Monday, October 21, 2019

Up in arms (1971)

From the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the success of a movement is to be judged by the amount of popular misconception about it, then Women’s Liberation Movement have almost won. Discontented women have traditionally been a target for lewd contempt from gentlemen, and any dissatisfaction with their social conditions is often treated as a projection of sexual frustrations. Thus any woman who has ambitions above being a shorthand typist at work, a housewife at home, or a sexual vehicle in bed, is liable to be dismissed as a shrivelled spinster, or a hairy lesbian, or at any rate someone in need of a good, cleansing orgasm.

It was this sort of contempt which gave such licence for the maltreatment of the Suffragettes, who could be kicked and punched and mauled by the police and subjected, by the gentlemen of London, to such indignation as would under other circumstances have earned a court appearance for indecent assault. When the last Miss World contest was disrupted by a few Women’s Lib members Bob Hope, who is not a famous anthropologist or psychiatrist or sociologist, but who was earning a few bucks as compere to the flesh parade, could attribute the incident to the only possible cause that the demonstrators were junkies. Of course, Hope was in trouble; his gag writers had not supplied him with material for such an eventuality.

So how frightening are Women’s Lib? Trembling, the Socialist Standard went along to one of their meetings—apart from one very old man, the only unaccompanied male in the room. We looked around but found none of the obvious lesbians we had been promised. There were very few unmarried girls there and one of them was in any case a schoolgirl. What there were at the meeting were plenty of trendy young wives and mothers—articulate, angry and, since they think they are suppressed, underprivileged and exploited (as indeed they are, but more of that later) rather obsessive.

It was an amateurish affair—conspicuously so, with the projector not working and when it did the picture went far enough off the screen to make it difficult to follow. The speakers were stuck on their inferior status as wage slaves and what was billed as an open forum soon dissolved into several shy discussion groups. The girls served tea and biscuits. The one professional touch was a table flogging contraception—pamphlets, models, devices, posters—which was what the meeting was supposed to be about.

This amateurishness contrasted with the movement’s professional techniques in other activities. They have, for example, shown how to get quick, plentiful publicity; their protests are thoughtfully aimed (the Miss World rumpus, and the project to rewrite fairy stories, were little short of strokes of genius) and the posters and handbills advertising their national demonstration last month were good professional jobs.

Whatever criticism we may have of them, Women’s Lib represents an impetus to the glacial movement of ideas. It is impossible not to agree with some of their attitudes. We must all feel sick at the commercial exploitation of sexual appeal and it says a lot about capitalist society and women’s position in it that this exploitation is so often a women’s sexuality and not a man’s. Who can say that they were wrong about Miss World? One of the demonstrators there later wrote in their magazine Shrew of what she had said, amid the uproar, to three of the beauty queens:
 I managed to say we weren’t against them we were for them, but against Mecca and their exploitation. “Come on, Miss Venezuela, we’re on” and the trio disappeared down the corridor.
The relevance of Women’s Lib is that, although their ideas are by no means original, one of the prejudices which must disappear as property society is ended is the one which says that some human beings are by virtue of their sex doomed to a lower, less privileged social position. In spite of all the changes since the New Women were pilloried as mannish ogres, that prejudice is still in existence in one form or another. At present most women are as ready to accept their lower standing as most men are to impose it upon them. Perhaps, if they begin to question their position, they will become that much readier for the idea that privilege based upon property rights is even more noxious—and more fundamental.

Women’s Lib can produce a forest of statistics to support their case that women are deprived and suppressed. In October 1969 the average earnings of women in full time employment were 47 per cent those of men—and the gap is widening. Women get the worst, most boring and repetitive jobs. If they have children they are doomed to spend years with their heads in the nappy pail while their husbands are out in the big, exciting world of wage slavery. Ask them why they are so worked up about getting onto the same level of employee exploitation as their husbands and they point out that their economic standing conditions their social position.

But here they do not adequately meet the point. The present arrangement exists not because of any prejudice against women; rather it is the other way round. The priorities of capitalism have made the prejudices which, once they exist, are themselves a priority; little girls are given dolls and frilly clothes to condition them to accept the prejudices and the whole thing soon becomes a profitable field in its own right. When they grow up, the little girls are excluded from some jobs not because of their sex but because from the employers’ point of view it is a better prospect to employ men. Recently, for example, British European Airways stated that it is not their policy to take on women pilots, no matter how qualified or experienced they are. A Tory MP complained about this discrimination but got the point of it:
. . . a girl may get married and pregnant—or the other way round—and the airline would lose an investment of £10,000.
Although most of the jobs which are closed, or restricted, for women are not that costly, the MP was making a fair statement of the sound, solid, sensible reasons which capitalism has for its discrimination in employment, whether against women or mental defectives or cripples—or even against wholesome men who have simply tended to change their employer more than average. We—men and women—are here up against the fact that workers are not employed as a favour to them or as an act of natural justice. They are employed with the idea of producing surplus value for their masters. There is a distinct risk that a woman who has had an expensive training will fail to produce the surplus value and will produce babies instead.

Women’s Lib’s answer is to make the training and the employment profitable; they campaign for free abortion and contraception on demand, and for free 24 hour nurseries so that a woman who has a baby will not be out of work for too long. Like all other reformers, they accept the cause of a problem while rejecting its effects. And what does this mean for their dignity? What does it mean, that a woman should have an abortion to keep a well paid job?

Again, why do Women’s Lib go for problems which are experienced only by working class women and say that these are women’s problems rather than working class ones? No female member of the capitalist class has to worry about the effect of childbirth on her earning capacity. She can have as many children as she likes and, since she can afford a 24 hour nursery all to herself, she can also carry on an interesting, rewarding occupation. Such women do not have to wait for the Pill for their sexual freedom; expensive medical attention took care of that along with everything else. Women’s Lib are tackling problems which will end only when the working class end, when class society is finished.

In the meantime, they do their cause no service by obscuring the facts about their place in capitalism. It is not surprising that this leads them into mysticism of the most confusing kind. One old American Suffragist, Alice Paul, recently said:
  It’s hard to find a woman who’s not for peace. The most fundamental way to work for peace is to work for power for women. (Life magazine).
Perhaps she has never heard of Golda Meir. Or perhaps never read Women’s Lib declarations that they support the ” . . . national liberation struggles in Palestine or Vietnam”, partly because “. . . all women are sisters and wherever they’re fighting we’re behind them” and partly because of “. . . an analogy between our own oppression as women and that of peoples oppressed as nations.”

It does not need a very practised political eye to discern here the signs of some busy boring from within. It shows through even the mysticism. Women’s Lib say they stand for the “transformation of society” although confessing to be ” . . . essentially heterogeneous, incorporating . . . a wide range of opinions and plans for action”. It seems that some monotonously familiar opinions and plans are at work within the movement and it is not difficult to guess what these elements mean when they talk about transforming society.

The aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement—a free association between men and women, pure of the contaminations of capitalist society—can be attained only when capitalism is no more. Conditioned as we are to capitalism’s degradations, it is difficult to imagine what the freedom of socialism will be like. How it will feel, for a woman and a man to associate only because they like and respect each other. How it will be when sexual activity is not a matter of conquest and possession, not a suppressive neurosis too easily exploited to sell cars, hair sprays, washing machines, suitcases, toothpaste, politicians—but a pleasure. To reach that we need all of us to be conscious of our role in society and the reasons for it. From there we will not be far from the will to change our roles by changing society.

Population and Pollution (1971)

Book Review from the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

If someone says that the world is now overpopulated, most people would take him to mean that the resources of the world were not sufficient to support the present population of the world. [In their recent book Population Resources Environment (W. H. Freeman. £4.20)] two American biologists, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, have convinced themselves that the Earth is, in their other words, “grossly overpopulated”; they compare the Earth to a spaceship which “is now filled to capacity and beyond and is running out of food”. They can only present some sort of case for this by using a definition of overpopulation that is slightly, but significantly, different from its normal meaning. They say:
 The question of how long the population is to be maintained is important. An area must be considered overpopulated if it is being supported by the rapid consumption of non-renewable resources. It must also be considered overpopulated if the activities of the population are leading to a steady deterioration of the environment  (our emphasis).
This would mean that any area which, for whatever reason, was rapidly using up its natural resources or polluting its environment would have to be considered overpopulated. For instance an area which was doing this through the misuse of technology rather than through pressure of population would still on the Ehrlich’s definition be “overpopulated”. So all the Ehrlich’s have to do to prove that there is “overpopulation” now is to point to the undeniable fact that there is pollution and that the world’s resources are being plundered. This of course is much easier than proving that the world really is overpopulated in the sense that the needs of its people can only be met by doing these things.

