Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Look Round. (1905)

From the February 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month we called attention to the action of J. Hunter Watts, member of the Executive Council of the S.D.F. in voting for a Liberal Candidate, and our comment has drawn forth a letter from him, which is dealt with elsewhere in this issue. This month it is our painful duty to refer to the sad case of Mr. J. J. Kidd, who is also a member of the S.D.F. Executive.

So that we may not be charged with telling a half truth we print Mr. Kidd’s interesting and incriminating letter in full. It is addressed to Mr. Alfred Jermyn, Liberal Candidate for the South Ward at the recent municipal elections at King’s Lynn.

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Oct 20. 1904.

Dear Mr. Jermyn,

I am writing this to tell you that I sincerely hope you may be at the head of the poll on November 1st. Although I am now in another political camp, I remember with a great deal of gratitude the many sacrifices you have made for the cause of progress, how many times you have, almost single-handed, pioneered the Liberal cause in Lynn. I had the pleasure and privilege to work with you for some years and I always had some feelings of admiration for your work in those times, the up-hill task you often had. There is one sore place in my memory, and that is your opposition to the “housing” scheme; but there, I will not bring up grievances. I am only too glad that neither my desire, nor circumstances, have brought me out as a candidate in this ward this year, thereby risking you the loss of some few votes. I hope I may never be the means of defeating one who I feel deserves more at his fellows’ hands than he has yet received (I mean, of course, appreciation). I hope all earnest and sincere Liberals like yourself will one day realise that the political arena of the future will be Labour v. Capitalism, the struggle between the possessors and the dispossessed and then you will throw unqualified energy in the workers’ movements. If all those Liberals who realise this would cut themselves adrift from all that hampers this movement irrespective of party claims, there would not be so much division in the Progressive ranks as there is today.

I hope you will appreciate my good wishes and pardon my presumption, but I feel that you are entitled to both. I shall give my vote to you on the day of the poll from a sense of duty and pleasure.

You will, however, regard this as strictly private and confidential.—Yours faithfully,

(Signed) J. J. Kidd.

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It is apparent from Mr. Kidd’s desire that his letter should be regarded as “strictly private and confidential” that he saw the impossibility of reconciling his action with the policy to which he was pledged as a member of the S.D.F., and which, when appointed to the Executive of that body last year, he undertook to enforce.

Will it be believed that three weeks after Mr. Kidd wrote this letter, upon a casual vacancy being declared in the same ward, he appeared as a candidate in opposition to Mr. Jermyn. We quote from “The Lynn News and County Press,” whose leading article contained the following comment:
  “If Mr. Kidd had been consistent in his opposition to Mr. Jermyn, we should have put it down to his loyalty towards his comrades of the S.D.F., and, while regretting his course of procedure, should have felt bound to admire his allegiance to principle. But we are in a position to state that during the recent fight Mr. Kidd actually went out of his way to give support to Mr. Jermyn, and expressed himself as the last man to wish to prevent Mr. Jermyn’s return to the Council! What do Mr. Kidd’s comrades think of this ? What do they think of a man who, but a week or two ago, was earnestly in favour of Mr. Jermyn when a mere Labour candidate was running, and expressed thorough approval of his municipal policy, but now turns round and opposes him tooth and nail ? It is on our own initiative that we make these accusations against Mr. Kidd’s fidelity as a public man; if the Socialists of the South Ward desire further information let them ask Mr. Kidd for a copy of the letter he wrote to Mr. Jermyn just prior to November 1st. We know, as a matter of fact, that Mr. Jermyn has written to Mr. Kidd, asking leave to publish this letter—a document which we are sure would absolutely destroy the Socialists’ confidence in Mr. Kidd; but Mr. Kidd has seen Mr. Jermyn and personally begged the Progressive candidate not to publish it. Mr. Jermyn’s hands are therefore tied, because the letter was marked ‘private and confidential’; but if Mr. Jennyn cannot succeed in dragging it into the light of day, perhaps Mr. Kidd’s deluded supporters may be more successful. In any case we think it well to give them a glimpse of their idol’s clay feet! “

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After this well-merited attack Mr. Kidd wrote a further letter to Mr. Jermyn, in which he said “I have prepared a leaflet for publication which will cause you pain and annoyance.” Mr. Jermyn at once published all the correspondence, and it can well be imagined who suffered the “pain and annoyance.”

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Let us never forget that, as Liebknecht says, the class war is the basis of Socialism, and that those who do not accept this, however friendly they may be to us personally, are socially and politically our enemies, says “Justice.” If the Executive members of the S.D.F. forget it, what can be expected of the rank and file ?

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There are very many of these social and political enemies whom probably we shall never convert, but we shall certainly gain their respect if we adhere steadfastly to principle and pursue a consistent policy which shall intelligently interpret our principles. On the other hand, actions like those of J. J. Kidd not only justify our opponents in despising the actors, but bring the Socialist Cause into disrepute and make a laughing-stock of the members of any organisation permitting such conduct.

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It is nearly five years since H. M. Hyndman wrote that the S.D.F. was “wholly destitute of political aptitude.” Conduct such as Kidd’s proves that it still is so. The least that can be said of it is that it is like the Peace of God.

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To those who imagine that no contentment or decency can exist otherwise than in a dtate of capitalism-cum-Christianity, the following extract from a letter which appears in the “Mill Hill (Leeds) Chapel Record,” written by Rev. C. Hargrove, from the Tutuila Island, Samoa, under date 28th October last, may not be altogether unpalatable reading:
  “The decency of this half-naked people surprises me. I have been to and fro among the villages and have never seen anything dirty or offensive on the part of man, woman or child. They seem possessed of an innate sense of propriety and cleanliness.
  “They have no idea of saving or private ownership; if a man earns a few dollars his is paid and help him to spend it. Food in especial is common property, and no native would think of refusing another a share of whatever he has. ‘No better than a foreigner’ is their contemptuous description of the man who tries to save. One consequence of this practical communism is that labour is scarce and dear. Why should a man work hard for a wage which will not profit him? So the Government has had to import labourers from less fortunate islands to do the toilsome work of excavating and road-making, which has been needed to make a harbour and wharf and coaling-station. They will no doubt learn our ways in time, and each look after his own family and accumulate a bit of money by hard work, and take to petty theft, now almost or altogether unknown among them. They will be more serviceable to the stranger. Will they be as happy or as good or even as Christian as they are now?”

