Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Green backwoodsman (1997)

Book Review from the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

To End Poverty: The Starvation of the Periphery by the Core by Richard Hunt. Alternative Green, 20 Upper Barr, Cowley Centre 0X4 3UX. 1997. £15.50.

To end poverty we need to know how it began. Because, according to Richard Hunt, poverty is a relatively recent phenomenon unknown to our "primitive" forbears and that by looking at the kind of society in which they lived, we can detect clues that can guide us to that goal.

Early hunter-gatherer groups represented what the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called the "original affluent society". Their needs were easily met with little effort, permitting a surfeit of leisure. Wealth was more or less evenly shared on a communistic basis. Anti-social behaviour was minimised because in a small group everyone knew everyone else. Social hierarchies, as such, did not exist although a kind of "peck order" operated based on "respect and influence, not authority”.

Several thousand years ago this universal way of life came to an end although its remnants can still be found in remote corners of the world today. What chain of events brought this about? It is commonly thought that agriculture led to population growth, permanent settlements and the production of food surpluses to support an emerging elite. Hunt argues to the contrary that such developments predated—and necessitated—agriculture. Social hierarchy according to him began with hunter-gatherer society itself with an élite extracting plunder and tribute from the population. This in turn undermined traditional birth control mechanisms for limiting the population to what an area could support through hunting and gathering thus prompting the shift to agriculture. For agriculture was not willingly embraced: it involves more work and this, suggest Hunt, conflicts with the Law of Least Effort governing human actions.

Its an intriguing hypothesis but one that begs more questions than it answers—like what caused an élite to emerge within a hunter-gatherer society to begin with. Possibly, it was the increasing scarcity of game and fruit and it is significant, as Hunt points out, that one of the first areas where cultivation began was Mesopotamia which experienced drastic climate change at the end of the Ice Age when the rain belt moved northwards.

With the institutionalisation of social hierarchy, argues Hunt, the process of impoverishment began. This manifested itself spatially in the relationship between an urban core where power resided and the rural periphery from where food surpluses were extracted. Ancient civilisations didn't bother much with trade: "They just took the resources by force. But as the periphery receded it became difficult to muster sufficient physical military strength, so they had to resort to trade or blackmail or corruption." This established a pattern whereby the core rulers "supply arms, via traders, to periphery rulers to suppress their own people and extract crops to sell to the traders for use at the core". The growth of trade led to the introduction of money which enabled the rulers to switch from forcibly expropriating food surpluses to taxing their subjects to achieve the same end. It also led to the growth of industry in places like medieval Florence and Flanders where high labour costs provided a strong incentive for technological innovation.

It was in Britain, however, once itself a peripheral power, that the Industrial Revolution truly began thanks to a propitious combination of circumstances: mercantile capital from the slave trade, a growing landless population due to agricultural "improvements" and land enclosures, cheap food imports from its colonies. The products of British manufacturing were then exported abroad, decimating the less competitive traditional industries in those peripheral countries, all this being justified in terms of the Theory of Comparative Advantage which required them to specialise in providing the food and raw materials that a core country like Britain needed in return for its manufactures.

And that more-or-less set the scene for the kind of world we have today with an expanded core comprising north America, western Europe and Japan confronting a vast impoverished periphery that is the so-called Third World. Every step, argues Hunt, in this convoluted journey from our primitive past to our precarious present was imposed by an élite on its reluctant subjects—agriculture, trade, wage-labour, industrialisation—and, whenever circumstances undermined the power of the élite to impose its will on others, society has tended to regress, economically and technologically, again, in compliance with the Law of Least Effort.

So where do we go from here if we are to "end poverty"? For Hunt, "since government is the cause of poverty, we must end government". To achieve that he advocates three main methods: revolution on the periphery, the break-up of political units and cutting taxation (and hence the power of government). Unfortunately for him, it is a hopelessly foredoomed scenario.

By his own admission it flies in the face of capitalism’s globalising tendencies towards closer integration. This leads him (perversely for a "green anarchist") to support nationalistic movements such as in eastern Europe without appreciating the statist implications this entails. Furthermore, such newly "liberated" countries have not thrown off the yoke of Russian imperialism to escape the clutches of global capitalism: on the contrary they are falling over themselves to invite the multinationals to help "develop" their economies.

The basic flaw in Hunt's analysis is his obsessive preoccupation with scale. His reasoning seems to be thus: Hunter-gatherer societies were small-scale, therefore they lacked a social hierarchy: they were stateless societies. A state emerged because of the increasing scale of social organisation and that in turn created poverty. Therefore any tendency that appears to bring about a reduction in social scale (from international to national to local) ought to be encouraged for its effect will be the progressive alleviation of poverty. Once we have achieved a society of "autonomous, self-sufficient, armed villages", poverty will no longer exist, although Hunt does not tell us why they need to be armed or what is to stop some of them forming alliances to conquer and enslave the rest.

Socialists too want a more decentralised society, although the total autarky at the local level he proposes is neither feasible (given today's level of production and population numbers) nor even desirable. However, while he identifies government as the basic cause of the poverty he documents, we locate it today in an economic system that put the profits of the few before the needs of the many.

And that’s the whole problem with Hunt’s arguments. A society based upon class ownership of the means of production inevitably requires a state to administer it. Without ending the former, you cannot hope to end the latter. Nor, we must add, poverty itself.
Robin Cox

The Plight of the Merchant Seaman (1942)

Book Review from the June 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Red Duster at War by Warren Armstrong (Gollancz, 10s. 6d.)

