Saturday, November 23, 2019

Martov: a Russian Social-Democrat (1967)

From the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain Martov is mainly remembered for his pamphlet The State and the Socialist Revolution, in which he does a brilliant demolition job on Lenin’s State and Revolution. Israel Getzler’s study* is the first biography of this leader of the Russian Mensheviks to be published. Although it has a number of defects — not least the author’s irritating Jewish nationalism — it is nonetheless better than nothing.

When measuring up Martov’s contribution to the working class movement it is convenient to compare him with Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik fraction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. The Menshevik-Bolshevik split of 1903 was largely centred on different conceptions of how a social-democratic party should be organised. Lenin, with his Jacobin turn of mind, wanted (as Rosa Luxemburg put it) “the blind subordination of all party organisations and their activity, down to the least detail, to a central authority which alone thinks, acts and decides for all”. Martov, on the other hand, favoured an organisation roughly modelled on the German SPD. This then was not a controversy between Socialists — since both sides accepted the need for leaders and both were opportunists, prepared to ally themselves with, and support, anti-socialists if it seemed politically expedient.

Although Lenin and Martov opposed the first world war, their position on militarism was not a consistent Socialist one. Thus Lenin, in a letter to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, September 26-27, 1917: "Only our party, having won a victory in an uprising, can save Petrograd, for if our offer of peace is rejected, and we obtain not even a truce, then we shall become ‘defensists’, then we shall place ourselves at the head of the war parties, we shall be the most ‘warring’ party, and we shall carry on a war in a truly revolutionary manner.” (Lenin’s emphasis). In a similar style Martov denounced the Brest-Litovsk peace, calling for “a nation-wide call-up”, and in a speech to the combined session of the Executive Committee of Soviets, the Moscow Soviet and trade unions on May 5, 1920 he pledged his party’s support to the war effort against Poland — although he wanted a ‘defensive war'.

Martov, however, came into his own after the Bolsheviks seized control of the state. Since the Mensheviks were then excluded from any share in political power he no longer had much opportunity to squander his talents on reformist issues. Instead he was able to use his Marxist knowledge to hammer away at the efforts of the Bolsheviks to convince the working class that they were constructing a Socialist system in the Russian empire. When Lenin suggested ‘Socialism in one country’:
  If for the construction of socialism a certain level of culture is required . . . why should it not be permissible for us to begin by seizing by revolutionary means the preconditions for that certain level, and then afterwards, on the basis of the workers’ and peasants’ state-power and the Soviet order, advance further and catch up on the other (Western) nations.
Martov was able to answer by flinging back at Lenin his own words, written in 1905:
  We declare he is an agent provocateur who strives to use state power for the realisation of socialism in backward Russia.
Similarly, when they enforced the death penalty, he reminded the Bolsheviks of their former stand — how they had voted for a resolution against execution at the Copenhagen Congress of the International in 1910 and had protested against the reintroduction of the death penalty in Russia in July, 1917. He singled out Lunacharsky:
  You, A. V. Lunacharsky, you who loved to come to the workers and depict them in resounding words the greatness of the socialist teaching; you, who casting your eyes up to heaven, extolled the brotherhood of men in socialist construction; you who denounced the hypocrisy of a Christian religion which sanctioned homicide, you who preached the religion of proletarian socialism — you are three times a liar, three times a Pharisee when, in a pause in your self-intoxication with cheap phrases, you become an accomplice of Lenin and Trotsky in the organisation of murder, with or without trial!
But, unlike the vast majority of the critics of the Soviet Union, Martov went much further than just sniping at the unpleasant features of the Bolshevik regime — at the smashing of democracy and the use of terror. While he acknowledged the Russian revolution as being historically progressive he also recognised its capitalist nature, despite the idealism of Lenin and his associates. He realised that the Bolsheviks’ wild shrieks for world revolution would soon give way to an even more fervent passion for normalising their relations with the rest of the capitalist world as they set about the task which confronts any young capitalist state — the twin process of industrialisation and beating down the peasantry into a mass of propertyless wage- earners. Nor did he fall into the trap of criticising the lack of democracy in Russia simply or ethical on moral grounds. Instead he contrasted the clumsy and arbitrary repression in the Soviet Union with the Bolsheviks’ claim that they were advancing to Socialism. He pointed out that this was a primitive concept which had been popular among many of the utopian Socialists of the nineteenth century. Babeuf, Weitling, Cabet, Blanqui — all had their elitism summed up for them by Charles Naine :
  The minority possessing the knowledge of the truth of scientific socialism has the right to impose it on the mass . . . Later, that is, after the social order will have been totally transformed by the socialist dictators, liberty and democracy will be reconstituted.
Martov put forward the Marxist argument against this. Socialism, he argued, could only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for Socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. Dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. That way the workers remain a subject class and the dictators, having acquired a taste for power, consolidate their own rule.

