Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Should Socialists Support CND? (1961)

Party News from the October 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

I had to screen grab details for this advertised debate from 1961 because Richard Headicar has been a member of the SPGB since the mid-eighties, standing a couple times - at least - as a SPGB candidate in parliamentary elections. I was in the same SPGB branch as Richard for a number of years in the 1990s and 2000s in London. Lovely bloke.

And the advertised debate from 1961? It had to be 'rejigged' - see below -  because Richard was in the jail for civil disobedience! The things some people do to get out of debating with the SPGB.

From the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard:
  The debate organised by Paddington Branch on October 29th almost didn't take place, and then not quite. Mr. Headicar, the CND representative, “sat down” the previous Saturday and got himself two months imprisonment. At the last moment Mr. S. Cash agreed to put the case for CND. He maintained that Socialism was alright as a theory, but mankind was faced with annihilation and all our energies should he devoted to "banning the bomb.” The SPGB were out of contact with the real world, and death would overtake us all, notwithstanding the propagation of Socialist ideas, unless nuclear weapons were abandoned.
  In reply: Melvin Harris for the SPGB showed that CND was similar to many other bodies, which had sprung up in the past, attempting to tackle one or other evil of the capitalist system. These organisations had failed, and CND would fail for the same reason. Nuclear war can not be separated from the problem of war itself. And the constant threat and possibility of war was a direct consequence of the existence of capitalism. The Socialist Party were opposed to all war, and were working for the establishment of Socialism, in which war would be impossible. This was the most important task facing mankind.
 A considerable number of questions were put to both speakers, and many of the audience of 200 took part in the discussion. There was not nearly enough time for everyone. The collection was £13 and literature sales were good. Perhaps one day we shall land a debate with the elusive CND?

This Year's T.U.C. (1961)

From the October 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Common criticisms of the T.UC. are that it spends time on political and foreign policy questions that ought not to concern trade unions; that the block vote can result in decisions being taken that represent little more than the balance of opinion on the executive committees of a few large Unions; and that the General Council can secure the acceptance of policies that do not harmonise with the view of rank and file trade unionists.

The Guardian took up the first criticism after the 1960 Congress, which it said, spent its time mainly on issues “almost irrelevant to all the real problems of the Unions," and which would not even discuss a Resolution put down by a small Union urging more time for industrial affairs. Some civil service representatives share that view, and it has been argued that Unions of “white collar workers" in particular are reluctant to join the T.U.C. because their members are not predominantly supporters of the Labour Party. It may well be that it is largely this factor that keeps outside two large Unions, the National Union of Teachers and the Local Government Workers Union (NALGO), as well as some others of the four hundred and seventy Unions that are not affiliated, though for the smaller Unions finance is probably a considerable factor. As half of the 184 Unions affiliated to the T.U.C. are not affiliated to the Labour Party, it might be thought that a majority of T.U.C delegates might be prepared to consider altering Congress procedure to make it less like a second Labour Party conference, but Congress votes are dominated by the big Unions and nearly all of these are affiliated to the Labour Party and are apparently opposed to any change of procedure.

The second criticism, concerning the block vote, was heard often in the years when most of the ten largest Unions habitually voted the same way and between them could outvote the remaining 174 Unions. It has been heard less in recent years because the big Unions have been divided, with the largest Union of all, the Transport and General Workers, voting against the the General Council's recommendations on such issues as armaments. No doubt if votes at Congress were cast by each Union in proportion to majority and minority opinion on Union executives and among their members some decisions would go the other way, though in the main it would show itself only in the form of closer votes and smaller majorities.

The third criticism, that the General Council can disregard the views of rank and file trade unionists, is by far the most fundamental. What does it amount to? Obviously the General Council cannot singly do what it likes. It has to get the endorsement of delegates and at times is defeated, as happened this year on the presence of German troops in Wales and last year on nuclear weapons (a decision which Congress this year reversed). Perhaps the explanation of the advantage possessed by the General Council is that they confront Congress with a formulated policy which they recommend for acceptance, whereas the delegates, like the members who send them there, either have no policy and are willing to follow the lead from the platform or are divided over the several different and contradictory alternative policies: which raises the question what ought to be the broad aim of the trade unions.

