Sunday, May 31, 2020

Capitalism in East Africa. (1922)

From the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard


Some, at least, of the natives are beginning to have other ideas. Native associations with a strong political bias already exist, and have, during the past year, been steadily attracting attention by open propaganda.

On June 24th representatives of the Kikuyu Association met the Chief Native Commissioner and his underling, the Senior Commissioner of the Kyambu District (the heart of the coffee area). Through the instrumentality of certain missionaries (obviously desirous of keeping native movements in "constitutional" lines), they laid before these officials a memorandum of grievances under ten heads, which are worth quoting in detail.
  1. The Tribal Retainers were charged with conscripting young females (married and single) for labour on European plantations by coercing the chiefs, parents, or husbands, as the case might be, with fines and imprisonment. (Tribal Retainers are native police agents of the Government operating in the tribal reserves.) It was pointed out that this practice led to wholesale degradation of the girls and young women at the hands of overseers, etc., on the plantations. Specific instances were given, but, of course, the Government Officers could not be expected to know anything about them officially, although they are the logical outcome of measures such as the Labour Ordinance.
  2. It was charged against the Administration that Chiefs and Headmen were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned without the "Kiama" (native council of elders) being informed of any charge of offence against them.
  3. Charges of corruption, extortion, rape, etc., were preferred against the Chief Tribal Retainer, and supported by numerous concrete instances.
  4. Complaint was made that, in spite of Government's promises to issue title deeds to the natives for the land held, occupied, and cultivated by them, encroachments of a piecemeal character upon such land are continually occurring.
  5. The delegation protested against the registration system. The registration certificate of each native employee must be signed by his employer before he may leave the latter's service. An employer who wishes to retain natives who may wish to leave him can simply refuse to sign their certificates.* [*note.—These Certificates bear (among other particulars) the native's thumb-print.] By leaving under such circumstances the employees render themselves open to prosecution for desertion.
  6.  It was pointed out that the heavy increase in taxation, coupled with the reduction of wages, was very oppressive.
  7. The Government were pointedly reminded that they promised the natives "rewards" for their services during the war. Was the policy above outlined to be considered as the reward ? 
  8.  Free access to the forests (of which the natives have been deprived by law) was demanded. "We now have to buy the firewood and trees (for building) which once were ours."
  9.  The arbitrary manner in which "the Europeans"—i.e., the settlers and the Government discussed and adopted measures vitally affecting native interests—was strongly condemned, and a demand was made for what is virtually political representation.
  10. Finally, the delegation made it clear that they were not satisfied simply to work and pay taxes, and claimed universal education for their children at Government expense '.

To the critical wage-slave of Europe the above expression of native thought may not appear very revolutionary. The evils described are essentially similar to those which he has become accustomed to regard as inseparable from the social order under which he exists; while the demands in the final clauses can hardly affect that order in a fundamental manner in Africa, seeing that they have not done so in Europe. Yet to the local master class these demands appear as drastic as did Chartism to their early Victorian prototypes, and any independent effort of the natives to realise them will be fought and, if possible, crushed.

It is here that the importance of the political struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie becomes manifest. That they will use (already are using) the discontent of the native peasantry and the ever-growing proletariat as a lever to achieve their aims is only to be expected by those possessed of historical knowledge. It is just as certain that the sympathy of the Asiatic leaders for the natives will evaporate as rapidly as their own objects are conceded, i.e., equality for capitalists irrespective of colour ! But the ghost of democracy once raised is not so easily laid. Two parties can play the demagogues game. If, as seems likely, the white settlers also adopt the weapon of popular agitation, then the natives may reap from the quarrel of their rival exploiters the concession of formal political power. By bringing them into line with other slaves this will make them more accessible to real revolutionary propaganda. It is the fear of this ultimate result of the Indian agitation that is at the back of the settlers' minds, and adds intensity to their resistance. They feel quite capable of dealing with the natives so long as the latter are isolated, but once let the natives obtain an inkling of the forces at work in the outside world and the settlers may well tremble for the safety of their privileges.

This is typical bourgeois blindness. As Marx has it :—"The progress of social disintegration will take a form more brutal or more humane, according to the degree of development of the working class itself" (Preface to "Capital." 1st Edn.). Native discontent in Africa will only take on a more violent and reckless character the more it is debarred from scientific enlightenment ; but it is hardly surprising that the intellectual paralysis of the capitalist class should extend itself to their representatives in the tropics. Only from the working class is the native likely to receive aid in developing in a full and free manner both himself and his natural heritage, and it is the writer's purpose to show that the workers have a direct interest in that development, or, to be more precise, will have, so soon as they emancipate themselves from capitalist control.

Before the rise of Capitalism in Europe the workers found almost within the bounds of their villages (or at most their counties) the means of satisfying most of their wants. To be sure they might (when in a position to do so) enjoy the luxuries produced by foreign lands; but to the workers to-day the outside world is not primarily a source of luxury. It is an indispensable necessity. Elements from every longitude and latitude enter into the environment of even the wage-slaves, and it is this fact which inspires the Socialist slogan, "The World for the Workers!"

In order to find raw material for its ever-expanding industry and even food for its increasing army of industrial labour-power, Capitalism has annihilated geographical and racial boundaries and enslaved to some degree the mass of practically every people on earth. It has turned Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America into agricultural and mining districts of North America and Europe. It has destroyed such degree of domestic industry as existed in these continents and thus made them dependent on Capitalism for finished commodities; thus providing itself with the indispensable condition of its own growth—an expanding world-market.

The workers have suffered most from every crisis through which Capitalism has passed. They are suffering most now. It is upon them, therefore, that the world-problem presses most relentlessly for solution. That solution can be found only in the abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of life and production for profit. A system in which the producers have social utility as their object, in which, therefore, every pair of hands, every brain, every available material resource is welcome, nay, necessary—only such a system, based on common ownership of the world, common rights and common duties, can solve the problem. The African problem, the Indian problem (and the Irish problem) are all aspects of the whole; they will find their solution—can find no other solution than—in the world solution. The workers of Europe and America will find in the slaves of Asia and Africa allies in the struggle against Capitalism, but being the industrial proletariat they must take the lead. Their superior historical experience and technical resources must provide the means to guide and train willing but inarticulate helpers in the task of revolutionary reconstruction. A world-wide propaganda, coupled with every possible material assistance, must supersede the political control of the master-class.

Only thus can the workers make the most of the world and their own inherited mechanical and intellectual powers. The emancipation of the working-class involves the emancipation of all mankind!
Eric Boden

More "Cheap and Nasty." (1922)

From the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the "Fortnightly Review" for November appears an article entitled "Unemployment—its cause and its only remedy." The alluring title might lead the unsuspecting to anticipate something in the nature of a new remedy, but upon a little examination, we find it is simply the old speeding up trick of increased production. Every mouthpiece of capital, be it Clynes on the stump, Lloyd George at the Guildhall Banquet, or even a capitalist apologist prostituting his pen in a four shilling periodical, each in their turn have denounced the workers and attempted to show that theirs is the responsibility for the present universal chaos. The writer of the above article, Ellis J. Barker, says "Industrial unemployment is world-wide. and it is due principally to the unreasonableness of labour" (p. 870). "It is by far the greatest in England and the United States, in both countries industry has almost come to a standstill owing to the vast accumulation of manufactured goods which fill the warehouses and cannot be sold" (p. 869). This condition of world-wide super-abundance of goods co-existent with millions of workless men and women, is, we claim, the logical outcome of capitalist production, its effects are as wide as the system itself. Just so long as production is primarily for the world's markets with the object of profit, just so long must this absurdity, want amidst an overflowing supply of man's requirements, persist. Many generations have passed away since man's power over nature made slavery possible, that condition came into existence as soon as his product exceeded his individual needs. A meagre subsistence that barely sufficed for the needs of all, made idlers and thus slavery impossible. But to-day mankind has inherited all the age long discoveries and inventions that have culminated in the vast social productive powers of modern machine industry, which in comparison to all previous methods of wealth production, appear as mere button pressing. Only a class ignorant of its own importance could operate and wield such forces, merely to live in want, wretchedness and degradation. And yet out of these conditions will arise the knowledge that will lead to the eventual determination to end this sordid existence and in its place establish a system of society that will mean life in the fullest sense. Writers of the type of Ellis J. Barker pretend to be innocent of the nature of capitalist exploitation. They ignore causes and pretend that symptoms are only passing inconveniences that will fade away if only the workers will work harder and be more sweetly reasonable. He says : "There is a superabundance of work for all. The world has never been in more urgent need for goods of every kind" (p. 877). One would naturally ask why there are any unemployed, or why the goods "which fill the warehouses and cannot be sold." We have already answered these questions, when we pointed out that production is only carried on for sale; when that sale is impossible then the workers remain idle and in want. The wages they receive represent but a fraction of the total values they produce, and no matter how cheaply they produce, or how cheaply they live, they cannot buy back more than that portion equal in value to their wages which represent only a part of their output. Even the luxurious living of the idle class can only account for a portion of this surplus, still leaving an enormous quantity of wealth seeking a market. Newly developed countries like Japan mean lost customers and new competitors for these markets. It isn't by any wish of the capitalist that he groans under the depressing atmosphere of prolonged crises that apparently refuse to clear away. Unemployment is a necessity of capitalism at any time, both for the lowering of wages and to ensure as far as possible the continued docility and forbearance of its wage slaves. It exists where increased production has taken place ; it exists where low wages are paid, and where a relatively higher wage operates; it is as much an institution of capitalism as poverty, prostitution, or the Nonconformist conscience. Only when the working-class understand the cause of unemployment and all the other vicious conditions which beset the workers' existence; understand that the cause is capitalism itself can they harmonise social production with social ownership by the abolition of the private ownership of the means of life, and the establishment of the social ownership. This will bring the ownership of wealth in line with the social methods of production of to-day, whose benefits at present accrue only to the privileged few. Then only will such powers of wealth production beneficially serve the whole of society and bring happiness and plenty to all.
W. E. MacHaffie

Correspondence. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sirs,—In the S.S. for December, 1921, at the foot of page 51, Mr. Tom Sala quotes—apparently with disapproval—the statement—
"Matter as now viewed by science is something as little materialistic in the old sense as could be well imagined "
and, on page 54 is an article by "S." entitled "Ghosts."

I have never been able to understand why readers of the S.S. have uninformed stuff of this sort occasionally flung at their heads, seeing that the proletariat is wholly indifferent to philosophy, advanced physics or psychic science.

However, as space is allotted in your journal to these topics, may I ask Mr. Sala one or two questions?
  1. What is "matter" as distinct from force ?
  2. How can "matter " (as distinct from force) effect sensation in us, and so apprise us of its existence ? 

Yours faithfully,
Geo. T. Foster.

Comrades,—Mr. Foster appears to have missed the point of my comment. My reason for quoting and commenting on the observation was to show that in the field of science, as anywhere else, the workers were being bluffed. Hence, as a Socialist, my disapproval.

The term "materialistic" in the quotation given was used by its author deprecatingly, suggesting that materialism in the "old sense" (meaning that of Spencer, Haeckel, Buchner, etc.) had had its day and that the metaphysicians had now something to say. Taken with its context, where it went on to say that "true science did not seek to deprive man of his soul, or to drive the Creator from His Universe," its meaning should have been obvious.

Conceptions of matter may have changed, but no scientist, with any regard for the facts, can say that matter is any less materialistic than it ever was. Admitting that the old views of matter required modification, to say that matter as now viewed by science is less materialistic, and that it can find a place for God and the soul, is both unscientific and misleading.

If I understand Mr. Foster to mean that these things are of no importance to the cause of the workers, then I venture to disagree with him. If, also, he means that there are subjects which are outside the interests of the proletariat, and to which it would be futile to give them access, again I disagree. It may be true that they are indifferent to scientific subjects; but don't we find, as teachers of Socialism, that they are not only indifferent to our teaching, but are indifferent to their own poverty ! But that does not mean we should abandon the task, surely ! Mr. Foster's gibe suggests that I did wrong in selecting the statement quoted for comment. Assuming I am "uninformed," he thereupon proceeds to test my knowledge by submitting the following questions :—

(1) What is "matter" as distinct from force ?

Ans. : I don't know. If by "force" is meant energy (since "force" has no physical existence), then matter as distinct from energy (or "force") is an unthinkable proposition. I am aware that these are spoken of as "entities," yet we are told that each is known only in its relation to the other. We may know some thing of the constituents or properties of matter, but as to what matter itself is—does anyone know ?

(2) How can "matter" (as distinct from force) effect sensation in us, and so apprise us of its existence? 

Ans. : This starts with the same proposition as No. 1. It is, therefore, covered by the answer to No. 1. Perhaps some person less "uninformed" than myself would like to get busy on this.

After all, the Editor's space is limited, if the Universe isn't.

Yours fraternally,
Tom Sala.

Letter: Crusader Magazine. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,—Referring to the allusion on page 63 of the Socialist Standard to the "Crusader," will you allow me to say that Mr. Wellock, who is quoted, no longer contributes to the "Crusader," and that his withdrawal from our regular staff was due to differences on the very points raised by your contributor. The charge of inconsistency therefore fails. There is an article in our current issue in which our standpoint is made clear. Referring to a book by Maurice L. Rowntree on Social Freedom, our reviewer says :—
  "It is unfortunate, too, that once more the impressions should be given that the Social Message of Christianity rests ultimately on the teaching of Jesus instead of on the basic facts of revelation—i.e., the incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ. When St. Paul wished to impress on his readers the need of cultivating the spirit of service he did not refer to the teaching of Jesus but to the fact that He Who was equal with God "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death." For those who regard Jesus only as a supreme prophet, Mr. Rowntree's method may seem satisfactory, but for those who hold the Christian Faith nothing less than that Faith will serve as a sufficient foundation and guide for their social programme."
It may interest your readers that Conrad Noel, Vicar of Thaxted, is now contributing to the "Crusader" his "People's Life of Jesus."
Yours sincerely,
Stanley B. James.

Mr. James states that Wilfred Wellock, from whom I quoted, has left the "Crusader." I wrote, however, at the end of September, more than a month, I believe, before Wellock left.

I had not made a specific charge of inconsistency, but I will certainly make it now. It is inconsistent to have conflicting opinions published side by side without one or the other being accepted as an official view.

It does not seem to me that the "Personal Divinity of Christ" touches on the question of the emancipation of the working class, but the offering of Christian slave ethics to a subject class whose end can be achieved only through a bitter struggle, does touch on it—dangerously.

Incidentally, there is in a recent issue a repetition of this idea. 
  "Christians . . could become helpful critics of the trade unions. Were they alive to the ultimate and deathless realities of love, justice an equality, they would bring alert criticism from inside when material questions of wages were obscuring the spiritual question of revolution." (30th December, 1921).
The question of revolution is not a spiritual one. Its means is the wresting of political control from the Capitalist class, and its object the freeing of the workers from economic subjection. It will be met with hatred, and has nothing to do with abstract justice. The expropriation of private property will in fact be, for the present owners, a most unjust proceeding. Capitalist equality, that is, the equality before the law, of Capitalists in the exploitation of the workers, is desirable—for the exploiters. Might not right will prevail against them.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Coal Miner and his Union (1922)

From the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

We remember a glowing eulogy of Frank Hodges appearing in the daily Press at the time of the coal strike, 1920.

An immediate reason for “pointing him out” arises from the following statement he is reported to have made (“Daily News,” 14/1/22) on the miners’ plight and low wages.
  “Those who are working, are working with unprecedented energy, but the pithead prices secured for the coal does not warrant either a decent wage for the workmen, nor anything like a fair measure of profit to the owners; although the industrial consumer and the domestic consumer are still having to pay fabulously high prices for the coal after it has passed through the hands of merchants, factors, and retail dealers.”
Why should Hodges be concerned about “a fair measure of profit to the owner” ? What are profits ? They represent a portion of surplus value, unpaid labour time.