This book, by Warren Armstrong, who has been a seaman and is now a journalist, is intended to convey not only an idea of the merchant navy at war, but also of the lives of seaman both before and during the war; it also discusses, in a vague way, what ought to be done to improve the conditions of seamen and to enable Great Britain to regain her mercantile superiority.

He gives plenty of instances of the bad treatment meted out to ship workers both before and during the war. He refers to salvaged food openly advertised as “suitable for ships’ supplies,” and to the prevalence of chest complaints, due to the close quarters in which most of the seaman’s work is done. He betrays no knowledge of the class division of society. Were he aware of it, his indignation at the conditions might find a different channel for its expression. With society split into, two classes—those who live by owning and those who live by working, and where self-interest presupposes a continual clash between the two, the efforts of shipowners to increase their profits regardless of its effect upon the workers is not surprising.

From a speech made in the House of Commons towards the end of 1938, quoted on pages 146-151, we take the following extract:— .
   I have here a quotation from the annual report of the medical officer of the Hull and Goole port sanitary authority on accommodation in ships. He compares the accommodation on our ships with the accommodation in Scandinavian ships, to the advantage of the latter. He says that the Scandinavian ships in this respect come first, and that the German ships come next to the Scandinavian, closely followed by American, then British.
When Norway was invaded, a lot of Norwegian ships came under British control. A letter is quoted from Captain Coombs, General Secretary of the Navigators’ and Engineer Officers’ Union. The following extracts must be given :—
   When Norway and Denmark were invaded, the Officers' Federation undertook, with the full concurrence of the International Mercantile Marine Officers' Association at Antwerp, to offer hospitality to Norwegian and Danish officers, and to do everything possible to help them in their very difficult position. Valuable work was done, particularly in ensuring that the proposal to reduce Norwegian pay and conditions to the British level was defeated. (Page 174.)
   It would be comic, were it not pitiable, to consider how every nation’s officers and seamen were told, up to 1939, that it was “foreign competition" that made impossible the grant of better conditions of service. . . . And I believe it to be true, unfortunately, that the British shipping indusry was largely responsible for the general unsatisfactory conditions existing in the Seven Seas. (Page 175.)
These quotations show that trade unions can sometimes be very useful to their members, and they also show that even in war-time, the employing class will not relax their efforts to reduce the standard of living of the workers. They clearly understand that the less there is for the workers, the more there is for them.

Speaking of the fishing trade, he says (p. 59):—
   Years of an uneasy "peace” slipped uncomfortably past, while herring fishermen tried ekeing out a bare existence "on share," without dole, without fixed wages. In a world of ships, barrels, coal, baskets, cran, ropes, nets, victuals and salt, sheer poverty was their lot, and the lot of their wives and children. And the children were growing up. . . .
In his crusading zeal in pre-war days the author endeavoured to get an article published in an unnamed newspaper. He wished to “correct the impression some newspaper readers seem to have developed that merchant seamen are a bunch of nitwits or near-revolutionaries. The merchant navy’s got a lot of very real grievances. So, too, have other sections of the shipping industry. The sooner they are aired, the better it would be for everyone concerned.” Later, the editor telephoned:—
    About that shipping article. Will you do it for me? Good! Now listen. I had to have a word with the management about it. You'll have to re-plan it, old man. Lay off saying anything that may call down criticism in certain quarters. Unofficial censorship sort of thing. . . . These are pretty delicate times. And, anyway, there’s a considerable advertising revenue from shipping. Big space-buyers . . . and this is the time of the year when they spread themselves handsomely on cruises. Couldn't afford to upset them. ’Got to think of policy, you see. . . .
    You go ahead and do that article for me. But don't make it critical. Work it around from the opposite angle—shipping booming, and every thing in the garden’s lovely. Give the owners a boost. Seamen don't give a damn, anyway. You can slip them in somewhere, if there's room. Add a sort of romantic touch to the general picture. See what I mean? (Page 168.)
Being compelled, like other workers, to think of bread and butter first, he wrote the article, but endeavoured to get some ideas over “between the lines”—as it happened, unsuccessfully, for two days after the article appeared a body of representatives of the seamen in the two ships referred to in his article called at the newspaper offices and said they wanted to conduct the writer over their quarters and then throw him in the dock!

The author suggests international agreements regarding conditions of work, although recognising the improbability of their being arrived at. International agreements for the benefit of the workers in a world of international competition is difficult to imagine. In the other event—subsidies, a state controlled shipping industry, or trade discrimination in favour of British shipping lines, how is the lot of the seaman to be improved otherwise than by arguing the toss with the capitalist employer or the capitalist state—in either case actuated by the same motive—the desire to cut down costs and increase profit? The only international agreement that will effectually benefit the seaman and other workers is an agreement upon the necessity of doing away with the entire world-wide capitalist system.

Materialism and Art. by George Plechanoff (Part 1) (1926)

From the September 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

We shall frankly state at the beginning that we intend to view art from the standpoint of the materialist conception of history.

What is the materialist conception of history?

We shall first describe what the idealist conception of history is, and then show wherein the materialist conception of the same subject differs from it.

The idealist conception of history in its true aspect maintains that the development of thought and knowledge is the last and ultimate cause of the historic development of mankind. This view reigned supreme in the eighteenth century, and passed into the nineteenth. Even Saint Simon and Auguste Comte both strongly upheld it, though their views in certain instances were in direct opposition to those of the philosophers of the eighteenth century. Saint Simon, for instance, was interested in the origin of the social organisation of the Greeks. [1]    His conclusions are as follows : “The religious system served as a foundation for their political system.  . . The first has been taken as a model for the creation of the latter.” As proof of this, he quoted the fact that the Greek Olympus has been a republican gathering; no matter how much the constitutions of the different states in Greece had differed one from the other, they had one thing in common, they were ail republican. [2] And this is not all. The religious system, which was the foundation of the Greek political system, according to Saint Simon, was in itself the result of their scientific conception of the universe. Their scientific conceptions were the ultimate foundation of their social life, and the development of those conceptions was the principal cause of the historical development of their social life, the main cause of the changes in the historical forms of their life.