Looking at the trade unions in the world today it is astounding to recall that in their infancy they were regarded by the employers and governments with real fear, as revolutionary organizations that threatened property and the social system itself. Now the danger has been largely contained, partly by concessions and legislation, but also through the aims that the Unions set themselves. Instead of thinking of themselves as part of the world working class struggling against the employers and the capitalist system, the aim of the trade union leaders in each country is to be consulted by the employers in the running of the industry, and by the government in the determination of national economic policy. While the rank and file trade unionists cannot be said to be positively opposed to this policy of their leaders they are much more concerned with fighting their own employers over wages and conditions, hence the periodical clashes between what the members feel and what their leaders, including the T.U.C., think ought to be done.

There is, of course, a sort of fatal logic about the direction in which the Unions are going. If it is once accepted that world-wide working class action for Socialism is impossible then it can seem to be “realistic" for the Unions to try to help British capitalism against its foreign competitors, by trying to gain markets for exports, by keeping down costs and avoiding strikes, by giving support to armaments, and in the last resort, to wars. All through Congress debates this readiness to think in terms of "British" interests instead of world working class interests comes out, as it did for example in the decision about wage restraint.

Rank and file trade unionists and many of their delegates may think that Congress unconditionally repudiated the idea of a "wage pause" or a restraint on wage claims, and will have paid little heed to the fact that the spokesmen for the General Council put the matter differently. What they did was to offer—on terms—to collaborate with the government in the planning of economic policy: and planning, whether its supporters all realise it or not, necessarily includes the planning of wages and wage increases.

The T.U.C. never has unconditionally excluded wage restraint. In the years 1948 to 1950, in response to the appeal of the Labour government, the majority of the delegates accepted it. Even in 1950, when it was turned down on an E.T.U. resolution, the door was still left open. The E.T.U. resolution rejected wage restraint but only until such time as profits were "reasonably limited," prices controlled and "a positive planning of our British economy" is introduced. This idea has continued as the speeches at this year’s Congress show.

Mr. H. Douglas, speaking for the General Council, said: —
  If the Chancellor was worried why had he not called in the General Council before and put his facts on the table? It had never failed to respond to an appeal for action. Why had not the Chancellor consulted them instead of slapping them in the face? (D. Telegraph 7.9.61).
The new General Secretary, Mr. Woodcock, spoke similarly: —
  We say it is not right for a government of this country to make a decision on a wages pause without any consultation with the trade union movement. That is exactly what the Chancellor did.
The speakers went on to say that they are still willing, on terms, to have a hand, with the employers and the government in working out economic plans. A Daily Herald editorial (9/9/61) puts its linger on the double-edged nature of planning. Though chiding critics of the T.U.C. “who believe that the function of trade union leaders is to help the government to hold down wages,” the article went on to admit that planning is “a practical exercise in which all sides have to make painful concessions in the long-term interest.”

And Mr. Charles Timaeus, writing in Reynolds News (10/9/61), interpreted the speeches referred to above as implying “that a wages pause might be acceptable in certain circumstances and in certain conditions"

Whether the government will make concessions in order to secure trade union collaboration remains to be seen, but one thing is made very clear by the anxious comments in various Liberal, Tory and financial journals, that is that they attach a great deal of importance to avoiding a head-on clash with the trade unions in the coming months. They know the losses the employers can suffer in widespread strikes and are not at all happy that the present government should have behaved as if it wanted a show-down at all costs.

It only remains to emphasise again the truism that the trade unions will not usefully change their direction until the members themselves think out their class position in capitalism and see that what is needed is world-wide working class action to establish Socialism. The alternative, collaboration in each country with the government, may end by bringing the unions nearer to being what the so-called trade unions are in Russia, part of the governmental machine of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the October 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Demonstration for Socialism

Wednesday, October 18th, is the day of the third central London meeting in the Demonstration for Socialism series and is being held in Caxton Hall, Westminster.

The two previous meetings (filling St. Pancras Town Hall in April and Conway Hall in July) were stimulating and successful by all standards. Now, with one speaker drawn from each, a bigger and, it is hoped, an even more fruitful meeting will be held. The normal Party arrangement of the order of the meeting will ensure a substantial part of the time will be devoted to questions and discussion contributions from the audience—this procedure itself aiding the Demonstration for Socialism.

Since it is quite a long time since the SPGB has held meetings at the Caxton Hall, a word or two on the situation of the hall might be timely. Caxton Hall lies just off Victoria Street about mid-way between Victoria Station and Parliament Square. Several bus routes use Victoria Street and St. James’s station (Circle & District Lines) is nearby the hall.

The meeting starts at 7.30 p.m.

