Thursday, May 10, 2018

Justice. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Ramsay McDonald recently gave it out that the Party of which he is ‘Leader “Fights for Divine Justice.” The question of divinity need not detain us, but one of the things which clearly mark off the Socialists from the Labour Party is, that we do not fight for justice; we fight for Socialism. Lest it be thought that the one is as vague and unsatisfactory as the other, let me add that we also define our aim :
  “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.”
We deal with facts, they live in a world of abstractions. We see a system of society, in which a small minority, the capitalist class, own the means of producing wealth. We see that this class no longer takes an active part in the production of the wealth which they own, and of which they retain a large part after paying wages to the workers, the real producers. We see that the capitalist class have ceased to be socially useful, and that the organisation of society which they built up, and which was in its time and place necessary and an advance on previous systems, has become a hindrance to further progress. We see that the capitalists maintain their position by their control of the machinery of Government, and we know they will not willingly abdicate their privileged position. Because of this we ask the worker to organise for the conquest of power so that they may wrest from the ruling class their hold on the means, of life, and may rebuild society on the basis of common ownership and democratic control.

We fight for something definite and material; the Labour Party fights for “Justice.” What is Justice?

Imagine an unknown speaker, betrayed by no Party label, addressing a mixed crowd at any street corner, and saying: “I fight for justice.” If he is anything of an orator he is sure to strike an answering note in the minds of his audience, and they will all agree, with more or less enthusiasm, but complete harmony, that they also fight for justice. But let the speaker begin to explain what he means by justice, and he will soon discover that his conception is his own, and that his audience, in complete discord with each other, will agree only on one thing, that the speaker is a liar, a rogue, or a fool.

“Justice” for the big capitalist means State support in breaking strikes and in keeping control of foreign markets and areas of raw material: he fights for "justice,’’ or more usually he pays workers to do it for him. “ Justice” for the Judge means the body of laws which the ruling class want enforced at a particular time in his “Justice” for.the small capitalist means protection against his monopolist rivals, State legislation against trusts, and 1s. off the income tax: he also fights for “justice.” “Justice” for the Russian peasant is the right to possess as much land as he can till and to live free from taxation and State interference. “Justice” for the trade unionist means the right to organise. There are as many conceptions of justice as there are sectional interests (real or imagined). All these sections fight for “ justice,” and also of necessity, they fight each other.

Socialism is born of the class struggle that goes on unceasingly owing to the private property basis of society. Socialism will arise out of the material conditions that exist in the capitalist organisation in which we live. We fight for the possession of the world’s wealth. Our aims are clear and we have no need to hide them under the figments of men’s minds, whether these be God’s or idealistic conceptions of justice and equity. The Labour Party, on the other hand, is the product of the “spirit of progress,” which “never dies,” says Mr. MacDonald (“Daily Herald,” 12th February, 1923). They have come “flaming with spirit,” and have won their way “into the hearts and intelligence of the great mass of the people.” Apart from a slight exaggeration, the "great mass” having been shown at the election to be about a quarter of the electors, this is all nonsense.

The origin of political movements is not to be explained by vague references to the “spirit of progress,” and, of course, parties, even if they are as woolly in their notions as the Labour Party, do in fact fight for concrete ends.

It may be true that many who have taken part in great historical movements have not understood their real meaning; and have been content to give up their lives for a phrase or a creed. Possibly the great majority who have borne the brunt of the fighting in past revolutions have been in this position, but it is nevertheless true that those old battle cries of the revolutionaries have not been mere myths; they have but idealised a more material conflict. "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” sounds fine, and Napoleon’s army fired by an idea and later by loyalty to the man who embodied it was an incomparable army, but as Marx says: “Infantry, cavalry and artillery” was much more to the point than brotherhood in furthering the interests of the rising capitalist class of France. For the bourgeois owners of the new machinery of production, liberty from the exactions of the now useless and effete feudal aristocracy; equality before the code of new capitalist laws, and fratenity in the exploitation of the proletariat: these were the gods of the philosophers, the soldiers and the statesmen of the revolution. The Guillotine taught the Paris workers that Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were not for them. The workers may have been misled, but Napoleon and his advisers were under no illusion. The French capitalists fought through Napoleon for the political and economic dominance of Europe. They and their British rivals saw that the race for industrial supremacy lay between them. Napoleon encouraged the development of machine production in the French wool and cotton industries to outstrip England; he fought for access to the raw material for these industries, and Britain fought to prevent him; he fought for the capture of the European markets, and Britain fought in naval engagements, and by the smuggling trade to retain those markets. Needless to say, both Britain and France fought for “justice,” the British variety being “divine” and the French belonging to the new school of “Reason.”

At that time the landed aristocracy still kept a firm hand on the government of this country, and the commercial and manufacturing classes had to play second fiddle socially and politically to the fox-hunting squirearchy.

But as the textile, iron and coal trades grew in importance with the coming of machinery and the rapidly increasing foreign trade, the position of the traditional rulers was challenged. The manufacturers wanted free trade and no government interference, and by a choice use of catchphrases and the promise of the franchise the new prophets, typified by Cobden and Bright, won the workers to their side.

The class which had arisen with the new factory production were successful, and came into power as the Liberal Party. They fought out their political battle, now all but brought to a close, with the granting of partial women’s suffrage, but by habit the advanced sections of the working class have continued to stand by the side of the Liberal Party, when this has long since ceased to be any more progressive than its former opponents. Now, there is no real line of cleavage between industrial capitalists and landowners, and the interests of both is summed up in the endeavour to maintain things as they are.

But, says Mr. MacDonald, “Parties have died, but the spirit of progress never dies . . . The Labour Movement stands to-day as the inheritance of the Liberal tradition.” In other words, while the Socialist Party fights for Socialism, that is, for the interests of the working class, Mr. MacDonald and his Party fight for “justice,” “Liberal justice.” What do we find the Labour Party standing for, as shown in its programme and in its actions? For free trade—that is, for access to cheap raw materials—because in the past the interests of the dominant section of the British capitalist class were best served by free trade. On the other hand, most Continental and Colonial Labour Parties, who also fight for “Justice,” are protectionist because their capitalist governments have always been protectionist.

They fight for the “League of Nations” because some sections of the international capitalists wish to avoid the expense of war and the danger it threatens to the stability of their governments. We know that class and international conflicts are part of the nature of capitalism, and can be removed only with the destruction of the present system.

They want a capital levy (that is, a levy on capitalists individually, to lessen their collective State indebtedness) in order to stabilise the currency. They want international loans to improve the disturbed foreign exchanges, revision of the Peace Treaty, and some remission of reparations, all in order to revive capitalist trade.

We want to abolish Capitalism.

They want Nationalisation : that is, private ownership by the capitalists collectively through the State, instead of Individually. We want common ownership.

They want industrial peace; they propose to deal “fairly” and “impartially” as between robbers and robbed; to limit the proceeds of the robbery to a “just” rate of profit, and give the robbed a “just” proportion of the wealth they alone have produced. We stand for the destruction of wage slavery and the profit-making system.

In short, they stand for the abstraction “Justice,” which interpreted means the stabilisation, by reform, of the capitalist system, in the interests of the capitalist class. We, on the other hand, propose to deprive the capitalists of their private ownership of the means of life. Their right to own has been quite legally acquired, and our aim is therefore necessarily from their point of view a most unjust proceeding. We are, however, not governed by that consideration, and are prepared to stand for the concrete objective Socialism, because in that alone lies the hope of the working class.
Edgar Hardcastle

"From Crow-Scaring to Westminster". (1923)

Book Review from the January 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

"From Crow-Scaring to Westminster: An Autobiography" by George Edwards. (The Labour Publishing Company, Ltd., G, Tavistock Square. 240 pages. Paper. Price 5s.)