Apparently contradicting their main argument the Ehrlich’s believe that pollution can be abolished. “State and federal legislatures”, they say, “could, easily stop pollution if they wished to do so”. They use their knowledge as biologists to reject the view that food production can only be maintained by using pesticides like DDT.
 It is commonly claimed that only current patterns of chemical control stand between us and starvation or death from insect-borne disease. Nothing could be further from the truth; the alternatives are not death or the continued dosing of ourselves and our environment with chlorinated hydrocarbons.
The Ehrlich’s are unconcerned about the extra cost of their proposals to maintain the natural fertility of the soil. Speaking of the way sewage is at present wasted they say that “regardless of the cost, manure should be returned to the land to help build humus”. 

But when earlier they discussed suggestions for increasing world food production put forward by those they dismiss as “technological optimists”, they adopt a different standard: cost is the great objection.

After conceding that only a quarter of the land that could be used for farming is now actually under cultivation they say:
  But the term ‘potentially arable’ can be misleading. Actually, almost all the land that can be cultivated under today’s economic circumstances is now under cultivation” (our emphasis).
The costs of massive irrigation projects are “staggering” while desalting sea water “has serious economic limitations”. Discussing synthetic foods such as protein from petrol they concede that “theoretically, much if not all of the world’s protein deficit in the last two decades of this century could be made up with protein from such sources”, but go on to ask whether the purification costs might not make this “uneconomical”. Obtaining more food from the sea is dismissed on the grounds that most such schemes are “based on the premise that fish stocks will be harvested rationally” while “the history of fisheries so far gives little hope that rationality will prevail”.

These objections to the argument that mankind has the technical knowledge and ability to produce much more food are not technical at all (which is what they should be if the Ehrlich’s are to prove that the world is overpopulated in relation to technology) but economic. “Today’s economic circumstances”(that is, capitalism with its class ownership of the means and instruments for producing wealth and its profit motive) are a barrier to the production of abundance, but these circumstances can be changed by human action. Capitalism in fact gives rise to the illusion of overpopulation by creating an artificial scarcity of food. The Ehrlich’s have been taken in by this illusion.

They also argue that the supplies of certain key minerals like gold, silver, lead, zinc and tin are being rapidly exhausted. Again they dismiss proposals for overcoming this — the extraction of trace metals from ordinary rock and the sea as well as the mining of lower grade ores — on grounds of cost, but still do not deny that mankind could get metals from these sources if it had to. 

Later on in their book, again contradicting their main argument, the Ehrlich’s themselves advocate ways of conserving metals: the recovery of waste and scrap; making articles so that their materials can conveniently be used again; replacing planned obsolescence with articles made to last; disarmament (arms are surely not only a great waste of resources in the first place but could also be an important source of scrap metal for many years to come). One very important way of overcoming this problem which the Ehrlich’s do not discuss is the manufacture of plastics which as synthetic organic products do come from renewable sources.

As far as sources of energy are concerned the Ehrlich’s are forced to concede :
  It does not appear … that availability of energy itself will place a limit on population growth.
and have to fall back on the well-known fact that “all the energy used on the face of the earth … will ultimately be degraded to heat”. Ultimately, fortunately, is a long time and the Ehrlich’s make no attempt to show that it is near.

Although they claim that the world is now overpopulated and at one point predict “a drastic rise in the death rate”, they also believe that something can be done about it. They correctly point out that technology alone is not the answer since a changed attitude to its use is also required. They think that this is just a question of attitudes, but it is much more than this. What is required is a change in the basis of society so that the profit motive and vested interests no longer operate. Naturally birth control is their main plan for ending the overpopulation they mistakenly believe exists. Indeed they are driven by their mistake to seriously consider the propositions that the people of India should be left to starve and that it should be illegal to have more than two children. Socialists of course have no conscientious objections to birth control. It is absurd that knowledge about contraception and contraceptives, are banned in countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland where the Catholic Church still has political influence. But no more than technology can birth control (which is only a part of technology anyway) be the answer, for as long as capitalism lasts it could only palliate the artificial scarcity and organised waste that are built-in to this system.

Apart from birth control the Ehrlich’s make a number of other suggestions for overcoming “overpopulation” some of which we have already mentioned. These other proposals amount to a call for an economic system that is not wasteful and that is not driven to go on plundering the world’s resources. They even wonder, as well they might, whether such a system would be compatible with capitalism:
  Marxists claim that capitalism is intrinsically expansionist and wasteful, and that it automatically produces a monied ruling class. Can our economists prove them wrong?
Capitalism, as a system geared to producing profits out of which those who own the means of production accumulate more and more capital, is quite incapable of serving human interests, mankind does have the technical knowledge to provide for much more than its present numbers. The problem is not overpopulation, but the underproduction and waste that are built-in to capitalism. The plundering and pollution of the world is not caused by modern technology but by its misuse in the service of profit. If the resources of the Earth, natural and man-made, belonged in common to all mankind they could be used in a conservationist and non-polluting way to provide for the needs of all. If overpopulation were ever to become a potential problem in a socialist world, then mankind also has the knowledge of how to control births.

The Ehrlich’s comments on political and economic matters are generally very simple, but oddly enough two of their ideas could only be realised in a socialist world; indeed they would be essential features of it. They call for some arrangement “which will permit all peoples to have access to the basic needs of adequate food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care, regardless of the economic value of their productivity.” Again in discussing how to preserve the world’s resources and environment they advocate the establishment of what they call “world commons” and a “comprehensive Planetary Regime” that could control “the development, administration, conservation and distribution of all natural resources, renewable and non-renewable.”

This book is one of a number that have been published recently claiming that pollution is due to overpopulation but, as we have seen, it fails to prove its case.
Adam Buick

Aspect: The Rate of Profit (1971)

The Aspect column from the April 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rate of profit measures the return on invested capital over a given period and is usually expressed as a percentage. So, if a capital investment of £ 100,000 turns over in a year and the profit is £20,000 then the rate of profit is 20,000/100,000 or 20 per cent per annum.

If a capitalist was starting from scratch he would have to use some of his original £100,000 to buy a factory building and to equip it with machines. He would then have to buy raw materials and pay for electricity to power the machines. Finally he would have to use some of his capital to hire workers and pay their wages. Let us assume that the factory, the machines, the raw materials and the electricity cost him £80,000 and that his wages bill comes to £20,000.

Marx isolated the capital invested in hiring the workers because, the only source of new value being the exercise of labour power, this was the part of the capital which increased to provide free for the capitalist a profit, or surplus value, of in this case £20,000. Marx called this part the variable capital (v). The other part invested in the factory, machines, etc. was just as essential to production but its value was only transferred to the final product without any change in its size. Which was why Marx called it constant capital (cc). There are various relations between total capital (C) and its components:
s/C or s(cc + v) is the rate of profit
s/v is the rate of surplus value
cc/v is the organic composition of capital
The organic composition of capital expresses in value terms the technical relationship between the productive apparatus and the number of workers needed to operate it, what academic economists would call the degree of capital intensity.

We will assume that in the second year our capitalist re-invests all of his £20,000 profit. If there has been no technical progress he would divide it as previously, using £16,000 as new constant capital and £4,000 as new variable capital. Assuming that the rate of surplus value is unchanged at 100 per cent, his profit will be £24,000 in that year and the rate of profit 24,000/120,000, still 20 per cent.

But assume that there had been technical progress and that he only needed to use £1,000 as new variable capital and so could use £19,000 as new constant capital (this is only an example; we are assuming here an unrealistically fast rate of technical progress). The organic composition of the total capital would rise but, with the rate of surplus value remaining the same, the rate of profit would fall to 21,000/120,000 or 17½ per cent.

So, insofar as technical progress raises the organic composition of capital it reduces the rate of profit. As labour power is the only source of surplus value and as the amount of surplus value depends on the amount of variable capital, if the share of v in total capital falls (and if s/v remains constant) then the rate of profit must fall. This spectre of the rate of profit falling as the stock of constant capital grew worried the classical economists Adam Smith and Ricardo and their successors like John Stuart Mill. They foresaw that, if this went on, the profit-motivated capitalist system would soon reach a state of chronic stagnation.

