Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Labour Party Conference. (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the chairmanship of Mr. Herbert Morrison, M.P., the 29th Annual Conference of the Labour Party was held at Brighton during early October.

The Conference was the first to be held during the lifetime of a Labour Government, and the criticisms, therefore, were levelled at their own colleagues.

Mr. Herbert Morrison, in his opening address, reviewed the “record of success” of the Government, particularly in relation to foreign affairs, to which a great part of the time was devoted. He was received with satisfied applause from the whole of the delegates. Mr. A. Henderson, Mr. Philip Snowden, and Mr. J. H. Thomas were each allowed a day in which to state their respective parts in the “success.” Mr. Morrison was guilty of a lapse that was strange in one who recently announced that the Government (in which he is Minister of Transport) were the “friends of the business man.” He said (Daily Herald, October 1st, 1929):—
  We go forward to make material wealth the servant of mankind and not the master of mankind. . . . We aim at a new society—the Socialist Commonwealth—not as an end in itself but as a stepping-stone to the mental and spiritual regeneration of mankind. . . .  It is a great change we seek, it can only be secured if the hearts as well as the minds of the people are elevated.
Such misty stuff might as easily have come from any parson or most of those politicians who sing the praises of the Capitalist system, save for the use of the words “Socialist Commonwealth.” Material wealth is the servant of “mankind.” The obstacle preventing the majority of mankind, that is the workers, from enjoying it is that the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth are owned and controlled by a small section of “mankind”—the Master Class. From this ownership all the economic evils which afflict the working-class arise: poverty, insecurity, and a social existence that is limited to the production of wealth and the reproduction of themselves as wealth producers serving only to pile up wealth for their masters. We seek to change this by transferring ownership of the means of living from private hands to society as a whole. What is the change of heart necessary for this simple procedure? This tale of making yourselves fit for a new Society is the equivalent of the Christian doctrine of being good now in the hope of a reward in the sweet bye and bye.

An I.L.P. Bogey.
Miss Dorothy Jewson was responsible for resurrecting the latest side-tracking reform endorsed by the I.L.P.—family allowance. She moved a resolution calling upon the Government to introduce
   increasing taxation of the wealthy to provide for a wide development of the social services, including an effective system of children’s allowances. (Daily Herald, Oct. 2nd, 1920.)
The debate on this question was a long one, and the remarkable feature about it was that most of the delegates were of the opinion that such a measure would be effective in permanently improving the conditions of the workers.

But would it?

The price of the workers’ labour power on an average covers the cost of keeping himself and his family. If a worker receives from the State an allowance which covers the cost of keeping his children, then the wages he receives from the employers will fall to a level which will cover the cost of his and his wife’s keep only. Where and when such a scheme has been introduced it has been of benefit chiefly to the capitalists. The working class as a whole gain nothing from it.

On the appeal of Mr. A. Henderson to refer the question to next year’s conference, the resolution was lost on a card vote, the votes being cast in proportions of about 3 to 2.

Mr. J. H. Thomas related his difficulties in trying to find work for the unemployed. He stated that
   unemployment could not be solved by merely pouring out money, but by finding new markets for our goods.
   The heads of railways, harbours, docks, and electrical undertakings, etc., had been invited by the Government to private discussion on providing employment by making machinery efficient.
(Daily Herald, Oct, 2nd, 1929.)
The process was not explained. Mr. Wheatley’s contribution to the debate was to the effect that Mr. J. H. Thomas was wasting his time. "While Capitalism remains there would also remain the victims of unemployment,” which was rather unkind of Mr. Wheatley, and also inconsistent with his own support of Capitalism and the Labour Party which administers it.
Jimmie, after all, was doing his best. And doesn’t he get £5,000 a year for trying so hard? Doubtless Mr. Wheatley is sore because he has lost the Ministerial job he had in 1924.

The debate showed that the delegates believed that the “problem of unemployment” could not be solved. Their main plank was that the administration of unemployment insurance by the officials of the Ministry of Labour was inhuman. It must be “humanised,” they said. Hell, humanise cancer or remove it!

It is surprising with what gusto and indignation the Labour Party will shout and make a great noise about effects while accepting their causes. Truly, “much ado about nothing.”

Dealing with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald’s visit to the U.S.A. and the question of the reduction in the number of warships in the fleets of Great Britain and the U.S.A. respectively, Mr. Henderson “outlined his hopes for an early world conference and disarmament.” He said:—
  If that conference comes up to our expectations we shall have opened up an era in which we may see the vast sums hitherto spent on armaments put to better purposes. (Daily Herald, Oct. 3rd, 1929.)
What does that mean? Nothing! On being called upon to answer a question put by a woman delegate concerning complete disarmament, Mr. Henderson said that “he only wished those who held the questioner's views would say what they meant by total or complete disarmament. If they thought the problem out they would see they were asking what was impossible. What they must get down to was reasonable police-forcing.”

