 the Bolsheviks changed their tune. Now, they said, there must be a United Front of all workers’ parties. The poor Communist Party in Britain which had just been opposing Labour now had to support them.

In fact the zigs and zags of the Communist Party attitude towards Labour can only be explained by changes of policy in Moscow. The United Front policy lasted until 1928 when Stalin ordered an abrupt left turn. From now on the Social Democrats were “social fascists”. The 1929 election manifesto Class Against Class denounced Labour as “the third capitalist party”. Harry Pollitt called for the break-up of Labour meetings. On January 29, 1930 he wrote in the Daily Worker:
  Workshop meetings should be called by such workers and resolutions for the support of our Party should be carried, but the mere passing of resolutions is not enough. There should not be a Labour meeting held anywhere, but what the revolutionary workers in that district attend such meetings and fight against the speakers, whoever they are, so-called ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘centre’. They should never be allowed to address the workers. This will bring us in conflict with the authorities, but this must be done. The fight can no longer be conducted in a passive manner.
During this period two prominent Communists debated the Socialist Party of Great Britain: J. T. Murphy (soon to be expelled as a ’rightist’) in Sheffield in March 1930 and Peter Kerrigan in Clydebank in May 1931. Both Murphy and Kerrigan came out with the old nonsense about Parliament being a capitalist institution and the need to smash the state in an armed uprising.

With Hitler in power in Germany the line again changed. Of a sudden the Communist Party became patriotic and for democracy (which, like the fascists, they had been denouncing for years as a farce). Soon the call extended from a United Front to a People’s Front (to include open capitalist parties like the Liberals) and later to a National Front (to include anti-fascist Tories). William Gallacher wrote to the old News Chronicle on July 18, 1936:
   Will the Communists work with the Liberals? Surely, if the Liberals are prepared to fight for peace and for the practical proposals that will mean an advance in the health and well-being of the workers. Already we have been on peace platforms with Labour, Liberal and Co-operative representatives. What’s wrong with that? If we can get unity of the workers' forces, the strength gained thereby will attract more and more the middle class towards our movement. The liberals who represent these middle class forces will have to come towards us. If they are prepared to support the campaign that we are making — such campaigns, for instance, as the fight against the Unemployment Regulations, shorter working week, peace, etc, — it would be political folly not to accept their co-operation.
The Communists made a determined attempt, not without some success, to infiltrate the ILP which had broken from Labour in 1932. All the same, as the Communist Party put on a respectable image they were frequently out-sloganed by the ILP.

When the war broke out in 1939 the Communist Party here in backing Britain and France jumped the gun. They were ordered by Moscow to retract, to denounce the war as imperialist and to call for peace talks with Stalin’s new friend, Hitler. After the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 the Communist Party at last got a chance to show how low they could stoop in patriotism. They managed to rival Horatio Bottomley’s first world war performance; they backed Tory candidates at by-elections; they opposed strikes and wage demands; they denounced all opponents of the war, including pacifists, as fascists. In a pamphlet put out in August 1942 under the title Clear Out Hitler’s Agents! An exposure of Trotskyist disruption being organised in Britain such weak and watery characters as Maxton, McGovern and Fenner Brockway of the ILP were denounced as trotskyists and fascists. “They should be treated”, said the pamphlet in a thinly disguised incitement to violence, “as you would treat a Nazi”. This scurrillous pamphlet partly explains the following reply which our West Ham branch received in answer to a challenge to the debate. The secretary of the West Ham Branch of the Communist Party wrote on February 23, 1943 as follows:
    The Communist Party has NO dealings with murderers, liars, renegades or assassins. The SPGB, which associates itself with the followers of Trotsky, the friend of Hess, has always followed a policy which would mean disaster for the British working class. They have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, told filthy lies about the Red Army, the Soviet people and its leaders, gloated over the assassination of Kirov and other Soviet leaders, applauded the wrecking activities of Trotskyist saboteurs in the Soviet Union. They have worked to split the British working class and are in short agents of Fascism in Britain. The CPGB refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed, (Socialist Standard, May 1943).
No wonder the Communist Party came to be known as “scummunists".

In the 1945 election the Communists put up a few candidates of their own but elsewhere supported Labour. They backed the government, soft-peddling the trade union struggle, until 1948. Then in France and Belgium Communist Ministers resigned and policy again took a “left turn." The ‘‘right-wing leaders" of the Labour and Social Democratic parties were denounced; a vicious anti-Americanism was stirred up and a bogus peace campaign launched. At this time the original British Road to Socialism was adopted. Communist policy has changed little since.

Now the party is in a sorry state. Many members left over Hungary. A few, hopelessly disorganised, members back China. It is true that some older members of the Labour Party, including councillors, trade union officials and even some MP’s, have a certain amount of sympathy for Russia and the Communist Party. But for younger people Russia has none of the attraction it used to have. More and more are seeing that what exists there is state capitalism, not Socialism. And, as the party tries to become more respectable, both romantic revolutionaries and union militants are turning elsewhere, to the various anarchists and trotskyist groups (who — but this is another story — are repeating many of the mistakes the Communists used to make).

There is no need to feel any sympathy about the fate of the so-called Communist Party. On the contrary, it is to be welcomed. It is merely getting what it deserves for dragging the name of Socialism through the mud and for selling out the interests of the working class to the rulers of state capitalist Russia.
Adam Buick

Cowardly weapons (1970)

From the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

During recent rioting in Belfast rioters, on a number of occasions, threw nail-embedded sticks of gelegnite at the British Army's notorious “snatch” squads. A number of soldiers were injured about the legs.

Newspapers, politicians and clergymen — who see in the club-swinging, gas-throwing, house-breaking and machine-carbine totting activities of the Army a way to end violence — were quick to condemn the new weapon.

Various Army spokesmen described the weapon as "vicious”, “brutal”, "depraved", and the British Army's Military Governor of the Province described the men who used such a device as "cowards”.

An Army statement pointed out that the new riot weapon was probably an amateurish imitation of the British Army’s "Claymore" anti-personnel device and one newspaper. which was particularly loud in its condemnation of the "vicious cowards" who used the gelegnite-and-nail weapon on the Army, pointed out that while it was based on the Army’s own Claymore bomb it was not, of course, nearly so effective.

Obviously it is not the weapon, then, that makes the "thug" and the “coward” but the purpose for which it is used. If the slum-dwelling, unprivileged youth of Northern Ireland who have been spoon-fed bigotry and hatred all their lives by those politicians whose function, either deliberately or in ignorance, is to maintain the exploitative process of capitalism, if such youth, in sheer frustration at the apparent ineptitude of the politicians to solve their problems and without the necessary political understanding to pursue the solution of these problems themselves, resort to the use of imitation Claymores, then they are “thugs", “cowards" and "hooligans".

If these same youth, in a similar condition of political ignorance, joined "The Professionals” they could learn to use the most sophisticated weapons for dispensing death to their fellow-members of the working class in such areas as where the "peace" and “security" of their capitalist masters are deemed to be in jeopardy. As “Professionals” they could use their Claymores “with pride".

Violence has three sides in Northern Ireland; one side is labelled “Protestant", one “Catholic" and the third, the most proficient by far, is called the "Security Forces'. All are part of the sad tragedy of working class, ignorance.
Richard Montague

NEXT MONTH: A survey of the post and present role of the IRA from the World Socialist Party in Belfast.