Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Prols" and Plutocrats (1958)

A Short Story from the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
"They toil not neither do they spin,Yet Solomon in all his glory Was not arrayed like one of these.” 
Sir Brian Bagalot was one of the select minority whose possessions enabled him to enjoy most of what this world has to give. He had a town and country residence both sumptuously equipped and staffed, a villa on the French Riviera, an odd farm or two whose stock were prized in agricultural circles, and a cruising yacht which he found handy when land-bound pleasures became boring. Lest it may be thought that- his whole time was spent in gay abandonment, we must add that he was chairman of 10 industrial concerns as well as sitting on the board of directorship of 15 others.

He was, in fact, typical of the strong: “terror when roused” English business men to whom society doffs its cap.

Despite this, he was a sporty, trusting kind of chap and not above discussing the prospects of the vegetable crop with his head gardener or the racing news with the butler. In fact, though he did not give it much conscious thought he had great trust in everyone—from his immediate subordinates to that vast army of men and women employed in his Industrial Empire—an army which stretched far into the vague shadow-world that lay beyond his own comfortable, sunny highway.

He shared his joys and woes with his wife, Lady Bagalot who apart from fulfilling a biological function in his life, served as a kind of walking advertisement of the Bagalot Enterprises. It was precisely because Sir Brian had recently added another “bauble” to the already well embellished Lady Bagalot. in the shape of a diamond tiara, that our second character enters the hall.

Joe was most unlike Sir Brian; quite commonplace; belonging to what has been called "the Great Unwashed” and many other things. i.e., he was one who possessed nothing that Sir Brian and his friends wanted, except his labour power. Joe belonged to the working class indeed, though he did not “slave” to run the affairs of 25 industrial concerns. He knew little about prize live stock, or yachts, and could see nothing in bridge. Obviously NOT the typical, time-honoured, tenacious Englishman who “bestrides the narrow world like a Colossus” that one reads about in novels. Whilst Sir Brian had expanded himself on the playing fields at Eton, Joe had experienced the mental and physical cramp peculiar to a large Council School, where some poor cuss of a teacher had struggled to fit him out as a decent, law-abiding citizen. Whilst Sir Brian had absorbed the “nobling influence” of the broad green acres of his estates and the exhilaration of a "true Britisher” as he stood yachting cap at an angle, on the bridge of his cruiser, Joe, when he looked around his colourless, lustreless environment, felt as inspired as a bulldog forced to eat a bowl of lettuce.

So he changed it—or he thought he would. He scrapped the “Honesty is the best policy, God's in his heaven, all’s well with the world” philosophy taught him at school, and decided that Society and he were henceforth enemies.. From now on it was Joe first, and all the time. He had, you see, acquired a kind of queer sense of justice that is, alas, all too common among the world’s poor. He believed that be could rectify and otherwise improve his status through his own efforts—a kind of “one man concern.” He obviously hadn’t studied Sir Brian’s life history, otherwise he would have known that “real" wealth, can, and is, only created by the combined effort of many. Still, Joe was not so much concerned with making rather than taking. To use his own phrase, he was engaged in the business of “Redistribution of Wealth” by the simple means of breaking and entering.

His successes were many and not without their measure of excitement. Joe was indeed enjoying a more varied and eventful life as an “anti-social” member of society than ever he did during his law-abiding days. Just as Sir Brian felt akin to Lord Nelson when cruising, or an affinity with John Peel and his company of country squires when riding to hounds over the Bagalot Estate, so Joe felt himself a kind of Dick Turpin or Robin Hood both of whom are thought of as heroes to members of the working class whose education has been that where-in-history and romance are confused.

Joe’s end came; sudden and dramatic. He was caught in the act of burgling Lady Bagalot's “blazers” (including the diamond tiara)). After the Law had worked on him, supported by 12 moral jurymen, he was "sent down” for a long time and ceased to count as a member of society at all. Joe may have had the best of motives for his activities, but unfortunately his methods were wrong.

This ends our little story, but perhaps we could wrap it up in a moral.

The “Joe’s” can be multiplied in their millions; workers who congratulate themselves on "getting away” with odd bits and pieces—a minute quantity of the world’s wealth—usually just about enough to keep them “ticking" till such time as they are “sent down” (with the aid of a shovel) and are no longer a part of living society. Many have in various ways, attempted to balance the one-sidedness of wealth-ownership, by the wrong method. They still continue to think in terms of “getting a bit more ” without realising the possibilities of getting the lot.

The job must be done properly; not by negative attitudes to existing laws, but by a positive move to create our own law. We can only do this by "thinking big"; having big ideas."

As for Joe:—
“The Law doth punish Man or Woman
Who steals the goose from off the Common
But turns the greater villain loose
Who steals the Common from the goose.”

