Saturday, March 31, 2018

Karl Marx's Legacy (2018)

Karl Marx in 1859.
From the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
5th May 2018 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx in Trier, in what was then Prussia and is now Germany. Marx went on to become a major figure in the founding of the modern socialist movement and many will be marking the event with reverence. But so what, you might ask? Surely Marx isn’t relevant today? Why do socialists today want to read and talk about the ideas of a nineteenth-century philosopher?
Marx has two main legacies for socialists today. Firstly, Marx helped us to understand the economics of capitalism by explaining that it is a system based on the exploitation of workers by capitalists that occurs during the process of the production of commodities, as opposed to the point of sale. Secondly, he developed a view of history that placed people and their social and economic development at its centre and not religion or any other notion of an ideal society that floats apart from real life. Today this is more or less how most people think of and understand history and the world around them, although many people simultaneously hold religious views and some argue for secular, ‘postmodern’, diluted versions of idealism.
Critique of political economy
Marx’s major work, Capital, was a critique of economic thought up to that time (1867). The classical political economists, such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo (who Marx regarded as the last of the scientific investigators of capitalist political economy) had argued that labour was the source of value. Following on from this conclusion, critics of capitalist competition like John Gray, Thomas Hodgskin, William Thompson, and John Francis Bray reasoned that what was wrong with capitalism was that an unequal act of exchange was taking place outside of the process of production – workers were not receiving the full value of their labour. From the working class perspective this infant labour theory of value was a great stride forward in understanding the relation of labour to capital. The claim that labour was the source of value and that workers therefore had the right to the value that they created was a bold step towards explaining why it was that capitalists, who did not work and so created no value, were getting richer; whilst those who laboured, and so created value, were getting poorer (often absolutely, always relatively). From the capitalist standpoint this was the Achilles heel of classical political economy, and the reason why it was abandoned in favour of a view of economics as the study of the competition of choices for the allocation of scarce resources, which is still the basis of modern mainstream economics.
The enduring legacy of Karl Marx was that he developed the arguments of the classical political economists to their conclusion (which they themselves had avoided) and was able to develop a withering criticism of capitalism. Classical political economy had been unable to explain profit convincingly. After all, how could profit be accounted for if the value of a commodity was the labour embodied in it and labour had been sold at its value by the worker? This was why the early critics of capitalism placed so much emphasis on the idea that a portion of the value of their labour was being corruptly usurped by capitalists, merchants, bankers and the like who were taking over from the landed aristocracy and the ‘old corruption’ of court politics to become the wealthiest members of an increasingly industrial society.
Marx argued that the classical political economists had missed a crucial link in understanding how capitalism works and what profit actually is. Rather than workers being paid for their labour, Marx argued, they were in fact paid for their labour-power. The value of this labour-power varies according to (1) the cost of reproducing labour-power (in other words the cost of feeding and housing workers and their dependants) and (2) the amount of labour embodied in the labour-power of a given worker (in other words the value of a doctor’s labour is more than an unskilled machinist because the many hours of education and training received by the doctor are bound up in their labour, unlike the machinist who performs only simple labour). The crucial point is that the difference between the value of what workers produce and what they are paid in exchange for their labour-power is the source of surplus-value, otherwise known as profit. This was the source of increasing capitalist wealth and not unequal exchange. Workers are paid an equivalent; not for their labour, the product of which is owned by the capitalist, but for their labour-power which they sell at a price around its value (sometimes more sometimes less depending on the given state of the labour market in a given branch of industry).
Materialist Conception of History
Marx’s view on history can be gathered from different parts of other critiques and historical works he put together. They can be summed up by the first line of the Communist Manifesto (1848) ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ and in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859):
  “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
An awful lot has been written about what became known as ‘historical materialism’, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century when it became fashionable among Marxist academics. It is not determinist as it critics insist – it does not suggest that change happens automatically, that ideas mechanically reflect technological and economic change, after all these changes often require new ideas and political interventions. Marx is merely arguing a rather simple point, that ultimately the material world provides the limits of our perception. Our thoughts must always relate to the real world, to the necessity for food and shelter and social production and to current social and economic relationships and the struggles associated with them. Although thought obviously feeds back into how we perceive the world and therefore act, thought itself does not exist independently of material reality.  Marxian socialists accept the importance of ideas in creating social change but reject the notion that ideas can come from outside experience, as a vision, and transcend it to establish a new social reality.
Marx was challenging the religious views prevalent in the nineteenth century that the material world was shaped by our ideas, which ultimately were derived from God. Marx countered this by asserting that, on the contrary, our ideas emerge from our experience of the material world. These ideas then feed back into our experience by acting to re-shape it through social and political struggle. Limits are placed on the actions of individuals by their social and economic context – so changing the social and economic basis of society is therefore, for Marx, the fundamental point of political action. This is what industrial capitalists in the nineteenth century were doing to displace landed capitalists as the dominant power amongst their class – in the process creating a new theory of society (modern economics) to further propel it and justify it. It is also, crucially, what Marx thought that socialists needed to do to create a new society. Ideas without a change in the economic basis of society could not result in a socialist society. This economic change is not pre-determined and requires class conscious political action to make it a reality – capitalism would not collapse on its own or evolve itself into a new form of society.
For Marx, capitalist production involved the production of commodities for exchange, wages, and profit. Its opposite was a society with rational, planned production for use, with co-operative labour under conditions of free association. In other words, there would be no need for exchange in socialism and therefore no reason for money to exist – given that its reason for existence was as a facilitator of exchange. But socialist revolution won’t happen by itself – we need to make it happen.
Among the dead-end political movements that followed in the century after Marx’s death in 1883 were Labour governments and nationalised industries and the Bolshevik revolution and other so-called ‘Marxist’ regimes around the world. These political projects attempted to create a fairer world, which they called ‘socialism’. Marx – read in his own words – helps us to understand that they could not deliver the societies they sought because they left the capitalist process of production intact. The lesson for the supporters of Corbyn’s Labour party should be obvious.
Colin Skelly

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Kreuger: A Product of His Time. (1932)

From the May 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

When enumerating the virtues of the present order of society and the difficulties that bar the road to social change in the direction of common ownership, one of the essential points brought forward by our opponents is the part played by the so-called "captain of industry” to-day. It is urged that production on a large scale is impossible without them, that their energy and enterprise depends upon self-interest which signifies the pursuit of wealth and power, and that such incentives being absent from the proposed new social order captains of industry will not develop and large scale production will therefore languish.

Events constantly make plain the weakness of this position, but its supporters continue their advocacy unabashed, partly from interested motives and partly from the sheer incapacity to see and understand the facts in front of them.

One of the periodical sensational cases has now come up for judgment, which again shatters this great man theory and at the same time lays bare the rottenness at the basis of the present social system and the misery this rottenness causes.

A bright star of big industry, Ivar Kreuger, the "Swedish Match King,” shot himself in Paris recently, and when the news was first broadcast the Press united in eulogising him and his achievements; publishing sketches of his life to show how by industry and ability he had built up from a small and insignificant beginning the huge Kreuger organisation that stretched its tentacles across national boundaries, financed governments and brought the whole world into its web. There is no narrow patriotism about big industry, it only uses this sentiment at times to further its economic aims.

Kreuger’s achievement was hailed as a triumph of the principle of "self-help,” the beloved child of Samuel Smiles. One striking feature of this case, however, was the withholding of the news of his death for several hours lest it should have an adverse effect upon dealings in Kreuger stocks. Uneasiness was abroad, and the taking of his life by an apparently successful and prosperous business magnate raised doubts about the stability of the concerns he controlled.

That the fears were well-founded was very rapidly proved. Whereas in 1928 the price of Kreuger & Toll "B” shares stood at £56, on April 19th they fell to 1s. 6d. (See News-Chronicle, April 20th.) Other shares suffered a similar devastating fall and shareholders organisations are being formed to see if anything at all can be saved from the ruin of these vast concerns.

