Thursday, March 29, 2018

Kreuger: A Product of His Time. (1932)

From the May 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

When enumerating the virtues of the present order of society and the difficulties that bar the road to social change in the direction of common ownership, one of the essential points brought forward by our opponents is the part played by the so-called "captain of industry” to-day. It is urged that production on a large scale is impossible without them, that their energy and enterprise depends upon self-interest which signifies the pursuit of wealth and power, and that such incentives being absent from the proposed new social order captains of industry will not develop and large scale production will therefore languish.

Events constantly make plain the weakness of this position, but its supporters continue their advocacy unabashed, partly from interested motives and partly from the sheer incapacity to see and understand the facts in front of them.

One of the periodical sensational cases has now come up for judgment, which again shatters this great man theory and at the same time lays bare the rottenness at the basis of the present social system and the misery this rottenness causes.

A bright star of big industry, Ivar Kreuger, the "Swedish Match King,” shot himself in Paris recently, and when the news was first broadcast the Press united in eulogising him and his achievements; publishing sketches of his life to show how by industry and ability he had built up from a small and insignificant beginning the huge Kreuger organisation that stretched its tentacles across national boundaries, financed governments and brought the whole world into its web. There is no narrow patriotism about big industry, it only uses this sentiment at times to further its economic aims.

Kreuger’s achievement was hailed as a triumph of the principle of "self-help,” the beloved child of Samuel Smiles. One striking feature of this case, however, was the withholding of the news of his death for several hours lest it should have an adverse effect upon dealings in Kreuger stocks. Uneasiness was abroad, and the taking of his life by an apparently successful and prosperous business magnate raised doubts about the stability of the concerns he controlled.

That the fears were well-founded was very rapidly proved. Whereas in 1928 the price of Kreuger & Toll "B” shares stood at £56, on April 19th they fell to 1s. 6d. (See News-Chronicle, April 20th.) Other shares suffered a similar devastating fall and shareholders organisations are being formed to see if anything at all can be saved from the ruin of these vast concerns.

The paeans of praise have turned into torrents of wrath and vilification. The change has been brought about by sensational disclosures alleging gigantic frauds of one kind and another in carrying out the schemes of these companies. It is another sad blow for the captains of industry and self-help worshippers, and comes before they have had time to recover from the Hatry frauds. Yet the path of capitalist enterprise has been marked by constantly recurring instances of this kind, and the explanation is simple.

Leaving aside those who set out from a fraudulent beginning, ambitious men, brought up on maxims of wealth and power, set out to build up large enterprises and use all the capital and credit they can lay their hands on. A business slump, which these optimists rarely foresee, a shortage of available capital, or something similar, interferes with, their projects or stands in the way of some greater achievement, and induces them temporarily to resort to methods which come under the legal heading of fraud, in the expectation that they will be able to put matters right when their designs have been accomplished. Sometimes they are successful and live on as highly respected pillars of society, with the probability of a monument after their deaths. Sometimes they are unfortunate, then economic rivals, frightened financiers, maddened shareholders, and the moralists, unite in condemning them and bringing them to “justice.”

The larger the concerns involved the larger is the scale of fraud, and, in the event of the fraud being discovered or the promoter of it over-reaching himself the greater is the confusion and ruin resulting. Thus, when Hatry fell, there was considerable financial confusion, and many went down in the wreck.

Big industry strives to utilise all the funds it can lay hands on for the purpose of expansion and of enriching those at its head. It puts its hand in the pocket of small capitalists,, shopkeepers, and the better-paid “professional” men, utilising their savings for its schemes. Consequently, it is the heartbroken cry of the small shareholder that usually makes the most noise when a collapse comes, because it is just these people, with economic security in sight, struggling fiercely to get there, who are being constantly ruined and flung into the more hopeless sections of the propertyless class. And yet they are the fruitful soil for the blooming of all the pernicious doctrines of self-help and the like. Striving for economic freedom, unable to accomplish it by their own efforts, they look hopefully to company promoters, provide funds for all kinds of hare-brained schemes, and sing the praises of “great” men whom they trustfully expect will lift them out of the mud. Like all huggers of narrow, petty ideals, they cannot find words hard enough for those who let them down and shatter their delusions.

