Friday, October 13, 2017

Workers' Councils: Solution or Delusion? (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been argued, in opposition to the case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, that an analysis of working-class struggles shows that the setting up of Workers’ Councils is the way to success in the struggle for Socialism. The “evidence” cited in support of this idea is:
  1. The unsatisfactory nature of all political parties (including the SPGB), and
  2. The “success” of workers’ councils.
It is urged that revolutionary political parties merely re-iterate a series of abstractions and wait for the workers to eventually accept them, whereas taking part in workers’ struggles, for which Workers’ Councils are formed, educates workers through “day-to-day” experience. The notion is by no means a new one. It goes back to the formation of the Communist Party, the Communist International and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

As a result of the effect of the Russian eruption a “Conference of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils” was held in 1918 at which people like Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden had proclaimed their support of workers’ councils. On July 31st 1920 the Communist Party of Great Britain was formed, based on the following resolution:
  For the Soviet (or Workers’ Council) system as a means whereby the working class shall achieve power . . . they declare the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as a necessary means of combating counter-revolution. (Report, Foundation Conference, CPGB 1920).
In the same year the Second Congress of the Comintern had concerned itself with the German question, and the problems of getting Continental “Left-Wing” Social Democrats to form Communist Parties. But the main discussion, led by Zinovieff (in his capacity as President of the Comintern) was to convince and overwhelm the British delegates (Gallacher, Murphy, Ramsay, Jack Tanner, Dick Beech) of the necessity for a political party. For several weeks, one after another, from Lenin downwards (and Lenin had written about it in Left-Wing Communism) the Russians pounded and pummelled the poor British delegates with argument after argument, fact upon fact, to prove the indispensability of organizing a political party.
Those Comrades who take a stand against the necessity of a party sometimes consider themselves a Left opposition. It is not Left, but just the other way. The propaganda against a workers’ party is a capitalist trick. Don’t all good capitalists support their parties as soon as they grow up ?
squeaked Zinovieff at them. The Soviets (Workers’ Councils), he said, do not take the place of the party; they presuppose it.
I tell you the party has been our guiding star . . . the advanced Russian worker cherishes the party as something sacred. (Report of the Second Congress of the Communist International 1920).
Highly interesting was the comment of Jack Tanner, chairman of the Shop Stewards’ movement and later president of the Engineering Union:
  The main point of Zinovieff’s argument was the absolute necessity for a strong disciplined Communist Party and also that the Dictatorship of the Proletariate is synonymous with the dictatorship of the Party. He has not clearly proved his argument. What has taken place in Russia must not be set up as a model for all other countries. In England, we are sure, things will be quite different. (Report of the Second Congress, Comintern).
As editor of the Trade Union opposition paper Solidarity he was evidently well aware of the articles on Russia in the Socialist Standard. What Lenin and Zinovieff were arguing, therefore, was the imperative necessity of a political party to take political power.

What we have now however is the claim that “times have changed”, that a large number of workers are “white collar” hands, and that the numerous cases where Workers’ Councils have emerged in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Ireland etc. show the necessity for enlarging these councils to include “everybody” on any and every qualification or pretext — Old Age Pensioners, Tenants, School-kids, Squatters. Once this happens of course it is no longer a Workers’ Council in the old sense of the Russian Soviet which claimed to be Proletarian Democracy by excluding “parasites”, the sole qualification for representation being what International Socialists still called “workplace delegation”. This could only be a loosely federated political party calling itself “Workers’ Council”, somewhat like the Labour Party with its nebulous “affiliated” membership (half of which is moonshine) advocating contradictory reforms, and a constant hotbed of internecine struggles between opposing sections or factions.

One delusion concerning political power had its origin in the abortive Spartacus “putsch” in Germany in 1918, and the curious myth that the German ruling class suspended or rebelled against Parliament by organizing the so-called “Freikorps.” Nothing is farther from the truth. The Spartacus episode was the Comintern’s most disastrous and irresponsible stunt — so bad that on learning the sorry facts the ECCI sent telegrams calling the revolt off, after a few hundred German workers had gone to their doom.

In fact the Freikorps was recruited, paid and ordered by the German Social-Democratic Government. Their political commander was Gustav Noske (Ebert’s “bloodhound”), and the first thing Ebert did was get the support of the Army Supreme Command. This was decisive; Ebert promised the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils elections for a Constituent Assembly (which never materialized). On January 11th Noske’s volunteers crushed the Spartacus putsch in the name of Parliament, the Constituent Assembly. The Weimar Republic was proclaimed. And what had this to do with Socialism? Nothing. The German workers were Social-Democrat-Liberals with a few Marxian phrases: reformists.

The criticism of parliamentary activity — that it discourages activity by delegating power and therefore encourages passivity — can apply equally to unions or Workers’ Councils. Without the consciousness of Socialist workers they are just as reactionary, leader-dominated, and ineffectual without political power. But above all, support for Workers’ Councils against Parliament means the dissolution of the Socialist Party, and in fact, the demise of Socialism. Its one-time members would be swimming aimlessly in a flood of Squatters, Claimants’ and Pensioners’ “demands" not knowing which to support first or most.

