Sunday, December 10, 2017

A New Year — Forty Years Later. (1945)

From the January 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January, 1905, we printed our first New Year Message —a message of struggle and hope. In the intervening years we have slowly built up our organisation, spreading knowledge of Socialism as widely as our meagre finances would allow, burrowing like moles at the foundations of privilege and oppression. Of the small group of enthusiastic young people who delivered that early message some have passed out and some have passed over; a few are still with us.

What have we to show for those years of propaganda? As these lines are written the aeroplanes thunder overhead on their ghastly mission and an occasional bolt from the blue brings death and destruction to numerous homes. They are proof of the amazing ingenuity of the human brain and hand, but directed to ignoble and horrible ends— senseless destruction. Two great wars have destroyed the lives and homes of millions of people who could have made the world a happy place, flowing with milk and honey for all. Capitalism has indeed lived up to its ugly record, and the cynical and the heartsick would answer our question with one word—nothing! But they would be wrong, blindly wrong.

On the surface, it is true, there may seem little reason for optimism. From 1904 until to-day we have delivered the same message day after day, week after week, month after month, “while the hungry teeth of time devour, and the silent-footed years pursue,” and still the workers let themselves be led up the blind alleys of disappointment and despair, following leaders with pathetic trust on the painful march to a promised land that always remains over the hill.

Is our message so hard to understand? No! It is the very essence of simplicity. The workers produce the wealth of the world, the capitalists own it. Just as the workers hand over what they produce to-day to the capitalists, they could keep it for themselves if they wished to do so. The capitalists perform no useful task in wealth production, they are just drones. They take the fruits of the workers' labour because the workers let them; and the workers let them do so because they are bemused by the myth that drones are necessary. It is not remedies for particular social diseases that we need but the removal of the source of all social disease—the legal figment that enables the drone to live on our backs. The truth is that, intelligent though they are, the workers are frightened by the immensity of their own productions and, like the worshippers, make sacrifices to allay their fears.

The legal arrangement that because a man has money he therefore has the right to exploit his fellow men is a social agreement that has not always existed, and it can be abolished at any time that society decides to take this step. Society includes everybody, both workers and capitalists, and the workers are the great majority in society.

Although the sacrifices to capital are still made with punctual regularity, the doubts that were creeping in stealthily forty years ago have grown in volume and in expression, and the ingenuity of those whom the capitalist pays to dispel these doubts is stretched to breaking point. The money that is lavished by the parsimonious capitalist on schemes to keep the workers quiet is evidence of this. In the early days our message was received with laughter and derision, now it is discussed at length as something worthy of serious attention. We have burrowed well and truly and the toppling of the rotten edifice of capital is no longer far away. In the days that follow the end of this war the capitalists will have aching heads over the problem of meeting the demands of the workers and, at the same time, keeping a tight grip on the privileges of the parasite.

This year there is to be a General Election and all other political parties are at pains to impress the world with their altruistic intentions. Some spokesmen of the Labour Party have even carried their altruism so far as to forecast the necessity of the workers working hard to help the capitalist here to capture an important share of the world's markets after the war so that the export trade may flourish. We are not altruists, we are concerned with the interests of the working class in all countries. It is not the building up of trade so that their masters may amass wealth that they need, but the ownership of the wealth they produce.

Alleging that falling prices would hinder economic recovery, some capitalists have opposed a return to the gold standard. Perhaps they have more urgent reasons in mind. A fall in prices would mean that the workers' present wages would buy more goods, his standard of living would rise; whilst further inflation of prices would reduce the purchasing power of wages and might save the capitalist the embarrassment of reducing wages generally, assuming of course that the productiveness of labour remained the same as it is now.

The aim of the capitalists is to force or cajole the workers into the submissive attitude of willing slaves, heaping up wealth for others to enjoy, and flattery and promises, cant and hypocrisy will be instruments used to secure this end. They were successful after 1914, but the worker has learned a great deal since then, and, in spite of war weariness, he is not nearly so tractable now. But misdirected discontent leads to disaster. It is our task to show what lies behind this discontent, and to indicate the direction it should take.

So we deliver the same New Year message this year as of yore, but confident that its soundness will appeal to a rapidly growing body of our fellow workers. The workers of the world can control their destinies once they shed their delusions and cast off the useless burden of capitalist privilege that they have borne upon their backs for so long. But the work they have to do must be done by themselves. With leaders they drift, leaderless they progress.

Neither high sentiment nor low jeers will get us to the goal we seek. The only path is knowledge of what we are, wealth producing slaves of capital, and what we can be, freely associated workers owning in common our means of production and using them to supply the needs of all, without the intervention of privilege of any kind except youth, age or sickness

The tide will soon begin to surge. Who is there so utterly broken and cowed that he can remain deaf to the appeal of the greatest movement the world has ever known— the freeing of suffering humanity from the source of its sorrows! The movement to establish Socialism and banish privileged classes from the earth for ever.

Obituary: Adolph Kohn (1945)

Obituary from the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have again the sad task of recording the death of an old and very active member of the Party. A. Kohn died in an hospital in North Wales on December 28th after a long and painful illness. He was 56 years old.

Kohn became interested in politics when very young, taking part in discussions at Marble Arch, Hyde Park, when only a youth. In 1908 he joined the Party and was soon very active as a writer and speaker; he spoke on the outdoor platform nearly every evening for some years.

Soon after joining the party he started a private book agency and was the principal means of bringing English translations of foreign Socialist classics to many of us at a time when they were little known in England.

Practically all his life Socialism and books were his main interests. He read voraciously and few had his knowledge of books, past and present, on different aspects of the working class movement. He was a forceful and humorous speaker, both indoor and outdoor, and early in the last war he had some rowdy meetings. At one of his meetings in 1914 at Marble Arch the crowd rushed the platform, after a hectic meeting, and the police had to escort him through an angry crowd of "patriots" and across the road to the tube station.