                               [Old Peasant Rhyme, 14th Century.] 
And so whilst Joe was “put away" Sir Brian embarked on—yet another of his sea cruises.
W. Brain

Angry Young Men (1959)

Film Review from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the War a type of young man has appeared on the social scene whom the Press have been pleased to call The Angry Young Man. They are disillusioned individuals, who, out of a posh education and great expectations, have developed certain resentments about the post-war world. We know that all kinds of people can become angry about all kinds of things. What makes these particular young men so special?

For one thing they are fortunate in having the background that has enabled them to vent their anger through the medium of books, plays, and films. By focussing considerable attention on aspects of society they dislike, they have gained the admiration of some who see their own dissatisfactions reflected, and the hostility of others who see them as ungrateful to the system that gave them the opportunity to do so. They are fortunate, too, for anger has proved to be a successful commercial proposition.

It appears that they have been the victims of one of Capitalism's confidence tricks. Educated, often at Universities, during the period immediately after the war, they had high hopes for the future. They knew all about the bad old days of depression and unemployment, but with the war itself behind them, things were going to be different. For a Labour Government was in power and the foundation for the Welfare State well laid. And then there was the United Nations Organisation to look after the international situation; everything was shaping-up nicely. War, unemployment, hard times, class distinction, these were things of the past. At that time you even heard talk of a social revolution having taken place! Surely, with their liberal education and social consciences they would count for something in the “new society.”

Disillusionment came quickly. Labour was soon on the way out, the big powers were re-arming again, UNO turned out to be ineffective. The class system was still there and it all seemed very familiar. They looked in vain for the new society. In fact, an increasingly technological society hadn't much use for them. They looked back and wondered; what went wrong?

“Look Rack in Anger"
The play Look Back in Anger by John Osborne was first performed on the stage in 1956 and is now a film. Its main character, the embittered Jimmy Porter, has reacted by resorting to a sweet-stall in a local market place for his living. The tone of the film is set by his frequent attacks on the snobbery, selfishness, and hypocrisy of “middle class” values, He is married to the daughter of a retired Indian Army Officer and this gives him ample opportunity to do so. The author presents the victim here as an individual thwarted by the values of a class-ridden society.

And where do we go from there? This film doesn't go anywhere. This is the blind alley that teems with rebels with no causes, disenchanted political reformers, and left-wing intellectuals. All this anger may be a change from the all-too-prevalent general apathy, but it should not blind anyone to the failure to offer a logical criticism of present society, or to even imply that any other is possible. Whether or not this is the job of a playwright, films and plays like this are seen by millions of people, and if discontent about the shortcomings of society can be canalised into anger that leads to nowhere, it is ineffective. The work then appears as a series of eloquent pot-shots, But merely to decry them will not make targets disappear.

Socialists are concerned with people, but we realise that to achieve a truly humanitarian society, its most important function—the production and distribution of wealth—must be put on a social basis. Of course Capitalism is ridden with anti-social ideas, but those who think that you can have a system based upon exploitation for private gain without them—and these idealists believe just that—will have to think again.

This principal motive of the system contaminates everything it touches— which is most things. The attitudes and actions of people reflect the social system under which they live: human behaviour is determined by social conditions. Look after the system and the values will look after themselves.

Reason for Anger
That is why we are concerned with a new society. Only thereby can worthwhile human relationships arise. The irony of the position of the Angry Young Men is that they subscribe to the very system whose essential institutions give rise to the attitudes they dislike. They will look everywhere for the causes of social problems except the place that really matters.

But what will happen to the young rebels? In the play—this and other observations were eliminated from the film—the religious attitude is described as having “. . . moved into a cosy little cottage of the soul, cut right off from the ugly problems of the twentieth century altogether.” It is worth remembering that the “angries” of one generation have a habit of becoming the cynical and detached of the next. They usually look back wistfully, “I was a bit of a rebel in my youth, you know.”
S. D.

Common Ownership (1960)

Quote from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Where all things be common to every man, it is not to be doubted that any man shall lack anything necessary for his private uses, so that the common storehouses and barns be sufficiently stored. For there nothing is distributed after a niggardly sort, neither there is any poor man or beggar. And though no man have anything, yet every man is rich. For what can be more rich, than to live joyfully and merrily, without all grief and pensiveness; not caring for his own living, nor vexed or troubled with his wife’s importunate complaints, nor dreading poverty to his son, nor sorrowing for his daughter's dowry? 
   ". . . when 1 consider and weigh in my mind all these commonwealths, which nowadays anywhere do flourish, so God help me, I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the commonwealth. They invent and devise all means and crafts, first how to keep safely, without fear of losing, that they have unjustly gathered together, and next to hire and abuse the work and labour of the poor for as little money as may be. These devices, when the rich man have decreed to be kept and observed under colour of the commonalty, that is to say, also of the poor people, then they be made laws. 
  “But these most wicked and vicious men, when they have by their insatiable covetousness divided among themselves all those things, which would have sufficed all men. yet how far be they from the wealth and felicity of the Utopian commonwealth? Out of the which, in all the desire of money with the use there of is utterly secluded and banished, how great a heap of cares is cut away! How great an occasion of wickedness and mischief is plucked up by the roots! 
   "For who knoweth not, that fraud, theft, rapine, brawling, quarrelling, brabling, strife, chiding, contention, murder, treason, poisoning which by daily punishments are rather revenged than refrained, do die when I money dieth? And also that fear, grief, care, labours and watchings do perish even the very same moment that money perisheth? Yea, poverty itself, which only seemed to lack money, if money were gone, it would decrease and vanish away."
Extracted from the concluding chapter of Utopia, by Sir Thomas More (1515).