Another side to this question of relying upon individuals of alleged great directive ability is also seen when crashes such as those we are discussing occur. If the main threads of such large concerns are in the hands of one individual, when he is removed no one knows where to turn and a sound undertaking may be wrecked by the confusion involved. When Hatry was convicted he had to be brought back to help sort out the tangle. Kreuger is dead and apparently no one knows what may happen, because no one has a clear knowledge of what strings Kreuger was pulling.

Of late, doubts have even crept into the capitalist’s breast, and the wisdom of building up organisations that outstrip the powers of control is being questioned.

The trouble, however, does not lie in the size of .the organisation but in the method of control that has to be adopted on account of the private property basis of the organisation.

To-day the duty of the captain of industry is to overreach other captains of industry and collect under him groups of willing tools to aid him in the work of extracting the greatest amount of surplus value from the working class. It is not a question of running an industry but of piling up profits, and the captain sometimes seeks to obtain the lion’s share of these profits.

When industry comes to be organised to meet the needs of everybody without distinction, the various tasks necessary will be distributed and controlled on behalf of all. There will be neither opportunity nor incentive for one to achieve power and wealth at the expense of another, and there will be every inducement for each to give of his best in the way that is most congenial for the benefit of himself and the rest of society.

Kreuger, Hatry, and their like, are really only victims of a society that puts wealth and power among the principal virtues.

Briand: A Lesson in Leadership. (1932)

From the April 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

So Briand, the famous French Parliamentarian, is dead, and as would be expected the newspapers have taken the opportunity, to broadcast the story of his life. Reading it serves to emphasise the view, so often advanced in these columns, that people who allow themselves to be led are often led “up the garden.”

We are told he started life humbly (as did most of our own labour leaders), but, being an opportunist, he soared to the heights of Premiership over the bodies of striking railwaymen. From being an “extremist" in his youth and helping to found L’Humanite,” now the organ of the French Communists, he used his knowledge thus gained to round up and arrest, not many years later, the whole of the strike leaders when assembled round the editorial table of that very journal! Throughout his career be wavered, at one time defending armaments at Washington, at another throwing a sop to the so-called Socialists in order to enlist their support for a return to power. As War Premier he rivalled Lloyd George in advocating a fight-to-a- finish policy, and as Foreign Minister in 1926 he joined the French National Government, even as our own labour leaders joined one in this country last year. The folly of one nation seems to be repeated in every other!

But let us not exaggerate the importance of. M. Briand. Most of his actions echoed the wishes of the multitude: and is he a great man who thinks only as everybody else does? At intervals, he changed places with other political messiahs, who had, for the moment, captured public support. But we notice no change in the conditions of the mass of people under them. There is only one necessary characteristic about a leader and that is he must have followers. Take away the followers and he ceases to be a leader. It seems too obvious to need mentioning, but whenever a plea is raised for a new leader or whenever disgust is shown against an old one this truism appears to be forgotten.

The life of a political shepherd always follows the same plan. His early cryings in the wilderness strike the hearts (not heads) of the common men. A note of sympathy is detected and a vague hope springs in the breasts of the listeners that this plausible speaker who has interpreted their woes must see farther than they, and can lend a hand to help them out. A little more rhetoric, a little more sentiment, election excitement and airy gesticulation and our would-be leader is invested with the robes of office. He is acclaimed a prophet, a maker of history!

