Monday, March 5, 2018

Greasy Pole: What’s ‘Appropriate’ Then? (2018)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is some time now since we could expect to be warmed and comforted by those big, declaratory Monday morning newspaper photographs of Prime Minister Theresa May, pondering on the most hopeful date to call the next election and how meanwhile she might wrestle with the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox (remember him?), Gavin Williamson . . . She was obediently tailed by her husband James May and in accord with their respective backgrounds they were then emerging from some parish church not far from the Chiltern Hills. Mr May was smiling, which could have been motivated by the fact that he is a top executive of one of the biggest and most powerful financial institutions which controls assets worth trillions of dollars, including shares in Amazon and the popular coffee house Starbucks, which have both been listed by Theresa May in her sights for action (or whatever it is) against the keenest of tax avoiders. A lot has happened since then to undermine the political standing of the Prime Minister and her partner. For example there has been the exposure of the relationship between so many of their followers and assistants which has been such as to justify the term ‘inappropriate behaviour’ which means the opposite of something suitable and proper. It is called sexual abuse. 
But on that day, making their way from that local manufactory of delusion, Mrs May and her husband gave no hint that they were in fear of any particular crisis awaiting them in Westminster and beyond. Which probably made it more difficult for them to confront their raw feelings about what their supporters in Parliament and beyond had been up to. There was the brutal reality about the sexual misconduct of a clutch of Honourable Members towards party members and supporters, even as the facts were beginning to emerge. Much of it was revealed in what rapidly became known as the Spreadsheet of Shame – a survey which named 36 particular performers on that score. The events – the abuses – revealed in that document included ’handsy behaviour’ or of a former Member suggesting to his secretary that she might enjoy it to ‘feel’ how long his penis was or another planning to encourage a staff member to get drunk to assist his unwanted sexual advances.
Notably prominent – to his own discomfort –  in all of this has been Mark Garnier the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest Worcestershire, whose local opponents are likely to be undermined by the very existence of the thousands who regularly support him. Garnier attended a couple of expensive local schools after which he became a junior clerk in an investment bank in London. This led to a partnership in a firm of hedge fund managers. In his politics he has contested Wyre Forest four times as a Tory. On his first attempt there he lost to an independent candidate but after that in 2010, 2015 and 2017 he won and his present majority is in the region of 13,000. Political climbing runs in the family; a cousin of his did a spell as Solicitor General and he himself was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Trade from July 2016 until being sacked in January 2018 – an event which was greeted by a local councillor who ‘. . . would just like to congratulate Theresa May on making a very sensible decision . . .  definitely the right move by the Prime Minister’. At that time Garnier was operating in a style which involved him asking his secretary, one Caroline Edmondson, to buy him some sex toys in a Soho shop while he publicly lauded her as a ‘sugar-tits’. The official government line on Garnier’s sacking was that it was to make way for new blood while he was also in breach of the ministerial code – except that this was contradicted soon afterwards when he was cleared by an official enquiry. Not surprisingly Garnier blurted out that he was bitterly disappointed at being punished for behaviour which he was assessed as not responsible for. It did not seem to occur to him that this was typical of the ruthless, unpredictable technique in the world of capitalist ’justice’. Then there was Damian Green who was until recently one of Theresa May’s special favourites as her First Secretary of State – effectively Deputy Prime Minister – until she had to ‘ask’ him to resign because he was so deeply involved in activities which once encouraged his then future wife to comment that ‘He’s got a very strong sex drive, he’s just not all that discriminating’.
The affair of the misbehaving MPs, the appointments, the disputes, the sackings, was in response to their ‘inappropriate’ behaviour – a fascinating word for use in survival, even success, in the political world. To begin with, it does have some effect in diminishing the gravity of some of the MP’s actions, for example when the focus was on Mark Garnier. But there are many examples of governmental policies and actions which are considered as ‘appropriate’ but which in their effects are of the cruellest, and most damaging. One of the more recent was a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which described the day to day effects of governmental policies which operate in response to the current problems of British capitalism. Helen Barnard who is head of analysis of the Rowntree Foundation, is quite clear about this: ‘Low-income households are facing a difficult 2018, with rising prices, frozen benefits and a wage squeeze all putting further pressure on household incomes’.
If Theresa May, as she drifted through the church door that day, had asked herself how effectively she could continue to play a role in this class divided society she might have felt the need to use that word ‘appropriate’. For this is typical of the crime against our very language, of how capitalism distorts every aspect of our lives. It is only the socialists who stand and work against this malignant chaos.

