Saturday, November 11, 2017

Letters from Prison (1936)

Book Review from the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter from Prison by Ernst Toller (Bodley Head 12s. 6d.)

Bodley Head has just issued a translation of Toller's "Letters from Prison.” The price (12s. 6d.) puts it outside private working-class reading, but it is well worth a determined effort to get it placed in the Public Library.

Anyone who saw Hinkemann produced at a theatre, unhampered by the personal prejudices of a Censor, who gaily approves the giggles of the highbrow sweet maiden at the adventures of Homer in “The Country Wife,” but severely frowns on the topic of actual castration resulting from the Great War, will recognise the merit of the writer as a dramatic artist and, what is more, one acutely sensitive to the tragedy inevitably attaching to Poverty. Drinking to its bitterest dregs the cup of humiliation, rope in hand, the curtain falls on one of the very few great tragic working-class figures in dramatic art.

Toller served five years in prison for the part he played in the abortive Kurt Eisner rising in Bavaria in 1919. Property, scared at even a remote possibility of challenge to its privileges, revealed as usual the imminent Beast concealed beneath the gaudy robes of Church and State. For a taste: A sergeant-major, ordered by his lieutenant to shoot 32 sailors then in gaol,' replied (on his own evidence, p. 341): “With the greatest pleasure.” A bishop exclaims (p. 69): “Hosannah! I welcome you, blessed flogging, rod of Love.” Lest there should be misunderstanding, it was not the Bishop who was flogged. Incidentally, our Soapy Sams manage these things better. The Hungarian bishop should sit at the feet of the Rev. J. R. C. Forrest, who suavely wraps up the same sentiment in “The exercise of force and punishment is a divinely given authority, without which the Church could not carry on” (Oxford Evangelical Conference, April 16th).

Interesting sidelights are thrown on current politics. "A member of the Communist Party was not allowed to talk with us of the Independent S.D. Party” (p. 160). He had received orders to be "very proud and stiff” to fellow "Reds” in gaol. An amusing account is given of the way in which he failed to live up to the rĂ´le decreed for him. Who said "United Front”?

Five years of hell offers an explanation for sentimental passages whose excision would have strengthened the book. For instance, Toller puts on a pedestal the little woman (doing time for killing her child) who appeared at a window in a neighbouring block in the prison, “in order to make men happy for a few seconds” in the extreme limit of undress uniform. Motives are sometimes obscure in the sex line.

The worst part of the volume is a footling preface by the translator, Ellis Roberts, who introduces Toller as a “good left-wing Socialist.”

Letters from Prison” is but one more justification of the policy of the S.P.G.B. expressed tersely in Clause 6 of our Declaration of Principles : "The working class must organise consciously for the conquest of the powers of Government.” We can only regret the awful waste, the pitiable suffering, the subsequent disheartening of the working class resulting from sporadic outbursts, doomed to failure.

Letters to the Editors: Why Not Join the Labour Party? (1936)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter urges the S.P.G.B. to join the Labour Party:—
To the Editor, The Socialist Standard.