A place of your own (1961)

From the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the prime necessities of life is shelter. A lot of people make a living by letting rooms whilst others augment their weekly wage by doing the same thing. Here in Britain at the moment quite a number of people because of their poverty are living in furnished rooms. This can be dear enough but they have got to pay up and like it. The same also goes for the people who are “lucky" enough to find unfurnished accommodation.

There are also the Council houses and flats built specially for workers. Surely the nice newness and smarter surroundings of a modern self-contained flat with all amenities should have been the means of bringing about a happy carefree attitude among those tenants? But the struggle over the St. Pancras council flats, the Kenistoun House barricading shemozzle, along with the other unhappy incidents up and down the country speak for themselves.

Another side to this housing tragedy is revealed by those who find themselves in the position of having a bit of surplus space in their houses and who, instead of utilizing the roominess for their own comfort, are stricken with a kindness of thought and let their rooms to the more unfortunates at two, three or four pounds a go. The kind of room in which you can clearly walk around the table is classified as a “double room", compared with the one in which, when you open the door, you trip over the bed. This obviously becomes a “single bedsitter", and it’s amazing the number of people who cook, eat, sleep, wash, read and attempt to entertain in such quarters. Yes! 1961 and all that.

The Guardian recently told of a Londoner walking through Berkeley Square with one of the African delegates from the Rhodesian Conference, listening to him talk about the problem of low wages in so many parts of Africa. Wages are so low the Guardian  reported the African as saying, that in his own territory the African worker had to have subsidised housing, as in so many cases the bread-winner earned only £6 per .month.

After they had parted the Londoner made his way across the Square. Something in the window of an estate agent's office caught his eye. It was a modest sign advertising a mews cottage in Knightsbridge at150 guineas. He found on enquiry that it contained two maids' bedrooms and a dressing room as well as two ordinary bedrooms and was furnished in antiques of impeccable pedigree. The rent—£150—per week. The figure, the girl agreed, was high but it broke no record.

But remember this. Even if the worker were to live rent free in one of the Stately Homes with its own approach and the forecourt framed with iron wrought gates, and surrounded by North, South, East and West lawns—if he still had to work for a living he would be no better off. As Engels said so long ago,
    Let us assume that in a given industrial area it has become the rule that each worker owns his own little house. In that case the working class of that area lives rent free, housing expenses no longer enter into the value of its labour-power. Every reduction in the cost of production of labour-power, that is to say, every permanent price reduction in the worker’s necessities of life is equivalent “on the basis of the iron laws of the doctrine of national economy" to a depression of the value of labour-power and will therefore finally result in a corresponding drop in wages. Wages would thus fall on an average as much as the average sum saved on rent, that is, the worker would pay rent for his own house, but not, as formerly, in money to the house-owner, but in unpaid labour to the factory owner for whom he works. In this way the savings of the worker invested in his little house would in a certain sense become capital, however not capital for him but for the capitalist employing him.
Joe McGuinness

The Great Crash (1962)

Book Review from the August 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the echoes of the recent Wall Street upset still rattling in our capitalists' ears, Penguin Books have chosen a most appropriate moment to re-issue Professor J. K. Galbraith's book on its notorious forerunner.

The Great Crash, 1929 (first published in 1954) tells the story of the events that led up to that debacle, of the crash itself, and of its aftermath. In it, Galbraith disposes of a number of popular misconceptions and makes many sound comments about economic crises in particular and the capitalist system in general. He debunks the myth that the whole of the American people were playing the stock market before the crash, calculating that there were no more than a million and a half stockholders all told and that of these less than a million were active speculators. This is as we would expect the great majority of the working class, then as now, had nothing to spare from their wages to go on stock market sprees.

Galbraith's indictment of the economic experts of the time is damning. With a very few exceptions, they were all carried along on the tide of apparently end less “prosperity." He gives quote after quote to show just how naive and stupid they were: right up to the time the market went into its steepest dive they were still saying that things were “fundamentally sound" and that the worst was over. Only a few days before the catastrophe a Professor Irving Fisher was saying that he expected “the stock market a good deal higher within a few months.” Within a month the New York Times index of industrial shares had fallen from 542 to 224 and was to drop steadily month after month until in July, 1932, it had reached the fantastic figure of 58. During the same month the U.S. steel industry was down to 12 per cent. of capacity and U.S. steel shares were selling at 22. At the beginning of September they had stood at 262.