This then is Martov’s value to Socialist theory. Even however when bitterly criticising the Bolsheviks he still had no real alternative to offer — not, at any rate, in uncompromising, revolutionary terms such as those of the Socialist Party. But like other social democrats — Plekhanov, Kautsky, Luxemburg — despite all his errors, he made a contribution to the general body of Marxist theory. Lenin is a pale shadow at the side of him.
John Crump

* Martov: a political biography of a Russian social democrat by Israel Getzler (Cambridge University Press, 70s.).

50 Years Ago: Science, Production and War (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today we hear unceasing talk of the need in this and other countries for improved industrial methods, and of the necessity for taking pattern from our more studious and scientific ‘enemies’ from Dusseldorf and other towns in the German manufacturing districts. Yet what does all this mean even if carried out? It must lead to one thing— and here the socialist explodes that nonsensical piffle anent the formation of a ‘League of Nations’—it must mean competition in a more intensified form than anything hitherto endured, and as a natural sequence, more terrible struggles over trade routes and markets.

The rapid advance in machinery means the creation of an ever-growing surplus of commodities. The need for foreign markets for the disposal of this produce is the cause of almost every international dispute.

So long, therefore; as capitalism survives must we endure warfare. Socialisation of the means and instruments of production and distribution in the interest of the whole people is the only viable solution, and this can only be achieved by the working class itself.

(From an article by B.B.B. in the Socialist Standard, November, 1917)

Party News (1967)

Party News from the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Swansea Debate
On September 13th, Swansea Branch held a successful debate with the Young Socialists.

Our comrade Ambridge represented the Socialist Party of Great Britain and Mr. Powell represented the Young Socialists. Swansea Branch members were present and also 20 Young Socialists. Plenty of questions were put and the audience appeared to be most interested. Literature sales were 6/-.

Black Power Debunked
Our comrade P. Lawrence spoke on Black Power at the meeting of the Camden Group in the Enterprise, Chalk Farm, on October 2. He pointed out that, when it came down to it, so-called Negroes had no problems that were not those of the working class generally. Certainly there was no specifically “Negro solution” to their problems. Black nationalism, like all nationalism, was a delusion and a snare and quite incompatible with socialist principles. A world of harmony and plenty could only be created by the actions of workers the world over, no matter what their language, colour, sex or ethnic group.

Half-a-dozen members of a Black Power group, the Universal Coloured Peoples Association, who had been invited to take part in the discussion, turned up. They were surprised to find that we as Socialists did not, as they no doubt expected, sympathise with their views but exposed them for the dangerous nonsense they were. They left after it was suggested that they were just another group of demagogues that wished to climb to power on the backs of discontented workers.

Finance and Industry: What's the Difference? (1967)

The Finance and Industry Column from the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

What's the Difference?

When, on Vesting Day July 28, ninety per cent of the British steel industry became nationalised, no red flags flew over the steelworks and no traditional Labour songs were sung by cheering steelworkers. Instead the British Steel Corporation, under £16,000-a-year Tory industrial banker Lord Melchett (grandson of Sir Alfred Mond, the chemicals tycoon), came into being as a new state capitalist enterprise.