Precisely, Mr. Henderson, and you are administrating the Capitalist System, and whilst it exists the interests of the different national groups of capitalists can be defended, in the last resort, only by force. But why the cant and humbug about disarmament and world’s peace. In the circumstances Mr. MacDonald’s visit to America is not a “mission of peace” or a question concerning “disarmament.” In the past, the bow and arrow, the sword, the musket, and many other primitive weapons have in their time been very efficient and up-to-date means of warfare. But as new methods are developed and introduced, so the older methods are relegated to the scrap heap as useless. To-day aerial and gas warfare has developed so rapidly that many comparatively new cruisers are as obsolete as the bow and arrow as a means of destruction. Aeroplanes loaded with the necessary implements could spread desolation and disease, and almost raze to the ground large towns and industrial centres in a few days. It is noteworthy that politicians are never heard proposing the abolition of aerial warfare and the instruments of it. A “war in the air” would be much cheaper than war fought under the older methods, and how easily civil aircraft can be quickly transformed into fighting planes. The way to abolish war lies not in painstaking attempts to get the capitalist class to disarm, but in the abolition of the capitalist system.

Similarly with our economic problems; if all the schemes of new bridges and roads; making the machinery of production more efficient; the “humanising of the dole”; earlier old age pensions, family allowances, etc., are put into operation, the workers would still be faced with the problems of Capitalism as they are at present. The only solution is its abolition and the establishment of Socialism.

The conference ended with the singing of the “Red Flag” to an accompaniment of a violin played by a Cabinet Minister (F. O. Roberts, Minister of Pensions).

Did they sing the third verse?
“It suits to-day the Meek and Base, Whose thoughts are fixed on Pelf and Place,
To cringe before the Rich Man’s frown,
And haul the sacred colour down.” 
Apparently they did not.

It might have disturbed their happy and contented frame of mind. For Mr. George Lansbury, on being asked by a Daily Herald reporter, “What he thought of the conference,” replied:
“Fine, everyone is going home happy, and what more could you want.” (Daily Herald, 5/10/1929.)

Comment on that statement could only be made in words as lurid as Mr. Lansbury’s are placid.
Harry Waite

The I.L.P. in Parliament (1929)

From the December 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is argued on behalf of the I.L.P. that their propaganda methods are justified by their success. As proof of this they point to a relatively large membership and to the fact that more than 200 of their members are Labour Party M.P.'s. How hollow is this success can be seen from the inability of the I.L.P. to control its members in the House of Commons. Mr. Maxton, Chairman of the I.L.P., criticised the Labour Government’s Unemployment Insurance . Bill, and threatened to oppose its second reading. The prompt result, as reported in the Daily Herald of November 19th, was that,
between 50 and 60 I.L.P. M.P.s last night signed a memorial repudiating the right of the I.L.P. officials to speak on their behalf.
Moreover, Mr. W. Leach, M.P., who prepared the memorial and is himself an I.L.P member, explained that he had not approached any of the 80 holders of offices in the Government, and could have obtained many other signatures (apart from the 80 referred to) if he had had more time to approach Labour M.P.’s not immediately available. (Daily Herald, 20th November.)

The following day, November 19th, Mr. Maxton stated his case against the Government’s Bill at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Daily Herald reports that he received the support of only half a dozen M.P.’s (Daily Herald, 20th November); this, although over 200 of them are members of his party, the I.L.P.

The same evening he stated his case again at a meeting of the I.L.P. M.P.’s, but was turned down by 41 votes to 14 (Daily Herald, 20th November).

On November 20th, Mr. Maxton and his supporters put their names to an amendment, as follows:—
  This House records its profound regret that the Bill, while abolishing the fourth statutory condition for the receipt of benefit, imposes a new condition, which still leaves the burden of proof of his search for work on the applicant for benefit; which does not provide £1 a week for the adult unemployed man, 10s. for his wife, and 5s. for each dependent child, but leaves young persons inadequately provided for; and which fails to restore the waiting period of three days as in the Act of 1924.
It will be noticed that the demand of the "rebels” differs little from the offer of the Government. They only ask for 2s. more per week for an unemployed man, and are presumably of the opinion that £1 a week is enough.