The workers are poor because they are robbed of this surplus value. The workers receive back only a relatively small proportion of the values they produce. They are paid wages on the subsistence level, the sliding scale system. The worker has but his power to labour, which, in order to live he is compelled to offer for the best terms he can obtain.

His labour power is a commodity, and like every other commodity, its price is determined, in the main, by its cost of production, the price fluctuating through the operations of supply and demand. Therefore, the cost of purchasing the necessaries of life—food, clothing, and shelter—determines as a rule the amount of wages which the worker receives from time to time.

Now Hodges knows that the wages system spells misery to the worker and he clouds the situation with his talk of “decent wages” and “a fair measure of profit.”

Our Thousand Pound Fund. (1922)

Party News from the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pathfinders: Science, socialism and the animal question (2005)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Science, socialism and the animal question

Scientists don’t always find it easy to get on with the public. Aside from the abstruse and technical nature of their work, which inevitably creates a natural comprehension gap, there are political, religious and ideological factors which all too often cause rifts between science and the general public. Socialists, being inclined to reasoned, evidence-based thinking, tend by and large to support the scientists’ point of view, for example in their bitter feud with ‘intelligent design’ advocates, or in their massive protest against the Bush administration’s deliberate distortion of scientific studies for political ends, or in their efforts to overcome religious bigotry which prevents effective vaccination against killer diseases. Sometimes, amid the raving mullahs, the ranting politicians and the grubby interest-groups, the voice of the scientific community can sound like the only quiet note of sanity in the screaming choirs of hell.

There are times, though, when even some scientists start to sound a little reactionary, self-righteous and sanctimonious on their own account. One such instance is the issue of animal rights. Last month the New York Stock Exchange backed out of its agreement to float Life Sciences Research, the struggling US parent of Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire, with just 45 minutes to go before trading began. No reason was given, but media pundits and insiders were unanimous that the NYSE pulled out because of animal rights pressure. Scientists were duly aghast, and cries of ‘Shame!’ echoed round the research laboratories. Leader columns in the scientific press expressed serious concern at how important research was once again being hampered by wild-eyed ideologues without a science GCSE or a bath between them.

But do the scientists have any right to such a moral high ground? It’s true that HLS staff have received relentless harassment including violence and threats against themselves and their families, but the egregious and quasi-terrorist tactics adopted by some animal liberationists do not in turn justify wholesale uncritical support for animal research. Scientists tend to be very defensive about animal research, but their arguments, that such research is always necessary, tightly controlled, responsible and largely painless, are at best questionable and sometimes plain wrong, depending as they do on an idealized representation of scientific research as it is supposed to be, and not as it actually exists in the buck-hungry world of capitalist corporations.

To be fair, animal rights activists can propagate myths about research which confuse the issue (for a list, see ). However, scientists do not help their own case with simplistic no-brainer dilemmas like ‘your dog, or your son’, which imply that all testing is for the common good and which gloss over the large proportion of experiments done for cosmetics, food colourings, weedkillers and other non-health-related products. While scientists protest loudly, and rightly, against violent intimidation by activists, they are more likely to shrug mildly at undercover reports of ‘exceptional’ or ‘aberrational’ behaviour among HLS staff, including videos of them punching and kicking animals for amusement, and falsifying test reports. Nor are they impressed with references to animal testing’s long list of heroic failures, including thalidomide and, more recently, seroxat. How many more disasters would we have had without animal testing, they ask, knowing there is no answer. 4000 drugs are undergoing animal testing in Britain today, of which only ten percent will come to market, but scientists who point to this as a sign of the importance of testing do not concern themselves with the fact that many of these drugs are not new treatments but reverse-engineered old drugs designed to get round product patents.

So what would a socialist society’s attitude to animal testing be? In a word, pragmatic. Without being bogged down with imponderable questions of natural animal ‘rights’, socialist science would (if it decided to do so at all) conduct animal research only under conditions of strict and peer-assessed necessity, and with attendant informed public debate, two key factors notable for their general absence today. Much of the pharmaceutical industry would be obsolete or transformed anyway if one can assume, after capitalism, a dramatic fall in heart disease and obesity, two wealth-related conditions for which the present drug market is principally geared, and an even more dramatic fall in poverty and stress-related diseases which presently do not even merit scientific attention. While ‘product’ safety would be paramount, and might conceivably require some animal testing, there would be no need to duplicate the testing for twenty different competing brands, as happens now. Nor, in the absence of private ownership of information,  would producers deliberately avoid established and tested products because of licence restrictions, or because, in the public domain, they were unpatentable and therefore could never yield a profit.

Socialists are not unduly sentimental about animals, and consider that a human’s first loyalty should be their own species. Nevertheless, the degree to which human society is ‘civilised’ can reasonably be gauged by its treatment of animals and the natural world as well as by its treatment of humans, and socialism, in its abolition of all aspects of the appalling savagery of capitalism, will undoubtedly do its part to abolish all unnecessary suffering by non-human sentient creatures.

More on E-Democracy

In case regular readers suspect Pathfinders of a too uncritical enthusiasm where new communications technology is concerned, here is an example where our enthusiasm is somewhat more muted.

With e-democracy projects blossoming everywhere, the interactive approach to government is developing beyond merely doing your tax returns. Now the Scottish Parliament is running an e-petitioning system, where citizens can raise issues and complaints online, the progress of the petition then being fed back to the petitions website for public monitoring (BBC Online Technology, Sept 19).

The idea came from Professor Ann McIntosh, of Napier University, who set the system up with the help of BT and has been running it for a year. “We wanted to show that technology can do a lot more than just support e-voting. It can actually allow participation in decision making,” she says, enthusiastically.

Socialists would agree, with one simple proviso: that comms technology be first employed in abolishing capitalism. Then we’d see some real public participation in decision making. As it is, electronic petitioning is likely to be treated the same way as paper petitions, except now it can be ignored  – electronically.
Paddy Shannon

Voice From The Back: Miracle Worker (2006)

The Voice From The Back column from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Miracle Worker 

The Roman Catholic Church is not the unchanging, dogmatic organisation that its critics make out. Take their reform of what constitutes a miracle. “Lourdes miracles get a little easier. … Monsignor Jaques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes and the most senior cleric at the Catholic shrine, announced a “reform” of miracles there last week. Henceforth there will be new categories of “healing”, recognised which takes into account advances of modern science. These will include “unexpected healings”, “confirmed healings” and “exceptional healings”. Critics say he is “devaluing” God’s interventions in order to counter increasingly fierce competition in France from evangelical and Pentecostal churches” (Observer, 2 April). Nothing dogmatic about that, simply redefining their product to deal with the competition. It makes good marketing sense in a competitive society.

Judas The Obscure 

A storm is brewing in academic circles as biblical scholars cross swords about the role of Judas in the bible story. “A papyrus manuscript discovered in the Egyptian desert was hailed yesterday as an authenticated copy of the lost Gospel of Judas – revealing that far from betraying Jesus, Judas sacrificed himself for his master” (Times, 7 April). Craig Evans, Payzant distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and Marvin Meyer, Grist Professor of Bible and Christian studies and Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute of Chapman University, California are enthusiastic about the manuscript. Dr Simon Gatherscole, a New Testament expert from the University of Aberdeen and John Pritchard, Bishop of Jarrow are doubtful about the whole affair. Is it not wonderful that these learned men can get so worked up about ancient myths and yet remain silent about 8 million kids dying from lack of food and clean water every year?

Contrasts (1)

In a world where millions of children are dying of hunger the following item illustrates the madness of capitalism. “For most of us a sandwich is often the quickest, easiest and cheapest snack option – but try telling that to Selfridges. The upmarket store is about to unveil what it claims is the country’s most expensive sarnie, costing a whopping £85.50. At the core of the 22cm x 13cm sandwich are slices of prime Wagyu beef, which gourmands agree is among the most succulent in the world. … The meat will be flown in from Chile every day to ensure it is as fresh as possible (, 7 April).