When a man fights for the workers as hard and as long as George Edwards has, he earns the right to have his mistakes charitably judged. Even if he turns and denounces men of his own class because they fail to follow his lead, one can endeavour to understand the bitterness of his many disappointments and show him the sympathy he occasionally withholds from them. This autobiography offers material enough for an appreciation of what an individual can do, and what are his limitations.

Born into a poverty-stricken Norfolk home in 1850, George Edwards started work at the age of six, scaring crows seven days a week for 1s. He had practically no education, but appears to have been gifted with a natural independence of spirit, and coming at an early age into close touch with the virile Primitive Methodism of those days, he soon developed the will to resist and induce others to resist the "tyranny of the countryside.” His life is the record of struggles to organise the agricultural workers. Unrest was widespread in agricultural areas, and the demand for labour in the towns had set up a strong migration from the land. When, therefore, in 1872 Joseph Arch put himself at the head of a movement to organise farm workers, 150,000 men had joined various local bodies within six months. George Edwards became a member of one of these, and having learned from his wife how to read, and having gained confidence in preaching, he soon began to take an active part. As was natural, he studied the then advanced theories of Liberalism which seemed to him to contain the gospel of working class freedom.

After some exciting struggles, the continued drifting into the growing industrial centres of the North and emigration to the Colonies were reflected in a decline of interest in the agricultural unions. A partial revival accompanied the Liberal campaign for extension of the franchise in 1885, and Edwards then associated himself with Arch’s own union, and assisted Liberal candidates in Norfolk.

Then came a period of agricultural depression, which, with internal dissensions, led to the destruction of all but the Norfolk unions. Edwards meanwhile was diligently studying, together with many quaint theological works, the writings of Adam Smith, Thorold Rogers, and Henry George, and was learning that votes without the knowledge to use them effectively, merely made the workers “easy victims for the Tory Party.” He realised, however, the necessity for political action.

In 1889, at the request of some Norfolk labourers, he formed the “Federal Union,” while simultaneously other county unions sprang up in various parts of the country. Within a year they had 3,000 and Arch’s union 5,000 members in the Eastern Counties. Again depression in 1891 and 1892, and the inability to offer effective resistance to wage reductions, caused dissolution of the unions. In the latter year, too, George Edwards fought his first political battle for a seat on the county council, and lost by a few votes. He was opposed by one of the Liberals for whom he had worked so hard, and this taught him that "they were not prepared to assist the working men to take their share in the government of the country” (p. 61).

The organisations were continually in difficulties, but in 1894 the passing of the "District and Parish Councils” Act gave new hope of salvation in working-class representation on local councils, the latter having power to let out allotments and to appoint trustees for Parish Charities.

Some labourers were elected and much time and energy was devoted to enforcing the observance of existing laws. Their enthusiasm led, however, to defeat at the next election, and George Edwards lost hope of advancement in that direction. Continued depression and the formation of a rival union by political opponents had by 1896 caused the collapse of the “Federal Union,” its founder’s parting words being “ . . . my hopes have been blighted and now I despair of you. All hopes that you as a class will make any effort to lift yourselves from your downtrodden state have vanished ” (page 86).

His writings at this time showed a remarkable appreciation of the real facts of the worker’s enslavement; he saw that neither free trade nor protection, democracy nor autocracy, monarchy nor republic, made any material difference. His outspokenness no doubt explains the ferocity of the attacks made on him by political opponents, and it is interesting to note that the line of attack was the same as is being used now: the attack on alleged extravagant administration.

In spite, however, of the lesson he had learned, he remained in the Liberal Party and advocated their principles for the Free Trade Union.

In 1906 the Liberal victory at the polls was followed by a general attack by the farmers, and again a move was made towards organisation. Although 56 years of age and too dispirited to face the task willingly, George Edwards began the work once more in response to persuasion.

Except for increased centralisation the scheme was much like the previous one, but it was realised now that more care would have to be shown if the organisation was to weather storms such as had proved disastrous to its predecessors. Slow but steady progress was made, and by 1909 ‘‘The Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers’ and Smallholders' Union” had 3,000 members and was represented at the Trades Union Congress. Some reduction in hours had been gained and the Saturday half-holiday was already becoming a possibility. Great enthusiasm resulted from a victorious six months’ strike in Norfolk, through which 1s. per week was obtained.

Much ground appeared to have been lost by a long and disastrous strike in 1910, but actual progress was fairly uniform up to 1913, when successes in Lancashire rapidly opened up new ground. The harm that was done arose mainly out of the personal differences and autocratic methods of some of the leaders.

Then came the war, and, as George Edwards says, “I, like most of the Labour leaders, felt it my duty to do what I could to help the nation in the hours of need, etc., etc.” This man, who had struggled for his whole lifetime to obtain for the workers the right to an existence slightly better than that of the animals, was afraid "that it would be the poor that would be the first to suffer should we be defeated, or should the enemy succeed in starving us. . . .” (pp. 190). As George Edwards knew well enough, the workers never had to look so far abroad as Germany for those who would starve them. The farmers are doing their best to starve them now, in spite of Edwards' pathetic belief that there is a "better spirit” in industry. He supported the war, although for him “war” is a crime of the deepest dye against humanity,” and on numerous occasions we find this curious knack of reconciling most antagonistic facts and principles. Before he would engage in industrial strife he sought biblical authority; he describes his father as a saintly man "who taught me the first principles of righteousness” (pp. 21), and on the same page records the fact that he “night by night, took a few turnips from his master’s field!”

In spite of the brutal fact that the agricultural worker is now back almost where he was in 1914, George Edwards talks about “the wonderful change” and finds more comfort than I can in the fact that the farm labourer is “now qualified to be even a Justice of the Peace.” He writes about the benefit of “collective bargaining,” but he should know well enough that the Conciliation Committees set up since the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in 1921 have been a farce as far as the workers are concerned.

When George Edwards wrote he had not j long been elected to the House of Commons, and felt a pardonable pride in the success he had attained after a life of strife and perpetual failure of one endeavour after another. What was more natural than that he should view the position of the agricultural workers somewhat too cheerfully? Even that has been taken from him in his failure to hold the seat at the recent general election.

The agricultural unions grew enormously in size during the war under the stimulus of labour shortage and rising prices, and later through the formation of the Agricultural Wages Board. It was unfortunately to a large extent a mushroom growth which withered away as soon as it lost its protective covering with the repeal of the Corn Production Act. To the extent that it was organised from above it was not permanent, and to the extent that its members lacked an intelligent grasp of the elements of trade unionism it failed to meet the shock of falling wages and unemployment. The idolising of leaders brought eventual apathy and disillusionment to all but the staunchest. Agricultural organisation is therefore not in a promising condition. Depression has caused loss of membership, as in other unions, but probably to a greater degree than in most. Well financed attacks on balance sheets have not been without effect, and the formation of a rival “non-party” union has added to the difficulties. There is, however, an explanation and a remedy for these things. It is in the recognition that the members alone can make or mar their organisation, and that in their understanding rests the only ultimate guarantee of success. No merits of leaders can form an adequate substitute. The man who is honest and dependable will reap disappointment as has George Edwards, and the man who lacks some of his singleness of purpose will soon enough fall to the temptation of getting security by entering the service of the enemies of the workers. In the absence of an instructed membership, what is much more dangerous than disloyalty .is the lack of knowledge. Neither the integrity of George Edwards nor mere sympathy and natural “fighting spirit” are proof against the subtle arguments of “community of interests” and the farmers’ “inability to pay.”

