Friday, October 12, 2018

"What has the modern world to offer the child born into it in a humble family?" (1959)

From the April 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “What has the modern world to offer the child born into it in a humble family? After reading the staring headlines in the newspapers, we might be tempted to answer, 'Not very much.’ 
   “The Cold War, revolutions, armed intervention, and the ordinary course of power politics now make up so large & part of the international scene that we have become almost indifferent to them. Scientific discovery has given us so many dangerous toys and conveniences that we accept disaster and sudden death as almost a daily occurrence. 
   “But apart from what we read in the newspapers, life in many corners of England can be anything but green and pleasant. Overcrowded cities, unplanned living and substandard housing are still the lot of many millions. However much has been delivered since the war, much remains to be done before life can be enjoyed to the full by everyone—as a matter of course. And until the world has been made a better place for him, the child of to-day is still denied a rightful part of his heritage.”—(Radio Times).

Optimism—For Whom? (1959)

Editorial from the April 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Evening Standard reported on March 13th, on the front page: —
 “Mr. Derick Heathcoat-Amory, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in London to-day: "I am absolutely convinced that our economy to-day is in better shape than it has been at any time since the end of the war.’
   “I am sure that as a nation we can face the future with a steady confidence and faith in ourselves'."
Another column on the same page is headed “African gangs smash shops," and still another tells us that “Masked Gang Raid Town Strongroom.” The Daily Express of the day before, under the heading “Ike’s Berlin Shock,” makes this comment: —
  “President Eisenhower said to-day that America was not going to fight a ground war in Europe, where Russia could muster an overwhelming army of 175 divisions.
  “The President spoke at his Press conference and left the impression that if the U.S. had to go to war over Berlin it would use nuclear weapons.”
An American reporter at the conference commented “I don’t know whether he has scared Kruschev, but he certainly frightens the pants off me.”

In Africa, the Middle East—and, in fact, all over the world—trouble is flaring up and the governments are apprehensive, like men walking on tightropes. Unemployment in this country has grown and housing conditions for the workers are still bad—but Mr. Amory, a leading Cabinet Minster, is optimistic.

Similar optimism was expressed by the executives of our capitalist rulers between the last two great wars, but first an “economic blizzard” and"then the last world war shattered the optimism for all except those who reaped a harvest out of the troubles.

The world is, and will remain, a mass of trouble as long as capitalism lasts, because capitalism with its privileged and unprivileged, its class cleavage, and its hunt for profit for the privileged contains the seeds of trouble. No sooner does one sore appear to be healed than another breaks out. Not all the journeyings of government spokesmen can find a path out of this morass as Macmillan’s recent Russian trip bears testimony.

There is only one solution to the misery and insecurity of the mass of the world’s population and that solution requires that its workers of the world realise that they perform all the functions necessary to feed, clothe and house everybody. That the reason so many go short is because the means of production are owned by a relatively small proportion of the population who reap the benefits of the worker’s toil without the need to work themselves. In other words, that the workers carry parasites on their shoulders. When the workers achieve this knowledge they will realise that the solution lies in making these means of production and distribution the common and equal possession of all mankind. When this awakening occurs then genuine optimism will supersede the fatuous and spurious optimism that occasionally appears today. and Amory and his like will find their occupations gone.

Party News Briefs (1959)

Party News from the April 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Propaganda. It will be seen by the list of meetings advertised in this issue, that much activity is taking place in order to spread the Party message. In Bethnal Green, where we are planning to contest the next General Election, regular meetings are being held, and canvassing of the Socialist Standard is part of the plan to contact workers and get them acquainted with the party and its case. Kingston Branch has been very active and has arranged a series of indoor propaganda meetings, a new venture which is being well supported by the Branch members and others comrades. Islington and Lewisham Branches hold regular meetings which are attracting sympathisers, and it is hoped, new members.

May Day, Sunday, May 3rd. In London there will be a Rally in Hyde Park from 2.30 to 6 p.m., where Comrades D’Arcy, May, Willmott and Young, will be on the platform and Comrade Ambridge will be Chairman. It is not really necessary to urge members to support this occasion as it is usually very well attended, but it should be stressed that members can take an active part here; there is literature to be displayed and sold, and the meeting generally supported. The Hyde Park Rally will terminate at 6 p.m. promptly in order that our efforts can be centred on Denison House, where a meeting is being held from 7 p.m. Comrades Grant, Lake and Mostyn will speak, and the subject, “Socialism is International.” With the zest and interest that is apparent in the membership nowadays, May Day, 1959, should be most successful.

Ireland. Party members will be pleased that from April 4th to the 11th, Comrade Coster is visiting Ireland. His visit has been organised by the S.P. of Ireland, and on arrival at Belfast, Comrade Coster will be met by the local Comrades and will go on to Dublin. Whilst there, he will attend a Conference of the Irish comrades—they hope to press a resolution at the Conference to change the name of the Irish Party to the World Socialist Party. Comrade Coster will return to Dublin to address an arranged public meeting and also other organisations and have a “get together” with the Irish Comrades. It is hoped that this is the first of many such visits by Comrades to the Emerald Isle..

