Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Gospel of the National Citizens' Union. (1926)

From the June 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “New Voice” is the organ of the National Citizens’ Union (late Middle Class Union). It pretends a great hatred of a mixture it calls Socialism, whilst its dislike of Marx is almost an obsession. They do not, of course, waste time dealing with his teachings, but are pained because he “sneers at the Lamb of God,” lays down the doctrine of “legalised promiscuity,” and says that the “working men have no country.” True, Marx does mention, in passing, the appropriate relation of the “Lamb of God ” to the sheep-like nature of Christians, so does he point out that what the possessing class own, the country, cannot be taken from the workers who do not own it. The less said about promiscuity from the master class point of view the better, for it is they who overcrowd the Divorce Courts, and whose liaisons bring to light matter that their own gutter press shrink from printing. Reading from page to page the “Voice” threatens, warns, pleads (for funds), and in a spasm of candour concedes the following :—
  Between religion and social reform there was a natural and close connection; between social reform and Socialism a gulf wide and deep. Yet the two are continually confused, as e.g., when Socialism is attributed to the gospels.
To the above, we specially draw the attention of Labourites and Hot Gospellers. Though such a statement is calculated to frighten the timid; its admission by no means prevents the N.C.U. doing the same thing in this same issue. A report tells us that, after one of these social reformers had outlined his case for Nationalisation (a typical reform), “ our representative ” easily disposed of the “Socialist" and the “Socialists” were asked to come again. No doubt such opponents are easy, and useful, to the N.C.U. They keep alive the illusion that Nationalisation, which must worsen the workers’ conditions, is Socialism. When we, however, wish to debate, the N.C.U., like the I.L.P. and the other reformers, are not having any. Still, they have a little sense of humour, for at one of their meetings, at Harrogate, we read that one Geo. Robey spluttered these words :— 
   The trouble of the day was disinclination to work. If the people of this country did not get down to it soon, one of the questions that would be asked in the schools would be “If it takes a bricklayer 5 days to lay 4 bricks how long will the plumber be before he puts the washer on the tap."
Work is, at any time, a delicate subject with the workers, and although the above may go down with a Harrogate audience, it might with a Canning Town crowd, despite their love of toil, result in George getting the “ Bird.” To talk of “disinclination to work” to those who have monopolised it all, the “working” class, is a joke unconsciously perpetrated. The remainder may pass for humour with those who go to “business” instead of work, give services for “salary” instead of wages, and who “resign” instead of getting the “bullet,” or being “pieced up.” Such people are about to be rudely awakened by Capitalist development. When like the rest of the workers they abandon their fawning subservience, whether they lay bricks or plans, music-hall clowns and others will waste their breath when they chant threadbare platitudes in order to win Capitalist approbation or honours.
W. E. MacHaffie

Letter: Must We Convert The Majority? (1926)

SPGB 1920 pamphlet.
Letter to the Editors from the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Criticism and Our Reply

To the Editor.

I have read your pamphlet Socialism with interest and, although I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of capitalism, I would like to offer a criticism of your theory of the method of bringing about the new society. You state on page 43 “The first essential then, of having a vote of revolutionary quality is to have a working class that thoroughly understands its position in society.” Undoubtedly, if we could get a majority of voters at a General Election who thoroughly understood their position in society and voted solely for Socialism, all would be well. But it’s the if. May I here give you a quotation which has a bearing on my point. The first is from G. B. Shaw, who says, ” I remember , when I was busy, as an unpaid and quite sincere Socialist agitator in this country .  . . one of the things that puzzled me at first was that I met with so little opposition. I found that I was almost like a clergyman talking pious platitudes. Nobody objected. ; Nothing happened. I apparently carried my audiences enthusiastically with me. Nevertheless, capitalism went on just the same. I began to understand that the leaders of Socialism, the men with the requisite brains and political comprehension, must not wait as Kautsky would have them wait, on the plea that you must do nothing until you have converted the people and can win a bloodless victory through the ballot-box. The people seldom know what they want, and never know how to get it." The next is from “Psychoanalysis,” by AndrĂ© Tridon “The real enemies of progress have always been the enormous sluggish masses of the people without imagination, suffering from neophobia, the fear of new things. Such people only move when the changes in their normal environment become so great as to be intolerable, and goad them to action. Then they move, as bullocks move before the stockman’s whip. There are many indications that changes in the environment which will lead to such movement are rapidly approaching; we may expect, in consequence of the tendencies inherent in capitalism, an enormous increase in the mass of active discontent at no distant date. The. discontented man is the hope of the world.”