Mr. P. C. Hoffmann, one of the 33 signatories (32 Labour M.P.’s and one Independent, Mr. Scrymgeour), explained to a Herald correspondent that “if the motion were one for the rejection of the Bill, or if it were a vote of censure on the Government, I should have nothing to do with it.” 

That many others of the 33 were in the same boat and were counting on the amendment never going to a division is shown by the fact that 12 of the signatories withdrew their names next day (see Herald, 23rd November). Finally they all voted for the Government Bill. What is obvious is that the members of the I.L.P. who have scrambled into Parliament on the non-Socialist votes of Labour Party supporters are not controlled or controllable by the I.L.P. Elected on the Labour Party’s non-Socialist programme and dependent on the machinery and on the financial support of that party and of the trade unions, these M.P.’s are powerless to work for Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Gus has a shock, (1907)

A Short Story from the January 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

GUS: You socialists ought to be grateful for the glorious institution of the free press instead of criticising the great newspapers as you do.

WILL: Grateful to whom? The so-called Freedom of the Press is, in reality, painfully limited; but such as it is, it was granted because absolutely necessary to commercial development. Material interests dictated it; not any love of the people. The capitalist class give us nothing but what it is to their interest to give, either to increase their profits or stave off their defeat, and we know from bitter experience that we have most to fear when our enemies profess a regard for us. 

GUS: But can you deny that the great daily newspapers are glorious and beneficient institutions, fearlessly standing out for truth and purity in public life? 

WILL: I emphatically and entirely deny every word of it!

GUS: Do you mean to say that the modern press is not free, or that it suppresses or perverts the truth?

WILL: I mean to say that the modern newspaper, by its very nature as a commercial venture, cannot exist except by perverting the truth; and that it is absolutely the slave of capitalist interests.

GUS: You surprise me. Explain yourself.

WILL: With pleasure. Now, newspapers are run by limited liability companies to obtain a profit, are they not?

GUS: That is so.

WILL: To get a profit they must sell; to sell they must please, to please they must suit themselves to the prejudices, ignorance or interests of their supporters.

     (Gus opens his eyes)

WILL: They cannot, then, afford to continue any line of policy when it does not pay, or when it is unpopular with the public or with that section of which they have constituted themselves the mouthpiece. To get the largest circulation and the greatest percentage of profit they must say what their readers or supporters want them to say, or else go under.

     (Gus looks startled)

WILL: Nor is that all; they have an even more important person to cater for — the advertiser. He is partly satisfied if the journal panders successfully to a large number of the public; but as a manufacturer he has important capitalist interests, and therefore would not support, by his advertisement, any journal that, through a love of truth, attacked his interests in any way.

    (Gus looks frightened)

WILL: Further, the various sections of the capitalist party have enormous campaign funds, and the newspapers, being run for profit, must slavishly support their capitalist party interest or forgo their reward. And the journalists who run the papers are the wage-slaves of the proprietors, compelled to utter, not what they think, but what their employers consider will sell best, and will please most the capitalist interest.

   (Gus tries to hide himself, Will holds him back)

WILL: Don’t run away, I’ve not done yet. The modern newspaper is thus, in the main, the reflection of the commonest, most superficial and most servile opinions of the public, and at the same time the advocate of the interests of its capitalist owners and advertisers. It is, therefore, against the financial policy of the modern newspaper to enlighten the working class; particularly in any direction that runs counter to capitalist interests. To satisfy its principal clients, the great advertisers and the political leaders, it must expound the views of the ruling class (or of a section thereof) and so doctor these views that the people may easily swallow them. It must, whenever the workers show a tendency to think clearly, carefully draw the wool over their eyes in order to keep them at the tail of the capitalist party and ignorant of the things that should concern them. For the rest, in order to earn its profits, the newspaper must batten on the ignorance and folly of its public.

GUS (who feels that the scales have fallen from his eyes): Well, but how can we alter it?

WILL: Only by abolishing the profit system. But we can help this on by doing all in our power to spread enlightenment among the workers and so show them the utter worthlessness of capitalist journalism; we can help by organising the workers for the overthrow of capitalist domination, and by pointing out that it is their duty to support a press of their own, not run by an individual or company (or profit, but owned and controlled by a genuine working-class organisation for the propagation of definite working-class principles. Thus alone can the education and emancipation of the working class be accomplished, and the freedom of the press from the curse of profit and capitalist domination become a fact.
F. C. Watts

For Christ's Sake. (1907)