In Labour circles nationalisation has always been seen as Socialism or at least as a step towards Socialism. But Socialists have seen the matter differently: nationalisation is just a way of running capitalist industry, a form of state capitalism. Nationalisation preserves the right of the former owners to a free income from the unpaid labour of the working class. Only, instead of getting their tribute as dividends and interest on private shares and stocks they get it as interest on government bonds. The present steel nationalisation shows this well. The Iron and Steel Act provided that owners of steel shares should be compensated with government stock bearing the current rate of interest. As it turned out, what they got was a short-dated stock redeemable in 1971 with interest in the meantime at the rate of percent—on the financial pages this appears as Treasury 6½  p.c., 1971.

The Stock Exchange is an elaborate market which allows capitalists to switch their money from industry to industry in accordance with the rates of profit. Many former steel shareholders took the chance to use this mechanism: they sold their stock and used the proceeds to buy private shares again. As Marx pointed out the capitalist couldn’t care where his money is invested, in whisky or bibles, as long as he gets his profits. As a matter of fact, some shareholders may not have been too unhappy about the nationalisation as it gave them a chance to get out of steel. At present the world boom in steel is over; the market is overfull; prices are falling and unused capacity is growing. According to Lord Melchett last year that part of the steel industry that is now nationalised made a profit of only 3.7 per cent on capital employed. A capitalist could get more than this by putting his money in the Post Office or a building society! Further, the British Steel Corporation has to pay the interest on the Treasury compensation stock. This means, as the Industrial Correspondent of the Guardian pointed out on July 28, that
 In financial terms the steel industry is being turned into a totally ’geared' operation at the worst time in the trade cycle and it will have to pay out more in interest in its first few years than would have been paid out in dividends.
How to finance the nationalised industries has provided all governments, Tory and Labour, with many headaches. They have to work out ways of applying the profit standard to these industries and how to raise the capital to be invested in them. Until 1956 all the nationalised industries, save the Coal Board, could borrow directly from the capital market by issuing their own stock. The 1956 Finance Act stopped this and made them borrow from the Treasury which, of course, charged them a rate of interest. The Treasury could then go to the market itself when it judged the time favourable besides having a wide choice ranging from 90 day bills to undated bonds. From time to time the government announce that the debts of this or that nationalised industry have been “written off”. This only means that this is so for the debt they owe the Treasury and not of course the debt the Treasury owes its creditors.

So, after tracing a way through the tangle of legal and financial arrangements, the unpaid labour of the workers in the nationalised industries reaches the pockets of those who lend the government money. Nationalisation does not end the exploitation of man by man; property incomes survive though in a round-about way.

Those industries that have been nationalised do not belong to the community, as some claim. They belong, in law, to the government — but the government has debts that are greater than these assets. Thus Blackburn writes in The Incompatibles:
  The national debt actually exceeds the value of all public property by some 14 per cent, £28 million as against £21 million in I960. All public property is hopelessly mortgaged to the private sector.
So nationalisation does not even help get that Labour dream of a less unequal ownership of wealth under capitalism.

To the Socialist Party nationalisation has never had any attraction, either as a means or an end. State capitalism is not in the interests of the working class and for this reason we are opposed to it. What we stand for is something different: that the means for producing and distributing wealth should belong to the community and should be democratically operated to produce for use.

The Fruits of our Labour

The September issue of the new glossy, and expensive, magazine Management Today has a Table showing the top 125 most profitable companies in Britain in 1966. For the record the top ten are:

The average for the 125 was 9.9 per cent.
Adam Buick

Socialism and the Suffragette. Miss E. Barry, B.A. and the Socialist Party. (1912)

From the February 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.