The paeans of praise have turned into torrents of wrath and vilification. The change has been brought about by sensational disclosures alleging gigantic frauds of one kind and another in carrying out the schemes of these companies. It is another sad blow for the captains of industry and self-help worshippers, and comes before they have had time to recover from the Hatry frauds. Yet the path of capitalist enterprise has been marked by constantly recurring instances of this kind, and the explanation is simple.

Leaving aside those who set out from a fraudulent beginning, ambitious men, brought up on maxims of wealth and power, set out to build up large enterprises and use all the capital and credit they can lay their hands on. A business slump, which these optimists rarely foresee, a shortage of available capital, or something similar, interferes with, their projects or stands in the way of some greater achievement, and induces them temporarily to resort to methods which come under the legal heading of fraud, in the expectation that they will be able to put matters right when their designs have been accomplished. Sometimes they are successful and live on as highly respected pillars of society, with the probability of a monument after their deaths. Sometimes they are unfortunate, then economic rivals, frightened financiers, maddened shareholders, and the moralists, unite in condemning them and bringing them to “justice.”

The larger the concerns involved the larger is the scale of fraud, and, in the event of the fraud being discovered or the promoter of it over-reaching himself the greater is the confusion and ruin resulting. Thus, when Hatry fell, there was considerable financial confusion, and many went down in the wreck.

Big industry strives to utilise all the funds it can lay hands on for the purpose of expansion and of enriching those at its head. It puts its hand in the pocket of small capitalists,, shopkeepers, and the better-paid “professional” men, utilising their savings for its schemes. Consequently, it is the heartbroken cry of the small shareholder that usually makes the most noise when a collapse comes, because it is just these people, with economic security in sight, struggling fiercely to get there, who are being constantly ruined and flung into the more hopeless sections of the propertyless class. And yet they are the fruitful soil for the blooming of all the pernicious doctrines of self-help and the like. Striving for economic freedom, unable to accomplish it by their own efforts, they look hopefully to company promoters, provide funds for all kinds of hare-brained schemes, and sing the praises of “great” men whom they trustfully expect will lift them out of the mud. Like all huggers of narrow, petty ideals, they cannot find words hard enough for those who let them down and shatter their delusions.

Another side to this question of relying upon individuals of alleged great directive ability is also seen when crashes such as those we are discussing occur. If the main threads of such large concerns are in the hands of one individual, when he is removed no one knows where to turn and a sound undertaking may be wrecked by the confusion involved. When Hatry was convicted he had to be brought back to help sort out the tangle. Kreuger is dead and apparently no one knows what may happen, because no one has a clear knowledge of what strings Kreuger was pulling.

Of late, doubts have even crept into the capitalist’s breast, and the wisdom of building up organisations that outstrip the powers of control is being questioned.

The trouble, however, does not lie in the size of .the organisation but in the method of control that has to be adopted on account of the private property basis of the organisation.

To-day the duty of the captain of industry is to overreach other captains of industry and collect under him groups of willing tools to aid him in the work of extracting the greatest amount of surplus value from the working class. It is not a question of running an industry but of piling up profits, and the captain sometimes seeks to obtain the lion’s share of these profits.

When industry comes to be organised to meet the needs of everybody without distinction, the various tasks necessary will be distributed and controlled on behalf of all. There will be neither opportunity nor incentive for one to achieve power and wealth at the expense of another, and there will be every inducement for each to give of his best in the way that is most congenial for the benefit of himself and the rest of society.

Kreuger, Hatry, and their like, are really only victims of a society that puts wealth and power among the principal virtues.

Briand: A Lesson in Leadership. (1932)

From the April 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

So Briand, the famous French Parliamentarian, is dead, and as would be expected the newspapers have taken the opportunity, to broadcast the story of his life. Reading it serves to emphasise the view, so often advanced in these columns, that people who allow themselves to be led are often led “up the garden.”

We are told he started life humbly (as did most of our own labour leaders), but, being an opportunist, he soared to the heights of Premiership over the bodies of striking railwaymen. From being an “extremist" in his youth and helping to found L’Humanite,” now the organ of the French Communists, he used his knowledge thus gained to round up and arrest, not many years later, the whole of the strike leaders when assembled round the editorial table of that very journal! Throughout his career be wavered, at one time defending armaments at Washington, at another throwing a sop to the so-called Socialists in order to enlist their support for a return to power. As War Premier he rivalled Lloyd George in advocating a fight-to-a- finish policy, and as Foreign Minister in 1926 he joined the French National Government, even as our own labour leaders joined one in this country last year. The folly of one nation seems to be repeated in every other!

But let us not exaggerate the importance of. M. Briand. Most of his actions echoed the wishes of the multitude: and is he a great man who thinks only as everybody else does? At intervals, he changed places with other political messiahs, who had, for the moment, captured public support. But we notice no change in the conditions of the mass of people under them. There is only one necessary characteristic about a leader and that is he must have followers. Take away the followers and he ceases to be a leader. It seems too obvious to need mentioning, but whenever a plea is raised for a new leader or whenever disgust is shown against an old one this truism appears to be forgotten.

The life of a political shepherd always follows the same plan. His early cryings in the wilderness strike the hearts (not heads) of the common men. A note of sympathy is detected and a vague hope springs in the breasts of the listeners that this plausible speaker who has interpreted their woes must see farther than they, and can lend a hand to help them out. A little more rhetoric, a little more sentiment, election excitement and airy gesticulation and our would-be leader is invested with the robes of office. He is acclaimed a prophet, a maker of history!

Now it is one thing to command a servant to perform a task or to elect a delegate to carry out your will—it is the exact reverse to elect a leader to put things right for you in his own way. Stowed away in his head may be stores of great ideas, but not necessarily all of the kind we should approve. Our interpreter has become a magician and asks for our sanction to foist upon us his mysterious box of tricks. He is no longer our delegate to carry out our commands, instead he is a leader, and we find, alas! that the road he takes is not always to our liking. In course of time, we hear lamentations about his betrayal of his followers' interests. In 1926 it was Thomas, in 1931 Snowden and MacDonald. In the French Railway Strike of 1910 it was Briand.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds that the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself. There is no secret formula. The main outlines are set forth on the back of this periodical and can be grasped by any normal person. No need for a shepherd here—only those who do not know the way need to be led. Do you return home from work unaided? Of course—you know the way. Those who need a guide must come under one of the following groups:—
Those who are blind and cannot see.
Those who have forgotten.
Those who are ignorant and never knew.
Those who are being escorted forcibly to a destination they do not desire.
To us who do not come under one of these groups the notion of a leader is laughable. We are possessed of ordinary intelligence and can learn the only real road to freedom by a little reading and thinking.

As the machinery of Government—including the Army, Navy, Police, etc.— exists only to conserve for the capitalists the wealth taken from us, we must organise consciously to convert that machinery from an agent of oppression to one of emancipation when sufficient of us know, clearly and definitely, what we want, and how to get it; we can elect our delegates through the ballot box and see that they carry out our instructions.

They will not be great men, they will never be able to claim the grand title of leaders—but they cannot, obviously be mis-leaders. They will be our delegates, to fulfil our instructions, and the results will be on our own heads. Let us spread the knowledge and hasten that day.

The Importance of Parliament. (1932)

From the March 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The State is the public power of coercion. It arose out of the early division of society into classes, and developed with the development of class conflicts. It is the result of the desire to keep “order”; that is, order in the interests of the class that is supreme; order to allow the ruling class to subdue and exploit the rest of the population without hindrance. Through the ages the State has been controlled, as a rule, by the class that has been economically the most important. It is maintained by taxes, and hence a class that has outgrown its economic importance can often continue for a time to control social affairs. As the State grew in size and complexity, it became more burdensome and the taxes grew with it. This led to quarrels among property owners over the amounts of their contributions. Much of the apparent cleavage between parties in modern States is at bottom only a question of who shall take the weight of taxation.

In the development of the State the modern Parliamentary system emerged as the most appropriate means for securing the domination of the present capitalist class, the last class to obtain social control. Parliaments were subjected to modification in the course of time and the modern product ensures to the capitalist the unquestioned right to the proceeds of the exploitation of the working class.

