Wednesday, May 29, 2019

By The Way. (1916)

The By The Way Column from the February 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thumbs Up!
The week commencing Monday, 10th January, proved to be an interesting one in the English House of Commons. On the termination of a debate dealing with the prosecution of the war, the question of the suppression of a Scottish paper (‘‘Forward) came up for discussion. To those people here who are so fond of telling how the poor German is “spoonfed” by the Press and the authorities in his native land, the following notice issued by the Press Bureau may prove interesting reading :
  Mr. Lloyd George will address meetings at Glasgow, and it is particularly requested that no report other than the official version of his speech should he published.
The “request” on this occasion for silence on a question of such importance is significant of much. Doubtless it was a case of coming events casting their shadows before them, and the official eye had discerned that the right honorable gent, was in for a lively time. “Tell it not in Gath" that at long last the before-mentioned gentleman, whose silver tongue has so often been used to coat the bitter pills given to the workers, is found out. A careful perusal of the Official Debates reveals the fact that Mr. George does not stand alone in this connection, for we find that the Clyde workers "repudiate Mr. Arthur Henderson” and "Mr. Brownlie has been told the same to his face." Possibly later historians will describe them as an unholy trinity.

I do not propose at this juncture to deal at any length with this subject. Suffice it to say that, perhaps, an extract from a capitalist paper would not prove amiss.
  If, as Mr. Lloyd George stated last night, the suppression of the Glasgow journal “Forward” was due to a series of unjustifiable articles, it was decidedly unfortunate that no action should have been taken until that newspaper had published a report of the Minister's conferences with the Clyde munition workers. As the Press had been forbidden to publish any report other than the obviously one-sided “official" version of this meeting, the suspicion was not unnatural that “Forward’s" offence consisted in letting in too much light upon that adventure. . . It was a grave blunder to defer action by the Executive until immediately after the Minister's visit to the Clyde. "Star,” 11.1.16.
The only supporter of Mr. Lloyd George was a military member who briefly addressed the House and stated that he rose “to support the Minister of Munitions, a man who, I must say, I have never supported before.” Of course, Tories and Liberals join hands when necessary to make a combined attack on the workers, just as the French and German rulers did when the workingmen of Paris revolted after the Franco-German war (1870-1). The priceless gem was found when Captain Campbell said :
 I tell the House frankly that if I had the Hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) in my battalion at the front he would be strung up by the thumbs before he had been there half an hour. Official Report, Vol. 77., No. 142, Col. 1420.
Such language, addressed to an M.P., is too strong even for capitalist journals, for the “Star” (11. 1.16) commenting on this says:
  This is the sort of brutality that many people in Prussia and a few people here mistake for “firmness’’ and patriotism. If they were heeded we should soon revert to the era of the pitchcap and the thumb-screw, which left such a dark stain on Irish history a century ago.
The laughter and cheers that greeted Captain Campbell's bully-swashbuckler threat makes it evident that the motto for conscription is ‘‘Thumbs Up!"

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In the early part of the month of December three Cabinet Ministers addressed the “representatives” of organised labour on the need for economy. Reference has previously been made in these pages to the speeches then delivered. I refer now to this incident only to lead up to the further point that at almost the same time the Press was busily engaged in advertising the fact that the daughter of Mr. Asquith and his private secretary were being married also at Westminster. After reading how the bride was gowned (an interesting study for bourgeois ladies) the next announcement was that “Mr. and Mrs. Bonham-Carter have returned to London after their honeymoon tour in Southern England and Italy.” Evidently they are not concerned about economy in war time. One wonders how some of the munition workers would take to the idea of a trip to sunny Italy now, eh ?

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Made in Germany.
The old adage reads “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Whilst this may or may not be so, it would he well for those who are constantly declaiming against Germany and things of German origin to remember that technical institutes, labour exchanges, insurance acts (did not the Welsh Christ go specially to Germany to study for himself the operation of the insurance acts there?) pensions, all come from Germany, and, last but not least, are not our masters going to “crush German Militarism with that close imitation of German Militarism, Compulsory Military Service?

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Signs of the Times.
The Compulsory Military Service Bill which is before the House at the time of writing is bringing forth the usual crop of protests and resolutions from various sources. One of the things that stand out in noon-day clearness is the attitude of the "Labour” frauds. These gentry are so fond of getting on their legs at conferences and at other meetings and stating that “we speak for organised labour; ” “we represent hundreds of thousands of such-and-such workers.” The idea is preposterous. How often do these fakirs really consult the rank and file of their organisations to ascertain the views held by them? Very seldom. The present scribe happens to belong to one of these organisations, where certain individuals are elected “as delegates” from time to time to attend Trade Union conferences, etc., and where the idea of these said “delegates’’ receiving their instructions from the rank and file is entirely foreign to them.

However, as an illustration of the hopeless state of confusion that the present Labour Party are in, the following only needs to be stated for this to be at once realised. On the occasion of the First Reading of the aforesaid Bill there voted: against, l3; for, 10; and a number sat on the fence. A somewhat similar course was adopted on the motion for the rejection of the Bill at the Second Reading, but with a majority in favour of the Bill and only nine against. One brave old “labour leader" delivered himself as follows : “I would rather die a thousand deaths than allow a conqueror to rule over Britain.”