Contrasts (2) 

In the same issue of a newspaper we learn of the different lives of the exploited and those who live on exploitation. “Hundreds of people dressed in tattered rags, crawl ant-like over great mounds of mud. Barefoot children, some as young as 6, burrow deep into the hillside” (Times, 10 April) This is a description of the copper and cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are risking their lives for as little as $1 a day. On another page we read of the Duchess of Cornwall. “The Duchess wore the same red Phillip Treacy hat that she had worn the day after her wedding. Since her marriage she has developed a reputation for frugality. On their recent tour to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India she wore the same outfit on three occasions.”

Monks In Retreat 

Socialists recognise we have a difficult task in convincing workers of the necessity of transforming capitalism to socialism. Some of our opponents claim that it is an impossible task and point to the tremendous influence of religious ideas. We claim that the advance of capitalism itself makes religious ideas less and less popular. Here is a recent example. “Monks and their monasteries go into retreat as recruits dwindle. Monks first arrived in Britain almost 2,000 years ago but they are now in danger of all but disappearing within a generation, figures suggest. A growing number of Roman Catholic monasteries are being sold as their ageing communities are hit by death and plunging vocations” (Daily Telegraph,10 April).

The Profit System 

The whole purpose of production inside capitalism is to make a profit, if no market exists they sometimes have to invent one. “The practice of “disease-mongering” by the drugs industry is promoting non-existent illnesses or exaggerating minor ones for the sake of profits, according to a set of essays published by the open-access journal Public Library of Science Medicine” (Times, 1 April) Inside a socialist society we will deal with the real illnesses not frighten people about imagined ones in order to make a few quid. Capitalism is really a disgusting society. Let’s get rid of it.

Striking while the iron is hot (2006)

Editorial from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been pleased to see recently that in some parts of Europe the working class of wage and salary earners have been flexing their proverbial muscles. In France, millions have taken to the streets in protest at new employment laws aimed at the young, and have done so with some success as the French President, Jacques Chirac, has now withdrawn the proposals for fear of a further political backlash.

Here in Britain there has been the biggest strike wave for many years, and at a time when senior figures in the government are already at one another’s throats. Years ago, Blair and Brown used to claim that the UK had one of the best records on industrial relations in the world. Indeed, in recent years the number of days lost through strike action in the UK have been a fraction of what they were in the 1980s and 90s, and 2004 saw the lowest number of individual disputes on record, at 130.

Recently all that has changed. First, university lecturers went on strike in early March (followed since by ‘action short of a strike’), using the opportunity presented by the new system of tuition fees and funding to be introduced in higher education this year to extract pay increases from the employers’ organisation. If successful, it is hoped that this would help close the relative pay gap that has opened up over the last 20 years and more between academics and other professions.

Then – and more significantly still – was the action by over a million state sector workers on 28th March. Across the UK, council buildings, and services such as libraries and day centres were shut down, schools and colleges were prevented from opening and other essential services (such as the Mersey tunnels and ferries, the Newcastle Metro, etc) did not operate. This was primarily over an attempt to change the terms and conditions of the main local government workers’ pension scheme, so that they would be forced to accept lower pensions or work longer. However, the union driving much of the strike action, UNISON, also claimed in one of their press releases that “this strike is against an attempt by the Government and the employers to see how far they can go. If they win on pensions they will try it on something else. This is a defining issue for the union”.

Since this initial day of action others have been planned. Interestingly, UNISON have developed a tactic of encouraging smaller groups of their key workers (such as meat workers) to go on strike for a few days at a time on a rotating basis, so as to cause maximum disruption, and the union has effectively been paying many of these workers to take selective action out of its strike fund.

From a socialist perspective, it is good to see the working class fighting back in this way. The gains made by wage and salary workers over time on pay, pensions and other related issues have not, after all, been granted by benevolent governments or employers – they have been fought for, mainly by workers organised in trade unions.

If those gains are to be defended and consolidated, democratic and unified action by workers is necessary to put maximum pressure on employers and their representatives. But workers need to remember one thing – while such action is necessary within capitalism, there can be no lasting solution to the problems the market economy creates within the market system itself. It is the task of socialists to help those struggling within the system to see the bigger picture and recognise that lasting solutions to the problems faced by workers everywhere can only lie in removing the market economy and its imperatives from our lives completely.

Pathfinders: Destressing society (2006)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Destressing society

We are always interested in constructive feedback and this month two professors respond to a piece from Pathfinders last October, on the question of animal testing. Kenneth Boyd, Professor  of Medical Ethics and Director of Clinical Skills at the University of Edinburgh:
  “Very many thanks for the interesting article on science, socialism and the animal question, much of which I agree with. I am certainly not put off by socialism, with many of whose aims I also agree, not least its argument for being ‘pragmatic’ about animal testing. But how safe it is to ‘assume, after capitalism, a dramatic fall in heart disease and obesity’ and ‘in poverty and stress-related diseases’, I’m not sure. I think that’s a matter of faith, rather than necessarily of ‘evidence-based thinking’, and the future all-too-often fails to turn out as we expect. In a way also, that assumption sounds too like the utopian claims of those in both the pro- and the anti-animal testing camps who argue on the one hand that if only we continue, and on the other that if only we abolish animal testing, all will be well. The danger in such claims, I think, is that they may distract us from doing whatever is possible, to create a more just and caring society and to relieve both human and animal suffering, in the present, despite all the obstacles presented by how power is currently exercised in the political and market arenas.”
It is true that the original article makes the large assumption that there will be a fall in the incidence of common stress-related  diseases when the market system is superseded by communal ownership. Anyone who is not familiar with the socialist case might very well object that such an assumption is faith and not evidence-based. So how unsafe an assumption is it? The BUPA website lists the main causes of stress as follows (abridged):

  • Work:  job demands, long working hours, poor organisational skills and difficult relationships with colleagues. (Socialism will abolish coerced employment. People will choose where, when, how, who with and even whether they work).
  • Life events: Major life events, such as losing a loved one, getting divorced, becoming a parent, moving house, changing jobs, becoming unemployed are all common causes of stress. (See above. Socialists have no plans to abolish birth, love and death however, which is why the assumption is of a fall in stress not the disappearance of it.)
  • Money worries: According to the MORI research for the Samaritans, money worries were quoted as being one of the biggest causes of stress. Concerns about not having enough money to pay bills or worries about losing a job and a steady income are particularly stress-inducing. (Socialism will abolish money and therefore money problems, ergo, it will abolish one of the biggest stressors).
  • Performance pressure: Many people find themselves receiving increasing demands from other people, whether at work or in their personal lives, and feel under pressure to perform well. (Socialism is a cooperative working concept, not competitive).

So much has been studied and written on stress that there is simply no point going any further into the subject here. Far from being a matter of faith, the evidence is overwhelming that modern capitalist society is stressful and that most of this stress is caused by money or insecurity over money, and the consequent knock-on effects this has on personal relationships. Is it really so unscientific to make this assumption, when science itself proceeds by assumptions? One of the problems socialists have, which Professor Boyd presumably will not allow, is that we are not in a position to ‘prove’ that socialism is better for people than capitalism. Only the establishment of socialism in practice will ever do that. However, as the professor knows perfectly well, science itself is unable to prove anything very much at all, whether it is a theory of gravity, evolution, or climate change, so it seems a little unreasonable to expect socialists to do what scientists cannot.