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According to the chief organ of “Tariff Reform,” the “Daily Express,” the German miners on strike demanded 4s. 6d. per day! Yet they tell us that wages are so high in protected countries!

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A Public Meeting was held at the Finsbury Town Hall last Tuesday evening, under the auspices of the Central Finsbury Liberal and Radical Association, to hear an address by John Burns. According to the bill the chairman was supported by W. C. Steadman, Alderman C. W. Bowerman, Alderman Isaac Mitchell, G. Dew, B. Cooper, H. Gosling, H. R. Taylor, C. Jesson, and other Labour “Leaders.” How these people like to hang on to the tail of the capitalist politicians!

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Mr. Andrew Johnston, J.P., C.C., says that as long as the nation pours a half a million down its throat every day of the year we shall have the unemployed problem. We are prepared to prove, in debate with this gentleman, that the unemployed problem does not exist because people drink, and that it could be solved even though more drink was consumed than at present.
J. Kay

A Plain Statement. (1905)

From the February 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

This article is intended to explain why it is that The Socialist Party of Great Britain has come into existence.

We ask you to read carefully what we have to say, because the matter concerns you intimately. You may not think so at present, but we are convinced that, if we could meet you to talk the matter over with you at length and in detail, dealing with your points of objection as they arose, we should be able to convince you that our side is your side, and that if you are concerned with the betterment of your present condition and of the condition of your class, your proper position is with us, and your attitude the attitude which we adopt.

We cannot do this in a brief article. But we will gladly arrange to meet you and endeavour to make clear anything that is not clear.

Now what is the difference between The Socialist Party of Great Britain and other bodies claiming to be Socialist ? But first of all, what is the view of the Socialist regarding the position of the working-class ?

You know well enough that at best you only receive sufficient to supply you with the barest necessaries of life. Only the very fortunate have any margin for extra comforts. At the best you are always dependent upon the employer for a chance to work so that you may live. You cannot even demand to work. At the present time great numbers are walking about absolutely unable to find a master to employ them. That number will increase. And when you have work you are never sure of its continuance. You have always the insecurity of it hanging over you.

That is the best view. At the worst, when you are worn and grey hairs show, when you give the slightest sign of age or physical weakening, your place is on the labour scrap-heap. Abject misery, appalling poverty, an outlook black as the mouth of hell.

This is no picture of the fancy. It is the bare fact. We are of the working-class. We know what we write. You know that we speak truly.

And yet labour is the source of all wealth. There are few to deny that today. Then why is it that the recompense of labour is miserable and inadequate at the best ?

The Socialist claims to know. It is because the land and factories and the railways—all the means that is by which necessary things are produced and distributed—are in the hands of comparatively few people. It doesn’t matter for the moment how they got them. It is sufficient that they are there. It is the explanation, and the only explanation of why the worker is cap in hand, a pitiable beggar. He has no property. He has no access to the means of life. He has nothing but his power to work. And he sells that for what he can get.

There are thousands of him available. All want to live. All must work to live. But to such perfection has machinery been developed that all the things for which there is any demand can be produced in an astonishingly short time. There are not sufficient vacancies for all the men available. There is not enough work to go round!

And so the men compete for what jobs there are. That is why the wages of the workers are on the average just sufficient to keep them in bare necessities. Competition for work prevents the wages rising.

The private ownership of the means of life then is the cause of the miserable condition of the workers. The remedy is, and can only be, the abolition of such private ownership and the substitution of ownership and control by the whole people.

That is a drastic change. Your Tory and Liberal politicians will tell you that the change can never be wrought.

They will also talk about the injustice of taking away from the people who own them, the land and machinery, etc. which they say are theirs. The injustice of taking away from them the power to live upon the labour of others! The wrongfulness of taking away from them for the benefit of the whole people the things they have taken from the whole people for their own individual benefit!

Pay no attention to the Liberals and Tories. They want the basis of the present arrangement to remain as it is. They may under some circumstances agree to make some alteration that will affect some of the results of the arrangement.

But it is the basis that is wrong.

Can the workers effect the change? We answer yes. Just so soon as they grip the Socialist position ; just so soon as they thoroughly understand the real cause of their misery and the only remedy, they can effect the change.

But not a moment before then.

What does the understanding of the Socialist position involve? Please try to follow us closely here because it is just here that we part company with the other bodies claiming to be Socialist.

An understanding of the Socialist position involves a recognition of the fact that the interests of those who own and control the means of life (the capitalist-class) are absolutely opposed to the interests of those who own nothing but their power to work (the working-class). The first are concerned to make a profit out of the labour of the second. The second are battling for the best conditions they can get. If the second are successful to any degree to that degree the first are losers. To the extent that the first are able to use their power to coin wealth out of the labour of the second, to that extent are the second the losers.

Is that clear ?

Don’t be put off the track by good capitalists. We are not concerned to deny that some members of the capitalist-class are genuinely sorry that the condition of the working-class is so bad and would prefer it otherwise. That is not the point. The point is that as a class their interests are opposed absolutely to the interests of the class they exploit — the working-class — and under no circumstance whatever can that conflict of interest be avoided.

It does not matter whether the working-class are conscious of it or not. The conflict is inevitable and unceasing. The Socialist calls it the class-struggle.

Some of those who claim to be Socialists — members of the Independent Labour Party particularly,— cannot see that this class-struggle exists and must exist. Which shows that they do not thoroughly understand the position. And those who do not thoroughly understand the position cannot be relied upon. They cannot instruct the workers in what they themselves do not understand. The blind make bad leaders of the blind although they are probably very sympathetic.

Now if we are agreed so far, (and we trust you will not hesitate to let us know if we are not,) what is the first step the working-class must take to effect that change in the ownership and control of the means of life which is necessary to the material and permanent betterment of working-class conditions ; upon what must their efforts be concentrated ?

Upon the capture of the political machine. That is to say they must organise and direct their forces with the object of securing control of the legislative and administrative bodies (the House of Commons, County, Urban and Rural Councils, Boards of Guardians, etc.) Why ?

Because these bodies are strongholds of the capitalist party. They form their most important line of attack and defence.

Through them the laws are made and administered that secure them in their position. Through them the armed forces of the nation are at their disposal to assist, among other things, in keeping the workers in subjection at those times when their conditions become more than usually intolerable.