We read that the Executive of the National Union of Railwaymen have discussed this Bill, and their conclusions will, no doubt, shock many. I have noticed in the debates that many of those who are so fond of talking about spending the last farthing and shedding the last drop of blood (other people's, of course) are very seriously concerned when such things as the Excess Profits Tax are under discussion. Imagine, then, what their feelings must be like when they read that the railway men have decided ;
  That any scheme involving the confiscation of the lives of men and leaving the material resources of the nation in the hands of a privileged class cannot be termed “National Service," and should therefore be opposed by the united forces of Labour.
 That unless the Government are prepared, as a preliminary step, immediately to confiscate wealth of all description, viz., land, shipping, money, and all other national assets, we are prepared by every means in our power to resist the confiscation of men whose only wealth is their labour-power, as we believe that if such a principle as that now proposed by the Government is once adopted it will mean the loss of liberties which are essential to effective industrial organisation and action, and will mean the permanent enslavement of our class. “Daily Chronicle." 15.1.16.
In view of the lack of “unity," as evidenced by the Labour Party and the “labour leaders" in the House and out of it, one is afraid that the pious resolutions passed by sections of the workers will avail them little until they realise their class position in society and, basing their action on that knowledge, they organise to overthrow the present system instead of tinkering with various manifestations of capitalism—then and then only will they come into their own. Organise, then, for Socialism.
The Scout.

Untitled. (1916)

From the February 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is those people who have graduated in the Divorce Court, who use the breadwinners as food for cannon, and who get rich on woman and child labour, that are loudest in accusing Socialists of wanting to destroy the home. Yet the workers only hope of ever getting homes is in Socialism.

Gems from Malta. (1916)

From the February 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

That wars are, after all, land and territory-grabbing expeditions, is admitted by a Mr. H. S. Gullett, writing in the “Daily Malta Chronicle" of November 18th last. In an article entitled "Strengthening the Empire" Mr. Gullett says:
  The disturbing factor is that we live in an exceedingly land-hungry age, in which solemn treaties are lightly honoured. Everywhere the clamour is for more territory. Within the past few years war after war has been waged, and despite the attempts of the aggressors to cover their design, the aim in nearly : every case has been material gain.
Of course! But many capitalist writers have admitted that wars have economic causes. He then goes on to say:
  Perhaps the Empire is too large; perhaps we are attempting too much. But the tendency is to acquire more and more territory, and to add to our monster task of colonising.
To acquire more and more territory "by waging war and covering their design," etc., to use his previous words. Exactly! For it is obviously “material gain" that prompts capitalist nations to make war upon one another to “acquire more territory.” Mr. Gullett then observes :
  Already in this war we have, in the acquisition by the Australians of the big rich islands in the South Pacific, and in the gallant conquest of German South West Africa, added enormously to our work of Empire-building.
But the thoughtful reader of this frank admission will reflect that then- were more profitable reasons than “preserving the neutrality of small nations'' that induced “us” to declare war. The writer, however, fears that “we" have bitten off more than "we" can chew, for he continues:
  We who live overseas are already spread very thin; after the war our grip, unless we are strongly reinforced, will be very precarious indeed. . . There is grave danger that . . our insatiated appetite for more territory will prove our undoing. At the dictation of the Home Government, and yielding to our own strong desire, we have snatched a great additional domain from the Germans.
Thus is shown the land-snatching proclivities of capitalist governments, and the capitalist nature of wars generally.

Only by the inauguration of international Socialism will wars be abolished. For only then will there be no capitalist class to make war (using our class for the butcher's job) in order to seize territory which will become markets for their surplus products. For only then will the workers own and control all that which they alone produce, and only then will there be no vast surplus of wealth, stolen from the workers, for which a market must he found, and to provide a market for which working-class blood must be poured out like water. No man worthy of the name will hold back now.
A. C. Kelly.

Lld. George and the Clyde Workers. (1916)

From the February 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard
The firm who machines this paper has refused to print the article which was set up to appear under the above heading. We are therefore compelled to withdraw the article. We congratulate the Government on the success of their efforts to preserve the “freedom of the Press.”

Workers — On May Day the Fight is Yours (1950)

From the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

We rarely call upon the workers to do anything but think, but this year we do more. We ask of them, nay more, we demand of them that they give up their allegiance to all other political parties who have brought them, and can only bring them, strife and misery, and that they turn their attention to our message, the message of Socialists who show the only means by which present-day evils can be abolished. Having severed this allegiance to other political parties the path to the understanding of Socialism will be easy.

We shall not be in the May Day procession, composed as it will be of Communists, Labourites and the rag-tag and bob-tail of the political field. Neither shall we be identified with the slogans of “Abolish the Atom Bomb,” carried by those who support the system that produces it. Nor, “Down with Wage Freezing” in a system in which the workers’ wages are always frozen and numbers of the workers are often half frozen as well.

We repudiate and oppose with venom the whole of this bunch of political careerists who treat the working class with contempt and who were prepared only a few years ago to preside over the slaughter of millions of our class. They have never had the interests of the working class at heart; many have been concerned with the personal escape from wage-slavery and all of their efforts have been to that end.

We fling down the gauntlet to the Attlees, Morrisons, Pollitts and the rest of the unholy bunch and tell them that there is a body of educated and organised workers who are growing in strength and are determined to bring the day nearer when the working class will have no more use for their political quackery and double-dealing.

