Tuesday, November 6, 2018

South Africa and Ireland: Lessons for the Misguided. (1914)

From the February 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

South Africa is in strike turmoil that has set the Union Government in such a panic that, in addition to the most elaborate military precautions, it is described as a revolution more than a labour quarrel. Yet the demand of the strikers is for the reinstatement of the men displaced by the economies effected in the railway service by a policy of retrenchment!

The Capitalists’ Risks
Making full allowance for the fact that any will do to hang a quarrel on when a quarrel is brewing, it is difficult to imagine a revolution in any way connected with what the red flag, that decorated the streets of Johannesburg, is supposed to indicate, being dependent upon a question of capitalist administration.

On the other hand, the Government in South Africa have expressed the opinion that the present trouble arises from the presence of “agitators,” and that when these are successfully deported the trouble will cease. This is flattering to the agitators, but very doubtfully true to facts.

The most successful labour agitator must have the conditions for his success present, and the discontent must arise from something material in addition to the appeals of the agitator. The following figures from an article which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph” (Jan. 15th, 1914) may help to explain the economic conditions on which the “agitator” had to work:
  In 1912 the Rand, as it, is colloquially known, produced in round figures, £37,000,000 of gold. Over £13,500,000 of that vast sum was paid in wages, £7,865,000 going to Europeans of whom 23,518 were employed on the mines, and £5,691,000 to South African natives, of whom 193,351 were employed. Stores and supplies consumed on the Rand cost nearly ten millions sterling; £5,800,000 was spent in development work, leaving a balance of about £8,000,000 to be distributed as dividends to investors who had furnished the necessary capital for the mining enterprises.
Why Safety cannot be Afforded
It is interesting to note that the “investors who had furnished the necessary capital” had already had that capital returned to them in dividends up to forty-four times over, drawing 12 per dividend.

The “Daily Telegraph” says further:
   Some of the Rand mining companies have made enormous returns to their shareholders. There are 115 companies on the Rand from which returns were received, and it is impossible to give details of all of them, but a few typical instances of high dividends may be mentioned. The Ferreira Company, since its flotation has paid 4,415 per cent, on its capital, and has distributed nearly four millions sterling in dividends. The Crown Reed has paid 2,404 per cent. ; the Johannesburg Pioneer 2,107½ per cent. ; the Emmer, 1,237 per cent. ; the Meyer and Charlton, 1,105 per cent, ; the Durban Roodeport, 1,100 per cent. ; the Crown Mines, 1,067½ per cent. ; the New Hereto, 992½ per cent. ; the New Primrose 817 ½ per cent. ; and there have been many distributions amounting in the aggregate to 200, 300, and 400 per cent, and upwards. The total sum paid in dividends by the Rand mines amounts to £88,159,489. If the whole of the Transvaal gold mines be included, the payments to shareholders reach the colossal total of £91,462,773 distributed between 1887 and 1912.
Then if we recall the articles that went the rounds of the Press last July on the occasion of the former strike on the Rand, which showed how short-lived the miner was on account of the mortality from a form of phthisis resulting from breathing the dust-laden atmosphere, we shall get a further glimpse of the motive force behind the agitator.

The Answers to Industrialists
Apart, however, from the actual conditions of labour for white workers in South Africa, which on the showing of the above figures represent a degree of exploitation seldom to be met with – and leaving out the industrial position occupied by the native blacks and the imported Indians, which is infinitely worse – the attitude of the Government is enlightening. There is a growing body of labour opinion in this country and elsewhere, that contemns and belittles the political forces which we Socialists pronounce of the very first importance. In South Africa a big strike is on, and a general strike is threatened, and the answer of the capitalist Government is the mailed fist—the mobilisation of all forms of the weaponed arm of the law. With it the capitalist Government can batter the working class into submission, whether it, be in Johannesburg or Dublin.

The same lesson was taught by the strike of French railway workers that was scotched in a similar way—by calling up the military reserve, many of whom were of the strikers.

That lesson was quite lost upon the Industrialists. They argue that a general strike will bring society to a standstill. Which may be true, but the working class are at a hungry standstill easily first. The workers cannot hope to starve the masters into surrender. In the starvation handicap the workers are half way along the course to start with. Nor can they fight the masters, while the latter control the fighting machinery. Nor can they lock the master out while he holds the keys. If and when they are ready to stop capitalist exploitation, and expropriate the master class, granting they will instinctively turn to direct and immediate force to express such a conviction, we ask as—How will they use the vote they already possess?

