Thursday, March 28, 2019

Party News Briefs (1947)

Party News from the July 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Manchester Branch reports have now come in. May Day meetings were hindered by bad weather all day, but a good audience came to the Rusholme Public Hall to listen to London and Glasgow speakers. There were about 600 people at the debate with J. Jones (Labour M.P., Bolton) at the Downing Street Co-operative Hall. The Propagandist/Organiser is holding outdoor meetings on blitzed sites in the city during the lunch hour. We are the only political association holding meetings on these sites, and our pioneering work has been mentioned in the Manchester Evening News. Week-end outdoor propaganda meetings at Platt Fields and Alexandra Park Gates continue very successfully. The branch have in mind the publication of a special broadsheet for distribution at a big Labour demonstration at Belle Vue on July 6th, where Dalton and Jennie Lee are to speak.

Attractive Party Badges will be ready in about a month's time. They will cost members 1/6 each, post free. When ordering please say whether brooch or stud style is required.

P. Howard (Bloomsbury Branch) was elected to the vacancy on the Executive Committee.

The New Speakers' Test is constantly being applied at the request of members wishing to become fully fledged outdoor speakers. Most applicants pass satisfactorily. An examining committee is also at work in Glasgow, where four members have already passed the test.

The Communist Council of Holland (Spartacus Group) asked us to send a member to attend a conference of various groups being held in Brussels during Whitsun. The Executive Committee decided not to send a member but instructed the Overseas Secretary to send the conference a statement of the party's position to be read.

Edgware Branch are arranging a debate with Sir Waldron Smithers on Friday, July 11th. Smithers ought soon to know something about the party's policy, though this should not be taken for granted. Two previous debates with party representatives (in London and Manchester) drew very large audiences who were entertained by Smithers’ pitiful efforts to make the Conservative policy palatable to a working-class audience. He is now coming up for the third time; perhaps this venerable Conservative M.P. is punch drunk! The debate is at 7.15 p.m., Friday, July 11th, at Edgeworth British Restaurant, Hale Lane, Edgware.

Glasgow Branch have a debate with the United Nations Organisation in hand. No further details are yet available.

“Socialism and Race Prejudice” is title of a draft pamphlet at present being considered by the Executive Committee. If published it should be a very useful addition to our literature. There are so many false and confusing theories bandied about on the question of “Race" that a scientific Socialist approach to the whole question is badly needed. The Editorial Committee are also working on a centenary edition of the “Communist Manifesto" with a special party preface for publication shortly. Other pamphlets we hope to have soon are a short pamphlet on “War,” and others on "Socialism and Religion,” "Russia” and the “Trade Unions.”

An Old Comrade in Vienna is now in touch with us again. He was greatly stimulated by what he heard of the party’s election campaigns. The result of the North Paddington bye-election was broadcast by the Vienna radio, our candidate being incorrectly described in the first broadcast. A correction was then given. He says that while people in Austria still cling to the old decrepit parties, they are really in the main indifferent and quite apathetic. They are longing for something new but it is not forthcoming.

Bloomsbury Branch discussion meeting at Head Office on Thursday, July 3rd, should be very interesting. E. Kersley will open up on Priestley's ”Socialism and Art.”

Beverley Baxter, M.P., missed a very large audience when he dodged out of the debate he had agreed to do with a party representative at White Hart Lane New School, Wood Green, on June 13th. The Palmers Green Branch made every effort to let the local people know that Baxter had backed out of the debate, but that our representative would be there as advertised. Four hundred people turned up and the meeting was lively and stimulating. A considerable amount of literature was sold. Two opponents were given time on the platform to put their points of view. They were not Conservatives. If any Conservatives were present they held their peace. Baxter's lack of ordinary courtesy in not even sending a message of apology to the meeting, and merely cancelling his engagement by means of a telephone communication from his local agent, was something which the local "gentlemen” of the Conservative Party would probably prefer not to defend before a working-class audience of electors in Baxter's constituency. The party representative speculated that Baxter funked the debate after receiving our party literature which showed him that the debate would not be the comfortable joy-ride which he obviously anticipated in the first instance. A Conservative meeting addressed by Baxter a few days earlier at Winchmore Hill nearby was very sparsely attended, only about 60 of the faithful appearing, but Baxter probably prefers 60 admirers to 400 workers anxious to examine his policy critically.

