Friday, October 27, 2017

Some Whine From a Labour Leader (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a copy of "The Labour Monthly,” published by the Labour Publishing Company, Ltd., and glancing through the August issue, we notice an article by Robert Williams, entitled, " 'Black Friday’ and After—A Reply.” We will not weary the reader with the details of this heart-to-heart talk, but there is one passage which we would dwell upon: He says:
  In almost every country the vitality of the Labour Movement is at a very low ebb; it is suffering from the physical, mental and moral effects which inevitably follow as a direct consequence of war.
  The militant section of the rank and file blames and condemns the leaders; the leaders ascribe the present apathy, bordering on despair, to the lack of interest or pugnacity on the part of the overwhelming masses of the rank and file. I think they are both correct. Wars have invariably been followed by periods of physical exhaustion. Ought we to expect virility, pugnacity and audacity to be the outcome of the most recent outburst of organised butchery? The fact remains, the movement, as such, has for the time, at least, lost its “punch.”
Now what does all this mean so far as Williams is concerned? We suggest he anticipates lean days ahead for himself and his tribe—Labour Leader Tribe. Because if the workers lack the qualities, which he describes—i.e., "virility,” "pugnacity,” "audacity," "punch,” etc. then from the point of view of the Labour leader it is no good flogging a dead horse. On the other hand, where there are kicks there are ’alfpence. If, however, the workers lack the attributes mentioned above, chiefly because of the effects following from the war, we would remind Mr. R. Williams that he —quite absent-mindedly, if you will—forgot to mention the valiant part which the Labour Party played towards assisting in this mental collapse on the part of the workers. Let us show more clearly what we mean. We will quote from the "Labour Leader ” (3/9/14):
 The head office of the Party, its entire machinery, are to be placed at the disposal of the Government in their recruiting campaign.
This foul and treacherous act he conveniently overlooks. Let us compare this act of treachery with the attitude taken up by the Socialist Party. In the September, 1914, issue of our official organ, the Socialist Standard, we declared in a manifesto on the war that
  Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity.
and pledged ourselves to:
Work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
Events have proved that the position we took up then was the correct one. The Socialist Party declared themselves in such unmistakeable fashion purely as the result of their sound understanding of the Marxian theories. We have from the very beginning of our existence as a Socialist Party insisted that the workers must first understand their class position, so vividly laid bare in the writings and teachings of Marx and Engels. This implies patient devotion on the part of the workers in obtaining a clear understanding of the Marxian doctrines.

Of course, Robert Williams, a notorious leader, is not concerned with working-class education; an ignorant following is more to his liking. Therefore at the moment he is rather hard put to it to know how to occupy his time, because all his club-room observations regarding such abstractions as "pugnacity,” "virility,” "audacity,” "punch,” though sounding very racy, are quite beside the situation. Trade Union cheap-jacks, flag-waving Communist recruiting sergeants and their cheap and flashy attitudes, leave us quite cold.

Confidence in our class to steadily and surely march forward to the goal of their emancipation remains unshaken. To quote Engels in his introduction to "Socialism Utopian and Scientific” :
  And if the pace of the movement is not up to the impatience of some people, let them not forget that it is the working class which keeps alive the finest qualities of the English character, and that, if a step in advance is once gained in England,, it is, as a rule, never lost afterwards.
We will accept this quiet compliment, the tribute of one who devoted his life to laborious patient work in the cause of Socialism, to contemptuously brush aside the treacherous whine of a Labour leader.
Billy Iles

The Force of Conditions (1921)

From the December 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

How correct was Marx’s deduction from his social studies, that a society
   “can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs." (Preface to Capital.)
is shown by the present position in Russia. When the Bolsheviks had obtained control of power it was pointed out that the economic conditions of a country still largely in a feudalistic state, with the bulk of its population consisting of peasants, prevented the establishment of social control of the means of life. The blind followers of the Bolsheviks answered by pointing to the vast mass of propagandist literature circulated among the peasantry—8o per cent. of whom could not read!—which had converted the large majority to Socialism in two or three months.

What was the magic in this wonderful literature that accomplished more in days than the Socialists of the Western World had been able to achieve in years? Or was it that the Russian peasant is possessed of an intelligence immensely greater than that of the Western worker? Generally the answer was in line with the second query. The Russian peasant’s mind, we were told, had not been poisoned by the teaching and the propaganda of the capitalists, and so was far more able to understand and appreciate the Socialist teaching than the Western worker. It is true that no evidence, beyond the continued rule of the Bolsheviks, was ever given for these statements. Still this did not prevent the claims being constantly made.

For some time past certain writers in the capitalist press,. i.e., M. Farbman in the “Observer,” had stated that small production and trading for private profit, was not only being allowed, but even encouraged in Russia. At first these reports, that were in such flat contradiction to the claims of Lenin’s followers, were denounced as “capitalist lies.”