We are determined people. We know what we want and we know how to get it, and nothing will stop us. The world is rotten with Capitalism and the immediate future looks grim and difficult. But, comrades and workers, do not despair, the future is in your hands. The Attlees, Morrisons, Pollitts and the rest of them will die, or they may live to see Socialism, but their records will stink in history.

We Socialists are a proud bunch of workers. Our record is a clean one. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We do not hide and we can defend all our actions since our Party was formed 46 years ago. We stood alone in two world wars, unflinching in our opposition to them, when other political parties were swept away in the hysteria of anti-Germanism. We alone proclaimed the world-wide solidarity of the working class and extended hands in fraternal greetings to workers in all parts of the world whatever language they might speak and to whatever country they might belong.

We are now approaching the third world war. Again we shall oppose it. We know that our interests are those of the workers all over the world, the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. In that mission we will willingly and gladly co-operate with them. May the day come soon.

We have a message for May Day and let it be spoken abroad. It is, "Down with Capitalism” and “The world for the Workers." Let some of the spirit that animated the first May Days be recaptured. It was then a spirit of struggle, not the abject lick-spittling of the modern May Day.

Our message is spreading wider; the day of the social revolution is getting closer. Friends, we are doing our share. When are you going to do yours?
Clifford Groves.

The Lowdown on Industrial Welfare (1950)

From the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all the mouthpieces of capitalist interests, nobody can deny that the Financial Times is one of the most tried and trusted. We have perused its columns many times, but the only thing we have noticed about it that might lead anybody to believe it has anything remotely to do with Socialism is the fact that its pages, for some strange reason, are coloured a most delicate shade of pink.

The Financial Times, in fact, stands four-square for Capitalism—for the system as a whole, and for the British capitalist class in particular—and it makes no pretence of denying it. For this reason we can always rely on it that whatever it does publish is tied up with capitalist interests somewhere. Take, for example, the special supplement it put out with the issue of the 30th January, on the subject of “industrial welfare.”

Apart from knowing that it had something to do with methods of keeping the worker fit and happy at his work we had little idea of what was meant by “industrial welfare” until we read the supplement. Apparently, it is another of those “portmanteau phrases" with which our planners and reformers love to plague us these days. Locked up in the portmanteau are the following items: the provision of good working conditions, e.g., improved lighting, adequate ventilation, comfortable heating, etc.; health and first' aid facilities at work, including accident prevention; canteens; industrial education and training; sick, pension, and benevolent funds; social and recreational facilities; and various other odds and ends. Some of the “experts” would also include joint consultation between workers and employers, but others are not so sure. In any case, it can quite easily be left out as it raises other issues with which we are not at present concerned.

Now, without going to the absurd extreme of admitting that all these things are unmixed blessings to the working class, nobody can deny that workers may derive benefit from some of them. For example, under this system of Capitalism where a worker has to go to work to make a profit for his employer, it is obviously better that he should be able to work, say, a machine, with comparative safety rather than be in constant fear and risk of having a limb amputated—or worse. Nor, going to the other extreme, is there any reason why a worker should refuse to join the works football team and take advantage of the playing fields and other equipment provided by his employers. The main issue is not that workers should refuse these things, but that they should be under no illusion about what they are provided for.

Have workers these illusions? Are they taken in by the employer’s concern for their working conditions? Or by the idea that they are all, workers and employers, just one big happy family, working together for the good of all? Do workers fall for these things as easily as they fall for the reforms and soothing syrup they get at election-times on the political field? No definite answer can be given to these questions, but the fact that employers are paying more and more attention to these ideas of “industrial welfare,” and the very fact that an out-and-out capitalist paper like the Financial Times can publish a document in favour of such schemes is an indication that considerable numbers of workers are taken in by them.

Why have the capitalist class been paying so much interest to “industrial welfare” during recent years? For two main reasons. First, for the sake of efficiency, and, second, to increase productivity. Socialists have been pointing this out ever since the early days of the Cadbury’s, with their schemes at Bournville, and Lord Leverhulme’s at Port Sunlight. Now, along comes the Financial Times, a source no defender of the capitalist system can question, and puts it in a nutshell for us.