Much as I appreciate The Standard because of its Socialist uplift, I cannot jump the hurdles by switching over to the S.P.G.B. A member of the Labour Party because of its basic Socialism, yet, I recognise, like all associations, it is but human, and it is human to err within the capitalist system of life. I believe in Socialism, but, as a business man I am compelled to accommodate myself to capitalist methods, otherwise I should have to present myself to the P.A.C. The majority of trade unionists are just selfish individualists, much more selfish than ”bloated capitalists,” but primary fault is not theirs, neither is it mine because I have to live by capitalist methods. The entire fault lies in the system of life to which we are subordinate. It might be we could destroy it, or attempt to destroy it, in the same way as did the Russians (all praise to them), but it is obvious that cannot be. Tradition and due order is in our blood, and we cannot escape. If the British Communists have failed so dismally—as they have—in converting us, what chance has the S.G.P.B. in overturning "the system”? You will admit that your procedure up to now is gradualist. The probability is that, for many years you will be engaged in converting the people. When you have done this are you confident by political machinery of overturning capitalism? Do you calculate on the bankers, money changers and industrial chiefs sitting down quietly while you are putting them in their proper places? Has it ever occurred to you that they might provoke a bloody revolution? The Labour Party, with all its faults, has to keep in step with the people, and they are intensely gradualist. Even the victims of the social order have accommodated themselves to the dole life, and would shudder at the idea of creasing a policeman’s helmet. Why look to the Labour Party to adopt mock heroics? Let all the Left sections affiliate with the Labour Party. If they alone can see the light their place is inside so that their light may shine before men. My own mentality is very much on the militant side, but I would hesitate very long before being practically militant. Very few would follow me into the shambles! The larger number would look on, especially trade unionists, and if I failed, like Christ in His appearance before the judges, they would desert me and fly for their lives. I know, because I have had some. A “united front” is only a pious platitude. Trade Unionism, because of its inherent individual and collective selfishness arising from a capitalist mentality, rejects any unified vision, hence the best of two worlds is enjoyed. And the Socialist, almost in despair, keeps trudging along beseeching to be saved from his friends such as Knighted Trade Unionists, O.B.E.’s and “Socialist” peers.—Yours,
Norman V. Reeves.
Co. Down.

Mr. Reeves begins his letter by saying that he is reluctant to jump the hurdle which separates the Labour Party from the S.P.G.B. He then airily leaps across another gigantic hurdle as if it didn’t exist at all, dismissing the case against the Labour Party with a light reference to “its basic Socialism" which, he thinks, is merely marred by a human tendency to err. This is the point at which Mr. Reeves should pause and begin his examination of the question. His assumption of a “basically Socialist" Labour Party is not warranted. The Labour Party’s programme of replacing shareholding in joint-stock companies by bond-holding in Public Utility Corporations is not Socialism, but capitalism. It leaves every important feature of capitalism untouched. Socialists are not supporters of it, but opponents.

Having put the matter in correct perspective, let us now examine the rest of the letter.

Mr. Reeves references to his method of living, and to the “selfish individualism” of the Trade Unionist, are two sides of the same medal, capitalism. Conflict between the classes is its essence and will continue until capitalism is abolished. Socialists are well aware of this and have always realised the necessity for the Socialist movement to have a basis very different from that of the Trade Unions. We do not use the method of dividing the workers according to their occupation, but of uniting all who are Socialists.

The next assumption made in our correspondent’s letter is that the Russians have abolished capitalism. This is like the earlier statement about the Labour Party—quite unfounded. Both of them possibly arise from a lack of clearness on Mr. Reeves part about the nature of capitalism and Socialism.

Mr. Reeves in his innocence (or is it guile?) asks if it has ever occurred to us that the capitalists might provoke a bloody revolution after a Socialist working class has gained control of the political machinery. We can but answer with a similar question. Has it ever occurred to Mr. Reeves that, if a minority tried to provoke a bloody revolution against the politically organised majority which has control of the political machinery, including the armed forces, that rebel minority might get very badly hurt?

The rest of Mr. Reeves letter lumps together a number of contradictory ideas, which need sorting out. He presents us with the alternatives either of being in the Labour Party or of trying to lead the workers “into the shambles.” We are opposed to both. The task of spreading knowledge of Socialism, and of organising for the conquest of power has nothing in common with the stupid policy of leading non-Socialist masses into civil war. (On this point may we refer our correspondent to our Declaration of Principles?) On the other hand, our alternative to suicidal armed revolt is not the Labour Party policy of minor reforms of capitalism, but the quite different policy of organising for the conquest of power to achieve Socialism. In passing it may be pointed out that it is Labour Party gradualism which includes dragooning the workers into the shambles of capitalist war.

