Friday, November 24, 2017

Wells at the World's End. (1923)

From the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has become the fashion with those who cannot controvert Marx, to do the next worst thing—belittle him or patronise him. Usually, the most obvious fact that emerges is that the critic has not even a nodding acquaintance with his subject. One of the nightmares that afflict prospective Labour candidates is the probable “voice” from their audience testing their knowledge of Marx. As they will probably have heard that Marx took rather an important part in the founding of scientific socialism, it is clear that some “mugging up” of the subject will be handy, if not essential. Take H. G. Wells, for instance, the prospective Labour candidate for the University of London. I have spent such delightful hours with his Mr. Polly, young Ponderevo, Kipps, and other creations of his earlier fertile fancy, that it seems almost ungrateful to do it, but really  . . .

According to the Telegraph, October 20th, his speech to his prospective constituents included these two sentences:
  “In Marx’s time there was in Germany, a very defined barrier between the aristocratic land-owning class and the traders and the labourers. Marx failed to realise that this was a passing state of affairs which would break down in time.”
That is what Wells said. This is what Marx said 70 years ago. Writing on December 1st, 1852, to the New York Tribune, he speaks of the numerous secret societies which sprang up after the German Revolution of 1848.
   “There were some other Societies which were formed with a wider and more elevated purpose, which know that the upsetting of an existing Government was but a passing stage in the great impending struggle, and which intended to keep together and to prepare the party, whose nucleus they formed, for the last decisive combat which must, one day or another, crush forever in Europe the domination, not of mere 'tyrants,’ ‘despots’ and ‘usurpers,' but of a power far superior, and more formidable than theirs : that of capital over labour.
   “The organisation of the advanced Communist Party in Germany was of this kind. . . . History showed to the Communist Party how, after the landed aristocracy of the Middle Ages, the monied power of the first capitalists arose and seized the reins of Government; how the social influence and political rule of this financial section of capitalists was superseded by the rising strength . . .  of the manufacturing capitalists, and how at the present moment two more classes claim their turn of domination, the petty trading class and the industrial working class.”
And then Wells tells an audience that “Marx failed to realise this was a passing state of affairs which would break down in time.” True, it was only a University audience, comprising the sons of that noble “middle class" who served us so well during the recent international pogrom. Few would have heard of, and less would have read, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or the Communist Manifesto. Here are a few scattered excerpts from the latter. It was written in German in 1847, as the platform of the “Communist League,” first exclusively German, later international. (Italics mine.)
   “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other : Bourgeoisie and Proletariat ” (page 13, Kerr’s edition).
   " . . . the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway ” (page 15).
    “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal patriarchal, idyllic relations ” (page 16).
    “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production . . .  and with them the whole relations of society ” (page 17).
    “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns ” (page 19).
After briefly detailing the change from feudal to bourgeois society, he says, “ A similar movement is going on before our eyes ” (page 21).
    “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie to-day, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry ” (page 29).
And so on. Space precludes quoting more. But is it necessary? Had not Wells better read Marx?
W. T. Hopley

Work or Toil. (1923)

From the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

A cynic has said that “ the height of absurdity is a man running to work, before daylight, laughing.”

The worker, having by his capitalist schooling and training been taught to believe it his inalienable privilege, his birthright, and heritage, any attempt to dislodge his long-cherished affection for toil, meets with disapproval and a few empty phrases. Tell him that work to-day is mentally, morally, and physically degrading and he will look contemptuously upon you. His mental antidote for such taunts is the one so popular anywhere but at the seat of operations, “ Work, boys, work, and be contented.” Point out the absurdity of a system that "rewards” a life of toil with that capitalist dust-bin, the workhouse, and though in all probability he glimpses the truth, through force of habit he reverts to the generally accepted axiom, “Somebody’s got to do it.” How true! But who’s the "somebody” always? Carlyle’s reference to the percentage of foolish people in this country seems perilously near the truth, when we reflect that it is the wealth producers (the working class) who suffer want and insecurity, whilst the loafers, i.e., the landlords, the shareholders, the profit-takers (the capitalist class) possess the bulk of the wealth and consequent security. What a laugh! what irony! were it not for the resulting tragedy of it all. “Ah ! but,” says our work enthusiast, “the master works with his brain.” We might appropriately reply, so does the forger, the burglar, and the bogus company promoter, but not producing and distributing wealth. Ascot, Goodwood, the Riviera, and such rendezvous keep our masters busy in their turn, and whether the season dictates that they shall stay in town or not, the workers will still be found in the factory, mill, mine, or office.