The ignorance of the workers in the past has enabled the capitalists to possess themselves of the political machine. The workers all unwittingly have made the rod that is now applied to their backs. But what working-class ignorance has clone working-class enlightenment can undo.

But the working-class must thoroughly understand what they are about. There must be no confusion as to what it all means. And that is why The Socialist Party of Great Britain is in the field. We are ourselves of the working-class. The lot of the workers—our own lot— cannot be improved materially or permanently until the workers themselves have understood their position, the reasons for it and the remedy, and have themselves struck the blow which shall free them from the domination of the capitalist.

We are anxious, therefore, that the workers shall know the whole truth, shall take no leap in the dark, make no move in ignorance. Because the capitalist is very wide awake and very quick to seize any advantage that will help him to retain his power. And so to us it is absolutely necessary that the workers shall see every step of the way clearly before they take it.

Which may mean a slow advance, but it will certainly mean a sure advance.

We know that if the workers follow the lead of men who have not recognised and understood the meaning of the existence of the class-struggle they will go wrong.

If they follow leaders who are prepared to make working-class confusion worse confounded by allying themselves with capitalist parties for the realisation of reforms that cannot by any chance solve the poverty problem, they will go wrong.

If they follow any except those who are at open and perpetual war with the capitalist-class ; who will make no compromise or arrangement, either temporarily or permanently, with them, because to do so would only confuse the issues in the minds of the workers, and, by concentrating their attention upon matters of minor importance, divert them from the consideration of the real problem ; who combat ignorance wherever it is found, even when it is found in a “Labour Leader ;” who steadfastly pursue an undeviating path straight to the Socialist Republic, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, and bearing their flag aloft to be seen of all men : if the workers follow any but these they will go wrong.

The workers’ ignorance is in the way of their advance. They want enlightenment. And to us it seems that the way to enlighten them is not to present a confused issue. They want a plain issue, clear cut, boldly defined.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain presents the plain issue. They say the ownership by a few people of the means of life is the cause of working-class misery. They say the only remedy lies in the common ownership and control (ownership and control by the whole people) of these means of life. Which is Socialism.

They say that while the basis of Society remains as at present, that is while Society is based upon the private ownership of the means of life, the worker’s position must always remain the same in its principal features ; that municipal enterprise affects him in the mass, not at all ; that political reforms or what not leave him always the exploited, always the under dog.

They point out that these reforms are never achieved except at great effort ; that they are never achieved at all (except they benefit some section of the capitalist class) unless and until the workers have set on foot such a determined agitation that their demands cannot with safety be longer disregarded, as a glance at industrial history will show.

They point out that, notwithstanding the expenditure of great effort on the part of the workers in the past, one third of the populaton of the United Kingdom (about 13 millions) are either on or below the poverty line, despite the fact that the wealth of the country, all produced by labour, has increased enormously ; that, in. brief, relative to the wealth of the country, the position of the working-class is not only no better than it ever was, but as a matter of fact is worse. They say that this result is due to the ignorance of the workers, who, because they have not understood their position as a class, have, under the leadership of men equally ignorant, concentrated their efforts tipou securing some alteration in what are really effects of the private ownership of the means of life, and have not gone to the root of the matter at all.

They say finally that the results must always be the same until the workers have fully realised where their real interests lie (have become class-conscious), and have organised their forces specifically for the complete overthrow of the present system of production and the establishment of the Co-operative Commonwealth ; have refused to longer waste their energies upon securing reforms, and have determined to substitute ownership and control of the means of life by the whole people for the present private or individual ownership and control.

That is the plain issue that The Socialist Party of Great Britain presents. Is it clear ? Do you see your way ?
Alec J. M. Gray

The Social Problem and Its Solution by Jules Guesde (1905)

From the February 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

II – Solution

The solution of the social problem is to be found in the problem itself, such as I have just given in a short exposition. The greatest socio-economic evil of today consists in the ever more complete divorce of the two factors in production, labour and property or capital, and consequently the remedy can be found only in their unification.

Under what form ought this unification to be effected?

It cannot be carried out by making the individual worker proprietor of his tool since this would exclude production on a large scale, and the system of labour having become collective consequent upon the introduction of steam and electricity, there can be but collective ownership to go hand in hand with collective labour.

Outside a Count de Mun, hypnotised by the arts and crafts of the middle ages and counting on a miracle for their re-establishment, there are only the anarchists, dreaming of natural rights and an ideal State of nature, who would retrogressively push their Utopia to such an extent as to establish a system of sharing out, of dismemberment and individualisation of modern machinery:
The engine to the driver,
And the dome to the builder,
as they sing in what is for them their “Marseillaise”.

The only possible form, I repeat, is that which is imposed by the modern conditions of production and exchange, not even communal or guild, but social. The mines whose dark caverns are hollowed out beneath the crust of many counties, the railways that stretch their iron tentacles over entire continents, commercial establishments like the Louvre and Bon Marché disposing of the lives of thousands of workers, do not, not one of them, lend themselves to communalisation, no more than the other machinery of production, distribution, or transport. Consequent upon the transmission of force by means of electricity, the waterfalls to-day and the tides tomorrow can be converted into motive powers. With this fact in mind, how is it possible to consider seriously, for one moment, the notion of the monopolisation – I had nearly said confiscation – of these natural powers, now become the condition of all industry, by some localities to the detriment of others?

The guild form is likewise brought into collision with other impossibilities of a similar nature. In fact, both forms, by the competition which would be kept up between the various productive groups, here guild, there communal, would bring in their train the same murderous anarchy as exists to-day under capitalist society.

It is only collectively that the workers, comprising the entire nation, can and ought to possess the means of wealth (mines, railways, canals, factories, etc.) socially operated. Capitalist evolution itself supplies the necessary elements, material and intellectual, of this APPROPRIATION and of this PRODUCTION BY AND FOR SOCIEY now become a vast co-operative commonwealth.

MATERIAL ELEMENTS: The concentration of capital that is effected every day in the spheres of industry, commerce and agriculture—the great manufactories just as the no less great commerce and agriculture of to-day being impelled to swallow up the middle capitalists in the same way as the smaller ones have been already swallowed. From 1870 to 1880, when in the United States the number of spindles increased from 7,131,818 to 10,678,526 and the number of spinners from 157,310 to 227,156 with an increased value of from 562,825,164 francs to 831,127,472 francs, the cotton manufactories fell from 959 to 751. It is the function of finance, by continually absorbing the surplus incomes, to hurry on this accumulation under the pretext of democratising capital.