First of all it provides us with Mr. R. R. Hyde, founder of the Industrial Welfare Society, an organisation set up during the First World War, now with 2,000 firms as active members. This is his contribution:
  “. . . the dividing line between what is done in the name of welfare and what is done in the name of efficiency is often very hard to draw; sometimes, in fact, it is impossible. One type of service or facility can only be looked on alternatively either as a contribution to welfare or as a contribution to efficiency. . . ."
After this comes Dr. L. Norman, President of the Association of Industrial Medical Officers, to deal with the medical angle. After expressing his surprise that “so little attention has been paid until recently to the health of the factory worker . . . the producer upon whom the success of all industry depends,” he goes on to review the various services provided by industrial doctors. On the need for giving all applicants for jobs a preliminary medical examination, he says:
  “. . . Correct placing of applicants . . . leads to a contented staff, fewer labour troubles, a reduced labour turnover, and a lowered sickness absence rate, all factors which indicate the morale—or lack of it—of a working group." (Page 2.)
And on the subject of accidents,
  “. . . An efficient accident service to deal promptly and effectively with accidents occurring at any time of day is essential, and the knowledge that this service is efficient promotes confidence in the workers.” (Page 2.) 
He ends his contribution on the following note:
  “. . . There was a feeling not so long ago that employees were indebted to the employer for providing the job; now managements are realising the fundamental debt owing to all workers who pull their weight in advancing the firm towards its objectives. Employees are entitled to the best possible in working conditions; a good medical department is not only something which firms owe their employees, but a profitable investment in human relations." (Page 2.)
The next article deals with canteens, and it is quite apparent that this aspect of the question has been tied up to the satisfaction of the employer, also. This is the “expert’s” opinion (Page 3):
  “. . . It is acknowledged to-day that a debit balance on the canteen profit-and-loss account is not necessarily a sign of failure. The unseen profits of a satisfactory canteen are in the health and efficiency of the workers as well as in the pleasant atmosphere and good reputation of the factory."
Finally, we, are treated to the opinions of a Managing Director, the most frank and outspoken of the lot. To the question, “Does it pay?” he answers:
  “I am always sceptical of claims that the introduction of this or that change has resulted in a phenomenal increase in productivity, but, during the four post-war years, the productivity of my factory (administrative staff included) has increased by about 28 per cent. above the figure for 1937-38, our best previous year. This increased productivity has not been due to new machinery because we have not yet been able to instal any of consequence. The one big change to account for the improvement has been the steady intensification of our welfare activities. I think that 28 per cent. increase in productivity is a fair answer to the question, ‘ Does it pay? ’ As a business man I think that this is the first answer. We do not find it difficult to get new workers (usually relations and friends) and we don't tend to lose them. Wilful absenteeism and bad timekeeping are negligible. The people work hard and do good work. In every material sense we are better off than we should be if we didn’t devote so much time and effort to welfare work.” (Page 7.)
It will be noticed that our Managing Director, although he mentions the "spiritual” aspect in the next (and smaller) paragraph, answers, true to form, as a “business man first.” And he gives us the lowdown on industrial welfare when he says at the end of the article (our italics):
“And welfare is not merely a means to an end—it is also an end in itself.”
Stan Hampson

Science and Socialism (1950)

From the May 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world learned recently of the premature death of Professor Harold Laski, the well-known Labour Party writer.

One London daily stated that Professor Laski represented Scientific Socialism in the Labour Party— as against the “Socialism of to-day" of the Webbs, Attlee and Cripps.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always held that with the discovery of the law of commodity value and the materialist conception of history, Socialism ceased to be Utopian and became scientific. At no time has the Labour Party supported these views. Their economics have always been muddled Liberalism leading to Nationalisation and Control of Finance theories. Indeed, for many years, the phrase “Scientific Socialists” was hurled at the Socialist Party as a term of abuse signifying inability to grasp “practical” details.

What then is Science? Science is the Latin word for knowledge. Science is just a knowledge of things which really exist.

The stupendous mass of knowledge acquired during the last one hundred years by the so-called “scientific method” has entirely exploded most of the previous “knowledge” believed by the ignorant.

The word “Scientific” has acquired a connotation almost like that of “royal” or “holy” in years gone by. Almost everybody has gone “scientific” and we have Christian Science, Psychic Science, Economic Science (meaning how to run a shop), “scientific” footballers, boxers and politicians, and “scientific” astrologers, who can read in the stars the day the cost of living will fall.

What is the AIM of Science? If, by definition, Science is a knowledge of things which really exist its AIM must be—TRUTH. To find out the truth of things, this is the quest of Science.

But what is Truth? This question has been the main problem of metaphysics for centuries.

The Scientist has his answer. “The Scientist looks on all truth as relative and temporary,” says Richard Gregory in his excellent little history “Discovery.

This means that he welcomes criticisms, rejects preconceived ideas and gladly acknowledges the exception to the rule.

This, T. H. Huxley called the “great tragedy of Science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

It means that Truth is finite, there can never be perfection. Truth is NOT revealed, it is never complete, cannot be finished.

"When men believe that complete truth has been revealed to them they restrain enquiry and persecute those who fail to see the same light.” (Gregory, p. 26.) This is the difference between Religion and Science.

The deeply religious man, however tolerant, is always a potential persecutor.

Therefore, by its method of verification. Science presupposes that the "scientific mind" is not special. The results of one must be verified by others. Scientific truth is objective, not subjective. The scientific eye looks out, not in.. Scientific Truth is open to ALL eyes. It is not a vision limited to one, or a few minds. ALL are potentially able to see great scientific truths —and eventually, with training, to test them.

What then is the METHOD of Science? Since its sole AIM is TRUTH its method must be completely unbiassed. The scientist is utterly impartial, his sole concern is to establish, collect facts. He starts with nothing—but the problem.

Said Charles Darwin—
  "By collecting all facts which bore in any way on the variations of animals and plants under domestication and nature, some light might perhaps be thrown on the whole subject. My first note-book was opened in July, 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory, collected facts on a wholesale scale.” ("Discovery” p. 114.)
"Poor innocent,” said the villagers, crossing themselves, when returning from their work in the fields they saw J. H. Fabre, the incomparable French naturalist, glued to the same spot, watching a wasps’ nest, as he had been in the morning.