Marx approached the problem from a different angle. He wanted to know why the fall in the rate of profit had in practice been so slow. There must be, he deduced, some counteracting influences and, using the labour theory of value, was able in Chapter XIV of Volume III of Capital to work out what these influences must be.

Now, what does technical progress mean besides a growing capital intensity? Surely an increase in productivity as machines replace human muscle power. Applied to the machine-making industry this would mean that more machines could be produced in a given time so that the value of each of them would fall. This effect Marx called “cheapening the elements of constant capital”. Academic economics calls it “capital saving”.

Increasing productivity in the industries making goods consumed by the workers has a similar effect on variable capital. It will in fact increase the amount of surplus value by shortening the time during which the worker reproduces the value of his own labour power, which is the only part of the working day the capitalist has to pay for (this does not necessarily mean a decline in the workers standards of living, as explained in the February Socialist Standard). The rate of surplus value can also be raised by increasing the intensity of work, by lengthening the working day and even by depressing wages below their value. Competition for jobs will also keep wages down and so limit how much the capitalist has to invest as variable capital.

This – the cheapening of the elements of constant capital and the rise in the rate of surplus value – was Marx’s explanation as to why the rate of profit only tended to fall. He accepted the classical economists’ view that the rate was falling but expected this to be a slow, long-run tendency. He did not believe that the rate of profit was always falling since at times the counter-tendencies could be the stronger.

The rate of profit can also be raised by reducing the period in which the capital (or part of it) is turned over. In our example the £100,000 turned over in a year; if this was reduced to six months the amount of profit would become £40,000 and the rate of profit 40 per cent per year. The development of commercial and financial institutions independent of industrial enterprises—and the introduction of shift-working and other forms of “rationalisation”—tends to shorten the turnover period and so to raise the annual rate of profit.

How the rate of profit moves even in the long run cannot be predicted from pure theory. This movement depends on which of the influences at work proves to be the stronger at any particular time or over any particular period, a fact that can only be discovered by empirical research. Some attempts have been made to estimate what has happened in the past hundred years but the results are conflicting. It has been suggested that the organic composition of capital stopped rising about 1920 due to “capital-saving” inventions.

Because Marx’s theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is meant to describe a slow process which would only become evident in the long run it cannot be used to explain periodic crises. The onset of a crisis is, however, often linked with a fall in the rate of profit as wages rise in a boom – but a fall caused by a short term fall in the rate of surplus value rather than by long term changes in the organic compositions of capital.

It is true that Marx does (Chapter XV) discuss crises in connection with the falling rate of profit, but with a view to explaining their significance as a counteracting tendency. For, during a depression, the value of the constant capital depreciates considerably while some of its elements (machinery, stocks) are often physically destroyed. To say that crises help offset the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall is quite different from saying (as John Strachey does in his The Nature of Capitalist Crisis) that crises are caused by it.

 Further Reading:
“The Falling Rate of Profit”, Socialist Standard, June 1960.
Capitalism, Yesterday and Today, by Maurice Dobb, Chapter IV.
The Theory of Capitalist Development, by Paul Sweezey, Chapter VI.

The Opening of Parliament. (1909)

Editorial from the March 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the morning of the opening of Parliament, the Morning Leader, after its usual panegyric of Liberalism, added that “Mr. Asquith has declared the question of the House of Lords to be the dominating issue in politics to-day ; and assuredly no programme and no line of policy which ignores or disregards that issue for a moment can end in anything but disaster." In another part of the same issue the Morning Leader also says “Parliament is opened to-day, and, in the words of the Premiers summons to his followers, matters of 'grave and urgent importance' will arise. Chief of these should be the opening of the campaign against the veto of the House of Lords." Yet the King's speech, which outlined the Liberal policy for the coming session, contained no word of reference to this "dominating issue." One could almost hear the spirits of the faithful Liberals fall. Even Lord Lansdowne could not help remarking on that notable omission from the King’s speech. The dominant issue, indeed, seems to be the raising of cash, for the speech contained the following significant statement. “The provision necessary for the services of the State in the ensuing year will require very serious consideration, and, in consequence, less time than usual will, I fear, be available for the consideration of other legislative measures.” Rather cold comfort, this, to the deluded electors who rose a while back to the bait of "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform." But to those who know the Liberal Party it is merely the fulfilment of their expectations. Liberal peace is the shooting down of strikers; Liberal retrenchment is returning to the Treasury money voted for the unemployed, and to out-Tory the Tories in matters of naval policy ; while Liberal reform is typified by the mis-called Education Bill and the Bill for the disestablishment of the Church in Wales (neither of which is of the slightest good to the workers) and in the transformation of the Poor Law (of which the old age pension scheme was the first step) in order to reduce the cost of poor relief by providing quite inadequate provision for the physically incapable, and penal colonies for the rest.

Labour Bureaux.
One of the measures that may engage the attention of Parliament is that concerning Labour Bureaux—which again is typical of the true Liberal policy of serving the masters. Labour exchanges, when controlled by the Government, directly or indirectly, become recruiting offices for blacklegs. If a man on the books dares to refuse a job because the pay is too bad, be forthwith becomes a “won't-work" in the eyes of the officials, and is treated accordingly. Government controlled labour bureaux thus become instruments of the employing class for decreasing wages and breaking the worker’s spirit. Apart from this there is, moreover, the very obvious fact (which seems to escape many) that as stated by Mr. Chiozza Money in a morning paper on Feb. 16th, "the establishment of a Labour bureau does not create a single hour's more work." Broadly speaking, this is undeniable, and shows the absurdity of the claim that labour exchanges would alleviate unemployment.

Now that the Commission which sat on this question has reported, the unemployed may be cheered to think that a solution of their difficulties is soon to be found. If they take the advice of their friends of the S.D.P., anyway, this is so. The fact that the Commission discover that the land available for this purpose, however, can only find employment for some few hundreds of men, does not point to much relief—far less solution—that way. Perhaps that is why the S.D.P. usually couple the reclaimation of foreshores with their afforestation proposals ; although it certainly seems to be building one’s hopes on sandy foundations. Mr. Chiozza Money is concerned with the aspect of railway rates in connection with any Government proposals along the lines of the Commission’s recommendations, but new factors might easily be introduced into the question by the time the trees have grown.

It is interesting to speculate on the future of the S.D.P. if the Government continue to take the wind out of its sails by adopting its most exclusive proposals. With old age pensions, free feeding of school children, afforestation and so forth, the party which has claimed a monopoly of the advocacy of these “palliatives” for 28 years will either have to be absorbed into the party which adopts them, or drop them altogether and seek fresh fields and pastures new. It might, of course, remember that it is professedly a Socialist organisation, and adopt that as one of its items; but in that case, too, it should allow itself to be absorbed into the party which has been doing so, if not for 28 years, at any rate since its inception. But that course would be too logical to be expected from the S.D.P., from what we know of that body, if the Liberal Party continue to adopt S.D.P. proposals at the same rate as recently, the 50 or so proposals of an immediate and practical nature will certainly have to be extended to assure the continuance of that body. This may have been already recognised, and is a possible explanation of the reconsideration of the programme now being conducted by the committee appointed by the last Conference.

The Socialist Party has no fear that its only proposal will be adopted by any capitalist party and is not afraid of concentrating its whole attention on Socialism as the only solution of problems incident to capitalism and the only policy that can logically be adopted by a revolutionary working class.

Who wants a man? (1909)

From the March 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mechanic offers himself for sale.
A leading New York daily paper has just advertised a man, warranted sound in wind and limb, for sale. He describes himself as 43 yea re old. He says he understands machinery, and is a good mechanic, but has been out of work for nine months, and is willing to sell himself for food, clothes, and lodging. If no purchaser is forthcoming he will be knocked down by auction to the highest bidder. The man does not sign his name, but the philanthropist who financed the advertisement lent his address. On inquiry it was found that Mr. Loughlin, secretary of the Brooklyn Board of Trade, had inserted the advertisement which he declared was genuine in every way. Before the American panic, the man had been earning £5 weekly in a machinery shop, but since then, despite applications at over 200 machine shops which advertised for men, he has failed to secure a job. At most of them, he says, 150 to 200 men are waiting. He has a record of these places and shows it. Mr. Loughlin says he has personally examined the case, and thinks it is interesting, as proving that the time is not yet ripe for the return of the scores of thousands of aliens who left the States for Europe when the hard time came last year. Industrial conditions are improving, but the process is gradual.- 
People,” 24.1.09.