Palmers Green Branch followed up the Wood Green meeting with another at the same hall a week later, when the party speaker challenged the Labour Party to defend their policy. Palmers Green Branch’s next debate is with E. Durbin, Labour M.P. for Edmonton, at Edmonton Town Hall, Fore Street, N.9, on Monday, July 14th, at 8 p.m. We hope he will give Beverley Baxter an example of turning up and facing the music.

Shortage Of Funds will have the effect of slowing down the party’s development. Branches, members and sympathisers are asked to send as much as they can to Head Office to the General, Parliamentary or Provincial Organisers’ Funds. Branches who have more money in hand than is required for current engagements would help by sending the unrequited balances to Head Office.

“We Work and Want" is the title of the meeting being organised by Paddington Branch at Paddington Town Hall, Paddington Green, on Thursday, July 3rd, at 8 p.m. The General Secretary will be the speaker.
C. C. Groves,
General Secretary.

Editorial: The Labour Party Drops Its Programme. (1931)

Editorial from the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A very significant declaration has been made by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in the House of Commons. He was asked by Mr. Kirkwood whether the Labour Government are prepared to introduce legislation for the purpose of preventing reductions in wages. The Prime Minister replied:—
 Wages, either real or nominal, cannot be fixed by legislation for the wage-earners generally. The Government’s policy is to maintain standards of living and secure as equitable a distribution of wealth as is possible. (Hansard, 26 November, 1930.)
This declaration of policy—or lack of policy—is tantamount to the abandonment of the whole Labour Party programme so painstakingly built up by the efforts of its members during the past thirty years. The Labour Party in office at a stroke sends tumbling down the castle of cards that the Labour Party in opposition had set up. If wages cannot be kept up by legislation, for what purpose did the Labour Party take office? And for what purpose, other than their salaries and to qualify for Cabinet Ministers’ pensions, do they remain there? How does the Government propose to “maintain standards of living ”? Mr. MacDonald does not say. He does not know. His Cabinet have been in office since June, 1929, and during that year and a half, standards have not been kept up. According to the records of the Ministry of Labour, published monthly in the Labour Gazette, nearly two million workers have had their wages reduced between June, 1929, and October, 1930 (the last published figures). The number who have had increases is not one-tenth as large. The net decrease in wages, after deducting the increases, is equivalent to more than £6 million a year; to which must be added the decreases in pay of clerical workers, agricultural workers, shop assistants, Civil Servants, and others not included in the Ministry’s figures.

To that must be added, again, the far greater losses to the workers caused by the growing volume of unemployment under the Labour Government. On a most moderate estimate, the increase in unemployment has meant a loss in wages amounting to £100 million a year over and above the loss in wages which was going on before the Labour Ministry came in.

The Labour Party’s own “Index of Real Wages,” published monthly in the Labour Bulletin, shows the industrial workers to be 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. worse off now than they were when the Labour Government took office. The Index in question allows for the percentage of unemployment and also for the decline in prices, but takes no account of short-time working.

It may be said that the workers’ losses are not the fault of the Labour Government; they have done their best. But that is only another way of saying that the Labour Party has not got any policy which will meet the situation in which the workers find themselves under Capitalism.

It is also urged in their defence that the Labour Government do not enjoy a Parliamentary majority. They have to depend on Liberal votes, and therefore the Labour policy cannot be applied. But taking office as a minority is itself part of the Labour policy. They are there by the unanimous vote of the Parliamentary Labour Party (including Maxton and his group), taken at the first meeting after the General Election.

From the right wing to the most left of the several fragments into which the I.L.P. is now split, the Labour policy is the one of trying to improve the workers’ standard of living by an accumulation of reforms. But of what use are reforms if every reform is accompanied or followed by a fall in wages? Of what use is a reformist political party which cannot use its political power for the purpose of preventing reductions in wages? Mr. MacDonald’s reply to Mr. Kirkwood is an admission of abject failure; an intimation to Trade Unionists that they have supported the Labour Party to no purpose; a curt reminder that they must fight their own battles without help from those whom they have lifted into eminence.

In practice they have not been helped, but hindered. The wages of large bodies of workers in the woollen and cotton industries, in agriculture, and in the Civil Service, have been reduced by the Government itself or by bodies appointed by the Government.

The Government’s failure is fast exposing the hollowness of the case put forward by all the parties which believe in reforming Capitalism. They promised that a period of "practical work” performed by a Labour Government would convert the workers to Socialism. Experience of Labour Government, if we may judge by the elections, is fast converting the Labour supporters back to Liberalism and Toryism.

