Monday, September 18, 2017

Easter, 1917: A Survey and a Statement (1917)

From the May 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spring still sees the murder machine of war carrying on its ruthless work. The toll of dead and wounded, of maimed and crippled, of the working class of the various belligerent countries only varies in its monotony by its increasing quantity. In other directions changes are rapidly taking place in the methods and constitutions of the different countries that would have seemed quite improbable a short time ago.

Perhaps the most unexpected of the changes has been the revolution in Russia. Information published here is small in quantity and only of such kind and character as the master class choose to let us know, hence caution is necessary before arriving at conclusions based upon such news as we have. One of the most significant features of the business is the speed and unanimity with which the several governments and other supporters of the capitalist system of society have hastened to praise the Russian revolution, and to offer their congratulations and advice —particularly the latter—to the Provisional Government and the Workers’ Committee.

The common theme of all these messages is the need for the more vigorous prosecution on the part of Russia of the war against the Central Powers. So far as can be judged from the news published here, the replies seem generally to be favourable to these promptings, though the repudiation by the Workers’ Committee of the idea of annexation of territory as a result of the war appears to have somewhat staggered the other parties, who are fighting only for liberty, righteousness, democracy, and freedom.

All the information available, both past and present, shows quite clearly that the upheaval in Russia is not a revolution of the working class, clearly seeing its slave position under the old order and setting to work in an organised fashion to emancipate itself. Far from this is the truth, we are sorry to say. It is but another example of the capitalists using the discontent and numbers of the working class in Russia to sweep away the Feudal rules and restrictions so strongly symbolised in the Czar and the Council of Nobles, and to establish a system of government in line with modem capitalist needs and notions.

Hence the welcome given to the revolution, not only by the capitalist governments in their official capacity, and also by their various hangers-on, like Hyndman, Kropotkin, the B.S.P., I.LP.. etc.

According to the report in the “Daily Telegraph” of 18th April. 1917, the Duma gave a great welcome to the decoy ducks of the British Government, Messrs. W. Thorne, J. O’Grady, and W. S. Saunders. These individuals were sent out by the Government as representatives of the “Labour” movement here, although not a single organisation of workers was consulted as to their views on the matter, nor was their choice asked in reference to a representative. The “Labour" organisations have been completely ignored in the matter, and the individuals referred to have been chosen by the Government because of their peculiar fitness to perform the dirty work required to be done.

America’s entry into the human slaughter whirlpool was easier to foresee. Huge factories equipped with expensive plant had been built to meet the Allies' demand for munitions of war. Owing to the increasing number of munition factories built here, and the extension and more complete organisation of those already existing; the home supply of munitions has increased enormously. This has meant a serious reduction in the orders going to America, with the result that vast amounts of invested capital are practically idle and unproductive from the capitalists’ standpoint. Moreover, the openly announced extension of the German submarine campaign against American vessels, as well as against others, means the danger of losing such cargoes as were bring sent over. To keep these factories in America fully employed and thus to continue the vast profits their owners have been reaping, it was necessary to find some market for their wares. The only course open to secure this end was for America to enter into the war and so create the market needed by her own demand for munitions. A more remote, but still very important factor, was the anxiety of the American capitalist class to be represented at the conference that will deal with the settlement of affairs at the end of the war. Their commercial interests, particularly in Asia, might be hampered seriously, or even excluded, from certain areas, unless they were present at the conference with powers equal to those of any of the other parties.

The chatter about defending the rights and liberties of humanity is just the usual cant and humbug which the capitalist class resort to whenever they think fit. It only needs to recall the treatment served out to the natives of the Philippines and, still more significantly, the way the various sections of the working claw were bludgeoned and shot down, and their wives and children starved, when the men were locked out or on strike, to show how much “freedom ” or 'humanity" counts against profits in America, as in every other country where the capitalist system of society exists.

In England both the B S.P. and the I.L P., while pawing resolutions in favour of peace at their annual conferences, remain affiliated to the “Labour” Party, which not only actively supports the war. but whose prominent members join in the scramble for the well-paid political jobs it has brought into existence.

At the I.L.P. Conference the action of Mr. J. Parker in joining the Government was repudiated, but Parker is still allowed to remain a member of the party on the plea of “toleration.” 