Neither the absence nor the death of any capitalist hinders the production of wealth. What do the capitalists do toward the designing and building of a ship, or the writing and printing of their own Press? Nay! even the making of the money with which they pay the workers? Nothing. Whatever the tasks or services, they are purchased by the masters to be exercised for their profit in that particular capacity. When a disaster or a shady deal brings the idlers to prominence, they themselves reveal this fact by admitting ignorance of the whole business. Do you think, fellow-worker, that if work were an enviable task, that you would have the complete monopoly of it? Hardly! The nice things, the luxuries, the best in food, raiment, and accommodation, are not for you—yet. For you the offal, the adulterated scraps, the shoddy uncomely clothing, the sunless sombre cities, and often an untimely end. What of your masters? Ah! the rolling sea, the blazing sun-bathed terraces of Monte Carlo, the country house, an endless round of pleasure provided in its entirety by you. Come! awaken from your slumbers, realise your manhood and womanhood, and organise for a life worthy of such. Work, in the truest sense, will then become a pleasure, pursued as a means to an end, the life glorious. Today, because you are separated from the means of life, you are slaves to those that own these things. Work becomes toil, because it is to you an end in itself, instead of being, as we would have you make it, merely a means to our ultimate objective, happiness and plenty for all. Capitalism has solved the problem of wealth production. Socialism will organise life, and by using every means science has placed at our disposal to produce wealth for use, reduce work to the minimum. Man’s requirements are microscopic compared with our powers to dominate the earth and its fulness.

Once you understand our position—and it is quite easy to do so—you will no longer demand toil and maintenance, a worthless objective, but you will organise to take “the World for the Workers.”

United Front? (1923)

From the March 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been handed a circular that has been sent out by the British Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions.

The circular is headed, "Now for the United Front.” The “United Front” is the latest "idea” flogged by the sensation mongers in the endeavour to put fresh life into their fading support.

Like all the effusions of the mushroom organisations that live upon phrases instead of upon the recognition of facts and the application of science to problems, the above organisation has its particular set of slogans:
   “Work or full maintenance for the unemployed,” "The forty-four hour working week,” "The six-hour day for miners,” "The conscription of wealth,” "All power to the workers.”
Why the forty-four hour week? Why not the 40 or 30? Why the special concern about the miners? What have the printers or painters done that they should be left out? Why should the unemployed bother about work if they can get "Full maintenance” without working. What exactly constitutes the “conscription of. wealth,” and what "All power to the workers”? Upon these points the circular gives no information. The circular states :
   "We must reply to the coming attacks by taking the offensive. We must concentrate all the available strength of our movement in order to win. ”
How is the "available strength” to be "concentrated” apart from the "slogans”? By the formation of "Councils of Action” through the medium of a conference composed of delegates from "trades councils, trade union branches and district committees, working class local and national political organisations, unemployed organisations, co-operative societies, and guilds”!

What the nature of the action is that this conglomeration of antagonistic bodies is to take we are not informed beyond the fact that it is to "ensure the carrying into effect of the workers9 demand. ”

As the "workers’ demands” at the present moment are varied and many opposed to each other, the "United Front” movement promises to make the usual "progress” of such organisations—that is, backwards, by increasing the number of organisations and thus increasing the confusion already afloat.

The wording of the circular shows that the organisers are afflicted with customary flamboyant and empty Russian phrases.

If more attention was paid to a solid back there would be no need to worry about a "United Front,” and no occupation for those who are making profit out of the propagation of such a mongrel idea. This solid back can only be obtained by the study and propagation of Socialist principles. This may not be exciting, it does not require slogans or frothy phrases, but it is the only way to achieve working class emancipation, and hence is worth the effort.

Mixed Views. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The advent into Parliament of a larger number of Labour members than hitherto is causing the working class adherents of the Labour Party to feel highly elated.

To keep the pot at boiling point the “Daily Herald” is daily publishing portraits and histories of these “white hopes." The mixture of aims and aspirations and the national programme are somewhat at variance, but this fact apparently escapes the notice of the adherents.

Some are Trade Union officials, pinning their faith on “industrial action"; others believe in government of the ignorant many by the intellectual few; while quite a lot are Christians !

To the latter “recommendation" the “D.H." expresses deep satisfaction. The only reasonable conclusion is that the greater the addition to their ranks the more complicated will the problems confronting the working class become, the more confused will be their minds, and the more satisfied and appreciative will be the ruling class.

To quote but one example of the democratic instincts of the “oil and water mixers."