INTELLECTUAL ELEMENTS: The concentration of all physical and mental activities in the non-possessing class or proletariat from the fireman and greaser of the wheels to the scientist such as Claude Bernard, including chemists, engineers, managers, etc. The organisation of labour: the entire army of labour, officers and men, comprising all outside the capitalist class, is already encamped in complete order on the patrimony of mankind which alone is to be exploited — in the technical sense of the word — and it is now only a question of the complete restitution to society by the very same process which has served for its dispossession, namely: by expropriation.

It is well to understand that we Socialists have by no means invented the classes and their destructive class-war than we have invented the process of expropriation, which is the law of all human progress.

It was by the expropriation of the artisan from his tools at first, from this technical skill after, then from his domestic hearth, despoiled of wife and child, that private or capitalist property was established, to say nothing about the expropriation of the product of his toil which is accomplished daily by the operation of the law of wages. The expropriators will themselves in their turn be expropriated—it is as Gambetta would say, “imminent justice” — and they will all the more easily be expropriated under the company and share-holding system of to-day, they having become so completely estranged from all direct interference in production that their total severance might take place tomorrow without a perceptible check to industry.

This economic expropriation — which would allow to the expropriated full participation in the benefits accruing from social appropriation — must be preceded by a political expropriation, the establishment of the Socialist Republic being only realisable by a proletariat master of the State and acting in conformity with the law, since it itself will be and make the law.

It now only remains for me to point out the principal consequences which will result from this transformation of capitalist property into social property.

(1) There will be an end to all class distinction and consequently an end to the class-war. The workers are for the future their own capitalists, or to put it better, all the members of society are at once and with equal title co-proprietors and co-producers. The State, in the oppressive sense of the word, will cease to exist, it being nothing more than a means of maintaining artificially, by force, order that a system of society, founded on the antagonism of interests would naturally give birth to. The government of men gives place to the administration of things. It is the reign of social peace, daughter of universal harmony.

(2) Commercial production of exchange-values with an end to realising profit will disappear, and be replaced by the co-operative production of use-values for consumption with a view to satisfying social wants. In place of robbing and exploiting one another, we will all help one another. Homo domini Deus, “Man is a god to man”.

(3) Liberty, which until now has been but a word for the great majority of mankind, is henceforth a great and living reality, this liberty of which Socialism, according to our enemies, was to have been the tomb, will, on the contrary, blossom forth into the fullest perfection when reared in the uncontaminated atmosphere of the Socialist State. Liberty provides the means of accomplishing our will and therefore of satisfying our wants. These means will from now forward exist for all, multiplied by social labour, which, in point of productivity, stands in the same relation to modern capitalist industry as this does to small primitive industry. At the same time the effort to be made by each member will be reduced to a minimum.

The socially necessary labour-time to be furnished by each capable member of the Socialist State will likewise be reduced:

(a) By the suppression of slack seasons, which are the rule to-day in some many trades during periods from three to six months per year, as well as stoppages which doom to enforced idleness hundreds of thousands of workers, men and women, giving them over to the bitter pangs of starvation. These slack seasons and stoppages are the result, as Prof. Durkheim of Bordeaux very well puts it, of “this too great diffusion of the economic functions which under Socialism will be transferred to the organised community”.

(b) By the disappearance of the parasitical class, and not only of that alone but also of the sub-parasites who live on this class. In France there are more than two million persons of both sexes employed in domestic pursuits, without counting the numbers of prostitutes and parsons, police, magistrates, and soldiers;

(c) By the employment in work of a socially necessary character of all the human and technical forces now used in works of a destructive nature (cannon, guns, torpedoes, etc.) or socially useless (in superfluous display, or even of simple journeying of capital from the pocket of Peter into that of Paul);

(d) By the utilisation of all the energy at present wasted, lost, or reduced to nothing in the midst of unbridled competition;

(e) By perfecting “automatising”, the machine which each one will be interested in developing as far as he can, since it will be so much the more leisure or well-being realised both for himself and the community in general.

Even to-day when no one of these conditions is either fulfilled or capable of being so, an English statistician, quoted by Domela Nieuwenhuis in his pamphlet on the First of May, has calculated that with the machine at its actual stage of development and taking into consideration the point we have reached in technical skill, one hour and twenty minutes of daily labour would suffice to provide for the material wants of all.

One more fruit of Socialist society and I have done: that is the end of religious or supernatural idea current amongst men. The religious idea, far from vanishing before the forward development of modern science, has taken a new flight. Thus it is that in the age which has seen the prolific genius of Lavoisier, Laplace, Darwin, and Edison, we have witnessed the birth of new religions. Why? Because other and still more complex phenomena have arisen in the place of natural phenomena already explained and controlled once and for all by man. The phenomena of which I speak belong to the economic order which in the individualist atmosphere of to-day escape from man’s control and dominate him. God, chased out by one door, the door of nature, has re-entered by another, the social door. Therefore, as long as the productive forces which crush us individually will not have been mastered in the only way that they can be: by bringing them within the administration of society, man, a prey to misery, the plaything of chance, will bow low before the “unknown” – and will deify it.

It is only when the economic elements have been tamed as have been the natural elements, when society has become a providence for each one of its members, then and then alone will men cease to search for a providence beyond the skies, because then – contrary to the christian legend of God becoming man – man will have become God.

Translated from the French of Jules Guesde by P. J. Tobin

From Our Branches. (1905)

Party News from the February 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Peckham we have not been lacking in energy, our Branch meetings continue to be well attended.

We have had to give up outdoor meetings on account of the weather, but we intend to hold indoor meetings if we can manage to get the use of a school-room or any convenient place.

The Liberals have had another meeting in the Peckham Tabernacle, a hall that holds between three and four hundred people, but it received very little support, as there were only about one hundred persons present. They had a special speaker sent down by the Liberal Party, a Mr. Paul, who was assisted by Lord Monkswell, and others. 

The meeting was in support of the candidature of Mr. Goddard Clarke, a candidate by Devine right, who told the meeting that it cost him £5 more a week in sugar, and that it was time he entered Parliament as a Liberal. We fear, however, that it is not cheap sugar, but the sweets of office the Liberals want.

About a dozen of our members turned up, and made it very uncomfortable for Messrs. Paul, Monkswell, Clarke & Co. with questions; so that they closed the meeting in a hurry, or, perhaps, the meeting was not quite sweet enough for them, in spite of sugar.