New Publications (1942)

Book Reviews from the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Parliament, Traitors and Beer

"Vote—What For" (Freedom Press, 2d.), by E. Malatesta, is an adaptation from a work by that author. It is the familiar Anarchist attack on parliamentary methods and government presented in the form of a discussion between two workers, George and Jack, over a glass of beer. George, supporter of parliamentary methods and of the Labour Party, puts up a defence which is demolished by Jack, the Anarchist. The demolition' is rapid. Perhaps it is because the leaflet is only fifteen pages. The vote, says Jack, is a fraud: those elected further their own interests except at election times, when they make fulsome promises to the gullible workers. George, unshaken, replies that we should elect workers, and then we should not be fooled. In reply to this the Anarchist makes two points: one, a majority in Parliament would be a ‘"paradise,” but only for the "elected”: and two—but let Jack speak for himself: "The rich are always in power. Just imagine a poor worker, perhaps with an ill wife and four kids, and you [that is, hard-hearted George] tell him to risk his job and get thrown out of' his house to starve; just to give his vote to a candidate his master doesn't like." From which one gathers that Anarchist Jack's indignation is righteously aroused at the suggestion that the worker should exercise his vote because such action would bring in the bailiffs and impose starvation on an ill wife and four hungry kids and all. Does E. Malatesta (or his adaptor) mean this? It is difficult to say. Anarchist writings do not always mean what they seem to say. However, for tuppence, Freedom Press will enable the reader to judge for himself.

This leaflet, in typical Anarchist fashion, confuses the issue on the question of parliamentary methods. It would have the ingenuous believe that the effort to achieve Socialism through Parliament has failed. Ramsay MacDonald is instanced as a Socialist who was won over by the rich. "As soon as you send anyone to office they turn traitor," the Anarchist says. The answer to such childish nonsense is: (1) Ramsay MacDonald was not a Socialist, nor was the Labour Party which he led; (2) The Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929-31 were not returned on Socialist programmes by the votes of Socialist supporters; (3) The two Labour Governments did not fail to introduce Socialism because of the illusory character of the vote, but because they were elected on reformist programmes to carry on the administration of capitalism. They learned bitterly that they could not reform out of existence working class problems, and that capitalism can only function in the interests of the capitalists.

That the Anarchists persist in accepting the Labour Party as a Socialist party might be regarded as a measure of what they understand Socialism to stand for. (This leaflet describes the I.L.P. as revolutionary whilst another Anarchist pamphlet issued by Freedom Press, "New Life to the Land," by George Woodcock, describes the I.L.P. as semi-revolutionary.) To accept the Labour Party as Socialist and to imply it stands for Socialism exposes the Anarchist claim to stand for a classless society and the abolition of the wages system as a mere form of words. A leaflet which sacrifices logic to propaganda argument. Crude, flat—but perhaps the latter was due to the beer with which George and Jack started the argument.

The Take (or Sit) and Hold Theory

"Trade Unionism or Syndicalism?" by Tom Brown (Freedom Press, 3d.).  The author of this pamphlet makes out a case for the Syndicalist practice to replace existing trade union organisation and for the Syndicalist method of taking over the means of production from the capitalists. He discusses what he thinks is the weak spot in trade union organisation, the organising of workers on the basis of their craft, i.e., "according to the tools they use.” The result is that the workers in any one industry find themselves organised in several trade unions (engineering workers are organised in fifty unions). In his trade union branch, usually near where he lives and away from his work, the trade unionist finds his fellow branch members connected with any industry but that in which he himself works. The result is lack of interest. The author advocates workers organised on the basis of one union for each industry. Mr. Brown's criticisms show all the obvious advantages likely to be gained from organisation by industry. That is, however, not the whole story, as the advocates of the rival conception will maintain, and experience in industries where the industrial idea has been more or less fully applied does not show any startling improvement. Moreover—and this should be remembered by both schools—the border lines of an industry are not always clear and fixed. Hence, for example, the conflicting claims of those who would argue that the railways are a self-contained industry and those who retort that they are only part of the transport industry.