The Poor Male


A naturalist who, in noting a change of habit or variation in conduct of a creature under his notice, and about which he had recently written a book, should fly into Poor a rage, abuse the animal, and endeavour, lest the value of bis book be destroyed, to force it back into its old customs, would be regarded with justice as a traitor to science. Yet this is precisely what the male politician does with regard to the new developments among women. Angry that she no longer fits into the little corner be has prepared for her in the social scheme he has built up, entirely without her co-operation, he finds relief in abusing her, and in shouting her down.

Moreover, all politicians, of whatever party colour, use the same methods of vituperation. A touch of originality would at least enliven their recriminations, but with dull, age old, prejudiced invective the bitter war goes on. Who shows the greatest “sex-bias,” to quote F.C.W., in the strife?

We picked up the Socialist Standard and read about the Suffragette. As well might we have picked up the “Daily Mail” or the “Morning Leader” ; for all three on this question speak the same language, breathe the same ignorance, the same sentimental, masculine futilities, the same contemptuous comment on what they fail to understand. We felt after we had begun to read the description of the Suffrage movement as “a pitiful caricature of the male struggle for the franchise,” a trading on "sex-privilege," and after making the allusion to the “cheap glory ” and to that “starvation which has all the charms of novelty” (!), that we should soon chance across the words “morbid," “hysterical,” and “illogical.” and there they were, our dear old friends, without which we should hardly know that a man was describing the sex of the mother who bore him.

Could it have been?
We found, moreover, what we do not often see stated in black and white and with such simple confidence, that “the true woman worships the male" (O fatuous complacency!), that “the professional woman is nerve-racked and overwrought by the very intensity of the effort needed to compete with men” (we have intimate knowledge of men and women working side by side in a profession, sharing everything with rigid equality, except the emoluments, and we have failed to notice these shocking consequences. We have seen the men overwrought and nerve racked quite as frequently as the women. (Could it have been it have that this was the result of the “very intensity of effort needed ” to compete with the women ?)

We are told further that Nature has handicapped the woman in her competition with this superior creature by making “extra demands on her vital force,” that, in short, woman’s place is in the home, doing “crochet, embroidery,” and pursuing “old-time occupations,” and that this loudly emphasised to drown inward qualms — she must be content, in short, to sew on his buttons and nurse the baby.

The writer of the article stops just short of the suggestion inevitably made by the mail in the street to the Suffragette marching in her interminable procession, that “All she is fit for is to have ten children.” O reverence and respect for motherhood in which we are told man believes, here you have your exponent in the voice of the people!

The Socialist is as primitive in his prejudices as is any Liberal or Tory. It is not a question of politics but of masculinity.

“Go home,” says the Tory, “mind the baby, and if it is a bit dull, come to our Primrose League meeting and your well known powers of persuasion—though, of course, your logic is inferior to ours your habit of never getting into rages at people’s front doors while canvassing—though, do not mistake, you are hysterical and we are not—your quickness in seizing the gist of the argument—though your intellect is inferior to ours—will be of great help in getting our logical, sane intelligence into Parliament.

The Liberal offers the Liberal and Radical Association as a means of mental refreshment; the Socialist offers the S.P.G.B. meeting and the prospect of a neat future all arranged for women by men as blind to her needs as is F.C.W.

For, as regards Socialism, the last word for women has not been said when the Declaration of Principles of the S P.G.B. has been accepted. There is still left untouched the whole question of sex relationships. Of this not a word is said in the aforesaid declaration. Yet this matter is at least of equal importance to women as that the means of production of wealth should be owned by the people. Nor can the sex question be settled except as a separate issue. The “people” might very well own the means of production and women yet be enslaved. But women cannot trust men who shriek “morbid!” “illogical!” “hysterical! ” at the woman who is endeavouring to expound her point of view, to settle this tremendous question for them. In this matter she is the protagonist, and must continue to elucidate her own needs in spite of the fact that the man is working or speaking so busily about his point of view of her that he cannot hear or read her view of herself.

