Saturday, November 9, 2019

Soviet Capitalism (1936)

Book Review from the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?” by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. 2 vols. 1174 pp. (Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd. 35/-.)

The present writer is unable to join in the chorus of flattering praise that has heralded the appearance of the above volumes. The title of the work is misleading. Even Stalin has not yet had the impudence to declare that Communism, as a system of society, has been established in Russia. The plan of the book is bad. The second volume goes over the same ground as the first from an angle which, though slightly different, does nothing to improve the perspective. Finally, the contents show a complete lack of any sense of the relative importance of the various aspects of the subject. For sheer question-begging assumption, tedious repetition and the wholesale sacrifice of inner understanding to formal description it will be hard to beat. A fascinating and important subject of widespread interest has been subjected to the typically superficial treatment one has learnt to expect from the Fabians, with the result that instead of enlightenment all one gets is a headache.

The authors ask us to contemplate an economic and historical miracle. They profess to depict a society which has liquidated capitalism without first developing, in anything approaching fullness, the productive forces which that system calls into being. We are expected to believe that in Russia there is a large and growing class of wage-receivers without a corresponding class of wage-payers, that profits are made, but that no one makes profit, that capital is accumulating at an unusually rapid pace, but that no one owns it, and that while no one dictates, the workers and peasants are, none the less, most effectively dictated to. The present scribe remains incredulous.

The Webbs occupy over four hundred pages describing the formal relations which are supposed to exist between the elements of the constitution, such as the Soviets, the trade unions, the handicraft co-operatives, the collective farms, consumers' co-ops., and the Communist Patty. In their entirety these are organised into a “pyramidal hierarchy" (the authors’ expression) at the summit of which stands the Council of People’s Commissars, consisting entirely of Communists. At the base of the pyramid, however, in the soviets of the cities and villages (the only directly elected bodies) the Communists are in a decided minority. The collective farmers are not as such represented, although they and their dependants form, roughly, half the population, while the Communist Party is “outside," (or should it not be above) “the law and the constitution ” (p. 430).

This arrangement, ascribed to the genius of Lenin, is called by the Webbs, “multiform democracy.”

After having patiently waded through the above-mentioned four hundred pages, the reader is confronted by the confession of the authors that the constitutional structure changes so rapidly as to be difficult to define (p. 418). A further thirty pages have then to be traversed to discover whether or not the government can correctly be described as a dictatorship. The Webbs decide not, but the fact that no organised opposition to the government is tolerated is not even mentioned. Not until we reach page 586 do we encounter the significant statement, quoted approvingly from the work of an American engineer, that “Without the G.P.U. there would be no Communist Party in Russia to-day, no Union of Socialist Soviet Republics."

In other words, the secret political police, one of the worst features of Tsarism (marked down for abolition by the pre-war Bolsheviks when they were still advocating a democratic republic), is the chief prop of their present rule. The supremacy of the Communist Party is based, as they have so often told us, not upon the consciously organised majority of the population, but upon an instrument of terror designed to protect them, at once from the plots of ambitious rivals and the revolts of the discontented.

This survival of semi-mediaeval methods of government requires to be explained, and it is characteristic of the Webbs that they have given us the very minimum of historical background. They devote so much space to the details of the superstructure that, in spite of the size of the volume, they skip over important points with mere passing references. Thus, if one wants information concerning “the liquidation of the capitalist,” one finds two or three isolated pages, in the course of which one learns that although “Lenin would have waded through seas of blood ” to achieve this object (p. 535), it actually occurred “very largely by accident” (p. 612) owing to the need for evading, if possible, certain stipulations by the German Government with regard to the execution of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. We are given the bare information that on or about June 28th, 1918, “a decree was issued declaring all enterprises having a capital exceeding 200,000 roubles to be the property of R.S.F.S.R.” There is nothing concerning the extent to which this capital was previously in the possession of foreigners, nor how the decree affected Russian holders. Neither are we told how the lesser concerns came to be nationalised. For information of this description one is obliged to go to less pretentious volumes such as “Economic Trends in Soviet Russia,” by A. Yugov, or Mr. M. Dobb's “Russian Economic Development. ’ ’

Apparently the Webbs have never heard of the huge new Russian National Debt, though government bonds are occasionally referred to. The subject of taxation is dismissed in a few sentences. For some obscure reason the State taxes its own industries, though “the assessment is mitigated in various ways, in favour of the collectivised concerns,” whatever that may mean (p. 117). One gathers, however, that though the workers get about two hundred roubles per month on the average, some people make up to 24,000 roubles in the same period. Even when their income tax is paid they are many times better off than the skilled worker. According to the “U.S.S.R. Handbook” (Gollancz, 1936, p. 310), the tax on higher incomes has been reduced since the Webb’s book was published.