In the work in which he announced his discovery of planetary motions, which occupied twenty years of his life, Kepler wrote—
  ". . .  that for which I have devoted the best part of my life to astronomical contemplations, at length I have brought to light . . . the book is written . . . it may well wait a century for a reader, as God has waited six thousand years for an observer.” (P. 99.)
Newton spent twenty years in his calculations on the gravitational pull of the earth on the moon, just as Karl Marx spent 23 years at the house in Maitland Park Villas collecting facts on commodities.

Thus for the scientist the facts come first, theory afterwards. The scientist does not merely collect facts, when he has sufficient evidence he applies the vital spark of the human brain to the material, frequently producing a tremendous explosion in human knowledge like the discoveries of Galileo, Darwin, Newton, Priestly, Harvey and Marx, and many others.

For 1500 years the cultured world believed that planetary motion was circular, because Plato had said that the circle was the perfect figure. Kepler’s work enabled Newton to calculate the orbit as an ellipse, and the Comet, which previously had petrified whole populations with fright, became harmless.

Aristotle wrote that the mason-bee carried a small stone to maintain its line of flight; this palpable nonsense was inviolate till Fabre proved by observation that it used the stones to build its nest.

“He must be stopped,” said the College Fathers, when Galileo took two iron balls to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa and proved that, although one was heavy and the other light, they fell at the same speed. This exploded the theories of 2000 years.

For 200 years men sought to explain the development of Society by money—instead of money by Society, until Marx arrived with no axe to grind. He was not writing a policy for Charles II like William Petty or expounding the necessity of Free Trade like Adam Smith, but collecting facts first.

When he has the knowledge the scientist can formulate a theory.

“Those who are infatuated by practice without science are like the navigator who sails a ship without helm or compass, he never knows with certainty whither he goes. Practice must be built on theory. Study Science first, then follow the practice which is born of Science,” said Leonardo da Vince, the greatest practical mechanical engineer of all time.

This meticulous application is to be seen in Marx’s dissection of Value into its Relative and Equivalent forms in the first pages of “Capital.”

We see then that Science is a battle, and that Truth must be, as it has been, fought for, inch by inch.

The history of Science is studded with the names of those mighty pioneers whom Authority has persecuted for experimenting, Bruno, Galileo, Roger Bacon, Da Vince, Marx and others. The truth of Capitalism has been discovered, but “Sight is invisible till it strikes a material body.”

We are a party of exponents, whose aim is the highest expression of the workers' struggle—Socialism. In that struggle we shall encounter political biologists who will claim that Socialism is an impossibility. Geneticists who will want the poverty out-bred from the workers, Ecologists who will claim shortage as a law of nature. Psychologists who will attribute poverty to psychical maladjustment, and hosts of others.

Let every Socialist, however limited his opportunities, strive to gain more knowledge of the Science of Society-Socialism. In doing this he (and she) will convert himself from a number on the wall into a personality, and befit himself as a member of a new Society, whose ethics will be love of knowledge and whose precept will be voluntary labour.

We are the Working Class (2019)

From the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

I am, you are, we are. In fact the masses of the great majority of the global population are of the working class. Together we deliver everything that we need to survive, to live, to dream about even. We depend on each other often without realising it. Who likes a beer at the end of a day’s work? How often do we pause to consider from where and how did it come to be in front of us? The preparation of the soil, the sowing, planting, reaping and picking of the hops and the barley, the choice of water and the skill of how to combine these ingredients to satisfy us with a decent pint – and consider the making of the barrels, the storage and transport to the bars where the beer pipes and taps all need taking care of before we, as end users, can satisfy our thirst.

Consider your own work, or that of any other individual: however you arrive at your workplace, how many other workers were involved to enable you to get there? By car? It may seem that if the car is yours then you don’t need anyone else until it’s time for a service or routine fill up, but what about the design, the mining of the raw materials and all the individuals required for making the car? It’s possible that dozens, if not hundreds, of individual workers from different parts of the world had a role in producing the car that you call your own. The same holds for public transport with the addition of all the staff required for driving, ticketing, servicing, cleaning, refuelling and timetabling. So many fundamental functions performed throughout our daily lives without a thought for the integral part played by so many others, most of whom we’ve never met.

I well remember the sixties in industrial South Yorkshire working for 2s 6d an hour in a toy shop during the Christmas break from University. It seemed grossly unfair to me that a ‘regular’ girl eighteen months younger than me earned less for doing the same job. Then there was the factory work during the longer summer break. Sorting peanuts from a fast-moving belt for two hour stretches followed by weighing two ounces of said peanuts onto a fast moving vertical machine, assembling cardboard boxes, filling boxes and so on, all for two-hour stretches. Hand up to visit the lav and don’t stay too long or you’d be in trouble. Here the women were also working for peanuts, but it was this or something similar they had to look forward to. I considered myself lucky as I planned ‘a better job’ later. Then I recall the brass foundry where muscles were greatly strengthened hurling the huge water valves we assembled onto the ground. On the opposite side of the aisle were the skilled men, toolmakers and the like and walking up and down all day were the men, usually immigrants on the lowest pay scale, pushing and loading trolleys non-stop day after day.

These were my introductions to working life after growing up hearing the stories of my father and grandfather as blast furnacemen, my five uncles, brothers who all started as coal miners, and our neighbours who were all engaged one way or another in the industrial sector, whether as labourers, skilled workers, office staff or management. If the women worked outside the drudgery of their own homes at that time the work was mostly shop work, hairdressing or cleaning. They worked at what they could find to improve standards at home or to help pay for a summer holiday as a family in a caravan by the seaside for a week or two.