The Weapon of the Vote.
According to the attitude of the Syndicalist, he would not use it at all. To tell him that the vote is —or should be—the modern, civilised methods of registering the opinions of citizens leaves him cold. Historical explanations of the growth and significance of the vote merely cause his lips to curl. But the majority of votes controls the policy of government, and if you refuse the social expression of your opinion you leave the majority with the enemy; your case is lost by default.

To be ready to right against capitalism and to refuse to vote against it is to us sheer folly—folly in its own account, and rank madness when the voting is an essential preliminary to successful fighting, and may even render the lighting unnecessary. The “agitators,” therefore, in South Africa may be arch-Larkins, but they are not Socialists. For the Socialist always emphasises the importance of the political weapon. It is this very emphasis that has enabled the Labour members here to steal our thunder, and substitute the form for the substance. While we insist on the necessity of political representation for Socialism, they insist upon political representation only, with themselves as the representatives.

The colour or creed of the capitalist government does not matter in the least. When Larkin brought his fiery cross across the Irish Sea, in his first speech here, at the Albert Hall, he said it was important that the Dublin strike should be won, but it was a thousand times more important that the Home Rule Bill should go through. Which shows that Larkin doesn’t understand the working-class position. For does not the situation in South Africa show the Boer generals— Delarey, Botha, and the rest who were prepared to fight for independence for South Africa, hand in glove, shoulder to shoulder, with their erstwhile opponents against the working class?

What Larkin Does Not Know
And so in Ireland, the Home Rulers, with the passing of the Bill that Mr. Larkin thinks so important, would be found side by side with Carson, Law, Smith & Co. against the workers.

The incident in South Africa is a glaring instance of the fundamental nature of the class struggle, and a standing example of how it overshadows any sectional difference between the masters, which all Socialists know, and which Larkin does not.

The same thing is going on in Dublin. The authorities are inclined to blame the “agitators,” and made the mistake South Africa is copying of imprisoning them. The forces of law and order ran amok and battered people not wisely but too well. The official investigation that was to follow has provided an illuminating spectacle. The process of white-washing is so flagrant that a Liberal member of Parliament who saw the battering and was going to throw light on the investigation has been badly snubbed and is disgusted. It is to be hoped he makes a noise when Parliament meets, but it is to be feared he is too loyal a Liberal to have the heart to inconvenience an administration that is already up against difficulties enough. After his timely rescue of the Government last session when they were threatened with a minority on a snap division, surely he will not round on them now! They must explain things to him.

The conduct of the police, however, can only be considered from their point of view as indiscreetly over-zealous, and one can quite understand the displeasure of the legal luminaries engaged upon the difficult task of glossing over so rough a case, at an English M.P. “poking his nose in,” as they expressed it.

As the action of the police in Dublin was no different in kind, if it were in degree, from their action in Wales and in Cornwall, when a Commission does sit on the matter, it may as well include in its terms of reference those and other cases besides Dublin.

But the present writer is strongly of the opinion that if the working class do not want the police force, and the army, and the navy, and the bench, and the rest of the present social machinery, used against them, the only way is to grasp the power that wields these forces, which is to be had by the casting of a vote in the right way, with the consciousness and the intentions of the Socialist behind it. You must get behind the gun; you must guide the policeman’s baton from the centre of government. The capture of the political machinery is still the essential preliminary to a successful working-class revolution.
Dick Kent

" . . . saved before it is too late," (1914)

From the February 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Will the pious Christian who last month stole a copy of the Socialist Standard from a public library in order to send us thereon the hope that one of our contributors might “be saved before it is too late," apply at this office for a copy of one of the Commandments which he got into the envelope evidently by error.

Answers to Correspondents. (1914)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the same town (Coventry), on the same date, we received two queries on similar general lines, though, perhaps, different in detail.

G.S. wishes to know if he would be consistent in joining the S.P.G.B., as he believes in Industrial Unionism. H.K. says he agrees with the principles of the S.P.G.B. and also with the principles of the I.W.G.B., (meaning. I suppose, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain), and asks, would he be logical in joining the S.P.G.B.

The similarity lies in both stating that they believe in Industrial Unionism. But whereas H.K. specifies the particular type be endorses, G.S. merely gives the general phrase.

There happens, however, to be a common ground of agreement between all sections of Industrial Unionism, namely, that the workers can take and hold the means of production through an economic organisation, and this whether they add or exclude political action as a detail of their case.

This basic factor necessarily places its supporters in opposition to the Socialists, who maintain that the capitalist class rules through its possession of political power, and that the economic supremacy of the masters — that is, their ownership of the means of production — is entirely dependent upon this political power, through which they make laws and raise and maintain the force (Army, Navy, Police, etc.) necessary to carry out those laws in their own class interest.