How are wages determined? “According to social value,” reply the authors (p. 186), which turns out upon examination to be nothing more than a new name for our old friends, supply and demand, or in other words the relative scarcity of certain grades of skill. Devotion to the piecework system of payment is transformed in these pages into a “socialistic” virtue, taking the place of profit as a lever for achieving industrial progress. The accident rate is not mentioned, but, apparently, even American mechanics, accustomed to the driving methods of Ford’s factory at Detroit, have been compelled to protest against piece-work in the tool-room (p. 709).

The Trade Unions bit the dust about six years ago as independent defenders of wage-rates (pp. 170-2), and have been saving the government the expense of a separate department for administering sick-pay, etc., since 1933. The soviet trade union “is not formed to fight anybody, and has no inducement to prevent the competition among workmen for particular jobs ” (p. 173). Its chief concern apparently is now the speeding up of production. Trade Union officials act as rate-fixers (p. 188), and help to keep the wheels of industry working smoothly by discouraging strikes. Communists in other countries have called this sort of thing by hard names, but Russia has become, in a more sinister sense than ever before, the land of holy idol worship.

The rank and file of the Communist Party play a similar role. Forty per cent. of the membership are salaried officials (p. 352). The rest see in their skill at leading non-members in increasing production, the high road to promotion. Even the very cows on the State farms recognise the touch of their authority, yielding five litres of milk to them as against four to non-members (p. 361). Can it be that they have replaced the old peasant milking songs with a chant of the theses of the Third International? Of their loyalty there can be no question, however; they do not even ask their leaders to issue a balance sheet for the 50 million roubles which is subscribed annually as membership fees (p. 371).

The State Trusts and Combines controlling the various large-scale industrial establishments (compulsorily amalgamated during the period of civil war) are not departments like the Post Office (or the Railways in certain countries), but rather, bodies comparable to the United States Steel Corporation or the Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., with their respective boards or commissions of directors appointed by the People’s Commissar in each case (p. 110). They in turn appoint the general managers of the separate factories or plants. Management by committees elected by the workers in the factories established by decree in November, 1917, was definitely deposed by a decree of June 28th, 1918, placing each enterprise under the control of a single manager (pp. 604-9).

This triumph of bureaucracy over a mild form of anarchy naturally pleases the Webbs, but they fail to point out that the entire situation demonstrated the absence of any organised working-class ready to establish Socialism by democratic methods. In spite of formal trustification, however, we are told on p. 772 that “thousands of separate employers are actively competing with each other in their search for this or that kind of skilled worker, whilst each is habitually struggling against all the rest for an adequate supply of unskilled and even raw peasant labour.” In view of this fact, the forcible collectivisation of two-thirds of the peasantry, involving as it did the expropriation of hundreds of thousands, takes on a new light. The dispossession of peasants is the historical capitalist method of increasing the supply of labour-power for industry.
"Each enterprise is responsible for all new and additional capital invested in its undertakings, and for the actual repayment of loans and the payment of bank interest, with a system of accounting of great strictness and complexity” (p. 781). In spite of this, however, Molotov, President of the Council of Commissars (p. 782), complains that "we have cases in which those who direct trusts, co-operative organisations, factories, or soviet farms, sell their produce more profitably, upsetting the fixed prices, and fail to meet their obligations to the State, taking in reality the unclean path of speculation.” Thus, in a land where scarcity, not over-production, is the rule, control from above fails to prevent the assertion of economic laws which enable individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of the State in whose service they are nominally engaged. Curiously enough, the Webbs do not give any examples of these people being shot by the G.P.U. "Counter-revolutionaries” appear to be drawn mainly from the lower official ranks, the so-called technical intelligentsia. And even clerks and shop assistants, foremen and stationmasters, train conductors and book-keepers fail to acquire "soviet incentives.” Indeed, the Webbs saddle this section with responsibility for the fact that in the U.S.S.R. “the project or plan is always superior to the execution of it" (p. 798).

Where these people are exceptionally scarce, such as experienced engineers, some curious incidents occur. Thus the Webbs found in "the best room in the best hotel in an important city, a Russian specialist who had been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for counter-revolutionary activities. He had served only a small part of his sentence when the president of the trust for which he had worked, feeling severely the loss of this expert service, obtained the favour of his release” (p. 582). They also quote a case (given by Ella Winter in "Red Virtue" p. 76), in which "Four men in a civil aviation factory were arrested for wrecking. They were given ten-year sentences. A year later they were all amnestied, given 10,000 rouble bonuses for good work done, and sent back to work without a stigma ” (p. 583). Seemingly, it pays in Russia not to be a mere Kulak or other recalcitrant.

In the sphere of distribution, shops run by the trusts vie with shops run by the State directly on the one hand, and the co-operative stores on the other. Of the latter we are told (p. 326) that "There have been more speculators and embezzlers, thieves and bureaucrats in the co-operative system than any other branch of soviet enterprise"; evidently there is still a fair amount of scope in Russia for primitive accumulation. One cannot help wondering if those who get away with it invest in government bonds. Municipal pawnshops come to the rescue of those who cannot make ends meet in this way (p. 331), but stay, we have omitted to mention that the situation is likely to be relieved some time this year, by “the opening of 'one-price stores’ after the model of the Woolworth establishments in the American and western European cities" (p. 330). Now let who will declare that the Soviet Government is not looking after the interests of the workers!