From the February 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is a bare statement of the experiences of a man who, out of work and with a wife and four children to support, applied, with a letter from a local clergyman, to one of the Church Army Depots, for work. The man lives at South Tottenham. He delivered his letter at No. 8a. Hornsey-st., Holloway-rd., at 8 a.m. on December 4th. With five others he was told to apply at 9 a.m. and was then given a cross cut saw and started by a Church Army Officer at cutting a heap of old, damp wood full of nails. The men worked in pairs; the wood was of all shapes and sizes but had to be cut into pieces 5½ inches in length. After working from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. without food (although a dinner time was allowed between 1 and 2) our correspondent and his mate had cut 274 lbs. between them. For this he received 10½d. less than 1½d. per hour! It is not suggested that his mate worked harder or better or had more to shew for his efforts, but his mate received 2/6. Another pair who cut between them in the same time 180 lbs received 2/6 and 6d. respectively. The third pair, who had cut about 175 lbs received 6d. and 5½d.

Thinking himself rather hardly used in the circumstances our correspondent addressed the chief secretary of the Church Army and received a reply from W. W. Jemmett, who said : "We regret to hear that you are dissatisfied, but it should not be necessary for us to explain to every man why some other applicant should be placed on special work under special conditions.” He concludes: “The half-crown a day rate of pay is not the usual scale.”

On the face of it there is here shewn a discrimination which resembles the peace of the God the Church Army are alleged to serve, in that it passeth all understanding. In very special circumstances a man may get 2/6 a day for one day, which is remuneration at the rate of 3½d. per hour. This, to put it mildly, is not munificent. Even in the rare contingency of the recipient receiving it as a regular rate of pay for six days a week, there is not a great chance of exercising thrift, of putting by for a rainy day, after the wants of a wife and four children are attended to—not to mention the unimportant wants of the rent collector. Divide the total by four, however, and it becomes at once apparent that the Church Army holds to the belief that the day when the hunger-cravings of thousands could be satisfied with two small loaves and five small fishes is by no means past. Ten pence, ten whole pence, a day [is] a clear rise of nine pence upon the wage of the biblical labourers who engaged themselves to work in the vineyards. What possibilities of saving are here. Why not accept the letter of holy writ in this connection and reduce the scale of remuneration to the vineyard labourers’ figure? It would then be possible to employ ten men where to-day only one can be employed. The “right to work” would have been conceded. The unemployed problem would be solved!

But what if we dispense with the hypothesis of miraculous properties in Church Army pennies? What if the purchasing power of Church Army money is no more than the filthy lucre of common usage? In that case we can only say that if there is an organisation existing anywhere which has succeeded in “grinding the faces of the poor " to better purpose we have yet to hear of it, and we say this fairly cognisant of the workings of that other religious Army which has so successfully combined the business of the salvation of souls with the damnation of bodies.

We may return to the matter again, but meantime, perhaps the Church Army would like a word.

The Brutality of the Bourgeoisie. by W. J. Ghent. (1907)

From the March 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard
Originally published in the Toledo "Socialist."
In reading again the story of the Paris Commune, especially in the light of other class conflicts, one is struck afresh with a sense of the ferocious brutality of the bourgeoisie when repelling attacks upon its property. It is not necessary to say that individually the property owner is more brutal than the proletarian. Perhaps he is not. But no informed person can deny that when acting by group or class in defense of its material interests, the bourgeoisie reverts to a bloodthirstiness, an inhumanity, like that of the lowest savages. In such times all the veneer of civilization is sloughed off as a snake sloughs its skin, and the most cruel passions are awakened. It would seem that nothing that men will do in defence of their wives, their state or their religion, can compare, in desperate ferocity, with what they will do in defence of rent, interest and profit.

And, after all, it is by group and class that men are prompted in the larger activities of their lives. Primarily there is a struggle of individual against individual. But this individual struggle pertains to only a part of our activities, The workman competes with the workman for a job; but in all the larger matters that affect him as a member of an economic class, he feels, thinks and acts with his fellows of like needs and aims. And so the trader, tho’ he will cheat and rob his fellow trader, will still instinctively feel, think and act with him in all matters wherein his class interests are involved.

In the mob the worst passions are developed. What the individual would never dream of doing alone, he is prompted spontaneously to do when in company with his fellows. "Crowd consciousness ” is one thing, "class consciousness” is another. But when the two are met in the same persons, at the same time, there is developed an impulse and a power for evil which spurn ordinary restraints; And when those two are met in the bourgeoisie, repelling attacks upon its possessions, or meting out punishment for a baffled attack, the result is a diabolism of frenzied malice worse than anything which Milton has inscribed to the cohorts of Satan.

