Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Editorial: Competition Rules? (2007)

Editorial from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

It used to be that business news concentrated on the performance of the economy and the pearls of wisdom of business leaders. In recent years however the business pages of newspapers have slowly become filled with allegations and investigations of price-fixing, cartels, insider dealing and corruption.

Last month, in headlines which made front pages round the world, British Airways was fined over £300 million for price-fixing – agreeing with their competitor to fix the price of fuel surcharges at an artificially high level. “The world’s favourite airline”, that old advertising slogan for BA, will perhaps not be making a re-appearance anytime soon.

In the dock alongside them of course should have stood one of the UK’s favourite capitalists, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, except he turned Queens’ evidence and snitched just in time. According to the bizarre rules which usually seem to affect businesses differently from every one else, by blowing the whistle on the dirty dealings of BA (and themselves) they are automatically free from prosecution no matter how dirty their hands.

The very idea that these two bastions of free enterprise should have been colluding to effectively “defraud” their valued customers might have shocked some. After all here is what British Airways customer policy states: “The well being of our customers is extremely important to us”. Virgin’s customer charter is the same although it seems a little prescient “We put customer service and commitment to our passengers at the heart of what we do. We strive to get it right, first time, every time. But occasionally things don’t go as planned”.

Remember of course that Branson and Virgin for many years played the part of the plucky little David complaining against BA’s Goliath abusing its monopoly position with airports to try and keep Virgin out of the Atlantic market.

The news headlines related primarily to the size of the fine rather than any surprise that these business practices actually go on. These are not exceptions, occasional one-off incidents worthy of a news item. Corruption is an inherent part of capitalism. And what is known about is obviously only the tip of the iceberg.

And we maybe should not even pay much attention to those states trying to regulate their own capitalists – they are just as guilty. US Democrats have recently been trying to legislate (“Nopec”) against OPEC, the oil-producing and exporting countries, on the basis that these countries, instead of competing for market share on the basis of price, agree production rates with each other in order to keep the price high for all. In capitalism maintaining production takes second place to maintaining profit.

World socialists aren’t much bothered which activities of capitalists actually comply with its own laws or not, except perhaps to draw attention to the inconsistencies of the system and to show how it doesn’t even live up to its own ideology: the “free” market just doesn’t do what it says on the tin.

World socialists don’t want the “free” market system. But neither do we have any confidence in a supposedly regulated market system. There will never be enough consumer rights ombudsmen, Offices of Fair Trading or anti-trust legislation to police capitalism. The buying and selling system provides just too much reward. Instead a cosmetic pretence is maintained that the market system is dynamic and competitive. A veneer of fairness is maintained to encourage us all to carry on participating in the game, on the basis that there is some sort of level playing field in capitalism. But the real battle has never been one fought between capitalists, but rather, against them and their system.  So which side are you on ?

Letter: Socialist MPs (2007)

Letter to the Editors from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist MPs

Dear Editors

I am writing as a sympathiser and one with boundless admiration for Socialist Party. because of its constant refusal to compromise with all that is harmful to socialism. Therefore I was disappointed, when listening to a recent tape of members in discussion, that should a minority of socialist MPs get elected it would be party policy that reforms should be evaluated on their merits and voted for or against accordingly.

Certain reforms can indeed be said to have merit if they have some benefit to the working class, such as medicare, extension of the franchise and safety legislation in the workplace. However, for socialists to vote in favour of such reforms might well attract support from non-socialists who also welcome such measures. Too much of such support would mean you would no longer have a socialist party. I feel a minority of socialist MPs should (as they probably would) point out the class nature of all reforms, and if they did not feel comfortable voting against some of them (such as the above) abstain.

My view is to let the upholders of capitalism work for reforms and for socialists to work for socialism with the same attitude towards reforms as your party was to taking sides in wars, leadership, defence of state capitalism, nationalisation, industrial unionism, elitism (to name a few) which is “no compromise”.
Steve Shannon, 
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Our view is also “to let the upholders of capitalism work for reforms” while we put the revolutionary alternative. Socialist MPs and councillors would be mandated to put the case for socialism and to criticise reform activity from the socialist perspective. However, the long-established socialist position is that socialist delegates in such an environment would be duty-bound to consider voting for measures that could benefit the working class as a whole and/or the socialist movement in particular. These issues would be judged on their merits at the time, and could, for instance, involve socialist delegates voting to stop a war, such as the recent war in Iraq. In such a case abstention would not be justifiable. In taking this position, they would still make clear their opposition to capitalism as a whole and to all parties of capitalism and would at no time seek support from the working class on the basis of a reform programme –Editors.

Greasy Pole: Like father like son (2007)

The Greasy Pole column from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no reason to believe that he was asked what he thought about it but Tony Benn has been transmogrified from an unbending leftwing critic, protester and campaigner into a National Treasure. Manacled in this identity he will find that participation in any future marches, petitions or demonstrations will provoke only the kind of fond indulgence normally given to senile dogs. In addition Benn may be disturbed by the fact that no offspring has followed in his stumbling political footsteps, for his son Hilary made his attitude clear from the very beginning of his time as an MP: “I am a Benn but not a Bennite” – which may be translated as “please forget all that daring but embarrassing stuff I once raved on about – my career is more important to me than any principles you may have attributed to me”.

We may ask why there are so few examples of admiring offspring following a parent into a successful career in politics – which is, after all, supposed to be an honourable profession with rewards both material and in public esteem. Is it just a matter of rebellious youth defying parental assumptions? Or is there something about the work and the esteem which discourages?

The Greenwoods

Arthur Greenwood was a leading Labour figure, an MP from 1922 until his death in 1954, who held a number of Cabinet posts. In the chaotic 1929/31 Labour government he was Minister of Health and in 1935 he became Clement Attlee’s deputy leader. In the wartime coalition Churchill made him Minister Without Portfolio and then in 1941 Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee – a grandly titled body with the even grander job of organising post-war reconstruction. This committee was expected to produce practical proposals covering a wide range of spheres of action and to this end Greenwood recruited a number of economists and others who thought highly enough of themselves to believe that, at that time of extreme peril for British capitalism, their opinions would have any effect on governmental policy.

In any case the very fact of Greenwood’s appointment was evidence of the low priority given to post-war “reconstruction” for his serious drink problem made him quite incapable of keeping up with the demands of the job. Mercifully, in 1942 he was sacked (the Committee had met only four times) and the government could get on with the serious business of organising the slaughter.

His dismissal from the Cabinet left Greenwood free to take on the (unpaid) unofficial leadership of the opposition. The style of his “opposition” may be judged by his contribution to a debate, in February 1943, on the Beveridge Report, heartily welcomed by so many war-weary people under the impression that the type of reforms Beveridge was proposing would be the reward for all their suffering during the war. The coalition, however, was not to be rushed into any such extravagance and Greenwood, by pre-arrangement with the government, introduced an analgesic motion greeting the Report with the meaningless hope that it would – sometime, somehow, somewhere – be implemented.

Anthony Greenwood

In the post war Labour government Greenwood held a couple of minor jobs but his health steadily declined; in 1950, virtually immobile, he was brought to the Commons in a wheelchair by his son Anthony. “He looked dying” recorded Tory MP Henry Channon, “…Anthony, also a Member, has a Surbiton accent but a pleasant, well-soaped appearance”. That was alright then, everything well set for another, eminently acceptable, Greenwood to take his place in the most exclusive club in the world where they do the business of managing British capitalism.