The struggle between the peasantry and the government has been practically’ incessant. The latter appear to have won, with the approval of the Webbs. The peasants, generally, are far too poor to purchase the expensive modern types of agricultural machinery now being produced; nor is the government now in the position to give them away. The plan, therefore, has followed the line of establishing machine and tractor stations for the purpose of ploughing the land of the collective farms, and threshing the crop in return for a proportion of the yield. This proportion has been the basis of dispute, in addition to the general distrust of the government’s methods. So the authors tell us that "What the Soviet Government was faced with from 1929 onward was, in fact, not a famine, but a widespread 'general strike' of the peasantry, in resistance to the policy of collectivisation" (p. 265). One expression of this "strike” was the destruction of livestock, which was reduced from 270 million head in 1929 to 118 million in 1933, i.e., to less than half. The reply of the government was wholesale deportation. By the hundred thousand the “recalcitrant” peasants were removed from the villages and put to work on roads, railways and canals, cutting timber or mining ores. Defending this action, the Webbs contend that as the soil was national property, the peasants were merely occupants who were under an obligation “to produce the foodstuffs required for the maintenance of the community” (p. 268). Was this what Lenin meant when he broadcast the slogan, “The land for the peasants"?

It is interesting to reflect that when it was pointed out in these columns, in the early days of the Soviet regime, that the peasantry were unlikely to take the Webbs’ views of their duties, we were derided by the British champions of the Bolsheviks, who imagined in their simplicity that the Russian mujik would have no difficulty in understanding the principles of Socialism.

Forming three-quarters of the population, the peasantry has no more political power than is represented by the village meeting (p. 22). Legally, the village soviet has wide powers compared with an English parish council, according to the Webbs; but they appear to have overlooked that the poverty of the peasantry is an effective barrier to any attempt on their part to use these powers. Thus the government has to prod the local councils into action rather than to check their extravagance.

It is from the peasantry that the Red Army is mainly recruited by compulsory service. We are told, however, that “many who are not conscripted actually volunteer for service. They find the army conditions, in fact, superior to those of the independent peasant or the miner, the factory-operative or the worker on the oil-field" (p. 125). How reminiscent of capitalism elsewhere! A further attraction appears to be that “The peasant who is serving in the army can always command a hearing. Many are the instances in which a son who is a Red Army man has been able, by intervening from a distance, to obtain redress for his father and family who have been suffering from some petty tyranny or injustice at the hands of a local official.” What happens to those who are not fortunate enough to have a son in the army?

The Russian authorities have for centuries preferred to deal with the peasantry collectively. Taxation in any form is thus easier to raise. The Bolsheviks, however, have a further motive. The fall of the Romanovs is a standing warning to them not to rely upon an antiquated agriculture for food supplies, especially in war-time. The same remark applies to their whole policy of planning. The Webbs admit this on pp. 637-8. "Every government has to plan for national defence. But to the Soviet Government the danger of war has hitherto been a constant pre-occupation. . . . This fear has from the first lent a strategic object to the planning. It has seemed of vital importance that . . . the U.S.S.R. should make itself substantially independent of the outer world, not only in all the means of waging modern warfare, but also in all indispensable commodities. Hence the exceptional concentration of the First Five-year Plan . . . on a rapid expansion of the "heavy industries,” by means of which things can be made, or troops transported, instead of seeking directly to increase the making of the household commodities desired by the people.” So this is Socialism!

The new civilisation looks remarkably like the one we are all too well acquainted with. Even the extensive State control is in no sense new for Russia. Towards the latter end of the last century “ The government was not only by far the largest landowner in Russia, it was by far the greatest capitalist and the greatest employer of labour. Its railways, its mines, its factories of many different kinds, were in every part of the country ” (“Economic History of Russia,” James Mavor, vol. 2, p. 152, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.). Going still further back the same author tells us, “When Peter (the Great) came to the throne there were no large factories in Russia; when he died there were 233 State and private factories and foundries. These establishments were either founded by the State and managed by the State officials, or they were subsidised by the State, and afterwards were handed over to private firms. Throughout the 18th century, the great industries in Russia were carried on primarily for the benefit of the State ” (“Economic History of Russia,” vol. 1, pp. 124, 535).

What is the difference between the “Socialism” of Stalin and that of Peter? Simply this, that the latter’s undertakings were manned by serf-labour; the former's are based on the exploitation of wage-slaves.

Peter, however, had not heard of Marx, and could not try to cover up his proceedings with a display of “proletarian" phraseology.

Is this to say that no progress is made? By no means. The break-up of mediaeval forms in Russia, as elsewhere, is rendered inevitable by the advance of capitalistic methods of production. That Russia has had a spell of Bolshevik rule is no more surprising than that Britain and other countries should have occasional Labour Governments.