The above position is laid down briefly in the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B. Hence acceptance of these principles must — logically and consistently—include a rejection of the nonsense that the workers can “take and hold" the means of production by an economic organisation while the master class are left in possession of the political power.

How the workers could “take and hold" while the masters had control of the fighting forces, no Industrial Unionist has ever been able to tell us, though we have had numerous debates, oral and written, with them.

G.S. and H. K., therefore, would be acting illogically and inconsistently in joining the S.P.G.B. while accepting the principles of Industrial Unionism.
Jack Fitzgerald

Waste Making (1961)

Book Review from the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Waste Makers by Vance Packard (Longmans, 21s.)

Capitalism has solved the problem of production. The system of capitalism, which already exists over much of the world and is rapidly capturing the rest, has given birth to sufficient productive potential to satisfy all the reasonable demands of mankind. All that now remains to be done is to bring in a system in which these potentialities can be realised to the full. For this is where capitalism has failed. 

Mr. Vance Packard’s new book The Waste Makers (Longmans, 21s.) throws lots of useful light on this failure and shows how some American capitalists try to create new markets and increase their profits. Of course, like racegoers betting on the Tote, they can't all win: but they all try. Sometimes an arms race will provide them with markets, and the American upper class realises how important the cold war is in staving off a slump. As Mr. Packard says:
  Financial columnist Sylvia Porter noted that every time there has been a suggestion of a major cut in Pentagon spending “the stock market has gone into a tail spin.” On the other hand, in May, 1960, when the Russian capture of the U-2 plane was followed by the collapse of the summit meeting, Wall Street stock-market prices advanced during seven successive days.
But even the unprecedented spending on arms cannot solve their problems. Mr. Packard says that “during the postwar years, the amount of goods and services that one man can turn out in an hour has increased by about 3 per cent, every year." What effect this had upon human fortunes? One is that consumer goods are deliberately made worse, so that they will wear out sooner, and therefore have to be replaced. Marketing Consultant Victor Lebow made a plea for “forced consumption” in the Journal of Retailing in the mid-fifties: “We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever increasing late." Packard quotes General Electric decisions to “change" (without publicity!) the life of a 200-watt bulb lamp from 1,000 hours to 750 hours, and the life of the 2,330 lamp from 300 to 200 hours. The Vice-President of the Chrysler car company is quoted as saying the quality of cars “is not as good as 10 years ago.” A guided-missile expert is quoted as pointing out that there was no technological reason why television sets could not be built to last for eight years without repair; while (according to Packard’s carefully-marshalled evidence) the quality of TV sets was in fact deteriorating.

Another waste-making device is regular changes of style, so that with enormous advertising campaigns plugging the new style, everyone with an older car or refrigerator or set of china is made to feel out of date, and has to buy the newer style to keep up with the Joneses. In this connection the board chairman of the powerful Whirlpool Corporation told engineers at a washing-machine technical conference that “an engineer’s principal purpose as an engineer is to create obsolescence.”

Yet a further means of pushing goods is the never-never. Consume now, pay later. The result is that many American families now have a load of unpaid debts. A survey by insurance companies, says Packard, showed that the average American family was about three months from bankruptcy and for millions of families the disaster was much closer than that. One “solution” is for the wife—including wives with young children—to go out to work as well as the husband. Investigators for U.S. News & World Report found that Americans’ biggest worry was “money,” and “making ends meet.”
  A minister in Cedar Rapids. Iowa, reported that “in 75 per cent of the cases where people come to me with marital problems, money enters in." And a doctor in the same city said many of his patients’ aches and pains were caused by money problems. “You can buy a car on time and stretch the payments over thirty months, and you’ve got a chronic pain. You really have.”
And all this feverish drive takes place at a time when, according to an estimate by ACTION, the American national organization for civic improvement, it would cost about one hundred billion dollars to wipe out United States slums, and when, as Packard says, there are millions of families "unquestionably ill-fed. ill-clothed, ill-housed.”

This is a book which you should get hold of and read. You may disagree with the author's conclusions, hut the whole book is thought-provoking.
Alwyn Edgar

Worker's Prosperity in 1961 (1961)

Watford, High Street 1961 (Photo credit, Francis Frith)
From the June 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The town of Watford, in Hertfordshire, is claimed by its Press to be one of the most prosperous in post-war Britain. One local weekly claims for it the distinction of being the second most prosperous town in this country—second after Coventry, in fact. Whether this held good after the motor car recession is not clear.