S.P.G.B. Lecture List and Meetings For March. (1909)

Party News from the March 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Steel and Gold. (1909)

From the February 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard
"M. Hanotaux, who has been French Minister of Foreign affairs since 1870, has been talking out of school. He has been telling the readers of the “Journal” that the Near East tangle will be set straight peaceably and why there will be no war.
 ‘Protocols [he says] are only so much paper. Behind their fragile tissue lurks the real thing. If an agreement has been arrived at it is because certain interests have received adequate satisfaction, or because some pressure stronger than the will of princes, stronger even than the will of peoples, has been brought to bear upon Governments and reduced them to silence.’
That pressure, we are invited to believe, is the pressure of gold, and the power that is stronger than princes, Cabinets, and peoples is “high finance.” There will be no war in the Near East because Russia alone cares to make war and she dare not. She dare not because she is about to launch a collossal loan. “How can the bondholders be in a happy and generous frame of mind if the ground trembles beneath their feet ? There is but one solution, and that is peace.” And M. Hanotaux sums up the situation in the words—“Europe buys her peace as she did in the days of the Vikings.” It has been said pretty often that the modern arbiters of peace and war are the international financiers, and that, somehow, nations fight so long as it pays the loanmongers, and keep the pace so long as it pays the loanmongers. But hitherto these things have been said by Radicals or Socialists or anti-militarists, and official persons have been faithful to the magniloquent phrases about "the will of the people’’ and “vital national interests." M. Hanotaux is, we believe, the first man who has sat in a Cabinet, and certainly the first man who has occupied that Holy of Holies a Foreign Office, to say that in the realm of international affairs money and power are identical, and that all the apparatus of the chancelleries is only the mask behind which the financier works.”
Manchester Guardian, 24.12.08. 
Visions of an Egyptian Campaign and a South African War, and smaller bickerings in different parts of the globe arise where the influence of financial interests are obvious testimony to the truth of the statement contained in the above.

Wolf and Lamb. (1909)

From the February 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Queer Partnership.

“In the chair was Mr. Shackleton, M.P., one of the most conspicuous Labour members in the present House of Commons; the chief address was delivered by Mr. A. J. Balfour, in his capacity as president; and the vote of thanks to the ex-Premier was presented to a crowded audience by three gentlemen representative of widely apart walks of life, namely, Sir Christopher Furness, M.P., one of the great captains of industry in the country ; Professor A. C. Pigou, Lecturer in Economics at Cambridge University; and Mr. Amos Mann, who has for years been associated with the Labour Co-Partnership movement, particularly in the Midlands. Hardly less notable than the group of speakers was the numerous company of ladies and gentlemen who supported them on the platform—employers and employed. Labour men and co-operators, philanthropists and Parliamentarians. Of members of the House of Commons there must have been at least three-score present, representing practically every shade of opinion in that Assembly. Mr. Maddison, M.P., put this unpolitical character of the gathering in a nutshell when, in speaking to one of the business resolutions towards the close of the proceedings, be declared that the annual meeting of the association furnished one of the few occasions when it was possible, without the risk of subsequent criticism, to stand on the same platform with men with whom one might disagree on every other conceivable subject but the one that had brought them together. —Daily Telegraph, 2.12.08.

And what is the object of this rare occasion when it is possible for this collection of such seemingly bitter and irreconcilable foes to stand upon the same platform ? Let Mr. Balfour, the chief spokesman, answer:—
  “He advocated the movement, he said, not simply because it might minimise strikes, and incite to a larger output of work, but rather because it would give the workman a wider and deeper interest in his work and give him greater knowledge of the difficulties of the employer. 'Nothing can be better for the country,’ he added, ‘than that the artisan classes of the community should have the closest and most intimate knowledge possible of business methods, business difficulties, and business risks, as well as business profits.’ ”—Ibid.
Here, then, is the description of the movement, gently named Labour Co-Partnership, by one of the prominent official representatives of the employing class. The occasion is when arrangements are to be made—or attempted to be made—not only for minimising strikes and inciting to larger output (matters of great importance from the view-point of the employers’ interests), but also for initiating the workers into knowledge of business difficulties and business risks.

What are business risks ? Properly speaking, of course, the reference is to business man's risk in the commercial competition.

Not only in the home market, but also in the foreign and neutral markets of the world, the “business men” of England find themselves face to face with the ever-growing competition of their foreign rivals. To hold their own in the markets or to increase their share of these markets it is necessary that they sell cheaper than their competitors. But to sell cheaper they must produce, or have produced for them, cheaper than before.

How may this be done ?

Here the truth of Marx’s analysis of capitalism is at once admitted in practice, if denied in theory.

According to Marx the value of an article is fixed by the average time taken under the prevailing conditions of society to produce it. And every representative of capitalism, from the Trust magnate to the Co-Partner, agrees with this. Hence the incitement to a larger output of work and a minimising of strikes. Hence, also, the other statement of Mr. Balfour’s, that “Every arrangement which softened or obliterated the division between employer and employed, between owner and occupier, was to them welcome.’’ In other words, the employers adopt various methods for reducing the time required to produce articles, admitting that this is a reduction in the value of these articles, which can then be sold at a lower price.

But certain difficulties present themselves.

When trade is “booming," and the employer is making larger profits than usual, the “ungrateful” workman, despite the fact that be may be enjoying “plenty of work,” sometimes takes it into his head that he would like a slightly larger share of the wealth he has produced so abundantly, and taking a "mean advaniage” of the employer, he threatens to strike unless his demands are granted. To have a strike to contend with means stoppage of production, and therefore the losing of the opportunity of making those larger profits. The employer grates his teeth. Under his breath he curses the “wicked workers” who were not content—despite all the P.S.A. addresses delivered by various “Labour” leaders—to remain in the position in which capitalism had placed them. For the time being the master may yield to the men’s demands, but always with the intention of finding some way out of the difficulty in the future. This, however, is no easy task, far, as Sir Christopher Furness said in a speech at the meeting mentioned above, “Knowing hew thoroughly the strike habit was ingrained in the artizan classes, Business co-partnery would have bad no chance whatever unless the possibility of striking had been entirely removed.”

Here, then, are the two difficulties facing the capitalist—to get the “lazy” worker to speed up, and to prevent strikes taking place at awkward moments—awkward, that is, for the capitalist’s profits. Labour Co-Partnership meets both these points in a splendid way for the exploiter.

The employee is compulsorily “allowed” to take up shares in the business. Sometimes, When the employer has been seized with an extra acute attack of “regard for the worker,” the latter is even allowed to be present at some of the Directors’ Meetings, where he may listen with bated breath and awe-struck mien while the “superman” Directors wrestle with the “business difficulties and business risks, as well as the business profits,” and tell him how the concern should be run. It is pointed out to the worker that unless he strains every nerve and muscle to produce as cheaply as possible, his rivals will get the trade and the workers in the Co-Partnership concern will not only lose their dividends (often amounting to fabulous sums), but may even lose their jobs, in spite of the fact that they are co-partners. And thus one point is gained.

Then as for striking, why, that would be absurd. Are not they “interested” in the firm ? Are they not “part owners” ? And would you expect a man to strike against his own interests and property ? Certainly not. Then hurrah! for what is probably the most successful of the detail swindles perpetrated upon the working class. And cheer for the Labourite, Lib-Lab, and philanthropists who graced this meeting with their presence. Whether Shackleton (late chairman of the Labour Party), Maddison (member of the Liberal Party), H. Vivian (member of the T.U. Group), Balfour (late Tory Prime Minister) or Furness (Liberal steelmaster and shipowner), they all agree upon this fundamental
point—that the workers must be driven harder, bound in still tighter servitude, exploited more ruthlessly than ever, for the benefit of the employing class. “Birds of a feather flock together,” and the fact, so often pointed out in our columns, that these so-called Labour Leaders are merely the agents of the employers, receives additional and overwhelming evidence from the gathering under notice.