Now it is one thing to command a servant to perform a task or to elect a delegate to carry out your will—it is the exact reverse to elect a leader to put things right for you in his own way. Stowed away in his head may be stores of great ideas, but not necessarily all of the kind we should approve. Our interpreter has become a magician and asks for our sanction to foist upon us his mysterious box of tricks. He is no longer our delegate to carry out our commands, instead he is a leader, and we find, alas! that the road he takes is not always to our liking. In course of time, we hear lamentations about his betrayal of his followers' interests. In 1926 it was Thomas, in 1931 Snowden and MacDonald. In the French Railway Strike of 1910 it was Briand.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds that the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself. There is no secret formula. The main outlines are set forth on the back of this periodical and can be grasped by any normal person. No need for a shepherd here—only those who do not know the way need to be led. Do you return home from work unaided? Of course—you know the way. Those who need a guide must come under one of the following groups:—
Those who are blind and cannot see.
Those who have forgotten.
Those who are ignorant and never knew.
Those who are being escorted forcibly to a destination they do not desire.
To us who do not come under one of these groups the notion of a leader is laughable. We are possessed of ordinary intelligence and can learn the only real road to freedom by a little reading and thinking.

As the machinery of Government—including the Army, Navy, Police, etc.— exists only to conserve for the capitalists the wealth taken from us, we must organise consciously to convert that machinery from an agent of oppression to one of emancipation when sufficient of us know, clearly and definitely, what we want, and how to get it; we can elect our delegates through the ballot box and see that they carry out our instructions.

They will not be great men, they will never be able to claim the grand title of leaders—but they cannot, obviously be mis-leaders. They will be our delegates, to fulfil our instructions, and the results will be on our own heads. Let us spread the knowledge and hasten that day.

The Importance of Parliament. (1932)

From the March 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The State is the public power of coercion. It arose out of the early division of society into classes, and developed with the development of class conflicts. It is the result of the desire to keep “order”; that is, order in the interests of the class that is supreme; order to allow the ruling class to subdue and exploit the rest of the population without hindrance. Through the ages the State has been controlled, as a rule, by the class that has been economically the most important. It is maintained by taxes, and hence a class that has outgrown its economic importance can often continue for a time to control social affairs. As the State grew in size and complexity, it became more burdensome and the taxes grew with it. This led to quarrels among property owners over the amounts of their contributions. Much of the apparent cleavage between parties in modern States is at bottom only a question of who shall take the weight of taxation.

In the development of the State the modern Parliamentary system emerged as the most appropriate means for securing the domination of the present capitalist class, the last class to obtain social control. Parliaments were subjected to modification in the course of time and the modern product ensures to the capitalist the unquestioned right to the proceeds of the exploitation of the working class.

But the State controlled a huge aggregate of people of various social standings and nationalities, a relatively small number of whom moved in a circle so distinct from the majority that they might almost have belonged to another world. Production and distribution of wealth also developed on such a tremendous scale that social affairs became correspondingly burdensome and complicated. One could compare the past with the present as the comparison between Stephenson’s first locomotive and a modern railway engine. In order to run the State smoothly and secure the peaceable flow of profit, it became necessary to alter Parliamentary procedure so that the voice of the mass of people could be heard and their needs met; but only in so far as such alterations did not jeopardise the rule of the capitalists, in the opinion of their leading thinkers. Thus, in due course, the electoral machinery was modified until universal suffrage became the rule.

Parliament is the centre of power in this country. It makes the laws and it enforces them. Local bodies have certain lawmaking and enforcing powers, but these are subservient to the central body, which is supreme and which, where required, supplies the local body with any extra force necessary.

The instruments of power are the Army, Navy, Air and Police forces. The final word for setting these forces in motion rests with Cabinet Ministers. The Cabinet is the executive council which carries out the will of Parliament. Its members belong to the majority group, or are allowed to function by that group, or by arrangement, through a coalition of parties. In other words, the group that has an absolute majority in Parliament can put into operation whatever decrees it wishes by means of its control of the executive—the Cabinet. In theory the Prime Minister is appointed by the King (though the selection is confined within narrow limits) and has a free choice in the selection of his Ministers; but in fact no Cabinet could live without a Parliamentary majority to sanction its proposals.