As an afterthought, Professor Boyd might also be interested in a report (New Scientist, April 15) that the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have been running trials of olanzapine and resperidone, anti-psychotic drugs normally given to schizophrenics, on children with an average age of 4. The same article refers to a book, The Bipolar Child, published in 2000, which claimed that the disorder can be detected in 2 year olds. Although the article rightly condemns the act of ‘disease mongering’, where drug companies persuade people they are suffering from mental health disorders simply in order to sell them drugs (most of which don’t work anyway), the message is clear: mental health problems are a billion dollar business in capitalism, and now even your toddlers aren’t safe.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Wolff,  Professor of Philosophy at University College in London, has this to say: “Very nice article. I think we agree about a lot, except, possibly, the chances of actually achieving the socialist future you describe!” And, er, that’s it. Now, were Professor Wolff to present this concise estimation of the viability of socialism to Professor Boyd, one imagines that the latter might object on the grounds that this looked suspiciously like an argument based on faith rather than evidence. After all, socialists avoid the deterministic trap of claiming that socialism is inevitable, precisely because this would be a faith-based position. But it cuts both ways, and those who argue that socialism will never happen are also guilty of the same kind of faith-based determinism. We understand that the professor argues in his new book Why Read Marx Today?” that Marx’ grand theories were ‘sweeping’ and ‘unsubstantiated’ and must be abandoned, but we have no doubt that he arrived at this conclusion in the proper scientific manner and after a full and frank review of the available evidence. It is a well known fact that scientists never make sweeping unsupported statements.

Be nice, or else

The idea of cooperation is predicated on a lack of compulsion to take part. Or is it? A new study based on an investment game (New Scientist, April 15) which pitted a voluntary group against a group which was allowed to punish non-contributors, found that the coercive group gave better returns and attracted the most players, despite two-thirds of the subjects initially opting for the non-coercive group. The researchers claim that this result gives an important insight into the nature of cooperation, and this might have socialists worried, except for two things. One is that it is always risky to make judgments about human nature based upon present-day human behaviour. Most opinion polls, for example, would show that virtually all humans disapprove of rape and murder, which might lead one to suppose that such crimes were extremely rare and that humans are naturally peaceful. In fact these crimes are extremely common, yet we do not necessarily conclude from this that humans are naturally rapists and murderers.

How people behave, therefore, in a game today does not reliably indicate how they will behave in a game at some future date. Secondly, it is often assumed that cooperation relies simply on good will, and that it lacks any any mechanism for sanctions. Socialism is not an idealised fairyland where anybody may do just as they like. If an individual’s actions impact adversely on those around them, the community would not be slow to apply sanctions. The only question is, what would those sanctions be? In a cooperative community, it is quite possible that the labels ‘uncooperative’, or ‘self-serving’, or ‘wasteful’, or ‘propertarian’ would be such stigmas that people would go to considerable lengths to avoid earning them. At any rate, punishment in socialism, were there ever a need for it, would be socially agreed and socially administered, in general proportion to the offence committed. How different from capitalism, where the theft of trinkets or pieces of paper can mean the theft of years from your life and the inhuman zoo of the prison system?
Paddy Shannon

A common humanity (2006)

Book Review from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World’. By Charles C. Mann. (London, Granta Books, 2005)

This book has three central claims, put forward with all the skill and understanding of a working popular science journalist. That pre-Columbus the Americas were more populous than many have previously supposed; that humans have been in the Americas longer than supposed; and that the people there had shaped their own environments to a terrific extent – far from being the unspoilt wilderness of colonial lore.

In most of this Mann is merely communicating an emerging academic consensus that still has not filtered out into the popular domain. He highlights how children’s schoolbooks still repeat stories about Indian life, culture and history that have subsequently been disproven. He also highlights how various vested interests have used the ideological constructions based on the previous histories for opposite ends, both aggressive industrialists and ecologists promoting various simplifying myths of naive Indians living in harmony with untamed nature.

Essentially, whilst without giving any definite backing to any particular population estimate, the book avers that the ‘high counters’ are now the dominant strand of demographic historiography. That most of the Americas were covered by human civilisations that would have been a match for most of the colonialist forces, if they had not succumbed to disease – disease that spread in advance of the European’s arrival (indicating intercourse between the Indian civilisations) – disease that possibly wiped out about a fifth of the human race at that time.

Mann demonstrates how much of the habitat inhabited by Indians was inhospitable, but that they had, to use his metaphor, terraformed their environment. He uses the example of the Maya collapse – hundred of years prior to the arrival of the Europeans – to show how the environment humans had created could fall apart when neglected (as in this case) by civil war.

In this context, he demonstrates that the Americas had an independent discovery of agriculture, to the point of suggesting that Amazonian Indians effectively planted orchards to make good use of the forests difficult soil. He suggests that there were civilisations as venerable in their size and antiquity to equal the more famous supposed homes of civilisation in China and Sumeria (present day Iraq).

He uses one case, the domestication of maize, to show what American civilisation has contributed to the sum of human achievement, and highlights the crushing irony that it was the importation of maize to Africa, which allowed the population growth that made the slave trade possibly (the slaves were, it should be remembered, needed in part because the indigenous population of the Americas had died out).

Mann suggests that the image of the pristine wilderness was created by the fact that humans had ceased to manage these environments, that the so called savagery found in part of the Americas was not stone age tribes living lives without time or change, but the products of collapse and devastation.

This is hopeful stuff for socialists. If true, it confirms a common humanity shared by all the humans on the planet, and offers the prospect of adding rich unbroadcast stories of human achievement.
Pik Smeet

Freud and Marx: do they mix? (2006)

From the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Freud was born 150 years ago this month. Here we look at those who have tried to combine his theories with those of Marx.
Freud, who was an atheist and regarded himself as a scientific materialist, put forward a theory to explain irrational behaviour. As a doctor specialising in mental disorders and a pioneer in this field, he was quite entitled to put forward the hypothesis that mental disorders were generally connected with sexual repression in early childhood. But he was equally required to propose a mechanism as to how this could come about. His suggested materialist explanation was that there existed in human beings a special form of instinctual energy—sexual energy—to which he gave the name “libido”. That gave other scientists something to go on, something to look for in the physiology of human beings.

The trouble is that no such instinctual sexual energy has ever been found. Freud has, however, been proved right that what happens in early childhood is of crucial importance for the development of the adult personality. Other scientists have confirmed that this is the period of fairly rapid learning. But there is no reason to suppose that this is all about sex. Sexual preferences and orientations will be just one amongst many other things that will be learned during this period.

It is also true that people have been taught (more in the past than today) irrational ideas and attitudes about sex and this has had a harmful effect on their adult sex life and, in extreme cases, on their mental health. Freud’s critics don’t deny this but say he was wrong to seek to reduce everything to the expression or repression or diversion of some instinctual sexual energy.

Instinctual energy?
Wilhelm Reich, like Freud, was a medical doctor. At first he had been interested in the physiology of sex but then, under Freud’s influence, became interested in its psychology as well. But he always retained an interest in physiology and was the one of Freud’s followers who took the most seriously Freud’s hypothesis that there existed a material energy form called “libido” or “instinctual sexual energy” and set about trying to find it.

His break with Freud did not come over this, but over politics. Freud was an ordinary defender of liberal capitalism and wanted to keep his theories as essentially a clinical cure for certain forms of mental illness. Reich didn’t agree. He felt that a free society could exist if people in general were taught to take a rational attitude to sex. This led him in 1927 to join the Communist Party, from which he was to be expelled in 1933.

Reich offered an explanation as to why fascism had developed: sexual repression in early childhood. According to him, the particular form of sexual repression and family life practised in pre-Nazi Germany led to people, including workers, coming to have an authoritarian personality which inclined them to follow and be dependent on leaders, who represented the patriarchal father-figure they had been brought up to believe in and which, as a result, they had a psychological need for.

Reich’s theory didn’t have much impact at the time but it was revived in the 1960s and 70s when his The Sexual Revolution and The Mass Psychology of Fascism were hugely popular, being reprinted many times and translated into many languages. The combination of Marxism and sexual liberation caught the mood of the time. His argument in The Mass Psychology of Fascism as to why people had supported fascism was transferred virtually unchanged to explain why people supported capitalism; it was as if its title had been “the mass psychology of capitalism”. In this way sexual liberation came to be seen as being intrinsically anti-capitalist.

