Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Some Lessons from Spain (1937)

From the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the war clouds are fast gathering in Europe, the Spanish Civil War continues its devastating course, taking heavy toll of working-class lives and spreading ruin and misery over Spain.

Although six months have passed since it commenced the murderous attack of Franco and his international cohorts has not yet accomplished its object. While the avowed aim of Franco and his supporters is to keep the old order in Spain as it was the indiscriminate bombing and artillery barrage of towns is fast wiping out the objective evidence of old Spain.

We are accustomed to the sanctimonious reverence of the ruling class for the art treasures of the past but the savage methods of the Franco group shed a dear light on the object that inspires the real reverence of the property owner. Pictures, statuary, fine buildings, cathedrals and all the other irreplaceable relics of the artistic passion of the past weigh as nothing in the balance against the possible loss of revenue to the erstwhile rulers of Spain. And so it has always been and always will be while one set of people see an opportunity of living on the backs of the rest of the population. .

Again and again we are given evidence of the emptiness of the protestations of the property owners and their mouthpieces when an opportunity comes to give effect to their views. When war is called for, or resistance of any kind, by the rulers of society then priest and politician will find reasons why the war should be prosecuted or workers should be prepared to lay down their lives for a State that is not theirs.

Last October Dr. Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at a Diocesan Conference at Canterbury, urged that complete pacificism was harmful as it left the State at the mercy of violent men. The object of his remarks was to impress upon his audience and the world at large that a defensive war was a just war. As all combatants in war claim that they are on the defensive (witness the last European War, and the statements of all leading European spokesmen now that they all want peace) this is equivalent to supporting any war on behalf of capitalism.

In the course of his remarks the Archbishop is reported as having put forward the following points: —
  The use of force of the sword by the State was the ministry of God for the protection of the people. If that were true of the State in its domestic relations, it was equally true for the State in its international relations. It all depended upon the motive or intention with which it was used.
 If the force of an army were used for national aggression or acquisition or self-assertion it was wrong. If it were used for the defence of the people it was right.
(News Chronicle, 13/10/36.)
In Spain a democratically-elected government has been subject to the onslaught of a rebellious military and land-owning clique who have carried out the attack with extreme brutality and have enlisted in their support native tribesmen as well as thousands of alleged volunteers from aggressive dictatorships. As far as we are aware neither Dr. Lang nor his friends have taken any practical step to see that aid was given to a government that was employed in just that defensive action for which he pleaded. Are we to assume that in reality Dr. Lang was simply giving his blessing to the rearmament projects of the British Government and thus fulfilling his function as a pillar of capitalism? It certainly looks as if this were the case.

The agony of Spain is only a matter of concern for the capitalists of other nations if any of them have interests involved or if there is any prospect of gain by fishing in troubled waters. For the rest it is a matter of minor importance to them that thousands of Spanish workers are losing their lives just because landowners and the Catholic Church want to keep intact their privilege to rob the wealth-producer of the product of his toil.

One of the spokesmen of the Spanish Government recently said that over a million lives had already been lost in the present civil war. It is a sad thought that in spite of the many and bitter lessons during the last hundred years, in which millions of workers’ lives have been sacrificed, the mass of the workers of the world still fail to grasp the fact that capitalism offers nothing to them but toil and misery, and they still turn away from the Socialist message. Yet, in the advanced countries at any rate, the workers produce and distribute the wealth upon which all live. While the capitalists control this wealth they use their position to live in idleness and luxury. The workers can, and some day will, obtain control of the means of production. When they do so they can banish want and economic misery and the bestialities of the struggle between classes. The lesson is a simple one and so easy to learn if only workers will look facts in the face.

Letter: Is Socialism Possible? (1937)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter was received before the abdication of Edward VIII but has been held up owing to pressure on space.
November 8th, 1936.

To the Chairman and Members of the Editorial Committee, The Socialist Standard,

42, Great Dover Street, S.E.l.


In your current (November) issue you quote from an article in The Daily Telegraph, of October, 19th, that a snatched victory at the polls would be utterly useless for the purpose of achieving Socialism, because the whole of the forces of capitalism, including the Crown, would successfully repel any such bluff.

With that statement of position you express your agreement, but, unless I am mistaken, within your expression of agreement lies the implication that if a victory at the polls were not a snatched victory, such victory would be quite good enough for the effectuation of Socialism

But is there one solitary Englishman who believes that to be the case ?

