Saturday, February 17, 2018

50 Years Ago: The Cry of the Workless (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

These results arise naturally from the conditions of employment to-day. The owners of property are ever on the look-out for means of augmenting their possessions. They employ their capital in industrial operations simply for the purpose of deriving from its use profit or interest. So long as they get their profits increased they care little for the conditions under which the work in their factory, in their mine, or on their railway is carried on. They never seek to know whether those working for them are living happy and contented lives. For them the worker is an abstraction—the materialisation of some portion of their capital in exactly the same way as another portion of their capital shows itself as raw material, as auxiliary material, as factory building, or as finished product. He sees the worker figuring on his periodical balance-sheet as “Wages,” and cares nothing that “Wages” means so many sentient human beings capable of thinking, loving, functioning even as he does.

Why then should he hesitate, when the markets are glutted, when his “wages” have been transformed into more goods than the market can consume, when goods cannot be sold because hungry men and women have not the wherewithal to buy food, when ill-clad children cannot have clothing provided for them because there is too much in the shops, to turn adrift those he no longer wishes to employ because they are no longer profitable?

And the result is invariably that, during periods when the markets are teeming with food and clothing, the workers are sent adrift and cannot purchase the things of which they are so sorely in need.

The only solution to this state of affairs is to abolish Capitalism. The whole trend of events is in the direction of Collectivist production and the inquirer into things political and economic can see that the capitalist, having ceased to be useful, is using the whole governmental machinery to safeguard the interests of his class. 

The worker must learn that he has to look to himself and his fellows to work out the emancipation of the working-class. Only by combining to capture the political machinery and to use the power thus acquired for the overthrow of Capitalism can he hope to obtain, once and for all, a full and complete solution to the unemployed problem.
From the April 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard.

50 Years Ago: A Travesty of Trade Unionism (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent sends a packet of literature explanatory of the objects and methods of the Railway Clerks’ Association. It is claimed that this Association will serve to secure some betterment of the conditions of clerical workers on railways. It is a Trade Union for railway clerks.

Now a trade union is an organisation rendered necessary by the pressure of the capitalist or exploiting class upon the class they employ and exploit—the working class. This pressure is the result of the constant endeavour of the capitalist-class to squeeze ever greater profits from the labour of the working-class, and expresses itself in the prolongation of working-hours, in the reduction of wages, or if an increase of hours or a reduction of wages are not possible, in the maintenance of both in. so far as is possible, a stationary condition, irrespective of the increase in the productivity of labour.

In exercising this pressure the capitalist-class are but functioning as a class of exploiters whose wealth is derived solely from the labour of those they exploit. In combining in a Trade Union to prevent, if possible, any reduction of their standard of comfort, any hardening of their conditions of life, or to obtain, where practicable, some larger share of the wealth they create, the working-class are but taking the precautionary defensive or aggressive measures natural to an exploited class.

The capitalist-class are fighting to increase or maintain their powers and privileges; and as these can only be maintained or increased at the expense of the working-class, their greatest concern is to keep the latter in subjection; to prevent them improving their position, except in-so-far as that improvement is necessary to capitalists. On the other hand, the working-class are fighting for the best conditions they can get; to improve those conditions if possible, and to prevent them being adversely affected in any event. And as they cannot improve their position, or for that matter maintain it, except in opposition to and at the expense of, the class above them, they are in necessary conflict with that class.

Obviously then, the antagonism of interest existing between these two classes must prevent any intermingling except in conflict. It would be absurd for the officers of one army to be in the innermost councils of the other. Hitherto, although the working-class combined in English Trade Unions have been very far from conscious of their class interests, a sense of hostility has kept them from fraternising with their natural enemies to the point of admitting them to an intimate acquaintanceship with the internal affairs of their fighting organisations.

The idea of employers being admitted to membership of Workers’ Unions has ever appealed to the most hard-headed, hide-bound and mentally atrophied trade unionist as absurd—and the clearer the comprehension of class-interests, the greater the growth of class-consciousness among the working-class, the more grotesque must the idea appear.

How then may we designate the working-class organisation that, coming into existence at a time when the antagonism of interests between the classes was too sharply defined to escape the notice of any man with an eye to see, yet admitted to the domination of its affairs, the representatives of the very class it came into existence, ostensibly, to fight. The Trade Union of the clerical workers of the railways of the United Kingdom (the Railway Clerks’ Association) has done this. Its President and Vice-Presidents are of the capitalist-class, several of them company directors, with at least one railway company director.
From the May 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard.

50 Years Ago: A Retrospect (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 12th of June witnesses the first anniversary of the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. It thus affords a meet opportunity to review our year’s work to ascertain whether our hopes have been fulfilled and our efforts justified.

The formation of a new party was rendered imperative by the falling away of the S.D.F. from the path of political right doing. Those who formed the new party had, almost without exception, been members of the S.D.F., the primary and for many years the only Socialist organisation in Great Britain. During many years of its life it had held aloft the banner of uncompromising Socialism in this country and many of us hoped that it would continue to work along the lines of no compromise with other political parties which is dictated by the existence of a class struggle.

Some years ago, however, when reaction dominated every sphere of thought—political or scientific—throughout Europe and America, new ideas were introduced into the S.D.F. by members of the organisation whose Socialism was rooted in sentiment rather than in scientific knowledge. Looking around them in the political world they saw that organisations of the half-way house character were obtaining a larger measure of support than was their own organisation. Unwitting that such must needs be the case in the present stage of capitalist development, they set themselves to the task of winning their own organisation to a similar position and to the adoption of a similar line of action. In this they were highly successful and the manner in which the S.D.F. adapted itself to its new way of looking at political events is of exceeding interest, and at a more convenient season we shall unfold the manner of its development from a no-compromise organisation to an organisation believing in and accepting entangling alliances.

The falling away of the S.D.F. from its traditional method was viewed with the deepest regret by those members of the organisation who still adhered to the ideas of uncompromising Socialism. They hoped against hope that their organisation would be recalled to a sense of its wrong-doing—that once again it would return to the path of Socialist progress and weld itself into an organisation deserving the support of every Socialist.

Such was not to be the case. Reluctantly there was forced upon them the opinion that the organisation to which they had hitherto given a whole-hearted support was unworthy, and they decided to withdraw from its ranks and form a Socialist organisation into which they could throw their entire energy and untiringly work towards the making it into a strong political organisation.

This, then, was the idea of those who, in June 12th, 1904, decided to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
The Editorial from the June 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard.

50 Years Ago: Ethics and the Class Struggle (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The victory of the Socialist working-class is the only possible ending of this great struggle. This, however, does not mean the subjection of the Capitalist class by the workers: it means the abolition of Capitalism and the end of classes, for the great unprivileged masses cannot secure equality of opportunity without abolishing class privilege, and privilege is based on private property. The triumph of the great working majority thus involves the emancipation of all from class oppression, for the interests of the toiling masses are fundamentally the interests of humanity.

Socialism, is then, the ethics of humanity, the necessary economic foundation of a national code of morality. The interests of the human race are bound up with the aspirations of the oppressed working-class in its struggle with Capitalist domination. As it has very truly been said: “Militant, the workers’ cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity.”
From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard.