Friday, November 8, 2019

Our readers and the next General Election (1931)

Party News from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are not prophesying an early General Election, but we want to be prepared for it whenever it may come. Will readers who would be willing to take S.P.G.B. election leaflets for free distribution at public meetings, Trade Union branches, among their friends, etc., let us have now their name and address, and an indication of the number of leaflets they think they could usefully dispose of? It is of importance that the Socialist Party’s case should be made as widely known as possible, in particular our opposition to the Labour Party and its affiliated parties. Your assistance will be of great value.

Write to the General Secretary at 42, Great Dover Street, London, S.E.l.

Correspondence: Socialist Organisation. (1931)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

H. Scott (Leeds), asks:—
If the S.P.G.B. gained political power, would it not have to start organising industrially, rather than territorially, before we got socialism?
The answer is no. The control of the political machine by a socialist working class means the enacting of common ownership—that is socialism. The Socialist Society will be carried on by the workers, whose common interests will be expressed territorially and industrially and in every field. The production of wealth will result from the organisation of industry arranged democratically by a socialist population.
Adolph Kohn

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A correspondent asks if Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Philip Snowden were ever members of the Socialist Party. They have never been members of the Socialist Party.

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Morlite (North End). Thanks for the suggestion. We will see what we can do.

Correspondence: Socialism and Equality. (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent writes asking us whether we base our case for Socialism on a supposition that human beings are equal. This is the question :—
  On what foundation is your “Declaration of Principles” built, seeing that the only justification for “common ownership and control” can be that of "Equality” and that "Equality” does not exist, since no two human beings are ever born equal and consequently can never live the same life (whatever the conditions), or die equal? Without “Equality” the principle of "common ownership and control” is surely most unjust. Does your "socialism" wish to make the conditions of life similar for those who possess and those who do not possess a number of commendable qualities?
(Here follows a list of such qualities and their opposites.)

Our correspondent is mistaken in thinking that Socialism is based on any such claim. Human beings do not possess the same attributes, combined in the same proportions, and therefore a claim that they are equal would be absurd.

On the other hand, the suggestion that there can be no other justification for "common ownership and democratic control ” itself requires proof, and our correspondent offers none except the statement that it is "surely most unjust" to make the conditions of life similar for the bad character and the good character. Without going into the relevant question of the conditions which produce "bad" and "good" characters, we would point out that capitalism most flagrantly fails to apportion economic rewards according to such merits, and yet it manages to survive. People lucky enough to have been born into the privileged ranks of the propertied class do not have to produce certificates of wisdom, bravery, cleanliness, industry or anything else before being permitted to draw dividends on investments. The possession of property means now the legal right (backed up by the forces of the State) of preventing the working class from using nature-given material and instruments of production (fashioned also by the working class) to produce wealth, except upon the condition that the property owner shall be permitted to live at the expense of the wealth producers.

The capitalist system has now outlived its usefulness, and the capitalist class has become an unnecessary class. The class can be dispensed with and the system replaced with advantage to the working class, who are the great majority and can impose their will when they choose to do so. That is the basis of Socialism. No other basis is needed.
Ed. Comm.

Correspondence: Currency, Credit and Socialism. (1931)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. B. Benjamin (Catford) writes that, "although there is no shortage of gold, there is quite definitely a shortage of money in circulation in practically every country in the world.” The only evidence Mr. Benjamin gives is a statement that there is no "affluence among the working classes." He writes: "The phenomena of falling prices, of stark poverty, and starvation in an age of plenty are indisputable signs of a decrease in the purchasing power of the nation." So far from this statement being “indisputable,” we emphatically do dispute it. It is simply not true.

In view of the fact that purchasing power arises, and can only arise, from the existence of goods and services of one kind or another in the market, there cannot be any difference between the total of goods in the world and the total of purchasing power. The two appearances are only opposite aspects of the same thing.

Mr. Benjamin is quite correct when he says that the workers lack purchasing power, but he fails to see the meaning of his own further statement that there is "starvation in an age of plenty." The workers lack purchasing power because the capitalist class control a large portion of it. We mentioned in the January issue that investors offered £140 million for a £3½ million issue of shares. Does this indicate lack of purchasing power?

If shortage of money has caused a shortage of purchasing power (these are two different things, let it be noticed), why are the capitalists in the main not affected?