The attempt to whitewash the Labour Party: by saying that “it has to keep in step with the people,” is the stock argument of every purveyor of shoddy goods, quack medicines, puerile entertainments, and so on. What Mr. Reeves has got to explain is how the workers would ever cease to be capitalist-minded if every Socialist were to enrol under the Labour Party banner and spend his time (as he would have to do) defending and explaining pettifogging reforms of capitalism. The Prohibitionists who at one time dominated U.S.A., showed far more sense of reality than does Mr. Reeves in this matter. If they had followed the advice he gives us they would not have organised and fought for prohibition, or attacked liquor and the liquor trade, but would have enrolled in Pro-Liquor Leagues, advocating merely that alcohol should be diluted by the addition of tiny quantities of water. Instead, they attacked alcohol in all its forms, fought for what they wanted, and concentrated on winning over the population to their point of view.

If the S.P.G.B. were to apply for affiliation with the Labour Party (assuming that the application were accepted at all) we would have to drop our distinctive characteristic, our Socialist principles, in order to preach the basically non-Socialist doctrines of the Labour Party. The last sentence of the letter gives a fairly clinching argument against submerging Socialism in the Labour Party.

It is only because the S.P.G.B. remains outside that it escapes having to try to defend the “Knighted Trade Unionists, O.B.E.s, and ‘Socialist' Peers.” They are Mr. Reeves political associates, not ours.
Editorial Committee.

Does Genius Come from Unhappiness? (1936)

From the August 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Genius comes from unhappiness! So reads a headline in an article in the Liverpool Evening Express. The grounds for this amazing assertion, you ask? The only reason given by the author of the article in question is that ”the great geniuses of the world have been far from happy men.” One naturally asks whether, had they been happy, they might not have been even greater geniuses.

The author adopts the expedient of quoting selected instances in support of his assertion, but many other selected instances could be quoted in opposition.

Before we start talking about genius, it might be of interest to understand what is generally meant by this term, and for this purpose the following definition from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th, 1929, edition) will be of assistance : —
   "Genius itself has become the regular English word for the highest conceivable form of original ability, something altogether extraordinary and beyond even supreme educational prowess, and differing in kind, apparently, from “talent,” which is usually distinguished as marked intellectual capacity, short only of the inexplicable and unique endowment to which the term 'genius' is confined.”
The greatest instance of genius given by Mr. Charles Carter, the author in question, is that of Michelangelo—sculptor, painter, architect, military engineer, and poet. Yet the only instance of unhappiness given here is the fact that he was "unhappy” because he was not able to devote as much time as he would have liked to one of his favourite works—the tomb of Julius II. Yet obviously his genius had become apparent and was recognised long beforehand, so it might almost be argued from the evidence given by Mr. Charles Carter himself that it was Michelangelo’s own genius which caused his “unhappiness.” This would indeed appear to be the case, because it was the recognition of Michelangelo's genius which caused the various potentates to quarrel over him.

Again, however, definition becomes necessary. What do we mean by happiness or unhappiness? Many attempts have been made to define happiness, but the writer ventures to put forward a definition of his own, for which, however, he does not claim any originality, namely, a condition of life in which the individual is able to give full scope to his mental and physical ability. Such a definition will explain the  unhappiness” of Michelangelo, but it does not follow that genius itself results from such unhappiness. It would perhaps be more correct to say that there is a tremendous variety in the make-up of individuals and that the physical factors which make for “genius” also makes for an incomplete fulfilment of the human organism in all its functions.

Possibly the simplest answer of all to the assertion that genius causes unhappiness is to point out that here are two conditions, viz., “genius” and “unhappiness,” and one might just as well argue that genius causes unhappiness as that unhappiness causes genius. The author has either fallen into the trap or deliberately adopted the cheap method of connecting two facts and assuming that the one is the cause of the other when both may, in fact, be due to some other cause.

To revert for a moment to the Encyclopaedia Britannica definition given above, it will be noticed that the main idea of genius is originality. When, however, we study originality in the light of historical development, we find that history generally records only those instances which have been useful to the ruling class at a particular epoch, or useful to a new rising class who are about to seize the reins of power. Not only that, but the nature of the originality itself depends upon the stage in economic development which any particular society has reached. We thus find that whilst Galileo was, in 1632, forced to recant his theories. Sir Isaac Newton’s great work, published only 55 years later, brought him honour and renown, he being knighted by Queen Anne in 1705. Whilst Galileo’s theories menaced the interest of the then dominant church, in Great Britain economic development had reached a stage further, and the new merchant capitalist class welcomed any discovery which seemed beneficial to their interests.

Intelligence is obviously allied to the “genius” spoken of above, and the Practical Psychologist of May, 1935, contained a summary of the conclusions which have so far been reached on this subject. Briefly, they are that intelligence is an inherent quality; it may be dormant for some time, but must be already present if it is to be developed. The bright child becomes the bright adult. So that we see that, according to this view at any rate, intelligence does not come from unhappiness. Intelligence is defined as the power to see the various relations or connections between things.

Original ability may, of course, apply to any form of human activity. It may apply to painting, sculpture, music, architecture, mathematics, or practical science. In a system of society based upon the private ownership of the means of production, the last of these is deemed the most important, and hence the average man immediately thinks of practical scientific inventions in connection with the word "genius.” Previous instances have been given in these columns of the meagre rewards granted by capitalism to its inventors. Whilst the inventors are themselves spurred on to investigate and experiment by their need for self-expression, yet where you have a system of society based upon the private ownership of the means of production, the inventor, if he happens to belong to the working class, is obliged to eke out a miserable existence in some uncongenial occupation in order to provide him with the wherewithal of the means of life before he may even attempt to make the researches in which he is interested. Frequently he is unable to patent his ideas on account of the expense, time, and formalities involved, and his ideas may lie dormant for years on this account. Even if he is able to patent them, he is often faced with manufacturers who will not trouble to make the necessary changes to their plant, or by a combine which offers to buy the patent at the price of a Ritz dinner. In this country the inventions of employees in connection with the work on which they are employed are the property of their employers.

Only when “genius" is freed from its subservience to a ruling class, will it be possible for it to be developed to its fullest extent. Such a condition of affairs can only come about under Socialism—the next stage in the development of society, when men will be freed alike from their dependence on a ruling class and the necessity of ministering to the wants of that class, and will be able to devote their energies to improving the means of production and^o encourage all forms of ability which promise to add to the general welfare and happiness of mankind

The Lesson of the Russian Trial (1936)

From the September 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia is in the news again with another spectacular trial, and one that has a particular meaning for those who are not blind to the nature of the development of Russia under Stalin’s leadership.

The victims of the present trial must be nearly the last of the “old guard” of the Bolshevik movement that engineered the uprising of 1917 which, under Lenin and Trotsky, was heralded as the beginning of a world revolution to inaugurate Socialism by means of dictatorships.

Nearly twenty years have passed since then, and these years have made it quite clear that Lenin and his associates were pursuing a chimera that has had a disheartening influence upon the working-class movement everywhere.

At the moment of writing, the main trial is over, the prisoners having been executed. The published reports contain certain important points that merit notice.

The first staggering thing that strikes one after reading the reports, is the way the defendants admit their guilt and go out of their way to paint themselves as black as possible—this appears to be no curiosity in Russia when the ruling clique proceeds against opponents. The nature and wording of the admissions are so utterly ridiculous that none but the interested or the dream-sodden can take them seriously—yet they have been treated seriously by newspapers that must know better. The Sunday Observer, for August 23rd, ends its report with the remark:
  “It is futile to think that the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The Government’s case against the defendants is genuine.”
Yet immediately under this is the following paragraph, which gives a key to the whole business:
MOSCOW, Saturday. 
  The extraordinary Congress of Soviets, which is to adopt the draft of the new Constitution for Russia, prepared by the Stalin Committee set up for the purpose, will meet in Moscow at the end of November.
  The forthcoming three months’ purge of oppositionists, which is already in full swing, will probably be the most thorough of all the Soviet purges, so that at the Congress it can be announced that the internal enemy has been exterminated.—Exchange.
Before commenting on the above we would point to the strange fact that even the Daily Herald, which was sceptical in the case of the British-Vicker’s Engineers in 1933, raised no doubt about the genuineness of the charges during the early part of the present case.