Why is the only form of organization which can take political power a political party ? Because only a party based on individual conscious voluntary membership, where every member knows the aim and understands it, can operate unitedly for it. The actual work of Parliamentary activity will build a Socialist membership in the localities which will dispel confusion by debating the mistaken views of reformers. This is no set of permanent abstractions The abstractions are applied to life by party activity. The establishment of Socialism is the work of the working class as social man, irrespective of trade or profession.

In every instance where neo-Communists have tried sporadic revolts for limited objectives with workers’ councils, it has ended in disaster. Socialism is the political interest of the whole working class, and only represented by a political party.

Parliament and Private Armies (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

As if there were not enough political lunacy already, we have proposals now to raise private volunteer forces to deal with “national subversion”. The ones which have specially attracted publicity are General Sir Walter Walker’s Unison Committee for Action — “a vigilante body set up to assist the civil authorities in maintaining law and order in an emergency” — and Colonel David Stirling’s Great Britain 1975. The assertion is that a state of anarchy is at hand, caused by left-wing influence in the trade unions — hence, inflation due to wage demands — and in the Labour Party, and that in this situation a "nationwide body of disciplined men” would maintain public services and direct the population.

It has been taken seriously by many people. In an article in The Times on 5th August, Lord Chalfont asked “Could Britain be heading for a military takeover?” He contended that power is passing into the hands of the unions and bureaucracy, and parliamentary government has been brought into disrepute by Wilson and Heath: consequently “those at the private enterprise end of the political spectrum” have no option but to arrange their own defences. Other writers discounted the idea of a military coup, but agreed on the dangers of the situation. On 23rd August Peace News published documents circulated privately by Stirling, on the organization of Great Britain 1975 and strategies for breaking strikes.

The possibility of military rule has also been raised by left-wing groups. In the enquiries into the June 15th demonstration in Red Lion Square the existence of a special police squad was alleged. A few months earlier, when troops and armoured cars were taken to London Airport in view of a possible bomb attack on a foreign dignitary, this was claimed to be a rehearsal of government plans for the not-distant day when capitalism attacks militant workers with machine-guns in the streets. The Peace News publication presaged the same thing: “. . . ultimately, radical social change will require some showdown between the forces for change and the forces of the status quo.”

What the State is for
The questions posed have a special interest for us. Our case has always been that the establishment of Socialism can be achieved only by parliamentary means: once the working class understands and wants Socialism it will send its elected representatives to take control of the governmental machinery by which capitalism is maintained. We have frequently been told that this could not happen — that, in the face of such a threat, the capitalist class would suspend democracy and use armed force. Can Socialism be prevented by military rule?

The first thing which must be understood is that the “subversive influences” against whom these private armies are mooted are not Socialists. The left, whether trade-union militants or in political groups in and out of the Labour Party, stands for not the abolition of capitalism but a variation of its form. Indeed, given a crisis of the magnitude they think they are talking about, the left would run to heel behind capitalism — as it did in the world wars. Second, political power cannot be transferred to bodies which do not hold it, i.e. do not participate in government. Though it is true that the trade unions have to make bargains with the parties in power, they remain dependent on the law — which is administered only by governments and supported absolutely by courts, police, legal penalties and, in the end, armed force.

It is not a question of saying "Could it exist?”; it is already there. Socialists do not need to have it pointed out or a supposition made over it. On the contrary, it is the fact which our statement of the necessity to gain control of the powers of government recognizes. If the left were correct about the tanks and guns at London Airport, what would the left do about them ? Overthrow them with slogans from behind barricades? Not only do the powers exist, but they have been used — for instance in 1948 the Labour Government’s employment of the Emergency Powers Act (use of soldiers) to break the dock strike, and more recent punitive actions against strike pickets and local councillors. Oddly enough, the leader of Great Britain 1975 recognizes them too. Despite talking about the breakdown of law and order, one of David Stirling’s memoranda is on the need for a "judiciary committee” to advise on the legality of his organization’s actions. One question is:
  Would [trade] Union members who are volunteers, of whom we can expect a great many, be protected by the police against extremist Union efforts at intimidation?
(Peace News Special Issue, 23rd Aug.)
Not-so-funny fools
The New Law Journal in an editorial on 29th August hinted that the Public Order Act would quickly dispose of the private armies — but also that they might be trained as police auxiliaries by putting them to keep the more notorious football crowds in order.
  There is precious little evidence that any of these bodies can manage a whelk stall, still less a general-strike-ridden country (there is a difference, which seems to have escaped many commentators, between commanding NATO or SAS forces and directing a civilian population in peacetime), and a little practice at a task with narrow and limited objectives while keeping strictly within the existing law might produce interesting results.
In one sense this is hitting a nail on the head. The sort of person who may join or support these bodies is the self-important little man wanting to show superiority to the Lower Orders he can’t help belonging to, who was a special constable in the General Strike and Nat Gubbin’s “ironmonger with a commission in the Home Guard” in the war; the New Law Journal is, rather contemptuously, suggesting an activity for him now. (Curiously again, Stirling himself says in effect the same — he looks for recruits from “Rotary Clubs, the Free Masons, certain women’s organizations and so on”.)
But underlying the contempt is the knowledge that the only kind of power in society is political power, and without it, the intentions of these organizations can only be talked about. Moreover, it depends on having the support of the electorate — the idea of a coup by a dozen armed men walking into Westminster and thereafter ruling as apolitical dictators is dramatic but unrealizable. All dictatorships require popular support (as was evidenced by the National Front’s unconvincing best-suit-and-speak-nicely TV broadcast in the Election). It may be chilling to recall that the Nazis began as a whelk-stall handful; nevertheless, they were ineffectual until the majority of the German people elected them.

False and Correct Answers
The struggle to change society from capitalism to Socialism has nothing to do with fighting in the streets or organizing strikes. It has to be a political one. The powers of government include and in the last analysis rest on armed force to maintain capitalism in each country. The only logical strategy to abolish capitalism is, therefore, for the working class — not leaders or an élite, but the Socialist working class itself through its mandated delegates — to take control of those powers; so that the protection of capitalism has gone, and no-one can prevent the establishment of Socialism.

In those circumstances, hypotheses about opposition by army officers etc. are not only improbable but define themselves out of existence. If a military-minded group seeks power, it must do so as a political party. For that it requires the assent of the ruled-to-be, which is obtainable only in the absence of Socialist understanding. Even under capitalism, forcible rule without that assent does not work as the ruling class needs. The immediate example is Northern Ireland, where the fact that military occupation has achieved nothing is testified to by the search on all sides for “a political solution”, i.e. a régime acceptable to the population: which is what we were saying. What is much more likely than military resistance to the rapid growth of Socialist consciousness is that the ruling class will offer sops and reforms galore to try to buy it off.

Nevertheless, there is an ugliness in the present situation which cannot be denied. If the would-be Napoleons are pernicious buffoons, they are not the only ones. For the past generation the Labour Party has promised over and over again that it can end strife and bring prosperity to everyone; what it has produced instead is the conviction that parliament is a sham and democracy a failure, while capitalism flounders on the edge of an economic crisis in which the working class will unfailingly be the sufferers. Don’t confuse the nature of political power with the complaint, made by the private-army people and the left alike, that it is not being used “properly” — i.e. to suppress their opponents, who happen to be each other. The left has exactly the same ambitions as Stirling and Walker. The Communist Party at its inception was committed to the idea of “an armed uprising” (Statutes of the Communist International. 1920), and it was only last year that the International Marxist Group was urging workers “to centralize our resources for fighting the police” (May Day pamphlet).

The working class has had ample experience that all attempts to reorganize capitalism fail. What it needs to learn is the reason why, and the alternative in its hands — Socialism.
Robert Barltrop

1975: Here We Come (1974)

From the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
Holiday time and new year
time of happiness and cheer
your chance to laugh is here
                       a few days off work
                       time legitimately to shirk
the rush the train the rotten boss
to you their absence is no loss
but Guv’s will in heaven dear lord be done
more profits please this year than the last one 
   I want to be happy all the while
not only when I am allowed to smile
why do they have the right to say
                       today I work tomorrow I play 
I came smiling into the world
all my friends did too
out of the womb themselves they hurled
all the wonder of so much new
I know              I saw that excitement born
                        each new person’s dawn 
Where are they now these hopeful faces
gone I know to lonely places
but night and morning one shapeless mass
     belched from their mother tube crying alas
beaten hussled deformed in pain
they never smile only complain
       must it be        deep cries of earth
                            is that all life is worth 
  World awake from paralysed slumber
why permit the capitalists plunder
     abundant world           yours for the taking
                         when you will do some waking.
Ronnie Warrington

Notes by the Way: Emigrants to Australia (1947)

The Notes By The Way column from the January 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Emigrants to Australia

The Sunday Express announces that the first party of 200 building workers have left for Australia under the Government emigration scheme. “Their wages will range from £5 14s. a week for navvies to nearly £8 for bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers.” (December 1st, 1946).

A writer, signing himself “A Colonial,” wrote to the Manchester Guardian (October 21st, 1946), about the miserable experience of the emigrants who left this country after the first world war: —
    “Sixteen years ago there was a serious housing problem in Australian cities. Rents were exorbitant, the average rent for a three-roomed flat being £2 5s. weekly. I saw the unemployed sleeping in the parks and kicked out of the way by the police, prostitution rampant in the streets, quite truthfully thousands waiting to be interviewed for some paltry job, and families living in wind-shelters in the Sydney domain.”
This followed an earlier letter in which a Mr. Powell, writing from Sydney, had drawn attention to the present desperate housing conditions in Australia and had hoped that the new settlers might not have the bitter experiences that he and others had between the wars.

Something like a million people living under British Labour-administered capitalism, have been inquiring about prospects under Australian Labour-administered capitalism. They will find that the capitalist frying pan is much the same everywhere.