During 1915, when the passing of the Conscription Act became certain, Kohn left for America, where he remained for about six years and made many friends in Canada and the U.S.A. While out there he wrote and spoke on Socialism and also organised classes. He sent articles to the SOCIALIST STANDARD from America, and the last one, in 1917, was picked up by the American authorities, who took exception to its anti-war contents and made considerable efforts to trace him. They also pressed the English authorities for assistance, and the latter called Fitzgerald up for questioning and kept him in a cell for a night. They also had his sister along at Scotland Yard for interrogation. However, they never traced Kohn and the matter was eventually dropped.

Arising out of the above police investigation there were two humorous incidents, which it seems to the present writer are worth recording. Fitzgerald was very methodical and also extremely critical of members whose "stupidity" helped the authorities to collect members whose military position was doubtful. When Fitzgerald was arrested and searched the police found in his pocket his address book, which contained the addresses of most of us! The other incident concerned Kohn's sister. Although she was secretary of the Party at the time, the police failed to discover that she was even a member of the Party.

Kohn was on the Executive Committee and the Editorial Committee before 1914, and he was again on the Editorial Committee from 1924 to 1929. He wrote many excellent articles for the SOCIALIST STANDARD and was by nature very lively, full of jokes, and fond of company. Even when he was dying, humour still stirred in him.

A little while before the war his health broke down, and in 1940 he had to go into hospital for treatment. While there the hospital was hit by a bomb, and a few weeks later the room where he lodged was badly blasted. After a couple of years out of hospital, T.B. developed, and ten months ago he was back in hospital again, where he remained until his death on the 28th December. He was twice evacuated on account of the hospital being hit by flying bombs, finally reaching the temporary hospital quarters in a large house in North Wales where he died.

Kohn's brain was crammed with knowledge of the international working-class movement, and he was intellectually generous to members and sympathisers—always ready to answer a question or explain a point. He gave almost the whole of his life to the struggle for Socialism. Now he has followed many others on the last road we all must travel. After months of pain in hospital he died and was buried far from his old haunts and his old friends. We here, and his many friends abroad, sadly lament his passing.

Welsh Workers See Storms Ahead (1945)

From the March 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

A typical piece of modem capitalist industrial development—affecting principally the Swansea-Llanelly area this time—was announced towards the end of January by Mr. Hugh Dalton, President of the Board of Trade (South Wales Evening Post, January 29, 1945). It is an occasion with some useful lessons for Socialists.

It followed closely upon arrangements for merging two of Britain's largest steel and tinplate concerns—Richard Thomas's and Baldwins—and was dead in line with the modern capitalist tendency to concentrate wealth and prosperity in fewer and fewer hands. Now Mr. Dalton, with a pontifical gravity well suited to a political administrator of grand imperial capitalism, proclaimed that Richard Thomas’s, Baldwins, Quest, Keen, Nettlefolds, Briton Ferry Steel and Llanelly Steel were collaborating with a view .to the erection of a hot-strip mill for tinplates and sheets at Port Talbot. This was heralded by the local evening paper with the sort of gravely respectful headlines that it uses for royal visits. The renovation of archbishoprics, and sensations in stocks-and-shares adventures. “Four companies combining to modernise industry,” it commences, quite moderate, rising crescendo to a perfect paean of worshipful ecstasy—'‘Passing of bad old days.”

Before we allow ourselves to be lifted into the blue by the angelic upsurge of adoration for those modern saints, the captains of industry, let us look at some of the cold sober facts that are always related to this sort of capitalist attainment (which is, of course, the usual, inevitable flowering of Big Business).

Concentration of capital—fewer capitalists owning more—is the integral factor. Second aspect is that of a major offensive in the perpetual war between contending capitalist interests. In this case, the war for markets between the American and British steel and tinplate industries. The Americans won a great initial advantage by their early adoption of the "strip mill ” system, whereby the whole process of production, from raw material to finished bulk product, is carried out on one site, like the introduction of a pig into one end of a machine and its emergence as neatly labelled sausages at the other. American steel and tinplates, produced more cheaply than their British competitor, bade fair to dominate the markets of the world. All the blood shed on the Western Front could not damp the ardour of the coming battle on the industrial field. To-day the hand is grasped, to-morrow the throat:, what does it matter to the industrial princes? This hungry, frustrated unemployed are unspectacular casualties. . . . 

But here comes the British counter-blow: British interests, too, adopt the strip mill. A strategic victory! But before we cheer ourselves hoarse, let us look at the probable cost. It is not peculiar; it always happens on grand occasions of this sort: it has happened before, or other things like it, in our rough island story, and it will happen again. In this case, one single huge highly economical concern will be able to dominate Britain's share of a great world industry from Port Talbot. To the West, in places like the Dulais and Llwchwr districts, the older-fashioned methods will be unable to compete: unemployment will increase in those areas astronomically, and only a small number of the displaced could be absorbed in the new strip mill. There will be many slender post-war wage packets (or dole packets!) in West Glamorgan, but "these things, you know, must be in every famous victory."

Yet, goodness knows, there is enough need for things made of steel and tinned plate to keep a dozen Port Talbots and a lot more Gorseinons, Loughors, etc., working full-pelt for ever; and it could be that way, too, if only we had Socialism, and things were produced solely for use instead of as commodities to bring profits for the owner class. Under capitalism improved methods of production, such as strip mill, mean higher and safer profits for the owner class. They also threaten many workers, often whole communities, with poverty, insecurity, ruin. Under Socialism such improvements will mean a higher standard of living for the whole community.
John Jennings