From the December 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard
During the last few years I have regularly met “Vanoc II” in the columns of the Sunday Referee, and alternately have I experienced sensations, both pleasurable and painful, at his writings. My interest is aroused because “Vanoc” claims to be a Marxian and one who lays emphasis upon the principle of Marxian thought known as dialectical materialism. But meeting a fellow behind the screen of cold print is, generally speaking, totally different from meeting the same chap fully materialised in person. And so it came to pass that we met at a meeting convened by the Economic Recovery Association. “Vanoc II” and Mr. W. W. Craik, who at one time was a principal of the National Council of Labour Colleges, were the chief speakers at this meeting. The means of economic recovery was the subject upon which Craik was to speak, whilst that of the present Abyssinian war was to be taken by Vanoc. In the speeches which followed, some affinity was alleged between the two questions, hence were we treated to a fully-rounded “dialectical” process of political and economic phenomena.
In outlining the case for economic recovery, Mr. Craik briefly reviewed the world’s present economic situation and generally exposed many of the economic illusions of capital’s agents. Little objection could be taken to the speaker’s remarks up to this point, but in stating what he conceived to be the chief source of present-day troubles he successfully added to the world’s catalogue of economic illusions. The interest paid to the finance capitalist, the man or groups of people who get their living by loaning money to their fellow capitalists, says Mr. Craik, forms an overwhelming burden on economic and social life, and the heaviest blow in consequence falls upon the working class. Money loaned at gigantic rates of interest has to be borne by the workers whenever they purchase goods of any kind. Further unemployment is induced by the owners of money allowing their money to lie idle because of their not getting a rate of interest demanded by them. The chief task before us, therefore, is to obliterate the finance capitalist by imposing a demurrage charge upon all not directly used for productive purposes, and eliminate the people who merely live by interest alone. Therefore did Mr. W. W. Craik foul all that he had previously stood for in Marxian economic thought.
“Vanoc II” opened his speech by a declaration of his revolutionary “faith,” about which he said he wanted no misunderstanding, but pointed out that he, to some extent, agreed with Craik’s views on economic recovery in view of the fact that “half a loaf is better than none,” which, of course, is a remarkable position for a revolutionary to contemplate. Surely ”Vanoc” must have heard this self-same plea put. in by every social quack and reformer in the world. Nobody this side of a lunatic asylum would dispute that a half-loaf is better than none any more than they would that a quarter was better than none, or even a slice or the proverbial crust. The statement is confusionist and entirely irrelevant from the point of view of Socialist policy. The position is that we need Socialism, and the only means of our getting it is to educate and organise the working class to establish it.
Socialism cannot be brought into being by piecemeal methods any more than capitalism can be reformed out of its existence. If it were otherwise, what sense would there be in declaring oneself a revolutionary? The answer is none whatever, and ”Vanoc” has indicated as much in many of his writings. Until Socialism is accomplished, all the half-loaves are capitalist bread, given by capitalists for capitalist purposes, to permit their dominance to persist. To the workers, the supreme task of their liberation from capitalist control will exist despite all the half-loaves of the social reformers.
“Vanoc” holds that the rise of the finance capitalist lies at the roots of Fascism, and marked Mussolini’s rise to power. Fascism must be smashed, and for this purpose we are urged to join forces with the Conservatives or any political party. Of course, the whole business is bunkum and positively dangerous to the interests of the workers and Socialism. This was made perfectly plain to ”Vanoc” in the discussion which followed. I denied first, that the abolition of the finance capitalist would in any way improve the position of the workers and secondly that the present Italo-Abyssinian war is any concern of the world’s working class.
In the case of the finance capitalist ”Vanoc” and Craik were reminded of the working-class situation in the early part of the 19th century. ”Vanoc” has more than once made reference to that, and has made use of Engels’s work on ”The Condition of the Working Class in 1844.” The horrible conditions portrayed by Engels in this work will convey the devastating effects of capital on the workers at a time when the finance capitalist did not assume the same social significance as he now does.
It seemed strange to have to remind two men who claim to be adherents of Marx, and, unquestionably, both have given a considerable amount of attention to Marx’s writings, that the elementary teachings of Marx were contradictory of their position.
It is an old story, told and re-told by Socialists, that rent, interest, and profit are but different names given to express the various modes of capital’s operations. To the working class it is mainly a matter of academic interest only as to what becomes of the spoils of their exploitation; the important thing is the fact of exploitation.