What Price Peace ? The Labour Party and Conscription

The Labour Government is introducing conscription, in peace-time, and after the second war to end war. On April 25th, 1939, the National Council of Labour issued a statement protesting against the Conservative Government’s decision to introduce conscription in peace-time in defiance of the pledge given by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, Conservative Prime Minister. The following is an extract from the Labour protest : —
    ‘‘The National Council of Labour . . . recalls the Prime Minister’s pledge, renewed as recently as March 29th, that the Government would not resort to conscription in peace-time. . . .
     The Council reaffirms its uncompromising opposition to conscription.” (Labour Party Conference Report, 1939, p. 23).

Lord Shaftesbury on the Labour Government 

In 1842 Lord Shaftesbury, the Tory advocate of legislation to restrict hours of work in factories, was up against the opposition of the Tory Prime Minister. Sir Robert Peel, who constantly harped upon the necessity of doing nothing to interfere with trade. In view of the present obsession of Sir Stafford Cripps and other Labour Ministers with the “export drive,” and with the need to put off the claim for shorter hours, Lord Shaftesbury’s words have a very pointed application to them. Shaftesbury wrote: —
   “His course on the Ten Hours’ Bill was taken as the test and measure of his sympathy for the operatives of the kingdom; his perpetual talk of ‘imports and exports’ (his mind and heart never entertain higher projects in the responsibilities of government) does not deceive them, for they know full well that a brisk trade would not bring them a bettered condition” (quoted in “Lord Shaftesbury” by J. L. and Barbara Hammond,'p. 86)

The Daily Worker Slips Up

On November 16th, 1946, the Daily Worker published a news item, ‘‘Rumania has Free Speech,” contradicting the charges made in various quarters that the opposition party in that country was forcibly prevented from exercising the right of free speech. The Daily Worker correspondent told how the opposition party in Rumania held a long outdoor meeting at which “violent anti-government speeches” were made.

We now await from the Communists an explanation of their claim that free speech exists in Russia, in face of the fact that opposition parties, opposition papers, opposition candidates and opposition public meetings are all forbidden in that country.

India Changes Masters

The News Chronicle (November 22nd, 1946) quotes Pandit Nehru, the self-styled Indian ‘‘Socialist,” as forecasting that his Party will set up a “Socialist Republic of India.”

The following, also about Nehru, needs no comment:—
   “Pandit Nehru, Vice President of the Interim Government, warned rioters here to-day that they would be fired on and bombed from the air if necessary. The Government, he said, would show no mercy.” (News Chronicle, November 5th, 1946).
Edgar Hardcastle

Laugh With Mr. Morrison (1947)

From the February 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Morrison is fast giving Politics a definite entertainment value. Time and favourable circumstances may yet link him with A. P. Herbert in the dual role of fellow M.P. and fellow humourist

To show we do Mr. Morrison no more than bare justice, consider a statement from his speech at Birmingham, Oct. 26th, “That the Labour Party does not propose to abolish the profit motive” (Observer, 28/10/46). Compound this with his repeated assertion that the Labour vote was a Socialist vote and there is concocted the rich, ripe, fruity humour that a Socialist is one who believes in the common ownership of the productive sources operating through production for use and based on the profit motive. One can almost visualise the pages of Marx’s “Capital” curling up at their edges with laughter.

Mr. Morrison’s whimsical humour is illustrated in his droll statement: “That the profit motive has been used as an excuse for exploiting Labour and treating workers as a commoditv and not as people.” But Capitalism is a system which produces commodities for sale with a view to profit. The worker’s labour power being the only thing he possesses for getting a living, it is this he must seek to sell on the so-called labour market. It is thus a commodity. The capitalist buys this commodity in the form of wages, these wages being on average its value or the sufficiency of things necessary to sustain and restore the worker’s productive energies. In the consumption of this commodity, labour-power by capital, however, a value greater than its own is produced. This unpaid labour or surplus value is the sole source of capitalist profit. This social economic process is included by Mr. Morrison under a single heading—“excuse.” Seeing, however, the employing class treat labour power as a commodity, because it is a commodity, and exploit workers because exploitation is the only method by which profit can be made, the excuse must be allowed. The question which seems to be most pertinent here is what excuse can be made for Mr. Morrison? We are inclined to the view that this is a more subtle form of Morrisonesque humour, and, if so, it leads inescapably to the conclusion that the technique of Marx (Harpo) has been closely studied by him. 

Although Mr. Morrison is not desirous of changing the commodity status of labour-power, he at least wants it called by another name, for he said: “In future Management must recognise Labour as a service and not as a commodity.” To a possible objection that this is a distinction without a difference, it may be argued that it is at least a way of looking at things. To steal a man’s clothes while be is bathing may be an act of common theft, but to leave behind a message that a bathing costume covers him just the same as clothes does reveal a certain delicacy of feeling and shows that he is at any rate a somewhat uncommon thief. Whether, of course, the employing class will submit to this fundamental change or seek to impede the march of progress by every means within their power cannot as yet be said, but we feel sure that if they won’t change the name Mr. Morrison will fight to secure this historic act of class justice with every Socialist fibre in his revolutionary being.