“Nonsense!” we will be told. "Do not the men share in the profits ? Are not huge sums disbursed yearly among, for instance, the employees in the South Metropolitan Gas Works ?” Our answer is NO! The workers not only do not share in the profits, but they have produced increased profits for the employers while suffering an actual decrease of wages. For it is the fact that since the inauguration of this scheme at the South Metropolitan Gas Works, profits have gone up by leaps and bounds, and the cost of producing gas has considerably decreased. While under the old system the men worked eight hours a day, under the new they work twelve! Not only this, but even with the longer hours the speed has been increased to such an extent that more in produced now per man per hour than under the old scheme. The few shillings “dividend" the worker annually receives is based upon the fact that production must be brought to a certain level before any "dividend" is awarded. Thus the work is increased in intensity and the working day in length, and out of the vast surplus thus created the worker receives a miserable mite, far below what his ordinary wages, taken over the increased time of his toil, would have amounted to.

The much lauded Co-Partnership scheme is thus seen to be but another contrivance and a most excellent and successful one from any but a working-class point of view—whereby the capitalist is enabled to pick cleaner the bones of the worker lamb, and it is interesting to note with what accord the “Labour” leaders lend themselves to the machination.
Jack Fitzgerald

S.P.G.B. Lecture List and Meetings For February. (1909)

Party News from the February 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labourism, Socialism or Anarchism. (1909)

From the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Eternal Question of Tactics

The Rocks and the Shallows
There exists to-day, so many factions claiming each to lay down the course necessary to be taken by the working class towards its emancipation, that the discussion of this subject may not be out of place. Not that the position of the S.P.G.B. is in any way indefinite, or that it has altered, but simply as an extra application of Socialist principles to current working-class thought and action. That thought and action is being divided, apart from ourselves, into two opposing, but equally fallacious, directions. On the one side its absorption into what is called the “Labour” movement – really a movement for the return of members of the working-class to represent the constituencies in parliament, and on the local boards of administration; and on the other side the attempt to direct the workers from political and Parliamentary methods altogether by an endeavour to achieve working emancipation by economic and direct action alone. With the first we have repeatedly dealt, and it is here only necessary to repeat that “Labour” representation, except as denoting the representation of labour’s consciousness of its class position and a recognition of the remedy, is utterly futile to effect any change in that position. This is being proved with increasing obviousness by the political bankruptcy of the Labour Party. With regard to the second, however, we have hitherto not considered it necessary to awaken the echoes of a discussion which raged in the early stages of the development of the Socialist idea, but which at this period are supposed to be the exclusive possession of the dreamers and the idealists hopelessly out of touch with the real factors in the struggle.

The Gun v. the Fist
The anarchist, by whatever new name he may choose to be known, by the present advocacy of shunning the political side of the struggle, is endeavouring to blind the working class to the most effective weapon it has in the prosecution of the class struggle. To pretend to make a more drastic assault on the position of the capitalist class by ignoring politics and adopting a policy of action in the workshop to directly take possession of the means of production is farcical. The capitalist class retain their economic power by their political power, by means of which they will always be able to beat the working class. Nor is it more definitely revolutionary to repudiate the “indirect” method of political action. It can easily be, and in fact is, reactionary. The potential force to achieve working-class emancipation lies principally in the political field for the reason that the capitalists are compelled to obtain the vote of the working class in order to continue its political control. To receive that working-class sanction of capitalist society, our masters are reduced to numerous shifts to blind the workers to the fact that they are in no real sense interested in the maintenance of capitalism; in a word, to prevent the workers from becoming class conscious.

Now assume the workers to be class conscious. Is it conceivable that they will continue to sanction the retention of capitalism by the return of capitalist politicians? Emphatically not. They will inevitably express their class-consciousness by voting Socialism at the ballot box. And when that is done we are met with numerous queries. One of them arose out of the article on the “Class Struggle”, which appeared in the October S.S. “What would be the action of the S.P.G.B. if the capitalist class, in view of the possibility of an adverse vote, disfranchise the workers?” Our reply was that in such an event we would be faced with a new problem; the whole aspect has changed; constitutional methods are closed to us; and we are forced to adopt methods of secret organisation and physical violence. And that is the only course left open if the workers disfranchise themselves by baulking at any of the formulae imposed by the capitalist government to hinder the political return of their social and economic opponents in the class struggle. But there is little likelihood of the master class being so blind to the sociological aspect of the ballot as to attempt to rudely interfere with it. The vote is not a gift to the masses from the Government out of the beneficence of its heart: it is a social growth. As such it is a matter of very grave responsibility to deliberately court murder and bloodshed by acting their part towards the class they will always want to conciliate for economic reasons in too ruthless a manner.

Capitalist Clemency
Not that the master class will hesitate at bloodshed if they deem it necessary to the maintenance of capitalist privilege: they have not hesitated to incur bloodshed and murder to maintain their full pound of flesh at Featherstone and elsewhere; but disfranchising the workers would involve disfranchising the pro-capitalist workman as well as the anti-capitalist workman, and would mean the entire subversion of the evolution to be in form, though, for economic reasons, not in essence, more and more democratic.

Actually the problem of the methods to be adopted must be determined by the circumstances of the time. Our first move is the development of the desire for Socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. The move of our opponents against the successful action of that political party must determine our subsequent actions. If the fight is kept to the political field within constitutional limits, the rulers taking the defeat when it comes in a spirit of contrition and resignation – well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the nation when given through the medium of their own institutions, but contest that verdict by physical force, the workers must be depended upon to repeat their verdict upon that field, and if the capitalist class follows its predecessors into the limbo of the forgotten past through an exit of blood and carnage, its blood must be on its own head.

Our Tactics
The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery, because the political machine is the real centre of social control – not made so by capitalist rulers but developed and evolved into being the brain of the social organism in conformity with the evolution of that organism. To control that organism in the interest of their own class the workers must gain possession of the instrument of control. Against the frontal attack of the capitalist class, and the flank movements of its friends, the emasculated “labourism” of the Labour Party on the one side, and the suicidal “direct action” on the other, the working class must keep its ranks well closed and its head clear. They must not believe the armies approaching on the flanks are reinforcements just because they say they are. The capitalist class itself says it is on the side of labour, but only the greenest believe it, for all that. It may be that those holding views in any direction dissimilar to ours believe those views to be correct ones, but except that we must recognise how far their material interests are served by their attitude towards us, we may of course, still oppose them on the ground of that dissimilarity. In those cases where the political attitude is one obviously dictated by the desire for the loaves and fishes it is better to frankly state the impossibility of intellectual reasons outweighing economic ones. The most that could happen as an outcome of the permeation of the Socialist idea among members of the capitalist ranks would be for them to act as a break on the rest of their class. This factor, little as it may be in importance, only increases the dubiousness of their action in resorting to such measures as the disfranchisement of the workers, such measures requiring a more than usual unanimity in their ranks.

The Socialist Attitude
Given, then, the Socialist idea firmly set in the mind of the working class, any action taken by the masters to prevent the realisation of that idea would be checked by the workers if solidly organised into the Socialist Party; while a final appeal to physical force hastened by the destruction of constitutional means would leave the victory with the workers, who, “vastly outnumber their tyrants in war”. In view of all the facts, the Socialist Party of Great Britain enters the field of political action determined to wage war etc, etc.
Dick Kent

Unemployment and the S.D.P. (1909)

From the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Quelch recently went to Burnley to lecture for the S.D.P. on “How to deal with Unemployment.” He advocated the abolition of child labour, an eight-hour day, and production for use in co-operative colonies. If this is really Mr. Quelch’s way of dealing with unemployment, it is certainly not our conception of the Socialist way, and as our conception has at least a sporting chance of being the correct one, we offered, through our Burnley members, to debate the matter with him. Although he had been deploring the absence of Mr. F. Maddison, with whom he professed a desire to have a bout, he declined our challenge. We repeat it now.

He stated in answer to a question, that now the workers are getting a better share relatively and actually than ever they were. If he is of the opinion that the worker's position is improving, and that the abolition of child labour, the establishment of an eight-hour day and co-operative colonies, are all that are required to deal with the unemployed problem, we most heartily invite him to discuss the matter with us, who do not believe either that the condition of the working class improves with the development of capitalism, or that any of his propositions will touch the social problem of unemployment with any degree of adequacy, but assert, on the contrary, that the position of the working class is more insecure, more precarious, than ever it was, that the only way to deal with the unemployed problem is to abolish the economic system to which it belongs (capitalism) by organising the workers into a political party for that purpose, such party being the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We shall be glad to hear from Mr. Quelch, or any of his satellites on this matter.