Greenwood Junior was among those who conform to whatever the priorities of capitalism demand while protesting that their principles as left wingers would prevent them behaving in that way. A member of the anti-nuclear movement from its early days as the Hydrogen Bomb National Campaign Committee, he stood for the party leadership against Hugh “Fight And Fight Again” Gaitskell, who won with almost three quarters of the votes cast. Gaitskell’s death in 1963 brought Wilson into the leadership and Greenwood was plucked from the back benches to become Secretary of State for the Colonies. This was either a mistake by Wilson or an example of labyrinthine subtlety for he had grumbled to Barbara Castle that “Tony has no brains. I soon realised that all he is good at is public relations” – a breathtaking sneer from one who was himself a keen student of the shadowy art of public relations.

Anthony Greenwood had responsibility for a number of decisions which would have outraged any self-respecting left winger. In 1964 there was concern, in London and Washington, that a general election in British Guiana would bring into power a government led by Cheddi Jagan, who was likely to pursue policies unfavourable to American interests in the area. Stifling his earlier reservations for such subversive, undemocratic activity, Greenwood co-operated with the Americans in an intelligence campaign successfully aimed at undermining Jagan’s chances in the election. In 1965 the Americans had designs on building a nuclear base on Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. The problem was that the islanders did not want to leave so they were removed forcibly, through deportation or attrition; for example Britain bought the only employer on the island and then closed it down. By 1975 the job was finished and the base was there, where once the islanders fished, farmed and harvested the copra.

Hilary Benn

There is nothing in the family antecedents for any existent Greenwood to take pride in. But the tradition, or whatever it is, lives on; the grandson of Anthony Greenwood, Leo Murray, is a co-founder of Plane Stupid, an organisation which in its own way tries to defy the realities of capitalism by campaigning against airport expansion. Watch out for Leo Murray; there is time for him also to get into Parliament, become a minister and forget the days when he was devoted to trying to make capitalism behave out of character.

Such has been the story of so many politicians, among them Hilary Benn, a fourth generation MP who began as a local councillor at Ealing in London. That was in 1979, when Ealing surprised itself by electing a council which, with policies which were presented as eradicating discrimination but which on balance probably had the opposite effect, made them contenders with others such as Camden and Hackney for the title of loony lefties. At the same time Ealing council significantly upped the local rate which, to voters who are under the delusion that such things are important to them, was little short of electoral suicide. In 1983 and 1987 it almost certainly helped to increase the majority for the sitting Tory MP for Ealing North, where Benn was making his first attempt to get into Parliament. Avoiding another failure at that constituency, in 1999 Benn was returned at a by-election for Leeds Central. He has been the most compliant of Labour MPs, voting for ID cards, university top-up fees, the war in Iraq, replacing Trident…and he has moved smoothly up the greasy pole, to his present Cabinet job in charge of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Enough has been said and written about Hilary Benn’s father Tony Benn, left wing irritant turned National Treasure. It is however useful to remember that he was a minister in as succession of Labour governments during the 1960s and1970s, beginning with Postmaster General for Harold Wilson in 1964 and including the misery and chaos of the infamous Winter of Discontent. Among his notable achievements was his very own carbon footprinting when he oversaw development of the Concorde airliner which, apart from what it did to the ozone layer, was the rich person’s exclusive mode of air travel.

If the history of family politicians tells us that successive generations learn little or nothing from experience – well the same, even more so, must be said about the people who, in obdurate masochism, vote to keep them in power.

50 Years Ago: You and The Rent Act (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

October 6th is a significant date in landlord’s diaries, for on that day the first instalment of rent increases under the new Rent Act becomes payable. Even if the reader of this article has not the dubious advantage of living in a rent-controlled property, it is highly probably that he or she has already faced a substantial rise in the cost-of-living due to rate-increases or to the withdrawal of housing subsidies.(…)

From all this, one hopes that workers will realise (in case they hadn’t realised it before) just how hollow was Mr. Butler’s assertion that the standard of living would be doubled in twenty-five years, and just how empty were the election promises to solve the housing problem. Of one thing workers can be sure—that this Act will not get more houses built, and will not in the slightest degree solve the problem of overcrowding and bad housing. One might add also that the Labour Party’s proposals to nationalise rent-controlled property and put up the rents will do just as little to solve them. The solution to the problem is fairly obvious—that is, for building workers to build decent homes for the people to live in, without landlords, without investment, and without rent-control or rents. The trouble is that Capitalism does not permit of simple solutions of this kind, and so we go on, eternally arguing about what are not more than the effects of an irrational, crazy social system, instead of doing the obvious thing—to replace that system by a sane and reasonable one.

(From front page article by A.W.I., Socialist Standard, September 1957)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Productive Forces (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

What has happened to civilized society when the very purpose for which it is organized cannot be achieved? That purpose is to produce and secure the means of livelihood for all members of that society. This has always been the aim of men throughout history. The way in which this was done, and the way in which men were related to their means of production, provides the key to the understanding of human progress. At every stage in the history of civilized society, that is society based on the division of labour, men organized in social classes have fought over the issue of which social class will dominate the source of society’s wealth and the means of its production. It is only through this struggle that man has made the tremendous leaps forward in the building up of the productive forces at the disposal of society. This antagonism between the classes has produced chapters in history of bloody violence, cruelty and famine on a colossal scale, but without this class struggle the productive forces of society would never have been developed. By developed, we mean that the social organization to produce wealth is equal to any normal social demand which may be made on that wealth.

Production in every sphere has eventually won the battle of science and technology. There need no longer be any natural or physical barriers to the production of wealth, yet there is a constant struggle for survival, and millions do not survive at all. The Oxfam organization claims that 15 million children die annually of diseases caused through malnutrition, whilst the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization expects the over-production of world dairy products to persist during 1976 (Times, 5th Jan. 1976).

"New Higher Relations"
The working class of all countries is the greatest productive force of all, but they are not aware of it. They regard the productive forces and the political and economic organization of society as something beyond them in which they play no part. Their main preoccupation is with the wages system and the constant fight against capital. This blinds them to the real state of social progress and the potential of production. In the real world, wealth is literally begging to be produced and consumed, whilst the world as the worker sees it consists of organized poverty and scarcity. This arises because of the way the economic structure of capitalism is organized. The working class is related to the means of production by wage-labour and capital, and these are basic conditions of production within capitalism, and no production can take place outside of these relations. These relations of production presuppose the existence of private property in the means of production in the first place, and the private ownership of the products in the second place. The products must be sold or exchanged under a monetary system and this constitutes a further relation of production.

The simple world of production where men reciprocate with nature and where wealth is produced is real enough, but its basic purpose has been obscured. Looking at this weird world of capital and commodities, we find that the productive forces do not exist to produce wealth at all: they exist to produce capital. That is, their function which is to provide the best existence which man can wrest from nature is subordinated and suppressed in the interests of the accumulation of capital. This accumulation can only be achieved by the sale of commodities, which is the economic form wealth takes under capitalism, and which contains within them that proportion of the unpaid social labour which is ultimately converted to capital. Provided there is a continual outlet for goods on world markets, the capitalist can continue to amass and re-invest capital. In the early years of capitalist development, particularly in Great Britain in the late 18th century, there was a market waiting to be served. Society had just moved away from Feudalism with its restricted production and growing population. This gave a tremendous impetus to the development of the productive forces. New inventions and scientific discoveries revolutionized the productive process, but above all, the greatest productive force of all was human labour-power which became a commodity under the domination of capital. The old conditions and relations of feudal production were swept aside by the new ruling capitalist class. Handicraft was replaced by manufacture, serfs were freed from the soil and forced to become wage labourers, merchants were permitted to employ wage-labour where they had previously been debarred. The restrictive practices imposed by the Guilds and Corporations regarding apprentices and journeymen, with fixed quotas of production and monopoly in distribution, were abolished. The rising capitalist class wanted unrestricted production. Therefore new relations of production had to be introduced. The relations of wage-labour and capital arose together with the establishment of private property in the means of production by the separation of the labourer from his means of production, which was mainly the land. The new system of production was vastly superior to feudal production, and the new relation of wage-labour and capital was consequently higher. Social progress, as measured in terms of production, was capitalism’s contribution to mankind.

However, by the year 1825 the first major commercial crisis took place. The seemingly bottomless market had been saturated. Since then, crisis after crisis has taken place up to the present time with similar effects, and by their periodic return expose more and more the contradictions of capitalist society. The forces of production cannot comply with the laws and conditions governing their use. If commodities cannot be sold beyond a certain point, and a surplus accumulates, the productive forces cannot be allowed to produce beyond this point. Capitalist crises arise precisely because of over-production and a shrinking market.

There is a point of view which holds that capitalism can take crises in its stride on the hill and valley principle. It probably could, were production the only consideration and the capitalists were completely free agents. Unfortunately for the capitalist, capitalism is a political system as well as an economic one. Politics involve people who, for the most part, are members of the working class. This is the class capitalism depends upon for its very existence. Whilst the ideal capitalist production arrangements would be to hire and fire, and displace labour by the introducing of machinery, the social and political consequences would be unpredictable. Workers would not accept without a struggle the loss of their livelihood through unemployment. As it is, capitalism is unable to use the available labour force, as world unemployment figures show. America, the largest capitalist country, has an unemployment figure of over 8 millions.

According to Marx, no society ever goes out of existence before all the productive forces for which there is room have been developed. The productive forces, which consist of labour, machinery, natural forces, electricity, steam, etc. and the earth itself, navigable rivers and other means of production, have been developed since 1825, the year of the first general crisis. What has happened since that period is that there has been a constant struggle between capital and labour over the introduction of labour-saving machinery. This amounts to the displacement of one productive force by another, and is not a development. Neither is the increased productivity of labour, which is an expansion of capital. Also the replacement of steam by electricity is not a development but the displacing of one motive power by another. Neither is it correct to claim that the introduction of up-to-date machinery is a development. Before up-to-date machinery can be introduced, existing machinery must be scrapped, which means that capital must be wasted.

Out of Control
The real way to consider the efficiency of the productive forces is by their technical and social capabilities: that is their ability to produce wealth in the concrete form—use value, irrespective of any market considerations. The social powers of production are related to the size of the population, but as the world population grows, the proportion of the population doing productive work is becoming smaller. Every increase in the productivity of labour through introducing machinery, which arises mainly from competition between capitalists for market supremacy, will cheapen the products, but only by creating more of them. A constantly diminishing number of productive workers will support an increasing population. Capitalism however cannot physically remove its relative surplus population and has to find them employment outside the productive labour process. Thus we get hordes of civil servants, salesmen, insurance men, advertising men, public relations men, office workers, and an ever-growing army of bureaucrats, lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc. etc. To bring this section of the population into useful production from whence they have been removed would undermine the whole productive and marketing process. There are no new markets, and neither did the development of the backward countries create new markets in the strict sense. Capital has been exported to the backward countries for over 200 years, and such development as is taking place is done at the expense, so to speak, of the old capitalist colonialists. It is not a development of the productive forces, which are world-wide not national. Competition between capitalists does not produce more surplus value, it moves it to the large capitalists.

Greater productivity is always given as the key to the prosperity of the working class, but greater productivity produces surpluses. Surpluses which cannot be sold result in the laying off of millions of
workers, and the enforced idleness of large sections of the productive forces. Use value can be produced without exchange value, but you cannot have exchange value without use value. Without exchange value you cannot have surplus value, and therefore capital cannot be accumulated. The productive forces are subject to the property relations and the conditions of capitalist production, and these conditions inhibit their proper function, which is to serve society and not capital. The productive forces are fettered, and the powers of production are in rebellion against the conditions of production.

Capitalist society is like the sorcerer’s apprentice who was unable to control the magic powers he had called up by his spells. When this point is reached, the forces of production have come into conflict with the social relations under which they have previously been developed. Social progress demands that there should be a change in the social relations. Men must be related to their means of production without the restrictions of wage-labour and capital. The existing mode of production must be scrapped, and this can only be done by the introduction of a system of production based upon common ownership. Socialism. This is the highest form of industrial and economic relations which can be devised by man. This will be in line with the historical mission of the working class, and mankind will finally conquer the problem of poverty.

Revolutionary consciousness is the recognition that the social powers of production must be brought under social control. This can only be done by the working class using their political power to establish common ownership—Socialism.
Jim D'Arcy

Sunday, September 20, 2020

You've got plenty of nothing (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The shyster practising the three-card trick at the fairground or other places where a few simpletons are gathered together usually commences his spiel with: “I have nothing in my right hand, I have nothing in my left hand”—and suddenly out of his midriff he produces the ace of spades. Having thus gained the interest of his audience he invites them to “find the lady”. His accomplished hands move three cards around on a table as fast as the eye can see, and then he’ll lay even money against you spotting the queen. As professional shysters generally speaking gain their livelihoods at this kind of thing, there is little chance of anyone getting the better of them at their own game. The lady, alas, is never where she ought to be, and those whose money has gone from their pockets into his are definitely sadder, wiser and poorer men.

Heaven forbid that we should describe our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, as a shyster —he is nothing of the kind. He operates within the law whilst shysters do not. He receives the approbation of wealthy and respectable people, and no shyster surely would receive that. Also, shysters do not have sizeable estates in the country. Their scale of operations is minute, as they only deal with small fry. Our Chancellor is a man of honour, and his dealings with the working class should never be placed on a par with our fairground charlatan.

However, there is one thing our Chancellor and our shyster have in common, and that is the ability to play tricks on people; to deceive them; to present an illusion where things are not what they appear to be. As everything done by Healey is done in the most reasonsable arid refined manner, and in full vision of the public, it would be wrong to say that he practises deception.

TUC — graveyard of unity
In his 15th budget since Labour took office in this parliament, Healey on 26th October increased the personal Tax allowance by 12 per cent. This meant, according to our best newspapers, that some workers would receive £1 extra each week. But hold on! The rate of inflation, or the fall in the purchasing power of money, for which Mr. Healey’s Labour government is directly responsible, has been over 13 per cent. over the last twelve months. All that Healey has done is to return to the workers a tiny fraction of something previously derived from them. That graveyard of unity, the TUC, consider that this was a benefit for the lower-paid worker. This lickspittle institution never tires of telling the workers that a Labour government is God’s gift to the working class and they ought to be grateful for it, even with 1,600,000 unemployed.

This resembles the man and his dog who got lost in the forest. There was no food to be found and the man was very hungry. He looked at the dog and for the first time noticed that it had rather a long tail. After some misgivings (being an Englishman) he cut off the dog’s tail and made a stew of it. After eating, he threw the bones to the dog. Never in the history of canine loyalty was there a more delighted dog—it felt it had the best master in the world.