The trial is quite evidently a fake and designed to get out of the way all who might use the new Russian Constitution to put forward policies at variance with those of the clique at the head of affairs. The new constitution that was given to the world as an example of the stability of the Bolshevik regime is more likely an instance of the growing weakness of Stalin’s position. In spite of the safeguards put into it, Stalin is taking precautions that dissatisfied elements shall not be able to make use of it against him—he is trying to put them out of temptation altogether! Whatever freedom of voice or vote the new constitution may allow, it must only be a freedom to support Stalin and his henchmen.

Now let us glance at some of the statements made by Kamenev, one of the principal of the accused, as reported in the News Chronicle for August 21st—all the papers give similar reports: The defendants are accused of a terrorist conspiracy aimed at assassinating Stalin and other Soviet leaders and overturning the present Soviet regime.

In answers to questions, Kamenev told the court that he was organising the conspiracy and that articles he had written in 1932 professing loyalty to the Communist Party were ”frauds.”

He was asked by Vishinsky, the prosecutor:
   “Were you a bloodthirsty enemy of the Soviet Union?”
The News Chronicle gives his reply in the following words:
“ 'I was a bloodthirsty enemy,' replied Kamenev. (Laughter).”
That parenthesis is suggestive. Either Kamenev is treating the matter sarcastically or he has been cowed. It is a tragic-comedy and the court knows it.

He is also reported to have made the following remarks in the course of a long statement:
“Yes, I lied often since I started the struggle with the Bolshevist Party. I went all the way from opposition, through counter-revolution, to terrorism—actually to Fascism, because Trotskyism plus terrorism is Fascism.”
The above, from a man of undoubted intelligence, supposed to be on trial for his life is too patently absurd to impose upon any but the most gullible adherents of Bolshevism. All the statements at the trial bear upon them the marks of Government inspiration. The plot is even alleged to have originated in Berlin. No wonder Trotsky said, “Moscow must believe the world is full of idiots," when interviewed on the matter.

The list of accused shows how ruthless Stalin is in his intention to rout out all likely rivals. Among those concerned are men who held or have held controlling positions in the Soviet Union, such as Zinoviev (reported to be dying of consumption), Bukharin, Tomsky (reported by the Communist Party to have committed suicide), Rykov, Pyntakov, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and Uglanov. If it is true, as the Stalin group contend, that these first-class Soviet leaders have betrayed the Soviet movement, and are even the inspired agents of Germany, then Russia is evidently a breeding ground for people who throw overboard their opposition to capitalism. That being so, the question may well be asked what essential difference is there between Russia and ordinary capitalist states that throw up similar types?

A point worth noting in passing is that while the trial was taking place and these erstwhile Bolshevik stalwarts were the subject of virulent attacks, Mr. Attlee, the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party here, was on a visit to Russia and was being pleasantly entertained by one of Stalin’s subordinates. Not long ago, the Conservative Minister, Mr. Eden, was given an enthusiastic reception. The accused are representatives of a band which, however, mistaking their tactics, stood for opposition to world capitalism—but that was a long time ago!

One allegation is that one of the accused prepared a bomb and arranged with student supporters of Trotsky that they were to throw the bomb while marching past Stalin in the Red Square. This is a very significant statement and corroborates previous evidence that bitter dissatisfaction with the Soviet regime exists amongst the youth of Russia. When one takes into account the complete control of youthful education by the Russian Government, one is forced to the conclusion that there must be something radically wrong with affairs there when its youthful products are prepared to risk liberty and life by engaging in assassination projects.

Perhaps the crowning piece of humour that gave the keynote to the comedy was the statement by one of the accused, Holzman, made diffidently, that the secret code was contained in the book the “Arabian Nights.” The whole business suggests a piece out of the ”Arabian Nights Entertainment ”! Trotsky declares it to be the biggest frame-up since the Nazi Reichstag fire trial.