The sort of criteria applied are the number of vacancies at the local Labour Exchange, wage rates offered, enquiries for juveniles leaving schools. Income Tax returns, rents of shops, increase of population and, logically enough, price of house room either in rent or mortgage repayments. Unfortunately, this “prosperity” brings many unpleasant and disagreeable results.

In some ways, it is a miniature of what is happening on a national scale in Great Britain these days. A demand for labour raises its price. Higher wages bring workers from lower priced areas. And so Watford market resounds on Saturdays to the lilting song of the Celt, the guttural voices of the Clyde, the broad accents of the East Coast, and, to be sure, Mick and Pat, who never had it so good in “Ould Oireland.”. By the same token, a further 50,000 West Indians are coming to Britain this year, not as tourists looking at ruins,. but workers seeking jobs.

The employers, through their Government, can easily control this foreign emigration—turning it on, or off, as required, like a tap. They have always done so, as when Campbell Bannerman’s Liberal Government in 1906 boasted that any Jew landing at London docks with £15 in his possession might remain here, or when the successive American Governments at the turn of the century admitted emigrants by the million.

It is not quite so easy to keep them all at work once admitted, as all the historical cases show. The result of this in Watford is that Boom Town No. 2 is bursting at the seams. Although some employers, in their extremity, are making special provision for housing their workers, the unskilled (and paradoxically enough, even skilled building workers) are finding accommodation hard to get.

All this has prompted a local scribe to gently but firmly disillusion the large number of Easter Brides (and Grooms) about their chances of a roof in “prosperous” Watford. The local newshawk has taken the trouble to collect the facts.

So you want to rent a house? he says. Forget it!

“Mum and Dad never had the problem young couples in Watford today have to face. Before the war, there were houses galore for renting.” I haven’t let a house in years,” one agent told me. Even if one did come on to the market the rent would be at least £5 a week.”

So that’s out. There are a few houses—but they are all for sale only. Advances on mortgages are granted only to applicants in permanent and secure employment. ‘‘Watford’s terraced properties have priced themselves out of all proportion to their actual values. Houses built for £800 at the turn of the century are now offered for anything between £1,900 and £2,900, and they sell ” (Watford and West Herts' Post.)

The local writer goes on to say:
  To get the house, Bob [our hypothetical homebuilder] would have to afford weekly repayments of almost £5 a week, and sign a cheque for almost £400 to cover deposit and legal fees. . . .
  Another house advertised this week is a good semi-detached home in North Watford with garage space. The price: £3,750. . . . A £400 deposit would mean a loan of £3,350. . . . Repayments on this loan would work out at about £24 15s. a month. And how much would the legal and building society men want from you in fees ? Just under £100.
  What about interest on loans? That is the crippling thing these days. So many young Watford couples fail to realise just how much they will eventually pay for the house of their dreams. Borrowing only £2,500 on that terraced house Bob and Sylvia would, during those 20 years, repay the staggering total of £4,560. Almost double what they originally borrowed.
  With a loan of £3.500 and repayments of £24 a month, the couple, with this ball and chain firmly shackled to them, would pay back to the Building Society in 25 years the perspiring, hair-raising sum of £7.200. So do not think the Building Society is doing you a favour in lending you the money. They get it back with gold-plated interest.
What has our kindly press adviser to suggest? “If you are determined to live in this price-inflated piece of the country, then my advice to you is to live with Mum, live in two rooms, anywhere you can call home and save “ like blazes.”

But what are the harsh facts? Just as sellers seek the highest price—buyers chase the lowest, and there may be those who hope that new towns and estates will supply their need. Unfortunately for them the facts are these. At least 4,000,000 dwellings in this country today are over 75 years old. At least 10 million dwellings will be due for replacement in the next 25 years, to keep up with depreciation. That would require 400,000 houses a year. The Government post-war target was 300,000 a year. This has been dropped, and is not reaching anything like that figure today.

The present position is that slums are growing faster than rebuilding is taking place. Not only does this apply to slum dwellings, but to slum offices and slum industries as well . . . “At the present rate of building the indications are that the total of inadequately housed people will substantially increase over the next 25 years.” [Franklin Medhurst. Town and Country Planning Dept., Manchester University. Guardian. March 24th, 1961.]

The choice before the married worker is a very limited one. He can either pay up to £6 a week repayments, which includes £3 a week interest—or move further afield where rent and mortgages are lower. Then, if he wants the higher wages, he must pay fares, or run a car and spend time in monotonous travelling. Alternatively, he can live with Mum.