Now, however, in the “Labour Monthly” for November, appears an article by J. Larin, a Bolshevik official, entitled “The New Economic Policy in Russia," in which he attempts to defend this policy (embodied in Decrees of April 7 and May 13) of allowing free trading and domestic industry for private profit. Not only does he defend these decrees, but to the utter confusion of Lenin’s followers here, he claims that these things were on the original programme of the Bolsheviks in 1918 and had existed for some time after the Bolsheviks had come into power.

In 1919 and 1920 small production and trading for private profit were forbidden. It is true that the Bolsheviks were not able to suppress this trading altogether, and a great deal of illegal business was done during those years. Still, the law was passed and all business was supposed to be under Government control.

Why this new change of policy? Larin’s explanation is worth noting. A Decree had been issued in November, 1918, under which
  “Trading in the products of domestic, craft, and small private industry remained free both for individuals and for the co-operative societies. . . . But here we met with political reasons which paralysed our policy in practice—and these reasons must be sought for not amongst the peasantry, and not amongst the workers. The town bourgeoise itself simply refused to trade and refused to carry on its small undertakings. The laws remained, but the stores and workshops became empty, as the owners would not any longer risk their capital under the Bolsheviks. ” P. 431-2.)
Here we have not only the claims of Lenin’s followers torn to shreds, but also a splendid example of how conditions force policies in spite of all theories to the contrary.

Larin’s explanation, however, is to some extent, contradicted by Lenin. In the weekly edition of the “Manchester Guardian” for 11th November, is a report of a speech by Lenin, taken from two Communist papers—the Berlin “Novy Pont” and the Riga “Novy Mir.” According to this report Lenin stated that 
   "their economic policy during the first period assumed the possibility of passing directly from the old economic system to the State control of production and to distribution on a Communist basis."
It will be seen that this statement contradicts Larin’s claims, while further on, Lenin, after referring to their being compelled to wage civil war, continues :—
   "Under the influence of this state of things and of the desperate situation in which the Republic then was, under the influence of other circumstances of which this is not the time to speak, we made a blunder; we decided to pass immediately to Communist production and distribution," 
and a little later he describes the result as “a severe economic defeat,” and said they were “falling back in a disorder.”

Despite the contradictions between Larin and Lenin, they are both agreed upon the fundamental fact—namely, that it was impossible to establish Socialism in Russia to-day, and that, therefore, they must allow capitalism to operate, beginning with small industry and trading. Surely a striking vindication of Marx.
Jack Fitzgerald

Obituary: Robert Barron (1965)

Obituary from the January 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

We deeply regret to announce the death of Comrade Robert Barron on 21st November. He was a member of the Glasgow Branch for over thirty years. Bob Barron was a loyal and active member who devoted a whole lot of his time in spreading the Socialist case wherever he went. Although not a speaker, he was the type of member who forms the backbone of any organisation. The hard work behind the scenes, and, out of the limelight, is always very important and essential. Comrade Barron was a constant attender at Branch and propaganda meetings and a keen distributor of our literature amongst his friends and workmates. Declining health over the past three years prevented his continuing, but it did not reduce his interest and enthusiasm for the cause. We extend our deepest sympathy and regret to his family and relatives.
John Higgins

Friendly Criticism From Holland (1965)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are no objections on my part to the aims of the S.P.G.B. as laid down in your Declaration of Principles; my difficulty concerns the contradiction there is between some of those principles, whose values are being defended and advocated in your party's literature, and the fact that your party contests in the general election for exclusive political power, with the only possible result of one day being sent to the Houses of Parliament. There they would either share the responsibilities of that “time-honoured” institution or, in the case of your party's representatives not yielding to the temptations carried along with these responsibilities, they would not be allowed to enter, on the grounds that they want to change the status quo. And rightly so, since Parliament, as indeed all institutions, are only there for the purpose of maintaining the order of things as they are, allowing minor reforms only so as to adapt the system to newly arisen situations, and by doing so keep the control in the hands of the ruling class. All that might change is the composition of the privileged few.

However, these are mere side-reflections. The arguments against parliamentary action are based on a Marxist analysis of the present-day class struggle.

In the past the antagonisms of the capitalist way of organising the means of production called up such appalling conditions that universal suffrage and its consequence—parliamentary reform—became the means of the working class improving their general conditions. It is a different picture today. Now the workers sharply distinguish between bringing out their vote for a particular party and fighting the class struggle. The former they do according to their political notions, the latter as a result of their being exploited. The latter is more interesting because it concerns the whole class. Since the trade-unions, and their political extensions the social democratic parties, have integrated in modern capitalism, the workers have had to fight them as much as the traditional institutions. Their memory of the days when they fought side by side with union leaders and social democrats for improvements, leads them as yet to believe that corruption is the cause; other, more active and radical men must take the place of the capitalist stooges!

In true fact it is not, of course, the corruption of the leaders which has caused the at-one-time working class organisations to turn into a boomerang, but the vested interests these organisations have in the existing order.

