Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Philosophy of Anarchism (1942)

Pamphlet Review from the February 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked by a reader to give our views on a booklet, “The Philosophy of Anarchism,” by Herbert Read, published in 1940 by Freedom Press Distributors (36 pages, 6d.).

To obtain an idea of the general superficiality of the work the reader need not go beyond the two- page introductory chapter. Here in a nutshell Mr. Read displays his failure to understand even the elements of Socialism although his whole case is based on his belief that Socialism has been tried, has failed and must fail. The following extracts from this chapter will suffice to prove the point. Mr. Read writes:
   The characteristic political attitude of to-day is not one of positive belief, but of despair. Nobody seriously believes in the social philosophies of the immediate past. There are a few people, but a diminishing number, who still believe that Marxism, as an economic system, offers a coherent alternative to capitalism, and socialism has, indeed, triumphed in one country. But it has not changed the servile nature of human bondage. Man is everywhere still in chains. The motive of his activity remains economic, and. this economic motive inevitably leads to the social inequalities from which he had hoped to escape. In face of this double failure, of capitalism and of socialism, the desperation of the masses has taken shape as fascism—a revolutionary but wholly negative movement which aims at establishing a selfish organisation of power within the general chaos.
We can be quite brief and positive in repudiating Mr. Read’s errors. Marxists have not given way to despair nor is their number decreasing. Socialism has not triumphed in any country. Russia was never Socialist and could not have become Socialist under the Bolshevist regime, no matter what methods the Bolshevists might have used in order to impose their system on the population. Russia was not and is not ripe for Socialism, and the majority of the population were not and are not ready for Socialism. At no time did the S.P.G.B. accept the baseless claim of the Russian that Socialism had been or could be established. Lastly fascism is not and has never been revolutionary. One further proof of Mr. Read’s lack of knowledge of his subject is his use of the term, “State Socialism'” (p. 19)—a contradiction in terms through which he blindly slips into his assumption that State capitalist Russia is Socialist.

So much for Mr. Read’s initial assumption. His “philosophy” and his remedies are of a like nature. He believes (p. 6) that to realise the new world we must prefer the values of freedom and equality above all other values,” and that “thousands, if not millions, of people . . . instinctively hold these ideas”— as if social evolution were a matter of instinct and of moulding society in accordance with a mental attitude of deciding to prefer certain values against others.

He divides the human race into individuals who seek self-expression and those who are servile and want to be shepherded but explains this “fundamental distinction” by saying that the servile ones "are either economically or psychologically predisposed.” He seemingly does not realise that broadly the distinction depends upon an understanding of capitalism and of the way in which Socialism can be achieved. “The only necessity,” he says, “is to discover the true laws of nature and conduct our lives in accordance with them” (p. 16).

Later on Mr. Read admits that his appeal is “to mystical entities, to idealistic notions which all good materialists reject” (p. 20). Notice the absurd position to which his appeal to mysticism has brought him.

His explanation of what he mistakenly believes to be the failure of Socialism in Russia, brings out another of his fundamental beliefs, that society must have a religion. “It is already clear,” he says, “after 20 years of Socialism in Russia, that if you do not provide your society with a new religion, it will gradually revert to the old one” (p. 22).

Incidentally this hardly seems to square with his view that “Communism has of course its religious aspects.”

Socialism will fail, he says, because it is not the “new religion” which will emerge from the ruins of capitalist civilization (p. 27), and “the natural ally of Socialism was the Church ” (p. 24).

On the question of working class action he believes that “the natural weapon of the working classes is the strike.” “The State" he says, "is just as vulnerable as a human being and can be killed by the cutting of a single artery. But you must see that surgeons do not rush in to save the victim. You must work secretly and act swiftly: the event must be catastrophic” (p. 33). He advocates insurrection—“An insurrection is necessary.”

He ends the booklet in much the same frame of mind as those whom he criticises in the opening paragraph—despair. He is not certain whether we are faced with the final "paroxysm of a doomed system, leaving the world darker and more despairing than ever,” or whether we shall have "a spontaneous and universal insurrection." It all depends on whether we achieve "a swift apprehension of the destiny that is upon us” (p. 36).

Though he believes that such qualities as "faith in the fundamental goodness of man" alone can save us his faith seems to have half deserted him, and he is not sure what will happen.

Altogether, a very superficial piece of work. We wonder if even his fellow anarchists feel happy at his exposition of their views.
Edgar Hardcastle

Notes By The Way: Wages in Russia (1942)

The Notes By The Way column from the January 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wages in Russia

In view of the popular misconceptions about the social system in Russia, the following recent statements are of interest.