There is nothing wrong with sexual liberation but it stands on its own and doesn’t need Reich’s psychological theories to justify it. Since the 60s and 70s the so-called sexual revolution has proceeded. The patriarchal family is not half so patriarchal as it used to be and is not so widespread either—yet capitalism is as solidly supported by the majority of people as it ever was. Which in itself undermines theories based on Reich as to why workers support capitalism.

In 1939 Reich claimed to have found Freud’s posited instinctual sexual energy, calling it “orgone”. After that, he went completely haywire, claiming that it came from outer space and could cure cancer. As a result of refusing to stop selling “orgone boxes” to cure cancer, he was jailed for contempt of court and in fact died in the hospital wing of a prison in 1957.

This pathetic end should not disguise the fact that he was merely trying to prove what was at the basis of Freud’s theories: that there was such a thing as sexual energy. He failed, and so has everybody else. These days not even most Freudians defend the existence of sexual energy in the sense Freud understood it, as an instinctual bodily energy that could be repressed or diverted into other forms of bodily energy.

Philosophical speculations
Although Freud did believe that ultimately a materialist basis for mental states would be found—that the nature of the “sexual energy” he posited would eventually be uncovered—he himself never claimed it had been or was anywhere near to being discovered. This didn’t him prevent him from continuing to speculate on the basis that it did exist. Indeed, from one point of view, Freud can be better seen as a speculative philosopher than as a practising scientist, at least in his later years. The trouble was that he came up with speculative theories which could neither be proved nor disproved.

For instance, he posited a “life instinct” and then, later, a “death instinct”. He talked about a “pleasure principle” and a “reality principle”. But how could the existence of such “instincts” and “principles” be proved? Some (most, in fact) of his followers—Reich for instance—denied that there was such a thing as a “death instinct”. So, Freud said there was; Reich said there wasn’t. But how to prove which one was right? You can’t. There’s no way of doing so.

One philosopher who took up Freud’s philosophical speculations was Herbert Marcuse. He started from a book written by Freud in 1930, Civilisation and Its Discontents. This is one of the most anti-socialist books ever written since it provides a pseudo-scientific justification for the so-called “human nature” objection to socialism. Freud was quite explicit about this:
“(. . .) men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at most defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him”.
According to Freud, human civilisation is based, and has to be based, on the repression of the basic “sexual” or “instinctual” energy he believed humans to have. What happened, in Freud’s view, was that this repressed sexual energy was diverted into the work which had to be engaged in to produce the things humans needed to survive and build up the material side of civilisation. This speculation that the energy for work comes from diverted sexual energy is baseless. We know where we get this energy from—the food we eat, which is a form of chemical energy which the body converts into potential mechanical energy.

Without such sexual repression, Freud taught, we would all behave like babies do in the first year or so of their life seeking immediate gratification, which in Freud’s mind meant sexual gratification. But more, by this time Freud had introduced a “death instinct” into his speculative philosophy. So, without sexual repression, human society would collapse into an orgy of sex and violence.

Marcuse—who was a philosopher and not a scientific researcher—set out to show, in his Eros and Civilisation (1955), that Freudian theories did not necessarily rule out a free, non-repressive society. He accepted Freud’s speculation that civilisation had originally been based on a necessary sexual repression, but added two riders: (1) that only a part of this had come from the conditions of scarcity which obliged humans to work, another part came from living in class-divided societies where ruling classes imposed an extra repression over and above that arising from natural scarcity, and (2) that, with the coming of automation and the like, scarcity had now been conquered. This being so, sexual repression—that imposed by natural conditions as well as that imposed by class-divided society—was no longer necessary. Civilisation need no longer be based on sexual repression. A free, non-repressive society was possible. Freud and socialism could be reconciled.

Marcuse’s explanation as to why people accepted capitalism was that they had been psychologically manipulated into wanting it. In other words, that their basic “instincts” had been remoulded so as to fit in with capitalist society. In so doing he presented himself with a dilemma: if this was really the case, how could such people ever come to want to get rid of capitalism?

Community life
Erich Fromm tried to combine Freud’s ideas with those of Marx in a quite different way. Whereas Freud (and Reich and Marcuse) saw the mind as something that could be explained in terms of the individual’s instinctual biological development, Fromm said that the mind was a social phenomenon. Thus, while Freud explained mental illness in terms of the failure of an individual to develop normally through the various stages of sexual development which his theory posited, Fromm (a medical doctor and practising psychiatrist himself) explained mental illness in terms of the failure of the individual to relate properly with other individuals. For him, not only the mind but (most) mental illnesses were social.

This might even be said to amount to the complete overthrow of the Freudian system. Fromm himself didn’t go that far. He still believed in psychoanalysis as a therapy and he still thought in terms of a “life instinct” and a “death instinct”. In his book The Sane Society (which also appeared in 1955) he wrote the following (which led orthodox Freudians to say that he wasn’t really a Freudian at all):
  “Freud, searching for the basic force which motivates human passions and desires, believed he had found it in the libido. But powerful as the sexual drive and its derivations are, they are by no means the most powerful forces within man and their frustration is not the cause of mental disturbances. The most powerful forces motivating man’s behaviour stems from the conditions of his existence, the ‘human situation’” (chapter 3).
By “the conditions of the human situation” Fromm meant that humans are the only animal species whose individual members have an awareness of themselves as separate individuals, have “self consciousness”. This gives us a sense of individuality and freedom, says Fromm, but at the same time a sense of aloneness. According to him, the driving force behind human behaviour is not, as Freud claimed, the search for pleasure which was ultimately sexual, but the desire to overcome this sense of aloneness, the desire to feel part of a greater whole, the desire to be liked and accepted by other human beings.

This is a theory of human nature. In the argument about human nature that has gone on amongst socialists—is it human nature to be completely adaptable or are there conditions that humans couldn’t adapt to because it would be contrary to their nature?—Fromm comes down in favour of the second view. Humans are social animals, and we need each other not only practically so as to collectively produce the material things we need to live but also psychologically—we need to feel part of a group, of a community. From which it follows that any society which does not satisfy this psychological need, or which actively works to prevent it being satisfied, is incompatible with human nature.

The basic theme of Fromm’s The Sane Society is that capitalism, because it encourages competition between individuals, pitting them against each other in a rat race for power, privilege and prestige, is a society that is incompatible with human nature. It is an “insane society”, a “sick society”. Only a society based on co-operation and community is a sane society as one which properly meets the psychological needs of human beings for a sense of belonging; not just a sense of belonging but a state of actually belonging to a real community.

The existence of false communities—such as those provided by racism, nationalism and religion—would seem to confirm Fromm’s theory that there is a human need to be part of a community with other human beings and that capitalism is against “human nature” because it denies, and works against, this basic need. Although capitalism continually seeks to reduce us to isolated social atoms who only collide in the marketplace as buyers and sellers, the basic human need for community still expresses itself even if in distorted and perverted forms.

If true, this is the answer to the dilemma that Reich and Marcuse had got themselves into with their theory that capitalism had learned how to manipulate what they regarded as the driving force behind human behaviour—Freud’s imaginary “sexual energy”—so as to create people whose very personality and character structure has been moulded for life under capitalism. It would mean that there was still hope for socialism. Capitalism can try to suppress the human need for co-operation and community but will never be able to succeed.
Adam Buick

Socialists and Working Class Unity (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

An appeal has recently been sent out by the Communist International for a “United Front” of the working class against “Fascism" and in defence of working class standards of living and a number of other objects. This has been taken up readily by the I.L.P., but the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress have rejected the proposals of the I.L.P. and the Communist Party for joint action. Before explaining the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain towards unity proposals, it is worth while observing the conditions which have given rise to a revival of the idea of the “United Front." The plan is not new. On the contrary, the past half-century has witnessed innumerable attempts to form one united organisation into which the various parties calling themselves Labour or Socialist could merge. We are, however, interested at the moment only with the movement organised just 11 years ago. The circumstances are strikingly similar to those of to-day. The world is sunk in a serious economic crisis—as it also was in 1921-22. Hitler has just risen to power and has demonstrated the incapacity and utter impotence of the Social Democrats and the Communist Party in face of a situation which they professed to be able to tackle. In 1921 and 1922 Mussolini was strengthening his forces and subsequently, in October, 1922, came to power, showing, just as Hitler has shown, that the Labour and Communist parties were unable to offer any serious opposition. Again, in 1921, as at present, Russia was in the throes of a serious internal economic crisis. In 1921 this crisis, aggravated by the famine, compelled Lenin to introduce the New Economic Policy, an open avowal of Russia’s inability to do without capitalism. (August, 1921.) Then, as now, the Communist International and the Communist parties were under the orders of the Russian Government, and the latter instructed them to open up the “United Front” campaign in the belief that it would strengthen the position of the Russian Government at home and abroad.