Fifty years later
Fast forward fifty years or so and things have changed a great deal in some ways from those times but definitely not necessarily for the better. South Yorkshire now seems bereft of industry and manufacturing. There are plenty of call centres and warehousing it seems and all the towns have some kind of shopping mall, but production seems very limited – similar to what has and is happening in many parts of the developed world. Now bigger profit is much easier to achieve a long way from home. Developed countries long ago began looting and plundering the ‘undeveloped’ parts of the world for their own advantage and it seems that they are now reaching the top of their curve as they cause more and more misery to the millions of working-class people of the wider world. Companies open mega factories of clothing, electronics, computer, mobile phone or other assembly or manufacturing plants, and huge corporations make deals with foreign governments which involve emptying great swathes of land of people, working class people who, up till that time worked the land for themselves and their local communities. What we are witnessing here is on a scale our predecessors could only dream about. My point here is that we, the working class of developed countries, in large numbers, do not seem to be aware of what is being done by our own countries’ controllers to bring untold harm, deprivation, starvation and death to the working class population of a large part of the world, supposedly to provide us with our needs and wants.

Socialism is a universal concept. You, me, we – we’re dependent on one another, all of us. We absolutely cannot do without each other and this message has to be driven home until it is understood by more and more of our fellow workers. It doesn’t matter what your take home pay is, whether you get it weekly or monthly, it’s nothing to do with the size of your house, the make of your car, whether you receive some form of benefit, whether you can afford a holiday or not. Skilled or unskilled, male or female, indoors or out, working from home or travelling abroad, fulfilling work or crap job – if you can’t continue paying your debts or feed yourself and your family without that wage coming in then you are undoubtedly of the working class – welcome! Academic, blast furnaceman, chemist, doctor or dry cleaner, librarian, miner, nurse, window cleaner, youth worker, zoo keeper… Fill in the gaps, there’s unlimited scope.

Another question we could ask each other and ourselves is about how many individuals we know who are not working class. I mean know personally. The likelihood of bumping into one of the capitalist class on the way to work or at the pub or restaurant we choose, at the gym or football match, at the hairdressers or the supermarket. Yes, we know of them by name or reputation but do we ever get a chance to put our views and questions to them? The people we see every day are, whether they know it or not, working class. We have more in common with them than not and we have to get used to it. Globally and locally we need each other and if we are going to reach the goal of socialism we need to engage at every opportunity.

As for the better job idea I had five decades ago, and this is relevant, well, of course, it didn’t turn out as expected. I involved myself with various occupations to put off the day when I would ultimately begin work as a teacher – but fast forward again to the decision to retire early when my long-term partner was medically discharged from work. This decision was first and foremost related to income and mortgage. As Socialist Party members domiciled overseas we are economic migrants. We can’t afford to live in the country of our birth – yes, this is thought to only be happening the other way round, with much noise and opposition to ‘these foreigners’ taking our jobs in the UK and other European countries.

And so much of this misplaced noise comes from large sectors of the working class themselves who fail to understand that the cause of the problem is not the ‘foreign’ working class at all but the real cause, the real enemy is the capitalist system with its focus purely on profit and absolutely no regard for negative effects on workers wherever in the world they live.

Now, living in a ‘foreign’ land for more than twenty years life seems to revolve around tea. Our neighbours recognise us for who we are and we them. A rural area with mostly small farm plots where life is generally hard. Called into the tea house as we pass by, conversation soon turns to the economy. Stories are legion – the high price of tractor fuel, the rock bottom price for lemons this year, the cost of buying in straw and extra silage for the cows, the increasing price of general, necessary foodstuffs not grown by themselves, another hike in the cost of electricity. As we finish our second or third glass of tea and prepare to leave there’s always someone at the table ready to tell us, ‘that’s capitalism you know!’

Our world is a very big place. Our world is also a very small place. Understanding ‘the other’ is a vital cog in the wheel of bringing us all closer together, to recognise the absolute need of the workers of our world to achieve our common aims together. Different languages, different colour skin, different cultures, an amazing tapestry of humanity of which we are all a part.

Radical World History from Below (2019)

Book Review from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his A Radical History of the World (Pluto Press, 2018), described as ‘a history of the world from below’, Neil Faulkner is at pains to point to the endeavours of the ‘common people’ and to highlight the many historical examples of class resistance by the masses to their oppression. Most of this class struggle was of course unequal and a significant amount of the narrative tells stories of ferocity, atrocity and murder against the poor, weak and powerless by the wealthy, strong and powerful. At the same time the author makes it clear that history has also had (and has) other significant interacting drivers, in particular cumulative technical advance and struggles between rival ruling classes for control of surplus wealth, leading to wars and invasions on an ever increasing scale. So we are told how in Iron Age China, as the Qin rulers fought for supremacy over the Zhou dynasty, after one battle, 100,000 prisoners were beheaded and the King of Qin adopted the title of ‘Divine Emperor’. The Roman Empire is described as ‘a predatory imperial system of robbery with violence’ in which ‘the Roman ruling class seized by force the surplus, labour and means of production controlled by foreign ruling classes’.