Swansea. Comrade Ambridge gave a public lecture on “Is Labour the Way to Socialism?” at Swansea Central Library recently. According to the local press who wrote up the meeting in detail, it was “followed with interest by a small audience.” Such write-ups, together with the correspondence from local comrades which is regularly printed in the columns of the local papers, help considerably to get the Party case known in Wales. Much work is being done by the Swansea Group who hope that it will not be long before they can proudly acclaim that they are the Swansea Branch of the Party.

Dartford Branch recently held its 500th meeting and the occasion was marked by a celebration supper at the “Black Prince,” Bexley. Twenty-four members and friends sat down to the meal and took the opportunity to discuss past activity and the future outlook of the Party and the Branch. One young hopeful, after the meal, engaged three Party Comrades in animated discussion. It is hoped that he profited by the knowledge gained! At least the act of thinking “on his feet,” promises well. The Dartford members were heartened by the attendance of Comrades from other branches, and of the General and Assistant General Secretaries, and the Branch extends its thanks to them all. It is hoped that those who missed this event, will look out for, and attend, the 1,000th meeting “do.” The Branch, so handicapped by the scattered membership, has now, thanks to one comrade, begun canvassing in the Eltham area. Results are already promising. Arrangements are in hand for a debate with the North Kent Socialist League. It is to be held at the Labour Club, Lowfield Street, Dartford, on Friday, April 17th, at 8 p.m. Subject: “Which Group should the Working Class support?” At the time of writing these notes, it is not known who will represent the Party or the N.K.S.L., but it is hoped to get this information to Party members in time for them to support the debate. Regular discussions are held on the second Friday of each month, and all are welcome. A special invitation is extended to readers of the Socialist Standard in the Dartford area. The Labour Club, Lowfield Street, is easy to find. It is convenient for bus, Green Line, or train—and the Party name is on the room door. The Branch will be happy to welcome you.

Debate at London College. Next month will be given details of a debate which took place recently at a University Union when Comrades D’Arcy and Mostyn of Islington Branch represented the Party.

“If we are to survive” was the title of the lecture given at Denison House, Victoria, on Sunday, March 15th. Organised by Paddington Branch, the meeting was very well attended and the audience listened to Comrades Coster and Wilmott, showing their interest by the questions and discussion which could have gone on much beyond closing time. A collection of over Thirteen Pounds was donated. This will greatly assist the Branch in meeting the cost of this venture, and it is to be hoped, by more such successful meetings. Paddington Branch planned this meeting well in advance and the result is certainly most gratifying.
Phyllis Howard

Small Shopkeepers and the Government (1959)

From the April 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

A dozen years or so ago, the small shopkeepers of Britain—those, who, looking in the social mirror, see themselves as part of a non-existent “middle class’’—were “cashing in” on a market depleted by the hardships of the 1939-45 world war.

In those days of a “sellers’” market, requiring no “salesmanship,” the goods flowed off the shelves and the cash flowed into the tills with an unrestricted rhythm that brought some recompense for their “behind the counter" drudgery. Some of them even had visions of forsaking their imaginary “middle class” status and paving their uphill route with sufficient pound notes into the coveted ranks of the bourgeois √©lite!

Such ambitions, however, founded as they, are on the “quicksands” of boom and slump trading, can be likened to Omar’s lines
“The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes, or it prospers and anon.
Like snow upon the desert’s dusty face
Lighting a little hour or two is gone.”
For, from 1956 onwards, a “rot” set in, until to-day they are struggling to pay accounts for goods pressed on them by the “couriers” of commerce, the so-called “high pressure salesmen.”

Unfortunately the majority of these small shopkeepers do not understand the real nature of the “Good” or “Bad” times they experience behind the counters of their “slave pens.” Pathetically enough, they put their trust in the Government of the day as being some autonomous power capable of shaping their destiny. Indeed, this outlook is not limited by any means to small shopkeepers. As an illustration, there are the recent delegations to Parliament of representatives of the Lancashire cotton industry alarmed at the “foreign” cotton imports which threaten to put them in “Carey Street.”

The question arises — “Is the Government” the sole arbiter of imports and exports? If it were, there is no reason why it should not accede to the demands of any particular trade delegation and thereby ensure continued political support. However, there are economic forces at work as a result of the present organisation of society into competing groups of Nations which determine, by and large, the actions of the British Government or any other national entity. As Sir Anthony Eden remarked after the Suez action: “. . . My hand was forced . . .” and what forced his hand but the plain unvarnished need of British commercial interests for the uninterrupted flow of oil via the Canal ? “Great Men” or “Lofty Ideals” notwithstanding.

But to return to our small shopkeepers—many of whom do not even own the premises they occupy and, in the case of newsagents, have to rise earlier than the majority of factory operatives. One such newsagent, known personally to this writer, rises at 4.45 a.m.. remains “open” until 8 p.m. and has not even had the orthodox “capitalist” holiday for years on end. In addition, he “opens” on Sundays until noon.

Whilst this may be an isolated case of very long hours, these small one-man shopkeepers certainly qualify as members of the working class! They are really salesmen for capitalist concerns.

Yet many of them are Tories or Labourites, identifying their interests with the ruling class in Britain who exploit them. Mostly they have vague ideas about “Fair Trading,” but when asked to define such a misnomer as this, they can only lamely point to the local “cut-price” competitor, failing to realise that this is the “healthy competition” they give their political support to when voting for capitalism to continue.