But the State controlled a huge aggregate of people of various social standings and nationalities, a relatively small number of whom moved in a circle so distinct from the majority that they might almost have belonged to another world. Production and distribution of wealth also developed on such a tremendous scale that social affairs became correspondingly burdensome and complicated. One could compare the past with the present as the comparison between Stephenson’s first locomotive and a modern railway engine. In order to run the State smoothly and secure the peaceable flow of profit, it became necessary to alter Parliamentary procedure so that the voice of the mass of people could be heard and their needs met; but only in so far as such alterations did not jeopardise the rule of the capitalists, in the opinion of their leading thinkers. Thus, in due course, the electoral machinery was modified until universal suffrage became the rule.

Parliament is the centre of power in this country. It makes the laws and it enforces them. Local bodies have certain lawmaking and enforcing powers, but these are subservient to the central body, which is supreme and which, where required, supplies the local body with any extra force necessary.

The instruments of power are the Army, Navy, Air and Police forces. The final word for setting these forces in motion rests with Cabinet Ministers. The Cabinet is the executive council which carries out the will of Parliament. Its members belong to the majority group, or are allowed to function by that group, or by arrangement, through a coalition of parties. In other words, the group that has an absolute majority in Parliament can put into operation whatever decrees it wishes by means of its control of the executive—the Cabinet. In theory the Prime Minister is appointed by the King (though the selection is confined within narrow limits) and has a free choice in the selection of his Ministers; but in fact no Cabinet could live without a Parliamentary majority to sanction its proposals.

Members of Parliament are elected by universal suffrage, and the vast majority of the voters are members of the working class. The result is near enough democratic to ensure that when the mass of the working class understand the meaning of Socialism they have the means to bring it into being through Parliamentary action when they desire to do so.

Up to the present, the mass of the workers have lacked political knowledge and have voted for people instead of principles. They have given their votes to the people who made the most alluring promises, and as time proved the hollowness of the promises, the workers turned in disgust from one group of people to another, and then back again as the memory of previous disappointments faded.

This fact has led many to question the usefulness of Parliament. They have forgotten that whenever the workers have placed their trust in leaders they have almost always been let down. The workers have been as readily betrayed on the industrial field, as they have on the political field. The trouble has not been due to the field of combat. It has been due to the method adopted. When the workers cease to regard certain individuals as endowed with some special capacity of "leadership,” they will adopt the method of issuing instructions to delegates that are to be carried out regardless of the delegates' own views or wishes. The ground will then be cut from under the feet of those who prosper out of leadership, and such people will no longer have a saleable article for the capitalist in the shape of a blind following.

There has not yet been a Parliamentary test of the power of delegates acting on instructions given them by a large body of workers who knew exactly what they were after and how to get it. In fact, outside the Socialist Party of Great Britain the method has never been really applied. Time after time the specious words of some acknowledged leader have diverted groups of workers from their original aims, generally on the plea of “expediency." The word “expediency" has acted as a useful veil for generations to cover the compromising activities of leaders, but of late there are indications that “tactics" will replace it. The truth is that the foolish and cowardly belief in this fetish of leadership has been a considerable barrier to working class knowledge and progress. The power and wealth leaders acquire induce them to fortify their positions and insist on the necessity of leadership as a permanent institution with the development of appropriate means for wire-pulling and mutual bargaining for position. The Labour Party has given striking proof of this in recent years.

Socialism will not be possible until the mass of the workers understand it and are prepared to vote for it. If a working class that did not understand Socialism were to vote for it, the result would only be chaos, as the first attempts to put it into operation would bewilder the majority of people and leave the way open for a counter-revolution. When the workers understand Socialism they will know what to expect and what will be.involved in putting it into operation, and here they will defeat the efforts of any delegates ready to sell themselves to the opposition. In such circumstances a delegate could only sell once; he would not get a second chance. The price he would demand would be proportionately high. Even if the absurd view were accepted that all the delegates would be sellers, the price would be too great to be paid out of even the huge wealth of the capitalists.

Parliament has supreme power and the armed forces are only kept in existence by the yearly voting of supplies. As Marriott points out in “English Political Institutions":—
   Under the English Constitution there would be no greater difficulty, in a formal and legal sense, in decreeing the abolition of the House of Lords or the House of Commons, than in procuring an Act for the construction of a tramway between Oxford and Reading, (p. 20.)
The Army Council controls the Army, but, as Sir John Creedy showed in his memorandum to the Civil Service Royal Commission, December, 1929, the Secretary for War, who is a member of it, is supreme and is solely responsible to King and Parliament. The Permanent Under-Secretary is solely responsible to the Secretary for all internal finance.

The Privy Council has no legislative authority; cancellations from it and appointments to it are at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Privy Council proclamations are not made at full meetings, but where the presence of two or more members is arranged by the Cabinet. In practice not more than four members are summoned, and rarely is anyone invited to attend a Council meeting who is not an active Cabinet member. It is executive in those matters only where the Cabinet does not require Parliamentary authority.

Marriott (“English Political Institutions"), adds the following relating to the Admiralty:—
   The Board of Admiralty now consists of six Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, a Financial Parliamentary Secretary, and a Permanent Secretary. The responsible minister is the First Lord, invariably a civilian and a member of the Cabinet.
   . . . The Board meets at least once a week, and is in a very real sense responsible for the first line of National Defence, though in a technical and parliamentary sense the First Lord has undivided responsibility, (p. 116-117.)
A similar organisation obtains in the Air Force, the Air Minister being the responsible official.

The above shows how complete and secure is the grip Parliament has upon the armed forces, and the strikes and disturbances of past years have shown how readily these forces are put in motion, and also upon whose side they act. They are a forcible illustration of how necessary it is for the workers to obtain control of Parliament before attempting to uproot the existing foundations of society. They further show that the only way to obtain control is by the legal one of sending delegates to Parliament.

It has been suggested that when the workers' movement began to really challenge the position of the capitalist, the latter would suspend Parliament. The suspension of Parliament would, in the first instance, abolish the right of the workers to combine, and would thus put a legal end to all forms of working-class combination. But the cost to the capitalist of the permanent suspension of the Constitution would be the end of their rule and the beginning of chaos.

The size and complexity of a modern nation is so great that the time has long since gone by when members of the ruling class could occupy any considerable number of the administrative posts and manage any appreciable part of its activities. From top to bottom all departments are filled by paid or elected officials, and only a very few of these officials are drawn from the capitalist class itself. Practically all the work of controlling the activities of society to-day is performed by people who depend for their livelihood upon the pay they get for the work they do—members of the working class.

Thousands of functions have had to be delegated to subsidiary bodies, such as County Councils, Town Councils, Parish Councils, and the like. Year by year this delegation of function grows greater and representation increases at the same rate.

Circumstances, therefore, have compelled the masters to place administration in the hands of elected bodies, and they can only withdraw it by bringing their house down about their ears.

The importance of Parliament is quite plainly recognised by the capitalists, and they give clear evidence of this at election times by the amount of wealth they spend and the inconvenience they suffer in order to ensure their control of it. 

"The Hell of Steyr" (1932)

From the February 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

(From an Austrian Correspondent.)
The name of Steyr is unfamiliar in England. Steyr is an Austrian town in which motor-cars are manufactured, Detroit on a smaller scale, and it is significant that the appearance of an article in the Detroit Free Press on the conditions of the workers in the American auto-industry should have almost coincided with the publication in a Vienna paper of a report under the above heading from their correspondent in the Austrian city of motor-cars. The workers of Steyr, like those of Detroit, are a law-abiding, industrious, hard-working lot, but under capitalism these virtues do not guarantee either sustenance or security to the workers. As one of our speakers, now dead, used to put it to his audiences when analysing the effects of the capitalist system: “It comes to this,” he used to say, “the better you are and the harder you work, the worse it is for you in the end.” Steyr as well as Detroit have proved the truth of this assertion. The workers there have attained an extraordinary degree of efficiency in motor-car making with the result that within a relatively short time all the markets were glutted and work had to be suspended. Under capitalism, increased efficiency has the consequence that while the companies have amassed huge fortunes for themselves, the workers’ lot has gone from bad to worse until it has, on the masters’ own showing, become a veritable hell!