The necessarily ‘broad sweep’ method that a 500-page book seeking to cover the whole of human history has to adopt is highly successful here in conveying how those drivers acted on human development and moved humanity through various phases from a relatively stable hunter-gatherer society to today’s advanced industrial capitalism. So, for example, it tells us how, once settled agriculture became widespread as a way of living and produced a surplus, society became hierarchical and private property, class domination and power structures were established based on power and wealth differences. At the same time it illustrates the immense complexity of the development of class societies in different parts of the globe, while also pointing to their similarities, i.e. ‘the dominance of one class over another or others, the exploitation of a propertyless majority by a small, wealthy, propertied majority, this always seeming to be a permanent, unchanging and never-ending state of affairs’.

Oh dear
Perhaps inevitably the largest part of this book deals with more recent history, the history of capitalist development – first from the seventeenth century onwards in its mercantile form and then moving to its industrial phase in the nineteenth century. The story of the coming of this ‘new world order dominated by the market and the profit motive’ is narrated with the succinctness and clarity characteristic of the way the whole book is written.  And the ‘history from below’ element of this book comes much more to the fore in the author’s perspectives on the development and events of modern capitalism. He sees many of the twists and turns of the last 200 or so years as driven, at least in part, by mass action of the dispossessed, from the French Revolution (‘driven forward by mass action from below’), through the ending of the First World War (‘ended by the revolutionary action of millions of workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants across Europe’) and the events of the Bolshevik revolution (‘the Russian revolution had shown how the working class might lead a socialist revolution in a predominantly peasant country’) to what are seen as revolutionary events that could potentially have led to the working class taking power and to ‘successful Socialist revolutions’ in various parts of the globe since the second world war (i.e. Hungary 1956, France 1968, Chile 1972, Portugal 1974, Spain 1976, Iran 1979, Eastern Europe 1989).

Oh dear.  Socialist revolution needs mass understanding of the class nature of society and in none of those places at those times is there any evidence that such understanding existed. Struggle there may have been, but it was struggle to cast off one brand of ruler or way of running capitalism for another (‘new rider, same mule’, as the writer says of the post-revolutionary order in nineteenth century Latin America). This is a pity, since this book shows profound knowledge and understanding of the nature of capitalism (‘capitalism is an irrational and dysfunctional system. Crisis is never far away. Boom and slump are its natural rhythms’), of its class basis (‘a minority continue(d) to enjoy grotesque wealth while millions live(d) in poverty’), and of the potential for modern technology to produce an abundance of goods and abolish human want (‘humanity is capable of producing unprecedented amounts of wealth’). It also makes real the enormity of capitalism’s wars in terms of people killed, lives destroyed and environmental ruin. Yet it is somehow stuck in the idea that a decent alternative society to replace capitalism can be brought about by a disgruntled but not initially class-conscious majority being led by a class-conscious ‘leadership’ into ‘explosive’ mass action to seize state power and this majority quickly developing that consciousness as a result. This is what informs the author’s view about what he sees as ‘near misses’ in revolutions in the twentieth century (Russia, France, Spain, etc.). In reality the society to replace capitalism, though it needs to come from mass action from below, can only happen when the masses first understand the need for it and collectively take action to bring it about. So, though the author has no illusions about the horrors Stalinism visited on the Russian people (‘to satisfy the pace of state capitalist accumulation, the working class, the peasantry and the national minorities had to be pulverised into submission’), it is hard to regard the views he expresses on the Russian revolution and other uprisings elsewhere in the world since as other than romantic illusion.

So, in the later pages, we have less a history and more an ever so eloquent manifesto – broadly speaking a Trotskyist one. Yet, even so, from a socialist point of view, there is a vast amount to recommend in this book. Its consistently pithy characterisations of important truths are a joy to read (‘capitalism is a system of competitive capital accumulation driven by profit and the enrichment of the few’; ‘the struggle for reforms is a Labour of Sisyphus, in which that which has been won by … one generation can as easily be lost in the next.’; ‘the stability of any class society … requires that the masses be divided among themselves’; ‘the Chinese … have the worst of both worlds: the drudgery, poverty, and insecurity of free market capitalism, and the authoritarianism of a Stalinist police state.’). It defies the tenets of conventional history, slices through complexity and challenges the idea that historical judgement has to be ‘neutral’. And it also quotes a marvellous line from Rousseau: ‘You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody’.
Howard Moss

Rear View: Chronic poverty (2019)

The Rear View Column from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chronic poverty

Marx (Groucho, that is) said: ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.’ The same applies to reformism.

1965: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) formed.

1997: UK had the highest rate of child poverty in the industrialised world

1999: Blair: ‘Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty forever, and it will take a generation. It is a twenty-year mission, but I believe it can be done.’

2019: ‘DWP child poverty figures a ‘national scandal’ as 4.1million kids are hit’ (, 28 March).


This ‘problem’ existed long before the CPAG and many other charities came into being and will persist for another 50+ years if we continue to address symptoms rather than the underlying disease. Oscar Wilde expressed this well: ‘their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible’ (The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891). The same Daily Mirror article informs us: ‘The Child Poverty Action Group warned the Tories’ cruel benefit freeze will plunge another 100,000 children into poverty by 2023-24.’ Elsewhere (, 15 March) we are reminded that parallels with 19th century poverty are not unwarranted. ‘Britain’s poverty crisis has seen children arrive at school with holes in their shoes and worn-out trousers, while some as young as 11 feel they have to work to provide food for their family, headteachers have warned. School leaders are providing clothes, food and sanitary products to disadvantaged pupils.’