It appears, however, from Mr. Morrsion’s following statement, that the something for nothing postulate is as inapplicable to the world of Labour politics as it is to the world of physics, for Mr. Morrison warns the workers “that the new status involves new duties as well as new rights.” “Take unemployment pay,” he said. “ How long is a worker who has been doing some particular job entitled to live on the contributions of his fellow workers rather than take a job of another kind under proper conditions or a job in another place? ”, which, put in another way, seems to pose the question, how soon will an unemployed “new status holder” be compelled to seek or take a job outside his own trade (involving, as it generally does, a lowering of his customary pay-rate) before being cut off Unemployment Insurance benefit? Or again, how soon will penalties operate subsequent to his refusal to take a job elsewhere? Elsewhere being, perhaps, as it has been in the past, a distance involving hundreds of miles. In view of the not remote possibility of large scale unemployment, the answer is of some importance to sellers of “services.” Mr. Morrison, as a member of the Government, may, of course, have some information on the subject, and so we would put the question to him by asking, how long do you think, Mr. Morrison, should be the period of non-compliance with such conditions before the “service seller" is deprived of unemployed pay, under the “not genuinely seeking work clause? ’’

Although Mr. Morrison seems blithely unacquainted with the way profits are made, he has, it would seem, a nonconformist conscience as to where they are made. For instance, he tells us “that at a time when people were living in slums, without enough to eat, the profit motive was fostering a boom in the building of luxury flats and dog-racing tracks." Both he regards as a form of misdirection of national resources into non-essential work. But starvation and slums have existed and persisted in the industries Mr. Morrison calls essential in their most booming periods. In fact they have been associated with Capitalism even in its remote pre-dog racing track period. Mr. Morrison must be aware of the fact that poverty, slumps, unemployment and economic insecurity have been permanent features throughout the whole course of present society and can no more be traced to the dog race tracks at Harringay or Wembley than they can on the pedigrees of the greyhounds who race there. The general poverty of the working class and the vast accumulation in the hands of the Capitalists is not due to misdirection of wealth resources, but to the class appropriation of the products of labour as a result of class ownership.

For that reason the profit motive is, in its profit motive propensities, coarsely promiscuous and makes no virtuous discrimination between non-essential and essential industry. Any encouragement of an anticipated profit yield from any enterprise, whatever its character, will lead to its becoming susceptible to the arduous advances of the profit-seeking passion. Mr. Morrison will, as his intimacy with the profit motive ripens, also discover it in due course.

When Mr. Morrison spoke in the same speech of Socialising the profit motive he was back to his old sparkling form. The profit motive being the personal incentive for investing capital in some enterprise for profit expectation, to speak of Socialising it is tantamount to decreeing that henceforth and hereinafter all vocal soloists must perform their respective efforts only through the medium of community choruses. This is political fun at a very high level, and such is Mr. Morrison’s control over his subject matter that he never relaxes from the gravity he is able to impart to such utterances, and which give, as a result, such zest to the humour of the occasion.

In a remoter period of Labour polities the presentation of the employing class much favoured by their cartoonists was a brutal-looking, treble-chinned plutocrat who was consistently using the prostrate body of the worker as a parking place for his posterior. That conception has apparently outlived its usefulness, for Mr. Morrison tells us that if the profit motive recognises its past abuses, such as investing money in dog-racing track building, price fixing by cartel formations and the non-oppression of Labour, then it will have an honourable part to play in Society. Evidently Mr. Morrison is about to authorise a new version of the Capitalist for Labour cartoonists, that of a conscience- stricken, white-haired old gentleman who, goaded by the reproachful ghost of Mr. Morrison, is only too anxious to assume the role of the capitalist reformed Scrooge to u working-class Bob Cratchit. One observes here an element of pathos in Mr. Morrison’s humour.

In view of all this it is perhaps not wholly surprising that Mr. Macmillan demanded to know, of Mr. Morrison whether he was a Socialist? (Manchester Guardian, 19/10/46) and in the same speech asked Mr. Morrison to take hie courage in both hands and come over to what he described as the progressive Conservative and Liberal tradition as Chamberlain and Snowden had done in times past. Mr. Morrison, in the House of Commons (20/11/46), courteously returned the invitation by asking Mr. Macmillan, in view of the strong Socialist flavour of the speech he (Mr. Macmillan) had just made, and in view of the dissent it seemed to cause on the benches behind him, “how long the right hon. gentleman would be sitting there " (Ministerial laughter) (Times, 21/11/46). As Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Churchill have, as Mr. Morrison said, both advocated the Labour Party’s programme in the past, the question of who is converting whom is a little misty. As for the precise nature of the conversion, it is securely hidden in an impenetrable fog.