Delegate Meeting 

The Autumn Delegate Meeting will be held at Head Office, 52, Clapham High Street, S.W.4 on Saturday and Sunday, October 7th and 8th. Saturday, 2.30 pm to 6 pm, Sunday 11 am to 6 pm. Arrangements are being made by the Standing Orders Committee to re-arrange the seating arrangements in order that the maximum comfort will be possible.


The two Glasgow Branches, having joined up again in their work for Socialism, have reverted to their original name—Glasgow Branch instead of City and Kelvingrove. They have had a most successful outdoor season this summer, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

They have arranged a very ambitious programme of weekly lectures extending to the Spring under the title “Problems of the Sixties". Each month's lectures will be devoted to a particular aspect of this, as follows:—
November 1961—In Britain Today.
December 1961—The British Political Scene.
January 1962—Power Politics.
February 1962—The Socialist Searchlight.
March 1962—Marxism Today.
April 1962—History Today.
The subjects for October and November are listed under Meetings.


Ealing Branch is now meeting regularly again after the short holiday break in August. The Branch has now been given a new meeting room—bigger, more comfortable, and generally much more pleasant than its previous one. This will certainly provide more incentive for members to venture forth on miserable winter nights.

A very busy winter season is being planned. One of the members now has access to a film projector unit and the Branch intends to take the fullest advantage of this in arranging its lectures and discussions. The new room will also be much more practicable for this purpose. We hope to give further details of the programme next month.


Having the Overseas Secretary as their own Branch Secretary is not the only reason for its increasingly international flavour. The proximity of Hyde Park and their virtually West-End location are also important factors. A Wednesday in August is a case in point. Following upon the greetings received from the two branch members visiting Newfoundland, on the chairman's table was a letter from Pierre, a good friend of the Party now back in France. Its main purpose was to express, with appreciation, the extent to which his own socialistic leanings had been clarified and given direction by his participation in Branch and Party meetings. In attendance was Comrade Bryant. It was the eve of his trip round Europe prior to his return to Australia. He was deluged with the addresses of people all over the Continent whom we know to be in sympathy with us. Also in attendance and very welcome was our Austrian comrade, Ernst. Some members met him in Italy last year but for some time he has been working in Scandinavia and he reported briefly but with humour and insight on the scene as he finds it there. A sad note was struck on recollecting that it was he who had first introduced our late Lisa Bryan to the Party. He was able to pass over to the Branch some of her old lecture notes which are certain to be of further educational value.

As they meet in a room above a pub their timetable is governed by the licencing laws which means they have to adjourn before closing time at eleven. However, those who are prepared for a “morning after the night before" usually fit in another three quarters of an hour of discussion at a coffee shop down the road. On the night in question a dozen members descended on the place and to their delight they were joined there by several others including our good comrade M. L. [Michael La Touche] on the eve of his return to the West Indies where the climate is a lot healthier than ours, he finds. A friend, just back from Turkey called just in time to give Peter Byrant a few interesting addresses in Germany and an Indian sympathiser of long standing spent the evening with us.

Their wide perspective has not lessened their enthusiasm for Branch propaganda outings to places nearer home. This summer Paddington has made successful and highly enjoyable trips to Coventry, Nottingham and Stevenage and on our very doorstep, Hyde Park has proved to be well worth the running on Thursday nights.


Wembley Branch are pleased to announce that their first indoor public meeting will take place on October 30th when Comrade C. May will be “Introducing the SPGB” to the workers of Wembley. Quite a lot of time and money have been spent on preparing and publicising the event, and Branch members are hoping for a good attendance. Full details of time and place will be found in the advert elsewhere in this issue.

The second of the Branch canvassing efforts in Portsmouth was successful although hampered somewhat by a late start. On this occasion we had the welcome help of a member from Woolwich Branch. During the afternoon and evening, the usual meeting was held on the seafront to an attentive audience, and lit. sales were most encouraging. This is an excellent speaking station. It deserves regular visits throughout the summer season.

Preparations are being made for a series of lectures by Branch members through the winter months. The last series dealt with various religious movements and was very successful. Any comrade having a special knowledge of a particular subject is encouraged to hold forth and other members find this a great help in broadening their general background.

Branch S.S. Sales are now running at over 20 dozen a month. The excellent summer outdoor season has, of course, helped a lot but the persistent canvassing efforts must not be forgotten either. It is the intention to continue these throughout the winter. At the same time we shall encourage our present contacts to attend the branch—and in particular the public meeting already mentioned.