The first, relating to the great inequality of wages, was published in the Sunday Dispatch (August 17th, 1941), along with much other information about Russia. It was prefaced by a personal message from the Soviet Ambassador in London, in which he congratulated the Dispatch on publishing the information.
   Wages or salaries are paid according to ability and the type of work. Specialists are highly paid, but lower grades receive what may be termed a subsistence level, corresponding to the social status of their type of labour. . . . Some workers get quite low wages, but, as there are rarely less than three or four wage-earners in a family, discrepancies may be evened out. Average minimum wage is 250 roubles monthly, though specialists may receive an average as high as 2,000 roubles a month.
The second is a news item in the Evening News (December 30th, 1941), stating that a special war tax was to be introduced in Russia. It ended as follows: 
   Persons with specially large incomes will pay double the normal rate.
* * *

The Landworker's £3 Wage

When it was announced that the Central Agricultural Wages Board had agreed unanimously to recommend a £3 minimum wage for men on the land, Mr. A. C. Dann, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Land workers, told a Daily Express reporter how, during the last war, he was sent as a soldier to work on the land in Norfolk and how he was appalled at the horrible conditions under which the farm worker lived. It will doubtless not have escaped Mr. Dann’s notice that the newspapers which under war conditions of food shortage and restricted imports all agreed quite enthusiastically that the landworker ought to have £3, were mostly quite cold and silent in peace-time and not at all disturbed about the horrible conditions. They may be expected to suffer a relapse when peace comes again and when the fight is on between the agricultural interests which want subsidies continued, and the manufacturing interests who will want cheap home produced food and cheap imports because they mean lower wages to factory workers.

Already a start has been made at reducing the value of the £3 minimum. At present the landworker gets his tied cottage at a restricted rent of 1s. or 4s. So the demand is now being made that this restriction of rent should cease, and the landworker be compelled to pay an "economic rent.” Even this pill is sugared with the promise that if he does pay more he will get something better than what the Times (November 18th) describes as his “often slummy " cottage.

A sidelight on the life of freeborn rural Englishmen is provided by a comment in the Times (November 17th) on the difficulty of providing clothes in war-time.
   In ordinary times his wife managed to replenish his working wardrobe economically from the jumble sales, which used to be a regular feature of village life. Now no one turns out clothing that has any virtue. . .
It seems that what, in our urban ignorance, we take for scarecrows on the countryside are the local squirearchy wearing out their own jumble-sale clobber.

* * *

A Bagatelle of £100 Million

In a speech in the House of Commons on October 1st, 1941 (“Hansard," Col. 616) the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, explained why it is not expedient to “soak the rich" by lopping off in taxation all incomes in excess of £1,000 a year:—
   It is probably not realised that if we so increased taxation that no one was left with more than £1,000 a year or his present net income after taxation, whichever was the less—the course which would obviously precipitate very acute problems of many kinds—the additional yield would not exceed something of the order of £106,000,000.
The problems referred to are probably the contractual obligations (rent, etc.) which could not be met if incomes were cut to £1,000. Even so, and even if £100 million does not represent many days’ war expenditure, Sir Kingsley Wood failed to give any convincing reason why the people referred to should be treated so differently from the wage-earners getting £3 or £4 a week, who are told that every penny counts if devoted to war savings.

* * *

A Concession to Income Tax Payers

Workers who for the first time have been initiated into the mysteries of income tax will know that no wage may be reduced in any one week through deduction of tax, below 37s. 6d. for a single man or single woman, or below 57s. 6d. for a married man. They will also have noticed that the official announcement informs them that this concession will be made “unless you ask for the full tax to be deducted," and further that it is only a postponement not a permanent relief: you make up the full amount later on.

We wonder if any of the higher officials of the Inland Revenue Department realise what it means at present prices to make ends meet on '37s. 6d. or 57s. 6d. a week. The “very acute problems" that would arise if large incomes were reduced to £1,000 a year are nothing compared with the acute problem of living on 37s. 6d. a week.

* * *

The Decline of Religion

According to the Rev. E. H. Lewis, an Army chaplain, “only five per cent. of the men who join the Army can say the Lord’s Prayer, 15 per cent, have had no connection with the Church, and 85 per cent. have never been in a church in their lives."— (Sunday Express, November 2nd, 1941.)

The Rev. S. C. Thompson, writing to the Daily Telegraph (December 1st) says: “I would submit that the influence of Christ has declined, is declining, and (humanly speaking) will decline in this country, and that the reason is the general and culpable neglect of organised religion."

* * *

The Health of Recruits to the U.S. Army

According to the Times (October 11th, 1941), the calling up of men for the American Army has disclosed "that roughly 1,000,000 young men— about half of those examined—have been rejected as unfit for service on account of physical, mental, or educational defects." President Roosevelt described this as "an indictment of America."

U.S.A. has been held up in the past as an example of capitalism at its best and as a proof that a high standard of living and low unemployment are not impossible under capitalism. The results do not look anything to be proud of. They will give an impetus to the demand for social reforms to repair the damage done by Capitalism.