Socialists are, however, more concerned with the further aspect. Mr. Brown does not advocate the one union one industry form of industrial organisation for the workers as an end in itself but as a means also for presenting the class struggle along Syndicalist lines, as a means for wresting ownership and control of the factories from the capitalists. The author proposes the " Social General Strike," or the "General Lock-out of the Employing Class" as he would prefer to describe it, and the management and administration of factories and industries along Syndicalist lines by the workers, such industries to be organised on a federal basis. On page 10 he says: "Against this action we hear raised the Social Democratic wail, “If you do that the bosses will shoot and baton you!' We reply, if you don't, they will shoot and baton (and starve) you, but with much greater success, as the history of passive starvation strikes shows. But in order to beat the workers, they must first start knocking about their own property, as they discovered in the 1937 automobile stay-in-strike in the U.S.A. If Mr. Brown is saying that the capitalists would acquiesce in parting with the ownership of the factories rather than see them knocked about, the present war demonstrates the contrary. They accept the facts of quite a lot of " knocking about" even where the certain loss of ownership is not involved. In any case, the sit-down strikes in America, and those in France which he also quotes, were not strikes which had for their purpose the taking over of the factories concerned on Syndicalist lines. Another example is given, with approval, of French shop girls who engaged in a sit-down strike and locked out the customers. Surely they acted wrongly. Ought they not have served the customers and informed the employers that the proceeds were for the benefit of the workers? Commenting on the example of the French shop girls Mr. Brown almost gushes: "And the bloodshed, the vast sea of gore, predicted by the Socialist. NONE!" Might a Socialist humbly suggest that the capitalist state would apply such methods as were dictated by the extent of the menace.

Well written, in a superficially plausible style, the hollowness of the Syndicalist case as stated in this pamphlet is nevertheless almost self-apparent.

Russia To-day
"Soviet Russia in Maps" (edited by George Goodal, M.A., price 2/6, and published by George Phillip & Sons, Ltd.), is a useful addition to an existing library of books on Russia. It consists of thirty-two pages of maps with notes and commentaries illustrating main changes in Russian economics, social and political changes, over seven centuries; it includes figures and comparisons of industrial developments to date.
Harry Waite

Capitalism's Admirable Crichtons (1920)

From the August 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of J. M. Barrie’s immortal plays portrays the butler who by sheer force of superior mentality and ability assumed leadership over his aristocratic employers when shipwrecked on a desert island. The position is intended to be a more or less fanciful one, but in reality present day society teems with examples of the repression of great minds by the mediocre-minded few. Many of us in even our small circles can point to one or two acquaintances who can find no outlet for really brilliant intelligences, and who are forced by stress of economic circumstance to spend their lives in uncongenial work and uninspiring environment. History has many cases to show of genius which has been discovered too late, of great minds that have been starved of opportunity. Men and women who, even under adverse conditions, managed to leave something behind that humanity is the better for, have in countless cases died of want and hopeless despair. The painting that might fetch a small fortune at Christie’s to-day perhaps was sold by the artist for the price of a loaf of bread. The machine that may make a modern Croesus was invented by one whose life was one long struggle against penury and who died, as he had lived, in obscurity.

Many more must there be who have no opportunity of bringing into the light ideas that would stamp them as being more than ordinary men. Who could expect a man to come back, after a long day’s toil, to a miserable hovel, surrounded by those scenes and noises which are so great a part of the worker’s environment, and to sit down and compose beautiful music, or paint a masterpiece, or write a treatise that should make history ?