Members of Parliament are elected by universal suffrage, and the vast majority of the voters are members of the working class. The result is near enough democratic to ensure that when the mass of the working class understand the meaning of Socialism they have the means to bring it into being through Parliamentary action when they desire to do so.

Up to the present, the mass of the workers have lacked political knowledge and have voted for people instead of principles. They have given their votes to the people who made the most alluring promises, and as time proved the hollowness of the promises, the workers turned in disgust from one group of people to another, and then back again as the memory of previous disappointments faded.

This fact has led many to question the usefulness of Parliament. They have forgotten that whenever the workers have placed their trust in leaders they have almost always been let down. The workers have been as readily betrayed on the industrial field, as they have on the political field. The trouble has not been due to the field of combat. It has been due to the method adopted. When the workers cease to regard certain individuals as endowed with some special capacity of "leadership,” they will adopt the method of issuing instructions to delegates that are to be carried out regardless of the delegates' own views or wishes. The ground will then be cut from under the feet of those who prosper out of leadership, and such people will no longer have a saleable article for the capitalist in the shape of a blind following.

There has not yet been a Parliamentary test of the power of delegates acting on instructions given them by a large body of workers who knew exactly what they were after and how to get it. In fact, outside the Socialist Party of Great Britain the method has never been really applied. Time after time the specious words of some acknowledged leader have diverted groups of workers from their original aims, generally on the plea of “expediency." The word “expediency" has acted as a useful veil for generations to cover the compromising activities of leaders, but of late there are indications that “tactics" will replace it. The truth is that the foolish and cowardly belief in this fetish of leadership has been a considerable barrier to working class knowledge and progress. The power and wealth leaders acquire induce them to fortify their positions and insist on the necessity of leadership as a permanent institution with the development of appropriate means for wire-pulling and mutual bargaining for position. The Labour Party has given striking proof of this in recent years.

Socialism will not be possible until the mass of the workers understand it and are prepared to vote for it. If a working class that did not understand Socialism were to vote for it, the result would only be chaos, as the first attempts to put it into operation would bewilder the majority of people and leave the way open for a counter-revolution. When the workers understand Socialism they will know what to expect and what will be.involved in putting it into operation, and here they will defeat the efforts of any delegates ready to sell themselves to the opposition. In such circumstances a delegate could only sell once; he would not get a second chance. The price he would demand would be proportionately high. Even if the absurd view were accepted that all the delegates would be sellers, the price would be too great to be paid out of even the huge wealth of the capitalists.

Parliament has supreme power and the armed forces are only kept in existence by the yearly voting of supplies. As Marriott points out in “English Political Institutions":—
   Under the English Constitution there would be no greater difficulty, in a formal and legal sense, in decreeing the abolition of the House of Lords or the House of Commons, than in procuring an Act for the construction of a tramway between Oxford and Reading, (p. 20.)
The Army Council controls the Army, but, as Sir John Creedy showed in his memorandum to the Civil Service Royal Commission, December, 1929, the Secretary for War, who is a member of it, is supreme and is solely responsible to King and Parliament. The Permanent Under-Secretary is solely responsible to the Secretary for all internal finance.

The Privy Council has no legislative authority; cancellations from it and appointments to it are at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Privy Council proclamations are not made at full meetings, but where the presence of two or more members is arranged by the Cabinet. In practice not more than four members are summoned, and rarely is anyone invited to attend a Council meeting who is not an active Cabinet member. It is executive in those matters only where the Cabinet does not require Parliamentary authority.

Marriott (“English Political Institutions"), adds the following relating to the Admiralty:—
   The Board of Admiralty now consists of six Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, a Financial Parliamentary Secretary, and a Permanent Secretary. The responsible minister is the First Lord, invariably a civilian and a member of the Cabinet.
   . . . The Board meets at least once a week, and is in a very real sense responsible for the first line of National Defence, though in a technical and parliamentary sense the First Lord has undivided responsibility, (p. 116-117.)
A similar organisation obtains in the Air Force, the Air Minister being the responsible official.