On the fifteenth of February last five officials of Civil Service unions, two of them Labour. M.P.’s, dined at the Connaught Rooms with the Duke of York, several foreign ambassadors, some admirals, baronets, knights, the Prime Minister, and other well-wishers of the working class.

They represented the Civil Service. How "civil” that service must be to agree to its hired parliamentary champions acting in such a way is not a mental problem.

No doubt they will receive the usual vociferous applause whenever they find it convenient to address a gathering of their “Unions.” Possibly things of this description happen more frequently than is generally known.

Without doubt the Parliamentary Labour Party is an integral part of the capitalist machine, a part in which it promises to become very efficient; by using identical methods and making innumerable “promises” great adaptability is shown.

The principal question confronting them at the moment is “unemployment,” and all sorts of schemes are being considered, none of which, however, touch even the fringe of the question.

The unemployed just now are being regaled with a species of “soft soap” called “trade revival,” and moreover it is being issued by the Labour Party.

There is a refusal to come to grips with facts, and the chief fact is that “unemployment is a necessity to capitalism.” ‘With the development of the system there is a steadily increasing industrial reserve, which makes the competition for jobs keener and cheapens labour power. If the problem was capable of solution under the existing system labour leaders and T.U. officials would have to change their jobs! One factor is the introduction of more and more labour-saving machinery, calling for less human energy, which in general means increase in unemployment.

The logical conclusion is that as unemployment is necessary to the social order, and that social order is desired by the working class, the attendant but necessary evils of the order are also desired. And the evils are many, though one individual may not come in contact with them all. Poverty in the midst of plenty, vile slums and sumptuous palaces, wooden clogs and dainty shoes, shoddy clothes and warm wool—these, the extremes of but a few of those evils which you, fellow worker, appear to desire.

You do desire them, you vote for them at every election; possibly you will continue to vote for them unless you start seriously to examine.

To do this, have done with all bodies that are only diverting your energies and intelligence to enable them to grind their own particular axes. Forget Tutankhamen’s tomb, the royal baby, and all such things. Concentrate your mind on the future of your own children; their very existence is in jeopardy, and it’s your indifference they will blame.

Perfect the organisation of your class, the Socialist Party, whose object is the ending for all time of systems of society that allow the minority to possess the world’s wealth.

It is a job for the understanding majority. You are of the majority. Get politically intelligent. Your master is; so, if you wish, can you be.

Broadcatching the Working Class. (1923)

From the May 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are thousands of people who to-day have adopted the habit of what has become generally known as “Listening-In.” Everybody seems to have a desire to study this particular science, and we would be the last to suggest that scientific knowledge' should not be acquired, especially amongst members of the working class. "Wireless Telegraphy,” no doubt, is a very interesting subject, in view of its rapid development in recent years.

The conquest of the ethereal waves, possibly provide a very important landmark of progress in scientific research; but if we go a little further into the question, we shall find that whilst there are some sciences which are encouraged, there are others which are fettered and not allowed that freedom to develop which one might expect.

In these days, living as we do under Capitalism, there is one thing necessary before any progress can be made in scientific research—it must have the capitalist “Hall Mark” of profits, after which it may emerge forth into the daylight. That in itself, explains the present “ Wireless ” boom which is producing a rich harvest for the groups of capitalists like Godfrey Isaacs and others of the “Macaroni” type, derived, of course, from the sale of the instruments, accessories, etc.

Suppose for a moment we divert our attention to another phase of science— Social Science—that which deals with the various problems, faced of day by day by the working class. We shall find that no such inducement is being given to the working class to investigate problems of this character in a scientific manner. Why? Because once the working class become afflicted with the desire to understand the cause of their poverty, even in numbers half as great as those studying “Wireless” at the present time, the position of the capitalist class would not be quite secure, hence we find them directing the minds of the working class into other channels.

This state of affairs provides the necessity for an organisation like the Socialist Party of Great Britain to come to the rescue, and thus provide the working class with the necessary scientific education, in the shape of Economics, History, Politics and Sociology, etc.

By the correct understanding of these subjects they will equip themselves with necessary knowledge for accomplishing the social revolution, by wresting from the capitalist class that power which they the workers have hitherto presented to their masters, i.e., Political Power.

Therefore, we say to the working class, study the Social Sciences first, and thereby qualify to take your stand for the emancipation of your class. By doing so you will not only benefit yourself, but the community as a whole. For the first time in the history of the world, mankind will be able to enjoy the best that nature, aided by science, can provide
A. S. C.