It matters not when or where the occasion. At Peterloo in 1819, in Prussia in 1848, in Paris in 1871, in the Coeur de’Alene, in Pennsylvania, in Colorado, in Russia, in more recent years, it is all the same. The bourgeoisie will fight among themselves with some show of restraint. The little fellows, under the constant hemming in of their scope and province by the big fellows, are developing a sort of group feeling and community of interest which causes them to battle against the increasing domination of the magnates. But however fiercely the conflict rages, it is restrained by a fundamental sense of a certain likeness of interest. It is only by the attacks of the proletarians on capitalist property, that the real frenzy of the bourgeoisie is awakened; and then every one, from petty retailer to industrial overlord, unites with his fellows in a cry for the defence of property, religion and the state, and for the annihilation of the proletarian aggressors.

The lesson of Colorado is still fresh in most minds. The beatings, the deportings, the killings, the forced starvation of men, women, and children, the overthrow of civil government, combined to illustrate again the instinctive brutality and lawlessness of the bourgeoisie when roused in defence of its possessions and its privileges. But it is to the Commune that one turns for the chief instance. Here was a class conflict on a gigantic scale, and here the frenzy of the bourgeoisie manifested itself as perhaps it never did before. The frightful deeds of the victors are not to be ascribed to racial temperament, as some of our Anglo-Saxon sentimentalists assume. The French can be quite as humane as the English or the Americans. Nor were the deeds done because the Communards were considered traitors. Treason has been a pretty respectable crime in France. The deeds were done because the Communard home rulers were led by men who strove for a better order of society, which involved the abolition of capitalism. All the mad ferocity of the bourgeoisie was awakened by this attempted subversion of its material interests, and it slaughtered the victims till its rage was glutted.

The Communards held the city of Paris for a little more than nine weeks. They rapidly and efficiently organized its municipal activity. They suppressed vice and crime; they kept industry and commerce moving. Betrayed on every hand by the agents of the Versaillese, they maintained a rare leniency in their treatment of their enemies. From April 3 to May 24, tho’ provoked by every manner of brutality and treachery on the part of the Versaillese. they did not execute a single prisoner. Only in the last desperate days of the defence, after the Versaillese had shot down hundreds of prisoners and of unresisting citizens suspected of sympathy with the Communards, did the latter retaliate. They then executed 63 prisoners out of some 300 in their hands. As frightful as this act appears, it is one in entire accord with the rules of warfare. It has been resorted to in probably every war, and was certainly practised in our Civil War. When one side violates a flag of truce, or executes a prisoner, the other side invariably retaliates in kind.

The Versaillese seized the city, and for days gave it up to almost indiscriminate slaughter. Probably 20,000 persons were killed. The number of wounded will never be known. The dead were strewn all over the city. Burial on such a gigantic scale became impossible, and the corpses, saturated with petroleum, were burned in the casements of the fortifications or in the open air.

Tired with the slaughter, the further ferocity of the bourgeoisie was wreaked upon the hapless victims through the form of “ law.” More than 40,000 prisoners were taken. Thousands of these, men, women and children, were driven along the roads to Versailles, scourged, beaten and insulted, packed into foul dungeons and stockades, where they were systematically starved. No words can adequately picture the horrors of that time. The worst degraded savages would have shown instincts of humanity superior to those manifested by the victorious bourgeoisie. The "trials" followed, lasting several years, and 13,221 men, 157 women and 63 children were condemned. Two hundred and seventy of these were condemned to death and 7,500 to transportation.

It is from this bourgeoisie, the same in America as in France, that we must take our laws, our institutions, and our moral codes. This class rules, and its intellectual retainers formulate and hand down the principles and precepts of conduct which are obligatory upon all of us. But not for long we hope. As tho working class comes gradually to a consciousness of itself, it throws off its ingrained timidity and learns to trust the validity of its own instincts. More and more it learns to condemn the cheap moralities of the bourgeoisie—the "fair weather” moralities which it mouths in times of ease and security, but which it forgets in times of stress. The virtues of usefulness, of fellowship, of magnanimity, which the working class instinctively develops, but which, out of its timidity and subservience to the ruling class, it hesitates to proclaim, come more and more to be the conscious and reasoned bases of its ethical code. And so, as it comes to a full consciousness of itself, it purposes the overthrow of the regime of the bourgeoisie and the installation of an order of society wherein its own code shall have ample field for expression.

And for all its sacrifice of blood it will not retaliate in kind. Out of its instinctive magnanimity, tho’ it remembers the massacres, the indescribable cruelties practised upon it by the propertied class, it will obey the injunction of Shelley:
"Do not thus when ye are strong!”