The Vienna newspaper, “Sonn-und Montagszeitung, ” in its issue for January 4th has a long report from its representative who made a special visit to Steyr. The newspaper writes:—
  “One has been quite accustomed to the daily desperate calls for help coming now from this, now from the other working class quarter, but the signal of alarm, 'A City Dying of Starvation,’ makes one look up. It comes from the second largest city of Upper Austria. The Mayor of Steyr at the last meeting informed the city council that of the 22,000 inhabitants about 11,000 are without any income whatever, that 90 per cent. of all the children are underfed and that a large proportion of the population are simply compelled to go begging. The correspondent says that one must have been in Steyr to realise what is concealed behind these figures. 11,000 tragedies in one small city which has become a city of beggars. You are accosted at every street corner by swarms of children—tiny, pale creatures in thin rags and torn shoes who surround the passing stranger with outstretched hands, wailing and imploring. They enter the shops begging for money or something to eat. And there are also young people and old women. In the Municipal poor house there are 328 aged people who now have to go out into the streets too, once a week, to supplement their scant rations by begging. And so do the inmates of other municipal institutions. Friday is the principal day set down for general begging and thousands of people go begging on that day in Steyr. 
Beds Without Bedding.    
“The greater part of the unemployed, and those who are no longer in receipt of the dole, do not live in houses, but in wooden barracks. The conditions there are described as simply appalling. Twelve persons were found to live in one room with three beds without bedding, which had all been sold long ago. All sleep on straw, the wife and the husband and 10 children. They eke out their existence between the four wet walls, the inevitable clothes line drawn across the room with wet clothing. The big boys and girls sleep side by side and next to the parents, with two little children in one bed, without bedding. They sleep as long as possible in order to suppress the pangs of hunger, many also have no shoes. On New Year’s night a woman was confined in a room of the barracks in the presence of her four other children. In another barracks a woman with two children tried to take her 'life'; she had been dismissed from the works two days previously and was not entitled to the dole, so she took prussic acid. Other families live in what were formerly stables. A canal with stagnant water runs outside and the barracks are infested with rats and mice. 
Dogs For Dinner.    
"Here and there in the barracks the correspondent saw remnants of what used to be toys, but the children, he says, do not play. They are hungry and cold. Also they have lost their favourite playmates—the dogs. Formerly there were hundreds, but they have nearly all disappeared within a year, in Steyr. Nobody will openly say what has become of them, but everybody knows that in this city of starvation the dogs have been killed and eaten. 
Children Condemned To Death.    
"The Municipality, a bankrupt municipality, has the care of 1,100 children who have lost their father or whose parents are divorced. ‘The state of health of the population is simply alarming,' said Dr. Pitniskern. 'In a year I have treated 5,000 patients free of charge. Consumption plays havoc in the town. The children are nearly all ill; at least 90 per cent. are underfed; at school examinations I find only skeletons. No flesh, no blood, only skin and bones, and when asked, it is invariably the same answer: nothing to eat. I treat many children who have not seen any meat for months. A boy in the first class did not know what meat looks like, he had never eaten any.’ 
“It goes without saying that under such conditions a normal school service has become impossible. The dilapidated school rooms serve as mere places in which to keep warm. Half of the children cannot attend for lack of shoes, others have only torn ones and insufficient clothes. 
“The Works now employ only 1,700 people, whereas more than 15,000 are dependent on work there. Another 300 were about to be dismissed. ‘With the dole,’ the correspondent says, they will be ‘alright' for a time. They are envied by those who are no longer in receipt of any benefit and only get 42 groschen (4½d.) per day poor relief—42 groschen!
   "366 persons are daily given a meal in the canteen of the Steyr Works. A thousand present themselves every day, but there are only 366 soups, the daily portion, consisting of cabbage and a piece of bread; sometimes they get a piece of meat. The correspondent describes how he watched an old worker eating but half of the contents of his basin, food that would barely have sufficed a child. When asked, he replied that the other half was to be taken home. ‘How many are there at home?' asked the correspondent. ‘Wife and three children,’ was the answer, and he pressed the basin closer to himself and sought to get away; others barred him the way, begging of him, begging of the beggar! 
“This is what the tourist guide book says about the picturesquely situated city of Steyr: 'A lovely place on the meeting place of the River Steyr with the River Enns, with 22,000 inhabitants, tall chimneys and a Gothic church,  to which the correspondent added: 'with 11,000 beggars, with 15,000 starving, with 18,000 persons destitute, tall chimneys that have not smoked for years, chimneys of idle factories. The industrial city of Steyr has become the hell of Steyr, an Austrian 'devil’s island ’ of decent, honest men, ready and willing to work.”
The paper added, of course, the usual appeal to its readers for help, though it confessed at the same time that charity is no solution. The editor did not give a remedy, but there are, of course, numerous political parties and crowds of professional politicians, chiefly coming from the so-called "intellectuals,” always ready with "remedies ” and “ reforms,” with "demands” and programmes supposed to cope with economic ills, and generally pretending to represent the interests of the workers. Every one of these remedies has been found to be a fraud, a farce and a delusion, while some of them have turned out to be worse than the disease.

Socialism the Only Remedy
There is ONE remedy for all the evils of working class existence, and ONE only— it is the solution which the science of Marx and Engels made plain, but which it does not pay the “leaders of labour ” to propagate. For that task the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in other countries have been established. We insist that these evils are all part and parcel of, and inseparable from, the present social order—capitalism—a system of society in which the means of wealth production are owned and controlled by a small section, on whom the mass of the people are dependent. These evils will persist and glow unless and until the working class, organised in the Socialist Parties, make an end to private ownership, so that no individual will be dependent on another private individual for his material subsistence. Under Socialism, such absurdities as poverty in the midst of plenty, which is the outstanding feature of capitalism, will be unthinkable, because society will produce all human comforts and conveniences for USE only and not for profit. The product of men’s hands will then cease to play tricks with them, and the further improvement of machinery, which spells wreck and ruin to the workers to-day, will then only increase the real well-being of all. We insist that no proposition can be sound and worthy of working-class support that respects the present social order and does not aim at the destruction of a system that deprives millions of people of a chance of earning a living, that humiliates and degrades, and drives thousands to despair and suicide. Any proposition that does not establish equal right for all to the means of life, deserves nothing but the contempt of the workers.

The workers of Steyr and of Vienna have had an object-lesson which should open their eyes. Putting their trust in leaders—who are the curse of working-class organisations —they elected a majority of Social-Democrats to the two city councils, with the result that after 12 years of such administration Steyr is now “a city dying of starvation,” while Vienna—a city of under 2 million inhabitants—has the dreary record figure of over 120,000 unemployed, over 3,000 suicides in the past year, and more beggars than ever before.

Workers of the world! It is high time to bestir yourselves! Rid yourselves of your illusions and of your leaders! Join our ranks and so leave your mark to posterity as men and women of whom they will be able to say that you assisted in the great task of ridding the Earth from the fangs of the monster incubus of capital!
Rudolf Frank

Socialism and the Tariff Issue. (1932)

From the January 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are Socialists Protectionists or Free Traders? This is a question which appears to worry some workers who derive their ideas about Socialism from the Labour Party and kindred organisations. The Socialist Party supports neither policy and opposes all the parties which enlist the support of the workers by promising either to protect them from the competition of foreign goods or to secure them cheap food. Socialists maintain that the tariff issue is one which concerns the capitalist class and not the working class; and that, consequently, the workers are wasting their time and energy in giving their support to the different sections of the master-class who put these policies forward.

For the last hundred years or more, these rival policies have been used by the masters to divide the workers and hinder them in developing an independent political party; and the futility of the Labour Party from the workers' point of view is clearly demonstrated by its inability to drive this red-herring from its political path—nay, its readiness to help in dangling this rotten fish of long ago in front of the workers' noses.

A hundred years ago Free Trade was the battle-cry of the British manufacturers conquering the markets of the world with the cheap goods which machinery (plus child-labour in many cases) made possible. They wanted cheap raw materials and, above all, cheap food, because this enabled them to lower wages more easily. Hence they were most aggressive in demanding the repeal of the Corn Laws, which they secured in 1846 and celebrated by reducing wages 10 per cent. shortly after.

Protection at that time was the creed of the landed class, who got rich on rents squeezed from the capitalist farmers. The free importation of corn hit these interests in that important place, their pockets; but then, and since, protectionists have always pretended, like their political rivals, to have the interests of the workers at heart.

In some respects the situation is different to-day. Capitalism, based upon modern industry, has developed apace in countries which formerly provided markets for British goods. The tables have been turned and these countries now pour cheap goods into the one-time workshop of the world. This has led to a change of outlook on the part even of that considerable section of the master-class which calls itself Liberal. Sectional interests among the masters are less clearly defined. Landlords have bought shares in industrial and financial concerns. Industrial magnates have purchased land. Hence it is easy for a “National" Government with an “open mind” on the tariff issue to hold office and secure the support of the major portion of the master-class, while a majority of the workers, still in the dark regarding the cause of their permanent condition—poverty—turn in despair to such a Government for some amendment of their lot. Is there any real ground for this hope? Five million unemployed in Germany and double that number in the U.S.A. should be a sufficient answer for any worker who is prepared to think for himself.

The poverty of the workers in this country is not due to Free Trade, any more than the poverty of the workers in protectionist countries is due to the tariff policy prevailing there. The workers of the world are poor because they depend for their existence upon means of living which are owned by another class, the capitalists. This class only allows the land to be tilled, minerals to be dug, factories to be run and goods to be distributed in order that they may make a profit upon the sale of the goods. This profit is possible only because the workers can exist upon very much less than they are capable of producing. Their wages represent the cost of their subsistence, hence cheap food is an advantage, not to them, but to their masters who purchase their energies by the day or the week. The fall in the cost of living since 1920 has not benefited the workers, for wages have also fallen and unemployment increased.

On the other hand, the most formidable competitors which the workers have to contend with are not their fellow-workers either at “home” or abroad, but the machines. Tariffs cannot protect the workers against these rivals. A machine produced in a British town can put men out of work in the same place, and the master-class have more machinery at their disposal than they know what to do with. Hence rationalisation schemes, such as that of the English Steel Corporation, which placed half the village of Penistone on the dole a few months ago. The unemployment in Germany and America is due to similar causes, and not to “foreign goods.”

Poverty exists in all lands where the means of producing wealth exist in the greatest abundance. The very conditions of the problem provide the means for its solution. It is for the workers to discover them. It is an obvious paradox that idle machinery should exist side by side with idle men and women whose wants could be satisfied by setting the machinery in motion. This they are ready and willing enough to do, but they are prevented by the fact that the machines are the private property of a class who own and control with the motive of profit. Whenever the surplus product of the workers' labour reaches such proportions that it cannot all be sold, production slackens because profits fall. Unemployment, under such conditions, is inevitable, no matter whether the country be "old" or “new," Free Trade or Protectionist.

The solution for such a situation cannot be found along the lines of supporting any political party which asks for power to administer capitalism, for capitalism, as a system, is responsible for the problem. In order to obtain free access to the means of living, the workers must use their political power to remove the existing legal barriers; in other words, they must abolish capitalist ownership of these means. They must make the land, factories, railways, etc., the common property of the whole people and establish democratic control over them in the interests of all. That is what the S.P.G.B. means by Socialism.

The change to such a system can only be hindered as long as the workers continue to support demands for tariffs or for cheap food, irrespective of whether these demands are made by sections of the capitalists or by labour leaders of different political groups. In our issue of November last we gave evidence that the Labour Party and the Communist Party, no less than the Liberals and Tories, endeavoured to divide the working class upon this issue during the General Election. Having stood by the Liberals for Free Trade for the greater part of their existence, it is not, of course, surprising that the Labour Party should have wobbled when their tutors wobbled. Prior to the election they showed some indecision on the point, but during the election they came down on the side of Lloyd George and Free Trade. The Communist Party followed suit and demanded, with all the “revolutionary" fervour of which they were capable, "No taxes on the people’s food." This is indeed only consistent with the declaration in their 1929 programme (“ Class against Class,” pp. 29-30):—
  "Free Trade has nothing to offer the workers. . . . The demands of the Communist Party consist, therefore, of the following:—
(1) Abolition of all indirect taxes.”
It is indeed typical of the Communist Party that it demands with one breath something which it has described as useless to the workers less than five minutes previously; and to make their inconsistency complete, its supporters invariably adopt an air of injured innocence when Socialists describe their actions as anti-working-class.

The S.P.G.B. alone stands for Socialism and points out to the workers the futility of demanding either more tariffs or the abolition of existing ones. It alone consistently opposes all political parties representing the different sections of the masterclass, and demands the support of every Socialist.
Eric Boden

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Basis of Socialist Organisation. (1931)

From the December 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Lesson of the Election

The one thing that most clearly marks off the Socialist Party of Great Britain from the other organisations which claim an interest in Socialism, is our view that the only possible basis for a Socialist Party is an understanding of socialist principles. When the founders of the S.P.G.B. decided on our present Declaration of Principles as the minimum condition of' membership, they had already had long experience of alternative forms of organisation. They had seen the disastrous results of bringing together people without socialist knowledge who were attracted merely by one or other of a long list of political and social reforms. Such an organisation cannot be more advanced than its members, and therefore cannot take action for the furtherance of Socialism. Indeed, it can take action at all only with the greatest difficulty, for it rarely happens that all the members are agreed upon any one of the reform demands. Every attempt to be definite provokes internal friction or secession movements. The electoral success of such a party is its aim and also its undoing. For with office comes the demand from the members that steps be taken to fulfil all the promises. Of course they cannot be fulfilled; capitalism stands in the way. The elation of victory gives place quickly to angry criticism of the men or the programme. So every such party meets its fate sooner or later at the hands of the workers who gave it life and strength. The last election, coming after more than two years of Labour Government, shows us the internal contradictions of the Labour Party, working out to their necessary conclusion. Those who still cling to the belief that an organisation of non-socialists, brought together upon a programme of reforms, can work for Socialism should ponder over the Labour Party’s collapse.

"Forward," the Scottish I.L.P. journal, in its issues dated November 7th, 14th and 21st, published articles from a large number of Labour candidates in Scottish constituencies telling why they lost seats and votes. The collection is a very powerful justification for the position of the S.P.G.B. Below we give some brief extracts:—

Mr. Thomas Johnson (West Stirlingshire) : “We lost, inter alia, because about 15 per cent, of our abnormal vote in 1929 transferred itself to our opponents.”

Mr. T. Henderson (Tradeston) gives as one of the reasons for his defeat, “warring elements within the movement.”

Mr. Michael Marcus (Dundee) says: “Recent events prove conclusively that our first task is to convert certain socialists to Socialism.” He records that panic at the thought of a Labour victory seized even the poorest workers who had not so much as a few pounds in the Savings Bank.

Mr. James C. Welsh (Coatbridge) tells that the unemployed and their wives voted against him, although, as he complains bitterly, “ I think I can claim that nowhere have the unemployed had better services given them.”

Mr. D. N. Mackay (Inverness-shire) confesses that the electors voted for the National candidate because they still regarded MacDonald and Snowden as “typical Labourists ” and “their views were accepted as final.” But what a confession to make! To admit that the party supporters had been recruited simply on the name's of its former leaders.

Mr. John Winning (Kelvingrove) says that working-class voters, employed and unemployed, after two years of Labour Government, flocked to the poll "to protect their few pennies in the Savings Bank and Post Office from confiscation by a Labour Government ”: not only the old and decrepit, but also "the young and vigorous." He finds it a chastening thought, and wonders what is wrong with the Labour Party’s "socialist” propaganda.

Mr. R. Gibson (N. Edinburgh) found that the unemployed voted Tory because they were promised jobs, and, it seems, were more impressed by this than by the Labour promise to look after their unemployment pay. It is a saddening discovery for reformers that the workers positively dislike their particular brand of reforms. Mr. Gibson had the support of the local Liberals, and paints a touching picture of a "Liberal woman . . . pleading with a Communist to vote Labour.”