In conclusion, so long as world society is split up into rival groups of nations, competing with one another for the sale of their commodities, with 90 per cent. of the national wealth owned by 10 per cent. of the population, causing as it does, the POVERTY which besets the mass of the human race, there can be no solution in agitating for fiddling reforms or hoping for “better times” under the present of any future “governments.”

What IS required is the total abolition of class ownership of social wealth, including mines, electricity plants, productive machinery of all kinds and transport on land, sea, and in the air. In short, the abolition of commodity production, with its buying and selling and advertising: shoddy goods for the masses, but diamond tiaras for the few. Its centrally-heated mansions, and oil-stove shivering hovels. To say nothing of the colossal waste of human lives and socially produced wealth in recurrent wars, etc. Is this the sort of world small shopkeepers are striving for ?

If not. then they should join up with the world movement for the achievement of Socialism, helping to abolish the chain of wage slavery wherein they are but a link.
G. R. Russell

When Will It Be? (1959)

From the May 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reflections on the Election
Mr. Macmillan's government cannot live much longer. Its term of office expires in May next year, so the Prime Minister must already be thinking about dissolving Parliament. Doubtless, he will try to choose the date most advantageous to his party; he has recently been offered a lot of journalistic advice on this.

Last year, when stating that he would not call a general election for some time, Mr. Macmillan said that he was putting the Labour Party out of their agony. Certainly, they were then very eager for an election, for the Gallup Poll gave them a significant lead and the bye-elections were running their way. Since then, if these things are a reliable guide, the Labour Party has lost some ground. Now, with a general election in the offing, the agony must have returned.

The Budget
The 1959 Budget is the last before the General Election; it was, therefore, widely expected to be a popular one, intended to upset as few voters as possible and to please as many as possible. Mr. Amory came up to expectations. The cuts in income tax, although no worker will benefit by more than a few shillings a week, were soothing balm on a sore spot. Income tax is a constant grievance amongst the working class, who weekly sigh, over their decapitated wage packets, for the days when they were not qualified to pay the tax. The fact which is forgotten is that they were really no better off in those days than they arc now; the source of their poverty is not in any tax but in their social situation. The reduction in the price of beer was an earthy touch, guaranteed to make the headlines and proving that Old Etonian Cabinet Ministers are aware of what the “lower classes” drink.

Another Tory ace is made up of Mr. Macmillian’s journey to Moscow and his promotion of what are called talks at the summit. Nothing new about this—but what better face can a politician show than that of a man of peace? It seems to escape notice that they have often been so described when actually preparing for war. Never mind—it is claimed that Mr. Macmillan’s diplomatic efforts are restoring Britain’s international prestige. This must strongly appeal to those workers who are ignorant of the international poverty and interests of their class and who yearn to see Great Britain again a leading world power, almost as people who live in Highbury long to see the Arsenal at the top of the League.

The Labour Party
The Labour Party has had to work hard to break down these images of Conservative success. Their spokesmen have displayed all the usual ingenuity in attacking the Budget, playing down the parts which they think may win votes and asking awkward questions about the others. In the House of Commons on April 8th Mr. Harold Wilson said that, although the Tories have reduced the price of beer (“condescending” he called this), three years ago they increased the price of school milk. He also made the usual sympathetic noises about old age pensioners and the chronically sick. This must have gone down well in some places but, at a guess, was not generally as effective as Mr. Amory’s Budget.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has been busily designing its policies to appeal to the voters. At last year's Annual Conference, opposing a resolution in favour of land nationalisation, Mr. Tom Williams, M.P., said:—
  To win power is our first duty . . . Don't commit political suicide by importing additions into this policy statement that may destroy our chances at the next general election.
Mr. Richard Crossman, the party executive's spokesman in this debate, wound up by asking the mover of the resolution, in the words of the Manchester Guardian,” . . . whether she thought her assertion would help to win a constituency."

This cynical attitude is matched by the Conservatives. The fact that the Prime Minister will deliberately time an election to give his own party the greater chance of winning, and that a Chancellor of the Exchequer will always try to produce a popular Budget before a general election, is an indication of their desire to win votes.

Whilst the two great parties are sparring with each other and courting the electors with their peacock programmes, it is as well to face a few facts. Capitalism is capitalism, whether administered to Tory or Labour governments. It has an unpleasant habit of upsetting the best laid schemes of the smoothest politicians and of persisting in throwing up the same problems. Insecurity? A few months back unemployment in this country was higher—600,000. War? Towards the end of this month the dispute over Berlin, which has been going on for more than ten years, may erupt into something more serious. These are not problems which politicians can solve, even politicians like Mr. Macmillan, who is said to be the most optimistic prime minister we have. The late Earl Baldwin also had his optimistic moments; he once said:— 
  If we have not conquered unemployment, we are in process of conquering it, and if there is no great disturbance shall complete its conquest.
Those words were reported in the Morning Post of 5th April, 1929, a few months before the great crash.

Despite their failures—and even though their successes are futile—the appeal of the politicians persists. Workers vote for them in their millions with, apparently, hardly a thought for an alternative They are content to be exploited to keep the capitalist system running, whilst the political parties squabble over the spoils of power. The Manchester Guardian of 4th March, 1957, reported Dr. Charles Hill, M.P., a member of the Tory Government, as saying, ". . . that the most riotous fun he had ever had was in opposition.” The Doctor went on to say:—
  Then we could make speeches without responsibility and make proposals that hadn’t got to be carried out.
Well. Labour have had their fun: if they win the next election the Tories will be waiting to give them the full treatment again .A merry game. Who cares if it’s the spectators who always get injured?

Election Manifesto (1959)

Socialist Party Election Statement from the May 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hackney Borough Council Elections

Why We Are Here
The three candidates of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are entering this election with a viewpoint that is completely opposed to those of the other parties taking part—that viewpoint is one of working-class interests. You may consider that the Labour Party, or even some other party, is concerned with working-class interests, but a brief look at the facts shows that this is not so.

For all its talk of “democracy” and “equality of opportunity,” what has the Labour Party ever done for you or for the working-class generally? Did it solve the housing problem? Did you become substantially better-off between 1945 and 1951? Did the threat of war recede? The answer to all these questions must be an emphatic NO! Of course, the record of the Tories is no better.

Why is this so? The answer is a very simple one. Neither of these parties sets out to solve your problems or to make you better off—what they set out to do, in fact, is to run this social system called capitalism in the only way that it can be run; that is in the interests of your bosses, employers, ruling class, call them what you will.

What then is the basis of this social system? Capitalism means a social organisation where all the means of producing wealth (mines, land, factories, transport and so on) are owned by a small section of the people. That leaves us, the working class, with nothing except our ability to work. And work we must, or else we starve. From the employer’s point of view, it is a simple proposition—more for you means less for them, and so they do all that they can to prevent any raising of your living standards. The fraud of inflation carries out this job well, so that wage increases are often nullified by a corresponding rise in the cost of living.

But this isn’t our only objection to capitalism. Our bosses are always squabbling with the ruling classes of other countries over the distribution of the loot, resulting in continual international crises and minor wars, leading sooner or later to major ones.

The Alternative
We say that there is an alternative to this state of affairs—the alternative of Socialism. Socialism means a world where the things of life will be produced solely to satisfy the needs of mankind, instead of for the purpose of realising a profit for your bosses; a world where the whole of humanity will own and control the means of living and where wars and international tension cannot exist: a world where people will no longer be subject to the threat of unemployment and to the perpetual struggle to make ends meet—in short, a world where everyone will freely and equally associate and enjoy all the fruits of their labour. 

It may be objected that these are hardly matters which concern local electors, but in fact the problems of local government are the same as those of the national government, only at a lower level. The measures affecting rates, rents, housing, education, etc., are no more than the carrying out of government policy, which means capitalist policy.

One of the most pressing questions of local government is the housing problem, and although the Labour and Tory parties talk glibly of the numbers of flats and houses built, the fact remains that to-day’s housing problem is as bad as it ever was. At root, the lack of decent accommodation for working people is a part of the working-class poverty problem. If you happen to be well-off, there is no lack of fine houses and flats—at an appropriate price. In other words, workers live in poor houses and flats because they cannot afford anything better, and never will be able to afford anything better as long as they remain members of the working-class.

Education too, under capitalism means the fitting of our children for the tasks required by the social system; in other words, the production of the engineers, clerks, miners and all the other kinds of worker that are essential to capitalism. The present-day bias towards technical education is but a reflection of industry’s needs for more and more technical workers. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. But the trouble is that capitalism has no regard for the realisation of a child’s potentialities or for education in the sense of equipping children for full and happy lives.

Rates And Taxes
The problem of rates is another that is much discussed in the council chamber, but basically it is not one that really concerns workers. The whole principle of taxation, national or local, is the levying of a share of the profits for the State, in order that it might efficiently carry out the task of keeping capitalism going. Your wages, generally speaking, are no more than sufficient to keep you and your family going from one pay-day to the next, and this is affected little, if at all, by the raising or lowering of the level of taxation.

We say that all these problems are capitalist problems, which means that they are inseparable from the nature of the society under which we live. All the efforts of the reformers over the years have not altered your basic position one bit. What is required is something far more drastic—a revolutionary change in the nature of society.

What Can Be Done?
Our proposition is a simple one. We and people like us (the working-class) not only produce all the wealth but also carry out all the necessary functions to keep society going. The tragedy is that we keep it going for the benefit of a privileged minority. What we suggest is that workers throw off the domination of the ruling class and organise and run society in their own interests instead of in the interests of their bosses. Then and only then will we see an end to the problems that have beset the working class for so long.

This is a proposition well worth struggling for, hence our participation in this election. Our candidates are here as a protest against capitalism, and to give working people an opportunity of registering their support for the only constructive alternative to capitalism and for the only effective solution to their problems. Every one who joins us in the struggle against this pernicious social system is helping to make the life of capitalism shorter and helping to bring about a sane and rational social order.