The above shows how complete and secure is the grip Parliament has upon the armed forces, and the strikes and disturbances of past years have shown how readily these forces are put in motion, and also upon whose side they act. They are a forcible illustration of how necessary it is for the workers to obtain control of Parliament before attempting to uproot the existing foundations of society. They further show that the only way to obtain control is by the legal one of sending delegates to Parliament.

It has been suggested that when the workers' movement began to really challenge the position of the capitalist, the latter would suspend Parliament. The suspension of Parliament would, in the first instance, abolish the right of the workers to combine, and would thus put a legal end to all forms of working-class combination. But the cost to the capitalist of the permanent suspension of the Constitution would be the end of their rule and the beginning of chaos.

The size and complexity of a modern nation is so great that the time has long since gone by when members of the ruling class could occupy any considerable number of the administrative posts and manage any appreciable part of its activities. From top to bottom all departments are filled by paid or elected officials, and only a very few of these officials are drawn from the capitalist class itself. Practically all the work of controlling the activities of society to-day is performed by people who depend for their livelihood upon the pay they get for the work they do—members of the working class.

Thousands of functions have had to be delegated to subsidiary bodies, such as County Councils, Town Councils, Parish Councils, and the like. Year by year this delegation of function grows greater and representation increases at the same rate.

Circumstances, therefore, have compelled the masters to place administration in the hands of elected bodies, and they can only withdraw it by bringing their house down about their ears.

The importance of Parliament is quite plainly recognised by the capitalists, and they give clear evidence of this at election times by the amount of wealth they spend and the inconvenience they suffer in order to ensure their control of it. 

"The Hell of Steyr" (1932)

From the February 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

(From an Austrian Correspondent.)
The name of Steyr is unfamiliar in England. Steyr is an Austrian town in which motor-cars are manufactured, Detroit on a smaller scale, and it is significant that the appearance of an article in the Detroit Free Press on the conditions of the workers in the American auto-industry should have almost coincided with the publication in a Vienna paper of a report under the above heading from their correspondent in the Austrian city of motor-cars. The workers of Steyr, like those of Detroit, are a law-abiding, industrious, hard-working lot, but under capitalism these virtues do not guarantee either sustenance or security to the workers. As one of our speakers, now dead, used to put it to his audiences when analysing the effects of the capitalist system: “It comes to this,” he used to say, “the better you are and the harder you work, the worse it is for you in the end.” Steyr as well as Detroit have proved the truth of this assertion. The workers there have attained an extraordinary degree of efficiency in motor-car making with the result that within a relatively short time all the markets were glutted and work had to be suspended. Under capitalism, increased efficiency has the consequence that while the companies have amassed huge fortunes for themselves, the workers’ lot has gone from bad to worse until it has, on the masters’ own showing, become a veritable hell!