Marx has made this fact as clear as crystal, and for the benefit of those who have neither the time nor the inclination to refer to his larger and more technical analysis in “Capital," we shall draw their attention to his small work entitled “Value, Price and Profit.” Here we find the following statements set out to indicate to the workers that the holy trinity of capital may divide and sub-divide the swag stolen from the workers as they will, but the position is their business, not ours.
“Rent, Interest and Industrial profit are only different names for different parts of the surplus value of the commodity. . . .
“For the labourer himself it is a matter of subordinate importance whether that surplus value, the result of his surplus labour, or unpaid labour, is altogether pocketed by the employing capitalist or whether the latter is obliged to pay portions of it under the name of rent and interest to third parties. Suppose the employing capitalist to use only his own capital and to be his own landlord, then the whole surplus value would go into his pocket."
So much, therefore, about our finance capitalists. Socialists want to remove these as part of the entire capitalist system, and nothing is to be gained by our merely concentrating oftr attention on one aspect of capitalism alone.
And now about Mussolini and Fascism. "Vanoc” would have us engage in another bloodbath in the hopeless task of smashing Fascism. Why? Because, says "Vanoc," Socialism is a thousand times more difficult of attainment where Fascism rules. Yet, significantly enough, he holds that Hitler’s Germany is a far greater menace than Fascist Italy. Then what is to be done? First smash Fascism, then Hitler Germany, and we must suppose that the decks will then be clear for action towards Socialism, that is if nothing crops up meanwhile to again urgently require attention.
The scheme is all so simple and would be delightfully good if it weren’t so bad. It always seems to be taken for granted by people who argue in this way that the thing to do is to clear away one or more of the greater anomalies of capitalism and the rest of the task towards Socialism is easy. But all the facts are against the assumption. “Vanoc” was reminded of the position in 1914, which he said he remembered very well, and the cry of the labour leaders of this country on that occasion. Then, the Kaiser was the villain of the piece, he was to be beaten because he and his clique were a standing menace to every democratic idea in the world, and Socialism would be impossible if they had gained a victory. So the Kaiser went, and the workers came back to face their real enemies at home.
Then Hitler came in Germany as Mussolini had arrived in Italy. All over the world the struggle of the workers went on as before the war of 1914.
The defeat of the Kaiser had meant nothing to those who have nothing but their labour power to sell for a living. The same thing will happen again if Mussolini and Hitler are dislodged from power unless in the meantime the workers will awaken to their class interests.
When this was pointed out to Craik and “Vanoc” the inevitable followed—the usual stock-in-trade attacks on the S.P.G.B. We were labelled “idealists" and were called mechanists and, let us breathe it softly, we are anti-dialectical. To such strange uses is the dialectical principle in Marxian philosophy often put that the phrase dialectical should read diabolical. It was not surprising to hear “Vanoc” declare "logic to be a poor guide,” which, of course, is perfectly true if one will insist upon reaching conclusions based upon premises like “the flowers that bloom in the spring,” that ”have nothing to do with the case.”
To prove that we were mechanists who refused to differentiate, Mr. Craik, supported by “ Vanoc," fired a question to us in the middle of his reply, namely, would we not rather live in this country than in Germany?—surely a real teaser. We' replied that we preferred to work for £4 a week in Hackney rather than £3 in Tooting, so what could they make of that. The argument on the difference between capitalist countries is sheer moonshine. Not that we deny the differences, these certainly exist all right, but they do not affect the main task of the workers, which is to remove the capitalist class from control of the means of life. And we are not under the impression that this can be accomplished in one fell swoop, as Craik suggested. The preparatory work of education and organisation is all too necessary for us to labour under so great a delusion.
If being anti-dialectical means that we refuse to square the circle of political compromise and anti- Socialist activity, we must plead guilty to the soft impeachment.
The Marxian dialectic is an exceedingly useful tool of thought when in the possession of those who desire and know the correct road to Socialism, but to those who can’t or won’t see, there is nothing but the dialectical “unity of opposites” to lead them into the opposite camp of sound Socialist thought and action. If “Vanoc II” continues in his dialectical whirligigs and fails to grasp our case he certainly will fulfil the “law of contradiction” and find himself classified by rising working class Socialist intelligence as “Vanoc II,” who also ran.