Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sparks From The Anvil. (1916)

From the April 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few journalists of the capitalist Press have exhibited such insight into the character of contemporary politicians as Mr. W. Purvis. This gentleman, in an article (“The Man Who Saved France”) setting forth the merits of the late Adolphe Thiers—one time President of France —gives vent to the following gem of political wisdom:
   There was something of Mr. Lloyd George and a great deal of our English Premier in Adolphe Thiers. In his unconscious and amusing egotism he reminds one often of our Minister of Munitions; and he does so, too, in the case with which he could turn on the tap of poetic and patriotic eloquence, as well as in certain flashes of poetical inspiration.
Sunday Chronicle,” 16.1.16.
How far this comparison is true may be gathered from the following extracts from the character sketch of M. Thiers given in Marx’s “Civil War in France” :
  Thiers, that monstrous gnome, has charmed the French bourgeoisie, . . . because he is the most consummate intellectual expression of their own class corruption. . . . The massacre of the Republicans in the rue-Traumonain, and the subsequent infamous laws of September against the Press and the right of association were his work.
This is particularly appropriate in view of the Featherstone massacre, and the fact that Asquith is the head of, and Lloyd George a member of, the government which has suppressed more journals in the interests of capital than any other of recent years. “Thiers was consistent only in his greed for wealth and his hatred of the men that produce it. Having entered his first ministry under Louis Phillips poor as Job, he left it a millionaire.” Lloyd George started with nothing; he now gets £5,000 a year and still is in his own opinion “a comparatively poor man.” (Marconi affair.) He is getting on.

*  *  *

  We are sorry to hear that the original inventor of Kinematography, Mr. Friese-Greene, is to-day living in absolute want. “John Bull,” Jan. 22, 1916.
The same old story of the inventor under capitalism. He wears his brain away and rots in poverty while the capitalists, having cheated and robbed him, realise the full fruits of his invention. How many fortunes are to-day being built up through the medium of the Kinema industry? Yet Friese-Greene has to be dependent upon charity—the statement above quoted being followed by an appeal for his support, addressed with unconscious irony to those “who are to-day benefiting so largely in connection with the moving picture industry.”

*  *  *

The manner in which the “standard of living” of the workers is “rising” is illustrated by this cutting from the “Daily Dispatch" of 4th Feb., 1916. “Those who find beef or mutton beyond their means will be at least interested to learn that horseflesh may now be bought at properly-equipped butchers’ shops.” This, mind you, from a paper that is continually informing us of the extravagance of the working “classes” in this time of high wages, war bonuses, etc., etc., of which an example is seen in the next column of the same paper of the same date:
   A woman who was stated to earn 13s. 1d. for a week's work of 61 hours at Salford applied in vain at the Manchester Munitions Tribunal yesterday to be allowed to go to another firm. . . . The firm’s representative, in answer to a question by Mr. P. W. Atkin (the Salford stipendiary) regarding the girl’s total wages, said she worked a normal week 50½ hours and 8¾ hours overtime, making a total, including the extra payment for overtime, of 61 hours. Her total wages with the war-bonus were 13s. 1d., which the firm considered was fair remuneration having regard to her age and experience. . . The Chairman, whilst remarking that the firm might consider giving the worker more wages, declined to grant the certificate.

*  *  *

The tendency to supervise more strictly that which the worker sees, hears, and reads, and only to allow that which is considered, “good for him,” is increasing. The Altrincham licensing magistrates have decided that “in future all licences would be endorsed to the effect that anything to 'educate the young in a wrong direction,’ or anything which is likely to produce tumult or a breach of peace,’ should not be shown.’ Daily Dispatch,” Feb. 4, 1919.

*  *  *

  At a moment of unexampled anxiety the Treasury are faced with the virtual bankruptcy of the National Insurance Scheme. The Government are heavily in debt to the panel chemists, while the remuneration of the doctors — generous enough at the outset—has, upon one pretext and another, been reduced almost to the level of the old Friendly Society terms. Meanwhile, instructions have been issued that only cheap medicines, and not too much of these, shall be prescribed.
John Bull,” 12.2.16.
The doctors are kicking, the chemists are kicking, but the workers, the dupes of the scheme, where are they? They go blandly along — “forepence a week he gives, forepence a week,” but not for ninepence.
R. W. Housley

Violence and the Labour Movement. (1916)

Book Review from the May 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Violence and the Labour Movement" by Robert Hunter, author of "Poverty," (George Routledge, London; The Macmillan Co., New York, 1916. 400 pp. cloth. 2s 6d. net.)