A Question to Non-Members. (1931)

From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are puzzled by the existence of a large body of old readers and sympathisers who remain non-members. There must be at least two or three thousand of our regular readers who are thoroughly acquainted with our case and more or less in sympathy with the Socialist Party. We ask those who are in that position if they will write to tell us why they refrain from taking the logical next step of becoming members. We would also like to hear from those who, knowing our case, oppose it; and from those who are still in doubt about some point or other. We do not, as a rule, answer anonymous letters, but if some readers would prefer not to give their name when explaining their reasons for remaining outside the Party or for opposing our cause, we would like to hear from them nevertheless. The names of correspondents will not be published when their letters are answered, unless they desire it.

Is a Gold Shortage the Cause of Unemployment? (1931)

From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gold is causing considerable disturbance in the minds of many people just now. The plea is being put forward that the present abnormal amount of unemployment is due to a fall in prices caused by a shortage of gold.

This supposed shortage of gold is attributed to two causes: (1) Decrease in the production of gold, and (2) Unequal distribution of gold available.

The way this alleged shortage of gold is supposed to affect prices is by causing a shortage in the total amount of money available to buy goods.

The first point to meet, then, is the question, "Is there a shortage of gold? ” and the answer is, "Most emphatically, no! ”

The total world production of gold has gone up from 69 million pounds in 1920 to 83½ million pounds in 1929 (see Economist, February 15th, 1930). This represents an increase of over 20 per cent. in ten years. The Transvaal, which produces 53 per cent. of world’s total, has increased its production by 10 million pounds since 1920, and, according to The Times of December 11th, its production for the eleven months of 1930 is well up over 1929 for the same period.

In the meantime new rich finds of gold have been reported in Australia and Venezuela, and new depths and cheaper working in South Africa.

The Gold Delegation of the League of Nations have made a comprehensive survey of past, present and future production of gold, and have published an interim report on the matter in September, 1930. The conclusion they have come to is that, leaving out of account new finds of gold and improved technical methods, there will be no inadequacy in the supply of gold for at least another ten to fifteen years. On page 75 of their report, Cassel, one of its members, points out that:—
  The net result of the war on the world's monetary system is an extraordinary reduction in the monetary demand for gold, chiefly caused by an almost complete cessation of the use of circulating gold coins. This reduction in the demand for gold has resulted in a fall in the value of the metal and a rise in the general level of commodity prices to about 150, as compared with 100 before the war.
The City Editor of the Evening Standard, referring to the position in England, makes the following remarks in the issue of November 21st last:—
  For the creation of more credit we have now a substantial basis. A year ago the gold held by the Bank of England amounted to 133 million pounds. To-day we have 150 million pounds.
  At present the gold is not being fully used. Inactive Bank of England notes total £64,172,894 against £37,016,505 a year ago. These figures show that the increase of 26 million pounds in our gold has not yet got into active circulation. It is, so to speak, stored up in the reserve.
  . . .   In other words, we have now a reserve army of credit.
In the Evening Standard for December 10th the City Editor writes as follows:—
  The appreciation in the price of gold has been a boon to gold mines containing only low-grade ore. It has made it possible to work them at a profit, and so has given increased employment to those engaged in the industry; has put money into the pockets of shareholders, and has increased the world’s supplies of gold at a time when such increase is most welcome.
A shortage of gold, then, does not exist and, consequently, the present industrial depression cannot be attributed to this cause.

The idea that an unequal distribution of gold is at the root of the trouble is based on the same misconception as the idea that there is a shortage of gold.

The view held is generally known as the “quantity theory of money," and is defined by one of its principal exponents, Sir David Barbour, as follows:—
  Other things being equal the level of prices is proportionate to the quantity of money. (Influence of gold supply on Prices and Profits, p. 47.)
  Under modern conditions, the tendency is for money to change hands more rapidly than before, the resulting influence enabling exchanges to be effected with a less quantity of money, and thus acting in the direction of raising prices. (Ibid, p. 52.)
It is not necessary here to go into the question of the validity of the quantity theory. It is sufficient to point out that this theory cannot account for the fundamental differences in prices (for instance, between corn, oil, and diamonds).

However, let us examine the question on the ground of the quantity theory—that there is not enough gold for currency purposes owing to the fact that America and France are cornering such a large amount of the world’s supply.