I base my right to a hearing on several things: first, as a patient student of the history of women ; secondly, as one who has followed the windings of the Suffrage movement for as many years as there has been a militant section; thirdly, as one who is acquainted with dozens of Suffragettes and who has some intimate friends among them ; but, before all, because I am a woman.

That quality is the first and absolute necessity for understanding the present feminist movement and its political indications.

A Drop in the Ocean
The Suffrage movement is merely a drop in the wave of doubt on the part in the of women that men have ever or will ever understand their needs. This wave in sweeping over the whole civilised world of women. From Turkey to America, from Japan to Moscow, women are raising their eyes and seeing how things are with them. They are realising, what F.C.W. does not, that, in contradiction to his statement, men’s and women's interests are not by any means always one. What of the prostitute? What of the woman forced into the artificially unequal competition of the labour market ? in which not “woman’s inferior labour-power” obtains a lower wage— for when she takes his place at the same work ; and produces identical results she is paid less.

No, it is her sex which is penalised. She is paid less because she is a woman. Astounding to relate, F C.W. seems to imply that this is just, since she is supposed to have no encumbrance and the man a family to maintain Has F.C W. ever noticed a case where a widow with six children to support has been paid more than the bachelor on that account ?

But not one trifling thing or another can account for the woman's movement. Woman’s ears are full of the voice of Evolution. She cannot hear the man’s exhortations, futile ragings and vain prohibitions. This is her hour. She has arisen to build a future for herself.

Before this great conception of the Feminist movement such writers as F.C.W. appear as flies on the wheel of Fate. Their efforts to cause it to cease turning are as valueless as a fly's efforts. His destiny is to watch and wait. Woman can no longer be legislated for. The honest woman has ceased her pretence of “worshipping the male.” Man must stand by and see her work out her own salvation, for assuredly she cannot, if she would, accept the ready made systems which he is offering her.

Cleaning the Slate.
Not only is F.C.W. ignorant of the psychology of this greatest issue of the present day, but also of that small, though meaningful part of it, the Suffrage movement. Of its actual history he is staggeringly unaware. Thus he says that “its adherents do not lose a living by their farcical bravado.” I know at least a dozen women who have lost their sole means of livelihood by taking part in the movement. I know intimately two who have had no work except of the most casual kind for a year. I know three women, all self-supporting, who are the complete invalids for life from treatment received at the hands of policemen and male opponents. I know of nurses, teachers, and mill girls forced to quit their work. That F.C.W. does not know these things completely wipes out his indictments that these women make “a hubbub” about their ill treatment and that they get much out of “sex- privilege.” If he wishes I can supply him privately with names and addresses.

I cannot say I know any Suffragette whose “robes” are taken off and put on by servants, but I do know women who prefer to work in the world rather than bring up their own children, and I applaud the woman who realises that her vocation does not lie in the direction of training the young. Since I know that all fathers do not possess the necessary qualities, I see that we can not expect all women, who are just as much individuals, to possess them either.

On the purely political side F.C.W. errs unpardonably. He should at least acquaint himself with facts. What women want, he says, is a property vote. He is wrong They ask for the vote on the same terms as men. If F.C.W. can effect an alteration in the old, bad laws his sex have produced, and find a more democratic basis for the vote, woman would still demand the vote on the same terms as men, and his plaint will perforce be bushed. But women are not going to set about agitating for the reform of man's own suffrage laws until they have got a weapon with which to strike at them. They have done enough spade work for men. Thus if F.C.W. secures manhood suffrage, women will advocate womanhood suffrage, and there is his adult suffrage bill complete.

In these words: “On the same terms as men,” lies woman’s just and natural indignation at the prospect of more men—working or otherwise— having the vote while sex still excludes herself. It is another insult to her as a woman.