The fact that the actions of many other prominent members are quite as open to criticism as Mr. Parker’s may have something to do with this defence of treachery to the working claw. The chairman of this same Conference, Mr. F. W. Jowett, M.P., stated :
   “Whatever in the nature of protective armaments is necessary to keep the land of my birth free from an invading force I would without hesitation provide. For this purpose I should consider the self-governing^ colonies and the United Kingdom as one nation.” (“Labour Leader,” 12.4.1917.) 
This is just the same attitude as was taken up by Lord Roberts, Mr. Hyndman, Mr. Blatchford, and the “Daily Mail.” For “protective” measures, as every military authority agrees, includes attack as well as defence. Then why condemn Parker for joining the “Committee of Protection” called the Government, if Mr. Jowett is prepared to provide “without hesitation” (or with) the armaments, including, of course, the conscription of men, necessary for this “defence”? Let the twisters of the I.LP. answer—if they can.

At the beginning of the war the Socialist Party of Great Britain was the only organisation in the British Isles that stated the Socialist position toward this and all other capitalist wars. Now, in the midst of the upheavals taking place in various directions and the suicidal policy of further nations joining in the strife, we still stand by that position, still fight for the emancipation of the working class from the slavery of capitalism, without any regard for racial or geographical boundaries. At our Annual Conference—the third during the war, and well attended despite the inroads made in our ranks by the master class—no doubt or question as to the correctness or soundness of our attitude was heard. On the contrary, the experience of the period since August 1914 has but added fresh evidence in support of the need for Socialist understanding on the part of the working daw before they can march to their emancipation. Every new order under the Defence of the Realm Act, whether applied to military or civil purposes, whether for obtaining recruits for the Army or shortening the food supply for the family, shows with startling emphasis the immense weapon of control formed by the political machinery. Not until that weapon is torn from the masters' hands by the working class, with an understanding of their object and the organisation to achieve it, will there be any hope of peace on earth with happiness for all.

By our motto, “The World for the Workers,” we still take our stand, and continue to strike the note that has been the key to our actions since the Party was first formed, namely, “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working claw itself."
Editorial Committee. Socialist Standard

"Neither Shall They Eat." (1917)

From the June 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing an appeal is being circulated throughout the country by the War Savings Committee on the necessity of still further tightening our belts. It consists of a card containing the King's proclamation on frugal living. It is being distributed by some 1,200 local committees (essential occupations?) and those who sign pledge themselves on their honour to abstain from eating but the barest possible amount of food.

As is to be expected, the appeal is directed chiefly to the working class, forming, as it does, the bulk of the population. The class which produces all the food, needs the food, but too often experiences the greatest difficulty in getting a small portion of it back. After the multitudinous exhortations from Press, platform and pulpit to be frugal and still multiply (the output), it would appear that it really isn't necessary for the workers to eat at all—at least, that is the impression I get, especially after reading the [advertisement] of a certain cocoa firm, which assures us that if we will only drink their cocoa we shall save bread !

Besides, look what valuable time is wasted in merely eating! How much better, then, would it not be if the workers abolished the function of assimilating food, and left it to the unemployed rich, who have far more time in which to consume it.

Every sacrifice in this war brings its reward, we have been told. In this case the "voluntary abstainers" will be granted the privilege of wearing a ribbon badge of royal purple, which signifies that the wearer is entitled to go on (hunger) strike without violating the Defence of the Realm Act.

As the majority of the workers have stood for every imposition thus far, it is easy to believe they will stand for this as well, and I can picture the contemptuous smirk on the face of Lord Stink as he floats along in his six-cylinder, to cast a glance now and again at a be-ribboned figure swanking up the road with a satisfied air an an empty gut.
Tom Sala

The Capitalist View of the Worker. (1917)