Our Friday evening discussions still take place, and we shall be glad to welcome any comrades at them.

We also have a Tea and Social on the first Sunday in every month, at which we enjoy ourselves, and trust all comrades who can will come and enjoy themselves with us.
Walter Russell.

Marx As Humorist. (1905)

From the February 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The papers left by Karl Marx, which Engels had the intention to publish as fourth book of "Capital," were, after Engels' death, entrusted to Karl Kautsky, who is now about to commence their publication.

It has been recognised, however, that these notes could not be made a continuation of the unfinished "Capital." They will be issued as a study on the Theories of Surplus Value, in three volumes, the first of which has just appeared. 

We translate a passage therefrom, not, let it be understood, as being one of the most important, but to give our readers, as well as ourselves, the pleasure of again enjoying that caustic and cruelly paradoxical irony which is to be found in the notes to the first volume of "Capital." There Marx answers in this humoristic fashion, by a reductio ad absurdum, the common-place vapourings of bourgeois economy about the "intellectual production" intended to extol the services rendered to the "national wealth" by the luxury and "intellectual labour" of the capitalist,
  "A philosopher produces ideas, a poet verses, a preacher sermons, a professor text-books, etc. A criminal produces crimes. If we consider more in detail the relation which this last branch of production bears to Society as a whole, many prejudices will be removed. 
  "The criminal produces not alone crimes, but also criminal law, and thence the professor who gives lectures thereon, together with the inevitable text-books in which this very same professor throws his discourses in the quality of 'goods,' on the world market. Thus is an increase of the national wealth produced, without counting the individual joy which, according to a competent witness, Prof. Roscher, the manuscript of the text-book affords to the author himself. 
  "Moreover, the criminal produces all correctional and criminal justice, the police, judges, hangmen, juries, etc., as well as the various branches of industry, which form just as many categories of the division of social labour, develope different faculties of the human mind, create new wants, and new means of satisfying them. Torture more than anything else has given place to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employs in the production of its machines quite an army of honest artizans. 
  "The criminal produces an impression, good or bad, as the case may be, and thus renders a "service" to the movement of the moral and esthetic sentiments of the public. He produces not only text-books on criminal law, not only the penal law and thereby the legislators of the penal law,
 but also art, literature, novels, and even tragedies, as is proved by the Faute of Müllner, the Brigands of Schiller, and even by OEdipe and Richard III. The criminal breaks the monotony and daily security of bourgeois life, and thus guarantees it against stagnation and arouses that excitement and restlessness without which even the spur of competition would be blunted. In this manner he furnishes a stimulant to the productive forces. While crime withdraws from the labour market a part of the superfluous population, thus diminishing competition among the workers, and preventing to a certain degree the fall of wages below the minimum, the war against crime absorbs another part of the same population. Thus it is that criminal intervenes as a natural leveller, which restores a just equilibrium and opens up a new prospect of branches of 'useful' occupations. 
  "The influence of the criminal on the development of the productive forces can be shown even in detail. Would the locksmiths have arrived at their perfection were there no burglars ? Would the making of bank-notes have reached its present perfection if there were no forgers ? Would the microscope have found its way in certain commercial spheres (see Babbage) without the existence of fraud in trade? Does not practical chemistry owe as much to the adulteration of goods, and to the efforts made for its detection, as to the noble zeal for production? Crime, by ever new means of attack against property, calls into being equally new means to defend it, and thus exercises an influence quite as productive as strikes on the invention of machines. 
  "And, if we leave aside consideration of individual crime, would the world market have existed without national crime, would even the national market have existed ? Is it not the tree of sin which is, at the same time, since Adam, the tree of science? 
  "Mandeville, in his "Fable of the Bees" (1708), had already demonstrated the productivity of all classes of trade in England, etc., and shows in general the tendency of all this reasoning: 'What we call evil in this world, the moral evil as well as natural evil, is the grand principle which makes of us social beings, is the solid foundation, the life and support of all industries and professions, without exception; it is there we should search for the true origin of all the arts, and all the sciences; and the moment that evil ceases to be. then Society will necessarily become corrupt, and dissolve completely.' 
  "But Mandeville is far bolder, and more straight forward than the narrow-minded apologists of middle-class Society."
*Theorien über den Mehrwert, aus dem nachgelassenen Manuskript Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie von Karl Marx herausgegeben von Karl Kautsky. – Die Anfänge der Theorie vom Mehrwert bis Adam Smith – Stuttgart, J. W. H. Dietz Nachf, 1905.

The Law-Loving Capitalist. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Hardly any infringement of the Factory Acts is more difficult to discover or proceed against than the employment of a woman within four weeks of her confinement, chiefly owing to the burden of proof resting with the inspector as to the employer's knowledge of the facts. Although we have good reason to believe that such employment occurs frequently in certain districts, only one clear case, namely, this one, has yet occurred within our knowledge as suitable for proceedings, and in this case it was owing to the fact that the woman was sent for by the foreman, who was pressed for workers, on the ninth day after her confinement, although he had been informed of the reason of her absence on the day she left the mill. This unfortunate woman, although she made some attempt to screen her employers when called as a witness by Miss Squire (the factory inspector), was nevertheless dismissed from her employment after the result of the case (conviction and small penalty) was known. She obtained employment from one of the magistrates who heard her case soon afterwards, and thus removed her personal difficulties; it would do little or nothing, however, to counteract the effect on the workers' minds of the conduct of the employer, who, by dismissing her, showed his contempt for the law and the kind of course he was likely to pursue with any worker who admitted facts as to infringements of the law to one of H.M. Inspectors."—Extract from Annual Report of Inspectors of Factories.

The Social Problem and Its Solution by Jules Guesde (1905)

Jules Guesde
From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard


The problem that Socialism sets itself to solve is to be found in a fact, of which it can be said as of the sun: he is blind who does not see it. It is the divorce between the means of production and the producers.

Neither are the mines in the hands of the workers underground who give them value at the daily peril of their lives; nor do the railroads belong to those who have been called the slaves of the iron-way; nor do the weavers who work the looms, the spinners who toil at the spinning machine, the smiths of the blast furnaces, etc, possess the smallest title to call their own that which they create and which occupies the greater and best portion of their lives—lives spent in barriers and useless sacrifice; and, the economic development of Society tends to generalise this state of things by destroying naturally and necessarily the small industries, founded on the ownership of the means of production by the producer.