The Vienna newspaper, “Sonn-und Montagszeitung, ” in its issue for January 4th has a long report from its representative who made a special visit to Steyr. The newspaper writes:—
  “One has been quite accustomed to the daily desperate calls for help coming now from this, now from the other working class quarter, but the signal of alarm, 'A City Dying of Starvation,’ makes one look up. It comes from the second largest city of Upper Austria. The Mayor of Steyr at the last meeting informed the city council that of the 22,000 inhabitants about 11,000 are without any income whatever, that 90 per cent. of all the children are underfed and that a large proportion of the population are simply compelled to go begging. The correspondent says that one must have been in Steyr to realise what is concealed behind these figures. 11,000 tragedies in one small city which has become a city of beggars. You are accosted at every street corner by swarms of children—tiny, pale creatures in thin rags and torn shoes who surround the passing stranger with outstretched hands, wailing and imploring. They enter the shops begging for money or something to eat. And there are also young people and old women. In the Municipal poor house there are 328 aged people who now have to go out into the streets too, once a week, to supplement their scant rations by begging. And so do the inmates of other municipal institutions. Friday is the principal day set down for general begging and thousands of people go begging on that day in Steyr. 
Beds Without Bedding.    
“The greater part of the unemployed, and those who are no longer in receipt of the dole, do not live in houses, but in wooden barracks. The conditions there are described as simply appalling. Twelve persons were found to live in one room with three beds without bedding, which had all been sold long ago. All sleep on straw, the wife and the husband and 10 children. They eke out their existence between the four wet walls, the inevitable clothes line drawn across the room with wet clothing. The big boys and girls sleep side by side and next to the parents, with two little children in one bed, without bedding. They sleep as long as possible in order to suppress the pangs of hunger, many also have no shoes. On New Year’s night a woman was confined in a room of the barracks in the presence of her four other children. In another barracks a woman with two children tried to take her 'life'; she had been dismissed from the works two days previously and was not entitled to the dole, so she took prussic acid. Other families live in what were formerly stables. A canal with stagnant water runs outside and the barracks are infested with rats and mice. 
Dogs For Dinner.    
"Here and there in the barracks the correspondent saw remnants of what used to be toys, but the children, he says, do not play. They are hungry and cold. Also they have lost their favourite playmates—the dogs. Formerly there were hundreds, but they have nearly all disappeared within a year, in Steyr. Nobody will openly say what has become of them, but everybody knows that in this city of starvation the dogs have been killed and eaten. 
Children Condemned To Death.    
"The Municipality, a bankrupt municipality, has the care of 1,100 children who have lost their father or whose parents are divorced. ‘The state of health of the population is simply alarming,' said Dr. Pitniskern. 'In a year I have treated 5,000 patients free of charge. Consumption plays havoc in the town. The children are nearly all ill; at least 90 per cent. are underfed; at school examinations I find only skeletons. No flesh, no blood, only skin and bones, and when asked, it is invariably the same answer: nothing to eat. I treat many children who have not seen any meat for months. A boy in the first class did not know what meat looks like, he had never eaten any.’ 
“It goes without saying that under such conditions a normal school service has become impossible. The dilapidated school rooms serve as mere places in which to keep warm. Half of the children cannot attend for lack of shoes, others have only torn ones and insufficient clothes. 
“The Works now employ only 1,700 people, whereas more than 15,000 are dependent on work there. Another 300 were about to be dismissed. ‘With the dole,’ the correspondent says, they will be ‘alright' for a time. They are envied by those who are no longer in receipt of any benefit and only get 42 groschen (4½d.) per day poor relief—42 groschen!
   "366 persons are daily given a meal in the canteen of the Steyr Works. A thousand present themselves every day, but there are only 366 soups, the daily portion, consisting of cabbage and a piece of bread; sometimes they get a piece of meat. The correspondent describes how he watched an old worker eating but half of the contents of his basin, food that would barely have sufficed a child. When asked, he replied that the other half was to be taken home. ‘How many are there at home?' asked the correspondent. ‘Wife and three children,’ was the answer, and he pressed the basin closer to himself and sought to get away; others barred him the way, begging of him, begging of the beggar! 
“This is what the tourist guide book says about the picturesquely situated city of Steyr: 'A lovely place on the meeting place of the River Steyr with the River Enns, with 22,000 inhabitants, tall chimneys and a Gothic church,  to which the correspondent added: 'with 11,000 beggars, with 15,000 starving, with 18,000 persons destitute, tall chimneys that have not smoked for years, chimneys of idle factories. The industrial city of Steyr has become the hell of Steyr, an Austrian 'devil’s island ’ of decent, honest men, ready and willing to work.”
The paper added, of course, the usual appeal to its readers for help, though it confessed at the same time that charity is no solution. The editor did not give a remedy, but there are, of course, numerous political parties and crowds of professional politicians, chiefly coming from the so-called "intellectuals,” always ready with "remedies ” and “ reforms,” with "demands” and programmes supposed to cope with economic ills, and generally pretending to represent the interests of the workers. Every one of these remedies has been found to be a fraud, a farce and a delusion, while some of them have turned out to be worse than the disease.