Mr. Edwin Wright (S.E.5) also writes about "money reform." He says :—
  You have rejected the greatest discovery of modern or any time which would enable a Labour Government to establish socialism without bloodshed. . . .  I base my policy upon the fact that "banks create money”—that they have created £2,000,000,000 of money.  . . . As the Chairman of the Midland Bank admits, credit money is created by bankers.
We have on previous occasions had letters from Mr. Wright, but he continues to repeat his absurd statements without dealing with our answers to them.

First, let us disabuse Mr. Wright’s mind of the illusion that his money reform scheme is modern. It was already hoary with age when Marx wrote about credit in Volume III of "Capital,” and when John Stuart Mill disproved it and described it as a "confused notion" in his "Principles of Political Economy" (see People’s Edition, page 309, published in 1872). Mill wrote his book before 1847.

Mr. Wright offers us a scheme which "would enable a Labour Government to establish Socialism.” What he does not tell us is how he is going to make the Labour Government want to establish Socialism; and how, after that, he is going to make the Liberals keep the Labour Government in office when it starts trying to establish Socialism; and how, when it gets thrown out through loss of Liberal support, he is going to make the workers (who in the main do not yet want Socialism) vote for Socialism. Mr. Wright forgets, too, that he has on previous occasions told us that capitalists support his scheme as a means of saving capitalism.

Mr. Wright says that the banks have created £2,000 millions of deposits. His evidence for this is that Mr. McKenna is supposed to have said so many years ago. Mr. Wright ignores the address given by Mr. McKenna at the 1930 meeting of the Midland Bank, in which he ridiculed the idea (see "S.S.,” March, 1930).

It would also be interesting to know why, if banks can "create credit,” they do not create it for themselves instead of doing so for their depositors, and then paying the same depositors millions of pounds of interest on their deposits. Also, why do not Governments which control State banks use this power which Mr. Wright believes they possess? Why, for example, does the Russian Government try to borrow money abroad and pay high rates of interest on loans at home?
Ed. Comm.

Correspondence: Is steel more useful than tobacco? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. G. T. Sadler, M.A., LL.B. (Manchester), asks us to recognise a distinction between “useful” companies, such as cotton, steel, and railway companies, and less useful companies, such as tobacco and art silk companies. While investors in the former have lost money, the latter have paid big dividends.

The idea behind Mr. Sadler’s suggestion is that some companies satisfy needs which are more vital than others and, therefore, the investors in these companies ought to receive more favourable treatment. We cannot, for one moment, accept such an argument. Under capitalism companies do not produce this or that article to satisfy human needs, but to sell to those who can afford to buy, and thus to make a profit. Investors invest in order to get a return on their capital. To the investor all production is “useful” production which yields him a profit, and to the worker all production is “useful” which gives him employment. That is capitalism. We are out for the abolition of capitalism, because an investing class is a privileged and totally unnecessary class, whatever the nature of the product in which the individual investor is interested.

Correspondence: Should we contest elections? (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two Camberwell readers (S. and C. Roberts) criticise our attitude towards elections. They write:—
  During the last General Election we were told that you were preparing to contest North Battersea. We were further informed that you had a membership of less than 50 in the whole of Battersea. We take this membership as a measure of support in Battersea, and maintain that in preparing to contest an election where the working class had no desire for socialism (proved by small membership), was anti-socialist action. Also, seeing that you agree with Marx that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself, condemns you, and though your speeches and pamphlets are socialistic, it is the actions of a party or person which determine their true status in the present order of society.
The criticism is evidently based upon incorrect information about the Socialist Party's attitude. The criticism would have point if it had been proposed to run a candidate in North Battersea or elsewhere on a programme drawn up with a view to attracting the support and votes of non-Socialists. But there was no such intention. Socialist Party candidates for election run on no programme except that which our readers see in our literature, and they would receive, therefore, the votes only of those who want Socialism and reject the programmes of the opposing candidates. The number of persons who want Socialism and would vote for it would, although small, be larger than our enrolled membership.

From its formation the Socialist Party has regarded the contesting of elections as a means of propaganda to be used along with other means of propaganda. Good work has been done at council elections in the past.