For the working class to ask for a bigger share of its own product is to ask for charity. Why should the workers allow themselves to be dependent on the goodwill of well-fed, well-breeched politicians, whose future is assured as well as their prosperity by the useless parasites who pay them well for the dirty work they perform?

It is easier to get rid of them both than to live with them. That is what Socialists have been saying for years. We deserve your support, and we shall get it when the workers decide to get up off their knees.
Jim D'Arcy

World Socialism or World Violence? (1976)

From the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

A little over a year ago the television programme A Man Called Ironside, presented an episode entitled “The Armageddon Gang”, which depicted a mad scientist who came within seconds of firing H-bomb rockets and starting World War III. This was presented as entertainment and it was accepted as such. The conditioning that has taken place to make the prospect of total world annihilation acceptable, is surely the ultimate obscenity. There was no outcry from the Longford-Whitehouse camp. This scientist was “mad”. The capitalist system which produces H-bomb stockpiles, is “normal”.

A few days later a TV documentary on mugging was shown. This centred on Brixton in South London. They interviewed a police chief, Commander Marshall, who made the point that the police can never solve the problem alone; society as a whole has to realize it is a part of wider issues, housing, education and employment. This aspect of violence is still very much in the news, being endlessly debated, like other social problems, but with no end in sight.

In Brixton, some 79 per cent. of mugging is said to be carried out by black people; mainly youths. If you are black, live in a slum, failed by the “education” system and unemployed, you may become a mugger. If you are white and in similar circumstances you too may turn to mugging or other forms of crime. To say this is a product of poverty, is to say it is a product of capitalism. Because of its property relationships, capitalism has always failed to integrate human beings with society. The profit motive is a completely dehumanized driving force.

Some young black people who had been involved in mugging were interviewed during the programme. They said their motive was to get money, to buy clothes and to be like other people. They were asked if they felt anything for their victims and replied in the negative. Again, the hostility between the individual and society is socially generated. People are not naturally anti-social, as the police chief said; you have to look at housing, education and employment. You have to look at the system.

Capitalism sets no higher standard. It is a violent society preaching a phoney morality. While its pundits talk of “law and order” out of one side of their mouths, out of the other they urge young people to train as professional killers. Every newspaper carries recruitment advertisements for the army, navy or air-force which invite young people to learn a trade— and become professionals in the sophisticated refinements of modern mass-murder and destruction.

A generation has grown up knowing nothing but wars. Since the end of the second “war to end war” in 1945, there has been an endless succession of wars all over the world. Some of these wars may be in distant places but, with modern means of communication, they invade every living room and are part of the violent environment. The war in Korea slaughtered more than a million people. The war in Vietnam, which raged for nearly thirty years, was started by a Labour government, and a Labour government carried on conscription in so-called peace time.

Throughout its existence the Socialist Party of Great Britain has maintained the position re-stated in the 1950 edition of our pamphlet The Socialist Party and War:
  War can solve no working-class problem. It cuts across the fundamental identity of interest of the workers of the world, setting sections of this class at enmity with each other in the interest of sections of the capitalists. It elevates force into the position of arbiter in place of the common human desire for mutual peace and happiness. Its effect is wholly evil. It depraves all the participants by forcing them to concentrate upon the best methods of producing misery and annihilating each other. It elevates lying, cheating, disabling and murdering opponents into virtues, confers distinctions upon those who practise these means most successfully, and inaugurates training courses on a vast scale to produce efficiency. Young men and women, in their most impressionable years, have the vile methods of warfare impressed upon them so thoroughly that they lose a balanced outlook on life and are impregnated with the idea that force, with all its baseness, and not reason, is the final solution in all problems. Many of those who have been subjected to the atmosphere of war remain addicted to violence when war has come to a temporary end.
Around the world selling armaments is big business. America, Russia, China, France, Czechoslovakia and Britain are selling massive quantities of arms and military equipment. The morality of capitalism never gets in the way of profits or commercial, strategic and vested interests. When the icy fact is understood that these major capitalist powers have the means to wipe out all life on earth, the mugger becomes small beer in comparison. But then muggers are illegal and lack the “dignity and bearing” of statesmen.

Practically all organized violence is aimed at gain. The possession or retention of wealth, money, resources or territory. Violence therefore derives overwhelmingly from the class-property basis of existing society.Violence used in power-struggles for so-called national independence comes in this category. It means the replacement of one gang of thieves by another. Violence is the final sanction of all ruling classes. The modern state-machine is a virtual monopoly of violence. As much as violence maims or murders those on whom it is practised, it brutalizes and degrades those who advocate and practise it, whether society labels them as muggers or soldiers, terrorists or politicians.

It is important to realize that violence is not an exceptional thing practised by an anti-social few. It is accepted and frequently applauded by the vast majority of “ordinary” people. They accept the spurious justifications of the Stalins, Wilsons, Nixons, Heaths, Fords and Brezhnevs. “We” need H-bombs and militarism, because “they” have them.

Those organizations such as IS, WRP, IMG, the anarchists and the CP, which see the class struggle in terms of barricades, street fighting, confrontations and smashing the state, are all anti-Socialist and anti- working-class. Political power gained by desperate minorities through armed insurrection can only lead to state capitalism and dictatorship and reflect working-class unreadiness for Socialism. In condemning all this as Socialists always have, we also condemn the bombings, brutality and blood-letting of the self-styled guerillas, whether they be for Black Power, Palestine Liberation or the IRA. All such movements whether racists, nationalist or religious, are anti-working class. They all help to sustain an atmosphere of hatred and foster the notion that violence is a rational arbiter in settling disputes and influencing attitudes. The SPGB and its Companion Parties reject this. We reject the standards of capitalism. We promote UNDERSTANDING as the mainspring of social change.

All other political parties have a prior commitment to violence as part of the power-structure of the system they ALL seek to run. Every party seeking power to maintain capitalism (in whatever guise) has to build and preserve the coercive state apparatus. The SPGB and our Companion Parties have no prior commitment to violence. Neither do we have any record of support for war. Our commitment is to Socialist understanding and to the democratic process of majority decision.

In order to strip the capitalist class of their ownership of the means of production and distribution, and to usher in common ownership, a world-wide majority of the working class with Socialist ideas will use the vote to gain control of the state machine This will take the armed forces and police out of the hands of the political agents of capitalism, and so remove the coercive threat to the triumph of the politically-conscious working class. There is no way to gain possession of the means of production for the whole of society, without first capturing political power. Just as the armed forces and police function to protect private property institutions whilst the state is in the hands of the capitalists, so the capitalists are powerless to preserve their ownership once the state is taken from them.

Any violent minority seeking to get back to capitalism, will be seen to be acting against the will of the great majority and can only further isolate themselves. They could not reverse the irreversible process of history which has led to the decision to change society.

Socialism will end the long and terrible history of violence. Having been established democratically it will continue to be run democratically. When there are no longer any classes of owners and non-owners, there will be a common interest in the happiness and welfare of everybody. Humanity will have come of age.
Harry Baldwin

Who Likes Facing Labour's Future? (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never shared the euphoria of the Left for so-called welfare legislation. All the starry-eyed illusions that were let loose in those post-war years, about what a wonderful thing the Welfare State and the National Health Service would be, served the capitalist class well.

The reformists could not come up empty-handed after six years of war. The delusion was carefully fostered of making a start to build a bright and happy future. High hopes were encouraged that nationalization of basic industries would mean that things like coal-mines and transport ran as a public service, with profit considerations pushed aside.

The welfare state, with the National Health Service at the heart of it, was to be the show-piece and crowning glory of it all.