Galbraith reminds us that although the stock market crash was sudden and catastrophic, it was only the prelude to something far worse. After the Great Crash came the Great Depression which was to last in the U.S. for ten years. The dollar value of production did not get back to the level of 1929 until 1941. In 1933 there were nearly 13 million people out of work or one worker in four. Even in 1938 one worker in five was unemployed and only once, in 1937, did the number of workless drop below eight millions.

A last chapter discusses the possible causes of the crash and very tentatively puts forward some reasons why another might be averted. But these are so tentative as to say virtually nothing Professor Galbraith has obviously learned from the experiences of his predecessors in 1929 not to commit himself too much when it comes to prophesying what is likely to happen under capitalism.

This aside, the book should nevertheless be in the library of every Socialist as a cheap and comprehensive record of what was one of the most shattering upheavals in modern capitalist history. It should be added that Professor Galbraith tells the story exceedingly well; the style is direct, the wit flows freely, there are many apt comments on capitalism, and he holds the interest throughout. 
Stan Hampson

New towns for old (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Contrary to common thought the creation of New Towns after the last war was not a new thing. Over the last 200 years many towns have been constructed for non-economic and non-geographic reasons and their development has been planned. Examples of these are Washington and Canberra, and more recently New Delhi. In this category of political capitals with planned development Brasilia is the most recent example.

In Britain, prior to the war, garden cities had been built at Letchworth and Welwyn. Even earlier John Laird had begun Birkenhead as a new town and Stephenson had built a New Town at Ashford.

After World War II a number of countries, including Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, constructed new towns to house workers for specific industries.

In the U.K. the aim of the New Town Act of 1946 was to attract industry and population away from areas of congestion. These new towns were to be modelled on the Garden Cities of Letchworth and Welwyn, and were to provide gracious, healthy living conditions.

The basic pattern has been the “neighbourhood" system. This provides for a city centre with satellite neighbourhood centres catering for immediate needs and community recreation. By 1960 there were fifteen such towns in various stages of development.

It was thought that the major problem would be to align housing construction, industrial expansion and essential services. In fact, the first problem to arise was that of school places and accommodation, followed by the lack of facilities for adolescent recreation. These problems were obviously related to the age structure of the new communities. Older people do not easily cut their ties with an area and move, consequently New Towns tend to have populations of young people with dependent families.

Another complaint has been that most New Towns are difficult to distinguish one from the other, in general being monotonously alike in appearance, with the streets too wide and the houses remote. They are thus neither urban or rural, and as most dwellers in new towns came from urban areas with many close neighbours they have found this low-density living plan unneighbourly.

Further, coming from different areas to the New Town the citizens take time to make friends. This, coupled with the fact that their previous neighbourhood is seldom all that far away, enabling them to keep up old friendships, has retarded the growth of community spirit.

It was intended that these communities would cater for all the needs of the community—work, shelter and leisure. New Towns in the London area have numbers of commuters using train and car to take them to town. They have a tendency to be dormitory towns, with people working in London gaining their recreation there before returning late in the evening. The isolation of the wives, lack of recreation for the adolescents, long tiring journeys to and from town, have developed what has become known as New Town Blues.

It is apparent that the planners of New Towns did not see far enough ahead. The Guardian recently reported Mr. Henry Wells, the former chairman of the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation, as being of the opinion that if they had known the motor-car age was upon them, they would have produced “a very different sort of town." He said that Hemel Hempstead was "in the light of current thought, an old town."

Workers in New Towns have no more security than workers elsewhere. The job is not theirs, it is their employers! They have experienced short time, redundancy, unemployment, as workers at Hatfield. Stevenage and Peterlee can testify.

The blame, as always, has been put on the Government. They lacked foresight, they did not institute research into the needs of New Town communities, they withheld capital which would have created diversity, they did not bring about conditions which would have attracted community leaders from the professional strata to live in New Towns. In one sense it is true that the Government can be blamed — for like all reformist governments it claims to have solutions for the various ills of capitalism. But as the Socialist knows, no one can control capitalism in the interests of the working class. The new way of living in New Towns has not been achieved and workers live under the same economic and social pressure of capitalism, as workers elsewhere. The problem of a new way of life is not soluble under capitalism. In this sense the blame is not with the government, but with workers who support Conservative, Labour and all reformist parties.

Capitalism would like workers to be housed efficiently and cheaply. This would raise their productive capacity and improve their physical and mental health. But capital must be invested where the return is greatest, and workers' wages do not allow them to pay for efficient, gracious housing.