F.C.W.’s attitude to the “superficial and amusing" Mrs. Gilman, of a fame which has spread over two continents, I shall not speak of, except to comment upon it as an example of the way in which a man will speak contemptuously of a great woman, qua woman. Hence, knowing that common respect for sincere research and patient intellectual effort is merely decent and good form, I am inclined to echo F.C.W.’s statement that as for man, “there is little that is Godlike in the poor worm.” But otherwise F.C.W.’s article is of errors all compact. A complete answer would take a whole Socialist Standard. As rhetoric we applaud it, but of knowledge it has not a syllable. Yet, however, there is a hint that at the bottom of F.C W.’s heart he has doubts about woman’s happiness in the home, with the crochet and the embroidery, to which he, in common with the Tory and the Liberal, so forcefully consigns her, for he says uneasily that this life may be “deadly monotonous” for her. However, he has no remedy except crochet and a vague recommendation to her to wait for the time when “the dawn” is ushered in and men will “no longer resemble cave animals,” etc. We cannot heed him. We women have to build a future system for ourselves. We are not satisfied with the place assigned to us by the “hysterical! - illogical !—morbid ! ’’-crying Tory, Liberal, and Socialist. We have our livings to get, our own and our children’s future to watch over — a future made to our wishes, suited to our natures, conforming to our intellects, allowing for our individualities and for the strength of nerve and endurance of body which have perpetuated the human race.
Elizabeth Barry, B.A.

The above typically illustrates how the Suffragettes always avoid the vital issue.

The article in question described the factors giving rise to the Suffragette movement, and showed it to be capitalistic. It exposed the fraud in the present “votes for women” agitation, and pointed out that the emancipation of working men and women from economic bondage, drudgery, and poverty could only be hindered by giving more votes to property. That is why we oppose the Suffragettes, it said. Only through Socialism could the women (as well as the men) be emancipated ; and to that supreme end all working-class efforts should be directed.

And how does Miss Barry meet this? By making a man of straw. She treats the issue as being one of sex, when it is one of class. She endeavours to identify our case with that of the “Daily Mail” ; and, desiring to saddle me with some particularly foolish view, she says that I “stopped short” of it, and proceeds as though I had uttered it. She quotes the contemptible attitude of an imaginary Tory toward his women folk, and says “So speaks the Socialist and offers the S.P.G.B. meeting''! But that is not all. She says that in my article "we are told further that . . . in short, woman’s place is in the home, doing 'crochet, embroidery,’ and pursuing 'old time occupations,’ and that — this loudly emphasised to drown inward qualms — she must be content to sew on his buttons and nurse the baby.” All of which is nothing less than deliberate falsehood, being contradicted both in the letter and the spirit of the article in question.

Moreover, in practically every case Miss Barry has re-arranged the words of her “quotations’’ to suit her convenience, while retaining the inverted commas—a thing inadmissible in honest journalism. For example, she “quotes” with regard to the Suffragettes, that “its adherents do not lose a living by their farcical bravado.” Here, apart from a re-arrangement of the words, she has, to suit her case and enable her to talk plausibly of secret addresses, carefully omitted a vital phrase from the very midst of the “quotation”. But even were this not so, the matter does not turn on rare cases. One swallow does not make a summer. And no misquotation, no subterfuge, can hide the obvious fact (which Miss Barry dare not openly deny) that the Suffragette movement is not working class. It is a movement of the well to-do and their hangers-on. Its society weddings, receptions, huge collections, and titled adherents, all proclaim its capitalist nature. To the workers this class issue is of supreme importance. It is clearly stamped on the Suffragette demands, for it is futile to deny that they mean “votes for property irrespective of the sex of the owner.”

As already stated (and it has not been denied) the Suffragettes oppose adult suffrage. The vote to women on the same terms as men as at present would exclude the mass of working-class women (or their husbands) because of their lack of property. It would permit the doubling of the voting strength of property by enabling the wealthy to provide their women with the requisite qualifications. It would deal a blow at the whole working class, and set back the hour of emancipation.