Next to industry, properly so-called, we find commerce and agriculture, on the expropriation of the little tradesman and peasant proprietor, organised on a large scale and monopolised by the non-producers.

Labour is, on the one hand, more and more furnished by a class; Property or Capital, on the other, held and controlled by another class. Here you have workers without property—the proletariat. There you have property without work—or capital.

It is this separation between the two factors of production which produces all the evils, all the disorders which afflict not only wage-workers but Society as a whole.

The workers without property are excluded from their products, from the riches they create—which accumulate in the hands of the property holders, capitalists and large land-owners.

Labour, which is inseparable from the workman, is in effect nothing more than a commodity—like old bags, bicycles, bones or biscuits—submitted to the laws which rule the prices of commodities and drag it down through the ups and downs of supply and demand to the mere expenses of living and reproduction of the species—food and maintenance; and, these expenses tend constantly to further reduction, because, to derive an advantage from the markets, capitalists, whatever their personal sentiment—had they the heart of a Saint Vincent de Paul or a Louise Michel—are obliged to reduce to a minimum their net cost which includes all labour, material and mental.

There is then a universal and forced tendency to reduce to the lowest the workers’ wages, and this law is sufficient to crush all the best intentions of employers, prisoners of the social order, by which, however, they benefit.

Another cause by virtue of which wages cannot rise—whatever may be the productivity of human labour—above the immediate wants of the working class is that the supply of labourers tends ever more and more to outrun the demand.

The increase of supply results from the forcing into the ranks of the proletariat of the expropriated small industries, little tradesmen, shopkeepers, all reduced, in their turn, to selling their power of doing work—their labour-power—in order to eat.

The decrease in the demand for labour results from the introduction of machinery and its extension. The non-human labour power (steam, electricity, etc) replaces and renders more and more useless human labour power. Here is what we call progress in the economic system: the never ceasing reduction of the sum of labour necessary to a given production.

The economists pretend, it is true, that this reduction in the field of human labour-power (the only means of existence of a class) is but temporary. Following a better market, the produce, more in demand, would bring in its train an increasing flow of production and a new demand for labour-power. But the economists might just as well say that the mechanical manufacture of coffins would multiply the need for coffins. Is not the mechanical production of bottles and casks dependent on the production of wine, beer, etc., and is not the output of rails or boilers limited by the number of factories and the development of the means of communication? On the other hand, neither the agricultural machinery (steam ploughs, sowers, mowers, binders and thrashers) nor the cranes on the quays multiply the products; they simply displace manual labour. But even in the industries where the machine has resulted in an extraordinary increase of manufactured articles, the demand for labour has diminished. Example: The cotton industry in England, in which the productivity has increased 1231 per cent from 1819-22 to 1880-82, while for the same period the number of those employed fell from 1/37th of the population (445,000 out of a population of 16,500,000) to 1/50th (686,000 out of a population of 34,000,000). Another example: The boot and shoe trade of the United States carried from 70 million pairs in 1845 to 448 millions in 1875, while the workers employed have fallen from 1/414 (45,900 out of 19 millions population) to 1/1145th (48,000 out of 55 millions).

Under the system of non-possession of the working class of the instruments with which they work, all progress, no matter what its nature, is turned against them, making greater their misery, their slavery; accentuating the insecurity of their existence; in a word: making unavoidable their exploitation – their robbery.

I spoke just now of the machine. Can it be possible that it could not have released suffering humanity from over-toil, troubles; could not have given us liberty? On the contrary, it has aggravated man’s hard labour by setting up in competition with him women, transformed into toilers, and children. From the very moment that it permitted the employment of feminine and infantile arms, it was necessary that the woman should enter the factory, leaving behind her health, her dignity; compromising even the very race itself, attacked by the foul virus of capitalism while yet a foetus in its mother’s womb. The effect of this competition let loose between the different members of the worker’s family has been still a further lowering of labour. Thus the legend of the well-being of the family enforced by more bread-winners does not hold good even before a Jules Simon. When the woman and the child were not industrialised, the wages of the husband had to suffice for the maintenance of all. To-day, for the same price which the single labour-power of the man was bought, the employer buys the threefold labour-power of the man, the woman, and the child.

The discovery of gas, this creation of human industry, of a midnight sun to prolong and complete that of day, has not been less fatal than the machine for the working-class. It has given place to night work; the slaughter-house of the night.

And the instruction that is being extended – and which we are the first to applaud as a new element for the destruction of existing Society – what consequences do you think it is going to introduce for the proletariat as long as this Society exists? In perfecting the human tool, which produces more and better, it will create new stoppages, longer slack seasons. One instructed workman will be sufficient where formerly two ignorant workmen were necessary — and occupied.

We hear “profit sharing” much spoken of as a remedy to heal all social sores, to reconcile labour and capital. If the cure were applicable, profit sharing would only remove the field of battle to a conflict over the profits to be shared. But without insisting on this point, in urging the worker to produce the most possible, it would only oblige him to do in two days the work of three, concluding consequently in the multiplication of the already too numerous days of no pay or stoppages. From the hell in which the dispossessed productive class struggles and writhes there is no redemption – “abandon all hope ye who enter here!”

The social consequences of the rupture, ever more complete, between labour and capital are no less terrible. First, we have the struggle of all against all.

It is the fashion amongst the adversaries of Socialism—through ignorance or enmity—to charge us with fomenting the class war. Just as though we had invented it! We do nothing but state it and make it serve, which is better, to its own ends. We know that the first condition which imposes itself on a doctor who is called to combat a disease is to examine it in order to understand it. It is not by shutting our eyes to the war which divides and exhausts humanity that we shall arrive at the desired peace. The war of every moment is threefold:

War between the proletariat and the capitalist for their respective shares in the produce; on one side, wages, on the other, profits; each side exerting itself to carry off a maximum. Man becomes a wolf for his fellow-man. It is a question of eating one’s brother or being eaten by him.

War between workers and workers for the sharing of wages.

War between capitalists and capitalists for the sharing of profits.