From the July 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
   The era of mere exploitation of workpeople as “hands” scrapping and discarding them when worn out, as if they were mere animals or machinery, has had its day and ought to cease. Such procedure is by no means universal, but it is far too prevalent; and the splendid work of engineering firms is too noble a service to the country to be spoilt by any such inhuman relations.—Sir Oliver Lodge, “Daily Chronicle,” 1.2.17. 
   I hope your readers will not doubt my sincerity when I say that I am out for the game and not for the stakes, and while I admit that I find business a very fascinating game I contend that by increasing the means of subsistence of the people I have in the aggregate contributed more to the material happiness and well-being of Welsh colliery workers and their families than have all the miners' leaders combined, . . .’’—Lord Rhondda," Daily Chronicle,” 7.13.16. 
   A system which renders it possible for the wage-earners to obtain too easily the money they require for the maintenance of their normal standard of comfort fails to provide a sufficient incentive. Report of “Health of Munition Workers’ Committee.” 
  The Labour troubles which are occurring in various engineering centres are most regrettable There is no real justification for them, and as the real facts get known we hope that the men’s minds will cool and that they will resume work. . . We strongly appeal to the men who are out to resume work on Monday. Their grievances, in so far as they are real, will be remedied. Fears as to what may happen after the war need not haunt them. Apart altogether from the solemn pledges of the Government, which are embodied in Acts of Parliament, the skilled worker may be easy in his mind: his future an this country is absolutely secure.—” Daily Chronicle," leading article, 13.5.17. 
   One incidental consequence of the state of war has been a considerable decrease in the number of civilian patients, out and in, dependent for treatment on the public hospitals. This decrease is a real decrease, and indicates improved health among the people for whom hospitals exist, and the improvement of health is accounted for by the abundance of food which the military separation allowances have assured to many women and children for the first time. —“Daily Chronicle,” 12.2.17.
The man in the street who may possibly have read the above Press cuttings in their context at the time of their appearance, will probably see no connection between them, nor any purpose that can he served by bringing them together. A brief examination of each item may, however, not only bring out a connection, but even prove instructive.

The kernel of Sir Oliver Lodge's statement is the admission that ’’exploitation” and “scrapping” goes on. He claims that the much boomed welfare movement will do much to remove them. Exploitation, he says, ought to cease. What is his conception of exploitation? Evidently only a portion of the workers are exploited, in his opinion—possibly the worst paid. He pretends not to see the real facts— that the purchase of labour-power only takes place because in its functioning labour-power leaves behind a surplus over the price paid for it, i.e., labour-power is bought so that the person in whom it is contained may be exploited.

Lord Rhondda, on the other hand, does not, presumably, believe that such a thing as exploitation exists at all. He claims that he increases the means of subsistence of the people by allowing the said people to work and produce the means of subsistence. The greater the amount of wealth produced, therefore, in any concern, the greater the “material happiness” of the people, irrespective of the wages paid. The essence of his statement is, however, one that is common to all capitalists — that he increases the world’s wealth by allowing the workers to use the tools of production and het raw materials of nature.

The report of the Health of Munition Workers Committee, together with the extract from the “Daily Chronicle” leading article, are both typical of the attitude of capitalists toward the workers everywhere. According to the first the poverty of the working class is ordained. The workers are born poor that their necessities may compel them to serve the capitalists. To ensure a continuance of their toil they must be kept poor—they must not “obtain too easily the money they require for the maintenance of their normal standard of comfort."

This being the attitude of “capital” toward “labour,” it is not surprising to find the “Daily Chronicle” lecturing the workers for striking “without justification,” hoping “their minds will cool,” aspersing them generally, and finally appealing to them to place confidence in the government that has given them such solemn pledges. “Their position in the country is assured after the war,” they say. Of course it is — the position that has always been theirs— material for exploitation. As such they are necessary to capitalists; without them surplus-value is unobtainable.

The last quotation is an inadvertent but withering commentary on the capitalist system as a whole. A system that admittedly fails to provide adequate sustenance for women and children except when all its resources are concentrated on destruction and slaughter, is self-condemned. With modern machinery and methods wealth can be produced far in excess of the needs of the people; yet because of capitalism, which stamps labour-power as a commodity, the bulk of the workers are unable, in normal times, to obtain the food necessary to maintain themselves in health. And capitalist newspapers cannot help noting the improvement in the health of the workers when war, with its imperative demand for blood and sinew, absorbs the human commodities that are in excess of the peace-time demand.

And now we can link up the quotations and show how they run like a descriptive serial portraying the tragedy of working-class slavery. There is little need to refer to the increased sufferings of the working class due to the war. 'Terrible as these sufferings are, we are reminded by the “Daily Chronicle” that separation allowances have assured to many women and children for the first time abundance of food: an admission that capitalism, in peace time, cannot guarantee to those who produce the wealth of society the necessaries of life. Labour-power before the war was so much in excess of the demand that men were too old at forty. After that age they were scarcely worth exploiting, and the system made no provision for them until they were seventy. Because the war has tipped the beam in the labour market, setting the demand for labour-power above the supply, we are told that exploitation and scrapping have had their day. But if wages rose till they stood at ninety-nine per cent, of the total wealth produced exploitation would not have ceased.