The administration of capitalism by people who have sprung from the working class is not Socialism. It does but demonstrate that within their servitude the workers are developing in the direction of political maturity.

Contemporary conditions in Russia have given a curious twist to the ideas of Marx and Engels, just as conditions in Germany in the first half of the 19th century gave a similar twist to revolutionary ideas from France. The stability of the existing regime in Russia cannot be eternal, and it behoves workers to beware of accepting the assurances of “intellectuals,” like the Webbs, concerning Russia or Socialism. They are authorities on neither.
Eric Boden

In a note to the Editorial Committee of The Socialist Standard, with respect to the review copy, Mr. S. Webb writes: —
  “You may say, if you like, the arrangements might possibly be made presently for a 'limited' edition at the same price (5s.), strictly confined to members of such organisations [of workers as were allowed to have the original 5s. edition], if their executive committees wish to take the matter up, and that, accordingly, anyone wishing to take advantage of such an arrangement should write to his E.C. on the subject.”

Blogger's Note:
By the time these volumes was reprinted in 1937 by the Left Book Club/Victor Gollancz, the question mark in the book title had been dropped, so that it now read “Soviet Communism: A New Civilization” by Sidney and Beatrice Webb

No Class-Struggle Here (1936)

Editorial from the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the autumn of 1935 many illustrious readers of the Times amused themselves by proving that capitalism is a myth. Either there is no such thing at all, or alternatively, all human societies have always been, and always will be, capitalistic. Professor Hearnshaw took up the story in the Daily Telegraph, telling us that Socialists have “imagined" the capitalist system. The Economic League and the Times, on other occasions, maintain that in England the Socialist conception must be false because they profess not to be able to see a well-defined capitalist class and working class; we are all capitalists, they say, because of the deposits in the Post Office Savings Banks.

That is the story served out as regards this country, but when the same people look at capitalist further afield a remarkable change takes place. The Times, in its Editorial on the Tokyo murders, could not find any explanation of the political movements in Japan, except one based on class interests: -
 There is little labour agitation in Japan; but there is a general disillusionment over the result of industrialisation, a disillusionment which is felt most strongly among the agricultural classes, from whom the officers are mainly recruited. Some of the patriotic societies, while fiercely opposed to Communism, demand that profit-making in finance, industry, and trade should be curbed by methods which are practically indistinguishable from Communism. They all resent the contrast between the great fortunes made in business and the poverty and austerity of life which is traditional among the military classes in Japan. —(February 27th.)
So, in abstract discussion, capitalism and capitalists are myths, figments of the Socialist imagination, but in faraway Japan the army movement is led mostly by “younger men drawn from the small landowning class," who resent “the exploitation of the peasantry by financiers and industrialists, with the connivance of corrupt politicians." (Times, March 5th.) They object to Japan's Government being controlled by “capitalists, politicians and bureaucrats."

At home in England the Times cannot see the poverty and misery wrought by capitalism, but in Japan the Army movement, in the words of the Times' own correspondent, is “A protest against the obvious fact that the mass of Japanese remain poor amid the country’s vaunted progress, while a few families have amassed colossal fortunes.  . . .  (Times, March 3rd.)

Similarly, Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard, in its Editorial (February 26th), describes the Japanese Cabinet as being dependent “on the goodwill of the Minseito Party, and this party, in its turn, dependent on industrial capitalist influences, which are not especially concerned about the Japanese farmer, and oppose militarism because it arouses prejudices adverse to Japanese foreign trade." 

An even more frank reference was made by the Observer to the capitalist nature of British control in Shanghai. Their Shanghai correspondent wrote (March 1): 
  Shanghai is essentially a capitalistic structure designed to protect vested interests.
Perhaps if these various newspapers were to get their Far-Eastern correspondents to take a telescopic view of Great Britain the Editors might begin to understand that early 19th-century England is mirrored in modern capitalistic Japan, and that movements here are to be explained only by the same kind of class-interests as operate there. But then, of course, the proprietors would hardly allow such articles to be printed.

SPGB Notices (1936)

Party News from the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communists! (1936)

From the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following announcement appeared in the French Communist paper L'Humanit√©  on January 5th
Athens, January 7th.— A delegation of Communists appeared at the Royal Palace. It made a statement to the effect that the Communist Party, which it represented, would co-operate with the functionaries of the regime, since it considered King George II a bulwark against Fascism and against any autocratic regime.
(The translation is taken from the Workers' Age, New York, February 1st, which also publishes the French text as it appears in L'Humanité.)

Notes By The Way: “The Daily Express” Star Performer (1936)

The Notes By The Way column from the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The Daily Express” Star Performer
There are many good reasons why workers should disregard the politics preached by the Daily Express. Now its readers are deprived, too, of what was one of its most entertaining non-political features, the column of guidance from the stars contributed by the “astrologer,” Mr. Naylor. Every day (including Sunday, in the Sunday Express) he advised readers what the stars foretold for those born on that day and for the whole 1¾-million not born on that day. When he missed a day consternation reigned throughout the land—or, so the Editor says. All day long the office was besieged on foot or by ’phone. Hundreds of readers refused to leave their homes in the morning to meet the day’s battle without first knowing whether this was a day for an ardent love affair, for buying houses or selling pepper, for avoiding sea-trips, or for bearding the boss for a rise. But even into the astral regions the class-struggle had intruded, so the day’s readings often gave separate advice for employers and employed.. This advice, on Saturday, February 29th, covered both that day and the next. On Saturday we were told that those born on February 29th, if in the ranks of owners of businesses, “May achieve a successful year financially by hard work. Those in employment, on the other hand, must take extra care not to offend those higher up, who can make difficulties for them.” Mr. Naylor has yet to learn that the capitalists do not thrive on their own hard work, but on that of others, and that all workers, not only those born on February 29th, have to take extra care not to offend their employer, because he can always “make difficulties for them.” The advice for all readers was sound enough, “Employees, look out for trouble, and give no cause for complaint,” though the last sentence “avoid extravagance” was hardly necessary.

The bright spot in the advice for Sunday was “Employees must try to be more assertive;” As nine-tenths of the workers do not work on Sunday it is a good day to be assertive, provided, of course, that they carried out Saturday’s instructions of minding their p’s and q’s. It is a pity we cannot know whether the Express staff working on Sunday asserted themselves to Lord Beaverbrook and, if so, with what result.

By coincidence, an article on Japan in the Sunday Express next day told us to be amazed at the queerness of that nation because, among other things, they consult astrologers!

#    #    #    #

Poverty is not being Abolished
Ceaseless propaganda goes on—as it has for a century or more—designed to convince the poor that their poverty and the wealth of the rich are alike diminishing. The Times Literary Supplement, reviewing a book “Farewell to Poverty,” asserts (March 7th) that there has been a “great redistribution of wealth and income . . . .  in this country since the war,” and that capitalism “during the century before the war . . . .  was successfully spreading abundance.” The Economic League publishes leaflets assuring the workers that “small and working-class investors have savings of something like £3,000,000,000 in value.”

All of this propaganda is the product of ignorance or deceit.

It may be true that the funds in Savings Banks, Building Societies, etc., etc., total nearly £3,000 millions, but how much is that per head of the millions who own it? And how many of them are workers? The Economic League and the Times are silent on this. Mr. Hargreaves Parkinson, of the Economist, in his book, “The Small Investor,” provides an answer. The people who own this sum constitute “at least 75 per cent. of the total population,” and the property they own does not amount to “more than 10 to 14 per cent.” of the total national wealth. (“Small Investor,” Blackie & Son, Ltd., 1930, p. 109-10.) So we are asked to be impressed by the “equality" of ownership demonstrated by the fact that less than one-quarter of the population own nearly nine-tenths of the national wealth!

Moreover, neither the League nor the Times has ever shown that the owners are wholly or mainly workers. As Mr. Parkinson points out (p. 10), an official inquiry showed that “in any savings bank, four-fifths or more of the total deposits are in one-fifth of the accounts." He goes on to say that in his opinion the relatively wealthy depositors “comprise certain Provident and Charitable Societies, and Clubs, which deposit their accumulated funds with the savings banks; foremen and others in the 'non-commissioned' ranks of industry; the wives of middle-class professional or business men. . . ."

Now Professor G. W. Daniels and Mr. H. Campion, in a paper read to the Manchester Statistical Society on March 11th (see Manchester Guardian, March 12th), have examined the present ownership of capital, and compared it with ownership in pre-war days. This is their conclusion:—
  . . .  it cannot be said there has been any marked change in the distribution of capital in individual hands in England and Wales during the last 25 years. 
The slight extent of the change, and the present enormous inequality, is shown by their conclusion
  In 1924-30 1 per cent. of the persons aged 25 and over in England and Wales owned 60 per cent. of the total capital; in 1911-13 1 per cent. of the persons owned 70 per cent. of the total capital.
  In 1924-30 80 per cent of the total capital and in 1911-13 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. was owned by 5 per cent. of the persons aged 25 and over.
They find also that “there is no evidence that the inequality will grow less marked in the future." 

The Manchester Guardian, while deploring this inequality, sees in the small change a disproof of the views held by “the cruder Marxists." It may be worth while considering this point on another occasion. Here it is sufficient to say that even if there had been a slight over-statement of views as to concentration of capital it shows the bankruptcy of Liberalism, that it can find no other answer to the appalling facts.

#    #    #    #

In 1914 Lenin and his associates coined a name for so-called Socialists who deserted internationalism. They were called “social-patriots." Through ignorance or for pay (e.g., Benito Mussolini) they preached war and nationalism. Many of them were the scum of the working-class movement.

In 1936 Lenin’s followers-from-afar are being manoeuvred by Moscow into the same position. The Daily Worker of March 9th reports that the French Communist organ L'Humanit√© has issued an appeal “for a united France for the struggle against Fascism and against war.” The appeal ends with the slogan: —
“Long live the Unity of France."
"Long live the International.”
“Long live the unity of all peace-loving people.”
This is precisely the way the "Social-patriots” phrased their desertion in 1914.