Not forgetting, the lighter side, a social will be held at Christmas and we hope it will be at least as successful as last year's. Full details and tickets will be available later, of course, but preliminary work has already begun.


For a long time now we have been receiving regular 5/- donations from some one signing themselves “Anon”. Regular donations are a considerable help to a working class party like ours which suffers from restrictive finances. Thank you Comrade.


The small committee which had such great success in selling literature at the Russian Exhibition at Earls Court, have had further success. A member of the Committee, Comrade Hyams of Hackney Branch, went to the Trade Union Congress at Portsmouth and during the period of the conference sold 60 Socialist Standards and 50 various pamphlets. This is excellent work and Comrades throughout the country could follow this up by attending local political meetings and selling the Party literature.

American Tour

Comrade Gilmac is working hard on his American tour and it is hoped to have details of the meetings he has addressed and his television and radio talks in our next issue.


The Toronto group is making encouraging progress. Our Comrades Catt, report good discussions and attendances at all of their meetings—even during the hot summer months. Over 20 meetings have been held so far, a grand achievement, especially when it is remembered that the group has been in existence for only a few months.

Persistent attempts are made to keep in the public eye, and with the growth of the group, other socialist comrades in the area are giving their support, so that there is a possibility of forming a local of the S.P.C. in the near future. A heartening report indeed of courage and determination in the face of gigantic odds. Best wishes to our Toronto comrades.

Film Meetings

The H.O. Film Meetings commence on 9th October with an interesting film “The German Story”, which has just been made by the German Democratic Republic. This remarkable film took two years to make and tells the story of two world wars. It takes 85 minutes to run. A large audience is expected. Remember that the film meetings have been changed to MONDAY evenings.
Phyllis Howard

Happy Birthday? (1998)

Book Reviews from the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British General Election of 1997 by David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh (MacMillan, 1997) and Labour’s Landslide edited by Andrew Geddes and Jonathan Tonge (Manchester University Press, 1997).

One year on from 1 May last year, the hullabaloo has subsided and something more like boo-hoo has started. These two books, however, chronicle New Labour’s climax, not the messy post-coital depression we have been living with since. They are useful in that the demonstrate the fickleness of the British working class’s love affair with the Labour Party, and amply demonstrate its underlying worries about Labour’s suitability for the marital home.

Both expand on their findings that the main reason the working class decided to embark on an affair with Labour was the regular beatings it had been taking from its previous paramour. Labour was wanted primarily for what it wasn’t, not what it was. Most significantly, less than 31 percent of the electorate voted Labour into power last May, despite its “landslide” victory, this being largely because of the extremely low turnout. This, historically, is a low winning share of the vote and actually lower than that managed by the Conservatives under John Major in 1992.

Butler and Kavanagh’s study—Butler has been producing such analyses of General Elections for decades—is typically rigorous and thorough, well researched and with few mistakes. Possibly its most interesting chapter is the one on the press and how Labour managed to win over the affections of Wapping and Fleet Street (which helped avoid the press's anti-Labour excesses of the previous election). Another feature highlighted was the lack of success of those candidates who played the race card (such as Nicholas Budgen in Wolverhampton) and the relative lack of hostility to ethnic minority candidates generally.

Fascinatingly, some of the most bizarre constituency results last year were produced in fights between ethnic minority candidates themselves, such as in Bradford West and in Bethnal Green and Bow, the latter being where the local Bengali community put its traditional pro-Labour loyalties behind it to produce a six-percent swing to the Conservative Bengali candidate and against Labour’s Oona King, a “mixed-race” Afro-Caribbean Jew.

Where the white population has previously elevated the importance of “race” beyond considerations of class politics (or anything else), it is now the ethnic minority population that seems to be doing it. Though in some ways understandable, it is still no more justified for that. For if the 1997 election demonstrated anything it was that a confused and ideologically rootless working class is one that is most prone to the slick blandishments of handsome young spin doctors and their pet vultures.
Dave Perrin

Blogger's Note:
See here for an explanation for the above corrected version.

Letters: Outdated Marx? (1998)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outdated Marx?