Mr. J. S. Clarke (Maryhill) says "Prominent members of the I.L.P., including the Glasgow organiser, not only abstained from voting for the Labour candidate, but conducted a virulent campaign against him.” Mr. Clarke is one of those who in the past have told us that we ought to get together with the great united Labour Party. But even if we wanted to, how could we now that it is "united” into several furiously battling fragments?

Mr. J. Pollock (Kilmarnock) attributes defeat to the Labour supporters having been won over to tariffs, and to the deadly blow administered to the local Labour Party in 1929 when the Labour Head Office forced a particularly anti-working class Labour candidate on the division.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Leith) says that in his constituency the workers felt that they had had just about enough of Labour Government "and it was time to see what another Government would do.” That is confirmation of our own often expressed view of the results of Labour Government.

Mr. J. Sullivan (Bothwell) lost his seat because he had quarrelled with the other reform party, the Communists, and they ran a candidate against him.

Mr. G. Mathers (W. Edinburgh) relates that certain of his own dissatisfied supporters, instead of helping him, came to his meetings "trying to concoct trick questions.” He saw with surprise that the unemployed, the teachers, and others who were affected by the National Government’s economy plans, nevertheless voted "Nationalist.”

In South Ayrshire, Mr. James Brown suffered from the effects of his own party’s propaganda. The Labour Party, having decided to be Free Traders, were promising to keep prices down, so the farmers and fishermen—who wanted high prices, not low ones—voted against the Labour Party,, which was expecting to get their votes.

Dissatisfaction With Labour Government.

Mr. F. Martin (E. Aberdeenshire) gives the following reasons for the shrinkage of the Labour vote :—
  The general scare; support for Ramsay MacDonald, which caused a certain number of Socialists to vote for the Conservative, and which also induced many abstentions; dissatisfaction with the record of Labour in office.
The chief Tory asset was, in Mr. Martin’s view, the prospect of tariffs.

In Galloway, Mr. H. McNeill was beaten by a combination of factors. There was a Mosley candidate preaching "scientific capitalism” (and seemingly some voters thought this must be better than capitalism badly run by the Labour Party). Numbers of Co-operators voted Tory "to save the pound, and at the same time their divi” from their Labour friends.

In Motherwell, which the Communists used to declare had a solid Communist majority (although they won it on the usual Lib.-Lab. reform programme), the Rev. James Barr was up against a Liberal who is chairman of the local football club, and therefore popular. Then, it appears, the electorate failed to realise that a National victory meant protectionist capitalism instead of free trade capitalism, and “they paid no heed to the warning of the 'Manchester Guardian.’ ” The Liberal candidate won other votes by declaring that the rich are having a bad time; he "gave out grossly inaccurate figures as to additional burdens imposed on surtax payers.” And finally he tried to take away Catholic voters from the Protestant Rev. J. Barr.

May we offer to this Labour candidate what would seem to be a simple but certain road to victory next time? Let him become chairman of a football club, declare himself a Protectionist-Free-Trader and a Catholic-Protestant, and train all his supporters to read the Liberal "Manchester Guardian.” Then, no doubt, we shall soon have Socialism!! The chief obstacle from the Rev. Barr's point of view is that, if he discovers a vote-catching stunt, his opponents will use it too.

Mr. J. Gibson (S. Lanark) was defeated because, among other things, the workers did not like what they saw of Labour Government. He says :—
   The Labour Government did not help us. It had attempted to operate capitalism only to find itself faced with a crisis that demanded Socialist action.
Mr. Gibson does hot explain how, having been elected to operate capitalism, they could have taken socialist action even if they know what it is and wished to do so. It was only the disgust of the voters that prevented Mr. Gibson from being returned like the others “to operate capitalism." That was what he was offering to do.

“They Had No Savings."

In Berwick and Haddington, Mr. G. Sinkinson had a different experience from some of his colleagues elsewhere. He found that the miners solidly resisted the panic about Savings Banks, “for the very simple reason that they had ho savings." Mr. Sinkinson does not explain what the Labour Government had been doing for over two years that the miners should have been thus pauperised.

Mr. J. Rankin (Pollok) describes the “huge Labour majorities of 1929 melting like snow upon the desert's dusty face." The fall in the Labour vote was due to the following: “The ongoings in the Labour Cabinet during the crisis." At every meeting he was asked, “Did your own Cabinet not agree to nine-tenths of the cuts you are now opposing?" He describes the election as being “simply a vote of confidence in MacDonald"; and like others who for years and years had been telling the voters to trust blindly in MacDonald, Mr. Rankin was caught in his own trap.

Miss Jennie Lee, in N. Lanark, failed to get the votes of electors in a new district, and suffered from “the general disappointment caused by the spirit in which the Labour Government had applied itself to its tasks." It will be recalled that Miss Lee, when she was elected in 1929 on a programme of reforms which did not so much as mention Socialism-, claimed her election as a “socialist " victory. Of course, neither her victory then nor her defeat now had anything to do with Socialism.

In West Lothian Mr. Shinwell expected the shale oil workers and miners to be disappointed with the results of Labour Government whose “reforms" had, in fact, worsened their conditions. He saw the miners voting for a royalty owner, and Catholic workers voting for a Protestant Orangeman.

In Shettleston the Labour man was beaten by Mr. McGovern, who fought with the backing of the I.L.P. and its leaders (and the Catholic Press). The I.L.P. parent trying to kill its own overgrown child, the Labour Party!

In Bute and N. Ayr, Mr. A. Sloan attributed his defeat, partly at least, to the spectacle of the Labour Government putting its programme into operation.
  Frankly, I must say that the action or in- action of the late Labour Government had quite a lot to do with it. There was resentment in the minds of the workers that they had been badly let down by the Labour Government.
The Labour Government's "Means Test."

With regard to accusations against the Labour Cabinet that they had agreed to the economies, he says :—
   I have yet to see, hear, or read any reasoned reply to the accusation. I also struck the first fruits of the Anomalies Act. . . It is a means test of far reaching effect imposed by the Labour Government.(Italics his.)
Mr. Sloan gives it as his view that the Labour Government, if judged simply on its merits, would have had an even worse defeat at the polls. Only the unpopular National Government economies saved the Labour candidates some loss of votes.

In East Renfrewshire, Bailie Strain had to fight the “fighting marquis of Clydesdale," a popular sporting man, and also the I.L.P. The branch of the I.L.P. not only decided to take no part in the election, but refused to lend or hire out its hall for Labour meetings, this being done as “a protest against the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party."

Bailie Strain, who was the Co-operative nominee, found himself up against Cooperative opposition. He says :—
   The Tories undoubtedly took full advantage of the elements, hundreds of motor cars and fine- dressed ladies, among whom were many prominent co-operators, helping to rush the electors to the polls.
Mr. A. Fraser Macintosh, at Montrose Burghs, gives a fine illustration of the dangers of depending upon leaders. His party has always told the workers to trust in MacDonald. So large numbers of Labour supporters continued to do so in this election. You cannot unmake a god in a few weeks. Other Labour supporters had become apathetic and would not vote, because the Labour Government had "let them down.’’ All that Mr. Macintosh and his helpers could do was to say that it was not the Labour Party which had betrayed the workers, but only its leaders. To which, as Mr. Macintosh confesses, the workers replied that you could not separate the leaders from the Party.
   Our little band showed them, but it was of little avail—we did not count, it was the leaders who counted, and they had let them down and would do so again.
The Labour Party cannot have it both ways. If they build a party on its leaders, they must put up with the devastating consequences when the leaders desert.

Reforms Which Hit The Miners.

Mr. J. Westwood (Peebles and S. Midlothian) was up against the opposition of the miners, whose sufferings had been aggravated by one  of the Labour Government’s "reforms.”
   There was also a feeling of bitterness amongst the miners at the inadequacy of the Coal Mines Act to deal with the problem of the mines, made more difficult by the short time worked, low wages received and recent reductions applied to our men in the Scottish coalfields.
There was also strong anti-Labour feeling, because of the Labour Government’s Anomalies Act, withdrawing unemployment pay from married women.