Likewise Auguste Comte thought that “the entire social mechanism rested in the last analysis on opinions. [3] This is plainly a repetition of the view of the encyclopaedists according to whom "c’est l’opinion qui gouverne le monde” (the universe is ruled by opinion).

Another variety of idealism found its expression in Hegel’s absolute idealism. How does Hegel explain the historical development of humanity? An example will suffice. Hegel asks: Why has Greece fallen? After pointing out many causes, he shows that the main cause, according to his philosophy, was that Greece had expressed only one stage in the development of the absolute idea, and had to fall when this stage had been accomplished.

Hegel, although knowing that “Lacedaemon had fallen because of inequality of property,” nevertheless maintains that social relations, as well as the historical development of mankind in general, are determined in the last instance by the laws of logic, by the development of thought.

The materialistic conception of history is diametrically opposed to the above view. If Saint Simon, considering history from the idealistic viewpoint, thought that the religious opinion of Greeks explained their social relations, then we from the materialistic point of view will say just the opposite. And if Saint Simon, when asked where the religious views of the Greeks come from would answer that they are the result of their scientific views of the universe, we should in turn reply that the social relations of the Greeks determined their religious conceptions, both of which were determined by the rise and decline of the productive forces which the Greeks had at their disposal.

This is our historical doctrine. It is our point of departure in our investigation about art. It is clear that the investigation of a particular problem, the problem of art, will be at the same time a proof of our general view of history. If this general view be wrong, then it will explain very little indeed of the evolution of art. But if we should find that this theory explains the evolution of art better than any other theory, then this in itself will be a new and strong proof of the accuracy of our theory. But here we foresee an objection; Darwin in his famous book, "The Descent of Man,” brought together many observations as evidence that the sense of beauty plays an important role in the lives of animals. Our attention will be drawn to these facts, and we shall be told that the origin of the sense of beauty must be explained by biology; it will also be remarked that it is unpermissible to narrowly explain the evolution of this sense in men only through the economic basis of their society. And as Darwin’s view upon the development of species is undoubtedly materialistic, it will be urged that biological materialism gives excellent material for criticism of the one-sided historical (economical) materialism.

This objection is a serious one, and we shall reply to it. We will do this more gladly because, while replying to this objection, we shall at the same time reply to a series of similar objections that have been drawn from the domain of the psychic lives of animals.

First of all, we will make clear the conclusions to which we must come according to the facts brought out by Darwin. Let us see what are his own conclusions.

In the second chapter of the first part of his book, “The Descent of Man,” we read :—
  Sense of Beauty: This sense has been declared to be peculiar to man. I refer here only to the pleasure given by certain colours, forms and sounds, and which may fairly be called a sense of the beautiful; with cultivated men such sensations are, however, intimately associated with complex ideas and trains of thought. When we behold a male bird elaborately displaying his graceful plumes or splendid colours before the female, while other birds not thus decorated make no such display, it is impossible to doubt that she admires the beauty of her male partner. As women everywhere deck themselves with these plumes, the beauty of such ornaments cannot be disputed. As we shall see later, the nests of humming birds and the playing passages of bower birds, are tastefully ornamented with gaily coloured objects, and this shows that they must receive some kind of pleasure from the sight of such things. With the great majority of animals, however, the taste for the beautiful is confined, as far as we can judge, to the attractions of the opposite sex. The sweet strains poured forth by many male birds during the season of love are certainly admired by the females, of which fact evidence will be hereafter given. If female birds had been incapable of appreciating the beautiful colours, the ornaments and voices of their male partners, all the labour and, anxiety exhibited by the latter in displaying thleir charms before the females would have been thrown away; and this it is impossible to admit. Why certain bright colours should excite pleasure cannot, I presume, be explained any more than why certain flavours and scents are agreeable; but habit has something to do with the result, for that which is at first unpleasant to our senses ultimately becomes pleasant, and habits are inherited. With respect to sounds, Helmholtz has explained to a certain extent on physiological principles why harmonies and certain cadences are agreeable. But besides this, sounds frequently recurring at irregular intervals are highly disagreeable, as everyone will admit who has listened at night to the irregular flapping of a rope on board ship. The same principle seems to come into play with vision, as the eye prefers symmetry or figures with some regular recurrence. Patterns of this kind are employed by even the lowest savages as ornaments, and they have been developed through sexual selection for the adornment of some male animals. Whether we can or not give any reason for the pleasure thus derived from vision and hearing, yet man and many of the lower animals are alike pleased by the same colours, graceful shading and forms, and the same sounds.
And so the facts given by Darwin show that lower animals experience aesthetic tastes that coincide closely with those of man. But this does not explain the origin of these tastes; if biology does not explain the origin of our anesthetic tastes, it can even less explain their historical development. But let Darwin speak for himself:
   The taste for the beautiful, at least as far as female beauty is concerned, is not of a special nature in the human mind, for it differs widely in the human mind; it differs widely in the different races of man, and is not quite the same even in the different nations of the same race. Judging from the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as that of certain animals, for instance, as the birds. [4]
If the conceptions of the beautiful are different with different nations of the same race, it is clear that we cannot look for the causes of these differences in biology. Darwin himself tells us that we should carry our search in a different direction. In the second English translation of his book, “The Descent of Man,” we read the following:
  With cultivated men such (aesthetic) sensations are intimately associated with complex ideas and trains of thought.
This is very important. It leads us from biology to sociology, as it is obvious, according to Darwin that social causes determine a civilised man's conceptions of beauty and the association of the complex ideas connected with them. But is Darwin right in thinking that such associations take place only among civilised people? No, he is not. It is known that skins, claws and teeth play an important role in the ornaments of primitive man. How is it to be explained? With the combinations of the colours and lines in those objects? No. The savage attiring himself, for instance, in the skins, paws and teeth of a tiger, or skin and horns of a bison, exalts his own skill and strength. He who conquers the skilful is skilful himself, he who conquers the strong is himself strong. It is possible that there is some superstition intermingled with the idea. Skulcraft relates that the red-skinned tribes of North-western America love ornaments made from the claws of a grey bear, the most ferocious animal of that region. The red-skinned warrior thinks that the ferocity and bravery of the grey bear is transferred to the one who attires himself in that animal's claws. And these claws, remarks Skulcraft, are partially an ornament, partially an amulet. [5] In this instance it is impossible to think that the red-skinned men liked animals' skins, claws and teeth only because of the combinations of colour and line. [6] No, the opposite is much more probable, i.e., that these things first were worn merely as a sign of bravery, skill and strength, and only afterwards did they begin to call out aesthetic feelings and become used as ornaments. From this it follows that aesthetic feelings not only are associated with complex ideas among savages, but that they arise through the influence of such ideas.