Born from social conditions that no longer prevail, they have grown into mighty organisations with the task of maintaining and expanding their rule over the working class. Pre-eminently they are the exponents of State-Capitalism and as time goes on they will more and more prove to be far more ruthless than any established institution so far.

I have tried to show that reformism has not come about because various political parties lacked, or lack, firmness of principles but because their very form and nature belong to State-Capitalism. At a rapid speed they are swallowing the old private capitalist, for whom no one needs to feel sorry, leaving themselves as the sole rulers of the world. Contrary to the more backward countries, Western Europe and the United States were in no need of a revolution to bring to power the new class of bureaucrats,—the joint stock company of intellectuals, professionals and the most dangerous of all the managers—they had already attained sufficient power within private capitalism that a smooth take-over seems preferable with a view to the danger of rousing too much enthusiasm on the side of the working class!

If then political parties, trade unions and other bodies of professional rulers are a sign, a token of class-rule, we must try to find out what forces there are that oppose all of them equally vigorously.

This leads us to the working class themselves. They bear in themselves the means to organise socialism, they are numerous and all of them are engaged in producing the wealth of the world, and last but not least: they possess an enormous storehouse of hardly touched creative drive.

As-yet the working class hesitate. Their actions are universally denounced as avaricious, subversive, unlawful and even anti-socialist. Their enemies are stronger than ever before, much better organised and have at their disposal an unequalled propaganda apparatus. Those who are conscious of what is taking place; who, stirred by the absymal wretchedness of the working class all over the world and of all people in general, have come to the conclusion that there is one remedy only: Socialism. And nothing less will do.

The SPGB stand for Socialism. Why should it uphold and advocate the idea that the working class can vote for socialism, while at the same time telling them that it's their task to build it? Moreover it supports the prevalent view as it is of the possibility to shun their responsibilities, with the effect that they keep on voting for the Labour party on the argument that it is bigger and more powerful!
Jos Van Oerns
Amsterdam

We have had to make some minor alterations to this letter, but only to cut out what Mr. van Oerns called “any errors of style and usage." The sense of the letter remains completely unchanged.
EDITORIAL COMMITTEE.
Reply
First of all, we take it we are agreed on the aim: Socialism, a system of society in which all have free access to the means of production, a self-controlling world community in which the principle “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” prevails.

The question, then, is how to achieve this aim.

(1) Who is to implement it? A study of present-day society reveals that the class in whose interest it is to establish Socialism is the working class. This class, brought into being and trained by capitalism, now runs industry from top to bottom. It has no need of the superfluous owning class which lives off its unpaid labour. At present, however, the working class does not realise this. The present task of the SPGB is to help them to come to such an understanding.

(2) What grounds have we for assuming that such understanding is possible? According to the materialist conception of history the basic social relations are those of property, ultimately dependent on the development of technology. They give rise to classes and to class conflict. Social change comes about in the following way: a change in technology changes the mode of production and shifts the centre of industrial control, causing a new class to come to prominence. At first the struggle of this new class against the institutions and values of the old order will be purely an economic one. Later, as the new class becomes conscious of itself it will begin to organise itself politically. This organisation will be completed when the class achieves political power. The class conflicts generated by the economic structure of society always ultimately become political, i.e. conscious class, conflicts. The prize in all the class conflicts in history has always been, in the end, political power. This is the thesis of the materialist conception of history.
(3) Is this analysis applicable to present-day society? Certainly. The development of technology which was the Industrial Revolution and what has followed ever since has developed a new class. The economically important class today is the working class. The property relations of capitalist society give rise to a conflict between this class and the privileged owning class. Up till now this class struggle has been unconscious and purely economic. The working class have been forced to organise in trade unions to use in the struggle over the division of the product of their labour. Insofar as they art used for this purpose these trade unions have the support of the .SPGB. (Your comments seem to suggest that trade unions are wholly anti-working class organisations. In our view this is a dangerous oversimplification.)

(4) What of the future? Trade union action, the economic phase of the class struggle, precisely because of its unconscious nature, has its limitations. The history of class societies shows that the economic actions of any rising class have had a defensive character. To win they have had to organise consciously and politically. The same applies to the working class today. If they are to win, they must wage the class struggle consciously. This involves organising as a political party with a view to capturing political power. This is the case of the SPGB for political action.

(5) This view is based on a study of history and in particular of the role of the State, the seat of political power and the centre of social control. In the advanced capitalist countries, in order to ensure the smooth functioning of their system, in order to avoid interruptions of work by political conditions, the capitalist class have been forced (or, in some cases, found it convenient) to institute peaceful ways of sounding opinion and settling disputes. Disputes have been institutionalized in the voting and, for want of a better word, parliamentary system. It is our view that it is possible for the working class to use these institutions to settle their class struggle with the owning class. The vote is thus a potential class weapon. But the vote, like other weapons, can be used properly or improperly. Because at present the workers use it to elect demagogues and careerists of one kind or another is no argument against its potentialities.

(6) As far as we are concerned, what is important is not so much the vote as the understanding behind it. Thus, when we contest elections we do all we can to make sure that only convinced Socialists vote for us. A vote won on other grounds is worse than useless as the history of the Social Democrats of Europe has shown. The vote is just a possible means to political power—the goal of a class conscious working class.

(7) Clearly then our conception of political action differs from that of other parties and the reformists in particular. They perform any tricks and engage in all kinds of demagogy in order to get elected. Without a Socialist working class behind them, what can they do? Nothing save maintain the status quo. Hence the phenomena of "sell-out” and “betrayal.” It is completely irrelevant to judge the usefulness of political action on how the reformists have used it, not least because they operate on a different assumption, namely, that you can substantially improve the lot of the working class without Socialist understanding . When delegates of the SPGB are sent to the centre of political power they will be the delegates of the working class because the SPGB will be the working class organised consciously and politically.

(8) The point is that we are not a political party in the conventional sense of the term, we are not a group of politicians trying to get elected to do something for the working class, to pass a Socialism in Great Britain Act and legislate the new society into being. Far from it, in our view a Socialist party should not be a vanguard but an instrument. We conceive ourselves as an instrument which the working class can use to achieve political power, a necessary prerequisite for the establishment of Socialism.
EDITORIAL COMMITTEE.

Hurrah for capitalism! (1965)

Book Review from the March 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Introduction to Economics by J. C. Powicke and P. H. May, (Arnold.)

At school we were all taught a spurious brand of history, but formal instruction in economics has only recently appeared in school curricula. It is thought convenient that the average worker should take a pride in the history of Britain and the British Empire, but a knowledge of economics is considered unnecessary for most of us. The workers should leave this subject to the experts who will be sure to inform them when it is imperative that they refrain from wage claims, accept a lower standard of living, take up arms and so on. However, having a naive distrust of such experts, I recently attempted to correct this deficiency in my education by reading An Introduction to Economics.

The authors are economics teachers at Chichester High School and their book is intended primarily for secondary school-children taking their “O" level in this subject. The tone of the first few pages is certainly encouraging:
 In economics we must always be scrupulously careful about method. We must begin by collecting all the relevant facts that are obtainable, analyse them carefully and then, and only then, try to draw our conclusions. We may not like our conclusions, they may be very uncomfortable ones, but if our study has been correct they will provide the only sure guide to the working of our economic organism.
Certainly we would not quarrel with this but, unfortunately, these brave words soon evaporate and the rest of the book is composed of the most shoddy analysis and glib conclusions that would not give any capitalist a moment’s indigestion.

The broad picture sketched of present day society is one of rosy affluence where the entire community benefits from its co-ordinated efforts. Although it is stated that the two factors of production are Labour and Capital, it is never explained that this capital is controlled by a minority who have no need themselves to work, whereas the vast majority of the population is faced with no alternative but to sell its labouring power as wage labour. Constant stress is placed on the tenet that capital is at the service of the whole community, who control it jointly. Despite the fact that most of the children who read this book will be members of the proletariat, unjustified use of the first person plural invariably accompanies the mention of capital.

For example:
    Whenever any goods are produced we can choose two ways of using them—we can use them either to satisfy our wants directly or else we an put them on one side for future use. . . . In fact, there is often a considerable difference between the sort of goods which we consume and those we set aside. A great deal of the latter type consists of such things as industrial buildings and machinery. In other words some of the product is designed to add to our stock of capital, and some is designed for consumption, (our italics)
Now and again, however, a glimmer of truth—which might induce an intelligent youngster to question some of the authors' other assertions—can be discerned. Thus, in a section dealing with the decline in competition, they write that “the growth of large-scale production leads to the concentration of an increasing amount of the community’s capital in the hands of relatively few firms.” Clearly such a statement as this cannot easily be reconciled with the suggestion that we are involved in the manipulation and organisation of our capital.

". . .  the criterion of economic efficiency must be the degree to which wants are satisfied out of the use of the available resources of a community.” Because, under capitalism, production is geared to profit and not to the satisfaction of people’s wants, the immediate reaction to this sentence is to conclude that it implies a criticism of capitalist society. But the poverty of these professional economists’ thought is well illustrated by their later amplification of this point “Economic efficiency can be defined as the ability to use the available labour and capital to give the most complete satisfaction of wants . . . ” Thus they demonstrate that all their ideas are hemmed in by the strait-jacket of bourgeois economics; they cannot stretch their imagination beyond the narrow horizon of capitalism. Clearly it never occurs to them that the anarchy of capitalist production breeds inefficiency and that to talk of efficiency in the context of capitalism is to contradict oneself.

It is interesting to note that no reference to Marx is made anywhere in this work although even Malthus is considered worthy of a fleeting comment. Some of the writers' profundities seem to have been devised deliberately to promote misunderstanding. For example, in chapter 9 they maintain that “our income is the value of our product.” If our income represented the value of our product, how could profit possibly be accounted for? They have conveniently overlooked the fact that surplus value, created by the wage-worker, is acquired by the capitalist because he purchases the former's labouring power.

In the final chapter a summary of the present situation is made:
   There are no inherent weaknesses in the British economy . . . responsibility for the success or failure in solving Britain’s economic problem rests squarely on the shoulders of Parliament. In this instance. Parliament’s first job must be to instruct the community in the nature of the problem and its remedies.
They are incorrect on virtually every point they make. Britain’s economy, like that of the rest of the capitalist world, is riddled with inherent contradictions which no amount of palliative treatment can cure. Only one solution is possible—the establishment of socialism by the working class. This task must be carried out by the proletariat itself; they cannot expect the parliament of the capitalist class to achieve it for them.

But the final comment must be left to the authors themselves. Having outlined the difficulties which they consider Britain is facing, they ask “If Britain’s economic problem can be explained in this way why has it proved so intractable?” Why indeed?
John Crump

The Lesson of Vietnam (1965)

Editorial from the April 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent statement made by U. Thant the Secretary-General to the United Nations, must come near to taking the prize for cynicism. Introducing his latest proposals for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam he stated: “I am sure that the great American people, if they only know the true facts, will agree with me that further bloodshed is unnecessary and that political and diplomatic negotiations alone can create conditions that will enable the United States to withdraw gracefully”

Such a remark may of course be naive, if it were not for the fact that people do not rise to world prominence in the savage world of international politics if they are that starry-eyed.

Needless to say the United States has not the slightest intention of withdrawing, gracefully or otherwise, from South Vietnam, anymore than China and Russia intend to cease intervention in the North. And the “Great American people”, like the working class of other countries, will go on supporting their ruling class in this, and making the same excuses that they have done in the past.

One of the most tragic misfortunes that can befall a people today is to find themselves living in the no-mans-land between two great powers. To be in the path of the giants is often to be crushed underfoot, as the graveyards that sprawl over the hillsides of Korea show. This tragic fate has been the lot of Vietnam for many years now. The facts are easily accessible and there is no need for us to repeat them. And to the horror of open warfare must be added that of corrupt and vicious local government. American foreign policy, like that of other capitalist powers, sees nothing wrong in supporting nasty puppet governments, some of which look bad even against a background of international double-dealing. South Vietnam is no exception.

In addition to the normal reasons for capitalist powers hanging on to territory Vietnam, like Korea before it, has become a line of demarcation from which neither side dare withdraw, and which, they declare, will be held at all cost.

It is now nearly twenty years since the second world war ended and the world was plunged into “peace". During that time there have been a continual series of “police actions” and “internal problems” like Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Hungary, Suez and a host of others. These incidents have not been glorified with the name of war and are supposed to have been in the interests of their victims; only the casualties are mounting into millions, if this pattern continues, and there is no reason to suppose that it will not, the horrors of peace will soon outstrip the horrors of war. Meanwhile the statesmen dither, they make speeches, they make journeys. They confer. These activities, we are told, are going to bring peace sometime or other.

“Peace” often means that the warring powers conclude they are spending too much on a comparatively minor conflict and decide to call a halt. The statesmen forget that they ever adopted apparently intransigent attitudes. They hie off to some well-publicised spot and there put their signatures to what they call a peace treaty.

This may suppress a particular conflict. But the bigger clash of interests, which is inevitable as long as capitalism lasts, is untouched. Not war, nor so-called peace, will abolish the problems of international conflict.

That can come about only by a fundamental change which by altering the basis of society will wipe out the evils which capitalism brings in its train. The lesson of Vietnam is the same as ever. Only Socialism can bring a world of peace and plenty.

Attitudes About Work (1965)

From the May 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the April Socialist Standard the question of work was considered especially in relation to the objection frequently voiced at Socialist meetings that in view of man's natural laziness, the demand for a society free from the economic compulsion of wage labour, is impractical. This is a mere prejudice about human behaviour. Even so, it is necessary to see this attitude in perspective and to account for the reasons why in capitalist society, work is brought into disrepute and often held to be repugnant.

Socialists argue that work and attitudes to work must be understood in relation to the social conditions in which it is carried on. Under capitalism work cannot be separated from employment and employment as a word is only a polite substitute for economic exploitation. Wage work inevitably reduces a man to the indignity of subservience and exploitation. As well as this, the kind of functions into which workers are channelled does not spring spontaneously from their requirements as individuals but is prescribed for them by the division of labour in a commercial society, so that the worker's role becomes something imposed on him by forces external to himself. Both these factors assist in forming the view that man by nature finds work distasteful, but as well as these factors, all the attitudes and values of modern propertied society are hostile to work.

Although the government, employers and other interested parties continually exhort the working class to work harder, their interest in the matter is their concern for the employers' material interests. The most immediate effect of workers working harder is that they are exploited more and their employers realise more profit. Beyond the hypocrisy of social parasites finding virtue in hard work so long as it does not refer to them, esteem and respectability in modern propertied society is still accorded to the individual in direct proportion to the amount of property that he or she owns. In our commercial society, it is money that generally speaking still provides the most immediate indication of the individual’s status. Under capitalism, personality, money and status are all interrelated in giving the character of man in a commercial society. In a propertied society, individuality expresses itself through the command of property and the ownership of things and to this end, money fulfils the magical function of enhancing the personality of an individual within the community.

Social aspirations and standards of respectability are towards ownership and consumption. Against this background, the real attitude towards the work involved in the creation of wealth is too often that it is distasteful, socially lowering and militating against the ideal of decent uselessness. The scale of values that is known vulgarly as “keeping up with the Joneses’’ is really a pale proletarian emulation of what the top social élite have taken for granted for centuries. Nevertheless, it does sum up a complex and subtly graduated yardstick against which an individual’s reputability can be swiftly measured.

Shrewd advertisers are able to use these attitudes in order to sell their consumer goods. The tragedy here is that the individual can be seeking some personal fulfillment through the ownership of things, an ambition that can lead to inexhaustible anti-climax.

The dominating drives and motives of life under capitalism are given by profit, property and money values. Human activity is swamped by the activity of society the world over about production for profit and the further accumulation of property. Under capitalism, it is commercialism and the commodity that gives the possibilities and sets the limits to human activities. Commodity production characterises his social values, his aspirations, his morality, his sense of the ideal. Capitalism organises production not primarily about community requirements but about anti-human economic objectives—that is profit. Where property and money form the desirable values of society, these values are bound to be hostile to work since the process of work forms the antithesis of these social ends and is associated with exploitation, social inferiority, poverty and underprivilege.

In his book The Theory of the Leisure Class, the American sociologist Thornstein Veblen, described with cool irony the social mores of the leisure class at about the turn of the century. For example, he writes “ Property now becomes the most easily recognised evidence of a reputable degree of success. It therefore becomes the conventional basis for esteem. Its possession in some amount becomes necessary in order to have any reputable standing in the community.” “The gentleman of leisure consumes freely and of the best, in food, drink, narcotics, shelter, services, ornaments, apparel, weapons and accoutrements, idols or divinities. Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific, and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit.” Veblen talks about the honour and esteem that attaches to “industrial exemption,” or in more straightforward talk, the privilege of idleness. It is to Velben that we owe such phrases as “conspicuous consumption” and “pecuniary emulation ”, and although he was writing more than 50 years ago, his book still applies basically as a description of properly values.

Although there is some evidence that these attitudes are weakening or at least are under attack, it is still fairly commonplace for a member of the audience at a Socialist meeting to daydream about the possession of two Rolls Royce motor cars, 500 suits and a life lived lying on the beach at Cannes. Such fantasies can never be taken seriously as an expression of man's “nature” that prevents the establishment of a free society where distribution of goods is by free access. They are prejudices that arise directly from the envy and dissatisfactions of poverty and underpriviledge in a capitalist society. Anybody who is sick and tired of the frustrations of trying to make ends meet and is burdened by obligations to wage employment that consume his entire life may well dream about limitless ownership and endless leisure in the sun .The consequences of these aspirations in a worker only confirm his poverty position and make his continued drudgery inevitable, for in the working class, these become the values of self-denial.

The anti-work attitude generated by property values that glamourises consumption, leisure and social uselessness is an aspect of the ideological grip of capitalism over society; it is part of man’s adulation of property and underlines the difference between the social ends of capitalism and socialism.

Under capitalism the privileges of class ownership of wealth dominate community requirements. In the face of this monopoly of wealth, the needs of the social majority take second place. The class relations of capitalism prevent the whole community from becoming the rational master of production and distribution. Thus under capitalism, the working class serves the capitalist class and society must accept the narrowly limiting economic laws of the system.

With Socialism, wealth becomes stripped of the mystical powers that it now has to confer prestige, approbation and, allegedly, happiness, upon its possessors. Socialism is a propertyless society, and with its establishment man has outgrown the assertion of individuality through the ownership of property, and in line with this, there will take place a reorientation of social values. By holding wealth in common, there can be no struggle taking place within the community over property. Work will not be seen as the hall-mark of social underprivilege, militating against the ideals of ownership and idleness. On the contrary individuality under socialism will be expressed in the creative contribution made by the individual through society by his work effort. The content of individuality under socialism will be extended not by power over property, but by stretching self-development and personal ability. Work under Socialism becomes the means whereby men realise their humanity, individually and socially: it is a dignified, useful and ennobling activity. Under capitalism man denies himself because he is in love with property: under Socialism, man is in love with himself.
Pieter Lawrence

Obituary: Michael La Touche (1965)

Obituary from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Comrade Michael La Touche died suddenly on April 21st at the early age of 43 years.

For the last few years of his life he lived in Trinidad and Jamaica, where he was a Medical Officer.

He joined Bloomsbury Branch in 1944 and about one year later was speaking on the platform. He also wrote a number of articles for the Socialist Standard, mostly dealing with Public Health. He was particularly qualified to do this; he was a medical journalist as well as a doctor. Prior to his death he was studying the field of social medicine in the West Indies and it had been his intention to contribute a number of articles on the subject to the Socialist Standard.

I well remember the winter evening when Michael first appeared at Bloomsbury Branch. In a public school accent he announced his intention of joining the Party. He also added that he had recently been invalided out of the Royal Navy, in which he had been an officer. An ex-naval officer with a public school education did not seem at first sight to have the best background for a revolutionary Socialist, but La Touche proved to be a real asset.

Suffering from a chest complaint, he took up a post in Trinidad where the climate was kinder and his health temporarily improved. With the advent of independence he moved to Jamaica in December 1964, where he died at Kingston Hospital.

A number of comrades will always remember Michael La Touche for his highly developed sense of humour and his gay approach to life. He was a gentle person, dogged continually by indifferent health. He had great courage and he refused to be subdued by his many illnesses. His optimism about the future of the Party and of the Socialist movement was unbounded.
Jim D'Arcy

'Workers Control' in Yugoslavia (1965)

From the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the end of the war, the Yugoslav economy has been affected by a number of administrative changes, called by various names (not all of them complimentary). The ruling class have dubbed them “self-management”. To the Western economists they may be better known under the heading of decentralisation. How, when and why was self-management introduced? What does it mean to the working class? How does it work in practice? Is it really a way to Socialism? These are the questions I shall try to answer here.

To shed some light on the rather obscure and misleading interpretations of the term "Self-management”, you should really start your investigations around 1945, when large doses of state control were administered to the economy and misnamed “Communism". But to play down the uncomfortable reality of capitalism with its wages system, the swindle was justified simply by debasing the old Socialist slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” so that it ran “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work," and calling it Marxism. The privileged class of non-producers existed and operated to a large extent through the state machine, which generally regulated and controlled production, and this seems to be an outstanding feature of some of the newer capitalist countries, taking their example from Soviet Russia.

But whatever the politicians chose to call it, the painful facts of capitalist life in Yugoslavia were what demanded their attention, for the usual signs of the class struggle were appearing. Workers were pushing for better wages and conditions, to be met with the usual dreary reply with which you in England will be all too familiar—that their claims could not be met unless production was increased, which in practice meant harder work and longer hours.

Now workers in Yugoslavia are no different from their brothers elsewhere in that they will support any particular method of running the system, regardless of its name, if they think it will give them a better life. As one writer confessed:
It was impossible to call upon the working class by promising a development of "Socialist" ideas; it was necessary to offer them a material incentive. (Social Self-management in Yugoslavia, by Stane Koneic. Belgrade, 1961)
So Belgrade took action to blunt the edge of workers' demands by setting up workers' councils in all firms, with the avowed aim of reducing and eventually abolishing state interference in production. By 1951 "Self-management” had arrived.

But before we go any further, let us see how the workers’ councils operate. They are elected through secret ballot of all members of a firm or organisation and their duties are varied. They decide what and how much to produce, and eventually the prices. They pay a part of the resulting profit (six percent of the whole turnover) to the State direct every month, and they have the authority to make decisions on investment of their capital. When necessary they can approach the Narodna Banka (state bank) for loans and these are credited according to the value of machinery and plant.

In the sphere of employment, the councils have the right to engage and dismiss workers, and to decide the magnitude of wages according to level of sales. But by present rules, wages must not fall below 75 per cent nor rise above 125 percent of the figure fixed in the wages books. Councils can also make rules about relations between management and men and fix the length of the working day. Finally, they have the right to decide on amalgamation with other firms or on liquidation. Liquidation is in any case compulsory when a firm no longer runs at a profit, and can be avoided only by presenting a report to the state chamber of commerce, with concrete proposals for the firm's recovery.

After fourteen years of operation, self-management is well on its way, but where to? This is doubtless a question which many a worker is asking himself, and the answer is that it is just another variation in the day-to-day running of the capitalist system. True it means that the workers are given a much wider direct responsibility for production, but the net result is no different from any other capitalist country. A small class of parasites still lives well on the surplus value extracted from workers. According to Statisticki Kalendar FNRJ, the total production has risen by 162 percent in the last ten years, but in the last seventeen years, the standard of living has risen by about seven percent.

Yugoslav workers do not have to consult any statistics to see the large difference between their humble homes and the luxury villas of the communist party bigshots. Yugoslav T.U.C. Chairman Vukmanuvic-Tempo has in fact complained bitterly in the daily paper Liberation (14/11/64) that "the standard of living is rising loo slowly and many promises made to the workers have never been kept.” To which Federal Parliament Chairman Edward Kardelj had the impudence to reply:—
The sharp difference between the increase in production and the standard of living is not due to self-management, but to not enough self-management.
This reply was also in the nature of a “strong recommendation" and as such, was taken up at the delegates’ conference of the Peoples' Republic of Slovenia. Croatia and Montenegro, held at the beginning of the year. On March 26th Belgrade Radio announced that similar decisions had been reached at the Macedonia delegates’ conference. At the lime of writing, the Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina conferences have yet to meet, but it’s a fair bet they will follow Mr. Kardelj’s “advice”.