In the war days of the Beveridge Report, had not Quintin Hogg remarked:
  Some of my hon. Friends seem to overlook one or two ultimate facts about social reform. The first is that if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution.
Parliamentary Debates 
17th February 1943 Col. 1818
Had not all the war propaganda dangled the prospect of a better life when it was all over? The free provisions of free specs and dentures did not last long. Workers soon had to start paying half, on top of ever rising compulsory contributions. The economics of capitalism soon reminded the reform-mongers that things (under capitalism) have to be paid for. All along the line, in every nationalized industry, (and not least in the NHS) the chickens have come home to roost.

A generation of workers have placed their trust and wasted their lives on the pie-crust promises of ambitious politicians. More than thirty years have passed since the Labour Party issued its post-war election manifesto: Let us Face the Future. People like Barbara Castle, who were rising “stars” of the left, when Aneurin Bevan was chief demagogue, have lived to stand in the crumbling ruins of all the misguided hopes which they themselves helped to build. Once again the ludicrous spectacle is one where the reformers proposed and capitalism disposed. We are now living in their future.

Every group of workers in the NHS has been (and will continue to be) ruthlessly exploited by their Labour government overlords. (Yes, we know and by the Tories.)

The nurses, whose devotion to their patients has been mercilessly used by successive governments, were forced to organize, demonstrate and threaten strike action. Then the ambulance crews were pushed into the same position. The ward orderlies and laundry workers caved in under the weight of increasing drudgery and near starvation wages. The extreme reluctance of any of these workers to add to the suffering of the sick and aged, has been cynically played on by the Tory and Labour governments.

The latest miserable episode is that of the junior doctors. Driven by being on duty or on stand-by for as much as one hundred hours per week and working for as many as eighty hours with virtually unpaid overtime, they banned overtime. This brought about the closing down of wards, casualty departments and even entire hospitals. If this reads like a nightmare, that is what capitalism does to the dreams of reformers.

It should be understood, that dental decay, bad eyesight and tuberculosis etc., among the working class are very costly to the capitalist class, particularly in war time. Absenteeism from work with avoidable sickness has an adverse affect upon profits. A patch-up and back-to-work service is a wise investment for capitalism. Capitalists and their political hirelings certainly look at welfare in this way. Speaking at the Manchester Rotary Club on February 18th 1943, the millionaire Samuel Courtauld said, in reference to the Beveridge Report:
  . . . social security of this nature will be about the most profitable long-term investment the country could make. It will not undermine the morale of the nation’s workers: it will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs.
The economics and priorities of capitalism remain supreme. The system has not been slowly eroded by the “gradualists” who thought they would whittle it away by reforms. They have been whittled away. They have nowhere to turn. Their political bankruptcy is exposed for all to see.

The rampant chaos and discontent in the hospital centres entirely upon money. Costing and inflation problems slowly strangle the postal “services”. The same considerations decree how much of the railways shall survive and whether steel mills and coal mines shall close down. They also dictate how much gas and electricity members of the working class may use. Nowhere have their plans worked. Nowhere has nationalization served working class interests. Perhaps the following has a familiar ring:
   No Tory Government could make this appeal, for the workers would suspect that the summons to hard work, discipline and abstinence would result only in fortunes for the few and the later wastage of unemployment. The new Government is in a different situation. It also must appeal for hard work, discipline and, for a short period, continued abstinence. All these are needed to increase the total wealth for distribution. But a Labour Government at the same time can give concrete proof of its resolve to use this wealth for the benefit of the whole community. By its social insurance and health and housing plans it can show its determination to secure a greater equality in the distribution of wealth. By its nationalization proposals it can show its resolve that the re-equipment of industry shall not merely bring greater profits to the few. By its financial measures it can prove that, when this period of shortage is over, no return will be allowed to wasteful unemployment.
Michael Foot, Daily Herald 7th August 1945
Aneurin Bevan, once said the Tories were “lower than vermin”. What does that make the Wilson, Castle and Foot mob? Regretfully, calling names however well deserved, does little to raise the level of class-consciousness. When the working class wake up, they will contemptuously brush aside these petty upstarts and, in fact, dismiss all leaders. Ultimately the responsibility rests with the workers. Their political maturity (or lack of it) is reflected in how they vote. The power to continue the agony of capitalism, derives from the votes of the workers. The power to end it, will come from the same source.
Harry Baldwin

The three quotations are to be found in the SPGB pamphlets: Beveridge Re-Organizes Poverty and Is Labour Government the Way to Socialism?

The Nature of Democracy (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is essentially democratic. It means a society of true equality. All people will jointly own the means of production and distribution, and will control them and administer all the affairs of society from that classless basis. Because means must harmonize with ends, the organization for Socialism is also democratic. Socialists reject leadership and censorship; the realization of the interests of the working class lies in full, free and informed discussion.

The capitalist class does not willingly give such facilities for the development of socialist consciousness and organization. It has to provide them as legal “rights" for the maintenance of its own political system, and their extent varies from country to country. Socialists are aware of the need for scope, and — unlike many foolish people who call themselves “revolutionaries” — avoid jeopardizing the opportunities we have. At the same time, we do not bow down in gratitude to the ruling class and promise to fight on their side in return for what they have grudgingly given. We compare their “rights” with the freedom Socialism offers; when increasing numbers of socialists give us bigger muscles, we shall want more room to flex them.

The other half of the lie, that Russia and China are communist, is that the West is free and democratic. This falsehood provides a vital propaganda weapon which the ruling class use to goad workers into the acceptance of war preparations. It can never be officially admitted that the reason is economic and concerns markets, resources and profits, not ideological concern for freedom and democracy.

Strategic Alliances
Alliances between allegedly free countries and dictatorships have no ideological explanation, they can only be understood in terms of commercial and military strategy. For example, Portugal while a dictatorship was “Britain’s oldest ally” and Uganda under Amin, remains part of the so-called Commonwealth, America sponsors dictatorships like that in S. Korea and fought a ten years war to bolster the power of its puppet tyrants in Vietnam. Russia and China infiltrate much of the world with massive investments, trade and military power, even in places where their “communist” comrades are in prison. The British and American ruling classes embraced Russia as an ally from 1941 to 1945 and tailored their propaganda accordingly. Churchill found no difficulty working with Stalin, whose regime he had spent twenty-five years denouncing as a “cancerous growth”, to organize the mass slaughter of Germans and Italians, whose leaders Hitler and Mussolini he formerly admired.

Today the world is one huge nuclear arsenal for the major powers. The smaller states are drawn into one armed camp or the other or come under the strategy of the big bandit. Nuclear weapons have no respect for non-alignment. Just as the major powers are motivated by the economics of capitalism, so also are the smaller countries. The conditions leading to conflict are always present in competition for markets.

After two world wars and scores of “minor” wars supposedly to ensure freedom, outside the phrasemongering of politicians and the media how much freedom and democracy is there in the world today? What do these words really mean? To arrive at a clear understanding, it is necessary first to grasp the nature of class society, otherwise freedom and democracy, like ideas about rights and justice, remain vague concepts. In our Declaration of Principles, we refer to the enslavement of the working class being a consequence of the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class. This is the number one fact of life of capitalist society. The only sense in which the working class are free is, as Marx explains in The Communist Manifesto, that they are not tied to land or any individual employers, but being divorced from the means of production are free to sell their working abilities on the labour market to any capitalist willing to hire them. Wage-labour is socially enslaved to the capitalist class as a whole.