Do not think that because there are only three of our candidates in this election, there is no point in supporting us. At least, three socialists in the Town Hall would mean a lot of useful propaganda for socialism and would ensure that there were a least some members of the council who really did represent the working class. In any event, the need for socialism becomes ever more pressing in a world riddled with frightening problems, and a start must be made in wresting power from the ruling class. Every socialist vote means another step towards a freer, better world.

The only Socialist candidates are: — A. Ivimey, J. L. Read, F. Ivimey

News from the Branches (1959)

Party News from the May 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Conference, 1959
The Comrades who were fortunate enough to attend the Annual Conference this year must have been heartened by the enthusiasm and interest apparent throughout the discussions, and most certainly all enjoyed the social arrangements. There was a good delegation in number and the contributions made by the delegates were interesting and useful. For the first time in the history of the Party two delegates from Canada were present, Comrades Greta and Jim Milne from Winnipeg. Needless to say, it is hoped that these Comrades are the first of many Companion Parties' delegates to attend our Conferences and we look forward also to the sending of delegates regularly to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Agenda was completed and recommendations have been referred to the E.C. for consideration, most of them dealing with the expansion and improvement of Party propaganda.

The Social side of the Conference was excellent. On the Friday a get-together evening was held at Head Office, and the Dance at Conway Hall on the Saturday was even jollier than last year and from the financial aspect a credit balance of £29 was reported. A Rally of mainly Party Comrades was held at Conway Hall on the Sunday evening to round off the weekend. Comrades R. Critchfield and H. Young spoke on Darwin and Marx, and tape recordings were relayed of greetings from the Companion Parties in Canada, U.SA, Australia, and New Zealand and our Comrades in Vienna.

Camberwell Branch
Camberwell Branch, in addition to organising three weekly outdoor meetings, East Street and Clapham Common on Sundays, and Rushcroft Road on Saturdays, is still canvassing the Socialist Standard every week. The Branch hopes to extend this activity, Currently, one branch meeting each month is being devoted to a lecture-discussion. These meetings have been very interesting, the most recent was given by Comrade Coster who spoke on Marx and Darwin. This stimulated a good discussion by Branch members. On May 11th a discussion in the form of a debate is being held by Comrades Baldwin and Michael, the idea being that it will help Comrades to learn the art of debate. Details of this event are shown in the Meetings column.

Mitcham Group
Since the beginning of the year, this Group has had a more centrally situated meeting place, namely a room in the “White Hart” at Mitcham Cricket Green. Regular, well attended lecture discussion meetings have been held once a month on Tuesdays. A report of Branch meetings has been sent to the local paper and an extract of “what the speaker said" has usually been published. These notices which have always included the full and correct name of the Party, plus the several letters by Party members printed in the correspondence columns have been useful in letting people know of the S.P.G.B.'s activity. Already the Group has served to bring some Central Branch members into touch with one another, and provided an opportunity for them to air their views on the general subjects discussed. With a few more Central Branch members attending, the Group could function as a Branch and thereby provide an opportunity for members in this area to more effectively express themselves on Party matters. Meanwhile, the Group is going ahead with its Summer programme of meetings and literature selling in an endeavour to increase its membership in the district.

The Branch's first effort at holding a Film Show proved to be a great success. The subject was “Automation” and Comrade Hardy gave the accompanying talk, followed as usual by questions and discussion. There was an audience of thirty, and a very good collection of two pounds was taken. This will certainly be the first of many such shows.

The Branch has decided to have a thousand each printed of a short introductory leaflet to the Party's pamphlets Russia Since 1917 and War. These will be distributed to readers of the S.S. and will be followed up by canvassing of the pamphlets concerned.

Canvassing activity is still continuing, and new areas are being opened up. At present, efforts are being concentrated on the Wembley area and encouraging results have so far been reported. Paddington Branch have requested that we assist them with a canvass in their area and we have agreed to give them as much help as we can.

Arrangements are being made for a further series of lectures to be given by Party members during the next few months. Details will be announced later.

Members are asked to note that the annual Branch outing will be on 13th June to Eastbourne. They arc asked to notify the Secretary as soon as possible of the number of seats they will require.

Commencing on May Day, Sunday, May 3rd, speakers are going from London every week for propaganda meetings in Nottingham. It is hoped that most speakers will be able to get there on Saturday evenings in time for a meeting on arrival, followed by Sunday morning and evening meetings. These arrangements of course will depend on the travelling times from London. A debate is being organised and details are shown under “Meetings” in this issue.
Phyllis Howard

#    #    #    #

Islington Branch
Social & Dance
Saturday, 23 May, 7 p.m.

Co-op Hall, 179 Seven Sisters Rd., N.7

Live Music, by Joe’s Group

Admission 2/6 (including refreshments)

Everyman a Capitalist (1959)

Editorial from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Classifying objects by their essential similarities and differences is a necessary step to thought and action.. Every trade unionist does this when he organises with others who live by receiving wages, against employers who live on profits. The Socialist does it when he differentiates the system of society known as Capitalism from a basically different system of society he calls Socialism.

But the words that enable us to think clearly can also be used to cause confusion by linking up unlike objects which happen to have unessential similarities. Outside of politics the absurdity of this is easily recognised. Nobody thinks himself justified in describing an ice-cream as a small iceberg, a stickleback in a mill pond as a small whale, or a pigmy as a tiny giant. But in politics this kind of thing is going on all the time and most people do not readily see that it is fallacious.