These two quotations sum up my objection to your method of achieving Socialism, not that I would rather a class-conscious majority voted a real Socialist Party to power, but our desires must not blind us to things as they are. The capitalist class control the sources of education, the Press, etc., the progress of real socialist education is so slow and withal we have the fact that capitalism is in a state of decline forcing large masses on to the unemployed scrap heap, lowering wages and hence, strikes and discontent everywhere. The question is, can a minority of educated men (in the event of a collapse of the ruling powers through another great war, for instance) lead the discontented and chaotic elements of the working class to institute a new authority after the Russian plan?

We know that Lenin had to compromise with the peasantry, and that State Capitalism is practically the system now in Russia, despite the C.P.G.B. assertions to the contrary. Yet I think you will agree that Lenin was justified in seizing "The Psychological moment” and instituting a dictatorship where a new and differently educated people will grow up who will set about moulding a Socialist State. I hope you will deal with this letter in the Socialist Standard.
Yours for Socialism,
W. Brough.
London N8

Reply to W. Brough.
If Mr. Brough agrees with the analysis of capitalism presented in our pamphlet, he will agree that the central fact revealed by that analysis is the existence of a class struggle. We claim that our method is the only one consistent with that fact, and our correspondent has failed to indicate a logical alternative.

A new system of society can only result from the operation of forces already existing in the present one. It can arise only from a change in the relationship between the producers and the means of production, i.e., the emancipation of the working-class by the conversion of the means of production, etc., into common property. This emancipation being opposed to the interests of the present ruling class (the capitalist proprietors) will, naturally, be resisted by them as long as they possess the means of resistance. The most important of these means is the political machinery (including the armed forces of the nation) hence the necessity for its capture by the working-class.

Mr. Brough suggests, on the analogy of what happened in Russia in 1917, that a minority of educated men can lead a discontented but chaotic mass of workers to establish a similar dictatorship. He assumes, however, as a necessary condition, "a collapse of the ruling powers through another great war, for instance.” The folly of basing the methods of a political party upon mere assumptions is strikingly illustrated by the history of Russian "Communism" since the date mentioned.

The Bolsheviks assumed that a world upheaval on the part of the workers was impending at the time they took action. Misled by this assumption, they took up a position in advance of the class upon which they depended for support, with the result that their position rapidly became untenable and had to be abandoned. Even Mr. Brough will agree that they failed to establish a new system of society.

On the contrary, they set free the middle- class or bourgeois element in Russia from the last relics of feudalism. They cleared the way for further capitalist development.

The collapse of the Tsarist administration under the strain of a world war was the result of the exhaustion of its resources due to antiquated methods of exploiting the workers. The Bolsheviks are substituting more up-to-date ones. Hence our lack of enthusiasm for the "good intentions” with which they commenced their administrative career.

The question as to whether they can be successfully imitated is one which becomes more and more an academic point as the excitement aroused by their example dies away. This much, however, is obvious, that the ruling powers of this country having taken care to organise the workers politically in their support, by means of the franchise, are not likely to meet with a debacle on the Russian model. Their methods of dealing with would-be “leaders” of the discontented workers does not encourage us to believe that they would readily succumb even under such circumstances as those assumed by Mr. Brough. They are not afraid, for example, to allow "safe” leaders to assume nominal control of the political machinery.

Hence Labour Governments!

What Mr. Brough overlooks is that political power is only controllable by a class organised for that purpose. When the Bolsheviks, for example, discovered their fatal mistake, they had no alternative but to fall back upon the support of the very bureaucracy, intelligentsia and petit bourgeois which they had aspired to dislodge; and, in the unlikely event of an analogous occurrence in Britain a similar result would follow. Finding that the workers as a class were not prepared to assert themselves, the capitalist class would resist the upstart minority and compel it to come to terms.