Marx also makes the point that the working class is dragged into the political arena by the capitalist class. The Capitalists are not a single group with the same interest, but numerous groups with often conflicting interests. Although they all live on the backs of the workers, they dispute among themselves as to which should have the main burden of taxation for the costs of running their system. In the early days of capitalism when the sharpest division was between landed and industrial interests, the Tory party represented the former and the Whigs (Liberals) the latter. Both posed as champion of the workers to enlist the aid of the workers for their own advantage. This was the background to the passing of the early factory legislation and franchise reform. Instead of seeing their own interests as distinct from those of the capitalists, workers sought to play one against the other for the amelioration of immediate grievances. This led to dissatisfaction with existing parties and as the trade-union movement grew, to the formation of the Labour party. The workers then as now blamed their hardships on leaders and parties rather than the system. The fraud of reformism has become the status quo. The institutional forms taken by the national affairs of the capitalist class, which includes the health, education and welfare of the working class, are put over to the workers as freedom and democracy.

For the dubious privilege of having his children’s heads stuffed with nationalism and religion, while being trained for a life of wage-slavery, and the benefits bestowed by the Welfare/Warfare state to relieve the worst extremes of poverty, the worker is expected to rejoice that he is remembered at election times and invited to vote for the continuation of things as they are.

Just as capitalist politicians debated the dangers of teaching workers to read and had no choice but to do so, they also debated the wisdom of universal suffrage. The provision of facilities for lobbying opinion to decide how property interests and profitability can best be served is not the same thing as freedom. There is no provision made for expressing socialist views; these fall outside the province of profit promotion, and have to make their own way. The capitalist conception of freedom can never amount to more than the freedom of the capitalist class to trade, legislate and arm against their rivals. For them, the first freedom must always be the freedom to exploit wage labour. Even the contesting of elections is tightly circumscribed by money, resources and access to the media.

Those who take the propaganda of the system at its face value tell us at our meetings, that in Britain at least we have “free speech and freedom of the press”. But where a minority owns the means of living and also owns and controls the press, obviously the press is not free. Useful though Hyde Park is, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the world day- and-night output of television, radio and press. Free access to the channels of radio and television does not exist. If “free” speech consists of standing on a platform by the roadside, shouting above the traffic, while the system’s propaganda invades every worker’s living-room, clearly the word “freedom” has a double standard.

Unfettered Discussion
The press, radio and television are not even free for the capitalists as individuals. There are programme controllers, D Notices, censorship, “editing”, regulations laid down in broadcasting charters, the Official Secrets Acts and other “democratic” devices. The national interests of the capitalists as a class need secrecy, and the slanting of information. This is the antithesis of democracy Democracy involves the free availability of all information and unfettered discussion— but this implies no class with privileged interests to maintain.

In the Preface to The Critique of Political Economy, Marx enunciated the principle of the materialist conception of history: that the legal and political superstructure can only be explained by the social relations that men enter into in production and the level of development of the productive forces at a given time. The legal machinery and political power of capitalism are built upon the ownership of the means of production and distribution by the capitalist class. The prevailing ideology and morality reflect the interests of private property. The non-owning class are fed false information and miseducated to produce attitudes in conformity with the dominance of private property and profits. Attitudes towards money, wages, leadership, housing, inflation, trade and war, are manipulated by the schools, press, radio and t.v. on the basis of the prior assumptions of the capitalist interest. The skilful use of spurious information and a pretence of a debate excludes views which reject those prior assumptions.

There is no freedom to put the case for Socialism on level pegging with the parties of capitalism. They have the mass media at their constant disposal, the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not. If Marx’s view of society is correct Socialist ideas do not spread among the workers because they are given permission to do so, by rights or concepts of freedom. It is the contradictions inherent in capitalist society which promote the growth of class-consciousness. Ideas can neither be legislated into nor out of existence. There is a conflict between the material forces of production and the existing social relations of production and the existing social relations of production. This is the essential prerequisite, the soil from which consciousness grows. It is a paradox for workers to accept the prerogative of capitalist politicians to grant them “rights”. The other side of the coin is acceptance of their prerogative to curtail them.

Just as with other reforms in welfare or education, there is the assumption that what is good for capitalism, is good for the workers; in times of crises when reforms are cut back this too is sold as good for everyone. In time of war or emergency, the “rights” and “freedoms” for which workers are told to sacrifice themselves, become all but non-existent. Since the end of the second World War, the frequent recurrence of wars and emergencies have provided the grounds for repeated tightening of the reins. There has been a vast expansion of surveillance and “security” operations throughout the world and a tremendous extension of the screening of individuals, publications and organizations, despite the “inalienable” rights guaranteed by the American Constitution, and such documents as the United Nations Charter.

What sustains their continued acceptance of capitalism, is the fact that workers everywhere, are side tracked into struggling for a host of other issues. In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels makes a brilliant summary of the situation: “The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class, in this case the proletariat, is not ripe for its economic emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible, and form the tail, the extreme left wing of the capitalist class. But the more the proletariat matures towards its self emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class”. (Pages 210, 211, Kerr Edition.)

No minority could hold back the tidal wave of a majority wanting Socialism. It is the task of socialists to expand Socialism and nothing else. Socialism will be democratic because, the interest of everybody in a classless world will be harmonious. At the end of our Declaration of Principles, we urge workers to join us to end “the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom". For socialists, the attainment of freedom means the abolition of classes and democracy is inseparable from Socialism.
Harry Baldwin

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Socialism and Human Nature. (1922)

From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the many objections that have been levelled against Socialism, the one concerning human nature strikes the writer as providing not only a lop-sided view of human nature, but at the same time an indictment of capitalist society unconsciously made by our opponents.

We are informed that "human nature being what it is, Socialism is quite impossible," or, as it is sometimes put, "you will have to change human nature."

This remarkable point of view was formulated in another way only a few days: ago by the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill, who, in a speech delivered in Loughborough Town Hall, stated :—
  "A great mistake the Socialists make is that they follow a lot of logical and symmetrical theory, and forget all about human nature."—Sunday Express, 12/3/22.
Far be it from us to suggest that Mr. Churchill follows any theory that could be called either symmetrical or logical, or, when commenting upon his famous "gamble" at Gallipoli with the lives of thousands of our fellow-workers, that he had forgotten about human nature.

However, we are not so much concerned here with Churchill as we are with those of the working class who seriously entertain the objection stated above. Before proceeding to deal with this objection, we will state what the Socialists have to say of existing society, and how their theory corresponds to reality.

We assert that present-day society is based upon the private ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class, with the consequent enslavement of the working class, by means of whose labour wealth is produced. It follows, then, that, as the capitalist class do not work, they must obtain their wealth from the workers; in other words, they steal it from the working class. Of course, the means, employed are not the same as those of the common thief or burglar, which are quite illegal, but by virtue of their "legal" ownership of the means of life, which is secured to them by their being in control of the political machinery, including the armed forces of the nation. To illustrate this point.

Let us assume that a small body of workers decided to "take and hold" some of the machinery of production for their own benefit, we should at once witness the operation of the power that is in the hands of the capitalist class. The police force, in all probability, would be the first to appear on the scene, and, if this was not sufficient, the Army and Navy would be brought to bear upon the takers and holders, to teach them that "Britons never will be slaves," and in every large industrial dispute this armed force is ready at hand to teach the workers the lesson taught the school-child, "You must not touch; it isn't yours."