Socialism the Only Remedy
There is ONE remedy for all the evils of working class existence, and ONE only— it is the solution which the science of Marx and Engels made plain, but which it does not pay the “leaders of labour ” to propagate. For that task the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in other countries have been established. We insist that these evils are all part and parcel of, and inseparable from, the present social order—capitalism—a system of society in which the means of wealth production are owned and controlled by a small section, on whom the mass of the people are dependent. These evils will persist and glow unless and until the working class, organised in the Socialist Parties, make an end to private ownership, so that no individual will be dependent on another private individual for his material subsistence. Under Socialism, such absurdities as poverty in the midst of plenty, which is the outstanding feature of capitalism, will be unthinkable, because society will produce all human comforts and conveniences for USE only and not for profit. The product of men’s hands will then cease to play tricks with them, and the further improvement of machinery, which spells wreck and ruin to the workers to-day, will then only increase the real well-being of all. We insist that no proposition can be sound and worthy of working-class support that respects the present social order and does not aim at the destruction of a system that deprives millions of people of a chance of earning a living, that humiliates and degrades, and drives thousands to despair and suicide. Any proposition that does not establish equal right for all to the means of life, deserves nothing but the contempt of the workers.

The workers of Steyr and of Vienna have had an object-lesson which should open their eyes. Putting their trust in leaders—who are the curse of working-class organisations —they elected a majority of Social-Democrats to the two city councils, with the result that after 12 years of such administration Steyr is now “a city dying of starvation,” while Vienna—a city of under 2 million inhabitants—has the dreary record figure of over 120,000 unemployed, over 3,000 suicides in the past year, and more beggars than ever before.

Workers of the world! It is high time to bestir yourselves! Rid yourselves of your illusions and of your leaders! Join our ranks and so leave your mark to posterity as men and women of whom they will be able to say that you assisted in the great task of ridding the Earth from the fangs of the monster incubus of capital!
Rudolf Frank

Socialism and the Tariff Issue. (1932)

From the January 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are Socialists Protectionists or Free Traders? This is a question which appears to worry some workers who derive their ideas about Socialism from the Labour Party and kindred organisations. The Socialist Party supports neither policy and opposes all the parties which enlist the support of the workers by promising either to protect them from the competition of foreign goods or to secure them cheap food. Socialists maintain that the tariff issue is one which concerns the capitalist class and not the working class; and that, consequently, the workers are wasting their time and energy in giving their support to the different sections of the master-class who put these policies forward.

For the last hundred years or more, these rival policies have been used by the masters to divide the workers and hinder them in developing an independent political party; and the futility of the Labour Party from the workers' point of view is clearly demonstrated by its inability to drive this red-herring from its political path—nay, its readiness to help in dangling this rotten fish of long ago in front of the workers' noses.

A hundred years ago Free Trade was the battle-cry of the British manufacturers conquering the markets of the world with the cheap goods which machinery (plus child-labour in many cases) made possible. They wanted cheap raw materials and, above all, cheap food, because this enabled them to lower wages more easily. Hence they were most aggressive in demanding the repeal of the Corn Laws, which they secured in 1846 and celebrated by reducing wages 10 per cent. shortly after.

Protection at that time was the creed of the landed class, who got rich on rents squeezed from the capitalist farmers. The free importation of corn hit these interests in that important place, their pockets; but then, and since, protectionists have always pretended, like their political rivals, to have the interests of the workers at heart.

In some respects the situation is different to-day. Capitalism, based upon modern industry, has developed apace in countries which formerly provided markets for British goods. The tables have been turned and these countries now pour cheap goods into the one-time workshop of the world. This has led to a change of outlook on the part even of that considerable section of the master-class which calls itself Liberal. Sectional interests among the masters are less clearly defined. Landlords have bought shares in industrial and financial concerns. Industrial magnates have purchased land. Hence it is easy for a “National" Government with an “open mind” on the tariff issue to hold office and secure the support of the major portion of the master-class, while a majority of the workers, still in the dark regarding the cause of their permanent condition—poverty—turn in despair to such a Government for some amendment of their lot. Is there any real ground for this hope? Five million unemployed in Germany and double that number in the U.S.A. should be a sufficient answer for any worker who is prepared to think for himself.