Men who clearly recognised the cause of the workers' poverty in the private ownership of the means of production, and who realised that the spreading of Socialist knowledge is the only permanent basis for working-class organisation would not have to go into battle with untrained troops, and would not risk finding themselves at the end of a life of ceaseless toil for their class, the disappointed leaders of a phantom army.
Edgar Hardcastle

Answers to Correspondents (1929)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

E. M. (Brixton) writes at length, denying that a majority of the workers will ever understand Socialism, as before our propaganda will penetrate the workers’ minds, most of them will be submerged into the Slum proletariat—and beyond redemption altogether.

The views put forward—as to the slowness of accepting Socialism and the workers' large interest in Capitalist ideas—are not new, and they were faced long ago. But the notion that general industrial development and economic pressure does not make the workers receptive to Socialism, is belied by the facts of daily experience.

One fact alone—the widespread interest in social affairs and social change, compared to 25 years ago—is patent to all. It does not follow from Capitalist development that most workers will be pushed into the slum proletariat.

The important facts to bear in mind are the growing insecurity of “jobs,” even salaried ones, the lessons of concentration of wealth going on all around us, and the proved inefficacy of the reform panaceas to affect the workers' lives for the better. The long history of workers' struggles against enormous odds proves that even the lies and chloroform of the masters fail to work in face of the glaring lessons from economic life.
Editorial Committee.

The Communist Party and the General Election. (1929)

From the May 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

As usual, the Communist Party is trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Since its formation it has repeatedly denounced the Labour Party leaders and programmes, and at the same time, in obedience to its Russian paymasters, has alternately supported and opposed Labour Party candidates. In 1921 it ran a candidate at Caerphilly against the Labour Party candidate, and opposed MacDonald at Woolwich. At the 1922 election it first put forward candidates in opposition to Labour Party candidates; then withdrew them at the last moment and told the workers to vote "Labour." That year at Gorton Mr. Harry Pollitt was put forward as Communist candidate against Mr. John Hodge. Mr. Pollitt denounced the Labour candidate and his programme, but in due course he withdrew and “held large and successful meetings in the constituency, urging the workers to vote for Mr. Hodge." (See the “Communist Daily," November 13, 1922).

In their official Election Manifesto this year ("Class against Class”) they admit that their attitude has again changed.
  Prior to the formation of the Labour Government in 1924, the Communist Party, although the leaders of the Labour Party were as treacherous then as now, advised the working class to push the Labour Party into power. . . (page 9).
Now, although they describe the Labour Party as "the third Capitalist Party” (p. 8) and say “no Party can serve two masters” (p. 7) they have already declared their willingness to support that Party, i.e., to serve two masters.

In a statement issued to the Press on April 13th of this year, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party made the following declaration (“Sunday Worker,” April 14th).
  A Labour Government at the present day would be a Government of capitalist rationalisation, only differing from the Tory and Liberal Parties as to the best methods whereby rationalisation could be brought about at the expense of the workers.
 It is, therefore, no longer possible for the Communist Party to advise the workers to give unconditional support to Labour candidates, even in constituencies not being contested by the Communists.
 The Communist Party is advising the workers only to vote for such Labour candidates as are prepared to accept a policy of minimum working class demands, involving the repudiation of Mondism, of imperialism, and of the policy of trade union disruption now being actively operated in the trade union movement.
  Unless these demands are accepted the Communist Party will advise the workers to refrain from voting.
The policy of asking a Labour candidate to endorse “a policy of minimum working class demands, etc.,” as a condition of giving him their vote is a piece of the pettiest election trickery. If the candidate wants their votes and chooses to give a pledge in order to get them, he can do so without the least danger of ever being compelled to carry out the pledge. The pledge itself in its terms is so general as to be largely meaningless.

But to see how dishonest or foolish the Communist Party is we need only consider the result of their applying a similar face-saving expedient in earlier contests.

This same policy was applied at the 1922 General Election. When Mr. Pollitt withdrew from the contest at Gorton, the Openshaw Branch of the Communist Party put a series of questions on unemployment to Mr. John Hodge in order to decide whether or not they could support him. The official organ of the Communist Party (“Communist Daily,” 13th November, 1922) reported that “It is not clear from the Labour candidate’s reply whether he agrees with this point in the Communist Party’s programme or not.” Nevertheless they supported him.

In other words, their attempt to excuse their support of Hodge and their betrayal of the workers by seeking a pledge from him broke down because he did not want their support and refused to give the pledge. They had then, as now, to act not in accordance with some settled principles but as Moscow may from time to time dictate.

And even where they did endorse some Labour M.P.'s who were willing at the time to accept their support, the result has clearly shown how little control they have over the men in question. After the 1923 election Mr. Tom Bell, Editor of the “Communist Review" (January, 1924) stated that the Labour M.P.'s on whom would fall the task of maintaining "the proletarian opposition” to the leaders of the Labour Party, were "Wheatley, Maxton, Johnston, Kirkwood," and others unnamed. Every one of these four stalwarts they have since roundly denounced as "traitors to the working class.”

The Communist Party A Reform Party.
Knowing full well that in spite of their liberal supplies of money they do not stand any chance whatever of getting a candidate returned by Communist votes on a Communist programme, their Election address consists largely of a long list of reforms. Under the title “Our Immediate Programme of Action" the number of reforms listed is no fewer than 94, in addition to a large number of other reforms included in its “Programme of the Revolutionary Workers' Government.”

Among the "revolutionary” demands in the list of 94 are such ancient and (to the workers) useless Liberal panaceas as the "abolition of all indirect taxes” (p. 30). As they know full well, cheapening the cost of living is reflected automatically in a lowered cost of living bonus throughout the Civil Service and the Municipal services, and in many other industries, and is rapidly followed by lowered wages throughout the country generally. The great fall in prices since 1920 has brought no improvement in the condition of the workers.

Other reforms, such as "non-contributory pensions at 60," are the common stock-in-trade of all the Parties advocating the reform of Capitalism.

It is amusing to notice that the Communist Party has now been outbidden by its » reformist rivals in the I.L.P. For while the I.L.P. is proposing that the unemployed be given pay equal to that of an employed man, the Communists are more moderately asking for only 30s. (p. 21).

This also represents a very big decrease on the claim made by the Communist Party at the 1923 General Election. At that time they were demanding "£4 a week for all . . . employed and unemployed." (See "Workers’ Weekly," 30th November. 1923). They are also supporting the demand for children’s allowances (p. 24), a reform which has the backing of prominent members of each of the Parties—Liberal, Tory, Labour, and I.L.P.—and has been applied by numerous Capitalist Governments.

The Policy of Armed Revolt.
Lastly, the Communists are repeating their dangerous nonsense about the armed overthrow of the Capitalist State. They say (p. 5) the Communist Party recognises
that the working-class can only conquer capitalism and become the ruling class by the creation of its own instruments of power (i.e., workers’ councils, composed of delegates from the factories and the mass organisation of the workers), and the impossibility of the working class capturing and utilising the capitalist State apparatus for the exercise of its own class powers for the building of Socialism.
They say further 
. . . It is only possible to conquer this class domination when . . . the majority of the workers are prepared forcibly to throw off the capitalist class control. . .
This policy of unarmed workers attempting the forcible overthrow of the capitalist state with its armies, navies and other organised forces of destruction, would lead only to the slaughter of thousands of helpless communist dupes.