The Daily Worker of March 10th shows another aspect of the same “Communist-patriotic" trend. The cartoon presents a group of fearsome-looking Nazis, armed with machine-guns, to represent Germany, surrounded by a group of handsome unarmed workers representing Britain, France and Russia. The pretence that England and France (i.e., the respective Governments) are peaceful and proletarian is precisely the line those Governments themselves will take if and when it comes to a clash. The cartoon might have been taken from the Daily Mail any time between 1914 and 1918.

#    #    #    #

Salvation by House-Ownership
One of the gifts of the "practical" men to suffering humanity is the building society movement, preaching salvation of the working man by means of house ownership. Not only the Church and the orthodox political party leaders, but also many of the Trade Union and Labour leaders have backed the movement. Now that more workers than ever before have tasted the joys of crippling mortgage payments, of road charges, repairs, jerry-building, and the impossibility of getting anything like the purchase price in the event of compulsory removal to get work elsewhere, companies building flats to let are busy exposing the snags of house-ownership. Posters on the hoardings irritate the unfortunate owner of a few bricks and a mortgage by reminding him too late that he has fallen for another illusory social reform.

#    #    #    #

A New Kind of “Socialism"
An addition to the numerous misuses of the word Socialism was contained in a Sunday Express article on Japan (March 1st).

The aim of a movement was described as “a sort of Fascist dictatorship, combined with 'Imperial Socialism' of a Marxian tinge.”

If the Japs try to swallow that awful mixture they will be very sick.

#    #    #    #

Blot On or Blot Out
The Daily Herald (February 22nd) had a leader on the pepper speculation, which is called a "blot on the City.” It promised that under Labour Government the blot will be erased, and the City's financial morality purified. Nothing could show more plainly the gulf between Labourism and Socialism. Under Socialism, there being no use for financial mechanism, the “City" will not be cleansed, but blotted out. Bankers, stockbrokers and others, now preparing to carve out careers teaching “Socialists” how to run finance, please note.

#    #    #    #

Capitalism does not Feed the Workers
Defenders of capitalism who are so lyrical about the technical achievements of modern industry, might try to explain why, after all these years, even the most elementary needs of the working class remain unsatisfied. Sir John Orr, a leading expert on nutrition, in his “Food, Health and Income” (Macmillan, 2s. 6d.), states that there are 4,500,000 people in this country whose income per head is 10s. a week or less, and whose estimated average expenditure in food is only 4s. a week. Not only must many of these 4,500,000 be definitely undernourished, but millions more have a diet inadequate for perfect health. A completely adequate diet is only obtained by half the population. To raise the whole population to the standard attained by the wealthy 4,500,000 who spend 14s. per head on food each week “would involve increases in consumption . . . . of milk, eggs, butter, fruit, vegetables and meat varying from 12 per cent. to 25 per cent.”

One of the effects of the inadequate diet of the poor is that boys at Council Schools at age 13 are on an average 2½ inches shorter than boys at Christ's Hospital. At seventeen years of age the difference is nearly 4 inches, and at eighteen the sons of the rich at public schools are nearly 5 inches taller.

#    #    #    #

Will Mussolini hold on to Power?
The following sober estimate of the condition of affairs in Italy is translated from a journal, La Voce, circulated illegally in Milan. The translation was published in the American International Review (March).
  There is always the possibility that we in Italy do not see as clearly as observers abroad. On the other hand, we are in a better position to learn what is the current reaction of the population of the country. A successful war must have the backing of the population. A revolution can only be made by the population of the country. Now while the people of Italy are grumbling here and there, it is untrue that the demands of the war have made them turn against it. As yet, they do not oppose Mussolini’s war. They will begin to show opposition with defeat in Africa and privations at home. But though our sympathies are with the Ethiopians, we still doubt that Mussolini will be defeated on the Amhara tableland. In order to be defeated in Africa, Mussolini must be opposed in Europe—by the same powers that rule the roost in Geneva. Now these powers have something more important in mind. Even England, which seems to have much to lose through the Fascist defeat of the Negus Negusti. They are playing a bigger game, and may all of a sudden decide to forgive small misdemeanours. The Hoare-Laval plan was a meaningful feeler. It suggested that London and Mussolini may reach an understanding any time the European (sic) scene dictates it. The sanctions remain to date so much preaching. Does Mussolini’s war machine really find it hard to buy coal and oil? No, they who are lyrically vituperous against naughty fascism over the Press table in Geneva continue to supply the Italian Fascist forces with large stores of oil. Let-us not be fooled by politicians’ “big and small manoeuvres.” Our job remains sober, patient education. We, unlike our Parisian and New York friends, cannot afford to listen to fairy tales.
  “When the million and a half soldiers are demobilised at the end of the war”—then Mussolini and his gang will have to pay the fiddler. Thus spake “Soda” who writes encouragement from Rome. There is something to such a promise. Demobilisation always presents a difficult situation to the capitalist State. But we have had a post-war situation before.
  “And Italian Fascists may go left with a losing war,” suggests another letter-writer. They may, because Fascism is, after all, a radical populist movement, and basically a reformist movement.
  Our job remains not merely of opposition to Fascism, but predominantly the deeper task of agitation for a fundamental social change.
Edgar Hardcastle