We accept Marx’s dictum that the working class must achieve their own emancipation. But Marx, of course, did not mean by this that nothing should be done until the working class as a whole decide upon doing it. If that attitude were correct, then the Socialist Party could not have been formed. The action of forming a Socialist organisation of any kind at a time when "the working class have no desire for Socialism” would, according to such reasoning, "be anti-Socialist action.” Marx, it is interesting to observe, had considered this situation and wholeheartedly agreed with the attitude which the Socialist Party takes up. In his "Address to the Communist League" he wrote:—
  Even in constituencies where there is no prospect of our candidate being elected, the workers must nevertheless put up candidates in order to maintain their independence, to steel their forces, and to bring their revolutionary attitude and party views before the public.
Ed. Comm.

A Red Herring. (1931)

Editorial from the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent election in St. George's raises a few interesting questions.

In the first place, there seems little doubt that Tory, Labour and Liberals were allied in supporting the Conservative candidate against the Rothermere-Beaverbrook nominee. But the first question that strikes one is, Why all the bother and mud-slinging? What is behind the Rothermere-Beaverbrook attempt to run the Conservative Party? And, further, why the comparative unanimity between Conservatives, Liberals and Labour on the Indian Question? Is it all a game of bluff?

That Rothermere and Beaverbrook desire to wield the balance of power in the Conservative Party, and that Winston Churchill (who up to the present seems always to have changed his political colours too late) desires the position of Prime Minister, may all be true, but yet not the main object behind the trouble.

Ireland was for decades a useful blind to keep the English workers from taking too close an interest in their own political circumstances. After Ireland had passed out of the picture, Russia stepped in, and now India is in the limelight. But in the meantime Liberal, Tory and Labour have been drawing closer together and the Labour Party have given ample evidence of their ability to steer accurately in the interests of capital. There is a danger of the workers getting restive and dissatisfied with the Labour Party's meek acceptance of capitalist conditions. What better method then of heading off dangerous restiveness than by putting up a sham fight with a new brand of capitalist political parties. The hazier and more indefinite the object and programme, the larger the number of people likely to be attracted.

The way Gandhi has been manoeuvred into such a position that many of his followers are now repudiating him, suggests the nature of the bluff.

The Daily Mail and the Evening News have been publishing furious articles about the surrender to Gandhi, but Gandhi has now discovered that there are certain reservations relating to safeguards in the British Government's agreement that were (purposely?) not made clear to him at the time of signing.

In the meantime, mass protest meetings are being held in India by Hindus who threaten to withdraw their support from Gandhi if he agrees to certain demands of the Moslems. It looks very like the old game of “divide and conquer."

To the worker the issues raised at St. George's were of no concern, as the interests engaged were capitalist interests. Self-government for India, like self-government for Ireland, is only a question of which group of capitalists will rule. The dinners to Gandhi given by the rich Bombay mill-owners are suggestive of the meaning of Indian self-government to the mass of the population of India.

For over a century the population of India has been exploited for the benefit of European capitalists who broke up the old communal village system of production that had flourished there for ages. In the meantime, native capitalists have amassed wealth and own much of the recently developed instruments of modern production. The latter now want political domination in order to secure a greater share of the fruits of the labour of the Indian workers—hence the movement for self-government.

Indian working men and women are exploited in mills, mines and on the land, like their English brethren, and, like them also, their only salvation lies in the international movement for Socialism. In this movement no help is to be expected from Indian mill-owners nor from the parties in this country that are united in demanding the continuance of present conditions, whether they fly the colours of Tory, Liberal, Labour or United Empire Parties.

Our Position. (1910)

Editorial from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, during the last General Election, took up the only attitude the working class, conscious of its own position, can assume, viz., contemptuous indifference for the intrigues of its masters for political power, with a determination of pushing the working-class point of view forward as the only one interesting it.

The capitalist class in selecting those questions upon which to summon its supporters among the workers to rally, necessarily has to choose from among those making the widest appeal, and the explanation of the “democratic” tendency imparted to modem electioneering is that the working class has to bulk largely in the programme in order to be persuaded to lend its polling strength to this or that set of the masters’ political servants. The Election of this year was eminently typical of this in placing so far to the front the question of those constitutional changes alleged to be designed for the safeguarding of the privileges of the “democracy" on the one side, and the more direct appeal to sections of workers on behalf of fiscal changes ostensibly designed for the purpose of improving trade and mitigating, if not solving, the particularly working-class question of unemployment on the other.