The simple truth, here ignored by the Communists, is that it is not only the capitalist minority, but the working-class majority which keeps Communists out of the House of Commons unless they creep in under false pretences. It is useless, they say, for the workers to try to capture and utilise Parliament. But so anxious are they to get inside this institution, which they say is useless, that, rather than fight and lose elections as Communists, they descend to the electioneering devices of the other vote-catching parties and fight the election on this programme of capitalist reforms.

Control of Parliament by persons returned on such a programme and by the kind of votes which such a programme will receive, is indeed useless for the purpose of achieving Socialism. Socialism, as a system of society, cannot be carried on, nor can power for Socialism be obtained without first securing a Socialist majority. The Communist short and crooked cuts lead not to Socialism, but to disillusion and despair.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Socialist Party and National Defence. (1929)

From the April 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do We Want a Navy?
In the Morning Post (February 25th), the late Right Hon. Stephen Walsh, M.P., wrote an article under the title “Labour Party and National Defence." In it he explained the attitude of a Labour Government to questions affecting the organisation and use of the Army, Navy and Air Force. As he was Secretary for War in the Labour Government, he spoke with authority and knowledge, and as he was an enthusiastic supporter of the war in 1914, and of conscription, and an avowed believer in the need to maintain the British Empire, it is not surprising that his views received ungrudging approval from the editor of the Morning Post. It is, of course, true that not all of Mr. Walsh’s Labour colleagues were so boldly jingo during the war, nor so unrepentantly imperialistic now. But on the fundamental problem of national defence, Mr. Walsh could speak for his party, and his views would be endorsed by practically all the influential groups in it, from J. H. Thomas to the I.L.P.

Mr. Walsh’s words are that the Army, Navy and Air Force are required in order that “the British citizen . . may pursue his daily avocation in security.’' This is a statement acceptable by Tories, Liberals, and the Labour Party alike. It is not accepted by the Socialist Party.

Who is the “British citizen” and what is his “daily avocation”?

To come straight to the point, a point obscured by Mr. Walsh’s use of undefined terms like “the nation,” “our country,” etc., British citizens and, in fact the citizens of all the capitalistic world, consist of two main classes. On the one side there are the propertied few, who live on property incomes, without the need to work for their living. On the other side are the great majority who are propertyless and are compelled to sell their working power for wages or salaries, to the propertied class. The one class has property to lose, and a privileged position to lose, wealth and security to lose. The other class count themselves fortunate only in being able to find employment, and life even then is arduous and insecure. The Capitalist class, in short, have something worth defending, and for its defence they maintain, and will maintain, whatever armed forces they think necessary. Non-resistance to an attack by other capitalist governments, or defeat in war, means to them the loss of something material. Thus defeat in the Great War, the subsequent imposition of indemnities, the loss of colonies, meant the extraction of wealth from the pockets of the German capitalists— the only class who could pay—and the loss of opportunities for lucrative colonial investment. The burden of defeat has not, in fact, fallen on the German workers. The employers in defeated Germany can afford to depress the standard of living of their employees below efficiency level, no more, and no less, than can employers in victorious Britain.

The capitalist needs efficiency in his wage-slaves for the production of profit, just as the farmer needs well-fed horses and cattle. And the extent to which the German workers can, by organisation and otherwise, secure standards over and above the level required to make them efficient wealth-producers, is not importantly affected by the defeat or victory of their employers in a war with foreign capitalist states. It is conditioned by the forces of the capitalist system itself, and by the political needs of the ruling class. In times when their position is endangered from abroad, rather than in the piping times of peace, the ruling class are most willing to give concessions to their wage-slaves.

The war left the position of the German working-class and the condition of the British working-class just what it was before 1914. Both countries in 1914 were capitalist countries, governed by and for the capitalist class. The same is true in 1919 and 1929, with this difference, that whereas the British capitalists are wealthier than ever, their German colleagues have had to pay the price of military defeat.

Figures issued by German official sources disclose something of the extent of the loss of Germany’s propertied class. (See “Observer,” March 17th.) In 1914, there were 15,549 persons with fortunes of one million marks or over; now there are only 2,235, and owners of more than £500,000 have decreased from 229 to 33.

Mr. Walsh wrote of carrying on our “daily avocation in security.” We can now give more precise meaning to the phrase. The “daily avocation” of the capitalist class is the extraction of profit from the exploitation of the working-class, by whose labour wealth is produced.

German capitalists and British capitalists need armed forces to protect their privileged position, and these armed forces are intended to be used not only in war with foreign states, but also against members of the working-class who rebel against the system, whether individually or collectively. This we see in times of industrial conflict, strikes, lock-outs, etc.

Members of the working-class, on the other hand, do not enjoy the possession of battleships and howitzers, poison-gas, and aeroplanes to enable them to pursue their “daily avocation in security,” because the threat to them comes not from foreign capitalists in particular, but from the capitalist class in general. The ruling class in Germany in 1914 did not construct great armaments at enormous cost in order to disturb the normal pre-war army of British unemployed in their “daily avocation” of looking for a job; nor to rob the workers o( their slums, nor to interfere with the activities of those British workers who were fortunate enough to have employment. The object of the capitalist class in general is to exploit the working class. When capitalist states quarrel, the object of the quarrel and the prize for the victor is a re-division of the wealth of which the working-class are, under capitalism, normally robbed. Armaments exist to give the capitalists security. The position of the workers is as secure or insecure in defeat as in victory. The workers have nothing to defend. National Defence is a purely capitalist question. Not national defence, but the overthrow of capitalism is the object of the Socialist Party.
Edgar Hardcastle

Points For Propagandists. (1929)

From the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Workers’ Savings

In the early days of Capitalism it was possible for the man with small capital to set up in business with some chance of climbing to the top, and in consequence saving ranked high among the Capitalist virtues. Out of this developed the silly theory that the possession of wealth in the modern world denotes “abstinence" and “self-denial" on the part of the possessing class. It was effectively answered by the late Sir William Ashley, economic adviser to the Conservative Party. In his “Economic Organisation of England” (p. 157) he says :—
Phrases like these have occasioned no little mirth; it is hard to discover self-denial or parsimony as the world understands these words, in the processes by which modern capital is most largely accumulated.
Capitalist savings result mainly, not from self-denial, but from having incomes so large that it is difficult not to save. Knowing this, and overlooking the fact that the position of the workers is essentially different from their own, it is a common error for wealthy bankers and Cabinet Ministers to assume that the accumulation of funds in savings banks indicates prosperity among the workers. Every wage-earner appreciates only too well that the necessity of putting something by, out of wages already inadequate for decent comfort, is the result not of prosperity, but of the insecurity of his existence. It is therefore interesting to see that Major-General J. E. B. Seely, Chairman of the National Savings Committee, has realised this. In a speech at Leeds on December 12th he said that in November, 1928, more Savings Certificates had been sold than in any November since 1921.
  As unemployment and distress grow, savings have increased. The reason is that the British people, when they are up against something, are determined to lay something up against the dangers looming ahead. Households now living on 30s. a week are saving more than they did when they were earning £7 or £8 a week. ("Daily Mail,” 13 December.)
And what a commentary on Capitalism. Here we have one of the wealthiest ruling classes known to history financing a huge national organisation in order to persuade its wage-slaves, starving on 30s. a week that they ought to save!

Statements of Fact.

There are, perhaps, different standards of accuracy and reliability observed by different Governments and newspapers, but during the War every Government and the Press of every belligerent country was engaged in faking and suppressing news, as well as in downright lying. In consequence, most people are inclined to be sceptical about some, if not all, of the "facts” they read, especially if they are "official." 