The War Situation: From the Rhine to Abyssinia (1936)

From the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Keeping up with current affairs has become very largely a question of following the moves in the threatening conflict between the Powers. Hitler, unable to keep his pledges of prosperity for the German workers, shatters the superficial harmony of the concert of Europe with the diversion of sending troops into the Rhine provinces. At once the millions of half-starved wage- slaves of the European continent turn their eyes away from their own problems to gape in admiration or fear at this circus marvel. Hitler qualifies for the role of Europe’s bogeyman, following the footsteps of Napoleon, Metternich and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The world has indeed moved little since 1914. Busily preparing for war and manoeuvring for position, the politicians are conducting a long-distance mouth-and-pen duel about the sanctity of treaties. Hitler in the one gesture tears up Locarno, and promises solemnly to keep the next treaty. England, Belgium and France—who pledged themselves to disarm under the Versailles Treaty—indignantly condemn Germany for rearming. Guilty themselves of defaulting on their debts to America, they are horrified at the threat that action against Germany may be followed by default on Germany’s foreign debts. Turning from the capitalist Governments to the Labour Parties, there, too, little has altered. Immediately before 1914 and immediately after 1918 the Labour leaders and Labour Parties took solemn oaths against participation in war. How they broke their oaths in 1914 is a matter of common knowledge. How they propose to do it in a future war has not yet been fully realised. If will be by the slim device of distinguishing between a war waged by “Allied Governments” and a war waged by Allied Governments calling themselves all or part of the League of Nations. The Government’s “Statement Relating to Defence” recognises (as Mr. Lloyd George recognised in the last war) that rearmament “will require the most careful organisation and the willing co-operation both of the leaders of industry and of Trade Unions if our task is to be successfully accomplished.” The assistance asked for will, of course, be forthcoming.

The Government spokesmen in the House of Lords discussed the various problems arising, and Lord Strabolgi (formerly Commander Kenworthy), Labour Peer, hastens to assure the Government that they can count on Labour support in a future war.
  The governing majority of the Labour Party were prepared to support this country in a war for its defence if it was in harmony with our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations. Since 1914 there had been a tremendous change in the country.
  They had now a great labour political movement. Unless they carried that labour political and industrial movement with them they could not get the united nation one would hope for in the case of some terrible emergency in the future. They would only get that if they tried to build up the system of collective security and if the defensive preparations were based on providing the means for this nation to play its part as one State-member of the League of Nations.—(Times, February 28th.)
The condition mentioned by Lord Strabolgi is that the Government shall try to build up the system of so-called collective security under the League of Nations. The Government, naturally, has no intention of declining a condition so innocuous. On March 13th we find Mr. Duff Cooper, M.P., Minister for War, relating in the House of Commons that
  So far as we can see into the future, if ever we are involved in a war again on the Continent, under whatever Government it may be, it will be a war according to the policy which now has the support of the vast majority of our people, a war on behalf of and in support of the principles of collective security, that is to say, it, will be a war fought with allies, and I hope many allies.—(Hansard, March 12th, col. 2356.) 
There will be little point in saying at the outbreak of any future war that the Labour Parties have deserted their principles, for their principles now lead straight into wars labelled “League of Nations Wars.”

What the League did for Abyssinia.
However, the present diplomatic turmoil does not mean war. It may turn out to be the overture to a war in the not very distant future, but the curtain is hardly due to go up yet. Let us, then, turn from the war which isn’t yet to the war that is still in progress between Italy and Abyssinia. Everywhere, except in the “news” departments of the Daily Worker, Herald, and various other journals, the badly-armed Abyssinians have been unable to withstand the overwhelming armaments of the Italians. The Emperor of Abyssinia now speaks with bitterness about the League Powers for failing to give him any material help. The Times correspondent in Addis Ababa writes : —
  What he considers the disgraceful procrastination of the League in applying the only sanctions which could stop the war—which he has described in interviews with me as financial assistance to the victim of aggression and an embargo against the aggressor on all materials neccesary for war—combined with the fact that whenever the League looks like being effective some obstructive measure in the disguise of conciliation is regularly introduced, is beginning to alter His Majesty’s outlook. He is becoming slowly an Ethiopian of the old warlike type, eager to get into the fighting and either destroy the Italians or die like a Negus.—(Times, March 16th.)
The Emperor’s Committee in London appeals to England “Please stop the murder, massacre, and
slaughter of the innocent and defenceless people of Ethiopia by helping them to acquire proper means of defending themselves. . .” (Manchester Guardian, March 5th.)