Another instance: It is known that women of some African races wear iron rings on their hands and legs. The wives of the rich, for example, wear nearly forty pounds of those ornaments. [7] This, of course, is rather inconvenient, but this inconvenience does not prevent them from wearing with pleasure these chains of slavery, as Schweinfurth calls them. Why, then, is it so agreeable to a negress to wear such chains? Because it is through them that she seems prettier to herself and others. And why does she appear prettier? This is the result of a very complex association of ideas. Passion for such ornaments developed among the tribes which, according to Schweinfurth, now live in the iron age, and for which iron is a precious metal. That which is precious seems beautiful, for the idea of opulence is associated with it. A woman in one of those tribes appears more beautiful when she wears twenty pounds of those rings than when she wears only ten pounds; the difference, finally considered, is a matter of totality of wealth. It is clear that it is not the beauty of the iron ring that is the determinant, but the idea of wealth which is associated with it.

A third instance : In a certain tribe Batoka, in the upper part of the river Zambesi, a man whose upper incisive teeth are not pulled out is considered very ugly. Where did they get this strange conception of beauty? It, too, has been formed as the result of a complex association of ideas. With their incisive teeth withdrawn the men tend to imitate the ruminant animals, and Batoka is a shepherd tribe that worships its cows and bulls. [8] Here again the beautiful is that which is precious, and we see that aesthetic ideas rise on the foundation of ideas of quite a different order.

The best example, however, is to be taken from Livingston; it is also given by Darwin. In the tribe of Makalolo, the upper lip is pierced and a metallic or bamboo ring, called a pelele, is inserted. When one of their leaders was asked why the women wore these rings, he was very much surprised that such an absurd question should be asked. “For beauty. This is a woman's only ornament. Men have beards. What would she look like without a pelele?" It is hard to say with certainty where they got the custom, but it is clear that its origin is to be sought in some complex association of ideas and not in the laws of biology, to which evidently it has no relation.

In view of these examples we feel justified in declaring that appreciations and feelings, called out by certain colours and lines in objects, even among the primitive peoples, are associated with very complex ideas, and many of those forms and combinations seem to them so beautiful only because of these associations. But what gives rise to these associations, and where arise the complex ideas associated with these feelings which are evoked when we see these things? Evidently this question can be answered not by biology, but by sociology. And if the materialist conception of history helps more toward its solution than any other view, if we are convinced that the association of complex ideas mentioned above is determined and created in the last instance by the state of the productive forces and economic conditions of the given society then we must admit that Darwinism does not in the least contradict the materialist conception of history.

Although we cannot say much here about Darwin’s relations to our doctrine, we shall at least note it.

Let us turn our attention to the following lines :—
   It may be well first to premise that I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as those of man, would acquire exactly the same manner. As various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct. If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker bee, think it a sacred duty to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering. Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would gain, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience.
What follows from these words? That .in the moral conceptions of men there is nothing absolute; that moral concepts change with the conditions of the time.

But what creates these conditions? What causes their changes? Darwin says nothing about this, and if we say and prove that the productive forces create them and change them according to the development of those forces, then we shall not only not contradict Darwin, but shall even add to what he has said and explain what has remained unexplained by him. And we shall do it by applying to the study of social phenomena the same principles that served him so well in biology.

It may seem extremely strange to put Darwinism beside the historical conception of history. The domain of Darwin’s activity was entirely different. He viewed the descent of man as a zoological species. Those who are on the side of the named view wish to explain the historical destiny of this species. Their domain of investigation begins where the domain of the Darwinist investigations end.

Their works cannot replace that which the Darwinists have given us; likewise, the most splendid discoveries of Darwinists cannot replace their investigations, but can only prepare a ground for them, as the physicist prepares the ground for the chemist.

Darwin’s theory appeared in its time as a very big and necessary step in the development of biological science, and satisfied the most acute and searching questions that were put to it. Is it possible to say the same of the materialist conception of history? Is it possible to say that in its time it appeared as an inevitable step in the development of social science? And is it able now to satisfy all the demands put to it? To this we can reply with certainty. Yes, it is possible. Yes, it is able. And we hope to show that such a certainty is not deprived of foundations.