So much so, that the "Daily News” on November 28th referred to the numerous letters received by all the newspapers, asking if the bulletins about the King’s illness were genuine or whether something was being kept back. The "Daily News,” as usual a little pompous, informed its readers in heavy black type as follows:—
   “The Daily News"—speaking with high authority—feels it a duty to say, and to emphasise, that the bulletins published about the King’s health are statements of fact 'and that nothing has been kept back.
Subsequently we were told of the anxiety which the King’s condition had given rise to in these early weeks, and it appears that what the "Daily News” felt it a duty not only "to say,” but also ”to emphasise,” was one of those "statements of fact ” like the war-time "victories” which were more costly than defeats and were almost invariably followed by "withdrawals”  "according to plan.”

Patriotism and Profit.

The ‘‘Daily Mail,” so solicitous for everything British and so anxious to preserve British industry and provide work and wages for British workers, remarks that—
increasing numbers of British investors and speculators are seeking investment opportunities abroad, and particularly across the Atlantic. ("Daily Mail,” 27 November, 1928.)
Knowing the Britishness and integrity of the "Daily Mail,” you will expect, as a matter of course, that the Editor will denounce this investment of British money in American industries and will particularly express his abhorrence of speculators. On the contrary he announces that— 
each day we shall publish . . . a concise review . . . of the investment situation in New York, with helpful hints as to American and Canadian securities from the British investor’s point of view.

The National Income.

Sir Josiah Stamp and Professor Bowley ("The National Income”) have shown that the total real national income in 1924 was approximately the same as in 1911, or, in other words, the value of the wealth produced (including incomes from abroad) had increased by the same percentage as prices. As population had in the meantime increased slightly, this meant that the total purchasing power per head of the population was slightly less than in 1911.

The national income is now definitely increasing again. Mr. G. D. Rokeling has recently conducted a further enquiry for the "Economist.” It is published under the title, "A British Index of National Prosperity, 1920-1927,” with a commendatory Introduction by Sir Josiah Stamp. (Published by the "Economist.” 2s. 6d.)

In it Mr. Rokeling estimates (page 31) that the real national income has increased between 1920 and 1927 by about 8 per cent. The increase between 1924 and 1927 is 6.7 per cent. After allowing for the increase in population, this gives an increase per head of the population of 5.3 per cent, between 1924 and 1927. The “Economist” (October 6th, 1928) considers that this estimated increase is probably slightly less than the actual increase.
Edgar Hardcastle

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Obituary: Pat Kilgallon (2018)

Obituary from the May 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have to report the death of Pat Kilgallon at the age of 91 after a long and debilitating illness. Pat came from a family of political activists and trades unionists, her grandfather was the agent for the first ILP candidate in the North East who also refused to fight in the First World War. Pat joined the Newcastle Branch of the Socialist Party in April 1994, having left the Labour Party earlier in that year.

Pat came into contact with the Party in the early 1980s a time when she was a Labour councillor on North Tyneside Council and when she was also active in arranging food collections and other types of support for the families of striking miners. She was also part of the group of councillors that refused to set a budget in 1985. It was the failure of this and similar actions that began her realisation that capitalism could not be reformed and led to her journey towards joining the Socialist Party.

Her activity in the Party, especially in later years was hampered by her age and ill health, however she never missed an opportunity to put forward the socialist case to any that would listen and she had recently been involved in distributing union application forms to the un-unionised home carers who supported her to live in her own home.
T. K.

What is the Use of Parliament? (1929)

From the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lessons of the German Naval Revolt.
Those who have learned by experience and observation that the big political parties, Liberal, Labour and Conservative alike, offer no hope of improved conditions for the workers, often conclude that the failure of these Parliamentary parties is evidence of the uselessness of Parliament and the danger of Parliamentary methods. This is a wrong conclusion. It is not Parliament as a piece of political machinery which has failed; it is the three political parties which have failed. They have failed even to attempt to use Parliament for the purpose of establishing Socialism. No single M.P. of any party in this country has ever been elected to Parliament as a Socialist, for the simple reason that there is no single constituency in which a majority of the workers want Socialism. We say that when the workers are Socialists and are organised in the Socialist Party, they will use their votes to obtain control of Parliament because this will give control of all the machinery of administration and control of the armed forces. While the Capitalist class have control of Parliament and the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc., their position is secure and we are helpless.

Some of our critics question this view. They say that it is unnecessary and useless to obtain control of Parliament. Unnecessary because the workers can themselves gain military dominance by force of arms and by winning over the existing armed forces; and useless because control of Parliament does not give power over the armed forces. The possibility of the working class organising their own military force has often and recently been dealt with in these columns. It is an illusion and a dangerous illusion.

Our attitude on the second question, the power of Parliament, is worth some elaboration. In the modern Capitalist democracies the State has come to control a vast, intricate and continually growing machinery of administration. Not only does it control legislation—the making of laws—but also their administration by hundreds of thousands of civil servants and local government officials, and their enforcement by the courts, the police and, in the last resort, by the armed forces. Every phase of modern life, the ownership and transfer of property, the production of wealth, transport, building, commercial and financial operations, education, hospitals, sanitation, public health, all these activities are carried on under regulations prescribed by the Government and, in the final analysis, under conditions which they determine. The life of modern Capitalist society is organised round Parliament as its centre of power. Parliamentary control carries with it the power, more or less directly and speedily, to promote or suspend activity in any and every branch of social life. By organisation and by use, the electorate—now the vast majority of the adult population—look to Parliament as the depository of the organised power of society, and by law, by organisation and use, the employees, civil and military, of the central and local authorities derive their authority from the Government which, in turn, is dependent on a Parliamentary majority.

Each individual in this great civil and military machine goes on doing his particular job under the authority of the official or officer above him in the scale. Legally, neither a civil servant nor a soldier can plead in defence of an illegal action that he was obeying the orders of his superior, but within the framework of the law each man realises that his position and security are guaranteed so long, and only so long, as he acts with such superior authority. Should occasions arise when instant obedience is required to an order the legality of which is in doubt, the man concerned can only use his own judgment as to whether or not the final authority, the Government, will back him up in the course he chooses. This is simple when the general attitude and intentions of the Government are well known. Each individual is a part of the machine and everything is done to cultivate immediate response to decisions of the central authority. This is why the soldier will normally face almost certain death rather than the penalty, possibly less severe but absolutely certain, which will follow if he takes the very difficult step of acting on his own initiative in defiance of orders.

By its very nature, however, this elaborate machine weakens and fails if there is an obvious weakening or disunity at the centre of things. If a Government fails to act decisively in an emergency, or, having taken a decision, reverses it, or allows subordinate military or civil authorities, or even some of its own members, to act on their own responsibility in defiance of its decisions, if any of these things happen the individuals who make up the Army, and less urgently the civil servants, are put in a state of confusion or are faced with the difficult problem of having to choose between rival authorities, with the possibility of backing the weaker of the two. In the case of a subordinate civil or military official defying the supreme authority, the decision of the soldier or civil servant is not in doubt. He backs the .supreme authority. Where it is the Government itself which is divided or paralysed, his natural course is to take no decision at all if it can be avoided. Hence the failure of authority and decision at the top immediately affects the morale and effectiveness of the whole machine.

It is to obtain this enormous advantage given by possession of the central directing machinery, and the authority resulting from control of Parliament, that Socialists seek to gain a Parliamentary majority.

A useful illustration of the importance of such control is given by the revolt in Germany in 1918, which resulted in a regrouping of the Capitalist governing circles, and the dropping of the Kaiser and. the Monarchy, figureheads which had outgrown their usefulness.