So in March, 1922, after roundly abusing the Labour parties for two years, the Communist Party was prepared to meet them, join up with them, accept their rules and programme, and tell the workers to vote for those whom hitherto it had described as tools of capitalism. Now the cry of unity is being revived and we are again asked to justify our definite and absolute refusal to have anything whatever to do with it.

It is not that the S.P.G.B. is opposed to unity or that we like segregation for its own sake. On the contrary, it is our claim that only through Socialism will it ultimately be possible to unite the human race by ridding the world of the economic barriers which divide class from class and nation from nation.

Nor are we opposed to unity of the working class for the purpose of achieving Socialism, for we know full well that Socialism can only be achieved when at least a majority of the working class are prepared to join together to bring it about. But unity, to be real and useful, must have a common purpose and common basis, and there can be no common basis for unity between the S.P.G.B. on the one hand and the Communist and Labour parties on the other. When Socialist unity becomes a possibility our Declaration of Principles shows the basis on which alone it can be achieved. It declares the object that Socialists have in view, and in general terms, the means by which power for Socialism can be reached. It is not sectarian, but it is also not so loose that it will cover the vague lack of principle of the sentimental dreamer who has not grasped the essentials of capitalism and of social development.

Let us be more specific. Why will the S.P.G.B. not join up with the Labour Party or the Communist Party? The principal objection the Socialist has to the Labour programme is that it has not a Socialist objective at all. Socialism means the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution. In spite of a superficial similarity of words, the Labour Party is not aiming at common ownership, but at State control with private owners. The capitalist class are not, according to the Labour Party, to be dispossessed, but are to remain as a property owning class, but are to be deprived of their immediate control over the management of industry. The country is to remain the same in all essentials. There will still be a working class and a class living on property incomes. Goods will still be produced for sale and profit making, but the management will be in the hands of a series of so-called public utility corporations, directed by highly-paid business men like Lord Ashfield. This is a grotesque representation of Socialism. It is capitalism in a thin disguise. It solves no working class problem. It is not Socialism and as such does not bring Socialism one day nearer. Socialists do not, and cannot, desert all their Socialist principles in order to create a fictitious unity behind such a facade of illusion.

Now for the Communists. It is necessary here to insist on a frank recognition of what the Communists really stand for. It is their honest conviction that mass strikes and demonstrations, leading on to street fighting and civil war are the means, and the only means, to Socialism. We reject that in its entirety; not only is it not the best means, it is not a means at all. Civil war and its corollary, the dictatorship of the Communist Party (misnamed in Russia the dictatorship of the working class), are not the soil out of which Socialism, or even a Socialist movement, will spring. They hold out no prospect for the future and they are full of deadly damage to the working class in the present.

For it is the criminal irresponsibility and dangerous civil war talk of the Communists which, feeding on the workers’ disillusionment with the openly capitalist and the Labour Parties, fosters the development of Mussolinis and Hitlers.

The Communists talk ignorantly of the work ing class being tyrannised over by a Hitler or Mussolini. They forget two things of vital importance. The first is that every riot and street fight organised by them, every bluffing appeal to arms, helps to create the conditions of violence and panic out of which the so-called Fascist movements rise to power. The second fact they forget is that their violent talk and actions are directly, and indirectly, harmful to the Socialist movement, for they drive vast numbers of the working class over to the side of the parties of violent suppression. If it is impossible for Trade Unions and Socialist organisations (as well as Communist and Labour organisations) to function in Italy, Germany and elsewhere, the Communists are largely responsible. It is they who for years prepared the ground for Mussolini and Hitler by planning attempts at the seizure of power by armed minorities.

Whatever the intentions of the Communists may be, they are enemies of the working class movement.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain lays emphasis on the fact that it is a movement fundamentally different from the Labour parties and from the Communist parties.

We come before the working class with a reasoned explanation of the economic ills of the world, and with a reasoned plan for placing the social system on a new basis in keeping with the development of man’s productive forces.

We appeal to the working class to understand and act upon Socialist principles. We preach that the method of achieving Socialism is by constitutional, majority, control of the political machinery through the vote.

We come not to create chaos and civil war, but to bring order to a disordered world.

We are not political gangsters threatening the lives or well-being of any individual. We are not bent on revenge, or on penalising our political opponents or the members of the propertied class. While it is necessary that the means of production shall be brought under social ownership and control, Socialism will offer to the whole community—ex-capitalists included—the comfort and security which rational use of modern productive forces renders possible.

Indeed, it is our boast that the increasing insecurity of life under capitalism and the chaotic conditions at home and abroad will, in time, drive more and more capitalists, as well as the workers, to recognise that the Socialist movement is the only guarantee of ordered development for society as a whole.

Our answer to appeals for unity is, therefore, what it has always been. The S.P.G.B. is always prepared to welcome Socialists to join us on the basis of our Declaration of Principles, which points the only road to Socialism. Never, under any circumstances, are we prepared to unite with those who—however well-meaningly—are travelling to a different objective or who preach a policy of civil war, which, if acted upon, destroys all present hope of Socialist propaganda and organisation and delays progress towards emancipation.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Douglas Scheme pt.1 (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bursting the bubble
An interesting development since the war has been the rise of the “Social Credit” movement led by Major Douglas. Its interest for Socialists arises partly from the fact that it stands in the way of Socialist propaganda and prevents many workers (particularly the younger ones) from going to the trouble of studying Socialism, and partly from the peculiar features of the movement, features interesting in themselves. Here we have a political movement which almost completely ignores many of the ordinary methods of political parties. Instead of trying to capture Parliamentary seats and build up a party machine of its own, it relies on permeating the members of other parties. Its basis is not a long programme of immediate aims tacked on to a vague philosophy, as is usual with capitalist political parties, but a straightforward demand for an apparently simple, but fundamental, change in the monetary system. It does not change with every change in the political and industrial situation, but maintains a high degree of consistency. It is based on an economic theory which almost every economist and practising banker describes as absurd, yet it holds its own and goes on gathering adherents. It has produced a considerable body of books and periodical literature, and is hotly debated in trade union branches and many political organisations. It has so far reached recognition that Major Douglas was invited to give evidence before the Committee on Finance and Industry (MacMillan Committee). In studying the Douglas movement it is, therefore, necessary not only to decide whether the economist, Mr. D. H. Robertson, is correct when he says that ” the arguments of Major Douglas …. are founded on a fallacy so crude that, until one has looked into them for oneself, it is almost impossible to believe that they can really have been put forward,” but also to explain how it happens that a theory so open to question has been able to win support.

One aspect of the second question can be dealt with right away, without going deeply into the theory at all. In essence, Major Douglas says that all the evils of trade depression, unemployment and poverty are caused by a “kink” in the monetary system, which results in a permanent shortage of purchasing power. He says that production of goods of all kinds could be easily and almost immediately increased to an enormous extent if it were not for the fact that this “kink” prevents the mass of the population from being able to buy the goods. By a simple correction of the defect in the monetary system, poverty could at once be abolished. That is the hope Major Douglas holds out. It is its simplicity and all-embracingness which makes it so attractive.