But let us turn to aesthetics. From the above quotations from Darwin it is clear that he views the development of aesthetic tastes in the same light as the development of moral feelings. Men, like many animals, have a sense of beauty—that is, they are able to feel a special kind of pleasure (aesthetic pleasure) due to certain objects and phenomena.

But what are the objects and phenomena which afford them so much pleasure? This depends upon the environment in which they are brought up, live and act. Human nature makes it possible for man to have aesthetic tastes and conceptions. His environment determines the transition from this possibility into reality. This environment explains how this given social man (i.e., society, nation or class) has certain aesthetic tastes and conceptions and not others.

This is the last conclusion of Darwinism, and this conclusion will not be opposed by any historical materialist. In fact, every one of them will see in it a new support of this view. The historic materialists have steadily maintained that if human nature is immutable, then it cannot explain this historical process, which presents a sum of constantly changing phenomena; but if human nature changes with the course of historical development, as we see it does, then it is evident that there must be some objective cause for these changes. And therefore in this, as well as in the other case, the duty of both historian and sociologist must be to go beyond the limit of discussions about human nature.

Let us take even such a quality as the proclivity to imitation. Mr. Tarde, who has made a quite interesting research into the laws of imitation, sees in them the soul of society. According to his definition, each social group is a complex of beings, partially imitating each other at the given time and partially having imitated before the same model. Imitation undoubtedly played a very important role in the history of all our ideas, tastes, styles and customs. The materialists of the eighteenth century have indicated its enormous importance; man consists wholly of imitations, said Helvétius. But there is little doubt that Tarde founded his theory of imitation on a false basis.

When the Restoration of the Stuarts in England temporarily restored the reign of ancient nobility, this nobility was not in the least inclined to imitate the extreme representatives of the revolutionary bourgeoisie— the Puritans—but displayed a strong inclination to habits and tastes directly contrary to the Puritan rules of life.

Puritan strictness of morals gave place to extreme licentiousness. To do and love that which the Puritans had prohibited became a good. The Puritans were very religious; the Restorationists were latitudinarian, even atheistic. The Puritan persecuted the theatre and literature; their fall gave a signal to a new and strong passion for those things. The Puritans wore short hair and condemned luxury in clothes; after the Restoration, long hair, fashionable dressing and card-playing became the passion. In short, we discover not imitation, but contradiction, which evidently also exists in human nature. But why did this sense of contradiction in the mutual relations of the nobility and bourgeoisie develop so strongly in England in the seventeenth century? Because this was an age of very bitter struggle between nobility and bourgeoisie, or rather say “the third estate.” We may conclude, then, that, though man undoubtedly has a strong tendency to imitate, this tendency develops only in certain social relations, as in the relations which existed in France during the seventeenth century, where the bourgeoisie willingly, though unsuccessfully, attempted to imitate the nobility : recall Moliere’s “The Bourgeois Among the Nobility.” In other social relations the tendency to imitate is replaced by the opposite tendency, which we shall call the tendency of contradiction. But we expressed this incorrectly. The tendency to imitate did not disappear among the English of the seventeenth century. First of all it was most certainly, with all of its previous strength, displayed in the mutual relations between the people of the same class. Beljame says about the English of the higher society : “These people were not even unbelievers; they denied a priori, so that no one could mistake them for the round-headed, and also so as not to give themselves the trouble to think.” [9] About these people we can say that they denied for the sake of imitating. But in imitating the infidels they, of course, contradicted the Puritans. Imitation proved to be, therefore, a source of contradiction. But we know that if among the English noblemen the weaker people imitated disbelief more vigorously, that this arose because disbelief was considered well-breeding, and it became such only in virtue of contradiction, only as a reaction against Puritanism—a reaction which, in its turn, came as a result of the above-mentioned class struggle. Therefore, in the foundation of all this complex dialectics of psychic phenomena lay facts of social order, and out of this it is clear to what extent and in what sense the conclusion made above from Darwin’s thesis is correct: that man’s nature makes it possible for him to have certain conceptions (or tastes or inclinations), and that upon his environment depends the transition of this possibility into a reality; the environment makes him have precisely these conceptions (or tastes or inclinations) and not others. If we are not mistaken, the same was admitted by one of the Russian historical materialists.
   If the stomach is provided with a certain amount of food it sets to work according to the general laws of digestion. But is it possible through this to explain why there is in your stomach every day tasty and nourishing food, and in my stomach such is a scarce guest? Do these laws explain why some eat too much and others die of hunger? It seems that this explanation is to be sought somewhere else, in entirely different laws. The same is true with a man’s mind. Once he is put in a certain condition, once the surroundings give him certain impressions, he combines them through certain general laws; and here also the results differ extremely, according to the diversity of the received impressions. But what puts it in this state? What determines the affluence in character of those impressions? This is a question which is not to be solved by any laws of thought.
(To be concluded in the next issue.)

Translated for "Modern Quarterly” by Bessie Peretz.

[1] Greece had a special meaning for Saint Simon, because, according to his opinion, “c'est chez les grecs que l'esprit humain a commence a s’occupeur serieusement de l’organisation sociale. ”
[2]  See his Memoire sur la science de l’homme.
[3]  Cours de philosophic positive, Paris, 1869, vol. 1, pp. 40-41.
[4]  Descent of Man, p.50.
[5] Historical and statistical information respecting the history, conditions and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, vol. 3, p. 216.
[6] There is a case, however, where, objects of the same kind are liked only for their colour.
[7] Schweinfurth. Au Coeur d’Afrique, Paris, 1875, vol. 1, p. 148. Also Du Chaillu : Voyage et aventures dans l'Afrique equatoriale, Paris, 1863, p. 11.
[8]  Schweinfurth, vol. 1, p. 148.
[9] Alexandre Beljame, Le Public it les Hommes de lettres en Angleterre du dix-nuitieme Siecle, Paris, 1881, pages 1-10. Also Taine, Histoire de la Literature Anglaise, vol. 2, p. 443, and following.