If workers really want "New Towns" and a new “way of living " the only way is by the establishment of Socialism. Then and only then will they be able to construct dwellings to suit their requirements.
Ken Knight

On Passing the New Menin Gate by Siegfried Sassoon. (1964)

From the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,
These doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones? 
Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp. 
Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
“Their name liveth for ever," the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might die Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime. 
We thank Siegfried Sassoon for letting us publish his poem.

Fifty years too late (1964)

From the August 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has taken the world a long time to get back its breath after the shock of the First World War. Now it is time for a reassessment. Not surprisingly, this is proving to be a painful business.

The war is under severe criticism: the defenders of that episode in human history are finding it difficult to hold their lines and in many cases are in full retreat. Books, articles, photographs—even a West End musical have been devoted to a merciless exposure of the war. The generals are now regarded as cold blooded fools, the politicians as impotent puppets. Only the Poor Bloody Infantryman comes out of it well, slogging up to the Front, grovelling in the slime, resignedly going over the top whenever he was ordered to.

A new generation of exceedingly articulate historians have analysed the war. Alan Clark has written bitterly on the “experiments” of 1915, Brian Gardner has exposed the 1916 Battle of the Somme, Leon Wolff that of Passehendaele in1917. Alan Moorehead has told the story of the massive blunder of Galllipoli. And so on. These writings have taken full profit of the historian’s natural advantage of hindsight—the advantage which men like Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, who had actual experience of the war, did not have. Although they eventually came to doubt the motives of the war, Sassoon and Graves were at first aware only of the confusion of it all. They could not know of the more horrible mistakes, of the conceited indifference of the generals. Theirs were snap judgments, put down in white heat.

It is different now. Almost everyone seems to agree that the war was a mistake just like an accountant adding up his books wrong or a mechanic leaving a nut loose. Good—but only as far as it goes. It was, after all, a “mistake” which cost ten million lives. At the time, the war was generally accepted as a good idea. And it is a “mistake” which the world can make again, at any time, because the elements for it are still there.

The condemnation of the Great War fits in with the ever popular theory about the Bad Old Days. But this does not alter the fact that the case against the war, on all scores, is overwhelming. It is pitifully easy to show up the leaders for what they were; Robert Blake, in his edition of the private papers of Sir Douglas Haig, avoids criticising the British commander but in truth Haig’s own words are enough. Many of the generals were hopelessly wrong in their estimations of military prospects which was, after all, their job. Haig, at the beginning of the war, considered the machine gun a much overrated weapon and thought that it would be impossible to use gas.

Sir John French, who was at the time the commander of the British troops, sited his headquarters for the disastrous battle of Loos at a place which had no telephone communication with Haig, whose First Army was to fight the battle. The French General Nivelle sent his men to attack on the Aisne in 1917 although he knew that his plans had fallen into German hands. The French soldiers were massacred: 180,000 of them were lost. Yet General Sir Henry Wilson, who was supposed to be the contact man between the British and the French forces, wrote to Haig, “I don’t think, luckily, that the French losses are very heavy.”

Wilson was only one of the generals who did not seem to know what was happening to the men under their command. However badly his armies were mauled, Haig never lost his confidence. The day before twenty thousand British soldiers were killed on the Somme he wrote: “The weather report is favourable for tomorrow. With God's help. I feel hopeful.” The battle of Arras, in April, 1917, cost 160,000 casualties for an advance of seven thousand yards. Haig's estimate of the losses was sixteen thousand—one-tenth of the actual total—and, of course, he had planned for a much greater advance. In March, 1918, just before the German armies smashed through his lines, he told his Army commanders that he was “ . . .  only afraid that the enemy would find our front so very strong that he will hesitate to commit his army to the attack with the almost certainty of losing very heavily.” 

Haig's Chief of Staff. Lieutenant General Sir Launcelot Kiggell, did not visit the Passchendaele battlefield until the fighting was all over. When he did go there he was appalled by the impossible conditions in which the soldiers had fought. He broke down and went: “’Good God. did we really send men to fight in that?”

Perhaps the leaders suffered from a lack of imagination. Most of the generals were firm Westerners: they believed that the only proper place for the war to be fought was in France and Flanders, and they scorned any suggestions of bypassing movements like Gallipoli. Most of these officers started the war as ardent cavalrymen, dreaming of sleek horses prancing across the battlefields under vivid lance pennants. The mud strangled those romantic visions, as surely as it popularised the opposite theory of attrition.

In its baldest terms, this theory was that a general committed his troops to a battle which had virtually no chance of significant success — no chance of bursting through the opposing trenches into the open country beyond. The most that such attacks could achieve was a slogging, bloody advance of a few miles. At the end of the battle the general got his Staff to add up his casualties and those of the other side. If his were less than theirs (and Haig's Staff usually took good care that that was how the figures came out) he had won. Simple. Even for the millions who were attrited.