Before the workers can expend their energy on the materials supplied by nature, they must submit to capitalist organisation, discipline, and conditions. The wealth they produce belongs to the capitalists, who permit them to be paid out of it the market value of their labour-power— until circumstances connected with the disposal of the wealth produced on the world market bring about changes in the labour market favourable to the worker in the sale of his commodity. Then the boot is on the other foot. It demoralises the workers to earn their living too easily. Although the prices of necessaries have more than doubled and wages have risen but slightly over peace-time level; though trade-union safeguards against more vicious exploitation have been removed, strikers are told they have no justification for their action.

Acts of Parliament are passed against those workers who attempt to practice the first right proclaimed by capitalists—the right to withhold a commodity until the price demanded is forthcoming. Then, on top of all the insults and slander directed against the workers, they are coolly asked to put their trust in the representatives of the class that has robbed them— robbed them under the plea of freedom of contract — which is itself cancelled and made illegal when it begins to operate in favour of the workers.

The full story of capitalist exploitation, brutality and duplicity will never be told. But the five quotations given at least reveal the true nature of the system, the degrading conditions of the working class and the contempt in which they are held by their rulers. Such mall things as these are but as straws which show the way of the wind, but as straws have their use, so may these trifles have if the workers will only learn.
F. Foan

So-Called Socialist Congresses. (1917)

Editorial from the August 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

The endeavour to prevent Socialist opinion on the war from making itself heard at any international congress continues to be prosecuted with vigorous tenacity. The instruments of the master class now resort to a congress to be held in London as a preliminary to the one proposed for Petrograd or some other Continental city. It is easy enough to see what the game is. The capitalist Government, with one eye on the "pretty kettle of fish” in Russia, are letting I dare not wait on I would in the matter of passports to the congress called by the Russians. They have already made it pretty clear that no Socialist organisation (there is only one in this country) need apply for passports, but they are afraid that the refusal might reach Russian ears and “give furiously to think” those armies of “our gallant ally” who have expressed their opinion of all “war aims” by withdrawing to the limits of their own frontiers.

Of course, this London congress is to be in the main controlled by the pro-capitalist crowd to whom the workers owe so much that it is to be hoped they will repay. This much is already revealed in the fact that the congress has had its chairman selected for it, and the appointed one is none other than that very-good jingo and prosperous capitalist henchman, Mr. Arthur Henderson.

The congress will, doubtless, be expected, under the guidance of this gentleman who, like most of us, has got his living to earn, to arrive at decisions and formulate and pass resolutions which shall convey the impression that Socialist opinion in the Western countries is behind their governments for the prosecution of the war “to a finish.” With a bit of luck, and a bit of clever chairmanship, even the awkward question of passports may be satisfactorily settled by appointing delegates for the later congress— perhaps even Henderson himself, for the “ majority,” and Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, for the "minority.” They are a precious and worthy pair, in whose bands the “war aims” of our masters would be quite safe.

In addition to the above, and perhaps not unconnected with it, there is to take place as we go to Press, a national conference of the British Labour Party to consider the question of representation at the Stockholm Congress. Mr. Bonar Law has expressed both his concern and the Government’s uneasiness in the incautious statement that he hoped the L.P. conference would decide not to send delegates to the congress which, it appears, is to be held at Stockholm. For this blunder he has been called over the coals by the capitalist Press, which complains that it creates a bad impression to even seem to attempt to influence the decision of “Labour.” So again there emerges what our masters are afraid of. It is the first time in our pretty lively recollection that the capitalist Press has thought “Labour” capable of dealing with its affairs without the advice of its masters and pastors and those set in authority over them, much less deprecate the intrusion of a mere outside wish into its councils.

In the background is that grim joke, the Russian defection. Just as the Statesmen of all the Western countries of the Alliance have scalped themselves in their frenzied efforts to demonstrate that the Russian formula “without indemnity or annexation” means the same thing as “reparation, security, the smashing of Prussian militarism, and the working out of national aspirations,” so now they would like it to appear that their refusal of passports fits in entirely with the Russian call to conference. If the London Congress, or the National Labour and Socialist Conference decide not to send representatives, or if, as is likely enough, they come to loggerheads about it, good, from the capitalist point of view. That leaves the Government at one with the “free and enlightened democracy,” and therefore democratic to the very marrow. Bat if delegates must be sent, then there is every argument in favour of those boon travelling companions, Henderson and Macdonald—both advocates of representation—being chosen.

So Ramsay Macdonald, who at one time appeared to-have “backed the wrong horse” in his attitude over the war, but who has probably by that attitude found favour with the Russians, who cannot be acquainted with the whole facts, will have opportunity to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of his paymasters, and to turn even his quasi-opposition to the war to their eventual service. Ready with the limelight, there, the performance is about to commence.