The utterly fraudulent nature of the first position is clear from the arguments put forward by the Peers themselves and their apologists in the Commons. The virtual rejection of the Budget was not effected directly by the Lords as a right, but was done in the name of democracy by referring it to the ultimate tribunal— the people; since when, those who support this action have been protesting that it never was, or will be, the intention of the Lords to stand between the definitely expressed will of the people and its legislative outcome. The very fact that they should have seen fit to cloak their action under the guise of democracy makes it abundantly clear that they recognise the undoubted power of the “people,” as represented in the Commons, to legislate in their own way at their own pleasure. The “Constitutional outrage,” therefore, that was put forward sufficiently successfully to invoke the support of the S.D.P. in shouting “Down with the House of Lords,” has no terror for the Socialist desiring to give expression to his readiness for the economic change he seeks, because he knows that, no matter how often you refer the question of Socialism to a Socialist working class, the vote will necessarily be “for” every time, and any such delay but strengthens his hand when the Peers give way. Which is not to say they will give way as readily on so vital a matter to their interests as Socialism, as they will on such an issue as the Budget, but the alleged “outrage,” so far as their defence has been carried, specifically maintains the final decision to rest with the people themselves. More than that no Socialist requires. It is not conceivable that Socialism can be forced on an unwilling or unready working class, who, when converted, can under existing political conditions—“outrage” as well —say so.

The “Tariff Reform” nostrum requires little demolishing. If all that were claimed for it by its advocates were taken as granted—increased business included—the position of the workers would still manifest the same relative position of poverty amid the increasing wealth they produce, and would still demand the same solution—ownership of the instruments they use.

That Socialist objective is the only thing that matters to us who are Socialists. Its achievement is possible whenever the bulk of our fellows are of like opinion, howsoever the political or other barriers are arranged by our opponents, the capitalist class; and its achievement is not possible while we have a minority, under any conceivable political or social circumstances. To produce that majority is the immediate object of the Socialist, by which time the movements of our rulers may have created a position entirely different from the present one in its political aspect. But in those movements we can have no part: they concern them, not us. We know that the economic position of our class is incapable of any essential improvement within the limits of capitalism, and are therefore out for its abolition, and we refuse to stay our hand from that work for anything any section of the masters like to propose for our temporary benefit economically, or for the alleged purpose of facilitating our movement politically. It is thus we make ourselves Socialists in the present, and it is thus we shall win Socialism in the future.

The present political situation makes more than ever necessary the Party which alone in this country is emphasising the need for conscious working-class action along political lines for the realisation of Socialism—the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Our Sixth Annual Conference. (1910)

Party News from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sixth Annual Conference of the Socialist Party of Great Britain was held at Fairfax Hall, Harringay, N., on Friday and Saturday, March 25th and 26th.

Comrade R. H. Kent (Stoke Newington) was elected to the chair. The Credentials Committee reported 39 Delegates present, representing 18 Branches.

The Report of the retiring Executive Committee was very gratifying. It recorded an encouraging advance in all directions. A good number of new members had been enrolled during the year, and new branches had been formed—at East Ham and Walthamstow. The financial outlook had greatly improved, enabling more effective work to be done. The circulation of the Party Organ had made marked progress, while there had been a very gratifying increase in the number of contributors.

50,000 copies of the Election Manifesto had been issued, with very good results. A pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion” had been completed and was now in the Press.

Numerous debates had been held throughout the year, and the Party’s position had been placed before many other organisations.

Three branches had contested local elections, making good use of the opportunity for a vigorous propaganda.

The Treasurer’s report confirmed the E.C. in financial matters, and showed a substantial balance in hand, while the report of the Organiser was particularly satisfactory, both regarding the past year and the prospects for that to come. In the provinces in particular the outlook was much brighter.

The “Items for Discussion” brought forward a number of members and delegates in a debate of high merit. Many young members took part, adding no mean contribution to the important and interesting discussion that followed.

Space does not permit me to report, even briefly, the points raised, but the calibre of our younger speakers assures me that our speakers list will be very greatly augmented in the near future.

The Conference was adjourned on the Friday evening to make way for the Annual Social, which was an unqualified success in all respects, and in attendance eclipsed all others. 
W. Knight

Jottings (1910)

The Jottings Column from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. J. E. Sutton is one of the “Labour” M P.s who was pledged to abstain from identifying himself with any party not affiliated to the Labour Party. This is how he did it.

The Manchester Guardian (8.1.10) reported a “Remarkable meeting at Ardwick,” where in answer to a question Mr. Sutton said :

“Mr. Zimmerman had magnanimously retired on his own initiative to give the Labour candidate a far better chance than he would have had in a three cornered contest.” (Loud cheers.)

“The Chairman, Mr. T. Lowth, added that Mr. Zimmerman's very graceful action in retiring would materially benefit the Labour chances. He was quite sure that it was Mr. Zimmerman’s desire that all Liberals in the division should work and vote for Mr. Sutton. Mr. Zimmerman had helped them in many a straggle and would help them again.

“The Rev. J. E. Roberts, who was received with great enthusiasm, said : ‘This is the first time that I have stood on a Labour platform, and I am here as a Liberal.’—(Applause.) . .

‘I do hope that every Liberal in this division will work strenuously and earnestly to return Mr. Sutton to Parliament for this division. The fact is that we are both fighting for our very lives. Liberalism and Labour are fighting for their political existence, and it is not a time for us to be considering chiefly the things to divide, but it is a time for us to be working shoulder to shoulder together.’ (Applause).”

The Rev. Roberts also gave utterance to the following gem:

“Tariff ‘Reform’ meant more money for the rich and more poverty for the poor. Anything that meant more money for the rich and more poverty for the poor was immoral.”

Seeing that under Free Trade we have had “more money for the rich and more poverty for the poor,” the Rev. gentleman is evidently between the devil and the deep sea. Another deduction from the above extracts is that seeing Mr. Sutton was so completely identified with and supported by the Liberal Party, the latter must be affiliated to the Labour Party, as it would be more than we dare do to suggest that Mr. Sutton broke the constitution of the last named fragment of an organisation.

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On the Mid-Glamorgan result the Manchester Guardian of April 2nd last says :
  “It is plain from recent results that Labour members owe their election in very many eases to effective Liberal support. The knowledge that this is so, and that their votes are needed to ensure the safe return of most Labour members, imposes on Liberals a serious responsibility. . . . Tact is required on both sides, and the eve of the issue of a writ is a bad time for settling differences and employing the necessary give and take—things which should have been one long before when no contest was imminent. The Chief Liberal Whip has done well, therefore, in at once calling a meeting of Welsh Liberal members representing mining constituencies to consider the situation and, if possible, prevent the split in Glamorgan and the exasperation such a conflict must tend to engender from spreading further. The same assuaging and preventing action might well be taken in other parts of the country. The interests of Liberalism and Labour in all its various political expressions were never more completely one than now, and it would be suicidal were they not to join forces against the common foe.”
Evidently the shadow of a General Election calls for a disciplining of the “local" men on either side, and the Liberal Whip’s action in Wales is a straw showing the direction of the political wind — an indication of the even closer (if such a thing be possible) drawing together of the two wings of the Liberal Party.
J. B. F.

The case for Socialism (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

We suffer unemployment because we live today under a form of social organisation known as capitalism.

Capitalism divides the human family into two parts: one, a small minority class, claims title to all the resources of the earth — this group is known as the capitalists; the other class in our society, the overwhelming majority of the population, are known, appropriately enough, as the working class.

Since the capitalists claim ownership of all the resources of the earth, either as individuals, private or public companies or through the agency of the State, the workers are obliged in order to live to sell to the owning class the only thing they (the workers) possess, their mental or physical skills. These they sell in return for wages or salaries, which enables them to buy back from the capitalists a portion of the things they have produced.

The sole reason for producing goods under capitalism is to ensure directly or indirectly, for the capitalists, profit. Human needs are of secondary importance. This is true of all the capitalist countries of the world today. It is true of the “western” nations under “private” capitalism and it is equally true of the eastern ‘communist’ countries under state-capitalism.

When, because of the mad economics of capitalism, it becomes impossible for the capitalists to find markets for all their produce then production is slowed down or stopped and workers are left to the tender mercies of the “dole”.

We affirm, that only in Socialism is a lasting solution to the problem of unemployment to be found.
Socialism is a form of social organisation wherein the convention governing the production and distribution of all wealth will be the satisfaction of human needs. All the resources of the earth will be the property of mankind as a whole and people will apply their skills and energies to these resources in order to produce the things society needs. Under such circumstances an abundance of all the things we need could be produced and it will not be necessary to find markets in which goods can be sold — for as all (save the young, the aged and infirm) will have engaged in the job of production, so all will take from the abundant wealth available. Money, a measurement of wealth and means of exchange under capitalism, will, in Socialism, be rendered superfluous, hence the humiliation of the wages system, with all the other ugly features of class slavery, will disappear, leaving the simple principle of socialist organisation: from each in accordance with his ability; to each in accordance with his needs.

You will readily see that in such a society there could be no problem of unemployment. The human family would produce more than sufficient to satisfy the needs of its every member and the fact that too much of a particular thing was being produced would simply mean that we would re-direct our activities or enjoy more leisure.

Is such a society economically possible? Of course it is! When you consider the organised waste that the ending of the money-system alone will bring you begin to appreciate the great possibilities that lie before us. Think of all the useless functionaries connected with capitalism and essential to that system: we have the capitalists themselves, and their lackeys and flunkeys . . . armies of salesmen, touts, tickmen and agents of all descriptions . . . brokers, bankers, clerks and advertising “specialists” . . . policemen, jailers and prisoners — to give point to the commandments of the system . . . soldiers, sailors and airmen, to fight capitalism’s wars — and, of course, the vast array of civilian brains and brawn necessary to the appetite of the war-machines, not to speak of the loss of human life and energy associated with “civilisation’s” wars. Very little mental exercise will show that we could fill many pages with lists of functionaries necessary only to the maintenence of capitalism.

With Socialism all these useless functions will come to an end and the people concerned can begin to make a real contribution to the happiness of themselves and all mankind.

There can be no doubt that freed from the restrictions and organised waste of capitalism the peoples of the world have it within their power to produce their needs, thus opening the door to a full and happy life for all humanity. The question remains, how can the change to Socialism be accomplished?

Capitalism could not continue to exist without the willingness and assistance of the majority of the people whose role in that society is that of wage-slaves. Even more so will Socialism require the participation of its people but, by the very nature of Socialism such support and participation must be conscious. Only the unqualified and conscious support and participation of the majority of the world’s workers can bring about Socialism. The socialist objective will mean freedom as Man has never before known it; it represents the beginning of the highest form of social organisation that mankind can achieve, hence it demands of those who institute it a knowledge of what it is and how it will function.

Accordingly, the task of the World Socialist Party and its Companion Parties overseas, is to use all the means at our disposal to bring about mass Socialist understanding; to build up an organised majority of conscious Socialists to the end of gaining control of the state power and converting this from the agent of capitalist exploitation into an instrument of Socialist emancipation.

Simply stated. Socialism will come about when the majority of the workers of the world realise that they are the people who equip and run capitalism in the interests of their masters and undertake the task of changing the economic foundations of society in such a way as will facilitate the functioning of society in the interests of all, irrespective of race or sex.

Socialism is only as far off as the willingness of the workers to accept capitalism and attempt its reform leaves it. We cannot over-emphasise the fact that there is no bar to Socialism now but the lack of socialist knowledge prevailing among the working class.

It is not usual for a political party to ask you to think and to ply you with something really worth thinking about. It is the practice to assure you that the party has your problem in hand and that “Mr. So-and-So”, a “born leader of men” will collect your vote and put matters right. We hasten to assure you that we have no “leaders of men” in our ranks; we are an organisation of working men and women tormented by the problems and humiliations of capitalism and eager to enlist your support to banish that system from the earth.
— From a pamphlet on Unemployment issued by the World Socialist Party of Ireland.

Do races exist? (1970)

From the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

In biology the word race is used as a synonym for sub-species which is a sub-division of a species. So biologists talk about races of plants and other animals besides Man. Applied to mankind, a race would be a sub-division of the species homo sapiens. It is worth emphasising here that all human beings are members of the same animal species. All men and women, whatever their different physical characteristics, are members of one vast human family. We really are, as the saying goes, brothers and sisters under the skin.