The result of this theory was that the soldiers were continually being asked to do the impossible and were being blamed as cowards and slackers when they faded to overcome the combined obstacles of trench ailments, shellfire, bottomless mud, barbed wire and machine guns. On July 1st, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, one of the Corps under Haig's command the Eighth lost thirteen thousand men. Haig's comment on this day's work; was that he was “. . . inclined to believe . . . that few of the 8th Corps left their trenches.”

It is fashionable now for the critics to point a horrified finger at the attrition policy. There is no doubt that the commanders did not seem able to think up any other way of getting their men killed yet the policy had succeeded convincingly in the American Civil War. Were the general really to blame for apparently applying what was then up to date military theory?

Attrition is, in fact, one of war's logical conclusions. The theory sounds too callous to be true but has anyone ever heard of a humane war? Did ever a general plan a battle in which nobody was going to get killed? It was not the commanders, but those people who supported the war and the social conditions which nurture war, yet who objected to the long casualty lists, who were illogical. And in those people we can include most of the young historians who are now so bitterly critical of the war’s conduct.

What, after all. did the world expect? About a year before he was killed, Wilfred Owen composed a moving sonnet which opened with the words: "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? ” By the time he wrote that Owen, and many others, were in despair at the endless slaughter. Yet when the war broke out the working class, hysterically patriotic, were not expecting to die like cattle: they looked forward only to swift, glorious victory and a hero’s return.

This was true of both sides. The cheering crowds in London were matched by those in Berlin. This was how Walter Limmer, a law student from Leipzig, who died of wounds in September, 1914, described his regiment's departure for the Front:
   Our march to the station was a gripping and uplifting experience! . . . Such enthusiasm! — the whole battalion with helmets and tunics decked with flowers — handkerchiefs waving untiringly and cheers on every side. . .
It is a bitter fact that the workers eagerly took in the propaganda which was fed to them. The British government were surprised by the response to their appeal for volunteers, which kept up until the losses in the battles of attrition brought conscription on to the scene.

Not all the “volunteers” joined up entirely of their own free will: many of them were subject to varying types and degrees of force. There was the moral force of the girls with the white feathers. There was the sort of persuasion which Siegfried Sassoon mentions in his poem Memorial Tablet: “Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight (Under Lord Derby’s Scheme).” And there was the direct economic pressure from the firms who suddenly declared that they would no longer take on any fit men of military age. (The London County Council, when their tramway men went on strike in 1915, said that they would not take back any strikers who were eligible for military service.)

But even taking all this into account, there can be no question about the workers’ support of the war and of their eagerness to get into uniform. Whatever they saw and experienced at the Front, they kept coming back for more. They never gave up. The French, it is true, were mutinous for a time after Nivelle’s catastrophic offensive in 1917. But they were soon settled and the war ground on. The Germans, of course, suffered terribly but there was still enough fight left in them in 1918 for their great attack in March of that year. All that happened was that the mud got deeper and bloodier and more repulsive as the corpses rotted down into it. Visions of glory gave way to blank despair: most people thought the war would never end.
Yet even that did not shake the basic support for the war. It is all very well for confident journalists now to expose the terrible blunders that were made. At the time such exposure would have been generally regarded as acts of gross, unpatriotic indecency. So the journalists held their tongues. In his life of Lloyd George, Tempestuous Journey, Frank Owen tells of the Prime Minister crying:
   If people really knew, the war would he stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t — and can’t know. The correspondents don’t write and the censorship wouldn’t pass the truth. The thing is horrible, and beyond human nature to bear, and I feel I can’t go on any longer with the bloody business.
Those words sound very heartfelt and sincere but they need not be taken too seriously. It was, after all, Lloyd George’s government who did their best to suppress anyone who tried to tell the truth about the war, even if in this they played up to the mob ignorance of hooligan patriots.