In the meantime the Socialist Party acts in accordance with existing circumstances. While the "Communists” and people like Mr. Brough scan the horizon anxiously for signs of an imaginary "revolutionary situation,” we proceed with our educational work knowing that the changes taking place in our environment are with us. It is significant that neither of our correspondent’s quotations help his case. Despite Mr. Shaw’s distrust of "a bloodless victory through the ballot-box,” the Fabian Society have not, so far, attempted anything else! Tridon’s remarks, on the other hand, indicate a conviction that the "masses” will move, but do not answer the question "what shape will the movement take?”

Mr. Brough says, "our desires must not blind us to things as they are!” Yet in his desire to have something done quickly he is prepared to blind himself to the fact that experience is a relentless educative force and, strange though it may seem, a more powerful one than even the capitalist press.
Editorial Committee

The Crushing of the Miners (1926)

Editorial from the August 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The miners’ lock-out has lasted three months, during which every effort—political and economic—has been made to drive them back on the masters’ terms. The employers know well the slender resources of the workers, and they are evidently waiting till hunger has scourged the miners enough to force them back. In the meantime the owners are selling their huge stock of coal and realising the profits from the coal stores so kindly prepared by the miners in the nine subsidy months. The demand for an embargo on coal is being continually made by miners, but, after the huge betrayal of the General Strike, such a step will not be taken. The Labour Leaders in Parliament have been doing the employers’ work well, talking of "back to the Report,” "the Samuel memorandum,” "reorganisation,” and such capitalist schemes with the reduced wages and "increased unemployment” that these things mean. The miners were prevailed upon to stop criticising the General Council and to "work together for victory,” and on such empty words the joint meeting of trade union executives to hear the General Council’s report was not held. But since then the great "left wing” leader—Mr. Bromley—has been very useful to the masters by publishing parts of the "apologia” of the General Council. Mr. Bromley’s words have been used all over the country by the mine-owners to aid them in their work of crushing the miner. The reasons given by the Council for calling off the General Strike are the unyielding nature of the miners demands, but these very demands were the ones the General Council called the General Strike to maintain! Such are the gods of labour—right wing and left wing.

After backing the wrong horses for the General Council, boosting Messrs. Bromley, Tillett, Hicks and Company, the Communists again show their uselessness by demanding "A General Council with Greater Power,” "A New Leadership” (Workers’ Weekly, July 23rd, 1926). This, in spite of their idols of the left wing, proving to be enemies of the working class.

Left to fight alone for the miserable status quo of miners’ wages and hours, the miners have all the powers—political, financial and economic—working against them.

The employers are not content to use their money power against the miner. They with their fellow property owners control the powers of Parliament—by means of workers’ votes. The owners, therefore, pass Emergency Power Acts, Eight-hour Laws, Reorganisation Bills, and thus they cement their hold over the working class. The lesson then is plain—not a change of leaders—but control of political power by a working class understanding its historic mission of abolishing miners—and all other workers’ slavery.

The Social Environment of the Worker (1926)

From the September 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the industrial revolution occurred in this country, roughly between 150 to 175 years ago, its champions, the merchant manufacturing class preached the gospel of work. These commercial highwaymen and their followers, the aristocracy, the priest and the politician, were all loud in proclaiming the “virtues and glories" of work. Not being fond of it themselves, they were able to let others enjoy the “honour." In those days there was little else to engage the time of the workers— except the prisons and the stocks, if obstinacy made them prefer the open-air life to the foul fumes of the “workhouse." Because it must be remembered that the wholesale confiscation or enclosure of the common lands which had previously taken place, had driven the small peasant farming class and their motley following off the land. Those who failed or refused to find masters were treated and branded as criminals, vagrants, etc.

What little opportunity there was for indulging in the "fine arts," i.e., bear baiting, cock fighting, the chase, and the few intellectual pursuits popular and possible at the time of which we are writing, were the exclusive privilege of the nobility and their favoured followers. Therefore, the class who worked, being ignorant of everything else but work, listened patiently to the preachings of their “superiors" and “got on with it," while others “got away with it."

