Saturday, January 13, 2018

50 Years Ago: Social Security and Wages (1980)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the value to the workers of giving unemployment pay if the ‘gift’ is accompanied by a reduction in wages? The existence of a large and increasing army of unemployed puts the employers always in the position of being able to secure such readjustments. In a report on wages in the wool textile industry. Lord MacMillan, appointed by the Labour Government to reside over a court of inquiry, recommends a wage reduction. He uses as one of his justifications for reducing pay the fact that social services have lessened the demands on the workers’ wages. In effect the ‘gains’ received by the vast efforts of the Labour Party and its supporters over many years are being nullified by reductions in wages. The reforms reduce the workers’ cost of living, but the employers it is who reap the benefit.

From an editorial ‘The Uselessness of Reforms’ Socialist Standard April 1930.

Has Death (In A Rage) (1980)

From the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: Remember Belgium (1980)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1914, hundreds of thousands of workers were duped into enlisting by the appeal to their sympathy on behalf of “poor little Belgium". It is interesting to learn that confirmation has now been given to the statement that the Allied governments had themselves prepared for violating Belgian “neutrality”. Mr. Harold Nicolson has just written a life of his father. Lord Carnock who, as Sir Arthur Nicolson, was Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office in the years leading up to the war. (Lord Carnock, published by Constable, 21/-.)

From a review of the book which appeared in the Daily Herald on April 3rd 1930, we learn that in September 1911 “preparations for landing four or six divisions on the Continent have been worked out to the minutest detail”; and in 1913 French military authorities are reported by Sir Arthur Nicolson to be of the view that "it would be far better for France if a conflict were not too long postponed”. In 1913 Sir Arthur Nicolson wrote to the Minister in Brussels: “We and France might have to move troops across the Belgian frontier in order to meet the approach of German troops from the other side”. The Herald reviewer says that this action was contemplated before the Germans actually entered Belgium”. 

From an editorial in the Socialist Standard, May 1930.

Political Notes: Stalinists in the Labour Party (1980)

The Political Notes column from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Stalinists in the Labour Party

Those on the left wing of the Labour party are often caricatured as well-intentioned fools with admirable morals but little sense. While this may be true of many of them, we should not forget that some Labour leaders have rather unsavoury political pasts. Here is one of them writing in the journal, Socialist Revolt, in April 1957:
“No one can deny that Communists in the past have made grave mistakes, but does anyone believe that Russia would have retained its socialist basis . . . without Stalin’s iron rule during the most difficult period in Communist history? Would subversion, direct aggression, economic sabotage etc. not have crushed the germinating seed of world Communism if Comrade Stalin had not ‘enforced’ the unity of Communists in Russia, and throughout the International Communist Movement?”
The author of that hymn of praise to Stalin was Eric Heffer. Another admirer of the Stalinist system was the present leader of the Labour party, James Callaghan, who wrote in Reynolds News in March 1946:
“The rewards given to ability in the USSR at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in Capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works.”
So, the next time you hear Heffer or Callaghan talking about socialism (a practice they usually reserve for Party Conferences and other such occasions), recall what it is that these men understand by the term and recognise them for the enemies of the working class that they are.

Gestapo deaths

Remember the war over markets that they said was fought to defeat the evil of German totalitarianism? Well, the Gestapo may have been defeated, but many West German workers are still concerned about the degree to which the State is interfering in their lives. According to a report in German International of September 1979, 
   “In February 1978 the former Bonn Defence Minister Georg Leber, resigned after disclosures that the Military Security Service had been involved in bugging operations without his knowledge. In May of that year library staff reported that intelligence agents had been keeping a watch on the reading habits of book borrowers and feeding their findings into the government computers. In June last year the former interior Minister, Werner Maihofer, resigned after the publication of reports that border guards had been keeping an eye on the reading matter carried by travellers.”
The most comprehensive West German police computer is “Inpol”, short for Information system der Polizei. In 1972, when it became operative, it was linked to 20 data stations; now it is fed by 1,200, thus putting the West German government’s capacity for spying on its workers on a par with that of East Germany. In Britain, jury-vetting, hugging and secret police computers are known to exist. As 1984 approaches we are forced to take the Orwellian fear more and more seriously.