In 1918 it had for a year been increasingly obvious to more and more persons influential in German political and industrial life, that the Allies must win the war. There was as much, and probably much more, war-weariness among the civilian and the fighting population than in the chief Allied countries, but in Germany, as here, the practice of keeping the Government and Parliament in touch with public opinion by means of elections and more or less free speech and a free press, had ceased to operate in the ordinary peace-time fashion. Capitalist opinion on the War was more divided than at any time since 1914, and those who favoured peace at almost any price were able to bring their views to bear directly on the Government. Acute differences of opinion among prominent politicians were openly expressed and debated. The new Government, under the Chancellorship of Prince Max of Baden, had for some time in the autumn of 1918 been negotiating for an armistice.

More than a year earlier, in the summer of 1917, there had been determined efforts to stir up the German sailors to mutiny, and there were, in fact, outbreaks on various ships. At that time, however, the German Government was still fairly representative of the mass of the population, and still united on the determined prosecution of the War. In consequence, the revolt failed to spread and was easily stamped out.

By October, 1918, the situation had vastly changed. Prince Max personally had favoured the opening of negotiations a year before, and his appointment as Chancellor signified the growing influence of the Capitalist interests whose views on the question of peace had the backing of a majority of the population. (At the ‘elections shortly afterwards the German Labour Party alone secured nearly 50 per cent, of votes. and there were other parties as well which had dropped their earlier enthusiasm for the War.) Thus Germany had a Government still carrying on the War, but with members some of whom were known to be lukewarm in their enthusiasm for it. In these circumstances the German admirals, including Von Scheer, the “Victor ’’ of Jutland, who was now Chief of the Admiralty Staff at Berlin, drew up plans for a great naval action by the whole German Fleet. (See obituary notices and articles on Von Scheer in “Manchester Guardian,’’ “Daily News’’ and “Daily Express,’’ November 27th, 1928; “Manchester Guardian,’’ October 30th, 1928; and for a general account see “Die Tragodie der altem deutschen marine,’’ by E. Alboldt, Berlin.) The officers were willing and eager, but many of the crew, as in 1917, were dissatisfied and tired of the War. The order was given on October 29th for the Fleet to put to sea on the following day, and in spite of the desperate nature of this last attempt to smash the Allied naval supremacy, the order would have been obeyed, like innumerable other desperate war-time orders, if the decision had had behind it the unimpaired weight of the supreme authority, the German Government. It became known, however, that the German naval authorities, both the admirals afloat and the naval staff, had acted without the .knowledge and consent of Prince Max and the Government. The minority of active revolutionary and anti-war propagandists among the crew thus had, and seized, a decisive argument which they had lacked in 1917. The thousands of sailors who would passively go to almost certain death on the order of the Government because it was in accordance with political habit and training to do so, would not raise a finger on the unauthorised command of their superior officers or the supreme naval staff. The order was withdrawn on October 31st, but the authority of the whole naval disciplinary system was broken. The news spread, and opposition to the War and to the Kaiser and politicians who still favoured war was openly expressed among the soldiers and the civilian population. Within a fortnight the Armistice had been arranged. The Kaiser abdicated, and new elections in due course gave full power to a Coalition Government including the German Labour Party united and possessing authority which Prince Max's Government lacked. The new Coalition was strong enough to take in hand the crushing of the small minority of Socialists and to reform the German Constitution on the lines desired by the Capitalist interests which had risen to the top in place of those which had been dominant in 1914.
Edgar Hardcastle

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Why not the West End? (1996)

From the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

A member of the Socialist Party asked me recently why my visits were usually to the subsidised theatre and, specifically, to the National and the Barbican complexes? Why, my questioner wanted to know, didn't I go more frequently to the commercial theatre and. since I live not far away from London, to the West End?

Now I have to admit that as a fan my tastes are wide and eclectic. I enjoy the frisson which comes with public performance: that strange interplay between actor and audience which means that every night is a once-for-all occasion. I respond to the immediacy of actors, the sense that one is able, almost voyeuristically, to spectate as private passions fill a public arena. And I would as happily spend an evening watching the great Ken Dodd— who works an audience until it is literally helpless with laughter— as I would attend one of Shakespeare's great plays (especially, perhaps, the last three with their inspiring messages about forgiveness). But go regularly to the commercial theatre? I fear not.

It isn’t that the seats arc dearer—although they are. £25 for good seats in the West End, as against £12-18 for something comparable in the subsidised houses. It isn’t that standards of performance and production are wildly different—although the subsidised theatre with more time to rehearse etc., generally wins hands down. The trouble is that much commercial theatre is either escapist (in the worse sense), trivial or patronising. Sometimes it is all three.

In the past twelve months I’ve seen only four shows in the West End: Beautiful Things (widely praised but, as it turned out. a nauseating "EastEnders" lookalike); Taking Sides (because of a personal interest in music and the life of the conductor William Furtwangler); Hamlet: and Indian Ink (Tom Stoppard's latest which seemed to me much better as a radio play). I hope to have time to see Three Tall Women (still at Wyndhams) and Burning Blue (Ambassadors), but the rest hold little appeal.

Look at what is currently available. Musicals by the bucketful: seventeen currently advertised. of which several have run for more than five years. Many are “technology musicals", in which character and story play second fiddle to large production effects: the helicopter arrival in Miss Saigon; the barricade scene in Les Miserables; the central ten minutes in Phantom of the Opera.

Musicals like this vividly reflect the way in which in capitalist society people are often less important than machines. They also reek with sentiment; inducing feelings spuriously and synthetically, and trivialising human emotions. I remember seeing Les Miserables over then years ago— long before its transfer the to the West End. Having read Victor Hugo’s book and knowing a little about the history of the time I was appalled. And the pseudo-operatic score—all pretence and little substance— added to my sense of woe. Yet all around me were going wild, claiming a definitive masterpiece. It was unnerving. Later I reflected that Chou Chin Chow was greeted in similar fashion nearly a century ago.

What of musicals which engage the heart and mind, that—to use a cliché—illuminate the human condition? I remember a story about the agricultural working class, The Hired Man (book by Melvyn Bragg, music by Howard Goodall) several years ago, and one about the Spanish Civil War which I caught on tour. For the rest it’s compilation musicals (Buddy, Jolson, Roy Orbison, etc.), turgid synthetic confections (like Oliver), and shows by the ubiquitous Andrew Lloyd Webber. If Phantom doesn't please try Starlight Express, Cats or Sunset Boulevard or, my particular nominee. Aspects of Love. This last-named ought properly to be called Aspects of Self-Gratification. In it Webber demonstrates without a touch of satire, irony or self- awareness, the way in which contemporary society has transformed a powerful, generous, often selfless emotion, into a chilling counterfeit of "I’m all right” self-interest.

I would argue that much of the commercial theatre reflects, usually superficially and uncritically, the world in which we live. In doing so it reinforces the messages of the other media. It offers not so much a window on the world as a self-referencing picture of all that is usual, normal (sic) and acceptable in society. From most of the commercial theatre the message is clear: this is the world as it is. The implication is also clear: this is the world as it has to be.

In contrast much that is available in the subsidised theatre questions and challenges. There are currently twelve shows in repertory at the National and the Barbican. At least four of these shows—A Patriot for Me, Skylight, Volpone and The Machine Wreckers—are enthralling, entertaining and edifying. All are worth visiting. I have mentioned several in recent months. In them experience and comment provide the dry tinder for revolutionary feelings and insights. They have few parallels in the West End.
Michael Gill

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Blame Game (2018)

Book Review from the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass'. By Darren McGarvey. (Luath Press. £7.99)

McGarvey was brought up in the Pollok area of Glasgow. His mother (who had been raped when young) drank heavily, was violent and ran up a massive drug debt, so he had a dysfunctional home life. One consequence was that he felt a deep sense of grievance against anyone he considered well-off and he blamed the ‘middle class’ (the capitalists don’t feature here at all). 