The armed forces are controlled through Parliament, for, though they act in the immediate upon the instructions from the Government Departments, such as the War Office and the Admiralty, they are ultimately under the control of the majority in the House of Commons, as this majority is responsible for the conduct of the various Departments. But the capitalists have not voted themselves into Parliament. The workers outnumber them by millions at the ballot-box. The tragic irony is, that the workers have handed over to the ruling class the very power by which they art kept in subjection. What follows as a consequence of the working class, being a subject class is that the workers must operate upon the various tools of production to obtain a living. But the wealth, when produced, does not belong to them, but to the capitalists, who hand back a fraction of this wealth in the form of wages to the workers, to enable the latter to renew their energy, and thus repeat the performance of producing wealth. In modern society, on account of man's triumph over the forces of Nature, there is produced all over the civilised world an abundance of wealth sufficient to ensure a comfortable existence for all. But, as every worker is painfully aware, poverty and insecurity of existence is the lot of his class. We have to record the fact that, in spite of the productive power of to-day, we witness the anomaly of starvation in the midst of plenty. The Socialist, after analysing society and viewing all this, proposes to the workers that they should organise into a political party for the purpose of obtaining political power in order to change society from Capitalist to Socialist; that is, alter the basis of society from one of private ownership into one of the common ownership of the means of life, to be democratically owned and controlled by the whole community.

This being the proposition of the Socialist, we ask, What is there about it that in any way conflicts with what we know of human nature ? The objection of our opponents merely begs the following question : What is human nature ? The answer, that, in the opinion of the present writer, covers the ground fairly well, is the one met somewhere in his reading as "the manifold activities of man in general." This definition should meet with the approval of our opponents, for when they use the phrase "Human Nature," they generally refer to the actions of certain persons as a proof of their position.

A glance at history will show that the activities of man have changed with every alteration in the form of society, for, just as there has been change within the domain of the biological world, so there has been changes in the forms of society. At a very early period of man's history cannibalism was very often resorted to as a means of food supply., and was thought no more objectionable than eating the flesh of an ox or a sheep. The sex relationship of primitive man, although being quite in conformity with the current morality of the age, would shock the civilised person, and if anybody proposed their revival in modern society, either a prison cell or a lunatic asylum would greet their efforts. But, while there is a vast difference between the primitive savage and civilised man, the distinction lies in the fact that, while the former had but crude implements at his disposal to obtain the means of sustenance, the latter has inherited the results of the accumulated experiences of man's long and painful journey from savagery through barbarism to civilisation.

But, while the outlook and surroundings of modern man are different from those of his primitive ancestor, nevertheless, as far as the qualities that make up human nature are concerned, there is a similarity between both. For instance, we eat when we are hungry, and roar when we are angry. We seek the greatest amount of pleasure, and avoid pain and discomfort as much as possible, and the same qualities characterise the savage. The difference lies in the means employed to procure the food and the kind of pleasure sought; consequently, viewing human nature from this angle, we say that there is a sense in which human nature changes and a sense in which it is always the same. The change of conditions, whether it be a change in the form of society or a change in the conditions of existing society, does not change the man , they only direct his natural qualities of adaptation into a different path. To illustrate this, we may take the recent war. Here we find the "peaceful citizen," who, while he shudders at the mention of a social revolution, because to him it means bloodshed, was converted from a man of peace into a man of war, and the greater the amount of blood of his opponents he shed, the more his conduct was commended.

The worker may notice how, when one of his mates has fallen upon more evil times, the helping hand of the shop-mates has been extended towards the victim. In the most poverty-stricken slum the same factor of mutual aid can be observed in various directions. The daily Press reports frequently the news of some gallant act performed without hope of reward. It is a fact, as Kropotkin says in his book, "Mutual Aid," page 292 :—
"Neither the crushing powers of the centralised state, nor the teachings of mutual hatred and pitiless struggle which came adorned with the attributes of science, from obliging philosophers and sociologists could weed out the feeling of human solidarity, deeply lodged in men's understanding and heart, because it has been nurtured by all our preceding evolution."
As we have already indicated, human nature is a complexity of qualities that can either be expressed harmfully or beneficially ; it depends upon the conditions of its existence; and, as we have shown, that, with the change of conditions, there takes place a corresponding change in man's activities, we assert that with the change from Capitalism to Socialism, those various qualities which go to make up human nature, will be directed into different paths, and the workers, free from capitalist bondage, will thus enjoy the fruits of their labour and live a life of security and happiness.
Robert Reynolds

"The Japs in Siberia." (1922)

From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The above is the title of a leaflet published by the "National 'Hands off Russia' Committee."

It contains an introductory foreword over the signatures of Robert Williams, Ben Tillett, M.P., John Bromley, Neil Maclean, M.P., J. E. Mills, M.P., and Robert Smillie. The leaflet points out how the Ruling Class of Japan are endeavouring to obtain a foothold in Siberia by means of their armies and navies for the purpose of furthering their imperialistic ambitions. The leaflet describes that in the process, however, atrocities are being perpetrated by Japanese, which bring to mind the mediaeval torture chambers.

We think there is nothing particularly unusual about these methods; they are merely typical of the long line of atrocities which have been inflicted by one capitalist power after another in their respective endeavours to monopolise markets and extend their fields of exploitation and plunder over the backward countries. Needless to say, in these adventures it has been the working class who have done the fighting ; it is working-class lives which have been thus offered up as sacrifices in the interests of International Capitalism. Organisations like the "Hands off Russia" Committee may continue to publish leaflets like the above to the extent of millions of tons, but it does not touch the root of the matter ; it is merely trifling with the effects of a particular system of society known as Capitalism. The mission of the Socialist Party, however, is to lay bare the general trend of Capitalist development; to point out unceasingly that, so long as the system lasts, atrocities will be repeated; that they are effects which spring from the very roots of the Capitalist system, because they are grounded in the soil of competitive rivalry for world's markets, trade routes, etc. The only remedy is to remove the cause, capitalism, and replace it by the International Co-operative Commonwealth.

Therefore, when the above-mentioned well-known Labour leaders write as follows in their introductory note to the leaflet—
  "As Internationalist, we would urge the workers of Europe, America, the British Colonies, and the world generally, to do all that is possible to apply a boycott of all things Japanese until the Japanese troops are completely withdrawn from Siberia."
they are only confusing the issue by suggesting impossible things as remedies for a rotten system. Fancy the workers, of the countries referred to boycotting Japanese articles ! The workers will always endeavour to obtain the best value for their money. It is one of the guiding principles of the Capitalist system to strive for the best value obtainable in the ordinary course of exchange—i.e., buying and selling. If applies equally to the workers as it does to the capitalist. The worker receives wages and expends them to the very best advantage—i.e., in the purchase of the best value in the shape of the necessaries of life. It matters not to him whether the goods he buys are Japanese, German, or Chinese— he seeks the best value for his money. He is bound to do this, or his power to work will deteriorate, and with it his chance of a job.

The capitalist seeks the highest degree of labour power which the labour market can produce; he wants the best value also.

Pious suggestions like the above melt in the air when they come into contact with the force of the facts mentioned.

But here is the cream of absurdity in the introductory note above referred to :—
"The workers of the West should spend tens of thousands of pounds in an active and well-directed propaganda amongst their fellow workers in the East, in order that the necessary and salutory pressure should be brought against the Eastern over lords of land and industrial capital."
We wonder what the millions of unemployed wage slaves of the Western world will have to say to this. Faced as they are with conditions which mean a scanty, meagre, semi-starved existence, to collect "tens of thousands of pounds" from the workers is a suggestion grotesque and impossible under the circumstances. These Labour leaders are either fools or liars.

Once again, therefore, we tell the workers that they must overthrow the system which makes possible such misery and suffering to their class, which causes wars and the horrors arising therefrom, famines, atrocities, starvation in the midst of plenty, and all the countless evils which beset the worker to-day.

Further, we claim to have found the remedy. We say it consists in ceaselessly striving to acquire an understanding of the forces at work, and the economic laws which govern the capitalist system.

Fellow-workers, as a counter-blast to the above-quoted confusion, get down to the solid work of understanding your class position, which Socialist knowledge alone makes clear.
W. I.

Editorial: The Engineers Lock Out. (1922)

Editorial from the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

For nearly two years there has been a rapid and persistent worsening of the conditions of life of the working class. In every industry there have been large reductions of wages, often accompanied by the extension of working hours. So enormous has this fall become that Dr. Macnamara stated (Daily News, 17/2/1922) that wages had fallen in 1921 by £6,000,000 per week. That is over £300,000,000 per year ! Geddes looks small beer alongside this, for while his Committee were trying to reduce Government expenditure by £100,000,000, the employers succeeded in "saving" more than three times that amount from wages.

Naturally the employers are feeling jubilant. The only serious attempt to stop this landslide in wages and conditions was the threat of the Triple Alliance last April in connection with the Miners' lock-out. The foul treachery of J. H. Thomas, Robert Williams, Frank Hodges, and the rest of the official crowd, who study so strenuously the interests of the masters when any dispute occurs, saved the situation for the employers, and prepared the way for further drastic reductions in wages on every hand.

Finding the workers in retreat on all fronts, the masters have now decided to try a "big offensive" in certain selected industries, with the deliberate intention of continuing this "offensive" in every industry till the standard of the workers as a whole has been forced far below the 1914 level.

For this purpose they have chosen to attack the Engineers directly, and allied industry of shipbuilders indirectly. The point of attack on the Engineers is on the matter of overtime that had been the subject of agreement in September, 1920. To talk of the need for "overtime" when millions are vainly seeking work is not Gilbertian, it is drivelling idiocy. Even the employers seem to recognise this, for they are stating that the issue is : —
  "We are going; to know where we are. We are going to manage the shops, or the shops are not going to be run. We are going to make it an absolute condition of employment for all hands" (Employers' statement, Daily News, March 20th, 1922.)
In the House of Commons Mr. A. Henderson quoted from a document the following instruction :—
  "Men will have to resume work on conditions that we will lay down" (Daily News, March 21st, 1922).
The employers trot out these statements pompously and endeavour to convey the impression that it is a brand-new discovery they have made. In their bone-headed ignorance they have no idea that their argument is as old as the institution of private property in the means of life. In the antique civilisations and, centuries after, in the cotton fields of South America, the slave-owners claimed the right to do "as they liked with their own"—in these cases the chattel slaves. The Feudal barons bewailed the few manorial and guild restrictions as interfering with their liberty to do "as they liked" with the serf. And the early capitalists, Christian and Atheist alike, fiercely denounced any interference with the "liberty of the subject" when they dragged children of three years of age and upwards into the hell of mill and mine.

The employers certainly have logic on their side so far. All the wailing about the "cruelty" of the employers, in choosing a time suitable to themselves to enforce such conditions, is waste of breath and ink. Grant the right of private ownership of the means of life or of persons, then one cannot deny the "right" of the owner to "do as he likes with his own." But let us carry the argument a step further.

Upon examination it will be found that the employers only rely upon this "right" so long as the workers accept it meekly. If, under the stress of want, the workers were to attempt to use the means of production for their own benefit, the masters would drop talking of "right" and would openly use the might they control. They would at once call in the forces, of the State, and machine guns, aerial bombs, tanks and troops—à la the Rand—would be launched against the unarmed workers. Like so many other things to-day, "right" will be used by the employers as far as it suits their interests. When it fails to do this, then, like "humanity," "brotherly feeling," "mutuality of interests," and numerous other catchwords and phrases, it will be kicked aside with contempt.

Yet with all the present and past facts around them in overwhelming quantities to prove the truth of this point, the fakirs like Brownlie, Thomas, Clynes & Co. chatter about conciliation and the "duty" of the Government to intervene. Neither they, nor Sir Allan Smith, need turn a hair on this point. If the capitalists fancy their property is in any danger, then the Government will intervene with the speed of greased lightning.

Is the situation then entirely hopeless ? To answer this question it is necessary to grasp clearly what the situation is. Despite the empty-headed rant of the Communist Party and of J. C. Gould and Sir Allan Smith, there is no disposition on the part of the mass of the workers to-day to "control production." The most demanded by the workers is that they shall have some say as to the details of the conditions under which they are to work. The situation then is one of conditions of employment. Once this is understood it becomes a matter of discussion as to what hope exists. On the one hand there are some firms outside the Masters' Federation. Sir Allan Smith and J. C. Gould may be taken as extremists of the latter organisation, but if the workers make a real attempt to put a brake upon the landslide that is taking place in the worsening of their conditions, there may be sufficient members of the Federation who would rather call a halt than face a real fight.

For one thing stands out clearly : Even if the masters win all along the line, if unlimited overtime is allowed and wages are reduced further, these things of themselves would not bring a single order into the shops. In reference to the Shipbuilders' case, the Daily News, 9/2/1922, says :—
  "It is not contended that the proposed reduction in wages will restore that part of the demand which has disappeared, because of the abnormal rate of world building since the Armistice, the operation of the reparation clauses requiring the handing-over of German ships, and the general slump in world trade."
How can the situation be tested ? There is only one way. The organised workers must take united action to hold up industry. It is not a sectional question. The whole of the workers are involved, and if they remain divided, they will be attacked, and beaten, in detail by the employers. If the workers are prepared to stop the wheels of industry for the purpose of putting a check on this attack they must grasp the facts before them.

First, the stoppage must not be allowed to drag on indefinitely. If it does not effect its purpose in a short, sharp action, then it will have failed and the men must accept the inevitable for the present.

Second, it must be carried out peaceably. Any attempt at riot or destruction must be sternly repressed, as it would at once give the signal for the use of the armed forces against defenceless men. All nonsense about "taking possession of works, etc.," must be repudiated or ignored, as that way leads to disaster.

Third, the decisions to come out and to go back must be in the hands of the rank and file. No power should be given to leaders—revolutionary or otherwise—to decide these points.

Such action would cause practically no increase in the misery that already exists, and it would be a real test of the situation. And the hope of success within the limits laid down is at least such as to make the effort worthwhile.

But should this effort be successful, even then the workers would still have to realise that they are only fighting effects, while the cause of their troubles remains unaltered. That cause lies in the private ownership of the means of life—the land, mills, mines, factories, railways, canals, etc.—and the resulting enslavement of the non-owners, the property-less workers. This enslavement is maintained owing to the masters' control of political power whereby they can use the armed forces to protect their property. But this political power is placed in the masters' hands by the workers when at each election—whether general or bye-election—they vote the supporters of capitalism into Parliament. It does not matter in the least whether that supporter be Sir Allan Smith or J. H. Thomas, Lord Devonport or Ben Tillett, the result is the same.

Not until the workers understand the above facts and organise to gain control of political power for the purpose of establishing the common ownership of the means of life, will the days of strikes and lock-outs be over.