As for the present system, it assumes for Mr. Morrison the aspect of “an unsubstantial pageant faded,’’ for he referred to Capitalism and Imperialism as obsolete labels (Observer, 29/10/46). Such obsolete labels have their use, however, when they are stuck on the political wares of Mr. Morrison’s party and sold successfully at Election time. The “Socialist" Morrison here exhibits gifts, it would seem, of a born leg-puller as well.

To sum up, Mr. Morrison’s desire to perpetuate the profit motive is merely the tardy semblance of their compulsion to perpetuate Capitalism. Elected by working-class voters who merely desired to see the Labour way of running the present scheme of things, given a chance, it could not be otherwise. Only a Socialist working-class electorate will demand Socialism. Thus the long-promised indictment of Capitalism, couched in the vague pseudo-Socialist phrases of Labour ideologies, collapses. Before a mass jury consisting of a Labour majority the charge is reduced to Capitalism, being let off with a mild caution and a weak exhortation to try and behave better in future. Those of the Labour Party who have sought to pose as prosecuting counsel against the present order have now, when administering it, to go over to its defence. Thus the case for the prosecution breaks down, the spectacle of His Majesty’s Labour Ministers entering the political witness box in order to turn King’s Evidence has become almost a matter of routine procedure.
Ted Wilmott

Socialism and Religion (1947)

From the March 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Sunday in Christmas week the Rev. Donald Soper unloosed himself on the air. He claimed that the Bethlehem Boy-God, “Very God of Very God,” was an established historical fact, and that basing himself on this “fact” the Christian can cease to plague himself with anxieties arising from a grim present reality and a desperately bad Future Outlook.

Now the reverend gentleman acquired somewhere the imposing degree of a “Doctor of Divinity.” One might assume that his course of studies included a nodding acquaintance with the views of an ever-growing number of his more or less loving fellow-Christians (including a formidable array of D.D.’s) views which definitely point to grave doubts, to say the least, about his undoubted “historical fact.”

Outside the Bible, evidence is limited to the sorriest ha-porth of Tacitus and Josephus for establishment of the monstrous “fact” of the very existence of the New Testament "Jesus."

In “The Christian" Faith” (Religious Book Club) Canon Mosley writes regarding the Bible, “Its nature as the Word of God is not open to demonstration.” Our Kingsway hot-gospeller bases his assertion almost solely on the “Word of God,” playing the game of “open your mouth and shut your eyes and see what God will send you,” which we enjoyed in our early youth.

The “Encyclopedia Biblica” is not encouraging. Professor Bruce (D.D.) accords to the Synoptic Gospels "a considerable measure of historical worth,” and his estimate of Jesus is not enthusiastic: “The words of Jesus concerning the future show limitation of vision.” Tut, tut! After millions of Christians have chanted in unison, “ Light of Light,” “Very God of Very God.”

But for something more up to date than the E.B.: An imposing array of learned members of the Church of England spent, on and off, 15 years in an attempt to reach some degree of common assent to doctrine. The results of their labour were published in 1938. (Curious to reflect that at the same time Neville Chamberlain was making futile efforts to find common ground for peace conditions in the political field among states insecurely anchored to the treacherous sands of capitalist contradictions.)

Doctrine in the Church of England ” (S.P.C.K., 2s. 6d. pre-war) is a remarkable document which all Socialist writers and speakers might well study. The introduction, by William Temple, late Archbishop of Canterbury, is a masterpiece of vague verbiage. “We have interpreted our function as solely theological and not in any sense judicial” is a typical utterance.

On page 82 we read, "The subject (Virgin Birth) is one on which the historical evidence by itself cannot be other than inconclusive.” Indeed, “There are some among us who hold . . .  that our Lord's birth took place under the normal conditions of human generation." One of the mighty pillars of the Church, St. Augustine, would have supported sentence of death against “some among us” for this clear denial of Creeds and Catechism. We draw the Reverend Soper’s attention to a deliciously naive remark of Canon Mosley’s (E.B.), “There are two independent traditions, Luke’s may be said to represent Mary’s point of view, Matthew’s that of Joseph.” In short, a choice between “ Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” and “ Poor Old Joe."

These Christian apologists leave about as much of the Christmas Carol Babe as Lewis Carroll left of the Cheshire Cat.

Now as to the second claim of Soper, that the Christian can bury all anxiety, present and future, in the deep cup of Faith. What does it practically amount to? The smug, self-satisfied sentiments of a priest finding refuge in escapism. It may be “unphilosophical,” but it is infuriating to contemplate that this stuff is shed over a comfortable Kingsway congregation, is in a more or lees degree retailed to school children, full-proof in “Church” schools, considerably under-proof in the “Undenominational” school; it is melancholy to reflect that but a comparative handful of teachers have contracted out of partaking in the “Act of Public Worship” forced on to children.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never made the attacking of religion a main objective. Our opposition to capitalism covers the ground. Our Party is the only political body which has issued a reasoned case against religion, “Socialism or Religion” (incidentally, probably our best seller, though now unfortunately out of print).

Only in the new world of Socialism, untroubled by the terrors of religion, will the poet’s dream of childhood “laughing as it goes,” be realised in actual fact.