Mr. W. Thorne, M.P., apparently holds views similar to those of Mr. Quelch. At the Conference at the Guildhall held to discuss this matter he said, vide Daily News report, 7.12.08, “He was convinced that if a regular eight-hours day were adopted there would very soon be little or no unemployment." This indicates an utterly fallacious notion of the origin of unemployment. Unless and until wages represent the whole of the workers’ produce (and they never will so long as they are wages) the difference between the quantity produced and the quantity the workers are able to buy back with their wages, plus the quantity actually consumed by the capitalists, will by its very accumulation inevitably bring about the periodical stoppage or partial stoppage of production, with its resulting starvation problem for the workers.

Mr. Hyndman, writing in our revered contemporary, the alleged organ of the Social Democracy, just prior to the Conference at the Guildhall, passes over the eight-hour proposition for treatment at the Conference. We see no reference in the reports to any contribution from him to the discussion, beyond the startling information that Mr. Fels is a capitalist. Mr. Hyndman, however, put his faith in the organisation of the unemployed in co-operative colonies, where the workers will be enabled to maintain themselves without competing or interfering with capitalism. How even this could be done, supposing it to be possible, while the capitalist class remain in power, is not clear, while its adoption by a capitalist Government would establish its ineffectiveness as a solution of the problem, which, in the words of Mr. Hyndman himself, “is a necessity for the capitalist system."

Again we assert the only remedy for unemployment to be the abolition of the capitalist system which causes it, and the establishment of Socialism.
Dick Kent

S.P.G.B. Lecture List For January. (1909)

Party News from the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Grimethorpe Miners (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those who have eyes to see there are lots of valuable lessons to be learned from the strike of the Grimethorpe miners against the efforts of the National Coal Board and the Union to make them do more work. The mines were nationalised only on January 1st, 1947, but within a few months the determined resistance of a few hundred men backed by thousands of other Yorkshire miners who struck in sympathy, showed the hollowness of the claim that Nationalisation and Labour Government can solve the problems of the workers. When Nationalisation took place Labour Party supporters welcomed it as a new era of industrial peace and the death of private profit, but socialists warned the workers not to be deceived into thinking that wage-slavery in the mines would be altered in any way. It has not taken long to reveal in the clearest fashion that the difference between private and state capitalism is not worth the workers’ votes.

In May of this year the National Union of Mineworkers made an agreement with the National Coal Board for a change-over to a five-day week, without loss of pay, on the understanding that the Union would co-operate with the employers, the Coal Board, to “promote every possible and reasonable means of ensuring that the maximum output of coal is produced.” The Union specifically pledged itself to co-operate with the management in persuading the workers to accept re-assessments of work which would mean in many cases cutting down the number of men required for a particular piece of work. The Union undertook that it would “not countenance any restriction of effort by workmen resulting in failure to perform the work so assessed.” (The full agreement was published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette, May, 1947)

The dangers of an agreement which binds the union to help the employers bring pressure on its own members are obvious. If the members of the N.U.M. understood and approved of this the responsibility rests on them and not only on their Communist General Secretary and the other officials who signed the agreement. There is, however, much evidence to show that the members went into it without realising what they were accepting. This may be partly due to a temporary lack of contact between the members and the executive, resulting from the recent changeover from a federation of county associations to a centralised national union. In addition it is certainly due to the close tie-up between the national officials of the Union and the Government, which results in the former imagining that it is their job to give orders to their members rather than take them. The comment of the Manchester Guardian is to the point: “The Union leaders took a great risk in giving the Government the assurances they did without being sure that the miners were really willing to attend regularly and to do a full shift’s work. It will not do to put all the blame on a minority of ‘bad ‘ miners. A little slacking has to be taken into account in any calculation. Either the union officials misjudged the temper of their men or they did not do as much as they knew to be necessary to explain what the five-day week meant. This failure is not surprising. The N.U.M.’s constant concern with the handling of national policy in Downing Street and Whitehall has left its leaders with too little time for the details of affairs in the pits. . . . The Union will have to make a bold effort now to regain the full confidence of the miners. Like the National Coal Board it will not do that unless it can restore the close touch with local problems that has to some extent been lost by its conversion to a centralised organisation.” (Manchester Guardian, 9/9/47)

The amazing situation developed of the miners’ officials denouncing their own members in terms that the former coal owners could not have exceeded for arrogance.

Mr. Lawther, President of the Union, told the strikers they were “acting as criminals at this time of the nation’s peril.” He actually invited the Coal Board to prosecute: “Let them issue summonses against these men, no matter how many there may be. I would say that even though there were 100,000 on strike.” (Daily Mail, 29/8/47)

The Communist General Secretary, Mr. Arthur Horner, was nearly as bad. In a statement to the Press (Daily Herald, 28/8/47) Mr. Horner said that the strikers “must be regarded as an alien force and treated as an enemy of the true interests of the majority of the miners of this country.” What some of the miners think of these swollen-headed gentlemen may be judged by the words “Burn Will Lawther” painted up at the entrance to the Grimethorpe colliery and by the comment made by a miner to a representative of the Star (9/9/47) –
  “Mr. Horner seems to have forgotten that he is our servant and is acting as if he were our lord and master. We pay him to fight our battles and not to fight against us.”
This miner was right and the sooner all workers take steps to bring their would-be dictators into line the better for the trade union movement.

One aspect of this must not be forgotten. Years ago the Communist Party popularised the slogan “Watch Your Leaders.” If ever it was necessary to do so it certainly is now when Communists like Mr. Horner have reached positions of eminence in the unions. A letter published by the Daily Worker (13/9/47) pointed out how closely Horner’s phrases resembled those for which the Communists used to denounce Mr. J. H. Thomas. Not that the idea behind the slogan is a sound one. Against the Communist idea that what the workers need is “better leaders” (who all turn out to be just like their predecessors) the Socialist urges the need to get rid of leadership.

The bitter experience of the Grimethorpe miners brings out clearly that nationalisation has changed nothing, except perhaps that it is harder for the men to fight the National Coal Board than it was to fight the local mine-owners. The following statement by a Daily Herald reporter was published on August 30th:
  “The real point of their grievance seems to be that in the general reorganisation of work underground involved by the change, men may be put on to other jobs at which they earn less money. A joint committee of miner’s delegates and representatives of the Coal Board decided on the increased stint. The Grimethorpe men complain now that they had no representative on this joint committee, and that the decision to increase the stint came as a bombshell. . . . They also complain that the divisional Coal Board officials are the same officials they had before the Government took over.” 
Those foolish optimists who fancied that the bitterness of the class struggle, if not the struggle itself, disappears when the employer is the State might note the remarks of a Daily Mirror representative. He wrote (6/9/47) –
  “How they hate the Divisional Officers of the Board! Big salaries, big cars, big offices, big titles —but they don’t go down the mines.” One miner remarked “What do these — know about it? They couldn’t get themselves enough coal to boil an egg.”
The National Coal Board’s attitude to the workers was expressed by one of the Board’s spokesmen:
   “This is the test case of our authority. It is the first real test we have had, and at such an early stage in our career we cannot afford to have our prestige shaken by withdrawing the extra stint order.” (Evening Standard, 4/9/47)
The miners have indeed exchanged one hard master for another.

Another illusion cherished by Labourites is that when an industry is nationalised human aspects and the well-being of the workers no longer have to take second place to financial considerations. Since the mines have got to pay their way, including the necessity of meeting the cost of compensating the former owners, it is obvious that this cannot be. It remained for the Communist General Secretary of the Miners’ Union to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of this fact. In his statement denouncing unofficial strikes and urging increased production he disclosed that at a secret session of miner’s delegates in July he told them that “the Coal Board is at the present time losing money in a very serious fashion.” (Daily Herald, 28/8/47). There was a time when miners’ officials would have told the employers that the finance of the industry was their affair or would, as in 1926, have told the owners to go to the Conservative Government for a subsidy if they couldn’t manage otherwise. Now, under a Labour Government, this Communist conveys the employing Board’s lament to the workers, and instead of demanding a five-day week unconditionally urges the workers in effect to work harder to put the Board’s finances on a profitable basis.

Whatever else may come out of the Grimethorpe strike it should teach some miners at least not to put their trust in Nationalisation, or in Labour administration of capitalism, or in leaders, Communists included.
Edgar Hardcastle

What is a Spiv? (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days, when everybody is becoming Spiv-conscious, to ask what is a Spiv might seem to border on the fatuous. The purpose of this article will merely be to attempt to show that as a comprehensive definition of idler, drone and parasite the word Spiv leaves much to be desired.