It is well to grasp the great changes which have taken place during the 200 years or so which have intervened. Such a study of history shatters the notion, so diligently fostered by the ruling class, “that things have always been the same."

To-day, for instance, the unemployed worker has become largely resigned to the fact that he is one of the “out-of-works." He knows there are millions in the same plight, for whom the State is compelled from mere force of numbers affected, to institute State-aided unemployment insurance funds.

Young and old equally are thus victimised side by side. The younger ones find difficulty in finding openings and the old ones still more difficulty in keeping theirs.

In short, the application of scientific methods in wealth production has developed at such a rate that every year must show a decrease in the number of workers required to engage in this production. Thus there is left behind an ever-increasing army of unemployed.

Side by side with the development of the means of wealth production, changes have taken place in what we may term the social side of the workers’ lives. To compare the stage-coach—wherein each traveller suspected the other as being “the wanted highwayman”—with the “comfort ” of the modern motor car, coach and ubiquitous bus, the bonnets, bustles and crinolines of Victorian wenches with the “Eton cropped” and dress-shortened athletic girl of to-day; the hobby-horse and bone-shaker, with the easily-propelled bicycle; the news sheets and exclusive calf-bound volumes, with the modern newspaper and public and private circulating and reference libraries, where the modern student can readily obtain literature, classical, scientific, historical, covering a wide range of subjects. Consider again the educational facilities of to-day compared with say 50 years ago! Secondary schools, polytechnics, University extension courses open for day or evening students; the theatre, concert halls, picture shows, wireless, the playing fields; museums, picture galleries, etc.

Such are the assets of social life in the towns of to-day, which constitute, within prescribed limits, the liberating influences which tend to separate the worker from work, as “the aim all and end all,” as he was taught to look at it, of a short generation ago!

Let us pause here, however, to reflect upon the fact that there is a value in endeavouring “to know something about everything and everything about something.” The “something” which we have in mind is political economy, that branch of science which explains the laws which regulate the social system known as Capitalism.

The reader may think this is rather a sudden retreat from the chatty style we had previously adopted. But if an understanding of the principles of a science which reveal the whys and wherefores of the claims of individuals to a foothold on this, our mother earth, is not of primary interest, then we should like to know what is interesting. Because we have come to the conclusion, which we dare not try to prove in the space of one short article like this, that the most the workers can ever attain to is “ the world for the workers.” It is enough for us, and in order to attain to this desirable end we will endeavour in a few more lines to broadly point the way.

There is nothing for it but to speak the truth, and unblushingly we refer the reader to the Declaration of Principles on the back page. There it is laid down that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the working class itself. You see, we have returned to “work” again. But such work!

The working class to-day is a slave class. They can only live by selling their labour power—working abilities—to a master class, who, by their ownership of the means of life, keep the workers in their enslaved condition. The effects resulting therefrom flow from a cause. The cause is obviously due to an environment represented by a social system divided into two classes—the workers and the non-workers—whose interests are opposed. This social system—Capitalism—is based upon the private ownership of the means of life, and the task confronting the workers is to gain an understanding of this environment.

"How can this be achieved?” the reader will say. We reply, directly the worker begins to take an intelligent interest in the economic system known as Capitalism, a system which spells for the great majority of the peoples of the earth, long, monotonous, uninteresting days of toil. The Socialist, realising the need to react to his environment, advocates Socialism as the only alternative to Capitalism, wherein the means for producing and distributing the things necessary and desirable in life, will be the common property of society. The details of such a system it would be futile and useless to go into. Suffice it to say that man would control and regulate those gigantic forces of production with which we are to-day so familiar instead of being their slave. Such handicrafts considered desirable and to common good and well-being of society would perhaps be revived thus affording an opportunity once again for mankind to display his creative genius in the arts and crafts which machine industry and manufacturing have so ruthlessly swept aside. Further, the intellectual and physical pursuits, now the privilege of a few, would be possible to all who were capable of enjoying them.

Such vast possibilities for human enterprise and endeavour come before the mind’s eye that we dare only suggest them.