Cheap Chinese labour

State capitalism, not socialism, exists in Russia and China. And because workers in these countries are not free to combine in trade unions, the rate of exploitation tends to be higher than in the more industrialised parts of the world. The Socialist Standard has often shown that it is more profitable for Western capitalists to invest in the cheap labour of the East than the unionised labour of the West. The Electronic Times of 28 February provides us with further evidence:
  “To reduce production costs, Citizen Watch is planning to have electronic watches assembled in China — in the Guangdong province. The plan is for quartz watches at the Chinese plant using Japanese movements in Chinese cases. The Chinese local government authorities at Guangdong are keen for local assembly to alleviate the shortage of watches, and to limit imports from Hong Kong. Consignments of watches have already been assembled for Hong Kong manufacturers in Guangdong, and so the authorities are keen to exploit the local knowledge.”
China is part of the world capitalist market, with all of its concern for imports and exports, production costs and — the hallmark of all capitalist production — exploitation of wage labour by capital.

Profits before health

The Electronic Times of 6 March contains another noteworthy report. The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently been investigating the health hazards at a semiconductor firm called Signetics in Sunnyvale, California. The investigation followed complaints from three employees that their work was literally making them sick. Such symptoms as burning tongues, nose bleeds, chest tightness, and metallic tastes in their mouths were reported. According to the Electronic Times: “The three (who complained) were fired from the company in July, 1979), four days before the NIOSH-contract physicians were denied entry to Signetics.”

NIOSH reported that the majority of workers in the firm complained of the same symptoms as the three already sacked. Their report stated that the health hazards could have been prevented had there been improved ventilation in the workplace. But,
“This would mean additional investments in expensive ventilation and other such equipment at a time when most companies already have trouble finding capital to finance their research and development projects.” 
So it’s profits before people once again.
Steve Coleman

Pen To Paper (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Forum Journal

The intention of these notes is to help writers for the Party. That does not mean only potential contributors to the "Socialist Standard”; it means, I think, all members. Rightly, we think of oral expression as the chief means of communicating ideas—so much so that we have a habit of saying “verbal” when we really mean “oral”. Nevertheless, we all write about Socialism at times, and there is every reason why, like talking about Socialism, it should be done well.

After saying what this is about, it is worth saying what it is not about. I am concerned with the craft, not the art, of writing. If you can see an overlap, that’s fine; the fact remains that art consists mainly of communicating feeling, and our sort of writing has the different aim of informing and explaining. As I see it, it is a matter chiefly of workmanship.

A lot of people are sufficiently misled by the talk about art to imagine that a good writer simply sits down and turns it out. Don’t believe it. The only man I knew who claimed he did that was the worst regular contributor the Standard had in recent years (no longer with us—still, no names). For what it is worth, my own way of working is something like this. First I make and arrange copious notes, as if I were preparing a lecture. Usually I find I have insufficient knowledge of some of the points, and have to spend a day in the British Museum or some other library looking up the things I don’t know. Then I write it out on foolscap, crossing out every other line, until I am satisfied that I’ve said all I want to say. I copy the article and go through it to weed out vaguenesses and ambiguities and look for better phraseology; and finally I type it out as the finished job. There is no universal method of writing articles, however, and what suits me may be hopeless for somebody else. The important thing is that, whatever one’s approach, there is no analgesic for the throes of composition.

If I were devising maxims for writers, the one at the top would be: Don’t write unless you have something to say. The only reason I know for waiting is to tell something or explain something to people. “I want to write” means nothing until it is expanded to "I want to write about . . .” There is scope enough: socialists, after all, are people with a different viewpoint on most things, and the world is our parish. That does not mean any socialist can write about anything—on the contrary, another golden rule should be to keep within the limits of one’s own knowledge. There are some things I should not dare to write about, because I know too little about them; I can only say the boldness of writers who raise two-thousand-word edifices on the basis of a smattering amazes me. One other thing about choice of subject —it ought to be worth while. It is not difficult to find something a Cabinet Minister has said and sneer at it, or to quote a paragraph from the “Reader’s Digest” and say it confirms our case; most times, however, these articles are not worth even the small amount of trouble their writers have put into them. When an item of the sort seems too good to be missed, the best way of using it is as a reference in an article on a larger topic.