The Sacred "Family Hearth" (1923)

From the June 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are often met with the statement that the Socialist proposes to abolish the family and cut the sacred hearth tie. Those whose family relations, from the point of view ot published morality, would not bear investigation fling the taunt that the Socialist is in favour of “free love” and no homes.

A very little investigation will show the emptiness of such statements.

The regular procession to the divorce courts and the legislation relating to illegitimate children, together with the frequent newspaper articles relating to sexual problems, bear witness to the fact that “free love,” of a very sordid description, is already widespread at the present moment.

And what of the hearth tie? What is this sacred family life that the wicked Socialist would destroy?

An article in the Manchester Guardian (2/5/23) gives a little information on the point. It deals with a report on “Excessive Sickness in Dundee" prepared by the Executive Board of the General Federation of Trade Unions Approved Society.

From this article we learn that the percentage of married women in Dundee that are working is 41.4, or nearly half!
  “Sir William Henderson, giving evidence before a sub-committee, said that in most confinement cases there was the difficulty of getting the women themselves to knock off work in time; they were loath to do it. It was also very difficult to check the resumption of work.”
Sir William is not reported as giving the reason that made the women loath to knock off work. Yet the reason is simple. It is not because they are in love with work —it is because they and those that depend more or less upon them must have bread. The articles states :
  "Eleven women whom Miss Quaile visited had, between them, given birth to 78 children, 48 of whom were dead—a death rate of 62 per cent. 'One poor thing’ had given birth to twelve children, all of whom were dead.
 “ ‘These facts—and they are but an epitome of those which lie to the hand of every social investigator—reveal enough' the report states, ‘indeed too much for the sensitive soul, of what is happening, not only in Dundee, but in every centre where life has become unnaturally crowded and complex. Unholy greed and social shortsightedness, resulting in overworked and ill-nourished and ill-trained womanhood; little children, too, thousands of them, carelessly given transient existences—nothing for them but to whimper out in misery too helplessly horrible for contemplation the attenuated span of life which congenital folly and post natal ignorance and criminality have allotted them.’”
What an appalling picture of life under Capitalism? Are these the sacred precincts the Socialist is taunted for attempting to invade?

Family life? What family life has the average modern wage-slave that he should fear its destruction? Working or looking for work through the hours of daylight—in a multitude of cases, both he, his wife, and often his children also. Home at night to a room or rooms that are only called home for appearance sake. In poverty and squalor they eat what the scantily furnished cupboard can provide, then sink into semi-torpor brought on by bad nourishment and excessive toil.

This state of affairs arises from the fact that the worker depends for his livelihood upon finding occupation the carrying on of which will provide profit for the owners of the means of production.

When the means of production are converted into the common property of all members of society, it will be possible for all to enjoy the fruits of labour without excessive toil under bad conditions. Then no one will depend for his existence upon the whim or the desire for profit of another. Men and women, freed from dependence upon property, will mate as mutual affection and mutual admiration dictate, and no property inspired laws will bind them to sordid, joyless lives.

Socialism and the "Artistic Temperament." (1923)

From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

In contemplating the social environments of life as constituted to-day, most people (those people, that is, whose mental horizon is capable of embracing something more than a horse-race or a cinema-show) have been forced, often reluctantly, to arrive at the conclusion that "the times are out of joint"; that the world—at least superficially—is little else than a mad conglomeration of sordid toils and yet more sordid pleasures, of brutal tyrannies and ignoble sufferings, of hypocrisy masquerading in the garb of righteousness, of legalised theft and murder.

Many of these people, mainly of the working class, young, in easier economic circumstances, perhaps, than others of their fellow-workers, have what is called "artistic tastes”; that is, they take a more than cursory interest in literature, or some one or other of the arts, or in science, maybe; they dabble as amateurs in literature, or art, or science, instead of following the example of their relatives and friends who, in most cases, are interested in nothing, or in what is often worst than nothing.

These members of the working class (though, doubtless, the idea would be scorned by the high-born and high-bred "artistic” capitalist circles) have, it would seem, by some almost miraculous process, managed to develop a sense of what is beautiful in nature and art, have desires for a fuller development of their faculties. They feel an urge towards a broader outlook on life, but find, as the years pass and their responsibilities increase, that their economic circumstances, even though easier and more comfortable than those of the majority of their fellow-workers, circumscribe increasingly their views on art and literature, their desires for personal development, their cravings for a fuller existence. At this stage some of them drop out, go with the aimless crowd of mediocre beings; some, disillusioned and without hope, turn, in their bitterness, to the blackest pessimism; a few examine and analyse their economic circumstances, delve into the causes that make such circumstances inevitable, obtain a true conception of their place in nature and in society, and finally seek and discover the only means whereby they can emerge from the thraldom of servitude into the freedom necessary for the full development of their faculties. They, a small but ever-growing number, embrace the Socialist philosophy, and in so doing obtain a serenity of outlook, a power of facing reality, unknown to those others, who stand at present, irresolute, disillusioned, bitterly resentful against fate, outside the Socialist organisation.