On the other hand, all the marvels of human genius, all the conquests over nature, of which I have pointed out already the homicidal results to the working-class, do not strike less mortally at the other classes of Society. The colours of aniline, coal extracts, so extensively used in the dyeing industry, have ruined whole districts which lived on the cultivation of the madder root formerly employed in this industry before the discovery of chemical dyes. Tomorrow, as has been recently foreshadowed, means may be discovered for the direct manufacture by electricity of metal-castings, and then the blast-furnaces, their fires extinguished, will leave to the millionaire of yesterday nothing but eyes to weep. All discoveries are condemned to operate only through revolutions, leaving behind them victims by the million, at the top as well as at the bottom of the social ladder.

It is, according to the admirable expression found in the programme of the German Social-Democracy: General insecurity becomes the normal condition of society.

What shall we say, in conclusion, of the overproduction which goes on increasing and multiplying and which nothing can stop? When industry was yet confined to one or two countries, in order to reduce the frequency of these crises born of the ever growing division between the unbounded productivity of human labour and the limit put to the reward of the workers, outlets were furnished by exportation to those parts of Europe remaining agricultural (Italy, Germany, etc.). To-day, having become in their turn industrial, these same nations are confronted with over-production, and Africa and Asia are “opened up”– civilized – to supply markets for this too great store of commodities. Here you have an explanation also of the crimes of Colonial policy, Colonial wars, etc. which are the order of the day with Capitalist Governments. But after? They will only have stepped back in order to jump the better.

Thus more and more has Capitalist Society proved its horrible failure to produce anything from a superabundance of riches; of means of consumption and happiness, but misery, suffering, ruin and death!

Translated from the French of  Jules Guesde by P. J. Tobin

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Extract from a speech by Mr. R. T. Manson, delivered at the Liverpool Church Congress, Oct 5th, 1904.
(From the official report, p. 249.)


And now it is pertinent to ask: What part are the clergy playing in this gruesome drama? The severest critic should not deny the numerous kindly offices in smaller matters which they constantly perform, all should unite in crediting the rectory and the vicarage with being the centres to which the weary and heavy-laden instinctively turn, there to receive not only the creature comforts of an hour, but consolations in the sorrows and assuagings of the griefs against which no material wealth is a barrier, nor robust health a guard. Of almsgiving and charity organisations there is no end, but the roots of the evil are too deep to permit of charity being a cure. There would be little need for charity if all had justice. The wealth of the mansion is the product of the dweller in the cottage, and the labourer is not only worthy of his hire but of all that he earns, and if that were paid to him there would be nought left for the landlord, and no occasion for the dole.

It is imperative, therefore, that it be asked in this assembly: Are the clergy on the side of the poor and lowly against the mighty and the rich ? Do they advocate as they should the causes of the people who cry for better houses, and better wages, and better opportunities of living Christian and moral lives? Do they preach contentment to those who are wronged, and who should not be content? Is mediation sufficient where the disputants are so unequal as are the toiler of the hut and the lord of the castle ? Do they palliate evils which they might assist to destroy, or condone with the wealth-getting which they should denounce ? How many have the temerity to reprove a rich parishioner who has treated his labourer badly, as he would reprove the labourer who has served his master badly? The present social and commercial system would not allow of the interference, and willing martyrs are none too common; and so we have to face the question : Is that system based on justice and right ? Is it moral and Christian that one man should seek toilsomely a bare, miserable subsistence, while another enjoys, with never an effort to produce it, extremest luxury ? If it be not right, let us seek a peaceful and constitutional remedy.

In every country in the world today there is rapidly growing a movement consisting of those who say that production should be for use and not for profit; that it is competition and the absence of mutual interests which make the millionaire on the one hand and the thousands of casual labourers on the other; that it is possible and desirable to abolish both by the introduction of national co-operation ; and by the placing of all industries under governmental control. For if it be worthy of the attention of great departments of state to devote their abilities to the organising of armies and navies or post-offices, how much more desirable is it that similarly powerful departments of state should direct and control the unceasing and imperative production and distribution of the necessaries of life ? With the national control of labour, every able man would be sure of the opportunity of being employed, and those who were not employed would be known to be by nature and inclination idlers.

And that system will surely come when the people have been taught to say "We will it;" and in that time the Churches and the teachers may work with more hope of fulfilling their exalted mission, and prepare the world for that more ideal time, when it shall be said in the newer England, as it was to those old-time casual labourers in distant Gallilee, We "will give unto this last, even as unto thee."

Support The Socialist Party. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Smart. (1905)

From the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The class struggle having been satisfactorily disposed of by Messrs. Keir Hardie and Bruce Glasier who have now proved beyond the possibility of doubt that the interests of the capitalist-class and the working-class are (more or less) identical and cannot by any chance breed conflict (except now and again), Mr. Russell Smart also of the I.L.P., not to be outdone, rushes into print to show how very easy of solution the unemployed problem really is when tackled by a member of the "practical" school of political economy. All that is required is to round up the existing unemployed and put them back to work on the land. As the machine in the factory turns out more, put them, back on the land also. When they have acquired that degree of efficiency necessary to enable them to enter into effective competition with the established agricultural worker, then take the men displaced and put them back on the land! Put. 'em all back! and then the problem will be solved and everybody will have work, and there shall be no more sighing and all tears shall be wiped away ! It is all so simple that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not make a mistake. No wonder Russell Smart raises an indignant voice of protest against the absurdity of the contention of illogical, irresponsible, not to say ill-informed Socialists who with purblind fatuity hold that nothing short of Socialism will dispose of the problem adequately and finally. They are bringing discredit upon the movement. They have forgotten "the land." They talk as if the capitalist system were based upon profit; as if profits were affected by the existence or otherwise of a surplus of labour on the market; as if the elimination of competition for work would mean the diminution, of profit; whereas it is well known that the very reverse is the case. It is well known that the capitalist system is not concerned with profit; that if it were the profit has no relation to the amount of competition for work; that as a matter of actual fact if the demand for labour were greater than the available supply—if, for example, there were 2 jobs for every one man—if the profits were affected at all they would he greater for the simple reason that worker, seeing the difficulty of the capitalist to get the work covered ; knowing that if the work was not done there could be no return on the capital, which would mean that the capitalist would commence to consume his reserve of wealth and would presently be entirely without means; knowing further that Capital and Labour are brothers (vide Keir Hardie and Bruce Glasier): knowing all this the worker would, for the good of trade, the glory of the flag, and the honour of the empire, gladly enough do the work of two men for the price of one (or one and a half), finding sufficient happiness in the unwonted possession of plenty of work to recompense him for all the extra expenditure of energy involved.