R, Hunter's Reform Bias Exposed.
Every Socialist recognises the complete futility of individual or mob violence as a working-class weapon, in face of the overwhelming power of the State. The fact that the “propaganda of the deed,” so dear to the Anarchists or direct-actionists, has always played into the hands of reaction is a commonplace. The Labour movement in all lands passes through despairing stages of such activity; and it is only as its futility becomes thoroughly realised, and the true nature of the problem which faces the worker is understood, that the worship of mere disorder or violence is outgrown. Its very hopelessness shows it to be a gesture of despair. It is the expression of economic and political weakness, disorganisation, and ignorant passion.

But this is not to say that the question of force has not an important part to play in the struggle for Socialism ; for when the need and time arrive the workers cannot hesitate to use force against force. It does mean, however, that the force to be used cannot be mere individual or mob violence. It must be the organised might of the whole working class, rooted in economic needs, and based on knowledge rather than on blind hate, and used because essential to complete the task of emancipation.

In essence, moreover, the success of a revolution depends, not upon mere force, but upon economic necessity. The role of force is secondary to this. And it is only because the economic necessities of the capitalist system pave the way for the working class advance to power, that Socialists are enabled to use legality in their educational and organising work; it is only because they are the expression of economic needs and forces that the workers have the opportunity of advancing from strength to strength until their power is sufficient to finally wrest from their masters the major force of the State.

This being the case, it is evident that any account of the role hitherto played by violence in the Labour movement must resolve itself into a record of the activities of men ignorant or doubtful of the economic trend, distrustful of the workers themselves, and filled with a conceit that foolishly credits miraculous powers to an “intellectual” few. And in a book just published by Messrs. Routledge entitled “Violence and the Labour Movement,” by R. Hunter, this fact is clearly shown. By far the most entertaining section of the book is that recounting the titanic struggle on the question of Anarchy that raged within and around the old International. Another section that is of particular interest is that on “The Oldest Anarchy,” dealing in particular with the lawlessness of American capitalists, and with that peculiarly American problem, the hire of armed bands of private detectives, such as the Pinkerton thugs. Apart from these interesting points there is little that is new to anyone who has digested Pleckanoff’s little masterpiece. “Anarchism and Socialism.”

But that is not all that has to be said about the book. The Socialist has a bone to pick with the author. Mr. Hunter vitiates any usefulness his book may have by special pleading of the most insidious kind in favour of the attitude of reformist organisations such as that jelly-fish, The Socialist (!) Party of America, of which he is an ornament. And it is significant in this connection that he suppresses the undoubted fact—urged with great force by Liebknecht in “No Compromise"—that Anarchy is directly fostered by the anti-Socialist policy of compromise, confusion, and political charlatanry which renders worse than useless most of the so-called Socialist and Labour parties of the' world. Indeed, to make it appear that the pseudo-Socialism which he favours is in line with Marxian principles he is reduced to misrepresenting those principles and to distorting the words of Marx and Engels. A few instances may be given, not as appealing to the authority of Marx—which appears to be a cult mainly in evidence among those who distort his teaching—but on the ground of appeal to the demonstrable truth of the scientific principles of Socialism, which transcend any personality.

On page 130 the author refers to Marx and Engels outlining in the Communist Manifesto :
   Certain measures which, in their opinion, should stand foremost in the program of labour, all of them having to do with some modification of the institution of property. In order to achieve these reforms, and eventually to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, they urge the formation of labour parties as soon as proper preparations have been made and the time is ripe for effective class action.
Now the truth regarding these measures is that, far from being those which, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, “should stand foremost in the program of labour,” they are expressly referred to in their joint preface to the Manifesto as being “antiquated” Owing to the vast changes that have taken place, and therefore
   no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded to-day.
Mr. Hunter’s first point, therefore, is definitely contradicted; but a far more important point remains to be dealt with. It will be observed that Marx and Engels speak of them not as being “reforms” at all, but as revolutionary measures. And so they are. They are suggested measures to be taken by the victorious workers only when the revolution is an accomplished fact. Mr. Hunter carefully conceals this truth. It brands his party as non-Socialist. But the facts are entirely beyond dispute. Marx and Engels say in the Manifesto regarding those very measures that:
the First Step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of a ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.
   The Proletariat will use its political supremacy, to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the Slate, i.e., of the proletariat organised as a ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.
     Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected excepted by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.
    These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.
Consequently. Mr. Hunter has distinctly falsified the Socialist position. Such measures are in no sense of the word “reforms." They give no possible basis for any reform program. They give no support whatever to the long lists of vote-catching reform nostrums professedly realisable while the capitalist class are in power. And they would be “very differently worded to-day."

The measures necessary when the workers have won their class battle can, indeed, only be definitely decided upon when that moment arrives. The only possible program for a Socialist party is Socialism ; and its only “immediate aim” is the straight fight for the conquest of the Stale in order to begin the transformation of capitalist society into Socialism. As the founders of scientific Socialism state in the Manifesto itself, their “immediate aim" is the “formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.” Any party, indeed, whose immediate aim is less than this, is, by that same token, not a Socialist party.

In some instances the author’s attempt to graft his reform twaddle upon the authority of Marx and Engels is distinctly amusing, as when he says :
  Marx considered the chief work of the International to be the building up of a working-class political movement to obtain laws favourable to labour. Furthermore, he was of the opinion that such work was of a revolutionary nature.
Seeing that, as Marx said, the conquest of political power by the workers is the first step, it is obvious that the obtaining of “laws favourable to labour” must be “work of a revolutionary nature.” But that is not what Mr. Hunter wants his readers to understand: and on page 150 he says regarding the attitude of Marx toward the co-operative movement :
  Arguing that co-operative labour should be developed to national dimensions and be fostered by State funds, he urges working-class political action as the means to achieve this end.
Then he quotes Marx’s own words on this :
    To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working class.
Marx's own comment is a sufficient reply to Mr. Hunter's insidious attempt to misrepresent him. So far is it from being true that Marx, as Mr. Hunter implies, favoured the working class diverting their energies to the development of co-operation to national dimensions within capitalism with the aid of State funds, that he distinctly stated the contrary. In his letter on Unity sent to Bracke on the eve of the Gotha Congress Marx said on this very' matter:
   The workers seek to establish on a footing of social production, and in the first place, in so far as it concerns them, on a footing of national production, the conditions of collective production ; but what does this mean other than that they work for 'the overthrow of present conditions of production ? And this has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with the aid of the State.
   Regarding existing co-operative societies, they have value only in so far as they are the creation of the workers themselves, to which neither governments nor capitalists come in aid.
Let Mr. Hunter twist that if he can!

For the rest, it is obvious that where the the political elements of the class struggle are lacking these must first be obtained in order that the revolutionary struggle may proceed, and because the immediate aim of the Socialist Party must be the conquest of political power. In no sense do the pro-capitalist proclivities of Mr. Hunter and his kind obtain support from the founders of scientific Socialism. From the principles themselves it is clear that a Socialist party cannot be a reform party. It must devote its energies to organising the workers as a class for the capture of the citadel of the State. Only when that is accomplished can the workere pass any measures at all.—Until then all reforms are “gifts” from, and in the interest of, the ruling class. Consequently the Socialist Party must be revolutionary first and last.

*  *  *

If the early chapters of Mr. Hunter’s book, dealing with the struggles around the International, are, as has been said, interesting, it must at the same time be confessed that while the author had the material and opportunity for the production of a Socialist classic, he has failed to do more than produce what can only be characterised as a "red-herring.” The last chapter, indeed, contains elements of broad farce. It is the reductio ad absurdum of his so-called -Socialist standpoint. He lumps together the votes cast for the Labour Party of Great Britain, the Labour Party of Australia, the Social Democrats of Germany, and the other reform parties of the world in a grand total of eleven million votes for Socialism! It has no significance for him that over one half the world most of this vast army for "Socialism” vanished into the "dug-outs” of patriotism at a single blare of the bugle, and that the other half is getting ready to follow suit! His rhetoric is proof against unpleasant truth. He continues:
   Where shall we find in all history another instance of the organisation in less than half a century of eleven million people into a compact force for the avowed purpose of peacefully and legally taking possession of the world? They have refused to hurry; they have declined all short cuts . . .  they have declined the way of compromise, of fusions, of alliances . .  .
And so on in a dithyramhic crescendo of hysterical absurdity until at the end one sets down the hook in a burst of laughter.

Indeed, the pitiful reality is so tragically different to the author's gaudy imagery that one hastens to laugh in order to avoid tears.
F. C. Watts

The Age of Gold. (1916)

From the June 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard
                                           What is here ?
Cold ? Yellow, glittering, precious, gold ?
Thus much of this will make black, white ; foul, fair ;
Wrong, right; base, noble ; old, young ; coward valiant.
What, this, you gods? Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides,
Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads.
'I'his yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; bless the accurs’d ;
Make the hoar leprosy ador'd ; place thieves,
And give them title, knee, and approbation,
With Senators on the bench : this is it,
That makes the wappen’d widow wed again.
Come, damned earth, thou common whore of mankind!     
                                                                —"Timon of Athens"

Old-Age Pensions: A Typical Reform (1916)

From the July 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time that the OLD AGE pension measure was passed by Parliament it was pointed out in this journal that its chief purpose was to save the rates. It wax to encourage old people to starve outside the workhouse rather than go in and be kept at treble the cost by the ratepayers. Evidence of this fact has been repeatedly given, and to-day, owing to the enormous increase in the cost of living, the old-age pensioners are dying off like flies. Such paragraphs as the following speak eloquently of this :
"'LIFE ON 1s. 6d. A WEEK.”
  "'If they can live on Is. 6d. a week each and don't get starved, a good many of us eat too much,' said the coroner at the inquest on a Bethnal-green woman aged 70. She and her aged husband had lived on the latter's a old-age pension of 5s., out of which 2s. was paid in rent. Occasionally the man earned an odd 6d. The doctor said that death was not accelerated by want."
                                                     "Daily Chronicle," June 16.

After all, if people who have reached the age when the stomach has lost its elasticity will gorge themselves on 1s. 6d. a week they must expect to pay the penalty.

The same paper pointed out a short while back that, owing to the rising cost of food, old-age pensioners were being forced to apply for admission to public institutions, "Thus defeating the object of the Act."

The sentence I have italicised is significant; it is a fact not often admitted.

Another instance (from the "Daily Telegraph" of June 12th) throws a little further light on this capitalist reform. The comments of Dr. Waldo are worth thinking over.
  At Southwark, Dr. F. J. Waldo held an inquest on the body of Edward Heath, aged 85, who died in St. George's Infirmary. The evidence showed that the deceased was for some time in Christchurch Institution, S.E., and during that time his old-age pension of 5s. a week was in abeyance. Quite recently he left the institution, and on May 29 he visited the Customs and Excise officer at the Hop Exchange with a view to having his pension renewed.
  Questioned by the Coroner, Mr. James Murray, the Customs officer, said the deceased should have gone to the Post Office, got a form, and either brought it to witness or posted it.
  Coroner: Would you then have given him 5s?
  Witness: Oh, no; the form would have been sent to the Pensions Committee, and probably a week or more would have elapsed before the deceased got his 5s.
  Coroner: That looks like red-tape. This poor chap might bare starved before his paper came back. If the deceased had no money to supplement the pension would you have given him the 5s?
  Witness: Certainly I would.
  Coroner: Surely that is wrong. A man cannot live on 5s a week! It has often struck me that the law wants altering. It is not the fault of the pensions officers, but I have had numbers of instances of poor people dying in a horribly neglected condition while trying to subsist on 5a a week. But for the pension they would probably have been in some public institution, where they would have been properly cleansed and cared for. In this case the deceased was encouraged to leave the institution and try and live on the 5s.
   Dr. Thomas Massie said be believed that a very large majority of old-age pensioners did not go on the Poor Law at all.
  The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and added a rider to the effect that an old-age pension of 5s a week was not sufficient unless there was something to supplement it.
   Coroner: In that case the pension is not an unmixed blessing.
In other words, when the ruling class grant us, with great flourish of trumpets and braying of asses, an epoch-making reform, it is all spoof. It is their way of putting something into their OWN pockets. It is the hard-headed British working man who is the mug—every time.
F. C. Watts