It is actually suggested that I consider the lower remuneration of women to be just! This is an absurdity so obvious that only the direst poverty of argument could have induced Miss Barry to utter it. The laws which determine wages are the consequence of the wages system, and can only cease to be true when that system is abolished. We are endeavouring to overthrow that system; my critic is labouring, consciously or unconsciously, to perpetuate it. The misery of the sweated widow, equally with the sale of women’s bodies for a living, demonstrates, above all, the pressing need for Socialism—not for more votes for property !

And how nauseating is the hypocritical sentimentality, characteristic of the Suffragettes of both sexes, which repeatedly apostrophises the “reverence and respect for motherhood,” when they treat motherhood as a curse and applaud those who renounce it!

It is, it appears, sex bias to pillory the absurdities in a book written by a woman. We must surrender our honest judgment to Mrs. Gilman because the Suffragettes consider her great! A book, whether by man or woman, is entitled to our respect as Socialists, not for its meretricious brilliance, but for its truth and usefulness. Mrs. Gilman’s book signally failed at the test. It is our duty to brand errors which are pernicious to our class. These are questions of fact, not of “good form” or “respect.” They can only be met by questions of fact; and Miss Barry has wisely refrained from defending in this way her heroine’s manifest absurdities.

However, it is not necessary to be as verbose as my critic. Her letter is a good example of Suffragette “logic.” It shows yet again that the only weapons against the Socialist case are misrepresentation and evasion. Miss Barry has been unable to dispose of the Socialist contention that the interests of working men and working women are identical, and that Socialism alone can provide the economic foundation for the full and free development of men and women. In face of this fact how childish is her assertion, put forth oracularly on behalf of all women, that they cannot wait for Socialism, they are going to “ build up a future system for themselves” !

Truly the futures of working men and women are inseparable As stated in the Declaration of Principles of this party, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex. And the task before proletarian men and women is the exposure of the capitalist nature of the “votes for property” campaign, and the organisation of their class in the struggle against all sections of the capitalists and their sycophants, irrespective of sex.
F. C. Watts

The Ethics of Commercialism. (1912)

From the February 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of the numerous laws that have been passed prohibiting the sale of adulterated foodstuffs, the number of prosecutions each year is enormous. And yet the total cases detected by the inspectors is insignificant compared with the actual amount of adulteration.

Avoiding detection seems to have been reduced to a fine art, especially in some branches of industry — the dairy trade, for example.

The official figures show that of the total number of samples of milk taken, over 12 per cent. have been found to be adulterated. But adulteration today is carried to such perfection that many of the samples taken cannot be proved to have been tampered with.

Take, for example, the case of the London dairyman who, when brought into court charged with selling adulterated milk, had finally to admit that he had systematically “doctored” his commodity for the last three and a half years. Yet dozens of samples had been taken from him by the Council and passed as genuine new milk.

Now milk, before it can be assumed to be adulterated, must contain less than 3 per cent. of fat, which is the amount prescribed in the milk regulations of the Board of Agriculture. This is, as is well known by the authorities, a very low percentage, and there are very few cows indeed that would give such a poor quality of milk. But unless the samples prove upon analysis to be below this “standard,” the authorities cannot prosecute.

So the cute and unscrupulous dairyman takes advantage with impunity of this margin between the standard allowed and the actual quality given by the cow, and reduces all his milk to the artificial line of demarcation.

Because of the difficulty of detection the method usually adopted is that of adding separated milk. The lactometer (an instrument for testing milk by its specific gravity) is placed in the churn of milk and the “sep” added until the lactometer indicates that the legal limit has been reached.

Hundreds of samples of such milk can he taken and analysed, and passed as new milk. It is only when the dairyman “overdoses” it that he is prosecuted, and even then, often enough, unless it is a very flagrant case, no action is taken.

After the dairyman has been fined several times his name gets very odorous in the district. and it frequently becomes necessary to find a new name for the firm. Many instances of this could be given, but one, which developed into a rather amusing case, will suffice.