Real Socialism never can or will be achieved in this country for the very simple reason that Article 6 of the S.P.G.B.'s Principles of Socialism is no more a practical possibility in this country than it has proved to be in Spain. In fact, the position in this country is worse than it has proved to be in Spain, for to this country’s armed forces can be added the police forces, the aristocracisation of which (commenced under Trenchard) can quite certainly be taken as a deliberate policy of leaving any Socialist government nothing to fight with but words.

Any attempt at implementing the S.P.G.B.’s Principles of Socialism in this country would mean civil war. And can there be any questioning who would win it?
Yours fraternally,
P. P. M.

In the November issue we expressed our agreement with a statement made in the Daily Telegraph that the ruling class would be well able to prevent the overthrow of capitalism if it were to be attempted by a group coming into office through a snatched victory at the polls. This has always been the view of the S.P.G.B., and the various Labour and Popular Front Governments, led by men who professed to desire Socialism, have proved our view to be correct. The idea that a Labour Government, elected on a programme of pettifogging reforms and vague promises to introduce the millennium, could seriously menace capitalism is a matter for laughter. Most people recognise this to be true now that they have seen Labour Governments at work. The S.P.G.B. did not have to wait for practical examples to discover this for it arises out of the facts of the situation. In the last resort capitalism continues because capitalist parties (including some which masquerade as anti-capitalist) can go on getting the consent of the electorate for the maintenance of capitalism. That condition will continue until a majority understand Socialism, are agreed on fundamental Socialist principles, and are politically organised in the Socialist Party. Then, and only then, will the cunning appeals for the retention of capitalism fall on deaf ears.

We say that a snatched victory at the polls will be useless for Socialism and that much more is required, viz., a politically-organised Socialist majority. Having come into possession of the machinery of government that organised Socialist majority will be able to use the machinery of government, including the armed forces, for the overthrow of capitalism and establishment of Socialism.

To this our correspondent, “P.P.M.,” says no! But he evidently has not stopped to consider what it is the S.P.G.B. advocates, for he proceeds to refer to Spain as if there were some parallel between Spain as it is and England and other countries as they will be before a Socialist electoral victory becomes a possibility. For 34 years the S.P.G.B. has insisted on the need for a Socialist majority united in the Socialist Party. Did this exist in Spain ? So far as we know there was no party in Spain, among a very large number of parties, which advocated Socialism at all. The Spanish population were (and still are) divided into all kinds of antagonistic organisations: Conservative, Fascist, Monarchist, Catholic, Capitalist-Republican, Basque and Catalonian Home Rulers, Syndicalists, Anarchists, Communists, Trotskyists, Labourites, etc.

At the last election these numerous warring sections grouped themselves into three, one of which was the "Popular Front,” which got a majority of seats but received rather less than half the total of votes. The “Popular Front” was composed of at least half-a-dozen separate organisations normally at bitter enmity with each other and none of them Socialist. Did they fight the election asking for a mandate for Socialism? Of course they did not. Their leader, Azana, expressly and repeatedly affirmed his opposition to Socialism. They fought the election on a string of reforms and demands such as the release of political prisoners.

In other words, not one of the conditions which Socialists say are essential before capitalism can be overthrown was in existence in Spain. Yet in face of this our correspondent, “P.P.M.,” says that Spain proves us wrong. What it does is prove that "P.P.M.” has not yet grasped what it is Socialists have been telling the working class all these years.

Let us approach the matter from another angle. "P.P.M.” believes that the small British ruling class will be able to get the armed forces to resist the organised, united demand of a majority of the population after the latter have constitutionally obtained possession of the machinery of government. He assumes, in other words, that the workers in the army, navy, police, etc., although coming in the majority of cases from families of Socialists, will back an unconstitutional movement of armed rebellion. This is so extraordinary an assumption, so contrary to experience and reason, that we must ask for the grounds on which “P.P.M.” reaches his conclusion.

Now that Spain has been disposed of we would also ask ”P.P.M.” to give us a single example of a ruling class in an advanced industrialised country being able successfully to resist the unanimous, united demand of a majority of the population.

There is one other aspect of the matter which needs mention. While it is the job of the worker in each country to organise to obtain control of the machinery of government there, the idea of Socialism in Britain alone in the midst of a capitalist world is illusory. Socialists, therefore, accept the necessity for concerted international action.