All that matters to-day is the ability to make a profit—if that be ability. Very few employers are more intelligent than some of their own machine-minders, but the fact that the machines belong to them and not to the minders is sufficient to obtain for them the comfort and luxury that the latter and their families are not even able to dream of. Even their vaunted “directive ability” is vested in managers and foremen. We had the case recently of an American millionaire who made a fortune while in the madhouse! He, like the rest of his class, could not help it. It requires practically no effort on their part. That is the irony of it all. If ability counted they would not be in the position they are in. The working class invent machinery, they work machinery, they pay their own meagre wages, and hand the surplus to the employers. There is not an operation from the loading of a trolley to the cashing of a cheque that is not performed by a member of the working class.

The position, however, never seems to strike the workers themselves. If a man is a good workman and boasts about it he will compare himself with his neighbour, but never with his employer. In the same way he is familiar with and deferential to names like Rothschild and Rockefeller, but of Faraday and Pasteur, who have benefited society almost as much as the first-named have harmed it, he has not the faintest notion.

It is true of capitalism more than of any other system of society that the good in men does not pay so much as the bad. It is more to the advantage of doctors to pander to the fanciful notions of old dowagers with well-lined purses than it is for them to devote their lives to endeavouring to cure some dread disease. It is useless for a man to invent something that would make workmen in a particularly dangerous occupation safer if it would mean adding to the employer’s establishment expenses.

Only under Socialism will every man find it to his advantage to give of his best, since it will be the community that will benefit and not the the pockets of the few. The machine that will run will not throw men out of work as at present, but will, as it should, reduce the hours of labour. Scientists will not experiment with poison gases and explosives, but will use their knowledge in protecting the human race and bringing health and strength to those that lack it. And what is more, the man in the street, the common worker, instead of being any longer the slave of toil, with only “a soul to be damned, a body to be kicked,” will become a responsible member of society with a right to all that the world has to offer and with no man to say him nay.
Stanley H. Steele

The Work of The Socialist Party (1921)

From the August 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the average working man the Socialist appears as a type of individual who suffers from a fever of discontent—full of complaints, always grumbling. We will show, however, that this view is but one of the many illusions which cloud certain working-class minds. The Socialist possesses ambitions of a particular kind, which do not allow time for morbid reflections. He recognises that “the battle's to the strong," and while, therefore, healthily dissatisfied with modem conditions of existence, nevertheless enjoys contentment of mind in the knowledge that he is working for the only thing worth while; i.e., the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism.

The distinction the present scribe wishes to draw is that the Socialist is dissatisfied because he knows the cause of all the evils which afflict the working class, and that knowledge represents his dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the “discontents" are the grumblers and grousers—the unhealthy-minded—because they do not know. Lacking Socialist knowledge, they find themselves always in difficulties, always uncertain, and consequently not equipped to adapt themselves to, or battle with, the problems of every day existence.

Not that I would suggest, however, that the Socialist is able to entirely avoid the effects of the economic system; but generally speaking, he has a better chance because he is conscious of the cause.
Now there are many millions of discontents in the ranks of the working class. We meet them everywhere. Some of them call themselves Humanitarians, some Bolshevists, some Secularists, some Prohibitionists, some Home Rulers, and so on.

The Socialist, claiming that Socialism is the only hope of the workers, and that all else is illusion, is a wholesome distinction. And now to examine and explain the nature of the work of the Socialist Party.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain sets out in its Declaration of Principles that the emancipation of tbs working class must be the work of the working class itself. Special stress is laid on this—the subject matter of this article —because one of the greatest obstacles with which the workers are confronted is the idea, fostered by unscrupulous individuals and parties claiming to champion the cause of the working class, that leaders are necessary. So deep-rooted is this demoralising notion that we are called upon at our public meetings, when stating our claim to be the only Socialist party, to name some of our leaders. Our innocent reply that we have no leaders is met with the incredulous retort: “But you must have leaders!" The word “leaders" implies not only those who lead but those, who are led. Now only those require, or suffer themselves to be, led who cannot see the way for themselves, and naturally, those who cannot see the way for themselves will not be able to see whether they are being led in the right direction or the wrong. Labour leaders, therefore, are able to render to the capitalists the very valuable service of misleading the workers. This is why the ruling class bestow praises and titles upon labour leaders, and entreat the workers to follow their wise (!) leadership. The first work of the Socialist Party, therefore, is to spread abroad among the workers that political knowledge which alone can put them beyond the lure and treachery of leaders by showing them clearly the object they have to attain and the road they have to travel to attain it.