A large part of his book attacks the ‘poverty industry’, where people make a good living from dealing with problems; not solving everything but leaving some sort of ‘legacy’, with enough problems still remaining for the industry to continue growing. Outside organisations that address poverty encourage dependency rather then self-sufficiency, and if you are poor it is best not to offend such organisations and those who work for them. In Scotland, ‘the poverty industry is dominated by a left-leaning, liberal, middle class’. In contrast, the poor, McGarvey says, need to become ‘more active, engaged and resilient’. Identity politics has supposedly replaced class issues, but again is just another means for the socially mobile (which often is equivalent in these pages to middle class) to dominate public discussion. But, considering how unclear his own views on class are, this is not very convincing.

It is odd that he emphasises the importance of taking personal responsibility and not just blaming others while at the same time writing eloquently on the lifelong consequences of childhood poverty and the crucial role played by emotional stress in influencing people’s health and social mobility. Many of those who end up in prison have experienced violence or other forms of abuse while children. Child abuse itself is driven by social deprivation.

As may have been gathered by now, McGarvey’s own views are not at all well explained. He sees Socialism in completely anodyne terms, as ‘about providing a decent quality of life for everyone in society’. He is now the father of a young son and as such is frightened by the thought of a revolution: but he does not say why, or what such a revolution would involve. Moreover, there is nothing at all here on what the underlying causes of poverty might be. So, if his book has an overall message, it is left very unclear. 
Paul Bennett

Cooking the Books: Yes, Read Marx (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an interview with the online magazine 'Truthout' (24 March) the historian Immanuel Wallerstein urged young people to ‘Read Karl Marx!’ He is one of the leading advocates of the theory that capitalism is a single ‘world-system’. His books describe the history of capitalism, as in effect the world market, from its origins in the sixteenth century to today. This theory has an important implication: that capitalism is not a collection of separate, national capitalist economies but a single world system and that there is therefore no national way out of it:
‘The capitalist system is composed of owners who sell for profit. The fact that an owner is a group of individuals rather than a single person makes no essential difference. This has long been recognized for joint-stock companies. It must now be recognized for sovereign states. A state which collectively owns all the means of production is merely a collective capitalist firm as long as it remains—as all such states are, in fact, presently compelled to remain—a participant in the market of the capitalist world-economy’ (The Capitalist World-Economy, pages 68-69).
Good point. When, however, it comes to explaining basic Marxian economics Wallerstein is not so sound. In an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir in 1998 (20 March) he argued:
‘You easily imagine that if one respected the presuppositions of economic textbooks -- an infinity of sellers and an infinity of buyers, all perfectly informed -- capitalists would be incapable of making the least profit: consumers would immediately find the lowest price which would not be a centime above the cost of production!’
The main feature of the textbooks’ ‘perfect competition’ is that, because there are so many of each, buyers and sellers cannot influence the price at which goods sell. This is fixed by the market. But at what level?

Adam Smith called the price that the market would establish in the long run a good’s ‘natural price’. This would be the cost of producing it in terms of the labour expended on it from start to finish. He accepted that this would include an element of profit. Marx developed this theory and explained profit as ‘unpaid labour’, i.e., the labour expended by workers above what they received as their wages.

Wallerstein’s statement implies that profit could only arise if there is not ‘perfect competition,’ if capitalist firms are in a position to influence the price of what they sell due to having a partial monopoly. In other words, profit would be a form of rent. True, some firms are in this position and so do command a higher than normal profit. But this explains only the extra, monopoly profit, not normal profit. It fails as a theory of profit because it does not, and cannot, explain why firms not in this position still make a profit, as under capitalism they must otherwise nobody would invest in them.

The impasse Wallerstein’s statement leads to shows that the origin of profit cannot be explained as arising from the circulation (the buying and selling) of goods. It has to be sought elsewhere. Marx set out to explain it on the basis of goods selling at the price established under competitive conditions and showed that profits originated in the process of production where workers produced goods worth more than what they were paid as wages.

So, to understand profits, read Karl Marx, especially the section of his 1865 talk to English trade unionists, Value, Price and Profit, entitled 'Profit is Made by Selling a Commodity at its Value'.

The Fallacy of Empire Free Trade. (1930)

From the March 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook, who six months ago were waging a fierce ‘‘circulation war” in their rival group of newspapers, have buried the hatchet in order to launch the United Empire Party—the “Party of Prosperity.” The idea underlying the programme of the new party is simple enough. The British Empire is to become one unit for trade purposes against the rest of the world. Any article which can be grown or manufactured inside one or other of the Empire countries is to be grown there and freely imported into other Empire countries. Foreign productions are to be kept out by means of protective tariffs. America is to be the model, and prosperity is to be the result. Viscount Rothermere writing in the Sunday Despatch on February 23rd, tells us that five years after the achievement of Empire Free Trade “Great Britain will be as prosperous as the United States.” The party is described as “not political, but economic. It will include men and women of all political (views. Conservatives, Liberals, and Labourites alike will be welcome to it.” (Viscount Rothermere, in the Daily Mail, 19th February). This “non-political” party is, however, going to run a large number of candidates for Parliament, to secure the application of its programme. Lord Beaverbrook is the leader of the new party, and Viscount Rothermere his right hand man.

“All Sensible Persons.”
The U.E.P. has met with a heavy fire of criticism from the older parties, but almost all of the critics agree in endorsing the notion that “prosperity” would result from improved trade. They condemn the scheme only because they believe it. to be impracticable for the purpose it has in view. As the New Statesman puts it, “all sensible persons wish to see an expansion of trade between Empire countries.” A glance at the last general election programmes of the political parties will show that they all believe in improved trade. Mr. Baldwin backed “safeguarding” as the means of doing this. Mr. Lloyd George preferred the Trade Facilities Act, which gives “the support of the national credit to industrial enterprises.” The Labour Party shared Lloyd George’s view; “A Labour Government will set to work at once by using Export Credits and Trade Facilities Guarantees, to stimulate the depressed export trades.” Finally the Communists urged the development of trade with Russia. Only the Socialist Party dissents from the view of the New Statesman's “all sensible persons.” We do not want “free trade” or “protection” but Socialism, which means “no trade.” Trade, whether local trade, Empire trade or International trade, means the buying and selling of goods which are privately owned by the owners of the means of production. Socialism, which means the production of goods for use and not for sale, will end buying and selling.

That is a question of the organisation of production and distribution on a Socialist basis, and it may be asked what is our attitude to the problem of trade as it exists under capitalism. Our attitude on this too, is essentially different from that of the parties mentioned.

“Prosperity” For Whom?
We deny that improved trade offers any solution for the problems of the working class. Each of the parties of capitalism accepts the view that greater efficiency in British industry would enable British manufacturers to produce more cheaply and thus beat their foreign competitors. The argument is based on a childish fallacy which every elementary student of logic has met in the following little poser. In an examination set to a class of 30 boys, no boy was more than 5 marks from the boy above him on the list. Any boy would therefore be raised one place higher if he had 10 more marks. Is it then true to say that all the boys would be one place higher if they all had 10 more marks? The “improved trade” argument is just as silly. It is doubtless true that if “John Bull’s” manufactures were reduced in price he would capture some markets from “Uncle Sam” or "Old Fritz”—provided that “Uncle Sam” and “Old Fritz” and the rest of the capitalist world consent to stand still. But they don’t consent to stand still. In a competitive world an increase in the efficiency of each competitor leaves all the competitors where they were. A ten per cent. reduction in prices all over the world through the application of similar methods of rationalisation, leaves the least efficient capitalist nation still at the bottom of the class and still desperately trying to outstrip the others.