As Socialists we are not concerned with whether Abyssinia should be exploited by the native ruling class or by the Italian capitalists; but we sympathise with the tribesmen hounded into war by the Negus and the Italian conscripts led to death by Mussolini’s Government. We would ask the well- meaning supporters of the League and of Sanctions, who, six months ago, helped to mislead the Abyssinians into relying on League and Labour Party help, what they have to say now? What have they done except prolong the useless slaughter? What, indeed, could they do, unless the British ruling class themselves took or threatened armed action, i.e., war against Italy? Giving new names to war has not altered the capitalist world. The capitalist class set the armed forces in motion only to defend capitalist interests. Those who ignore this fact and imagine that the League is above and beyond the motives of those who control it are misleading the workers and playing into the hands of capitalist war-makers.
P. S.

The United Front (1936)

From the April 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again the question of the United Front has cropped up, and in the current issue of the Labour Monthly there is a series of articles devoted to this subject. Firstly, let us examine the article by John Lewis, late Labour candidate for Great Yarmouth. He is discussing the possible basis of unity with the Communist Party and writes: ". . .  all it (the Labour Party) can do is to lay down the minimum condition for real unity, which should be: 1, Abandonment of the revolutionary method and acceptance of Parliamentary transition to Socialism; 2, “Acceptance of the Socialist programme embodied in 'For Socialism and Peace'. " 

The first condition is too ambiguous to discuss here, but we will deal with the second. According to the official programme of the Labour Party in “For Socialism and Peace," under Socialism we are still going to have buying and selling, wages and rents, employers and employees. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and a more highly-organised Capitalism, run by the Labour Party, under the guise of Socialism, would certainly not abolish the problems of the working-class, but, on the contrary, would aggravate them. John Lewis continues: “We must fasten on proposals which are urgent, have a wide, humane appeal, and which, if carried out, will force us to go on and make retreat impossible. . . . This programme should be based on two fundamental principles: —
  • "1. That the provision of a national minimum of food, clothing and shelter is desirable and possible.
  • "2. That it cannot be impossible to set idle men to work on unused resources to make the things they need. This was the programme on which I fought the General Election at Yarmouth. We had a united front of Radicals, Lloyd Georgites, Labour, I.L.P., and C.P.” (Our italics.) There is certainly no reason why they should not have had the support of the National Government on such a brilliant “ fundamental ” programme!

Next comes an article by D. W. Flanagan, Editor of the Rotherhithe Labour News. He writes: “Our view is that the only alternative to Baldwin is Socialism.” Our view is that the only alternative to Capitalism is Socialism. Capitalism can be carried on just as well (or, rather, ill) whether Baldwin, Lloyd George, or Attlee, a National Government or a Labour Government, is at the helm. Mr. Flanagan continues: “Next we find that our arguments had not taken us far enough. We needed a programme of action. And this is roughly the Rotherhithe plan, which was first published in the Rotherhithe Labour News for January, 1936: —
  “The Labour Party local organisations throughout the country should initiate a united campaign as broad and representative as possible, to press for:
   “Repeal of all anti-working class and anti- Trade Union legislation.
   “The granting of 2s. per shift increase to the miners.
   “The end of the Means Test and the Hitler model labour camps.
   “Work or maintenance for the unemployed.
   “A peace pact with the Soviet Union and the French nation.
   “The end of the Naval Treaty with Hitler.
   “The imposition of oil sanctions against Mussolini in order to speed the downfall of Fascism.”
So this is the "revolutionary” programme of action that is going to rally the workers for the purpose of expropriating the most experienced and the most cunning ruling class the world has ever seen!

Is the S.P.G.B. opposed to working-class unity? On the contrary, the basis of our position is that Socialism will only be established when a majority of the working class unite for that purpose. But that unity must have a sound foundation, based on Socialist principles. Our main objection to a union of non-Socialist organisations is expressed by Mr. H. Bennett, late Labour candidate for Dover. He first of all stresses the non-Socialist character of the Labour Party. “I am assuming that we are considering this particular election as Socialists (his italics), as distinct from members (and/or candidates of the Labour Party, a very different thing) (our italics). . . . Suppose we decide to 'trim our sails' and go out for votes and, further, let us assume we get them, where are we then ? Would anyone suggest any party could proceed on such a basis to introduce Socialist measures?”

Precisely; if you fight an election on a programme of reforms, you will get votes, not from workers who desire the abolition of capitalism, but from those who still think that their economic problems can be solved within capitalism. If these reforms are put into operation, capitalism will still continue and the workers will still be wage-slaves. If, on the other hand, the reforms are not effected, then these people will turn in disappointment from the United Front and become excellent material for the mob oratory and the even more specious promises of the Hitlers and Mussolinis.

Once again we repeat the classic slogan, “Workers of the world, unite!” But with the understanding that they must unite, not for “work or maintenance,” or the “imposition of sanctions,” not for “London Transport Boards” or “Central Electricity Boards,” but for the purpose of stripping the capitalist class of its ownership of the means of production and distribution, making these common property, and thus establishing a classless society.
G. H. A.