Whether the standard is comparable with that applied to recruits for the British army is not known, but it has been claimed that official figures show that in this war the proportion of recruits passed as fit has been about 80 per cent, (i.e., in Grades I, II and III together).—(Sunday Express, October 26th, 1941.)

* * *

Holy Russia

Those who remember the kind of abuse hurled at the Bolshevists in former years will rub their eyes to see some of the things being said to-day. On October 30th the Times published a large advertisement adorned with the Hammer and Sickle Emblem, and containing the following :—
   “Hammer and sickle, symbol once of a distant, mysterious and unknown land, symbol to-day of the power and patriotism of Holy Russia.’'

* * *

"The Best Means of Keeping them in Proper Subjection"

The following in a resolution passed in 1768 by the Committee of the Foundling Hospital regarding the purpose of the religious eduction of the foundlings who were to be placed out as apprentices: -
   That when the children of this hospital are placed out each shall have a copy of the prayers they use in this hospital, the same to be printed on small portable twelves on parchment with a thin paste board cover, and that another copy of the same shall be delivered to the master or mistress of the child, with the preamble as follows:
    As it is of the greatest moment to breed up children in the fear of God, as the best means of keeping them in proper subjection to their masters, mistresses, and superiors—and as praying is the most effectual means to promote such fear, and to enforce obedience to the laws of God, you are hereby informed that it is expected of you to take care that this child . . . aged . . . says his or her prayers constantly every morning, as well as every evening, and you are to give him (or her) due sense of what he (or she) is about, and to this end you must be careful that he (or she) repeats prayers in a slow, serious and solemn manner, and you are further to take care that this child do frequent the public worship on the Sabbath Day, in a sober, pious, orderly manner.
—“The History of the Foundling Hospital "
(Nicholas & Wray, 1935), page 190.
Though later developments have produced other means of persuading the workers that capitalism is all for the best, there are still those who hold that religion has its uses in that direction.

Edgar Hardcastle

Cooking the Books: No Need for More Capitalism (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Yanis Varoufakis, the maverick former Greek finance minister, has written an introduction to a new edition of the Communist Manifesto (published by Vintage Classics), reproduced in the Guardian (20 April). It is actually quite good. Here he is writing about ‘the predicament in which we find ourselves today’:
‘While we owe capitalism for having reduced all class distinctions to the gulf between owners and non-owners, Marx and Engels want us to realise that capitalism is insufficiently evolved to survive the technologies it spawns. It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Now, when new technologies are unleashed in societies bound by the primitive labour contract, wholesale misery follows. ... If we continue to subscribe to labour contracts between employer and employee, then private property rights will govern and drive capital to inhuman ends.’
When he was a member of the Greek government Varoufakis defended himself on the grounds that, as capitalism paved the way for socialism but socialism was not an immediate prospect, it was better to help capitalism out of its crisis than let it collapse – to save capitalism so as to be able to end it later in better circumstances.
He still hasn’t entirely escaped from this way of thinking, as he writes here: 
‘Given that it is neither possible nor desirable to annul capitalism’s “energy”, the trick is to help speed up capital’s development (so that it burns up like a meteor rushing through the atmosphere) while, on the other hand, resisting (through rational, collective action) its tendency to steamroller our human spirit. In short, the manifesto’s recommendation is that we push capital to its limits while limiting its consequences and preparing for its socialisation.’
Actually, this is not what the Manifesto recommended (unrealistically, it envisaged that ‘the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’). But it was what Leninists and Social Democrats tried to do in the 20th century, arguably unnecessarily prolonging the existence of capitalism.
Marx and Engels did hold that capitalism paved the way for socialism, by creating its material basis in the form of a worldwide productive network technologically capable of providing plenty for all. In 1848 Marx did argue in favour of free trade on the grounds that it ‘works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the Social Revolution.' But that was in 1848, some 170 years ago now. At that time capitalism, as an economic system, was confined to parts of  Western Europe. As Varoufakis points out, Marx and Engels predicted in the Manifesto that it would eventually come to dominate the whole world. He sees this as having come about in the 1990s. In fact, however, it had come about a century earlier in the 1890s, as reflected in the discussions about ‘imperialism’ that began at that time. By then capitalism had performed its historical role and had become historically unnecessary in that socialism, as a world system, could have been established in its place at any time since.
Capitalism’s continuation beyond its sell-by date has led to two world wars, countless smaller wars and massacres, and now a threat to the planet’s ecology. Who knows what its further development will bring? So, no, the task today is not to ‘speed up capital’s development’. It is to stop it, by establishing a world of common ownership, democratic control, production to directly satisfy people’s needs and not for profit, and distribution on the principle of ‘from each their ability, to each their needs’.