News in Review: Sharpeville (1960)

The News in Review column from the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard


Recent events in South Africa, which began with the shootings at Sharpeville, have brought condemnation of Dr. Verwoerd and the Nationalist Government’s policy of apartheid from the press all over the world. The absenteeism of Africans from their work for many days afterwards caused great inconvenience to the Europeans, but, more important, it has cost South African capitalists millions of pounds in lost output. Even the Chairman of the Wool Board, representing an industry dominated by Afrikaans-speaking pro-Nationalist farmers, said the Government must change its policies ". . . or else.”

The opposition (United Party) want to see a complete review of the Governments’ policy towards the Afrikans as soon as the situation simmers down, and 12 “Elders” of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa have spoken out against apartheid, saying there is no justification for it in the Scriptures, as Dr. Verwoerd claims. It seems that even sections of this Church are awakening to the fact that changes are taking place, and that apartheid is an anachronism in a developing capitalist country. But the Nationalists’ desire to keep their cheap supply of labour mainly in the country districts is, at the moment, still dominant.

Budget Bunkum

Budget days have become couched in an atmosphere of somewhat phoney excitement. Television interviews, together with the speculations of City Editors and other commentators, regularly assist in bringing matters to a climax. Workers participate in the Budget as an issue, making their own proposals as to what should be done, and, in general, becoming keyed to expectations of the Chancellor’s "miracles.” Mostly, they hope for startling reductions in prices. The details of the Budget itself are usually sobering, if not downright depressing; twopence on the price of cigarettes is an example.

The Budget is not a working class issue. Its proposals are irrelevant to workers’ interests. This is an employers’ world, and the Budget regulates their state finances. Those workers who do view the Budget with excited enthusiasm are allowing themselves to be diverted from the real issue.

H-Bomb Manoeuvres

Russia’s acceptance, with some small reservations, of a new American proposal to ban H-bomb tests, seems to have come as a surprise to the U.S. Government. Previously, each side had been making outlandish proposals to the other, confidently expecting disagreement. This new development leaves us wondering how the U.S. Government is going to wriggle out of it. Already the papers are referring to the Soviet agreement to the U.S. proposal as "the latest Soviet proposal.”

With Russia still ahead in technical development of nuclear weapons, one can understand the dilemma of the U.S. Government They are very reluctant to halt the production and testing of their own nuclear weapons, but they must put up a show of willingness to do so, to maintain their prestige in the eyes of the workers whom they pretend to represent and whose support they need. Krushchev, on the other hand, is in a favourable position for accepting American proposals at this stage. He knows that it is a technical possibility for him to blow us all to Kingdom-come at the drop of a hat. When we find out what Eisenhower and Macmillan decided to oppose at Geneva, Krushchev will earn himself another pat on the back from the working class of Russia by telling them how hard he tried. The working class, whose fate hangs in the balance between the decisions made by their leaders, will probably be taken in once again by these political manoeuvres.

More Disarmament Talks

The opening of the ten-nation disarmament conference in Geneva on March 15th signifies that this has now been accepted as an issue with little sign or hope of solution. This conference, which has been set up by the United Nations Organisation, is concerned only with how disarmament could be effected, if the nations did decide to disarm. But as this is, to say the least, unlikely, the conference appears as a sop to the more naive among us who believe that in a competitive world you can have hostile nations without armaments.

Other organisations, more moderate in their aims, seek disarmament of nuclear weapons only. C.N.D. is organised for this purpose and claims considerable support for it. We are glad that amid so much indifference a body of opinion emerges that is so moved by the horror of the possible use of these weapons that it is prepared to take a stand against their manufacture. But we are sorry that their repugnance does not extend to other forms of destruction. How, we ask, can their concern for humanity begin and end with nuclear weapons?

What a pity that they do not ask themselves why such weapons are necessary for capitalist countries, and, indeed, ask themselves whether they do not in fact support the vile system that makes them necessary?

You may be sure that the representatives of the conferring nations at Geneva are under no illusion why their countries cannot do the thing that they are ostensibly conferring to bring about. Which country is prepared to surrender its sovereignty to another, or prepared to be unprepared for an attack from another?

Since Mr. Krushchev made his disarmament speech at UNO last November, the West has been at pains to convince the world that they desire this as much and more than Russia. Each side at the conference has its own plan and sees the others as giving its sponsors certain military and tactical advantages. It seems that they arc prepared to manoeuvre indefinitely. It has been reported that the U.S. delegation is prepared to stay at least a year!

And after all this, who would be brave enough to forecast any better fate for the Conference than for all its predecessors?

Oil Heaters

Oil heaters have been under attack, and it is estimated that of the ten million in use at least three million fall short of die minimum safety requirements. The conclusion seems to be that the heaters are safe providing the doors and windows are closed, but could cause serious fires in strong draughts. To overcome this danger M.P.s and newspapers have pressed for a recall of all these heaters with a view to their being modified up to the necessary safety standard.

John Horner, the leader of the Fire Brigades' Union, has demanded that new safety standards be made binding. He went on to say, “ All my members know the difference between what is safe and what is dangerous, it is not only their job, it’s simple common sense.” But would it not be more sensible to ask why houses have draughts in the first place? Is there any lack of the ability to build “draught-proof” homes? A visit to the Ideal Home Exhibition would give the answer. There is a wide choice of architect-designed houses—for those who can afford them. If the criterion for building homes today was the maximum comfort of their future inhabitants, surely the progress made in heating and ventilation would render obsolete most of the makeshift heating appliances—or should we now say “death-traps”— cluttering up so many homes today.