Another curiosity worth remarking is that ten of the sixteen accused are Jews. Is this an accident or is Russia going in for the other purging fashion? This should give Jewish Communists abroad something to think over!

Trotsky is alleged to be the fountain head of the conspiracy and the prosecution is aimed at him and those that are alleged to side with him. It is reputed to be a final attempt to destroy what is called the Trotsky opposition movement. .

To those who are prepared to examine the matter dispassionately it is quite obvious that a conspiracy such as described by the prosecution is quite out of line with Trotsky’s record. It is too foolish and out of touch with the ideas for which he has always fought. Trotsky and Stalin are quite different types (one has knowledge and the other ruthless cunning) and stand for entirely different programmes.

Before the Bolshevik uprising Trofsky was opposed to the view that Russia could jump from semi-feudalism into Socialism, but Lenin persuaded him against his judgment. The line taken in 1917 by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky led where it was bound to lead—to an abortion. When the retreat from the original aim of the movement was gaining momentum (after Lenin died) Trotsky wished to stop the drift but here he came up against Stalin, who was prepared to hang on to power at any cost and had little interest in theoretical questions. Stalin had already dug himself into the bureaucratic side of the Russian movement and he was able to push Trotsky out of all positions that gave him any power—and finally to push him out of Russia altogether.

The Trotsky movement has been an attempt to bring Russian policy back to its starting point. Stalin has resisted this and has been cunning enough to set his rivals against each other and then lop them off one by one. Permanent compromise with world capitalism is the summit of Stalin’s achievement.

Russia offers a valuable object lesson to those interested in Popular Fronts. A good deal of its history since 1917 has been taken up with the internal struggles of different groups, in which contest the more ruthless groups have been successful. The “Old Guard” have now nearly completed the eating of each other. If in Spain and other countries the Communists are successful then, as the Communists have indicated in their propaganda, the eating process will begin, for the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat," according to the Communist idea, is but the struggle of cliques for power to suppress rival cliques.

Blogger's Note:
See also the article, 'The Russian "Terrorist" Trial', (October 1936).  

Long Time No Gods (2017)

Book Review from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World'. By Tim Whitmarsh, (Faber & Faber £9.99)

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed not in god but in gods, and lots of them. There were gods of music, air, war, wine, love, the sea, and so on. But not everyone accepted the standard faith in gods, and there were advocates of atheism, discussed in this informative volume. There are many problems in interpreting the sources and coping with the chance nature of which texts have survived, but there clearly were people who not only questioned the existence of gods but indeed denied that they existed at all.

The gods of the Greeks had lots of human weaknesses, such as being sometimes stupid and certainly not omnipotent. They actually lived in this world, even if it was high up on a mountain, and those worshipped varied from place to place. There were no sacred texts, and priests just carried out sacrifices rather than making spiritual pronouncements. In the sixth century, Xenophanes pointed out that believers were just projecting human physical and behavioural characteristics onto the gods.

The classical period (fifth and fourth centuries BCE) saw many objections to blaming gods for human actions, and some saw human action as free from divine intervention. Protagoras (born in the early fifth century) said he could not be sure the gods existed at all, and Diagoras (who lived later in that century) may have been ‘the first person in history to self-identify in a positive way as an atheist’. This was the period when Athens rose to power, and heterodox religious beliefs came to be seen as a threat to the state’s foundations. The charges against Socrates may have included not recognising the city’s gods, though the sources are not clear on this.

In the Hellenistic era (fourth to first centuries BCE) there was religious worship of rulers such as Alexander. Then under the Roman Empire (from the first century BCE) there was claimed to be a divine mandate for Roman rule. A significant atheist ‘movement’ existed in the pre-christian Empire, and there were different gods worshipped in different locations. But in the fourth century CE Constantine provided financial support for christianity, and in 380 an imperial decree established it as the official imperial religion, which all subjects had to follow. Heresy now became treated as a crime against the state, and believing in a god other than the christian one was counted as atheism. Monotheism was far less tolerant than polytheism had been.