The aforementioned mood of bitterness and pessimism, engendered by the results of an evil environment, is one to which all the more sensitive intellects of all countries in all ages have been particularly prone; but an examination of the works and lives of the men and women who have in their utterances given expression to their disgust with and rebellion against their social and political surroundings will show that the scientific and historical sense have, as a rule, been largely lacking in their mental make-up. Highly emotional, their minds a sensitive plate scratched and torn by every ugly and vicious impression received, they shrink from an analysis of the evils they experience and visualise, and can only voice their feelings of antagonism towards something— they hardly know what—that threatens to engulf them in a black wave of bitterness and irritability. In practically all such people, while their reaction to bad and degrading impressions is greater than the average, their power of analysing these impressions and placing them in their correct historical perspective, is almost nil. Artists—whether writers, or painters, or musicians—are more liable than any other body to find whatever sense of proportion and humour they may have possessed swallowed up in the spectacle of what they consider a mad and diseased universe, and thus it is that so many of the greatest and noblest works of art are so often overshadowed and obscured by a sense of gloom and foreboding.

But, leaving out of the question people of artistic genius or talent, to anyone not totally blind to the realities of life, the brutality, sordidness, and suffering engrained in present-day capitalist society must strike home continually with a force similar to that with which the waves of a tempestuous sea buffet the face of an unwary or inexperienced swimmer.

From the Socialist standpoint, the mere perception to and rebellion against the evils of capitalism is not enough. We, too, detest the world-evils surrounding us; we too, have a gnawing sense of insecurity and captivity; have the same feelings of revolt against the insults and sufferings to which we, as workers, as wage-slaves, are subjected. But it is here that we as Socialists part company with those who have not yet acquired a knowledge of the Socialist philosophy. The pessimistic non- Socialist is either afraid or unable to face the facts of life; he cannot or dare not attempt to discover why what are called "social evils" exist; he is unable to understand that such things as the poverty of mind and body, the rapacity, the callousness and viciousness engrained in the human race are the inevitable and irrepressible outcome of a social system which bears within it the seeds of the ills and pains and penalties under which mankind is to-day fated to suffer. He can only visualise society, with all its multitudinous evils, as a thing in itself; he can look neither back to the causes nor foresee the results of those phenomena he hates and deplores; while to the Socialist, to the man who has realised that capitalist society, being an organism, must have been born from the womb of an older form of society, must have its period of growth to maturity, and must finally disintegrate and die (and in dying give birth to a new form of society), to the man the evils which he, also, sees and hates and deplores are seen but as a passing phase in the long-drawn-out history and man and his association with his fellows.

There are good and bad in all things, even in Capitalism. By “good” we mean whatever tends to uplift man, as an individual, as a social unit, as a part of the human race, on to a higher plane of life: by “bad” all that tends to drag him downwards to a level even below the appallingly low one he at present occupies. True it is that under capitalism the "good” is most negligible, whilst the "bad” increases in volume and intensity as the death throes of the present system become more violent. The Socialist, being neither optimist nor pessimist, sees whatever good there may be, and accepts it for what it is worth; sees also the bad, and while obliged to bow before its power, at the same time rebels in word and deed against the necessity for so doing. He is neither greatly elated nor distressed at whatever comes. Always and at all times he keeps in the forefront of his thoughts and actions his endeavour to encompass and prepare for the downfall of the system (capitalism) that engenders the bad, and to hasten the initiation of the coming social order (Socialism) which will spread and enhance the good. Unremitting work, based on knowledge, in the cause of Socialism— herein lies the remedy for the depression and feeling of hopelessness that so often overtakes the non-Socialist who is endeavouring to escape from his capitalistic captivity.

The distance to travel before the consummation of our desires is reached may be short or long. What, then—what, after all, do a few years or a few centuries count in the evolution of mankind? It is the inheritance we hand on to the future that will decide our status in the eyes of those who will follow us, will decide whether we be numbered amongst those weaklings "who have never lived,” or with those who, while continuously struggling onward, have only failed in their high endeavours because the fruits of the new order of life were not yet ripe enough to be plucked and enjoyed.
F. J. Webb