Obviously human beings do differ one from another in their physical characteristics and so, for purposes of scientific investigation, can be classified into groups based on those characteristics which are common to a number of them. Some biologists call these groups races. Others prefer to avoid this word altogether, on the grounds that its constant misuse in politics has made it unsuitable as a precise, scientific term; they want to use some other term like ethnic group.

Given, then, that there is nothing wrong in principle with classifying mankind into sub-groups on the basis of common characteristics, the problem arises of how many such groups there should be. Or, if you believe in using the term, how many races are there? This is a question on which biologists are not agreed, never have been agreed and never will be agreed. There are two reasons for this.

First, dividing mankind into sub-groups is a matter of scientific convenience so as to understand better Man as part of the animal kingdom. There are thus grounds for proper disagreement as to which system of classification is the most useful. Indeed, as knowledge advances, one system may become outmoded and need to be replaced with another.

Second, the same human beings can be included in different groups depending on which physical characteristics you use to define the group—for instance skin colour, or hair, or bone structure, or blood group.

This second point brings out once again the essential unity of mankind from the point of view of biology, and shows that in the course of Man’s existence on this earth as a separate species there has already been considerable intermixing of people with different characteristics. Indeed, this intermixing has been such that it is utter nonsense to talk of “pure races”.

The plain fact of the matter is that it is now quite impossible to draw hard and fast lines between groups of human beings. Any lines biologists feel they must draw are necessarily imprecise and always changing.

Racists argue that the groups into which they classify mankind not only have distinct physical characteristics but also differ in intellectual capacity. There are, according to the racist, superior and inferior races.

But what are the facts? Despite repeated attempts to get such evidence, nobody has been able to show any innate connection between a person’s intellectual ability (which in any event is not just a matter of biology since the mind is a product of society too) and some physical feature like the colour of his skin. The full range of intellectual ability seems to exist in all the groups into which biologists have ever divided mankind. Experience has shown that members of all these groups are capable of absorbing modern culture—reading, writing, operating machines and so on—in a comparatively short period of time. The difference which now exist between human beings as far as their level of civilisation is concerned are not the result of different natures but the result of living and having lived in different environments. There are no superior or inferior races.

What the study of human differences brings out is, oddly enough, not how different human beings are but how alike they are. It points to the conclusion that there is really only one race: THE HUMAN RACE.
Adam Buick

Confusion Confounded (1970)

Pamphlet Review from the January 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever happened to our Wages? Norman Atkinson M.P. (Tribune Publications. 1s.)

Norman Atkinson, Labour M.P. for Tottenham, argues three main propositions—that wages since 1938 have barely kept pace with prices and have actually fallen behind in some industries; that this is because all the governments, Labour and Tory, have pursued wrong policies; and that this can be remedied in future if they take his advice.

The information he offers adds little to what is generally known and where it attempts to go further it is based on arguments which will not bear examination. His explanation of why things went wrong is absurd and his remedies useless. Nevertheless, the pamphlet has its importance because it is typical of the emptiness of the case made by so called 'left wing' Labour M.P.s.

Like many back-bench M.P.s who got into Parliament on the Labour bandwagon and hope to do so again, Atkinson wants to dissociate himself from some of his government's unpopular measures, notably its incomes policy. This calls for some delicate weaving between saying that Labour Government is useless to the workers and defending it because he wants it to be returned again.

He won't go along with workers who think that it does not matter whether the government is Tory or Labour, yet he admits that policies on prices and incomes "have been consistent over twenty years" i.e. from Labour to Tory and back again to Labour. (He presents a nice balance for the last four years of Tory government and the first four years of Labour government—wages under Wilson fared "marginally better" than under the Tories, but the Tories when they tried to keep wages down "apologised like gentlemen", quite unlike "wind and brass George Brown".)

His summary on wages and prices as the following piece of double talks: -
  It will be evident from the following Tables that some wage earners have suffered a drop from their 1938 living standards whilst others have made little or no progress, but this is not to deny that the quality of life has improved immensely. Of course it has!
So the quantity is down but the quality is immensely better; whatever that may mean.

He dodges blaming the government directly, by saying that the wrong policies of Labour and Tory governments have not been due to the intention of keeping wages down but resulted from the governments having been bamboozled by the officials at the Treasury, whose thinking is "tipped slightly in favour of capital."