Helen Gault, the I.L.P. candidate for East Perth, lost 4,500 votes as compared with 1929. In that year she was official Labour candidate, and had the benefits of having MacDonald on her platform, and "generous financial assistance” from the trade unions. This time her official Labour Party endorsement was withdrawn, and with it the trade union money. She says  that the greatest factor in causing former voters to desert her was the action of the Labour Government—"My greatest handicap was undoubtedly the record of the Labour Government.” She makes the frank admission that, although she and her helpers knew that the charges against the Labour Government were true, they carefully refrained from admitting it.

The Same Thing Over Again.

The above extracts from "Forward” should serve to show what the workers actually think about the Labour Party, and how little they understand their class position and the socialist case. Here we can see the falseness of the I.L.P. and Labour Party belief that you can lead along non-socialist workers by giving them the "practical benefits” of Labour Government. Labour administration of capitalism antagonises the workers, just as speedily as Tory or Liberal administration. 

An incredible amount of work has been devoted to building up the Labour Party and I.L.P. on a basis of reforms, and when they have their chance of giving effect to their programme, capitalism simply smashes their fiddling schemes out of all recognition. It is obvious that in the election the complex jumble of plans and promises contained in "Labour and the Nation” had little effect on the voters.

They simply voted on what they conceived to be the issue of the moment. The Labour Party had been thrust through the natural unpopularity of being the Government, or had manoeuvred itself, on to the wrong side as regards electoral success. Now they are taking stock and preparing to get back again into office when the National Government also fails to solve the insoluble problems of capitalism. But the Labour leaders are not learning the real lesson of the election. They are not even aware that it has proved once more that the only basis for a Socialist Party is an understanding of Socialism. All they are doing is to mix up another mess of reforms, calculated to capture the largest number of votes.
Edgar Hardcastle

Do We Need A Five-Year Plan? (1931)

From the November 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Practical Importance of Theory.
It is no uncommon thing for Socialists to be met with the charge that they are only mystics, airy philosophers destitute of any practical notions of how to carry on the society which they propose to establish. The present writer readily confesses to having been struck dumb in his youth by a querulous critic who demanded to know, “Who is going to get the best joints of meat under Socialism?” and proceeded to hint darkly at the possible fate, under such a system, of obstinate wives who refused to sleep with their husbands. What struck me dumb was my amazement that such questions should seriously worry one whose choice of the food he consumed at cheap restaurants during the week was practically nil, and who, as a result of his closely-confined occupation, looked as capable of healthy sex relationships as of knocking out Carnera.

The charge of mysticism was recently made against Socialists by a contributor to a discussion on the Russian Five-Year Plan in the economics section of the (British Association Conference. The suggestion is not new. Max Eastman made it in his “Marx, Lenin and Revolution.” H. G. Wells put it forward in the first volume of “William Clissold"; and Marx himself had to meet similar attempts at criticism after the publication of his work on “Capital.” His reply to this is contained in his preface to the second edition.

Marx owed a debt to the German philosopher, Hegel, which he readily admitted; but he frankly abandoned Hegel’s idealistic standpoint and treated material conditions as the real basis of human society. He saw that these conditions changed and new forms of society arose as a result. He criticised capitalist society from this point of view, and demonstrated that it must give way to Socialism; but he never spent his time in mystical contemplation of the future. He left to others the task of writing out the menus for the Utopian equivalent of Lyons’ cafés.

It is, of course, not surprising that this critical and revolutionary attitude fails to appeal to professional builders of “New Worlds for Old.” They get their living partly by writing about plans for the future, which are pushed aside by events which they fail to foresee. It is only to be expected that they should fall foul of a scientifically cautious mind, and remain apparently unconscious of the absurdity of denouncing Marx for mysticism in one breath and for failing to act as a prophet in the next. Such critics can be left to stew in their own juice.

Of more concern to us are those of our readers who allow themselves to be impressed by such bombast, and write to us complaining of our “destructive criticism” and our failure to propose “measures of reconstruction.” One reader, for example, wants a “Ten Years’ Plan formulated now! in order that the workers can be familiarised with Socialism as a practical rather than a theoretical proposition.” Our correspondent then proceeds to outline in quite a general way the “immediate measures” he considers necessary, and to propose certain “new departments” of administration, including one of “Co-ordination.” This proposal shows how easy it is to allow oneself to be hypnotised by important sounding words. Co-ordination is the special function of a general administrative body and not of a department.

The establishment of Socialism is essentially a practical proposition. It is the definite object of the Socialist Party, the goal of our activity. If the workers do not show any enthusiasm for this object that is not because it is "theoretical," but because they do not understand the need for it. They are quite prepared to accept their slave-status (are indeed unaware that they are slaves), and gladly leave planning to their leaders and masters.

The Socialist Party is not in any doubt as to what it has to do when it has conquered political power. Its job will be to convert the means of living into the common property of Society.

To be sure, that is only a brief statement of our "general, line," and our critic wants details. To his mind it is shirking the question to suggest that particular measures depend upon particular conditions. "Most of us," he says, "do not like to buy a pig in a poke.” Who does he mean by us? Unfortunately the majority of the workers are only too ready to buy a political pig in a poke. Any general election provides ample proof. What political party has ever tied itself down to matters of detail before election? The National Government asks for a "free hand" and cannot tell us even a month ahead what it proposes to do. Leading members of the Labour Party disagree considerably as to the form their measures of nationalisation or "public control" are going to take.

The Communist Party, it is true, has an elaborately detailed programme—which has not a ghost of a chance of securing political victory for the Communist Party. If the S.P.G.B. is still out in the cold, therefore, it is certainly not because the Party’s object is too vague for the practical disposition of the workers.

The political actions of the workers may, as our correspondent suggests, be "more powerfully affected by the emotions than by the intellect,” but that does them no good. The people who benefit are the ones who use their intellects to play upon the workers’ emotions, i.e., the master class. Our correspondent confesses that his "imagination reels" when he contemplates the possibilities of planning. Can the Socialist Party afford to enter the political arena with a reeling mind? On the contrary, we need all the concentration of which we are capable to think out the most effective way of getting our "destructive criticism" into the minds of our fellow-workers here and now. They need it.

When they wake up to the fact that they are slaves and that a change in the basis of .society is necessary, they will also realise that in future they have got to do the planning as they march along the road to their emancipation. They will not look to leaders to plan for them. On the other hand, there is no necessity for a small minority of the working class (such as the Socialist Party is at the moment) to anticipate the decisions of the majority which it will one day become. Certainly "there is no harm in speculation,” so long as it is recognised as such, and so long as the speculators do not attempt to force their speculations upon us as a necessary programme. Discuss, by all means (if and when you have nothing better to do) just what is going to happen in twenty or thirty years' time; but do not forget the fate of the practical programme drawn up by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto eighty-three years ago. In twenty-five years it had, in its authors' own words, become somewhat "antiquated” owing to the rapid pace of industrial development. The pace is even more rapid to-day. That is the main reason why the Socialist Party steers clear of so-called plans and programmes.

A further reason is that outsiders have a fatal knack of confusing a programme which, at its best, can only be a means to an end, with the end itself; or, to put it another way, the "programme" and not the object (i.e., Socialism) occupies first place in their minds. The result can be seen in the fate of the old Social Democratic Parties in this and other countries. Numbers were attracted into these organisations by the immediate programme, the sound Socialist element was swamped, and these parties eventually degenerated into step-ladders for political job-hunters, who in turn operated as tools for the master-class. The preference of the Socialist Party for scientific principles rather than for speculative programmes is thus not a mere foible, it is based upon bitter experience.

No substitute has yet been discovered for Socialist education. It is a slow job and not so exciting or remunerative as that of sweeping the un-class-conscious workers off their feet with stirring "practical measures”; but it has its compensations. There is a certain element of humour in the spectacle of the most practical politicians taking hedges in faultless style, only to land in the mud on the other side. The workers who have prided themselves on their practical commonsense, their superiority to the theorists of the S.P.G.B., are apt to view the situation rather tragically at the moment, having put their savings upon these much-advertised hurdle-jumpers in quite a literal sense. We have confidence that they will recover their balance and treat Socialist principles a little more respectfully in future.