Obviously, therefore, the extremists who hold that unemployment is inevitable under capitalism are quite out of court in the eyes of all practical and fair-minded men. Luckily, they (the extremists, not the practical and fair-minded) are but few, otherwise it would be necessary to take steps to combat their imbecile heresies.
A. J. M. Gray

Correspondence. (1905)

Party News from the January 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Correspondence between The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Secretary to the British Section at Amsterdam Congress, 1904.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

40, Outer Temple, Strand, London, W.C. 
Nov., 1904. 

C. Lehane,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
107, Charlotte St., London, W.

Dear Comrade,

In accordance with the decision of the British Section at the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam, I am sending you herewith a precis of the minutes of the Section, signed by the Chairman and myself.

I shall be glad if you will bring the same before your organisation, and take the opinion of its members on the following questions arising thereout:—
1.—Are you in favour of a Conference being held with a view to the formation of a National Committee to deal with matters arising out of the Congress ?
2.—Are you in favour of the rules for the conduct of business at future Congresses as proposed by Mr. John Hodge and agreed to by the British Section ?
3.—Will you contribute annually to the funds of the International Socialist Bureau at Brussels, which consists of representatives of the various nationalities taking part in the Congress, and takes what action may seem necessary in the name of international socialism, including the organisation of the International Congresses? 

Hoping to receive favourable replies to these questions at an early date.
I am, yours fraternally
(signed) J. F. Green. 
(Secretary to British Section at Amsterdam Congress, 1904.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Central Office
Communist Club, 
107, Charlotte Street,
Fitzroy Square,
London, W.

Jan.3, 1905

J.F. Green
(Secretary to British Section at Amsterdam Congress, 1904.)
40, Outer Temple, Strand, W.C.


Your communication, covering precis of the minutes of the British Section at Amsterdam Congress 1904, has been received, and in reply I am instructed to state —

l. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not in favour of holding the proposed conference, and will decline to take part therein if held. As the International Congress is presumably a Socialist Congress, the matters arising from out its decisions should be the task of the Socialist Party existing in the various countries to deal with. Judging from the composition of the British Section, according to the precis of the minutes you sent, the Committee that apparently you propose would consist of men who are in no sense of the word Socialist. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, cannot see that any good purpose would be served by a Committee of men who are not agreed on basic principles tampering with these matters.
2. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not in favour of the rules for the conduct of business at future Congresses as proposed by Mr. John Hodge as it fails to see that any improvement would result from their adoption. 
3.—The Socialist Party of Great Britain is, of course, perfectly willing to bear its fair share of the expenses of international organisation, but considers that it should communicate direct with the International Socialist Bureau regarding this matter. 

I am, 
Yours fraternally,
(Signed) C. Lehane, 
General Secretary.

Reply to The coronavirus, bats, and deforestation (2020)

From the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog

The main argument in the posted article seems to be that the untapped 'natural world' is a vast reserve of unknown diseases which capitalism risks unleashing on a defenceless global population. I don't think this is the best argument against deforestation, but even in its own terms this view is problematical.

There are lots of exotic and isolated diseases with no cures, but they are already known about, and the reason they have no cures is only because almost hardly anybody catches them and therefore no R&D money has been put into them. Until fairly recently, Ebola was one of these. The degree to which these (capitalist) priorities would be changed in socialism is at best moot. It's not a question of money, it's a question of effort spent versus benefits gained.

Historically most new diseases have not come from the 'natural world' but from the activities of established human society, specifically animal domestication. Diseases that have jumped to us from domestic animals include:
Poultry 26, Rats / Mice  32, Horses 35, Dog 65, Pig 42, Sheep / Goats 46, Cattle 50
Note the absence of cats from this list. This illustrates the fact that diseases only proliferate in social animals, which are usually non-predators.

When the Spanish colonised the Americas they introduced all the childhood diseases of the Old World to a virgin population, where they instantly became killer diseases. I don't know of a single killer disease being transferred in the other direction, from the new to the old (syphilis was suggested however I believe instances of this are recorded in Europe before the colonisation of the Americas).

For an introduction to the fascinating and counter-intuitive world of epidemiology I would recommend Plagues and Peoples, William H. McNeill (Anchor Press/Doubleday 1976). This takes as a starting point the notion that 'everything is a parasite', and for socialists presents a particularly interesting comparison of micro- (ie. germs) and macro-(ie. ruling class) parasitism and their effects on historical societies. For a less in-depth treatment of the subject you could try Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (W.W.Norton, 1997).

An isolated, exotic disease has little chance to spread, and therefore no chance to mutate. In fact the more deadly it is, the worse its chances of spreading. In the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the virus had to be given a lot of help to spread via human activities (big funerals), and yet the epidemic had already tailed off by the time a vaccine was ready, so much so that medics had trouble finding enough live cases to test their vaccines on. This in turn meant drug companies lost a lot of money, which is also why they have been reluctant to come forward to sink money into coronavirus research.

Garden-variety viruses like Covid-19 spread and mutate constantly, and they are already better adapted, meaning that it takes fewer key mutations to make the species jump. This means they are much more dangerous to us than some new unknown disease from the uncharted wilds. Unlike most 'stupid' viruses, Covid-19 has pulled a blinder. It knows how to fool our immune system so it can operate under the radar, it blocks warning messages from infected cells to other cells, and it spell-checks its own RNA (only DNA normally does this) to prevent potential attacks on its data integrity (New Scientist, 21 March). The odds against an unknown, non-human-adapted disease being able to do all this purely by accident are astronomical, I would think.

Not that any of this justifies plundering the carbon sinks of the rainforests. But I think the argument of killer diseases is very weak compared to the argument of diversity, for example. We stand to get a lot more benefit (eg. new drugs) from the jungle, than toxic epidemics.

What is the socialist take-home (and stay-home) message from this? That it's all capitalism's fault would be an absurd simplification. It's not immediately obvious to me how socialism would have been any better prepared. The WHO warned of such an epidemic in 2003 but nobody can develop a vaccine before the new virus has even appeared. One coronavirus is not like another. A single mutation can make all the difference in the world. 

A more realistic argument we could explore is that socialist society would be better equipped to deal with such a crisis once it had arisen, partly because it wouldn't need to worry about a global economic crash, or unpaid wages, rents, mortgages or taxes, and partly because it's geared to cooperation in the first place, as opposed to cooperation as a last resort.
Paddy Shannon