Let’s stop making excuses for the many cheap and ill-designed articles which find their way into equally ill-designed homes.

A Victim of the Nightmare

Verwoerd has been for years a leading exponent of Apartheid. He is (or was) an anti-semite, and was instrumental in preventing the entry of Jewish refugees from Germany before the war. He was a staunch supporter of Nazism, was minister for Native Affairs for eight years before succeeding Strijdom as Prime Minister. He has played, a leading part in creating the nightmare that is South African politics today. He has now become a victim of this nightmare, a savage irony indeed.

The Saracens

Military observers in South Africa were puzzled at the purchase of the “Saracens” at a reported cost of £15,000 each. They could not at that time see the usefulness of such a heavy weapon. They have now found out.

Editorial: Another Pill For The Earthquake. (1906)

Editorial from the September 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The hardy annual of Compulsory Arbitration makes another appearance at the Liverpool Trades Congress. Mr. Ben Tillett, of emigration notoriety, writing in Reynolds on the subject of the Industrial Arbitration resolution, claims that it will abolish sweating, reduce the hours of labour and assure a living wage, also that, in regard to unemployment, the “Arbitration Courts are the only useful method of dealing with the problem”! Truly, of the quacking of quacks there is no end. It should be noted that it is in support of the candidature of this man that the S.D.F. have issued an appeal to their branches in the Eccles Division.

The reports which reach this country from those colonies that have adopted Compulsory Arbitration in labour disputes are most conflicting, and by no means convey the impression that the workmen are all pleased with the working of the Acts, whilst it is reported, significantly enough, that in many cases the employers are strongly in their favour. It is moreover abundantly clear that they have not abolished sweating, whilst the problem of unemployment is as acute where the Acts are in operation as it is in other capitalist countries.

The effect of the Arbitration laws, even under the most favourable conditions, must be to hasten the development of machinery and to cause a further speeding up of the workman, whilst those who are below a given standard cease to be employed at all. Thus the tendency of this trade-union cure-all is to still further swell the unemployed and, moreover, to prevent the workers by means of these sacred awards or contracts from reaping any advantage from sound organisation, or during a period of good trade. The men are tied hand and foot, and are compelled under penalty to wait until the expiration of the award (which probably happens at the worst moment for the labourer,) before making any effort to improve their lot.

The resolution before the Liverpool Congress reads in part, “The Court shall determine a minimum wage, and shall have power to punish any infringement of awards by fine, imprisonment and payment of compensation to the victimised worker.” It is also stipulated that the Courts shall be constituted by an equal number of workmen and employers’ representatives, and that where not mutually agreed upon the labour Department of the State shall appoint chairman or referee. The resolution, let it be remembered, also expressly limits the application of the proposed arbitration law to the members of those trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress.

We know the astuteness of those employers’ representatives with their life-long training in driving a hard bargain, and we fear for the integrity of even the most steadfast of the men's representatives when exposed to the temptations they must meet from the employers in those Courts. Obviously, the man who favours such a resolution can be no Socialist; he cannot be aware that there is an irreconcilable antagonism of interests between the master class and the working class, and that in the waging of this struggle for emancipation there can be no truce or the workers lose.

The mere fact that a man sincerely supports such a resolution which pretends to ask a capitalist government to legislate on behalf of the workers, and to legislate in such a way that the victim must arbitrate with the brigand about the share he may have of his own product, and to arbitrate, above all, in such manner that the casting vote is always in the hands of the enemy with power to enforce his commands by fine and imprisonment, the mere fact that a man supports such a resolution stamps him as one ignorant of the very fundamental principles of working-class politics.

News in Review: Sir William (1963)

The News in Review column from the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir William

Nobody who has troubled to keep an eye on the trade union movement will have fainted with surprise at the news that the New Year Honours List brought a knighthood to William Carron.

Carron, president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (motto, carved impressively on the presidential chair, “Be United And Industrious”), is the latest in a lengthening line of trade union knights, preceded by such as Tom O’Brien of NATKE and Tom Williamson (now a life peer) of NUGMW.

One thing these men have in common. They are all what is known as “moderate” trade union leaders. And “moderate” is another of the euphemisms beloved of the Capitalist press.

It means a trade union leader who can be relied upon to angrily denounce unofficial strikes. It means the sort of leader who suffers the wage restrictions of a Labour government and who co-operates in drives for greater efficiency and productivity. A man who thinks that it is a good idea for the unions to be represented on the National Economic Development Council and other such bodies, which are designed to promote co-operation between the workers and the employers. It means a man who does his best to ignore the fact that there is a class struggle in Capitalist society.

But this is not what trade unions are there for. The unions should concern themselves with protecting and advancing the interests of their members. They should be struggling for higher pay, shorter hours, better working conditions, and so on. But where do honours come into all this?

Honours are reserved for the people who have served Capitalism in some way or other; they are the establishment’s mark of appreciation.

It is a bitter commentary on the standing of the trade unions today, and on the standard of consciousness of their members, that the men at the top are so often coming to wear a coronet or some other bauble to show that Capitalism has looked upon them and found them good.

Hailsham and Unemployment 

Lord Hailsham, the government’s odd-job man, has won himself a reputation of being a showy, energetic politician. How, then, to describe his appointment as the man to look into the unemployment problem in the North-East?

Was this Action? Or just another odd job?