It is sometimes argued that atheism is a development of the last few centuries, but Whitmarsh shows that it is older than christianity or islam, and of a similar age to judaism. From a historical point of view, ‘what is anomalous is the global dominance of monotheistic religions and the resultant inability to acknowledge the existence of disbelievers.’
Paul Bennett

Lady Eden's Appeal, and Ours (1936)

From the October 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lady Eden, in common with many other women, lost two sons in the last War. This, however, was the only thing she had in common with those other women, the vast majority of whom were women of the working class. In the News Chronicle of July 6th, 1936, she says: —
   “I have the deepest sympathy and the greatest respect for the unemployed, especially the miners,” she continued, “ but I do feel that among the younger men who are workless idleness is encouraged.
   “One does feel that here is a big opportunity to join up in the Territorials instead of doing nothing.
   “The Army is a fine profession and every man who joins it is all the better for it. I appeal to mothers to encourage their sons to join the Army and not to be sloppy about it.”
The appeal to those who have nothing, to fight for those who have everything, to protect and conserve property which does not belong to them, is the last word in effrontery. Working class women should feel particularly infuriated at this titled woman’s allusions to their "sloppiness.” Private property has left a trail of misery and tears which the workers of to-day are still following. Many women have expressed their indignation in the Press, but not one of them voiced her resentment from a class standpoint. Resentment is not enough. We have to make it effective. We can only do that when we understand the cause of the trouble, namely, the class basis of society. The class that Lady Eden represents is the capitalist class. They own the means by which we, the workers, live. The vast machinery of industry is the private property of a small section of the people. The huge majority must, in order to live, get a job for wages from one or other group of the property-owning class. From when we leave school to the time when we receive a pittance called an old-age pension, this urgent necessity is ever upon us. We produce millions of tons of commodities for our masters' markets. When those markets are oversupplied we are put on short time or are out of work. Lady Eden does not suggest the capitalist class foregoing any of its profits, in order to reduce hours whilst increasing wages, as a means of keeping young workers in work. Her plan is to use the whip of poverty to drive us into the military machine. Well, by the grace of capitalism, even that cannot be done wholesale. Because capitalism undernourishes the workers, 36 per cent, of those who have jumped to the crack of the whip and presented their puny bodies for the Army medico’s examination have to be rejected. The Army is a fine profession, says Lady Eden. Certain ribald songs and verses composed by the rank and file express things rather differently. Desertions from the ranks are fairly common, and much persuasive literature has to be used to get recruits. Whether or not the Army is a better or worse job of work doesn’t matter, however. The Army is a weapon which serves to protect the private property of the master class. The appeal to the workers in time of war is couched in different words from that in times of peace. Then we are called upon in the names of liberty and freedom. Our homes (those nasty little council houses), our wives and children, surely, we are asked, these are worth fighting for? Honour and glory, patriotism, and a host of other timeworn fancies, strut upon the stage and are frantically applauded. These are but the preliminary to the bloody murders to follow. But now, in time of peace, the Army is to be the keeper of the morale of the unemployed. The real facts are so very obvious, even though the veneer has been laid on thick. India, China, Africa, and the Mediterranean, are some of the places where British capital is invested. There you will find the English Army, Navy and Air Force in times of peace. The armed forces are used to protect English capital at home and abroad. Incidentally, although the Police Force is usually adequate, the masters have no hesitation in using the State forces in order to quell industrial disturbances at home. The Air Force is particularly useful in quelling disorder that arises in places in the Empire difficult for soldiers on foot to reach. The master class both amass their wealth and protect it by means of the working class. When we withdraw our support from them their system will collapse. The master class in this country adopt the policy, as far as they can, of getting the willing support of their dupes. Capitalists in other countries have less polished methods, but always the result is the same. Upon the efforts of the workers the whole structure of society rests. When we decide that no longer will we support a non-producing and useless class, then can we reorganise society upon sane lines. We will establish Socialism, and women in particular will gain much from this change. Women out at work find life drab and uninteresting. The married woman’s life is even worse. The cares and responsibility of the home and family make her old long before her time. Enclosed within four walls her life lacks change and interest. She becomes an echo and a shadow of that poor male who becomes a master, in his imagination, when he leaves the factory gates and enters his own door. Lady Eden has addressed her appeal to the mothers, so do we. We want them in the Socialist movement. We want them to reply to Lady Eden, that they are not prepared to urge their sons to support the capitalist class in any sphere. Let them reply that there can be no peace while one class is dominated by another. The class war is on all day and every day. They can urge their sons to fight in that, by voting with their fathers, mothers, sisters and wives for Socialism.
May Otway