When they have eventually overcome their prejudices in this direction the time will then arrive for practical programmes to take on a new and revolutionary character. Informed with the necessary fundamental knowledge derived from an effort to understand their experience, the workers will address themselves, with much greater energy and immensely superior organisation, to the necessary task of social reconstruction. We may guess at the plans they will make and some of our guesses may turn out to be accurate, but it is more satisfactory and immediately profitable to get on with the job of making Socialists.
Eric Boden

The Founding of the Socialist Party - Part 2 (1931)

From the October 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
(Continued from September Issue.)
After the return of the delegates from the Burnley Conference, a meeting of London members of the S.D.F. was held on Sunday, April 24th, 1904, at Shoreditch Town Hall, to discuss the expulsions and matters arising therefrom. On the plea that they were no longer members of the organisation, Fitzgerald and Hawkins were excluded from the hall.

At this meeting there were two surprises: Jack Jones—now a Labour M.P.—who all through had given indications of supporting the so-called “Impossibilists,” backed down and supported the official group; Jack Kent, who was thought to be hand-in-glove with the Executive (of which he had been a member), gave the game away and told of the machinations to get rid of the more dangerous of the critics.

After several hours of heated discussion, the meeting supported the official attitude by a vote of 119 to 83.

The small group that had been working by means of economics classes, circulars, and discussions, in the endeavour to convince the members of the necessity of class conscious revolutionary political action, saw that the position was hopeless. As the S.L.P. was also in the mire, the only way left was to form an independent political party.

Closely following the Shoreditch meeting, a Protest Committee was formed, which issued a leaflet setting forth the grounds of dissatisfaction with the existing policy of the S.D.F. and was signed by 88 members, though some of these had in the meantime been summarily expelled by the Executive for protesting.

Summarised, the criticisms and proposals were as follows :—
   The expulsions were an attempt to gag or expel members who had been bold enough to criticise inside the organisation the policy pursued by representative men and more particularly by the late Executive of the S.D.F.
  It was a question of determining whether the tactics and policy in future should interpret Socialist principles, or whether the Party was prepared to resort to measures that would tend to sterilise the Socialist propaganda of past years of plodding exertion and self-sacrifice.
  The protestors do not believe in impossible political tactics, but assert that political action must be such as to awaken the workers of this country to full class-consciousness, and to the desire to abolish wage-slavery. They therefore feel the necessity of avoiding any action that would endanger or obliterate their Socialist identity or allow them to be swallowed up by a labour movement that has yet to learn the real meaning of a class struggle.
   The policy of permeating the Trade Unions had resulted in prominent members getting official jobs that precluded them preaching the class struggle. The policy adopted of voting Tory to dish the Liberals, and vice-versa, confused the workers and rendered propaganda difficult.
   The basis of the Party was undemocratic. It had been dominated for years by certain leaders over whom there was no real or effective control. The final clothing of the Executive with autocratic authority to expel without appeal showed it was no longer an administrative body, but, according to rules which can only be revised every three years, it is empowered to decide and entirely control the electoral policy of the Party. A man in his capacity of a Trade Union official is allowed to do what would render other members liable to expulsion.
  The Party has neither ownership nor control of the Party organ, Justice, which was mortgaged to the Trade Unions. The Party was called upon to officially endorse candidatures of non-Socialist Trade Unionists. Questions of policy could be, and were, decided in secret. Conference amendments on serious questions of organisation were not even discussed.
  Opposition to the official policy was denied free expression, and members were called upon to apologise for actions of which they were not guilty and which only existed in the imagination of their accusers, the climax of which was the unconstitutional manner of the expulsion of Fitzgerald and Hawkins. Many of those who voted for the expulsions did so in direct contravention of their instructions to vote for these members in the election to the new Executive. All who voted for the expulsions did so without any instruction whatsoever, thus violating the rules of the S.D.F. The vague charges made against the two members were only put forward to cover the intentions of the old clique to get rid of those who wanted the Party to adopt an uncompromising revolutionary policy, and were carrying on the agitation quite constitutionally within, the organisation.
The signatories to the leaflet then urged:—
  The adoption of an uncompromising attitude which admits of no arrangements with any section of the capitalist party; nor permits any compromise with any individual or party not recognising the class war as a basic principle, and not prepared to work for the overthrow of the present capitalist system. Opposition to all who are not openly and avowedly working for the realisation of Social Democracy. A remodelled organisation, wherein the Executive shall be mainly an administrative body, the policy and tactics to be determined and controlled by the entire organisation. The Party Organ to be owned, controlled and run by the Party. The individual member to have the right to claim protection of the whole organisation against tyrannical decisions.
Such was the position put forward by those who eventually founded the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Subsequent events made plain the correctness of the view of these pioneers. The Party they sought to clarify and were finally compelled to leave in disgust was afterwards swallowed up in the opportunist movement, and on the outbreak of war in 1914 sided with the capitalists and helped to drive English working men to slaughter their German brethren on the battlefields in the interests of the capitalists. Leading members of it, through the Labour party, became capitalist Cabinet Ministers, and it has finally taken its place as a warning and a lesson to working men of the fate reserved for those who give adherence to numbers in place of clarity of thought.

After the issue of the above-mentioned leaflet, events moved rapidly. The autocratic official group continued their expulsions from the S.D.F. A meeting of sympathisers with the policy outlined in the leaflet was held at Sidney Hall, Battersea, on May 15th, 1904, and at that meeting it was decided to launch a Party based upon Socialist principles and opposed to all other political parties. A meeting to formally constitute the Party was held at the Printers’ Hall, Bartlett’s Passage, Fetter Lane, E.C., on Sunday, June 12th, 1904. Such was the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The new Party was forced into existence without literature, offices, printing facilities or funds, apart from the contributions of the 120 members who took part in its formation. Its early Executive meetings were held in the bedroom of one of the members, his bed providing the main seating accommodation. However, they entered with enthusiasm and energy into the work of building up an organisation, and, with considerable personal sacrifice, had the satisfaction of seeing the first number of The Socialist Standard appear on September 3rd, 1904, containing on its seventh page the Object and Declaration of Principles that has guided the Party ever since.

The first Annual Conference was held at the Communist Club (now defunct), 107, Charlotte Street, London, on April 29th, 1905. The membership had by then reached 150.

From its formation the Party has been controlled entirely by its members, and many lengthy and stimulating discussions have been held on questions; of policy and detail work. All its meetings and discussions, apart from the period of martial law during the War, have been open to any who cared to attend and listen.

The soundness of the Party’s principles as a sheet anchor was particularly demonstrated on the outbreak of the War in 1914. While all the other alleged working-class parties (including the Socialist Labour Party) were entirely at sea as to what line to follow, and were gradually consumed by the war fever, the S.P.G.B., from the declaration of war to the armistice, never deviated from opposition to it as a capitalist war involving no interest worth the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood, and laying it down as a principle that any man who voluntarily joined the Army was unworthy of membership of a Socialist Party. The September, 1914, issue of The Socialist Standard contained our War Manifesto, and subsequent issues, brought out under overwhelming difficulties and in spite of Governmental raids on the Central Office, continued to oppose the War as no concern of the workers of any country. As far as our knowledge goes, it was alone in the belligerent countries in taking up that stand.

The result of this policy brought devastation for a time. Its members were scattered and some of them were hunted over the world. A good deal of the work at the Head Office was done by women members who ably carried out work the men were precluded from doing. When the Armistice enabled the members to gather together once more, it was a much decimated Party that emerged. But, in spite of the knocks it had received, the Party was sound, and the members proceeded with enthusiasm to rebuild the broken organisation, with such good results that it is now stronger and more firmly established than ever and has been the means of developing young organisations on a similar basis in other countries.

In the foregoing way was built up the organisation that is now attracting more and more of those who give serious thought to the problems that confront the working class.