Dear Editors,

Having read the Socialist Standard for several months now I must admit that your politics interest me but as far as your views on Marx are concerned I find them old-fashioned and irrelevant. Admittedly last century there was a place for Marxism to help to educate the working class, but the workers are more “street-wise” now and probably more self-centred, though they are fragmented, but the class struggle just does not exist for most of these people. Why don’t you ditch your Marxist views and find a more dynamic method to drive yourself forward and gather the more radical sections of the working class with you? Marx will always be a historic figure for the part he played a hundred and odd years ago, but none of his predictions came true, so why all the emphasis on his methodology?
John Loomes, 

You exaggerate. None of Marx’s “predictions” came true? Has the control of industry become more and more concentrated into fewer and fewer hands? Has the proportion of capital invested in plant, machinery and equipment grown more and more in relation to that spent on living labour? Has the process of capital accumulation proceeded, not smoothly, but in fits and starts, periods of rapid growth ending in periods of slump? Have the rich got richer? Have more and more of the old middle classes become employees? Has the peasantry declined? Has the proportion of wage and salary earners in the working population gone up? Have money-commodity relations spread more and more into all aspects of life? Has the economy become more and more international and globalised? Need we continue?

We don’t blindly adhere to everything Marx said and did. In fact we criticise him on some points, for instance his taking sides in wars and his support for some nationalist movements. We recognise that, because he was politically active at a time when capitalism had not yet fully built up the material basis for a world socialist society, he took up positions on day-to-day issues which are no longer relevant today now that capitalism has done this.

The reason why we continue to refer to Marx’s views on capitalism and history is not because it was him who put them forward but because he happened to be the first person to “lay bare the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production”. The conceptual tools he developed for analysing capitalism (value, labour-power, surplus value, constant capital, variable capital, rate of surplus value, rate of profit, etc.) are still useful today. Similarly with the tools he developed for analysing past and present societies and social change (forces of production, relations of production, economic base, political and ideological superstructure, class, class interest, class struggle, etc.).

It is true that Marx’s expectation was that the working class would become more and more class conscious and that when a majority had become socialists they would take political action to abolish capitalism and establish socialism and that this hasn’t happened (obviously). But because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it never will. If that was true then capitalism would last for ever. But, presumably, you don’t believe that any more than we do.


Dear Editors,

I have been interested in Marx’s works for over 60 years and I like to keep tabs on our economy as it unfolds. I do not profess to be an expert in business affairs but from where I sit way up in the bleachers, you might say, I get a wide-angled view that encompasses the whole world. I do not get overly excited about the details, like international skirmishes, the constant bickering over trade agreements or disagreements. I’m aware of them but only as they affect the overall picture itself and how the capitalists react to the various problems. I read all about merging and down-sizing, and about bankruptcies and mass lay-offs of thousands of workers. I see the Dow plunge 550 points in one day. I like to see Marx’s predictions come true, mainly because he has been misquoted and maligned for the past 100 years or more.

In my amateurish way I hope to shed some light on the future of the capitalist system according to Marx. What we have at present is the culmination of thousands of years of progress in the methods in which man produces his needs. It is of paramount importance that we advance to the next system in an orderly way. If we are not careful we may extinguish all life on the planet before Socialism can be established and lose our chance of finally controlling our destiny, within the limits of time and space.

With the introduction of nuclear devices and the constant friction generated on the international scene by capitalist economics we may go the way of the dinosaurs and take with us all other forms of life and all that sustains life, the animals, the birds and the bees, and yes, the vegetation, the water and the very air we breath. Must we bring it to an end? We are heading in that direction.

PS. My father moved from Preston, Lancashire, in 1912 and brought with him to Winnipeg socialist ideas. I moved to California in 1953 mainly for the climate. Legally I am still a Canadian citizen but I like to think I am a citizen of the world.

William Hewitson, 
Santa Maria, California

50 Years Ago: The “Daily Worker” is disappointed with Indian Capitalism (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists never supported the Indian Nationalist movement, knowing well that the propertied interests which financed and controlled it were only concerned with making India safe for Indian capitalism. Not so the Communists. They urged Indian workers to support Nehru and the Congress Party. Now the Daily Worker professes to be astonished because Nehru’s government treats the Indian workers in the same way that they were treated under British rule.
  “What is happening in India? The British trade unionist may well rub his eyes in astonishment. Trade union leaders are being arrested and repressive action is being taken against the Communist Party . . .
  “Such happenings were frequent under British rule, but India is now said to be free . . . The plain fact is that little has changed in India except that it is now ruled directly by the Indian capitalists, landlords and princes by grace of the British Imperialists.” (Daily Worker, 9/4/48.)
There is nothing to cause astonishment in the discovery that Indian capitalism is like any other, but how comes it that the Daily Worker should ever have supposed that it would be different?

[From Notes By The Way, Socialist Standard, May 1948]