Socialism and Nationalisation by Paul Lafargue (1947)

From the April 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
  This article written by Paul Lafargue in 1882, was translated and published in the Socialist Standard in February and March, 1912. 
Some of the details are now out-of-date, but the criticisms of Nationalisation are as applicable to-day as when they were written 65 years ago. The passages (towards the end of the article) in which Lafargue proposes steps to be taken “on the morrow of the revolution” to increase the wages of railway workers do not represent the views of the S.P.G.B. We would, however, point out that although Lafargue mistakenly considered that the wages system would continue for a short period, his proposal is fundamentally different from what is now being done by the Labour Government under its nationalisation schemes. He assumed the elimination, not the compensation, of shareholdings; and he particularly stressed the need to improve the conditions of the lowest paid workers, not the creation of fat jobs at the top for members of the managerial boards.
Editorial Committee.
At the present moment a kind of Socialism for the capitalists is being created. It is very modest. It contents itself with the transformation of certain industries into public services. Above all, it does not compromise one. On the contrary it will rally a good number of capitalists.

They are told: Look at the Post Office, that is a Socialist public service, functioning admirably to the profit of the community, and more cheaply than if it were entrusted to a private company as was formerly the case. The gas supply, the railways and the building of workmen’s dwellings must also become public services. They will function to the profit of the community and will chiefly benefit the capitalist class.

In capitalist society, the transformation of certain industries into municipal or national services is the last form of capitalist exploitation. It is because that form presents multiple and incontestable advantages for the bourgeoisie that in every capitalist country the same industries are becoming nationalised (Army, Police, Post Office, Telegraphs, the Mint, etc.).

Certain monopolised industries, indeed, delivered up to the greed of private companies, become instruments for the exploitation of other sections of the capitalist class, and so powerful that they disturb the whole bourgeois system.

Here are a few examples. The electric telegraph, on its introduction into France, became a state service because the political interests of the Government required it. In England and the United States, where the same political interest did not exist, the telegraphs were established by private companies. The English Government was compelled to buy them out in the interests of all— particularly the speculators, who in the transaction found means of obtaining scandalous profits. In the United States the telegraph service is still in private hands. It is monopolised by a gang of speculators who control the entire Press of the country. Those speculators communicate telegrams only to newspapers in vassalage to them, and which must pay such a heavy tax that many, being unable to bear such a burden, do without telegraphic news altogether. In America telegrams are the most important part of the newspapers; to deprive them of these dispatches is to condemn them to languish and die. In that republican Republic, which individualist Liberals take as the ideal of their most daring dreams, the liberty of the Press is at the mercy of a handful of speculators, without government force and without responsibility, but in control of the telegraph service.

The railway monopoly is so exorbitant that a company can ruin at will an industry or a town by differential or preferential tariffs. The danger to which society is exposed by the private ownership of the means of transport is so keenly felt that in France, England and the United States, many capitalists in their own interests demand the nationalisation of the railways. In capitalist society a private industry only becomes a State service in order to better serve the interest of the bourgeoisie. The advantages which the latter obtain are of different kinds; we have just spoken of the social danger created by the abandonment of certain industries to private exploitation, dangers which disappear or are attenuated as soon as the State directs them but there are others.

The State, by centralising administration, lessens the general charges; it runs the service at a smaller cost. The State is accused of paying everything more dearly than private enterprise; nevertheless, such is not always the case when there is a question of the establishment of means of communication, one of the most difficult and complex enterprises in modern society. Thus the tramways constructed in France have, with rare exceptions, cost an average of 250,000 to 300,000 francs per kilometre as a first establishment charge. The railway from Alais to the Rhone has eaten up per kilometre of line a sum of about 700.000 francs. M. Freycinet, who is not a bourgeois director for fun, has established upon positive grounds that the State could construct railways at a cost of 200,000 francs per kilometre. The State can therefore sensibly diminish the prices of the services it exploits. It is the capitalists who profit by the reduction, because it is they, principally, who make use of them. Thus, what a number of workmen only use the postal service once or twice a year! And how very numerous are the commercial houses and industrial concerns which send out over ten and twenty letters a day!

State services become a means to politicians for placing their tools or dependants, and for giving good, fat sinecures to the sons-in-law of the bourgeoisie. M. Cochery has accorded lucrative posts to Orleanists; among others, to the son of Senator Laboulaye, the man of the inkpot.

Militants of the "Parti Ouvrier" may and must in their polemics against the public men and the politicians of the capitalist class, make use of this transformation of one time private industries into State services, to show how the bourgeoisie themselves are led by the logic of events to attack their own principles, which demand that society, represented by the State, snatch no industry from private initiative. But they must not desire, and still less demand, the transformation of fresh industries into national services, and that for diverse reasons.

Because it is to the interest of the workers’ party to embitter the conflicts which lacerate the capitalist class, instead of seeking to pacify them — these antagonisms quicken the disorganisation of the ruling class; because nationalisation increases the corruptive power of capitalist politicians; because State employees, like workers in private employ, strike and engage in a struggle with the exploiters.