Political placebos

Prescriptions and pronouncements from politicians should be treated with the contempt they deserve. ‘Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd admitted the figures were “disappointing”. She told MPs: “I have acknowledged that today’s statistics are disappointing and I am highlighting that there is more to be done, both in terms of other services around benefits and in terms of my engagement with the Chancellor.” She added “no one in government wants to see poverty rise” and “we all came into politics to help people plot a path to a better life”‘ (, 28 March). Rudd and the other Mendacious Parasites do not serve us. Indeed, their disdain is often obvious. ‘A group of homeless people were kicked out of public tunnels next to the Houses of Parliament. One man claimed he was told by a police officer that an MP had complained about their presence. Two of the men who had been sleeping in the tunnels to keep warm told the Independent that Metropolitan Police officers ejecting them had cited section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824 – the 19th-century law which criminalises rough sleeping and begging. One man said a police officer had also mentioned clearing the tunnels, which connect Westminster Tube station to an entrance to parliament, “so the MPs can get to work”’ (, 26 March).

The socialist scalpel

Reformists and MPs, however well intentioned, serve the status quo here in the UK as do their counterparts worldwide. Too many poor? Let us have fairer wages. Only two minutes to midnight? Let the great leaders sign treaties. Are we drowning in plastic? Let us ban drinking straws. No more reformist rhetoric! Reforms can secure social stability: when the rule of capital appears to be under threat the ruling class is ‘only too glad to buy a prolonged armistice at the price of ever-repeated concessions to the working people’ (Engels). Capitalism is a worldwide system of war and want. After hundreds of years of reformism, both the problems of war and poverty, which most people consider to be rather important, are still major problems and are nowhere near solution. Those prescribing continuing medication when radical surgery is needed tell us that it is utopian to seek change which is not slow and gradual. We reply that we are in a hurry; we are not content with the way in which capitalism has been reformed and there are no reforms which could be offered that will distract us from the clear road ahead; we have a world to win and those who will not join us stand in our way.

Letter: Do ‘we’ trade? (2019)

Letter to the Editors from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I can’t see what’s so bad about a No Deal and the UK making its own trade deals with whoever it wants under WTO rules (Cooking the Books, April Socialist Standard). A focus on domestic production would be healthy. Why should we desire the import of products we can produce in the UK anyway? Cheapness has always been a Trojan Horse. It may be advantageous in the short-term to import cheap meat or cheap milk, for example, but in the long-term we will pay through the teeth for these items. If the UK loses its farming industry or its farming industry is drastically shrunk by cheap imports and we lose our ability to meet the UK demand for farming produce and we then become dependent on the importation of farming produce, we will see that produce spiral upwards in price. We only need to import what we can’t produce in the UK. So maybe we need to trade less with the world and promote domestic production. However, the profit imperative in the economy disallows for this focus on domestic production. If only we could analyse the nature of global economics as we have with Brexit then we might realise there are better alternatives to globalisation and the insane pursuit of profit rather than production for human need.

Louis Shawcross, 
Hillsborough, Northern Ireland.

Who do you mean by ‘we’?  You write as if everyone living in Britain is part of a community sharing a common interest. It’s not just you of course. This is how most people at the moment see things, referring to Britain as ‘we’. ‘We export this’, ‘We import that’. ‘We spend too much on defence’, ‘We let in too many immigrants’ and such like are frequently heard in political conversation. But we, the many, the majority class of wage and salary workers, don’t do any of these things. It’s ‘they’, the few, who own and control productive resources, who do. Everywhere, and not just in Britain, society is divided into this few and the rest of us whose interests are antagonistic to each other. It’s them and us, and them versus us and vice versa. There is no common ‘we’.

So, it wouldn’t be us, the many, who would be trading on WTO terms. We are not part of the EU customs union or its single market. They are, and they’ve got into a huge mess since a referendum vote to leave the EU as their political representatives in parliament can’t agree on what this means.

The leading advocates of ‘leaving on WTO terms’ wouldn’t agree with the trading arrangements you are proposing that Britain outside the EU should adopt. They are ‘free traders’ who want more not less globalisation. The more dogmatic of them want to remove all tariffs on imported goods, i.e. abolish all protection for home industries including agriculture, even though this is not practical politics. But what you propose isn’t either, precisely because, as you hint at, this would be incompatible with what was most profitable for British capitalism as a whole. It would divert investment away from industries that could make higher profits from producing goods for export. It would raise the cost of living for workers and so mean that employers would have to pay higher wages, so undermining the competitiveness of both exports and home-produced goods.

There are no national solutions to the problems capitalism causes as capitalism is a single world-wide system. No one country can cut itself off from this or escape from the pressures of the world market. People may think up ideal trade policies and governments may try to implement them but capitalism has its own relentless logic of ‘profits first, otherwise economic downturn’ to which governments must ultimately submit.

In socialism, which too will be a world-wide system, materials and finished products will of course still be moved from one part of the world to another but this won’t be on the basis of trade, where what is moved to one part has to be in exchange for something of equal monetary value from that part. It will simply be a question of goods being moved from where they are produced to where they are needed. Logistics will replace buying and selling and profits won’t come into it. It is only on this basis that production can be freed, as you want, from the insane pursuit of profit and be geared instead to meeting human need–Editors.