Remember that to-day, however, the workers vote Capitalism, and in return! — what a ghastly picture! Wars and the infernos which the war gods discharge — death, disease, pestilence, social insurance schemes, adulterated foods, shoddy clothing, asylums, hospitals and sanatoriums galore !

True, mankind is the product of his environment, but thousands of years of progress and change have wrought wonderful results. To-day, mankind is on the threshold of still more wonderful awakenings. The centuries that have passed have been periods of long and ponderous yawnings on the part of mankind at the majestic grandeur and awe-inspiring spectacle of the wonders of Nature. The day, however, is slowly but surely approaching when mankind, recovering from his age-long sleep, confronts Nature and all her myriad wonders with the ripened understanding of the part he can play in the great scheme of things. What does this step mark? It is but the consciousness of the mighty fact, that man is capable of adaptation to his environment.

The Socialist has attempted to organise the experiences of mankind down through the ages, and the outcome of this attempt is the Socialist philosophy of life, which in economics is the common ownership of the means of life.

What flows from this we must leave to posterity. We are not prophets. The Socialist, therefore, stresses the need for the workers to become class-conscious. Consciousness of the abilities of their class to do all the work—as they do to-day—for the benefit of an idle, useless class, means the growth of the desire to so organise this consciousness of class interests, so that it may insure “to those who labour the fruits of labour. ”

That such a state of things is very desirable, few will deny. Do the many, then, deny the necessity of co-operating with us in bringing about a new order—the Socialist Commonwealth?—or do they think the existing ruling class will “ hand the prize over?”

The master-class are never tired of appealing to the worker to :—
“Do as much work as you can.”
We of the Socialist Party also make the same appeal to members of our class, with a very important addition : "For the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.”

The environment, i.e., the stage which economic development has reached, shatters the argument that we Socialists are mere idle dreamers, and calls insistently upon the workers to react to the possibility which this environment provides.

That possibility is the establishment of Socialism, when the workers realise and desire it.
Billy Iles

The Wages Question at the Trades Union Congress. (1926)

From the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Pugh, in his presidential address to the Trades Union Congress, was no more practical in his ideas than presidents of former years have been. Ideals, platitudes and “philosophy” are poor stuff for those workers whose time is mainly taken up in the struggle to obtain a living. Such men and women need a message that is easily understood; one that explains the nature of their struggle; why they are poor; how they can free themselves from their poverty.

Sentimental ideals are useless when the business is to explain to the workers why it is that, although they produce the wealth, they remain poor. If Mr. Pugh once admits that the possession of wealth by a class that does not work can only be the result of robbery or exploitation of the class that does; the next obvious thing is to explain how the exploitation is effected. This may, or may not, be beyond Mr. Pugh, but it is part of the knowledge required by the workers before it is possible for them to take any steps to shake off their poverty.

Mr. Pugh, in his remarks, associated himself with the campaign of the Independent Labour Party for a living wage. Marx, Engels, Kautsky, and others, have repeatedly shown that the wages system is the basis of capitalism. The capitalist buys labour power and pockets the difference between the value of the workers' product and the wage he pays them. It is obvious, therefore, that while the wages system remains, exploitation must continue. Notwithstanding this fact, which shows the necessity for the abolition of the wages system, Mr. Pugh can only suggest to the Congress that they should “examine in the light of new theories the whole basis and application of the traditional wages policy and methods of determining wages which the trade unions have followed."

Whatever Mr. Pugh’s “new theories" may be, he will discover when he comes to apply them that trade unions can only “determine” wages in their favour when they have the power to inflict loss on the employers by withholding their labour power. The strike is the most effective weapon possessed by the organised workers. The anarchists and industrial unionists advocate other methods, though they have never proved their efficacy, and Mr. Pugh would doubtless hesitate to learn from such sources. True the strike is seldom successful to-day, because circumstances are rarely favourable to the workers. Even when they are, the treachery of their own leaders often baulks them of victory.