We are led to consider this by the current campaign of the Tory and Labour parties “to make everyone a Capitalist."

A Board instead of a Boss 
Not that the two are agreed on how they propose to do this. The Labour Party came to it through a series of debasements of the ideas some of its founders had half a century ago. Appalled by the spectacle of arrogant wealth and abject poverty existing side by side, they thought that if the government appropriated the land, factories, railways, etc., we could have a nation of people all employed by the State and living in comfort and on a more or less equal standard of living. Apart from that drastic act they proposed that the other features of life in Britain would go on as before: buying and selling, importing and exporting, holding colonies, taxation, saving and spending, etc. They soon decided on grounds of practical politics that confiscation was impossible, but they continued for a long time to proclaim their intention of nationalising the land and the major industries. Six years of Nationalisation by the post-war Labour Government practically killed it. The voters clearly did not much like what they saw. It was all very well a dozen years ago to tell unions and railwaymen that they, along with the rest of the workers, had joined the Capitalists by becoming, through the government, the owners of the mines and railways, but talk of this kind would get a cool reception today from the miners and railwaymen who are being sacked because of redundancy. They do not feel that they are any better placed than the redundant cotton workers; being sacked by a Board instead of by a boss is no less painful.

So the old sweeping Nationalisation is off, and when the Tories accused the Labour Party of intending to nationalise 600 big firms, instead of saying “Yes, of course,” as they would have done in their early days, Mr. Morgan Phillips, Secretary of the Party, issued an angry denial. “We do not intend—and we have never stated in any official document—that it was our intention to nationalise the large firms.” (Daily Herald, April 30th, 1959.)

The new Labour Party plan is for the government to buy shares in large companies and in general not to take them over.

The Labour Party still maintains that it is Socialism they aim at. They called the original scheme Socialism, and they call the new scheme Socialism. They were wrong then and wrong now. Government control or ownership of whole industries or of shares in companies is Capitalism not Socialism. The Observer, (May 3rd, 1959) is quite right when it says of the Tory plan and the Labour plan: “What is significant is that both parties nowadays rely equally on the process of Capitalist growth.”

All to be Capitalists!
The Tory plan, sponsored by a Conservative Party Committee in a booklet “Everyman a Capitalist," is similar in that it proposes the buying of company ordinary shares, but it differs in that the shares are to be bought by individual workers. They will, however, not buy them direct but through investment trusts, which will buy shares in a number of companies and then sell industrial investment certificates to individuals.

The ideas behind both plans are much the same. They are put in the form that it is a good thing to have more people “owning a stake in industry,” and that these new small owners will share in the growth of capital and profits of the companies.

There are several things wrong with the reasoning. Ten years of low unemployment on the one hand and rising prices and profits on the other, have not altered the fact that depression with its heavy unemployment and falling profits and bankruptcies are just as “normal” to Capitalism as are its booms. Workers who buy shares expecting only rises may find themselves owning depressed or worthless shares. It is always the big speculators, “the men in the know,” who have the best chance of selling in time. 

Secondly, the relatively small sums owned by individual workers do not cease to be only trifling amounts in comparison with the wealth of the Capitalist class by being put into company shares instead of being deposited in a Savings Bank. Even if the prices of shares and profits of companies went on rising the relative position would be the same, because the wealth of the rich would be growing at the same time. All the changes of the past 50 years have not altered the basic relationship that about a tenth of the population own about nine-tenths of the accumulated wealth.

Small Millionaires
Thirdly, and more important still, the relationship between the Capitalist, who lives by the wealth produced for him by the working class, and the working class who produce that wealth, but receive only a part of it in the form of wages, is not altered at all. The worker who has a few hundred pounds saved does not cease to be dependent on wages because he receives interest or dividend of a few shillings a week from his investment. And, to come back to where we started, the possession of a few hundred pounds does not change a worker into a Capitalist. A Capitalist is a man whose wealth is large enough to enable him to live on the “property income” he receives from it, an income derived from the exploitation of the working class. The worker with £300 is no more a "small Capitalist ” than he is a "small millionaire."

Why are the Tories fostering this idea? Clearly it is with the purpose, not of making us all into Capitalists— which is as impossible as having a social system in which all the population, including the slaves, are slave-owners —but with the intention of deceiving the workers into believing that they have an interest in preserving Capitalism.

The Institute of Directors have issued a booklet called "Mind Your Own Business" warning companies against the dangers of Nationalisation. It is a very good description of what workers ought to be doing, provided that they recognise that their employers’ business belongs to them, not to the workers they employ, and that the two schemes, Tory and Labour, for promoting what a city editor calls "popular Capitalism” (Manchester Guardian, 4th May. 1959) are both of them useless and dangerous to the working class.

Obituary: Bert Atkin (1959)

Obituary from the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a sad duly for members to have to report the death of a fellow comrade. We regret to learn of the death of our Comrade Bert Atkin of Manchester. Joining the Manchester Branch in 1914, Comrade Atkin was an active member until the branch dissolved in the Twenties. He worked constantly for the Party and in 1927 or thereabouts, he was instrumental in reforming the Branch which then become one of the most active and lively branches in the Party. Comrade Atkin in his time was Branch Treasurer, Organiser and on many occasions was a delegate to Annual Conferences. He lived for the Party and for all it stands for, and was most happy when associating with fellow Comrades. Owing to ill health he was obliged to retire from active work in the Party, but his enthusiasm never failed. We extend to Comrade Mrs. Atkin and her family our sincere sympathy.