If this view be accepted, then America and France should be flourishing. In fact, however, the depression in America is even more marked than here and they are anticipating an unemployed army of about seven millions this winter. In France the clouds are beginning to gather; unemployment is growing and the first fruits of the crisis are already causing considerable disturbance among politicians, as is shown by their efforts at Cabinet building.

In England an examination of the Bank return for the past few months entirely disposes of any idea that there is a shortage of currency. All through October and November there has been over sixty millions of unused currency notes lying in the banking department of the Bank of England. The Bank Return for December 17th shows that even at this time of the year, when there is an abnormal call on currency for Christmas buying, there is still forty-five and a half millions of currency notes lying idle in the banking department.

If it be urged that the alleged shortage does not show itself in currency, but in credit, and thereby lessens the amount available for investment, then it is sufficient to point out that there is a vast amount of money awaiting investment which cannot find an opening, as witness the share issues that are over-subscribed to the amount of millions of pounds in a few hours. This matter is dealt with elsewhere in this issue, and we will only add one or two further illustrations to those already given. In their “City Notes” The Times of November 24th makes the following observations :—
  Some of our correspondents appear to think that the present trade depression, which is reflected in the fall of commodity prices, can only be cured by tackling what is described as the scarcity of gold and currency. There is, however, little evidence of either. America, for instance, has a huge gold stock and a credit-creating power far beyond anything she is making use of at present; the same might be said of France, and in this country the difficulty of banks is to find borrowers of the credit they are anxious to lend.
The Financial Times for November 10th, under the heading “Ample Funds for Investment,” states:—
  The fact that about 70 million pounds was subscribed for the issue of 5 million pounds S. Africa 4½ per cent, loan 1955-75, offered last week at 95½, serves to draw attention once again to the great volume of money available for investment, etc.
The Evening Standard of November 25th reports that Sir Andrew Duncan (head of the Central Electric Board) said: “The eager over-subscription of yesterday [£6 million C.E.B. stock] . . . is an additional proof of the plethora of money awaiting safe investment."

The evidence is therefore conclusive that there is a superabundance of gold, of currency, and of money awaiting investment. Why, then, the gold scare? There are two reasons; both of them old and both of them a consequence of the present system of Capitalist private ownership.

On the one hand, the Capitalists’ professional spokesmen, at a loss to understand the source of the disorganisation and misery produced by the working out of the economic laws of Capitalism, clutch at any straw that gives the appearance of an explanation. On the other hand, any explanation that gives the Capitalists a weapon to force down wages is joyfully laid hold of and used with vigour.

The ignorance or knavery of the leaders of the Labour Party makes them willing tools in the hands of the Capitalists, as the following statement by Mr. William Graham, President of the Board of Trade, at Middlesbrough on December 7th, testifies :—
  I fervently hope that American and British financial authorities will be able to arrive at an agreement in the use of gold reserves which will provide on a sound basis a great credit structure, and so minister to a common recovery.
(News-Chronicle, 8 Dec., 1930.)
Thus do Labour leaders help the Capitalists to obscure the real cause of the present depression, which is, in fact, an accentuation of the over-production of goods. So fruitful are the means of production to-day, that the wholesale limitations imposed upon production have failed to prevent an over-stocked market. Capitalism is being choked by an enormous surplus of goods, and yet there are millions of workless and starving.

Increased production of gold or increase in money is, therefore, not the solution of the evils. The only solution is for the working class of the world to take over the means of production and carry on the work of society on a new foundation that will secure to each member of the community a sufficiency to satisfy his needs, and will ensure that a surplus of production will only mean less work for each.

SPGB Meetings (1931)

Party News from the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don’t sweat the small stuff (2019)

From the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’ve been hearing a lot about traditional politics being ‘broken’. There is deep dissatisfaction and disillusionment with all political parties, with their failed promises, their increasingly transparent dishonesty, the personal ambition of their representatives, and their idiotic circus of privileged shouting matches in the Palace of Westminster. But beneath the surface, our discontent is really a frustration at the social system itself, and its perpetual inability to deliver genuine comfort and security for all, regardless of which party has its hands on the wheel.

This is an era of profound social crisis, both culturally and economically. We are witnessing new levels of corruption, decadence and mendacity in public life. Decades of intelligent discourse and positive social evolution seem to be unravelling in front of our eyes. Frustration with the way things are is leading to a new surge in irrationality and abuse. The past year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of violent racist attacks in the USA, Britain and throughout Europe. The gap between rich and poor widens, and the rich and powerful are succeeding in persuading large numbers of the impoverished to scapegoat those even poorer or more vulnerable, rather than focus on their actual exploiters.

More and more the issues facing us are global and deadly in their urgency. In that context, the petty squabbles within the British Labour and Conservative parties are irrelevant and absurd in their self-importance and pomposity. There is an increasing risk of major and possibly nuclear conflict, which could kill millions. Even though Britain is one of the world’s most developed states, the figures for poverty are chronic and worsening. Confidence in the democratic process is plummeting to new lows. There is evidence of the French gilet jaunes, who started by protesting against fuel price rises, now being partly hijacked by expressions of anti-semitism, whilst groups of political thugs in Britain have also donned high-vis tunics in a crude, confused and blunt protest against the so-called ‘liberal elite’.

The social problems which have vexed us throughout modern history could have been solved long ago, by a radical and imaginative change in the basis of society, but true radicalism has at each turn been dismissed, as much by the Left as by conservatives, in the name of ‘realism’ and reasonable expectations. We inhabit a social system of brutal capital accumulation and dehumanisation which can only get worse, and periodically implode as it is doing now. This could be a time for a great positive change, if we question and replace the underlying economic system – or for a plunge into the abyss, if once again we don’t.

Whilst Labour and Tory seem to be falling apart at the seams, the new groupings are essentially no better. There was a very telling moment when Kirsty Wark interviewed Anna Soubry for Newsnight about the new Independent Group. Wark pressed her on what they stood for and she had absolutely no answer. Eventually, she actually paused and laughed patronisingly at Wark, pityingly saying: ‘You see, you’re still in the old way of doing things. This is something new!’ However, she then admitted that they had ‘no policies’ yet. Pushed again, she said they ‘believe in sound economic policies, and a sound economy’. So, that’s clear, then! That moment when she tried to reverse roles and criticise the reporter questioning her was similar to what Trump does, attacking reporters for asking the right questions, turning the question back on them, switching roles in order to avoid scrutiny.

Within three hours of being formed, one of the Independent Group, Angela Smith MP, referred to ‘people of a funny tinge’ in the context of saying that discrimination against minority ethnic groups was not just about colour, and had to apologise for her offensive phrase.

On a much more positive note, February saw the beginnings of a new global movement for change from school students, with strikes and protests about the lack of action on climate change. Inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside her country’s parliament, the British action (Youth Strike 4 Climate) was swiftly condemned by Theresa May and others as ‘wasting time’! – wanting to avert global catastrophe is clearly sneered at by these dinosaurs of political depravity. These advocates of a rotten and murderous system, who would herald a new dark age if we let them, should be held in utter contempt.

There is one thing which ties all of this together, and overshadows the petty, parochial politics of Britain, Brexit, Labour, Tory, Independent Group and all of the other intellectual pygmies bleating to sell us into slavery on the altar of the profits of a few. The uniting thread running through all of these crises, of climate change, militarism and war, insecurity, racism, violence and political cynicism is the unspoken, open secret of ownership and control. On this, Karl Marx was spot on, and the clarity of his observations is even now becoming more and more compelling. Capitalism is still the social system which exists throughout the world and its effects get worse every day that it staggers on. Wealth concentration is now even more extreme than it was in his day, increasing the already extreme social power of a tiny and largely anonymous elite, which cuts across every country and culture.

Such an absurd system can only continue to cultivate support and acceptance by persuading us to see a world divided into rival states, cultures and religions rather than realise that the absolutely fundamental divide, between the billionaire class and the rest, between capital and labour, in fact cuts across such cultural contrasts and is blind to them. British billionaires like James Dyson and James Ratcliffe of Ineos (Britain’s richest man) supported Brexit, but have recently both moved their headquarters and assets away from Britain in order to protect their value. This simple point is often missed. For example, why do so many industries, businesses, and governments resist the need to reduce carbon emissions? Because they believe that to do so might cut into certain profit flows. Because we inhabit a system which depends, regardless even of the greed or kindness of individual investors, on maximising profits.

To resolve the climate change crisis will absolutely necessitate ending the economic system of minority ownership and of profit. Likewise, wars are fought between rival groups of those who own and control the planet’s resources. More than 99 percent of us have no real stake in any country. We are already ‘the dispossessed’. All of our problems in society will be solved by dispossessing the tiny but all-powerful global minority, and replacing private and/or state ownership of the world and all its resources with a new and thoroughly democratic system of common ownership, democratic control and production not for profit, but instead purely to meet needs.
Clifford Slapper