In times of economic disturbance and political unrest all those people who find their old mental landmarks shifting or overthrown, and who cannot themselves cut a path through the tangle, are desperately anxious to discover new guides, who will lead them to safety. Major Douglas’s scheme has everything to recommend it from this point of view. The Liberal Party has ceased to be effective since the war. The Labour Party has been a failure in office and its old propaganda for nationalisation has had to be discarded without anything so simple and superficially attractive to take its place. Unemployment has been heavy and persistent and no Government has frankly faced the issue. The prewar days of two big political parties, with more or less clearly defined policies, have gone, and we now have a situation in which the old lines of cleavage have largely disappeared. It is hard nowadays to tell what programme exactly the various parties stand for.

The economists are in as complete a muddle as the politicians. They produce their theories and explanations for the bewilderment of students, and the ordinary man in the street, who knows nothing of nice points of theory, sees only that the economists are hopelessly disagreed among themselves even about the elements of their subject; that their explanations and forecasts time and time again have been shown to be false; and that their attempts to advise and guide the politicians have had no obvious effect on the solution of the world’s great problems.

Into this situation comes Major Douglas with a staggeringly simple proposition. Solve the problem of trade depression and poverty by distributing purchasing power free. Usher in the age of plenty !

The proposal is attractive to the worker who is unemployed; to the small manufacturer or shopkeeper who believes that but for the alleged dominance of the banks over industry he could hold his own in competition with the combines; and to the struggling professional man who sees that his supposed superior knowledge and training give no guarantee of a steady and comfortable livelihood. One merit the theory has in the eyes of its adherents is that it saves them from the necessity of making themselves familiar with the theories of the recognised economists. If, as Douglas says, all the economists (including Marx) have failed to notice the defect alleged to exist, and if this defect is of vital importance then why waste time studying economic textbooks ?

With all these advantages it is not surprising that the theory of Major Douglas has made considerable headway and is known not only in England, but in the Dominions and U.S.A., where energetic groups carry on propaganda on its behalf.

A brief reference has already been made to the nature of the theory. Before going into details and analysing it a digression must be made in order to explain the position the banks and the money system occupy in the capitalist world. Without some such background all discussion of the Douglas proposition will be useless.

The Economic Basis
The first point to notice is that beneath all the processes of buying and selling, banking and commercial operations, lies the private ownership and control of the physical means of life. This is so obvious that it ought not to need mentioning, but it is often overlooked in discussions about currency and finance. Human beings need food, clothing and shelter, recreation and amusements. These things are provided by the application of human labour to the land, raw materials, and the instruments of production and distribution, but the individuals whose labour-power produces the wealth do not own it. All the land and raw materials and all the products are privately owned by individual capitalists or companies. The typical features of capitalist production are, then, the existence on the one hand of a large number of workers who get their living by selling their mental and physical energies for a wage or a salary, and, on the other hand, a relatively small number of capitalist investors who get their living by owning property and employing workers to use that property for the production of wealth. With their wages and salaries the workers can buy part of the wealth produced, and the balance remains in the possession of the capitalists. The workers consume the greater part of their share immediately, by eating food, by wearing out their clothes, and so on, while the capitalists, through the abundance of their wealth, are able to “save” a considerable part of it; that is to say, they take it not in the form of articles for personal consumption, but in the form of factories, machinery, etc., and all the various forms of additions to the existing stock of “means of production and distribution.”

If we ignore for the moment the whole of the elaborate machinery of buying and selling, banking, etc., and look only at the main underlying physical features of capitalism, what we see is millions of workers producing and distributing the articles needed to sustain life, and working under the control of the capitalists who own the land, factories, railways, etc. The articles produced can be divided into three classes: (1) Articles needed for the subsistence of the workers (mainly necessities); (2) Articles for the subsistence of the propertied class, both necessities and luxuries; and (3) Articles needed for the repair and extension of existing means of production and distribution (factories, railways, etc.) and the erection of new kinds of means of production and distribution as new needs arise and are satisfied.

But, in fact, the above picture is over-simplified because capitalists and workers are not two closely organised world classes acting as two single units, but are composed of millions of separate individuals and groups acting on their own. If they were two single units, each represented by a responsible authority, we could imagine them planning production and distribution so that only so much of each kind of wealth is produced as is needed, and so that the responsible authority for each class divides the articles among its members as required. Actually the process is carried out with the assistance of the money system. Each capitalist firm produces goods of one or a few kinds (say, boots) and sells them for money. The money is used to pay for the costs of manufacture, raw materials, wages, profits, etc., and the individuals who receive the money spend it to buy goods of various kinds. The final effect arrived at by this money process is at bottom the exchange of commodities. Each individual who owns commodities goes into the market and effects an exchange, giving one kind of goods and receiving another kind or kinds. The worker goes into the market with labour power to sell. He receives wages and uses them to buy bread, clothes, etc.

The advantage of the money system over the direct exchange of goods—barter—is that simple barter is faced with the difficulty that the individual who brings boots to the market may not want to receive the articles brought into the market by the man who wants the boots. Money, on the other hand, is the “universal equivalent.” He who has money can, if he has sufficient of it, buy any of the thousands of kinds of articles offered for sale. Consequently, the use of money as a medium of exchange is a great advance on systems of barter. But it must not be forgotten that the various substances which have been used as money (in modern times silver or gold) have been able to occupy that position only because they were like every other article in the all-important characteristic that they possessed value, while in addition gold and silver have qualities of durability and scarcity which make them most suitable for use as money. (The use of banknotes to represent certain quantities of gold or silver and to circulate in place of coins does not raise any issue which needs to be gone into at this stage.)

The values of articles are not accidental or fixed by the free choice of the owners of them. Value is a relationship between the various articles depending upon the amount of labour required in their production. Leaving aside various complicating features we can say that a certain weight of gold has the same value as a certain weight of wheat, or a certain number of razor blades, because the labour required to produce each of these three quantities is the same.

We see, then, that the payment of a sum of money by one person to another is, in effect, a way of transferring command over goods from one person to another.

The Banking System
The origin of the banking system was the practice of depositing money for safe keeping with the goldsmiths and paying them for this service. The goldsmiths subsequently adopted the practice of paying interest to the depositor, and they re-lent the money at a higher rate of interest to a borrower. This was only an indirect way of the depositor himself lending his money at interest to the borrower. Whether the goldsmith acted as intermediary or whether the lending was done directly the general effect was the same, i.e., the owner of the money (representing a command over goods) was lending it to a borrower, who would thus, for a specified time, have at his disposal the means of buying goods. It was not an act of ” creating ” goods or values, but only of lending them, the banks being intermediaries between lenders and borrowers.

Fundamentally, the same process underlies the modern banking and credit system. People who deposit cash and cheques in the banks are, in effect, placing at the disposal of the banks a command over goods, expressed as a certain sum of money. The banks pay to the depositor a fluctuating rate of interest on most of the deposits, and place the deposits at the disposal of other persons and companies who wish to borrow. Again, it is, in effect, a process of transferring the command over goods from the saving section to the borrowing section. As the banks need security for their loans to industry the borrower in fact (or in effect) pledges his factory, his stock-in-trade, etc. The bank is just like a pawnbroker, except that the bank largely works on borrowed money. The banks are intermediaries between one set of property owners and another set. The borrowers pay interest to the banks, who pay a smaller or no interest to the lenders. The whole of the interest comes ultimately out of the productive process. The capitalist who borrows from the banks and sets production in motion is able to do so and to meet all his expenses and pay profit to shareholders and interest to the banks, because the values produced by his employees are greater than the values consumed in the process (including the values consumed in the maintenance of the workers, their wages). The base of the pyramid of capitalist industry is the workers (including, of course, the so-called brain workers) who produce values which cover all the costs of production, and cover wages and then still leave a surplus to be divided among the landowning capitalist, the industrial-capitalist, and the money-lending capitalist in the form of rent, profit and interest.

That is a brief outline of the underlying framework of capitalist production, but Major Douglas and others who think like him cannot see this framework. All they can see is a confusing series of effects and appearances, confusing only because the underlying causes are not understood.

In a further article, the origin and nature of the Douglas theory will be explained.
Edgar Hardcastle

(To be continued)