These conferences are part of modern Yugoslavia’s machinery for shaping the pattern of its state capitalism. One does not have to be an expert to see who gets the lion's share of the cake. Just like their counterparts elsewhere. Yugoslav workers have a long way to go before they establish a life for themselves really worth living.
Remy Starc (Trieste, Italy).

Dimmer than a thousand fools (1965)

Book Review from the August 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Talk softly please. I have been engaged in experiments which suggest that the atom can be artificially disintegrated. If it is true, it is of far greater importance than a war."
Thus spoke Ernest Rutherford to a government defence committee towards the end qf 1918. But at that time, Rutherford probably had little inkling of the type of importance his discovery would assume, just where it would lead, and the monstrous use to which it would be put. “The only way I can tell a new idea is really important is the feeling of terror that seizes me,” said Professor Franck of Göttingen University about three years later. It was perhaps a more apt remark, and in this case at least, fully justified.

We all have at least some idea of the horrors of the atom bomb and of the hideous refinements it has undergone since 1945. What is often not appreciated is the fairly long and gradual process leading to its production. It was certainly no sudden affair, a point emphasised in Robert Jungk’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns (Pelican Books 5/-), the third English edition of which appeared last year. He reminds us that much of the important theoretical work took place in the 1920’s in Göttingen with a team of scientists of world-wide origin, but such was the lack of interest shown by the capitalist class in something apparently lacking in commercial or military possibilities, that the' work was done on a shoe-string budget.

Many of the early scientists regarded their work as “pure”—something quite isolated from politics and the everyday functions of society. “Knowledge for the sake of it” might have been a fair summary of their attitude and indeed, even after Hiroshima had demonstrated how palpably false such a notion was, Mr. Jungk recalls there were still some who clung to it.’ For example:
  To him, research for nuclear weapons was just pure higher mathematics, untrammelled by blood, poison and destruction. All that, he said, was none of his business, (p. 14.)
Which goes to show how ignorant and muddled even the most brilliant of men can be when they do not relate what they are doing to the world in which they are doing it. This book is described as “a personal history of the atomic scientists” and as such, is a history of personal failure, failure on the part of every one of them to learn and apply the lessons of society.

They protested on many occasions the independence of science and the universal right of free access to all available data, and then stuck their heads back into the sands again. Their sentiments sounded all very desirable, but quite impossible of achievement in a world of private property relationships. And with the rise of Hitler, this lofty idea was watered down. Some of the German physicists fled abroad to Britain or the U.S.A. and supported one ruling class or another in the line up for the war which was not far off.

It is old news how “that great friend of peace” Einstein, was approached in 1939 by some of these very scientists, and with them, urged the U.S. government to produce an atom bomb as quickly as possible. They thought—mistakenly as it turned out—that Nazi Germany was working rapidly towards the same goal, and that it would be essential for America to win this terrible race to ensure that such a weapon would never be used.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” Gondsmit remarked, “that the Germans have no atom bomb? Now we won’t have to use ours.” The professional soldier's retort shocked Gondsmit, for out of his many years' experience of the military mind, he prophesied: “Of course you understand. Sam, that if we have such a weapon we are going to use it.” (p. 158).
In fact, after the collapse of Germany, the “Manhatten Project” was pressed ahead at a furious pace and the Hiroshima Bomb dropped bang on schedule.

Robert Jungk’s book is worth reading as a masterly survey of events leading up to Hiroshima and for the ten years which followed. He gives evidence which should leave us in no doubt about two things at least. First, that capitalism will pervert and degrade the finest intentions in the pursuit of it’s hideous ends. Second, the futility of the “balance of terror” theory and the support of armaments in the hope .that they will prevent war. After reading this book it is astounding that such a theory still finds favour.
Eddie Critchfield


News From Vienna (1965)

Party News from the September 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Several members in the London area recently had the pleasure of meeting Comrade Rudolf Frank, who was here on a short visit and brought first-hand news of activities in Vienna.

Five hundred workers of the Austrian Democratic Party broke away some time ago and formed themselves into the Bund demokratischer Sozialisten (Alliance of democratic Socialists). This Group publishes a bi-monthly journal, the Wiener Freie Wort (The Vienna Free Word) commenting on local and world politics. A group of members of this Alliance have for some time been in contact with the Party and Comrade Frank, who has been working with them generally as well as organising classes on Marxian Economics. 

The results of this co-operation have been very obvious in the tenor of articles being published in the Wiener Freie Wort, recent issues of which have also Carried translations of articles from The Western Socialist and The Socialist Standard. The Group is at the moment looking for suitable offices and, when these have been found, they hope to become even more active. Their future activities include plans for participation in local and General elections in Austria.