Those were dark days for the world, with only a gallant few holding out. In .September, 1914, the Socialist Party of Great Britain immediately made its opposition to the war plain: " . . . no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood . . .” From that moment we kept up a barrage of opposition. Our speakers were physically attacked and we were forced to discontinue our meetings. Said the Socialist Standard of December, 1914: 
   Owing to various circumstances, including the peculiarly British sense of fair play of our opponents, the Party's Lecture list is considerably curtailed this month.
The next issue advertised no meetings at all, only a defiant attack on
   . . .  the rampant jingo hooligans of the streets, and . . . the “patriotic" fury of certain parasites “dressed in a little brief authority ”.
Our headquarters were raided by the police and almost every issue of the Socialist Standard carried matter which, under the Wartime Regulations, was illegal. Our “crime” was that we were saying then what most people, in part, are thinking now. Here, for example, is an extract from the issue of May, 1915 before the big battles had given second thoughts to some of those who had once been so enthusiastic about the godlike omnipotence of their leaders:
  The men in the trenches are being butchered. It is necessary to hide from them certain contributing factors. It is necessary to hide from them the fact that military experts, whose business it was to understand war, failed utterly to grasp the power, scope and requirements of the awful instruments of slaughter placed in their hands.
The members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were not thanked, during those terrible years, for their stand. But they did not want to be; for them, the facts were enough. Time has shown how correct they were. The Europe which was spawned by the 1919 Conference was ready to father the Second World War. Until recently the conduct of the last war was thought to be above the sort of criticisms which have been levelled at 1914/18. But now, as time allows a better perspective and as the facts come out, opinions are changing. The raid on Dresden has become notorious as an example of shameless mass murder, as are the two atomised Japanese cities. The Dieppe landing has been exposed as a pointless flourish, partly undertaken to occupy troops who were bored with camp life in England. Perhaps the long bomber offensive will one day be seen as the Passchendaele of 1939/45 a drawn out campaign of attrition, in which hundreds of thousands were killed on both sides, with little real effect on the course of the war. The late Lord Alanbrooke has put on record the doubts about Churchill's infallibility. And there are now the same hungry questions over the war's conclusions —over the division of Germany and of Berlin, for example as there were about the conditions imposed in 1919 at Versailles.

Perhaps in 1989 there will be smug journalists to point out the mistakes of the Second World War. But can we afford always to wait fifty years to agree that war is an obscene waste of human lives and resources? Capitalism, with its inevitable competition of economic interests, causes modern war. From that flows all the rest the ghastly weapons, the shattered lives, the terror, the confusion, the mistakes. To bemoan the natural results of war without attacking the cause of it is to start at the wrong end of the problem.

The Great War happened a long time ago and it is safe, now, for the truth to filter out. The blinds can be lifted, now that there are only a few people to remember it all—a few old men who still wheeze from the gas, a few white haired women with an aching grief for someone who went out and was left in the mud. Nothing now can bring back the dead, nor put together the splintered limbs, nor erase the intolerable anguish of those four years. The strenuous apologists of capitalism are congratulating themselves on having just woken up to the fact that the First World War was a stupid, pointless bloodbath.

But they are too late.

Fifty years, and ten million lives, and an untold burden of human suffering, too late.

Obituary: J. Flower (1972)

Obituary from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The death occurred recently of Comrade J. Flower, of Hackney Branch. He had been a member for very many years, and it would be difficult to find a more devoted and loyal one. He seldom missed a Branch meeting, and his contributions to discussions were marked by quiet good humour and invariable kindliness. His socialist activity was related to another great enthusiasm, for Esperanto: he believed that an international language would be invaluable to socialists both in crossing national barriers now and in communication in the socialist future.

Comrade Sammy Highams of Hackney Branch writes: “Known him for over thirty years. Although he was not robust, in poor health, suffering from asthma, for about ten or twelve years he has been treasurer of the Hackney Branch. In the last two years of his life, when he should not in the winter, he came to the Branch, shaky but full of enthusiasm. When he went on holidays with the W.T.A. he would take a few dozen Socialist Standards and sell them. He was unassuming, quiet in his manner, and gave every penny he could to the Branch.”

His presence will be sadly missed in the socialist movement, and our sympathy goes to his widow.

Letter: The Causes of Race Prejudice (1965)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is this madness or do my eyes deceive me?"The root cause of modern race prejudice is the capitalist system of society."

No one has ever been able to isolate the cause of race-prejudice and I doubt if anyone ever will. It seems that as it is "in the blood" the only thing one can do is to sublimate it and keep it in the background. Certainly it is absurd to catch on to such a silly reason for it as the one suggested above; race-prejudice might just as well he caused by famine or butterflies.

If the Socialist movement is to progress it can only do so by good sense and not in propagating nonsense: perhaps it could do well by reverting to its original Christian basis although as I see it Christianity and Socialism have reached such staggering dimensions in words that any good within them has long since been dissipated. The time is now ripe for a new system particularly now that the international state is looming large upon the horizon and clarity of thought and objects is essential.

Yours faithfully,
John S. Craig. B A.

If race prejudice is "in the blood", why does it vary in its form with the time and place at which it appears? Why does it now exist in one country and not another? Why is it now principally a matter of people of European origin discriminating against those from other continents and not the other way round The only logical answer to these questions and to many others is that raw prejudice is not an idea inborn in human beings it is not “in the blood” — but it has a social basis and can be explained only by reference to that basis.

Modern race prejudice nourishes because capitalism produces chronic problems in employment, housing and welfare. The working class suffer these problems but they do not understand their cause. They are, therefore, ready to blame the problems onto any fashionable scapegoat, including foreigners or Negroes or any other group which happens to be a readily identifiable minority.