Certainly there was nothing new about the idea. The 1929 Labour government had not one but three ministers looking after their unemployment problem. At least one of these was showy and at least one other was energetic. But the unemployment figures still kept on going up.

Why only the North-East? True, unemployment is relatively high there; but so it is in Scotland and Wales. Whatever claims the government might make about the North-East being different, the fact is that, as a problem of Capitalism, unemployment is the same in one area as it is in another.

Does Mr. Macmillan have a soft spot for the North-East? He told the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce ". . . human needs are as great in the North-East, in Scotland or Merseyside, and even in Birmingham. They are the boys who fought and died and suffered and as long as I have anything to do with the conduct of affairs I shall regard them as of the highest priority . . .  I felt that the appointment of a senior active member of the government . . .  was needed and I believe it will be received with pleasure in that locality 1 know and love so well.” (Macmillan was M.P. for Stockton-on-Tees until 1945, when Stockton showed that it did not love him well enough to send him back to Westminster.)

But apart from Macmillan’s sob stuff, no government cures unemployment because it loves the workers. Indeed, no government cures unemployment at all, because it is something which wrapped up with the basic nature of Capitalism, coming and going as economic conditions dictate.

No politician has ever been able to control these conditions. That is why Hailsham must prove no better than the men who have tackled the problem before him. He can find out how much unemployment there is in the North-East. He can discover that unemployment hurts. He may even realise the basic reason for it. But as far as he is concerned that will not be for publication.

Escape from the Dole

Short of war itself, the best recruiting sergeant has always been poverty. In the thirties, the prospect of endless waiting in the dole queues drove thousands of workers into the armed forces. Even the army canteen seemed like a slap-up West End restaurant after months of bread and marge and tea.

Those were the days when for every man accepted there were half-a-dozen turned away. Years of poverty and malnutrition had left large numbers of youths unable to pass the medical, so much so that even the Tory government became alarmed that there might not be enough efficient cannon fodder for the next holocaust.

Things have been different since 1945. Capitalist “prosperity” has left the services begging for recruits. Pay has had to be raised and conditions improved, but even so the response has been poor. Until now.

Now British capitalism is not doing so well. There is pressure on wages, a harder line against the unions and, most threatening of all, the return of unemployment and the dole queues.

What a sudden change this has caused! Only a little while ago we were hearing tales of the sumptuous married quarters being provided to encourage wives to persuade their husbands to join up. Now we are told that there have been so many applications that the authorities have decided to refuse almost all married volunteers.

Recruiting on Tees-side is apparently up 33 per cent, in Manchester 32 per cent, in Preston 40 per cent. Northern Ireland has also had “a good year” and Western Command recruitment has increased by a fifth.

Yet another grim development to remind us of those “bad old days" that were supposed to have gone for ever.


The Tories care. Many of them have clung to an independent British nuclear force as a sign that this country is not quite finished as a world power. Skybolt was meant to keep this force going until 1970, which will be some years after the Soviet defences are expected to render useless the missiles currently in service with the R.A.F.

The backbench Defence Committee of Conservative M.P.s. were especially glum at this latest blow to their ancient illusions. Macmillan and Thorneycroft had to do a lot of explaining to them.

The Labour Party cares. Gleefully, their spokesmen leapt upon what they love to call the “Tory mess" over what they like to call “defence." (Who, or what, was Skybolt supposed to defend?) Labour should have been as glum as the Tories. They were the party which started the British nuclear force, including the bombs which they grumble about, when the Tory government tests them.

In fact, all the Capitalist parties care about Skybolt. They all had some sort of policy on it, which they coughed up m the shape of advice for the government.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not care about the Skybolt row. We do not care whether Capitalism fights its wars with missiles which come from the air and hit the ground or from the sea and hit the air or from anywhere to hit anywhere else.

We think it is quite horrible that intelligent men and women should spend their time, all over the world, in thinking up nightmares like nuclear bombs and missiles. We think it is ridiculous that other grown up people should solemnly argue about which missile is the cheapest or the fastest or the most destructive. We think it is even more ridiculous that these people should be admired by the majority of workers as wise, good men.

We know that the best thing that could happen would be for the world working class to abolish Capitalists, with all its weapons and leaders.

Who cares about that? We do.

Medical Research

The medical profession are having a tough time in cracking the problem of replacing a diseased kidney with one which has been taken from another person. Up to the present, they have had very little success with this operation, and what they have had has been mainly confined to grafts between identical twins or other very close relatives.

If the doctors could solve this one, it would mean that a lot of people who are now condemned to die would be saved, because a diseased kidney can be a killer.

Research into the problem is going on all the time, in particular at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, where the work has been supported by a government grant. Then last month there came the news that this grant would run out in April and. that it was not likely to be renewed.

Dr. David Spencer, who was involved some months ago in a dramatic and unsuccessful kidney operation, made a public appeal for funds and soon got the money he had asked for.

And how much was this? A hundred million? Well, no. One million, then? Wrong again. A measly thirty thousand pounds. But apparently the government had decided that they just could not afford this amount.

Is the Exchequer broke, then? How much, say, do they spend each year on armaments? Thirty thousand? Well, no. Hundred million, then? Wrong again. A whacking great £1,709,000,000.

There are plenty of people, all of them supporters of Capitalism, who can get indignant about this. But it is most illogical of them to do so.

Because it is typical of Capitalism's priorities that, when the queue forms for the allocation of society’s resources, death and destruction should be somewhere up front and human health and safety somewhere near the back.

Socialism could, and would, get things in their right order. That is something which should be driven home to anybody who would rather beat disease than build a hydrogen bomb.