Undoubtedly high-powered publicity has focussed the Spiv in constant if dubious limelight. For some he may yet come to acquire something of the symbolical status his more sinister counterpart, the American gangster, possesses for a generation of film-goers.

Shortages, Rationing, The Black Market, as some of capitalism’s present evils, have provided the conditions and opportunities for making England much more a land fit for Spivs to live in than it ever was: or likely to be it seems. For if the statements of certain Government spokesmen are to be taken at their face value, the Spiv is already on his way out. The Government in their efforts to ease the embarrassing, even if temporary, “labour shortage” for contemporary capitalism, have ear-marked the Spiv as a source of potential labour-power. For this Government of planners the unplanned existence of the Spiv (unplanned that is for the existing requirements of Capitalism) becomes at least a little irksome.

The Spiv thus finds himself the subject of Governmental interest and the object of weighty political pronouncements. The word is officially recognised now and is considered normal to the vocabulary of Cabinet Ministers.

Even in the rarefied atmosphere of The House of Lords the word has made its debut. Lord Pakenham replying to Lord Amwell (formerly Mr Fred Montague, MP) on the direction of idleness, said, “Lord Amwell no doubt referred to the gentlemen known as spivs and drones. He agreed that however wide his definition we had no use for slackers at this time”. (Daily Telegraph, 7/8/47). No doubt an interpretation of slackers in the sense of “a wide definition” might have found room for a broader and perhaps more embarrassing inclusion than that permitted by the more restrictive nature of the word Spiv. Doubtless comprehensive definitions of terms, while admirable in theory, are not necessarily politic in practice.

Mr Attlee in the House of Commons the same day said, “We shall take all action open to us against the Spivs and other drones”. Like Lord Pakenham Mr Attlee did not attempt a definition of terms. To have done so might have held awkward implications for the consideration of the members present. It might conceivably have led to the reading of “The Riot Act” in the “Mother of Parliaments”. A political flash-back, nevertheless, recalls the coupling of drones with “idle rich”, in the classic days of Labour Party propaganda.

Nevertheless, Mr Shinwell speaking on the question of appointments to the Electricity Board, did say “We have no regard for those persons who perform no useful service at all . . . They have been described as parasites, idlers, drones and rentiers”. He added, “I don’t intend to appoint them to any Board for which I am responsible.” (Daily Telegraph, 24/6/47). Whether this constitutes one of Mr Shinwell’s noted lapses into indiscretion or a momentary glimpse of a more fundamental aspect of drones and parasites, we venture no opinion. No threat of work direction for these gentlemen, however, only non-appointment to various Boards.

Mr Isaacs, Minister of Labour, has said, that “Spivs are not so numerous as some people think”. But at the Trade Union Conference he spoke of using full Governmental powers of direction in regard to them (Daily Telegraph, 3/9/47). He also told us that there are people who toil not and depend on the dividends earned by other workers. Had he said a wealthy section live on dividends and profits produced solely by the workers, he would have obtained full marks. Mr Isaacs is, however, not a person inclined to indiscretions.

Mr Tom Williams, MP, also spoke on direction of labour. He suggested if there are Spivs and drones or any one else (italics ours) who refused to accept occupations, Unemployment Benefit should be stopped, adding that starving men and women into work is the highest penalty which ought to be tried in the first six or twelve months. (Evening News, 2/9/47). Coupon clippers, rentiers and other profit-participants are, however, debarred from drawing Unemployment Benefit. Moreover, as their level of incomes have no more relevance to “The Poverty Line” than it has to “The Plimsoll Line”, Mr Williams’ dire threats to people refusing direction of work will doubtless be met by them with calm and studied contempt.

The Spiv assumes then the role of the Labour Government’s whipping boy. In the past the hard-faced business man and the treble-chinned plutocrat could be pilloried in the political stocks for Capitalism’s shortcomings. Called upon to administer capitalism the Labour Party must perforce—vide Morrison—ask for their co-operation and even enthusiasm for “Labour’s” New Social Order. The Spiv will be pleased or perturbed to discover that it is he and not the private ownership of the means of wealth production which now constitutes the basic contradiction of capitalism.

The Spiv, however, is not merely a post-war product or the illegitimate child of a Labour Government. His prototype has for many decades alternatively flourished and decayed in capitalist society. He is generally a big city product. Born mostly in city slums or near slums he early experiences the drab life and sordid surroundings of those who, like himself, dwell there and toil for others. When the opportunity occurs for doing a bit on the side or fiddling, he seizes it as a more lucrative and more colourful occupation than the monotony of the daily grind. He is often, however, compelled to devote more time and energy to his peculiar calling than is customary for him to admit. Neither can the Spiv for the most part wholly emancipate himself from his working class status. “In bad times” he is often reluctantly forced back into workshop or factory. For the Spiv, however, the age-long habit of work engrained in his fellow-toilers has been seriously undermined.

It has been said that the Spiv is at least a rebel. Some people have even sentimentalised him as a kind of revolt against the conditions imposed by the nature of capitalist exploitation. The Spiv’s own anti-Government and anti-authoritarian outlook might seem to lend colour to this view. The Spiv, however, generally lacks the class loyalty and class sentiment that goes to the making of the class-conscious social revolutionary. The zeal and selfless devotion of the socialist, with his illimitable vista of a world based on production for use and the Brotherhood of Man, lights no fires in the mind and imagination of the Spiv. A good time and plenty of fun at the expense of others gravely limits his social horizon. Pleasure and “the easy way” becomes basic to his existence. His mode of life constitutes a form of social parasitism which conflicts with the healthy social instincts of the vast majority of workers.

Also the Spiv evolves a standard of values that make for unconscious subservience to wealth and luxury. He is consequently, however insignificant, a factor making for its perpetuation. At his best he is a politically unreliable element. At his worst he can become the strike-breaking instrument of the employing class or a tool for political reaction. In a socialist society where all able-bodied people will engage in productive activity and where the principle prevails—From each according to his ability, to each according to his need—the Spiv, as such, can have no place.

The social solidarity of a system such as the present one is cleft by its basic class antagonism. With the decay of its own outworn economic functions goes the decay of its outworn ethical creeds. The ideological veneer of its so-called public opinion merely hides the subversion of its traditional moral tenets to private forms of hypocrisy and cynicism. The wealth and luxury of present society then breeds its own type of social parasitism with its individual greed and unscrupulousness and its inevitable anti-social consequences. It is this which sets the individual against society and, as in the case of the Spiv, who attempts to imitate and emulate the ruling section, society against the individual. It is hardly to be wondered that the putrefying effects of such a social cesspool as Capitalism, fail to secure for the population at large a 100 per cent immunity from contamination. Given capitalist society the Spiv must flourish like a green bay tree. Changing circumstances may decimate his ranks, but as an inevitable product of existing social conditions, he can hardly cease to exist.

True that the padded shoulders, the diagonally woven suit, the spear-pointed collar and dazzle tie have given the Spiv a sartorial significance and setting. If, however, for a double-breasted camel coat we substitute a faultlessly cut dress suit, the four bob jive for the dance floors of expensive clubs and exclusive hotels, the cheap billiard hall and garish saloon for Monte Carlo and other fashionable gambling resorts; the significance attached to the word Spiv becomes vague and even blurred.

It may be said that the Spiv, by devious methods of obtaining goods in short supply and selling at extortionate prices, is guilty of anti-social practices. Nevertheless he has the time-honoured methods of “Rings”, “Market Corners” and their inevitable outcome, Trusts and Combines, to set him a precedent. Again, if he plies a doubtful trade, the long existence of nefarious company-promoters and Bucket shop sponsors shows that in the matter of shady transactions the Spiv is no path-breaking pioneer. That the Spiv lives by the dubious exercise of his wits may also be true. Yet while a section of the community live on the unpaid labour of others well might the Spiv-kettle, in the matter of social parasitism, retort “Why call me black, brother pot?”