Wages and Trade Unions (1959)

From the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working people live on wages, which are obtained in their places of employment. Some workers own government bonds or company shares and derive income from these or from other sources. But all sources other than wages form a very small part of the average worker's income. Mainly the workers live on wages and any changes that occur in the amount of wages have a definite bearing on their conditions of life.

The wages which they receive represent a portion of the wealth they produce. This portion takes the form of money and is given to them by the owners of the places where they work in return for the use by the owners of their ability to work for specified periods of time.

This is a condition of existence common to all workers, not less to those who wear white collars and receive salaries than to those who wear overalls and receive pay envelopes. The boy leaving school at the age of 16 or 17 searches at once for an employer. There is nothing else he can do. His father does not own a “place of business.” Neither do his relatives or his friends. Nor is there any way in which he can start a business of his own. There are exceptions, it is true, but in general the youngster leaves school and works all his useful life for some other person and lives through the years on wages.

So wages are very important to him and if unemployment causes his wages to stop, or if they become reduced or are not increased in times of rising prices, then he faces troublous times.

Mental Conditioning
Yet the worker does not give to wages the thought and consideration which their importance obviously urges. That is because he is subjected to mental conditioning. He picks up his newspaper in the evening, to find that world affairs are detailed and analysed without reference to wages. He turns on the radio or television and gets lengthy periods of sports, popular music, plays and other things, but not wages. Perhaps he goes to a movie house, to see a love story, a mystery, a western or some other type of film, in which the characters all seem to live in some manner that precludes the existence of wages. On Sunday he takes himself to church to become removed to heights so lofty that the very thought of wages could only be disturbing if not blasphemous. There is a stigma attached to wages. The subject is dull and boring. Wages are not to be discussed except to reveal that they are an incontestable condition of existence for workers, but must be taken in modest sums.

How could the matter of wages be treated otherwise? All the main sources of information and entertainment are owned by the capitalist class, and these gentry are hardly likely to allow them to be used to call sympathetic attention to the wages question or to be critical of the system, of wage payment. They like the wages system and they like wages to be low. It is from this state of affairs that their privileges and luxuries emerge. And they know, that the more the minds of the workers are directed into channels remote from wages the less attention will they give to wages, and this can react only to the benefit of the employers.

Trade Unions
But in spite of these diversionary activities, which attain a great deal of success in keeping the workers passive, they do give attention to the question of wages. The pressures resulting from their status as wage workers, particularly the constant readiness of the employers to use every opportunity to lower their level of existence, compels activity in their own interest, even though this activity is all too reluctant and lacking in depth.

Over the years working people throughout the world have employed a variety of methods in the hope of improving their living conditions. They have petitioned parliament, supported candidates for office, organised political parties. They have paraded in the streets, erected barricades and fought against police. But most important, they have organised in trade unions, which have provided them with their most effective weapon, the strike.

The trade union exists to protect and improve wages and working conditions. It engages in a number of other activities most of which are worthless, sometimes harmful. Because its members are not politically informed, it often allows itself to be used as a stepping stone to office by aspiring politicians. Indifference and apathy amongst its members sometimes lead to racketeering, cases of this kind recently being played up prominently in the daily press. But when all these things are taken into account, the real worth of the trade union must not be overlooked.

Strike Action
It seldom happens that a worker by himself can approach an employer and obtain an increase in wages. Workers in certain specialised types of employment may be able to do this, but not the average worker. He would be more likely to find himself on the street searching for another employer. Workers may influence their wages and working conditions only by collective effort and only by being in the position to stop working if their demands are not met. The ability to withhold their services is a weapon in their possession. It is the only final logic known to employers. Without it wages tend to sink below subsistence level. With it a substantial check can often be placed on the encroachments of the employers and improvements both in wages and working conditions can be made.

The strike is not a sure means of victory for workers in dispute with employers. There are many cases on record of workers being compelled to return to work without gains, sometimes with losses. Strikes should not be employed recklessly but should be entered into with caution, particularly during times when production falls off and there are growing numbers of unemployed. And it should not be thought that victory can be gained only by means of the strike. Sometimes more can be gained simply by the threat of a strike. Workers must bear 'all these things in mind if they are to make the most effective use of the trade union and the power which it gives them.

But above all, the workers, besides making the greatest possible use of the trade union, must also come to recognise that even at their best the unions cannot bring permanent security or end poverty. These aims cannot be gained within the limits of capitalist society. When the workers have raised their sights high enough to envisage a society where there can be no conflict over wages and where each will contribute to the production of wealth according to his ability and receive from the produce according to his needs, they are thinking of a goal that can be gained only after they have become organised into a political organisation having for its object the introduction of Socialism. Such an organisation is the Socialist Party.
Leaflet published by the Socialist Party of Canada.