Viscount Rothermere tells us to copy America and then in five years we shall be “as prosperous” as America is. But how prosperous are the American workers? Has poverty been abolished in the U.S.A.? Viscount Rothermere’s newspaper, the Evening News, told us as recently as December 17th, 1929. that “the world has never been without poverty and that in the U.S.A. to-day, the richest nation in material wealth that the world has ever known, there is plenty of it—not relative poverty merely, but want and destitution.”

The Cause of “Bad Trade.”
Before joining the party of “want and destitution,” stop and consider why “bad trade” and unemployment exist; The newspaper Lords are looking for the cause at the furthest end of the Empire; Mr. J. H. Thomas recently went seeking it in Canada; the Labour Party and the Communists fancy they have found it (or part of it) in the failure to be on good trade relations with Moscow. The real cause lies nearer home, in the organisation of capitalism itself. In the U.S.A. there are over 33,000 people with incomes of 50,000 dollars or more, say upwards of £200 a week. In this country there are more than 9,000 people in the same happy position. They represent the wealthiest section of the capitalist class, but between them and the average worker with his wage of £2 or £3 per week (when he is in work), there are a few million wealthy people who between them get nearly half the total national income. Many of them have so much more than they need that they cannot and do not spend it. It must be as difficult to get through £200 a week as it was for the proverbial rich man in the Bible story to get into heaven, or the camel to get through the eye of a needle. The constant relative over-production of goods, the inability to find buyers, is due to the inequality of wealth which is part and parcel of Capitalism. So great is the wealth of the rich minority that all the stupendous and alluring advertising campaigns fail to induce them to spend up to the limit of their income or anything approaching the limit. The cost of building useless battleships, donations to charity, taxation to provide relief for the destitute, and pensions for the aged, all these forms of voluntary or obligatory expenditure leave the problem hardly touched. The wealth of the rich, their ownership and control of our means of life, this is the cause of poverty and unemployment. None of the “improved trade” parties can solve the problem. Workers who desert the Liberal, Tory, Labour and Communist Parties to join the new party are merely exchanging one illusory hope for another. Socialism will solve the problem of the poverty of the many by abolishing a system of society based upon the ownership of the means of production by the wealthy few; it will solve the problem of unemployment by abolishing the classes of employers and employed; it will solve the problems of competitive trade by abolishing trade.
Edgar Hardcastle

Thursday, May 3, 2018

In Response to the Syrian Air Attacks (2018)

From the May 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the self-appointed guardians of democracy, America, Britain, and France have launched their much-anticipated air attacks upon Syria to punish that state in pursuit of their conviction that it had used chemical weapons.

The Socialist Party sympathises with all our fellow workers who are the victims of this brutal war and many others. When this war ends the final death toll among civilians will be hard to establish, much less to attribute the cause of the killings. The devastation is a testament to the dangers and horrors of modern warfare. The Syrian dictatorship is one of many equally savage regimes in the region: Saudi Arabia, for example, is engaged in a prolonged war with rebels in Yemen that is seeing misery piled upon misery. Israel has snipers shooting down unarmed protestors in Gaza.
The reality is that the horrors of modern war are not to be laid on the shoulders of a religion nor an ideology, nor even on specific individuals. The justification for armed conflict can always be found when military, political and economic needs demand it. The Western capitalist bloc stirred up a civil war in Syria and now they are reaping the whirlwind. It is a continuation of the same battle for control of the Middle East and its oil resources that has gone on ever since the end of the Second World War, with crisis after crisis and war after war.

When hostility breaks into open warfare, each side's ruling class does even more terrible things to the other side, destroying its towns and slaughtering its people. This gives the belligerent countries even more propaganda points to make. Each side claims that it only started fighting in the first place because (in some miraculous way) it could see what barbarous actions its enemies were guilty of in the war. In other words, the propaganda of each hostile country claims that it only went to war because of the atrocities committed during the war on the other side. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. It is not the atrocities which lead to war; it is the war which leads to the atrocities. What happens, over and over again, is that a government, reacting to the pressures inseparable from private-property societies, treats some of its citizens very badly. Then the government gets into a war against other states; only to realize that its previous ill-treatment of this or that minority has simply provided a ready-made fifth column for the enemy.

When the nuclear-equipped superpowers come up against each other directly, we have every reason to be fearful for the future of humanity. War is competition for profits (either via trade routes, mineral wealth, resources or areas of influence) writ large, and to safeguard its future profits, its control of world resources the world's greatest and largest military power is accumulating an unimaginable array of weaponry.

The Syrian regime may win in the short term through sheer mediaeval brutality, but you can’t run a modern state without a sophisticated infrastructure and a working-class trained to run it. And that inevitably gives capitalism its Achilles heel, and workers their ultimate weapon against war itself. If you want to have done with brutal dictatorships like Syria's, it's a waste of time to go to war: others will spring up everywhere. Get rid of capitalism, the fertile soil which produces endless numbers of dictators and atrocities.

Editorial: Here We Go Again? (2018)

Editorial from the May 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the May 1968 events in France. It all began on 22 March 1968 when, following the arrest of anti-Vietnam War protesters, students at Nanterre University staged a sit-in. Further conflict led the University authorities to close the University on 2 May. Students then occupied the Sorbonne University. The students were unhappy with recent educational reforms that geared French education towards the needs of industrial capitalism and the centralised nature of the Universities' governance and were opposed to the Vietnam War. Police repression and heavy handed action by the University authorities swelled the number of protesters. The French workers joined the students and called a general strike, which resulted in factory occupations. For the more radical workers, their grievances went beyond the issues of better wages and working conditions, and included demands for more workers' control in their workplaces. The unions, the government and the employers negotiated wage increases and more trade union rights in a bid to end the conflict. In the National Assembly elections of June 1968, an increased number of Gaullist MPs were returned. Soon thereafter, the protests and strikes died down.
However, this is just not to revisit these events, for France is witnessing another revolt by students and workers. On 22 March this year, timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary, the unions called a nationwide strike to oppose Emmanuel Macron's labour and welfare reforms. At the forefront of these struggles are the railway workers, who are resisting government attempts to scrap job security, automatic job promotions and early retirement at 52 for new workers, and have responded by arranging two-day strikes for each week for three months. Airline pilots are also striking over pay and public sector workers are taking industrial action in opposition to Government plans to cut 120,000 public sector jobs over five years. Care workers and pensioners are also in revolt. Students are protesting about the proposed introduction of selective University entry requirements, which they say will discriminate against students from poorer backgrounds. The left hope that they can achieve the same unity between the workers' and students' struggles as in May 1968.
Macron is trying to shift the balance of power from the working class to the capitalist class, so as to make French capitalism more competitive. In this respect, he is no different from other French political leaders. Both Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy tried to introduce similar reforms, but were defeated by concerted strike action. François Hollande also faced resistance when he attempted to introduce legislation to make it easier for employers to make workers redundant.
Although the circumstances in May 1968 may be different from those at present, the underlying dynamic is the same. This is the struggle between the capitalist class and the working class over the material resources of society.
We have solidarity with the workers and students with their struggles, but we would urge them to take the next step to organise with workers in other countries to take political power so that they can convert private and state property into the common heritage of all human beings.