Subject and subject-matter are not the same thing; or, having a subject, you must gather accurate, interesting—and therefore carefully chosen—information about it. The worst way to “gather” information is to paraphrase factual items from papers and magazines— i.e., to set up as a journalist on the back of another journalist whose journalism you say you despise. If you are borrowing, say so. Facilities for fact-gathering are available in most areas. The public library is the obvious and convenient place, and in London there are several very good reference libraries. By specifying research on a particular topic you can get a one-day pass into the British Museum Library or the Newspaper Library at Colindale, and there are several small libraries with special collections.

So much for subject-matter. In its presentation, good grammar and usage are essential. Some people argue the reverse, that you can play hell and Tommy with the rules and still say what you mean. They are wrong. Grammar is the logic of a language, and gives precision that is not otherwise attainable. Precision is less necessary in speech, where hearing is helped by sight and words may be spilled usually without harm being done; in writing—particularly explanatory writing—it is all-important. Grammar is a bogey to most people because an elementary education is too brief to give any sort of mastery of it, but there are a few intelligently written books about it. The best I know is Eric Partridge’s “English: A Course for Human Beings”. It’s expensive, but most libraries have it. At this point it may be worth mentioning the books which I think are necessary to a writer. He must have a dictionary (the most popular is the Concise Oxford, but Chambers Twentieth Century has much more in it) and he should have Roget’s Thesaurus, which provides the right word or phrase for almost everything. The more books he has in addition to these, the better.

Perfect phraseology is a consummation devoutly to be wished; the avoidance of bad or hackneyed phraseology is a more modest but most desirable aim. I should like to see some expressions banned from the “Standard” for a very, very long time: “bloodbath” for a war, “sheeplike” for compliant workers, “woolly-minded” for idealists, and so on. And there are the too-often-meaningless asides: “obviously” followed by something which certainly isn’t obvious, “needless to say”, another lie, and “of course”, which can usually be reckoned the precursor to an absolute non sequitur. The best phraseology is the clearest and most concise, and weighty terms seldom help in that direction. Nor do long words: too many people think “commence” and “terminate” are better than “begin” and “end”. They aren’t. As a socialist is reputed to have said to a ponderous speaker, call a spade a spade and not a metallic implement for penetrating the earth’s crust.

Such matters as tone and style arise from the consideration of phraseology. Tone is the attitude, real or assumed, of the writer to his readers, and it is extremely important to a writer about Socialism. When you are being critical of people and beliefs it is only too easy to sound supercilious, self-satisfied or just contemptuous, but none of these approaches wins anyone over. On the other hand, a patronizing, sure-we-understand-each other-John tone implies just as clearly that you have a low opinion of the reader. There is no question of “adopting” a tone to strike the right note, any more than you can borrow a style. Both are integral parts of any piece of writing, and have meaning only when they are at work with the subject-matter.

Innumerable chapters have been written about style without anybody becoming much wiser. More than anything else, it is the written expression of personality. Therefore, try to write as you speak rather than develop a special manner for writing. A good style is never obtrusive; its effect is of making the subject-matter pleasant to read, without drawing attention to itself. I have said a style cannot be borrowed, but every writer is influenced to some extent by those he has read, and there is great value in reading the masters of style. Probably the best modern writer in this respect is George Orwell—a beautifully clear, direct style, almost athletic in its easy, unhampered movement. Whatever else one thinks of Orwell, he is good to read. E. M. Forster is very good; and so, in a different way, is Jack London—economical with words, reporter-like and forceful. Farther back, Charles Lamb is worth reading as a stylist (and for pleasure), and among the ancients there was no one better than Tacitus—no word in his writing that is not usefully employed. And, as we are interested in writing about Socialism, it is worth mentioning that the ‘‘Socialist Standard” has had good stylists, too: R. W. Housley was a particularly able writer, and I hope H [Edgar Hardcastle] will not think I am buttering him up by referring to him, too/

Of the many devices for appealing to readers, humour is the one which tempts writers most. Don’t do it. If you want to know why, try counting how many successful funny writers there have been. Oral humour is not so difficult because tone of voice, facial expression and the mood of the moment all help it. Max Miller in person is uproarious, but his jokes in print (those which are printable) fall flat. Witty comment is a different thing, but again, it isn’t easy; and even when the wit can be seen to sparkle, it is only valuable when it is used to sharpen a comment, and not as an end in itself.

There are a good many verbal devices which can heighten effect and even, used skilfully enough, contribute to style; most of them have long been classified as “figures of speech.” It is worth knowing about them, and a text-book such as Partridge’s will explain and illustrate them. The presentation of contrasts and analogies and the construction of phrases that will really tell are worth all that can be put into them.

Finally, a writer needs to keep writing, to be self-critical and to obtain criticism. Show your writing to other people and don’t argue with what they say about it. One useful means of self-criticism is to put away or forget something you have written and read it a few months later; one way or the other, you’ll be surprised. And there is a writers’ class at the Head Office every year—like all the Party’s classes, it is very good.
Robert Barltrop

Your Ideal 1954 E.C. Member (1954)

From the January 1954 issue of the Forum Journal

Note For East London Readers. (1915)

Party News from the May 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

With a view to recommencing at the first available opportunity, and with renewed vigour, the propaganda that has boon carried out so successfully in Victoria Park by the East London Branch, local sympathisers are requested to communicate with A. Jacobs, 78 Eric Street, Mile End, E. The Branch meets at the above address twice each month (see "Branch Directory" on back page) and the comrades are anxious to enrol all those those who agree with the principles and policy of the Party for a concentrated and sustained attack upon the enemies of tho workers.

A Party Outing. (1915)

Party News from the June 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

On June 12th, 1904, a few members of the working class, recognising the need for a Socialist party as distinct from those organiaations then in existence and claiming to represent Socialism in this country, met together and formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain and gave the grand old men of the pseudo Socialist movement, those who had '*borne the heat and burden of the day," an opportunity of exercising their powers of prophecy. After weighty consideration they decided that the Party would not live six months. But, like most of their most learned utterances, they were wrong, and now, after eleven years of strenuous exertion, in the midst of the most frightful upheaval that capitalist society has seen, the Party stands forth as the only organization in this country that has consistently placed the Socialist position before the working class.

This is, indeed, an event that calls for some recognition, and were it not for the fact that our opponents—the master class—have smothered our ordinary political meetings, we should endeavour to utilise the date for a number of meetings at which those toilers who are with us in the fight for Socialism could celebrate the event and announce their determination to proceed with the task undertaken in 1904.

Unfortunately this is denied us, but while yet the columns of the "Socialist Standard" are open to us our readers may be assured that the interests of International Socialism and the international working class will be put forward unflinchingly.

In order that the event may not be forgotten, those members who are able to do so will meet together and spend a day in the country on Sunday, June 13th. All who wish to join us should get into touch immediately with the local Secretary or the Committee at 193, Grays Inn Road.

It is in such times as this that we realize more forcibly than ever how wide is the gulf between ourselves and the "orthodox," and how necessary association is to nerve us for the fight that is before us. 
The Committee.

That Blessed Word "Freedom." (1915)

From the July 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard
"But any man that walks the mead,
      In bud or bloom or flower may find,
  According as his humours I ad,
      A meaning suited to his mind "
Thus sung Tennyson; but the sage, in his more dogmatic and definite way, said bluntly that "all things are relative.” And this profound truth is also illustrated in the various meanings given by different people to some of the commonest words.

Examine that blessed word "freedom," for instance, and it is at once plain that its meaning depends solely upon the point of view. Dismissing for the moment the philosophical content of the word —which itself is an everlasting bone of contention — and noticing only the commonest meanings, what an infinite variety there is! To no two men does that word call up the same mental picture. To nearly every individual it means no more nor loss in reality than some different interference with the freedom of others to his advantage.

Throughout historical times, indeed, the freedom of the few has been the concomitant of the slavery of the many, while the idea of freedom is itself merely the inevitable reflex of the existence of slavery in some form. The very idea of freedom, therefore, is surely doomed to fade into nothingness with the disappearance of slavery from the face of the earth.

That day, however, is not yet; and at the present time, though we wonder at the reckless use of the word in situations where the content of freedom is lamentably lacking, it is perhaps just possible that the whole matter would look right to us if we could only attain to a suitable angle of vision. Therein nevertheless, one common application of the word freedom which has been tried from many view-points and studied at many different angles of vision short of deliberate squint, without being made to come right. Since the reader may think that perhaps he will be more successful, the trouble may be briefly explained.

In the ‘Daily Chronicle" of June 1st a "special correspondent," seeking the cause of the deadlock on the western front in the European war, makes the following remarks :
  "Are we, therefore, ourselves inferior ? From a moral point of view we may at once state that we are superior. Tho Frenchman is still full of ardour, and the Englishman has on his side the superiority of the man who goes voluntarily to fight—the man who has not to he forced." 
There is, of course, nothing surprising to us in the above statement. After many months of war literature it would surprise us much more not to find that sort of thing in our daily paper. We have, in fact, been innured to such sentiments from our orange box days. Even the poet Dryden told us that "Freedom, which in no other laud will thrive,
Freedom, an English subject's sole prerogative."
And we have, moreover, been exorted so frequently of late to "fight for freedom with the strength of free men" that we no longer stop to wonder what freedom is meant, or whose it is that is to he fought for.

No. The trouble is simply that in another column of the same issue o( the paper that tells of the moral superiority of the Briton who "has not to be forced," there occurs the declaration of Mr. Aubrey Llewellyn Coventry Fell, chief officer of the L. C. C.  tramways, refusing a livelihood to those men of military ago and fitness employed by him up to the time of the late strike. This is followed by a Tramway Department official's statement that
   "It is no use saying that this is a form of conscription : it is merely the application of the decision of the highway committee of last September barring the appointment of all fit men of military age."
It is quite obvious that this is not a form of conscription. It is simply an application of the decision of the master clues to persuade their wage slaves into joining the fight with the moral superiority of men who have not been forced. This is quite clear. But it only makes it all the more difficult, to say the least about it, to locate this freedom that is so much in the air of late. It has not as yet become visible to tho anxious eyes of the workers, and many pairs of spectacles are likely to be worn out in the quest for it. Perhaps some ex-tramwaymen who have evaded the necessity to voluntarily go to the fight may be able to assist.

That the action of the L.C.C. is by no means isolated is common knowledge On many sides similar action is openly boasted about. In "Country Life" of June 5th the writer of the motor notes says regarding those two big organisations known as the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association, that
  “In view of the correspondence which has reached us, we have communicated both with the Club and the Association, and in each case we are glad to nay that we have received a categorical statement to the effect that no road guides or scouts are now employed who are eligible for enlistment. The steps taken by the two organisations are practically identical. Iu each case every man employed upon the road was in the early days of the war required to produce evidence of his unfitness for military service, either through age or physical defect, and was warned that, failing the production of this evidence he would not be retained in his employment. . . .
  "In the case of the R.A.C. the result is that over 60 per cent. are now serving their country in one form or another."
So much for tho evidence.

Now, the only clue in the above which appears to help us to got this elusive brand of freedom into the right angle of vision, or even into sight at all, is the fact that this forced voluntary service applies only to the working class. The members of the capitalist class, since their livelihood is not in the control of an employer; escape all such pressure. But even that does not help much in our search, because those drawn from this class, although it is entirely their fight, form only a very small proportion of the armies of the Empire.

Conscription, indeed, might take no greater number of the workers, but it should certainly take a much larger toll of the shirkers in the capitalist class ; therefore tho freedom of the latter, who have, nevertheless, everything to gain by the struggle, is manifest. Yet must our quest be abandoned, for to get from this small proportion of the fighting forces, because it has gone voluntarily, an angle of vision from which to see the whole of these forces covered with a mantle of superiority on that account alone, must surely require a squint of such violence as to out-squint the most introspective fakir that ever tortured himself in that way.
F. C. Watts