The Snoopers (1959)

From the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

A furore arose recently in the readers’ letters column of the Daily Mirror, when an article revealed that there were thousands of people employed by Finance Companies whose job it was to snoop into people’s lives, and report on would-be hire purchase customers’ credit reliability. Confirmation of this disturbing practice was forthcoming in subsequent letters, some even rushing to the defence of the maligned investigators. A snooper’s letter pointed out that they performed a very important social function, in that they prevented goods being supplied either to people who couldn’t afford them or to people who had no intention of meeting the repayments.

Irrespective of the ethical considerations involved, there is no doubt that this practice is here to stay, along with its progenitor, Hire Purchase. The growth of Hire Purchase and credit trading in this country since the war has been phenomenal, although, of course, far less than that in America. The increase in the total Hire Purchase debt here in the last eighteen months alone amounted to £220 millions, the total figure in November, 1958, amounting to the colossal sum of £565 millions. Allowing one half of this for commercial credit (machinery, vehicles, and so on), this means that the average personal debt per family works out at something over £20. And in the U.S.A. nine out of ten families live on credit of one form or another.

With this growth of credit selling to working people, it was inevitable that there should grow up the practice of "status reports" or enquiries into the means and earnings of customers. This has reached its highest peak in the U.S.A. with “credit ratings" by which every credit customer is given a record card at a central agency to which Finance Companies can refer. In 1955 the Associated Credit Bureaux of America had 1,700 branches in the U.S.A. and Canada, with files on 75 million buyers. These files contain exhaustive information on the credit subject, including the earnings of all members of the family, personal habits, litigation record, records of past business dealings, value of house and mortgage position or amount of rent paid, and so on. By this system, the good and bad customers can be assessed and defaulters avoided, although strangely enough, the more credit commitments a customer has (promptly paid, of course), the higher his credit rating.

In this country the credit rating system has been proposed many times, but always to be turned down by the Finance associations because their members were not prepared to bear the cost. This is hardly surprising at a time when bad debts amount to less than one-half per cent, of the finance companies’ turnover. However, one can confidently predict that when things become a little more difficult and the bad debt rate increases, the rating system will appear here, too, and we will all have little dossiers giving details of our earnings, family, virtues and vices (shades of the "police state”!)

Until that happy day arrives, the finance houses will make do with the snoopers, those raincoated individuals who, masquerading as friends or relatives, call on our neighbours to make discreet enquiries about our jobs, wages and homes. Then they pop along to the nearby shops and see if we run up bills or live beyond our means, and afterwards call on the factory gateman to make sure that we really do work there. In due course a little buff slip headed "confidential” is sent to the finance company stating, perhaps.—"Works as engineer in local factory at salary of approx. £12 per week—two children aged 6 and 3—good standing with local tradesmen—well-kept home—considered good risk for the amount of credit mentioned.” Or—if the customer is less praiseworthy—"Worked for last two months as fitter—frequently changes job—5 children. 18 months to 7 years—poor home—considered unsafe.”

In this country, although the enquiry organisation is not as complete and exhaustive as that in the U.S.A., it is highly organised. In some towns, the enquiry agencies have files on tens of thousands of hire purchase customers, and the motor-car trade has its own comprehensive system. There is a central agency which records all hire purchase transactions on cars, and issues reports to all its members. This, of course, is essential in a trade dealing with goods that are often priced at £1,000 or more, and where strict control has to be exercised to prevent hirers from selling cars that are still the property of finance companies.

The Hire Purchase Trade Association has 20,000 part-time enquiry agents on its books for the purpose of obtaining “status reports.” There are many smaller organisations using such agents, who are normally part-timers, supplementing their income from rent-collecting and so on. Many are retired Police officers; some are ordinary housewives.

These agents are only a small part of snooperdom. There are many thousands of private enquiry agents who, unlike the romantic figures of Sam Spade and Dr. Thorndike, are kept busy by the sordid divorce investigations and the routine serving of writs and summonses.

Most people look upon snooping as an unsavoury occupation, but do not see where the real unsavouriness lies. This kind of activity is an essential part of property society, a society which provides even more unsavoury occupations, such as the policeman who breaks strikers’ heads with his truncheon, or the soldier mangling workers of other countries. The jobs themselves are not likely to ennoble the characters of the performers, but this is not the main issue. They are carrying out a necessary function of an irrational and harmful social order, and one which exemplifies the sheer idiocy of the social organisation.

What sensible reason can there be for an arrangement whereby some workers produce goods, other workers advertise them, yet more workers arrange them in gaudy shop-windows, more workers fill in hire purchase forms, even more run the complicated accounting and collecting system of the finance companies, some more occupy their time snooping into the buyers’ lives, others add up the bosses’ profit, a few store it away in bank vaults, and finally, a tiny section of the population live more than comfortably on the proceeds?

Surely a simpler and less wasteful arrangement is called for? Why should a vast number of people have to perform useless and frustrating tasks, in order to satisfy the selfish wishes of a ruling clique? Yet it is working people themselves who perpetuate this foolish system; who do the useless tasks as well as the useful; the unproductive as well as the productive.

The trouble is that the alternative, a world of common ownership and common effort, is frightening in its simplicity. It seems too easy to be true. Nevertheless, true it is. It’s as simple as that!
Albert Ivimey