Capitalism as Seen from the Air. (1936)

From the November 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

During a recent flight over south-eastern England, the writer saw an interesting picture of capitalism in miniature. Passing over a picturesque garden suburb, we saw below about forty new red-roofed pleasant-looking suburban houses, each with large enclosed garden attached. Immediately afterwards we passed over a large private estate, and into this the so-called garden estate could have been planted four times over. In the centre stood a large, mansion, and, adjoining it, another smaller mansion. This smaller mansion doubtless housed the personal and domestic bodyguard of the occupant of the principal mansion. The two mansions were surrounded by a small forest of trees, and this again was in the centre of a large emerald green park, on whose fringe could be seen a border of tall trees—a narrow fringe of forest—the whole enclosed in a high wall shutting out the nonentities on the other side.

Setting one’s mind at work, it was easy, in the light of a knowledge of contemporary social conditions, to imagine the workers in the garden suburb engaging in the production of some useful commodity, such as margarine, in a factory of which the inhabitant of the mansion was the principal shareholder; one could also imagine them “buying" their houses through a building society, of which the aforesaid gentleman might quite conceivably be the chairman; his interests extending far and wide, one could also imagine him having been the proprietor of the land which was “sold" to the house-owners. Also, being no doubt a thoughtful and far-sighted individual, one could imagine him deciding to have constructed a specially-built underground bomb-proof and gas-proof shelter, and utilising the services of the house-owners for the designing and construction of this necessary refuge at a time when the conflicting “idealisms" of capitalist powers leads them into armed conflict. In such an event, one could also imagine the house-owners sallying forth to do armed battle with a dastardly enemy, while the gentleman contributed handsomely towards the cost of a temporary hospital bearing his name, and descended discreetly into his shelter when bombers are about. Returning from the fray, the gallant fighters (those who do return) may have to face a period of compulsory retirement from industry, due to an “economic blizzard,” and may be under the unfortunate necessity of surrendering their houses to the building society. Let them not worry, however; a kindly Government has placed at their disposal a Board of Public Assistance, who will be only too glad to enquire into their means and to ensure that they should not starve.

Whence arise these discrepancies? Why do workers, having built houses and mansions, not live in them without the fear of being expelled? Why, having produced an abundance of useful things, so that the world’s storehouses are filled to overflowing, are they compelled to queue up before officious bureaucrats in order to be allowed a pitiful subsistence—a mere fleabite out of the enormous wealth they have produced?

The answer is to be found in the fact of the private ownership of the means of production and the consequent existence of a separate owning class. Ownership means control, and so the capitalists, as we will now call them, are able, within limits, to decide what goods shall be produced, and when. Being natural human beings, however, they do not love production for its own sake, but only for the wealth and the comfort it brings them. Hence we see that, when the periodic crisis comes along, the workers are dismissed and thrown on the scrap-heap. This system, however, has so far satisfied the workers that, while they have grumbled at its effects, they have consciously or unconsciously supported the system itself. The workers, however, form the overwhelming majority of the population, and provided they adopt the right tactics, nothing can stop their acquiring for themselves the complete ownership and control of the means of production. The capitalists, however, realising the precariousness of their position, are not too scrupulous in their methods to conserve it, and, controlling the armed forces, are prepared to use them against the workers if they deem it advisable. There is only one method of gaining control .of those armed forces, and that is by using the weapon which the masters have placed in their hands, i.e., the democratic machinery of Parliament.

Those who accept the correctness of the Socialist position will not fail to give the necessary financial and other support.