Nevertheless the word is accepted now. From a slang term of doubtful pedigree it is on its way to an assured place in the English dictionary. Henceforth it will be synonymous with idler, drone and parasite. As a definition it will obscure rather than enlighten. Its emphasis will be on those who live by their wits and doubtful practices and not on those whose social parasitism is the outcome of the exploitation of the vast majority through the medium of class-ownership of the means of wealth production. All of which might suggest that there is a form of intellectual Spivery in addition to a social one. Concluding, may we repeat—What is a Spiv?
Ted Wilmott

Blind Leaders (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

British capitalism is facing difficulties. After a long and exhausting war it has had to change over from production of things for war to production of things for peace and the world market. Considerable plant, machinery and capital equipment needed renewing before it could tackle the re-conquest of markets lost during the war. The British capitalist class had accumulated debts abroad where it had formerly held investments. Clearly the tasks were formidable. Every political party proposed ways and means of putting British capitalism back on the map and the British capitalists in their former position of prestige and privilege. That is to say, every political party except the Socialist Party of Great Britain. All Parties talked of the necessity of recovering “our” trade and “our” markets. “Our” position as a great power must he re-established in order, they said, to maintain the workers’ standard of life. In this latter connection Mr. Bevin has gone further than most labour leaders. Speaking some weeks ago on the military occupation of the Middle East by British troops he stated his opposition to their withdrawal on the grounds that the standard of living of the British workers would fall by twenty-five per cent. Presumably, if the troops had to go into action, Mr. Bevin would argue like Mussolini when he sent Italian troops into Abysinnia, that they were fighting a proletarian war! The suggestion that British oil interests require the occupation might appear to honest, bluff Bevin as cynicism. Nevertheless he will have great difficulty in persuading the more informed workers that British capitalists bear the expense of an army in order to maintain the workers’ standard of life. This sort of argument is more in line with the poorest kind of pre-war, Tory imperialist propaganda.

At the Trade Union Congress at Southport Bevin expanded somewhat further on a similar theme and alarmed some of the Labour Party’s “left.” His speech ostensibly covered foreign affairs but its main purpose was to impress the workers of the necessity to work harder, work longer hours and to accept a lower standard of living. Possibly anticipating objections from sections of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions who wanted to argue in favour of abolishing conscription, a substantial reduction of the armed forces and in the production of munitions as an alternative to asking the workers to accept a lower standard of living to solve the “crisis,” he said : “I am a believer in disarmament hut I am not going to be a party to it until I have real collective security. I represent a London constituency and I am not going to leave those people to what Conservatives left them exposed to in 1930-40.” The reflection on the Tories need not concern us. The implications of that statement have caused more than flutterings in some quarters of the Labour Party. Some of the attacks on Bevin in the issue of Tribune following the conference were as bitter as many that were made on MacDonald after he deserted the Labour Party in 1931. His constituents will no doubt be touched by his solicitude for their welfare in a future possible war. But if he would consult them he might find they would accept any alternative to war.

In fact, Bevin’s position as foreign secretary in a government committed to the administration of capitalism leaves him very little choice. Capitalism needs the armed forces and a great deal depends on the show of force it can muster in given circumstances. There is a point below which munition production and reductions in the armed forces will not be permitted. The Labour government and the Trade Union leaders must find other means to overcome the crisis. Mr. Bevin asked the delegates to approve of the workers being asked to accept sacrifices, not, of course, without sugaring the pill with more promises. He argued that if the workers would produce another thirty millions a month for export they would reduce the balance of trade by 370 millions, if they would produce a further 20 millions per month they would have the food cuts restored, if they produced a further 50 millions per month it would leave room for the demand for a higher standard of life which the younger generation would be demanding. The Times took Bevin gently to task for this last suggestion. It had spoiled, it argued, a “great speech.” It agreed with the target but thought Bevin was “courting disaster” to suggest there might be a rise in the standard of living in the coming years of crisis. It can be expected that the Times will offer much more advice in the future in their efforts to see that the Labour government does not “court disaster.” After all, was it not the Governor of the Bank of England and highly placed officials of the Treasury who advised Mr. (song in the heart) Dalton that it was quite sound to allow the free convertibility of sterling into other currencies, advice which it is claimed hastened the impasse in which the Labour government found itself. And who else is more competent to advise on running the capitalist system (for the best interests of the capitalists) than the foxy old officials who have been at it for years and know all the answers? There have been other labour leaders who accepted the advice of the capitalists. They met disaster after the wily capitalists hud played their cards. They also were great ” leaders in their day.

The Labour government and the Trade Unions are committed to the task of running capitalism successfully. Goods owned by the capitalists must he sold on the world’s markets. They find that they stand no chance of success without the workers’ acquiescence in accepting still lower standards of living. Consequently, in common with the capitals press the Labour Party organisation has been working overtime on the refrain that the workers should work harder . . . and still harder. The necessities of British capitalism demand longer hours and greater productivity. And because the Labour government is in control it is compelled through the trade unions to come to the workers to attempt to cajole them into agreement. “Events are in control," said Attlee in a recent broadcast From the Times to the Daily Worker  all agree that the solution is in the hands of the workers. M.P.’s from Earl Winterton to William Gallacher, all join in the refrain. Was the workers’ apparent indifference to this propaganda the subject of conversation between the noble earl and the Communist M.P. when they were seen (according to the daily press) walking arm-in-arm in the lobby of the House of Commons? Everybody who is anybody joins in the new symphony, especially those who have never worked in their lives in the sense that they ask the miners and other workers to work. Never was more point given to the Socialist contention that all wealth is the application of human energy to nature-given materials. Never did it stand out more than today. The British capitalist class and their hacks are worried, and the more worried they get the more they affect an unctuous concern for the welfare of the worker. Unless productivity is increased considerably, they argue, the workers’ standard of living will fall below that existing in the smaller Balkan states. What our masters fear of course is the threat to their own security and well-being. What the hacks and the hirelings of the press, pulpit and politics feat is that their own comfortable places in the capitalist scheme of things might be undermined. Did any of these lackeys show as much concern for the workers' standard of life when in the days before the war millions of workers lived below the poverty line? One research organisation in the days before the war conducted an experiment on rats with the dietary of workers in a depressed area . . . and killed the rats!

Congress submitted a report to the Trade Union Conference arguing the case for harder work and longer hours. Delegates countered with an amendment calling for direction of labour so that “other sections of the community shared some of the sacrifices.” The Minister of Labour in the Labour government who attended the Conference (as did other erstwhile labour leaders who are now on the boards of nationalised companies at fat salaries and expenses) hedged. It can be definitely asserted that there will be no direction of labour of the kind which will include “the other sections of the community.” Debutantes are not going to be directed into textile factories. Members of the royal family will not don the industrial overall as they donned the army uniform during the war. Mr. A. J. Cummings of the News Chronicle, who rivals the “ Gloomy Dean,” will not attempt to overcome his sad depressions when he contemplates the sins of the workers by advocating or joining an industrial “Home Guard.” The porter at the News Chronicle offices need not fear that A.J. will take over his job whilst he enters a factory in the country’s emergency. The war is over. Lease-Lend is finished. As Sir Stafford Cripps has said, English goods are entering a highly competitive market and costs must be kept down. Only workers can do the latter, workers who can be made to feel the pinch of economic pressure. When the Labour government says workers it means workers. They will obtain them for the industries where they require them by a policy which will close down the less essential to the capitalists for the time being. The scope for employment will be restricted. The worker will accept what is given to him or the alternative of being unemployed without even the dole. It can be imagined that the passing of a few months is likely to see the press referring, to the unemployed worker as “unemployable.” ‘

But, doubting, but still loyal members of the Labour Party ask themselves, surely when this crisis is passed we shall get the benefits for which we supported the Labour Party at the elections? The chances are that before the present difficulties of English capitalism work themselves out the workers by working harder will work themselves all the more quickly into the sort of crisis with which they are more familiar—a crisis of “over production.” A crisis which will bring millions of unemployed and fill the markets of the world with a glut of goods which no one will buy. When this happened during the lifetime of the Labour government in 1929/31 they whined that they could do nothing—it was an “economic blizzard.” Today Attlee says “events are in control.” He is right—they are. In those two phrases the Labour Party leaders express their inability to administer capitalism for the workers. No leaders can do so. Events are always in control for those who have to administer capitalism. Capitalism sets the pace. Capitalism produces unemployment, insecurity and poverty for the worker. Capitalism produces war and the perpetual threat of war, which is just as unpleasant a future prospect for the workers even if Mr. Bevin is training an army so as not to let his constituents down as the Tories did in 1939.

There is only one sure escape from the problems of capitalism for the workers—take over the ownership and control of the means and instruments of production and run them in the interests of the whole of society The workers will then shape their own lives for themselves

Sack these blind leaders and work and organise in the Socialist Party for Socialism.
Harry Waite