A short time ago a North London firm was fined £100 for the above method of fraud, and the customers hearing of it, naturally began to transfer their custom to other dairymen. In an endeavour to avert this the name of the firm was changed, and shortly after the old firm was summoned for the old offence, but under the new name, and were fined only £5 because this was the first offence!

Another dairyman had a novel device for selling margarine as butter. As he was of the opinion that the inspector would not ask the carrier when on the round for a sample, he considered it safe to work off the margarine on the unsuspecting “round” customers. But the officer eventually got a clue, so another innovation was tried.

The “butter" was wrapped in ordinary unstamped paper, and then placed in a bag labelled “margarine.” If the inspector or a “suspected” person asked for half a pound of butter they were told that it was margarine, and shown the stamp. But when the regular customer was supplied the bag bearing the magic legend was removed, and they were handed the unstamped packet. And the very existence of the law and the inspectors helped to lull their suspicions and render the deception more complete and easy.

And so the game goes on. There is a continual struggle going on between the fraudulent trader, who seeks the aid of science in his nefarious business, and the inspector, who has to be a veritable Sherlock Holmes if he is to be successful in catching his prey. Every new method of detection, every fresh trap to catch the culprit, only results in the discovery of other means of defeating the law.

Some of our critics think that they have discovered in the laws relating to adulteration, a flaw in our contention that the capitalist class legislate in their own interests. They assert that the laws are diametrically opposed to the interests of the ruling class.

Such an idea is entirely erroneous We cannot look upon the wealthy class as one homogeneous whole in all matters of detail, although we can, in a broad sense, when considering the interest of the working class as opposed to that section of society.

The wealthy class function in society in s two fold capacity, i.e. as capitalists and as purchasers of commodities for personal consumption. It is in the latter capacity that the capitalist generally views the laws directed against adulteration and seeks to protect himself from the unscrupulous trader. But even as a capitalist and an employer be knows that these laws are an advantage to him; for if his wage slaves are getting inferior food he is getting an inferior quality of labour power. Therefore he is not getting full value for his money, for after all, the wages ha pays are only the equivalent of the food, clothing, and shelter supplied to the labourer, and necessary to enable him to reproduce his efficiency. Indirectly, the capitalist purchases the food, clothing, and shelter for the worker when he hands him his wages, so he himself is affected by any fluctuation in its quality or price.

This has been admitted, unwittingly no doubt, by the European and American statesmen, large companies, and even Governments who have raised the nominal or money wages of their employees because of the increase in the cost of living.

These laws, again, aim at protecting the capitalist from “unfair" competition Take again as an example the dairy trade. During last summer the exceedingly dry weather was responsible for a shortage in the supply of milk which resulted in a rapid increase in the wholesale price.

This affected the small men far more than the larger retail firms. The latter are usually cow-keepers. and are therefore not affected by the price, but only inconvenienced, perhaps, by a little shortage. But the small traders, who depend upon the wholesale firms for their supply, had to pay such a price that it left them no margin of profit. In many districts they could not even raise the price to their customers, for the larger firms, after consultation among themselves agreed not to do so — no doubt with a view to crushing out their small opponents.

This proved to be a great incentive to adulteration by the small men, as many of the local papers will testify. But still many of these petty traders were exterminated through inability to make the business pay. In some cases, after holding out to the last, they endeavoured to sell out to their larger competitors; but the latter were often too 'cute to purchase, knowing full well that their rivals would have to retire from the field, and that they would then get their businesses for nothing. And they did so, eventually, while their one time competitors were reduced to the ranks of the unemployed.

No wonder John Bright once referred to adulteration as a legitimate form of competition.

Adulteration is the outcome of competition and the desire for profit, and it is therefore inherent in the capitalist system. And no matter what number or manner of laws are passed against it, it will continue as long as the system continues.

When food and clothing are produced for use and not for profit, adulteration will disappear along with the huge army of inspectors who at present try to exterminate the adulterator, and signally and ignominiously fail to do so.
H. A. Young