He offers no explanation whatever why the governments which appoint high Treasury officials have to take from them advice which the governments think is unsound.

His other bugbear is "the City" as distinct from the manufacturing capitalists, yet it is noticeable that among his examples of inadequate wages he includes Fords. The founder of Fords shared Atkinson's adverse view of bankers but how exactly did the City prevent Fords from paying higher wages?

On the wages-prices issue it has been generally accepted that on average workers earnings have, since 1938, got appreciably ahead of average prices but with some industries failing to keep pace, and with wide variations of price increase for different groups of workers.

Atkinson argues that the official index figures of average price and rent increases between 1938 and 1968, an increase of 270 per cent, is an understatement because the amount people spend on alcohol and tobacco is more than they care to admit to Ministry officials (and to their wives). It was the Ministry which drew the attention to this. What Atkinson has failed to do is to assess the likely amount of this understatement. If the amount spent on these items were twice as large as the amount admitted it would raise the 270 per cent to something in the region of 280 per cent. Mr. Atkinson however, produces a figure of 371 per cent as the amount that "can perhaps be considered the rise in the cost of living of a family of two adults and one child earning average wages".

He does this by taking as his figure for rent and rates one household in the London Borough of Haringey and assuming that an expenditure of £4.8.6 on rent, representing 23 per cent of the family's total weekly expenditure is typical. This is quite out of line with the Ministry's average figures for the country as a whole and he makes no attempt to show that the information collected by the Ministry in their periodical inquiries is wrong. The Ministry of course, as its figures are national averages, takes into account low-rented areas of the country and a proportion of controlled rents.

When it comes to remedies Atkinson produces only some old specifics which have all been tried without success. They are "import selectivity", which presumably means restrictions on imports; "domestic price repression" (maximum prices) and productivity bargaining, plus one other obscure passage which says that "we must campaign on both fronts and thus strengthen the Labour Party's industrial base". Charitably interpreted, this would appear to mean that the workers should first elect a Labour government and strike against its policies.

For a century or more capitalists and economists dreamed of a paradise in which booms went smoothly for ever. Socialists, with facts on their side, maintained that capitalism does not and cannot operate in that way. Atkinson clearly has not lost his faith in capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

As Good As His Masters. (1910)

From the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

“An officer of the Church Army tells a story of a famous pickpocket who became a convert at a mission meeting, and decided to live straight in the future. He resolved to make a start by contributing to the collection, and being broke, solved the difficulty by picking the pocket of the individual next to him, putting the results in the plate. The logic of the proceeding is a little curious, but in no way affected his desire to live an honest life.”

What an example of the current morality and logic of the capitalist regime as a whole—with the difference that it is by no means due solely to simple mindedness, but mostly from cunning and class interest that the master class so act. Take, for instance, the charitable donations that the master so generously (!) bestows upon hungry and shivering members of the working class. Where does he get them from if not from the workers themselves? In the factories and workshops he grinds us and drives us, keeping us, by the aid of the unemployed (who constitute an evil he dares not if he could remove) down to a wretched subsistence, enfeebling us in body and mind, while he waxes fat on our product. Then, having assured his comfortable economic future, he decides to reform, to be and do good in a way that he feels he ought to according to the station of life to which it has pleased his almighty and merciful God to call him. So with flourish of trumpets and many words, he donates a few thousand pounds to a society for rescuing fallen women maybe, ignoring the fact that he got his millions at the cost of these women becoming what they are. Perhaps it is to the "waifs and strays” he will turn with his cursed charity: the same thing applies. It is the present system of producing for profit on a basis of private ownership of the means of life, with proletarian (propertyless) labour that causes our streets to swarm with waifs and strays. All attempts by various organisations to cope with the evil have not lessened it one atom.

The narrator of the incident describes the logic as a little curious. This is a peculiarity logic has when it becomes mixed up with religion. In fact it is frequently so curious as to be better described as irrational. But its peculiarities sometimes have a good effect, arousing a curiosity that to the persistent enquirer will be of great value, as it will assuredly lead him to a recognition of the fallacy of believing anything that has no rational sanction, and as a logical sequence he will find himself in the course of time in the ranks of the S.P.G.B., striving to realise our motto: “The World for the Workers.”

S.P.G.B. Lecture List For May (1910)

Party News from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard