Thursday, March 8, 2018

Engels on Housing (1936)

Book Review from the January 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Housing Question," F. Engels (Martin Lawrence, 2s. 6d.)

Numerous people who pride themselves upon their practical outlook and their absorption in so-called immediate issues would do well to read and inwardly digest this little book. Written originally as a series of articles in a German workers' periodical, over sixty years ago, it refers in particular to propositions made by two of the author’s contemporaries, viz., Proudhon, the French father of anarchism, and a certain less notable Dr. Sax, whom Engels selects as representing the typical capitalist reformer. Though the former claimed to be a revolutionary, his ideal resembled, with striking closeness, that of the reformer. Both proposed that the worker should own his own house. Proudhon suggested that, after a number of years’ payment of rent, the house should become the property of the tenant; this result was to be achieved by legislation. Sax, on the other hand, favoured Building Societies as a means of arriving at the goal.

Engels had no difficulty in showing the Utopian character of the plans of both these practical people; and further that even to the extent that the workers could and did own their own houses at that time, in Germany and elsewhere, this was the reverse of helpful to them. Once the workers became drawn into the orbit of capitalism every piece of small property in houses or land became a tie which hampered their freedom of movement in times of industrial change. At the same time, the fact that they lived rent-free merely meant that their wages were correspondingly low.

Nowadays only the élite of the working class i.e., those with permanent jobs and comfortable salaries can seriously think of becoming house-owners, and even these can often be found looking at the cracks in the ceiling and speculating as to which will terminate first, the payments or the house.

The stimulus given to industry by the war led to a rapid flow of population from the country to the towns in certain areas, and hence arose the acute post-war housing shortage. This type of shortage can be remedied in time by the operation of normal economic processes under capitalism plus State action through the local authorities. What cannot be remedied, however, is the chronic inferiority of working-class accommodation due to the poverty of the workers, a condition they share with the oppressed classes through the ages. This can disappear only through the transformation of the means of living into the common property of all.

Engels brought these points out very clearly and showed conclusively that no piecemeal treatment of isolated “questions” such as housing could achieve any permanent solution. Slums are destroyed in one district only to appear in another, for the poverty which lies at the root of the slum is not abolished by the mere transportation of the poor. Engels shows up also the severely practical nature of the interest which the ruling class take from time to time in slum clearing.

Apart from the danger of epidemics, which do not always spare the wealthy, the time comes when all the cunning of the rack-renter fails to extract more than a certain amount from the tenants of certain property. The demand for larger, centrally-situated emporiums, banks, theatres, railway stations and traffic accommodation generally, grows and forces the workers' homes towards the circumferences of the big cities. These factors are as evident to-day as when Engels wrote; but just how rapidly our rulers move in such matters may be measured by those who remember that it is just about thirty years ago since Lloyd George told us that if, when the Liberal Party were returned to office, they did not sweep the slums from the land within three years they would deserve to be swept from office. The ruling class are still sweeping slums away, and will, no doubt, be doing so on the eve of the revolution.

The point of Engels’ book is that the solution of the housing problem, as of all problems that affect the workers, lies in the hands of the workers themselves. They cannot afford to leave it to their masters to solve whether by legislation or by Building Societies. They only need to conquer political power in order to remove at once the barriers to healthier and roomier houses.

The reappearance of the book is, therefore, timely, and should in Engels' own words “provide proof of how impractical these so-called ‘practical' Socialists really are.”
Eric Boden

We Invade the Potteries. (1920)

Party News from the October 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

A New Branch At Hanley.
It it our pleasurable task to announce the formation of a newBranch—at Hanley, Staffs. As will be seen from the advertisement in the Branch Directory, the Branch meets at the Working Men's Club, Glass Street, Hanley, on Wednesday evenings. We are unable at the moment to give the time of these meetings, but enquiry of the Secretary, J. Gallagher, 10 Sidney Street, Hanley, will elicit this information. Comrade Gallagher will also be happy to give any other particulars concerning the Branch or the Party to enquirers.

All sympathisers within practical range of Hanley are cordially invited to attend the meetings of the new Branch, and, if they agree with our principles and policy, to join up and get their shoulder to the wheel of old capitalism’s hearse. They may be sure of a comradely welcome and of finding themselves in company with lads who mean business.

Letter: How Shall We "Share Out"? (1920)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the editor.

Dear Sir,—Will you kindly supply me with an answer to the following question ?

In a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the instruments for producing and distributing wealth should the remuneration of each member of society be determined by the social labour time (accepting skilled labour as a multiple of unskilled labour) given in the service of the community, or should the total social product be equally divided among all the members of the community.

Hoping you will find room to reply to this (to me, least) most important question,

I remain, yours, L. Thompson, 

Our Reply.
Under Socialism neither of the methods of "remuneration" given by Mr. Thompson would prevail. The immense powers of production existing to-day would, if socially owned, provide plenty for all.  When Socialism is established those powers will have reached a much higher degree of proficiency, and the best method of distribution will be to allow each as much as he or she desires of the social products. Each would contribute to, the social production according to his capacity, and it would be a waste of time and energy to measure out what each have.  To-day, for illustration, many municipalities supply water to their citizens on a “rate” and find it more economical to let them take what they require for domestic purposes than to charge according to quantity used.—Ed. Com.



Objection Overruled (1951)

From the August 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

This article is primarily addressed to those who more or less regularly listen to our speakers and read our literature, but who are not sufficiently in agreement with us to desire membership of the party. You probably regard yourselves as being sympathetic to Socialism, because you agree with most of what we say about society at present. You may also feel rather hurt sometimes when we appear to make no distinction between you and those who consciously oppose Socialism, and who are determined to discredit every idea that even savours of it However, we have reasons for not compromising our ideas with those which we are told are close to ours, reasons which are strictly in accord with the nature of our single object of Socialism.

It is our contention that every sane person in this world is capable of understanding the case for Socialism. When we explain it to those who have previously confused it with attempts to reform the present system without changing its basis, it is extremely rare to meet any personal objection to living in a socialist society. The objections that are made are usually on behalf of other people, who are supposed to be unwilling to exchange the certainty of their shabby existence under Capitalism for “something which has never been tried before.”

We must point out that those who wait for others to express a determination to work for Socialism before seriously considering their own attitude towards it are in a contradictory position. They are like the gloomy folk who, when asked about the reason for their gloom, complain that nobody ever smiles at them. That is why we ask all those who agree that Socialism would be the basis for a fuller life than Capitalism allows, to withdraw their passive support for the latter and to join us to establish it. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that merely to assent that “of course it’s a good idea but it’ll never work ” is as obstructive to its realisation as to oppose it tooth and nail.

It is significant that most of the opposition we get at our meetings comes from members of the working class. It is seldom left to individual capitalists to defend the capitalist system. On the rare occasions that they do they invariably voice the same objections to Socialism as workers do. This is because the wage-working class and the wage-paying (capitalist) class both believe that Capitalism is a necessary system; the latter is a small minority and must exist by tacit consent of the majority of the working class.

We are often told by those who express some sympathy with Socialism itself, but think they know more “practical” ways of bringing it about, that we should join forces with o‘her parties in order to take steps towards it by implementing certain reforms. Implicit in this suggestion is the idea that socialists should attempt to gain control of the powers of government in order more effectively to propagate socialist ideas.

This theory overlooks the fact that all parties who form governments have to push their avowed long-term aims (if any) into the background, and concentrate on the day-to-day business of running the capitalist system If, like the Labour parties in Australia and New Zealand, they are defeated at the polls after a long innings, then it is falsely heralded as the failure of Socialism, to which they paid lip service.

Experience shows that there is no marked difference between Capitalism run by those who say it is desirable and by those who claim they are reforming it into something else. The lesson to be learned from this is that if Capitalism is objectionable to you, your only concern should be its replacement with a better system.

Sometimes our opponents claim that the reason socialists are at present few in number is that most people have little time to study politics. The answer to this is that all the time and effort workers waste on arguing which party should run the system of wage-slavery, should be spent in studying how to get rid of it.

There is no task more important to those who have reached an understanding of Socialism than to help bring it nearer by getting others to accept the ideas necessary to establish it. It is not “reaching for the moon” to ask that it be considered as the only practical solution to the social problems which Capitalism has failed to solve. This objection is based upon the fatalist view that all man’s development has been a process independent of his will, and that all his attempts to improve conditions have been and will be a waste of time.

On the contrary, the whole history of man shows his interaction with his environment as the source of all social change. In joining with others to change the economic basis of society the individual is helping to determine his future environment. To the socialist it is not a question of what “they will do and how it will affect him, but of what he, in conjunction with others, will do and how it will affect the whole of society.

In opposing Capitalism we oppose the ideas (and in many cases the lack of ideas) of all who acquiesce in its continuation. If we are rather severe in our attitude towards those who profess partial agreement with us, then in fairness we do not brand as “impossibles” those who most bitterly oppose our ideas, from whatever motive. The objections we may overrule, but the objectors themselves will always be looked upon as potential socialists.
Stan Parker

The Thieves Kitchen Records (1920)

From the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has been a very flat month in the Thieves' Kitchen, and the debates, centring largely round matters of finance, offer nothing of sufficient interest to find place in these records. The Oral Answers, however, provide some food for reflection, as they usually do.

On March 20th Mr. Gwynne "asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that the father of A. Judge, able seaman, H.M.S. 'Vectis,' sent a telegram on the 7th March to the Admiralty asking them to transmit a message to him of his mother's death; that no reply was received until the 11th March, and then to the effect that the Admiralty were unable to forward private messages to naval ratings at public expense."

The Minister admitted the truth of the facts implied in the question, which is surely a sign that the war is over. How short a period is it since nothing was too good (on paper and flag days) for "our heroic watchers of the deep" And now our bosses candidly admit that they are too parsimonious to spare a few coppers to tell one of the Jack Cornwalls that his mother was dead!

Another answer to which attention might be directed is that given to the Member for Clitheroe, who asked the Under-Secretary for foreign affairs whether he was aware that the bodies of seven murdered Jews had been found in a forest in Hungary. The answer he got was that if the facts were as alleged there was no call for the Government to interfere.

But suppose that such an allegation had been made against the Bolsheviks, what would have been the tone of the reply ? One calls to mind how much slenderer excuse served to make war upon the Dutch Republics of South Africa at the end of last century.
A. E. Jacomb

The Stranglers (1920)

Editorial from the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

For our March issue we prepared and had put into type, an article dealing with the late atrocities in the Punjaub. This article was based entirely on the published report of the commission which was appointed to put the whitewash brush over the bloodstains. But putting it into type was as far as we could get with the business, for at that point there came into operation that vaunted prop and pillar of the British Empire, the "Freedom of the Press," to wit.

As is generally known, though this Party owns and controls its official organ, and therefore is able to, and does, keep out of its pages all matter which it believes to conflict with working-class interests, it has never yet been in a position to own and control its own printing plant, with the consequence that we are not able to print much that we otherwise would.

The present instance is a case in point. The firm which machines our paper declined to proceed with the printing of the issue, and we had to have the "wind up" article removed and another substituted for it before we could get the number published.

Of course we are not blaming the printer. It is only logical to suppose that there is some element of risk attaching to the printing of a revolutionary paper. Our hypocritical bosses, who of late years have traded so much on the word "democracy," have taken great care, while mouthing the magic phrase "Freedom of the Press," to manufacture such an atmosphere of fear as effectually strangles any shred of literary freedom that may have been left to the working class of this country. With so many acts of tyranny before their eyes, printers who otherwise would are afraid to print matter which is likely to rouse the ire of our "democratic" bosses.

Hence the hypocrites who profess such virtuous indignation and horror at the brutalities— real or alleged—of their German capitalist rivals, are able to enact brutalities equally atrocious upon inhabitants of the Empire, and we are unable to publish criticism of their dastardly crimes.

Such a position is a shameful one for a revolutionary organisaton to be in. It means strangulation. The grip of the capitalist garrotter is upon our throat, and that grip must be removed. There is only one way, and that is by owning our own printing plant and taking our own risks. That, of course, will not by any means give us freedom of the Press, but it will place us in a vastly different position in so far, that, instead of being checked by third-party fears, we shall come to grips with principles, and instead of our sneak-thief tyrants being able to effect their purpose through veiled, but none the less real, standing threats held over the heads of those we are compelled by circumstances to engage to do our work for us, they will have to face a direct issue, and deal with us on the actual substance of the matter we publish.

It comes to this, then, the time when we can free ourselves from this intolerable strangulation, the more galling because of its insidious character, must be near. We can never carry out our work in a manner worthy of a revolutionary party until we are our own printers. Those who agree with us can give expression to their opinion—through the £1,000 Fund.