In conclusion, we would draw attention to the
position occupied by “P.P.M.” of believing that Socialism is impossible, whatever the method used. He writes: ” Real Socialism never can or will be achieved in this country.”

As no sane person can do other than oppose efforts to achieve the impossible, “P.P.M.” writes himself down as an opponent of Socialism.
Editorial Committee

They Hide the Truth (1937)

From the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Facts about Riches and Poverty
There are still many people who believe that we are mistaken when we charge the Press and politicians with deliberate suppression of information affecting the vital interests of the working class. Those who believe this should study the way in which newspapers and statesmen of repute conspire to hide from the workers the extent to which the ownership of wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small minority of the population. Never a week goes by without speeches articles and editorials assuring the workers that wealth is evenly distributed in democratic Britain, and that any inequalities there may be are lessening year by year. The huge fortunes of the Ellermans, Houstons, Nuffields and so on are dismissed as rare exceptions, which, anyway, are supposed to be vanishing because of the death duties levied on them when they pass to the heirs. All of this is a deliberate mockery of the truth. The journalists who write the articles—at least the better-informed ones—know that the truth is far different, but they have their living to get and must obey their proprietors' orders. Behind the journalists are the newspaper proprietors, the big business men and the politicians, who have no excuse for what they do except the excuse that if the workers knew the truth they would soon want to do something about it.

A case in point, just one out of many, is an editorial in the Daily Telegraph (January 16th, 1937) entitled " Britain a Nation of Capitalists." It is based on a familiar piece of camouflage which consists of presenting a huge-seeming figure of "small savings" totalling £3,000 million gathered together in the savings banks and other institutions, and saying that this belongs to the working class. As nothing is said of the far larger sum that belongs to the small number of big property owners there appears on the surface to be justification for the Telegraph's claim that wealth is "diffused through the whole community in quite considerable amounts."

Let us, then, look closely at the figures.

Even if they were accurate they do not mean much. For, as the Telegraph admits, the £3,000 million belongs to 15 million people, equivalent to £200 per head. The interest on £200 at 2½ per cent, (the rate paid in the Post Office Savings Bank) amounts to a mere £5 a year, less than 2s. a week. Yet it is on the strength of this 2s. a week that the Telegraph describes the wage-earners as a "nation of capitalists.” Moreover, the figures are not correct. The sum mentioned does not belong wholly or even mainly to wage-earners. As Mr. Hargreaves Parkinson points out in The Small Investor (Blackie & Son, Ltd., 1930) much of it belongs to relatively wealthy persons, professional men, small business men, etc. Then G. W. Daniels and H. Campion, in The Distribution of National Capital estimate that there are 17 or 17½ million persons aged 25 or over who own less than £100, the total, being well under £1,000 million or less than a third of the Telegraph's inflated figure.

Moreover, even if a larger figure is taken the glaring fact remains that it is only a tiny percentage of the accumulated wealth which belongs to the small minority who are the real owners of Great Britain. As Mr. Parkinson and many other investigators have shown, less than one-quarter of the population own between them nine-tenths of the accumulated wealth. They do not get from their investments a mere 2s. a week, but vast sums enabling them to live in luxury and idleness and yet accumulate fortunes running in some cases into 10 or 20 million pounds. The Telegraph, along with other papers, and along with the capitalist politicians, does not attempt to deny these facts. Instead it ignores them and merely presents part of the picture in a distorted form. The Telegraph writes of the savings of small investors but says nothing about the immensely-greater sum, £13,000 millions to £14,000 millions, owned by the 5,000,000 persons who own over £100. Particularly it does not mention the handful of 10,000 or 11,000 persons aged 25 and over who own £3,200 to £3,500 millions between them. Thus does capitalism lie and suppress in order to maintain itself in face of mass poverty.

Another piece of lying propaganda is the constant assertion that workers own large numbers of shares in public companies. Here, again, there is a part-truth in the statement, at least it is true that in most companies there are many shareholders who own only small blocks of shares. On the strength of this it is pretended by the defenders of capitalism that the shareholders are wholly or mainly wage-earners, and conveniently forgotten that even big investors habitually spread their investments over many companies, having only a comparatively small part in each. Even so, any proper examination gives a very different picture. Recently the Economist (December 5th, 1936) published an analysis of the shareholdings of ten big well-known companies, including Imperial Chemicals, Coats, Unilever. The figures show 442,720 shareholders (many of whom may be and are counted several times through having shares in more than one of the ten companies). The total number of shares or units of stock is 155,552,966, which makes the average holding £351 per person at par value. As many of the shares are now worth far above their original price, the present worth of the average is much more than £351, but even so the average holding would not appear very large. The significant part of the inquiry is, however, the further information as to the extent to which a few individuals own very large holdings of shares. A mere 193 shareholders hold between them 36,778,624 shares, that is about a quarter of the whole amount. These 193 shareholders are those who own upwards of 50,000 shares each. It was further found that 41.4 per cent. of the shareholders own less than 100 shares, 67.5 per cent, own less than 200, and 87.7 per cent, less than 500.

This is the true picture of capitalist monopoly—a picture the capitalists take care to hide from the working class. It need hardly be said that Germany, France, the British Dominions, etc., present a similar concentration of wealth. For example, the Journal of Electrical Workers of America (November, 1936) publishes figures brought out in a recent official inquiry concerning the great group of Bell Telephone companies. These companies make it their boast that their shares are widely held and that among the shareholders are large numbers of their own employees. The inquiry shows that there are, indeed, 657,465 shareholders, but the great majority of them own only very small amounts. There are 124,820 shareholders who are employees of the companies but their holding amounts to only 1,423,000 shares —an average of less than a dozen each! By contrast, at the top of the scale there are 957 wealthy individuals who own between them 3,156,803 shares, an average of 3,300 per person!

The lessons to be drawn are simple but important. The capitalists everywhere have an interest in hiding the facts of their own monopolistic ownership behind a screen of half-truths about the small shareholders. The workers have an interest in ending the system of society which rests on this class monopoly. In the meantime they have a duty to themselves in refusing to be deceived by the calculated misrepresentations of the capitalist Press.
Edgar Hardcastle

Snorts of derision (2019)

From the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month the papers had a field day with Michael Gove’s scandalous confession (forced by a new tell-all book) that he had done multiple lines of coke while as a journalist writing an article demanding tougher laws to stop the cocaine trade. The sheer Class A hypocrisy of this got right up everybody’s nose, as you would expect, so it seemed like poetic justice that he should be hoist on his own petard. It is truly a shocking thing to discover that politicians say one thing and do another. Who would have guessed?

But soon it emerged that virtually all of the Tory leadership frontrunners had indulged in one or more illicit drugs. Bojo snorted coke, but said he thought it might be icing sugar (imagine having a Prime Minister with his hands on nuclear codes who can’t even tell cocaine from icing sugar). Matt Hancock, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab all smoked weed although presumably not all at the same orgy. Jeremy Hunt had a cannabis lassi (jeez, what Indian restaurant does he go to and how can we book?). Not to be outdone on the exotic stakes, Rory Stewart smoked opium at an Iranian wedding. Most people would have settled for a slice of cake, Rory.

The fact that to date eight out of ten Tory leadership candidates had done illicit drugs tells you everything you need to know about how the ‘war on drugs’ is really progressing. Nobody, not the press, not the police, not even the Tory bigwigs who have imposed it on the rest of us, takes it seriously anymore.

Of course they all swore they hated the experience and that it was a terrible mistake. But this is surely wrong. Taking a drug is just a lifestyle choice. Taking a drug and then turning into Boris Johnson, now that’s a mistake. But then again, just look at the politicians who (claim they) haven’t taken drugs. Mark Harper anyone? Who he, you ask? Exactly. Sajid Javid? Well, the mesmerizingly handsome Home Secretary will only admit to the odd cigarette, but nobody could be that urbane, charming and charismatic and not be on something. Nigel Farage? He’s enough to make you take drugs.

When rapper Professor Green went to the House of Commons for a BBC documentary and asked former LibDem leader Nick Clegg why politicians never wanted to discuss drugs and legalisation, Clegg responded that the matter wasn’t deemed important enough (LINK). Doubtless the LibDems didn’t think it was important either but, desperate for any stray votes, Clegg happily spoke in favour of legalisation. Now that they’ve had something of a renaissance in the Euroelections owing to being the worst major political party in the UK apart from all the others, they might decide to roll back on that particular commitment.

Nowadays you can hardly walk through any inner-city street in the UK and not smell weed blowing in the wind. This will be all the young people trying to get high and forget how their future is being wrecked before their very eyes. Or else it’s young people doing what it takes to be the next local Tory candidate. Skin up, anyone?

50 Years Ago: Scotch Mist (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Scotland today it’s true that there is a struggle – as there is in England, Wales Ireland, or the rest of the world for that matter. But the struggle in Scotland is not, as the Scottish National Party would have us believe, the struggle for home rule, self-government, self-determination, or self anything. The struggle in Scotland, as in the rest of the world, is a class struggle: the struggle between the working class and the capitalist or owning class.

The SNP tell us, the workers, that independence from England and the control of our own purse strings will cure all our problems. What they do not seem to realise is that the problems they are going to try to solve are an integral part of the capitalist system, and history has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that within this system there is no satisfactory solution to these problems apart from Socialism.

The SNP talk about Scottish culture and the Scottish way of life. But in what way is the life of a Scottish wage slave basically different from that of an English, an American, or for that matter a Russian wage slave? There is no basic difference in the way of life of the world’s working class because we all suffer from the same problems such as poverty and insecurity. Independence from England will not cure the poverty and insecurity of the Scottish workers, because there will still be the wage labour and capital relationship.

There is no truly independent country in the world, because international capitalism has made sure of this, and our own experience here in Britain, especially since 1964, should have brought it home to us. The past few years should have shown us just how independent Britain is, when foreign ‘bankers’ tell the British government how it must spend money, and how it must not spend money, in order to keep the international capitalist class happy.

(From the Socialist Standard, July 1969)

For the few not the many (2019)

The Cooking the Books Column from the July 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article headed ‘Why is the City falling for Comrade McDonnell? (Times, 11 May) Sky News Economics Editor Ed Conway made a shrewd point:
‘Despite promising to govern for the many not the few, some senior Labour insiders have had an epiphany: unless they get the few on board they may struggle to govern at all.’
The Labour Party, under long-time left-wingers Corbyn and McDonnell, may employ the rhetoric of the many against the few, but it has no intention of abolishing the few. In fact, in the event of a Labour government, the few would continue to own and control the means of production in the form of profit-seeking private enterprises. There is not even any intention to turn them from shareholders into government bondholders by a state take-over of ‘the commanding heights of the economy’, as Labour left-wingers used to advocate. These will remain in private capitalist hands.

So, a future Labour government would be governing in the context of a capitalist economy dominated by private enterprises. This was Conway’s point. It means these can’t be ignored. They will continue to be those who decide what is produced, when and where. And their decisions will be motivated by the consideration of what is profitable or not.

Corbyn and McDonnell will have to take this into account. They will have to allow them to continue to make profits and avoid doing anything that might interfere too much with this. If they don’t avoid this, they will provoke an economic downturn as the private owners stage an investment strike, refusing to produce what can’t be sold profitably. That will provoke dissatisfaction amongst the electorate who will kick the government out, at least unless it changes its economic strategy and accepts that profit-making has to come first.

This has happened so often with Labour and similar left-wing governments in other countries that it can almost be said to be one of the economic laws of capitalism: that any government which disrupts profit-making will provoke an economic downturn. Unless Corbyn and McDonnell do what Neil Kinnock once cynically called getting their betrayal in first – by declaring that they won’t harm the profit-making of the few (which is what ‘Comrade McDonnell’ might be doing on his visits to the City) – this will be their fate. In government, it will just be a matter of time before they come to accept this or get booted out.

But this is to jump the gun. In the present state of politics, while Labour might emerge from an election as the largest party in the House of Commons, a Labour majority there seems much less likely. There is more chance of a Labour minority government propped up by the Liberals and/or the Scots Nats. This would mean that any pretence of adopting anti-capitalist measures will be dropped. The SNP want an independent Scottish capitalist state while Vince Cable, the outgoing leader of the Lib Dems, has made his support for capitalism explicit:
‘Capitalism is being questioned in Britain more intensely than for decades. Some want to destroy it. Others believe that it is the only economic system which works, but want to reform it. I am in the latter camp’ (City AM, 14 May).
Corbyn and McDonnell are too, even if they don’t admit it. Reforming capitalism to make it work for the many always fails for the simple reason that, as a profit-making system, it can only work for the few.