The only Socialist reason that one might put forward for that transformation is that perhaps it might simplify the revolutionary work of expropriation by the workers’ party; we will examine this on another occasion.

Part II
In the last issue we were saying that the only Socialist reason that might be given in favour of the transformation of certain private industries into services administered by State or Commune, was that the transformation would simplify the revolutionary task of expropriation to be accomplished by the workers’ party when masters of political power. But this reason has not a leg to stand on. The advantages of the changes would be far from balancing the many dangers presented, which we have already briefly mentioned.

The first great revolutionary effort of the workers will be to seize the central power. So long as this capitalist stronghold will not have been captured, all proletarian measures will be refused — even urgent ones — or if accorded, it will be in such a form that they become illusory, and only benefit the capitalist class.

When the bourgeoisie are dispossessed of political power, then only will the workers’ party be able to commence their economic expropriation; but those who demand the nationalisation of certain industries — even under present conditions — say that the task of the workers’ party will be lightened because the bourgeoisie will already have been dispossessed of a portion of the social means of production.

Not at all.

The great organisations of communication and credit (such as the railways, the Bank of France, the Crédit Foncier, and the like), which it is desired to put in the hands of the State, are already so admirably centralised that, in order to seize them, it would be necessary to give a kick to their directors and burn a few bundles of paper. It would be just as easy to take possession of the Bank of France and its provincial branches as it would be to take over the General Post Office and its branches. It would be needful to send four men and a corporal, and to put the high officials under lock and key, in order to paralyse their intrigues and obtain information, if need were felt even for this.

It would be the same with the railways. Under the Commune it should have been seen how Mr. Rothschild and all the chiefs of the railway screwed up their mouths. They became quite humble when they spoke to a delegate of the Commune. It was quite a pleasant sight. I happen to know something about it.

Nationalisation would not facilitate the revolutionary task; but it would give rise to financial swindles, and a fearful deterioration of the Exchequer. In the second number of "L’Egalité " and in the "Revue Socialiste" I have pointed out some of the scandalous robberies of public funds which took place on the State purchase of the smaller railways. All the political jobbers — the Freycinets, Gambettas and Wilsons — their appetite whetted by the repurchase of the small lines, demand the purchase of the trunk railways.

Although in a less degree, the expropriation of the great organisations of production (iron-works, mines, textiles, etc.), will still be an easy matter. It will only be a question of displacing and confining if needful, a few administrators or owners. But expropriation is only a part of the historic task of the workers’ party.

Those who busy themselves with State-Socialism, that is to say, those who demand the nationalisation or municipalisation of certain services, do not trouble at all about the lot of the workers engaged in them; but even admitting that they sought to improve the lot of those employed would they be able to do so? If they can, let them prove it; let them begin by improving the conditions of the underpaid workers in the Post Office, in the State tobacco factories, railways and State ironworks. The workshops of the State and municipality are prisons quite as bad as private workshops, if not worse.

The toilers are more greedily exploited in them than in private enterprise; they are bent beneath an authority that is more powerfully hierarchic; they can neither combine nor strike. And it could scarcely be otherwise, the State and municipality being only the official representatives of the capitalist class.

But the revolutionary power which will socialise the instruments of labour taken from the capitalist class, will have to mount guard over the general interests of society served by the socialised industries, and in particular over the interests of those directly engaged in them.

Suppose the party of the proletariat had sent Mr Rothschild to Jericho to look for records of his ancestors, and had seized the Northern of France railways: and let us further suppose that it either would not or could not establish gratuitous transport at the outset; it could arrange matters somewhat in this way. Out of each 100 francs of receipts, 10 francs are set aside for depreciation and general expenses, and 30 francs are distributable to share and debenture holders. Now shares and debentures being suppressed, the revolutionary government could divide the portion taken by the shareholders for doing nothing into three parts. One third could be left to the workers, one third go to cheapen freight, and one third go as revenue to the State.

Thus the revolutionary government could immediately increase the remuneration of the employees by nearly 16 per cent. It would have to ensure that the remuneration were distributed in quite a different way from the present where the less an administrator or high official works, the more he is paid. To remedy this it need only leave those interested to apportion the amount according to services and talents. The revolutionary Government would also have to obtain guarantees that the workers to whom it confided a social instrument, possessed all the requisite qualities for its good working; and that it did not become a means of exploiting certain grades of workers, as co-operative workshops have become in present-day society.

This method of utilising the social means of production could only be a passing one, imposed by the difficulties amidst which the workers’ party will have to struggle on the morrow of the revolution. But we can perceive a period wherein, with the needs of consumption and the powers of production scientifically calculated, consumption as well as production will be free. There will be neither wages nor market prices. Human society will then once more enter the period of communism.

Indeed, only a “possibilist” professor, ignorant of social conditions and steeped in bourgeois prejudices, could offer the nationalisation of public services as the Socialist ideal.
(Translated for the Socialist Standard by F. C. Watts.)