The poverty of the workers in this country is not due to Free Trade, any more than the poverty of the workers in protectionist countries is due to the tariff policy prevailing there. The workers of the world are poor because they depend for their existence upon means of living which are owned by another class, the capitalists. This class only allows the land to be tilled, minerals to be dug, factories to be run and goods to be distributed in order that they may make a profit upon the sale of the goods. This profit is possible only because the workers can exist upon very much less than they are capable of producing. Their wages represent the cost of their subsistence, hence cheap food is an advantage, not to them, but to their masters who purchase their energies by the day or the week. The fall in the cost of living since 1920 has not benefited the workers, for wages have also fallen and unemployment increased.

On the other hand, the most formidable competitors which the workers have to contend with are not their fellow-workers either at “home” or abroad, but the machines. Tariffs cannot protect the workers against these rivals. A machine produced in a British town can put men out of work in the same place, and the master-class have more machinery at their disposal than they know what to do with. Hence rationalisation schemes, such as that of the English Steel Corporation, which placed half the village of Penistone on the dole a few months ago. The unemployment in Germany and America is due to similar causes, and not to “foreign goods.”

Poverty exists in all lands where the means of producing wealth exist in the greatest abundance. The very conditions of the problem provide the means for its solution. It is for the workers to discover them. It is an obvious paradox that idle machinery should exist side by side with idle men and women whose wants could be satisfied by setting the machinery in motion. This they are ready and willing enough to do, but they are prevented by the fact that the machines are the private property of a class who own and control with the motive of profit. Whenever the surplus product of the workers' labour reaches such proportions that it cannot all be sold, production slackens because profits fall. Unemployment, under such conditions, is inevitable, no matter whether the country be "old" or “new," Free Trade or Protectionist.

The solution for such a situation cannot be found along the lines of supporting any political party which asks for power to administer capitalism, for capitalism, as a system, is responsible for the problem. In order to obtain free access to the means of living, the workers must use their political power to remove the existing legal barriers; in other words, they must abolish capitalist ownership of these means. They must make the land, factories, railways, etc., the common property of the whole people and establish democratic control over them in the interests of all. That is what the S.P.G.B. means by Socialism.

The change to such a system can only be hindered as long as the workers continue to support demands for tariffs or for cheap food, irrespective of whether these demands are made by sections of the capitalists or by labour leaders of different political groups. In our issue of November last we gave evidence that the Labour Party and the Communist Party, no less than the Liberals and Tories, endeavoured to divide the working class upon this issue during the General Election. Having stood by the Liberals for Free Trade for the greater part of their existence, it is not, of course, surprising that the Labour Party should have wobbled when their tutors wobbled. Prior to the election they showed some indecision on the point, but during the election they came down on the side of Lloyd George and Free Trade. The Communist Party followed suit and demanded, with all the “revolutionary" fervour of which they were capable, "No taxes on the people’s food." This is indeed only consistent with the declaration in their 1929 programme (“ Class against Class,” pp. 29-30):—
  "Free Trade has nothing to offer the workers. . . . The demands of the Communist Party consist, therefore, of the following:—
(1) Abolition of all indirect taxes.”
It is indeed typical of the Communist Party that it demands with one breath something which it has described as useless to the workers less than five minutes previously; and to make their inconsistency complete, its supporters invariably adopt an air of injured innocence when Socialists describe their actions as anti-working-class.

The S.P.G.B. alone stands for Socialism and points out to the workers the futility of demanding either more tariffs or the abolition of existing ones. It alone consistently opposes all political parties representing the different sections of the masterclass, and demands the support of every Socialist.
Eric Boden