Far from finding its origins in Christianity, Socialism is completely hostile to it, and to all other religions. It is typical that the very organisation which has so often claimed that the two are inseparable — the Labour Party— should now be doing so much to pander to race prejudice in this country.

The so-called international state is an old idea, one of many delusions used in an attempt to divert working class discontent. Any move towards an effective international organisation of capitalism has always come to grief on the system's conflicting interests.

The time is indeed ripe for a new social system, and this is what socialists advocate. The only people who are immune from racial prejudice are those who have realised where the interests of the world working class lie—in a system of society based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production, and in which all men will stand equally without distinction of race or sex.
Editorial Committee

50 Years Ago: The Irish question fifty years ago (1966)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

But if Ireland has been a hunting ground for ambitious politicians, it has also been the home of ignorant and superstitious leaders. Catholic priests and Protestant clergy have used their influence and authority lo foment religious strife, which had no existence till after the Union. The Catholic priests were so deeply involved in the political game that they helped to collect the forty thousand pounds that Parnell squandered on himself and Mrs. O'Shea. Everyone knows the methods of the Protestant clergy: how the orthodox Church bolsters the Tories and the Nonconformists buttress the Liberals and both assist to rope in the workers to the support and sanction of capitalist government.

The Irish movements of the eighteenth century, the “white boys" and the “oak boys", etc., were movements of the workers. Sometimes they were directed against the middle men and sometimes against the tithe system, though not often the latter. They were secret organisations and the Government found it extremely difficult to deal with them. But when they developed into an open volunteer movement, widely extended, and holding Congresses at Dublin and elsewhere, the Government quickly permeated it with their tools and agents and subverted it to their own uses, finally incorporating it in the regular army. Since that time the working class of Ireland has never succeeded in organising for anything without the help or interference of capitalist tools or agents. The Fenians were robbed by Isaac Butt and outwitted by Parnell. All their organisations from the “Land League" to the “Ulster Volunteers” or the “Molly Malones", have been composed of workers bluffed and cajoled by political prostitutes and adventurers . . .

The latest blunder of the Irish working class is in the support given to the Sinn Fein Movement which seeks to establish a republic, with the examples of France and the United Slates before thcm proving conclusively the futility of such an experiment to abate their ever-growing poverty.
From the Socialist Standard, August 1916.

James Connolly (1967)

Book Review from the August 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Best of Connolly edited by P. MacAonghusa & L. O’Reagain Mercier Press, Cork. 10s.

James Connolly is a myth in the Irish labour movement. His name is invoked by so-called communists, trotskyists, Irish Labourites and catholics alike. There is even a British MP who claims to stand, after Connolly, for an “Irish Workers1 Republic” (whatever that might be).

This book is a selection of Connolly’s writings which we feel tempted to call “the worst of Connolly” as all of them are nationalistic. Selection is the right word, as an important part of Connolly’s life is ignored. Connolly (1868-1916) was of the same generation as those who set up the SPGB and was himself involved in the so-called “impossiblist revolt” in the ranks of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation that led to the founding of the Socialist Labour Party in Scotland in 1903 and to the founding in London the next year of the Socialist Party. In fact, the first general secretary of the SPGB, Con Lehane, after he had left our party, became one of Connolly’s political and union associates in Ireland. So, for a period, Connolly was an “impossiblist”. He chaired the first conference of the SLP, was its first paid organiser and wrote in its journal, The Socialist. When he went to America he was active, with Daniel De Leon, in the SLP there. Yet this book, apart from a brief mention that Connolly was among the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World, ignores all this. Only in two articles selected here—and then you would still have to know Connolly’s life —do readers get any idea that he was an Industrial Unionist. This doctrine, with its appeal to workers to rely on their supposed “economic power” to “take and hold” the means of production, is dangerous nonsense which, if put into practice, would lead to disaster. But surely this period was an important part of Connolly’s political career. Why do the editors not include any of his writings from this period? Is it perhaps because in some of them he poured scorn on the suggestion that an Irish Republic would ease the lot of workers in Ireland?

In any event, Connolly soon rejected the view that Socialism and nationalism are quite opposed (which they are) and openly described it as “extremist”: He wrote in 1909: 
   that some Socialists observing that those who talk loudest about ’Ireland a Nation’ are often the most merciless grinders of the faces of the poor, fly off to the extremist limit of hostility to Nationalism and, whilst opposed to oppression at all times, are opposed to national revolt for national independence.
Connolly is a good example of one who, having grasped the principles of socialism, when faced with a backward workers’ movement, shies away from the task of Socialist education and turns to “something now”. In Britain he might have become a leftwing Labour leader or MP. In the political conditions of Ireland he became one of the leaders of a nationalist insurrection—and was executed by firing squad as a result.

Connolly is generally admired for the wrong reasons: for his industrial unionism or for his insurrectionary nationalism. The most that can be said for him is that he did some useful organising work with the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and he did oppose the First World War.
Adam Buick