Now for a closer examination of the nature of that work. Firstly, applicants applying for membership in the Socialist Party of Great Britain have to affirm their acceptance and understanding of the Object and Principles of the party as contained on the application form. If the Party are not satisfied that the applicant sufficiently understands oar position, it is suggested that the application be deferred and that the would-be member should attend our meetings (ALL meetings of the S.P.G.B. are open to the public), read our literature, and get assistance with his or her difficulties from any member of our organisation. When the applicant has shown that his knowledge of the Socialist position is such as to fit him for membership of the S.P.G.B. his application is accepted.

It is now that the real Socialist work of the member begins. The unit of organisation is the branch, and it is inside the branch that an outlet is found for working-class abilities in the true sense of the word. There are the Rules to be read and understood. This done, the new member gets a more complete understanding of the nature of the activities of the branch and of the organisation as a whole—and this understanding can obviously only come about as the result of regular attendance at branch and party meetings.

Now a desire generally begins to manifest itself on the part of the new member to participate more directly in the work of the branch and of the party as a whole. It then becomes a question for the member to decide in what particular direction his abilities would be most useful. By close association with the branch and the party the member soon decides upon a choice of work. The principal branches of the party work (executed entirely by the voluntary labour of the members) consists of the following : Clerical work at Head Office; organisation of sale and distribution of party literature; work of the various sub-committees e.g., the Editorial Committee, whose duty it is to arrange for articles for the Party Organ, publication of leaflets, pamphlets, manifestoes, etc. Then there is the collection of cuttings from newspapers and periodicals of all kinds and from all sources, home and foreign, and their arrangement in suitable order for future reference (this record provides the organisation with facts which enables our speakers and writers to push home their attack upon the capitalist system and to criticise and expose its apologists and defenders); organisation of out door propaganda by area propaganda committees; study classes at the Head Office and in the Branches, where members congregate in order to equip themselves with the knowledge necessary to Socialist propagandists. Finally, there is the Executive Committee, elected at the Annual Conference, and whose duty it is to generally supervise and organise the work of the Party in every sphere.

In these principal spheres of activity various qualifications are needed, and to organise the abilities and resources of our class is the work which confronts the Socialist Party. I would here dwell upon the qualifications of the Socialist propagandist, one of the highest qualifications to which a Socialist can aspire. This entails unremitting labours, in order to acquire a sound knowledge of Marxian economics, history, sociology, trade unionism, and so on, to effectively defend the party’s position at all times and in all places from the attacks of our opponents; also in order to give a clear presentation of our case and a correct and vigorous criticism of current affairs in the world of politics and labour.

These are the main streams of activity of the Socialist Party and its band of Socialist workers. There are, of course, the various duties of the officials of the branches, who organise and carry on the work of the branches and their local activities.

The writer set out to explain the nature of the work of the Socialist Party. He has attempted briefly to do so. To-day, more than ever, the unorganised should ask themselves whether they are prepared and fitted to engage in the great historical mission of the working class—the emancipation of all mankind from the vile conditions of existence imposed upon them by the system of private ownership in means of living.

To those, therefore, who understand our Object and Principles we extend an earnest invitation to. come forward and assist in the efforts we are making to build up a vigorous and healthy Socialist organisation, bound together by a common understanding, with the tie of class-conscious solidarity, determined to wage uncompromising war on all who bar our way toward the goal of our ambition—the establishment cf the Socialist Co-operative Commonwealth, where poverty will give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.
“Rise like lions from your slumbers,
In unvanquishable numbers.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep hath fall’n on you:
Ye are many, they are few.”
O. C. I.