The struggle between capitalists and workers over wages is a one-sided business; the capitalists are easily the stronger. They do not feel the pinch of hunger while their mines or factories are closed down. They have always the armed forces of the State on their side to compel the workers to starve in an orderly manner. With the miners lock-out and a farcical general strike hanging over the Congress like a wet blanket, emphasising the impotence of the workers when pitted against the capitalists, Mr. Pugh romances about laying down “scientific principles for the division of the product of industry."

Such talk is childish while the capitalist method of division holds the field, and the capitalist class controls the educational and physical forces necessary for its maintenance. Such principles could only be applied with the consent of the ruling class, which is inconceivable, unless it were along the lines of Mr. Pugh’s last suggestion, which is as follows: “The equitable distribution of spending power in relation to family needs."

If the idea is to take from the Rothschilds, Fords, Leverhulmes, etc., in order to level up the cotton operatives and miners, how is it proposed to squeeze the former? If the idea is merely to pool wages, salaries, etc., without an increase of the total amount, there is nothing to prevent trade union leaders and Labour M.P.’s starting right away.

It is only because these leaders are separated so widely from the rank and file, and the circumstances of their everyday life, that they can talk such nonsense without fear of exposure. The unreality of the whole business in its relation to the workers is emphasised by the New Leader (10/9/26), which comments on the address as follows : “He gave in short an enlightened lead to the industrial movement, which we have every hope that it will follow by setting up a commission of inquiry.”

Needless to say, neither the commission — the orthodox capitalist method of shelving awkward questions — the General Council, nor the T.U.C., will follow up the subject by analysing the capitalist system and laying bare the facts of their exploitation before the workers. Working-class leaders are after positions with high wages; they will never tell the workers that they must abolish the wages system.
F. Foan

Hull Branch: Invitation to Readers (1926)

Party News from the November 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The members of the newly-formed branch in Hull are anxious to get into touch with party sympathisers and all readers of the “Socialist Standard” in that city, with a view to making the party’s position better known. They therefore extend a cordial invitation lo all who are interested in Socialism to attend at the branch meeting-place, advertised on the back page. Friends with a desire for information and opponents with objections to raise are equally assured of an opportunity to ask questions and express their views. The branch holds its meetings every Sunday at 3 p.m., and discussion follows the ordinary business of the branch. Both the ordinary meeting and the discussion are freely open to all who wish to attend.

*  *  *

Information about Hull Branch on the back page of the November 1926 Socialist Standard.

HULL—Branch meetings, Sunday, at 3 p.m., at the Trade and Labour Club (Jarratt Street entrance). Discussion after meeting. All readers in Hull requested to attend. Communications to Sec., G. Vinecrad. 40, Brook Street, Hull.

An I.L.P. Evangelist (1926)

Book Review from the December 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Evangel of Unrest: The Life Story of Bonar Thompson. 1/-. From the author. (Marble Arch, W.l.)

Bonar Thompson tells his life story in his usual style, from the days of unemployment processions in Manchester to his C.O. days during the so-called Great War. He pays tribute to our Party’s unswerving attitude during the war, but makes the curious statement that the I.L.P. was as firm as a rock against the war. He avoids the gymnastics of Ramsay MacDonald on the question and the association of the I.L.P. as an integral part of the Labour Party which joined the War Government.

Bonar Thompson does not tell us of his joining and leaving the Communist Party, and his reasons for that. He simply says he belongs to the I.L.P. now. What connection the I.L.P. has with Socialism he does not say. The prominent "pacifist” users of force in the Labour Government belonging to his I.L.P. he avoids to mention.

He denounces those who harp on “the position” and “economics," to the exclusion of the more emotional life, but he does not argue his case. He leaves it to denunciation. He is very bitter about those who object to paid speakers and paid literature sellers, etc. Here again he does not argue, but becomes vitriolic in denouncing his critics. So there is nothing to answer.

In a letter accompanying the book Bonar Thompson tells us that he has been a consistent reader of the Socialist Standard since 1907, but he accounts for his “political ignorance” by his “temperament and intellectual constitution.” Parties, however, are the expression of economic interests, not temperaments, and Thompson’s excuse for his outlook simply avoids the question of the soundness of the Party’s position.

For those who are interested in Bonar Thompson’s life the book will be of interest for what it contains, as well as its omissions.
C. R. B.