Saturday, April 4, 2020

On Nationalisation of the Railways. (1920)

Book Review from the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Case For Nationalisation", by A. Emil Davies. L.C.C. Chairman Railway Nationalization Society. London : George Allen & Unwin. Paper; as. 6d. nett.

What our author Forgot.
In this voluminous work Mr. Davies has certainly made out a case for nationalisation as against its capitalist opponents. He meets their charges of extravagance with an enormous weight of evidence to the contrary. But, like all Nationalisers, he has failed to show why the workers should interest themselves in it, either as an immediate reform or as a stepping-stone toward Socialism. He has convincingly, if unconsciously, shown that Nationalisation offers nothing to the workers when he proves, as he does quite conclusively, that both Nationalisation and Municipalisation have invariably effected greater economies than similar undertakings under private enterprise. Mr. Davies admits that a more economical production results from the large concern as well as from the State concern, but he quite fails to draw the obvious conclusion.

What Economy Means.
The chief result of centralisation and better organisation is, of course, increased unemployment. The strongest proof of this is that unemployment has increased side by side with the economising processes. When concerns were small, and competing with one another, unemployment was nothing like the factor that it is to-day, when many concerns are welded into a few, able to install labour-saving machinery and effect all the economies incidental to large-scale production.

The usual objection to Nationalisation is that it is invariably wasteful and extravagant, especially in the way of high-salaried officials. Mr. Davies shows that this is equally true of the large concerns, where enormous salaries are paid to directors and others. He gives facts and figures ; he makes comparisons and builds up a case for Nationalisation as against private enterprise that is unassailable on this head.

A Significant Question.
Before doing this, however, he warns the reader against expecting too much from Nationalisation while under capitalist control. He says : “Is it to be expected that men . . . opposed to the principle of community ownership which would affect the position they and their class hold, should really endeavour to make a success of government undertakings? The interests conflict too violently. If force and circumstances compel them, as it does, steadily to increase the size and number of Government undertakings, they do the best they can for their friends and class.”

He Proves Too Much.
In spite of this handicap, however, State and Municipal concerns are proved by overwhelming evidence to be more efficient and economical than private concerns. Post Office, telegraph, telephone, railways, mines, electricity supply, banking, insurance, and many other examples from all parts of the world are shown to be financially sound according to capitalist standards and more economically worked than similar undertakings under private enterprise. In fact, so much does Mr. Davies prove in this direction that if every worker interested in the subject read the book intelligently they would all straightway become opponents to Nationalisation and its further advocacy by labour leaders.

It is impossible to follow our author throughout his 305 pages of argument, examples, and evidence, but one quotation will illustrate the point. He says: “In Carlisle, where the liquor trade has been nationalised, we are told that one brewery in the hands of the board does the work previously done by four. One spirit bonding employing 14 persons and a motor lorry does the work less efficiently performed under private enterprise by 70 men and 17 lorries.”

One can easily imagine the extent to which unemployment would be increased if every State undertaking and centralised concern has been only half as successful as this. But Mr. Davies tells us that under the control of the Labour Party this economising process would be increased immensely. If he is correct it is unnecessary to go further to prove that the Labour Party is hostile to working-class interests. For if Nationalisation means that fewer workers are required to produce a given quantity of wealth, or provide a given measure of services, then the resulting increase in unemployment must, because of the intensified competition for jobs, tend to reduce the general standard of living for the working class.

Unlike most capitalist agents who deny this obvious conclusion without attempting to show wherein it is not sound, Mr. Davies recognises this weakness. He says :
 It sometimes occurs that a man realises the enormous economies that can be effected by Nationalization with its centralization and administration, and the doing away of hundreds or thousands or thousands of duplicating and overlapping units of various sizes, but this very fact may cause him to ask where the doing away with all this duplication, wasteful as it is, may not result in a number of his fellows being put out of work. The first answer to this is that the gradual elimination of waste by centralisation and the formation of larger units of industry is taking place all the time by means of amalgamations and the formation of huge combines and trusts.
Thus he is unable to deny that increased unemployment results from centralisation ; but, because it goes on whether we like it or not, he advocates more of it! “A hair of the dog that bit him” is common-sense compared with such a misdirection of energy. While capitalism lasts the best thing that can happen to the workers is that their masters shall fail to see, or fail to introduce, economising processes, that more workers, not fewer, shall be required for the production and distribution of wealth.

It would be absurd for the workers to oppose economising processes, but they should most certainly not organise, or be led to support, them. A genuine working-class party would not waste its time and spread confusion among the workers by advocating either policy.

After the above admission by Mr, Davies he is obliged to make some attempt to solve the unemployed problem his policy would intensify. He therefore supposes that the nationalisation of a given industry would by more economical working displace 10,000 people. “In such a case,” he says, “the community would be no worse off in money if it pensioned off the whole of the 10,000 and paid them for doing nothing exactly the same wages they had been receiving.” Further on he says : “Of course you would not pension off these people, but you would utilise the big saving thus brought about to reduce the hours of all the workers in the industry, to improve wages, holidays, etc., and to reduce the cost of the article, commodity or service.”

In other words, instead of paying 10,000 people for doing nothing, the wages of the 10,000 would be spread over the industry, or deducted from prices.

Our author’s second proposition is almost as impossible of application as the first, because, in the first place, he concedes to the capitalist the privilege of continuing to draw dividends, disguised, it is true, as interest on bonds or loans. This interest must be paid out of the profits of the industry, and, consequently imposes at once the conditions that are most economical. In those services that have already been nationalised there is no such shortening of hours and improvement of conditions. State and municipal employees are no better off than other workers. In one respect some of them are worse off. When the State is the only employer in an industry the order of the “sack” becomes a serious matter,” as the late police strike shows.

According to Mr. Davies, however, all these obstacles will be swept away when the Labour Party controls. But until the Labour Party can disprove the current belief among the workers generally, that extravagant working of nationalised services is a burden on them, they will fail to obtain the necessary sanction and support to carry them through. The working class can no more move towards vastly improved conditions sectionally than the capitalist class can be forced, sectionally, from their dominant position.

All Mr. Davies’ schemes are based on the retention of the wages system, on the creation of surplus-value by the workers which an idle class will continue to appropriate and share. All his schemes get us no nearer to the abolition of the wages system; time passes, it is true, but time that would be far better spent in working for Socialism.

Nationalisation cranks are forced to admit that not all industries are fit subjects for State control. Some of them realise that certain industries and services are easily nationalised because the majority of capitalists are more or less dependent on them and could control them more effectively in their own interests through the State machinery.

Mr. Davies devotes a good deal of space to proving that other individuals and parties, besides the Labour Party, will, if it suits their interests, carry out Nationalisation projects. He says, for instance, “If Nationalization is necessary to keep Mr. Lloyd George in office, he will no doubt declare himself in favour of it.” Of so little importance is it, even to the capitalist class, that its adoption can hang on the personal ambition of one capitalist statesman.

Mr. Davies quotes a number of prominent Liberals in favour of Nationalisation, and incidentally calls attention to the “break-up” of the Liberal Party. He says the Liberals of the “strongly individualist type will go over to the Tories, the rest will form a right wing of the Labour Party. They will be extremely valuable in a party that is growing rapidly and sadly needs an accession of strength in the shape of persons of parliamentary experience and debating skill.”

Thus like all the labour crowd, our author is always prepared to compromise with the enemies of the workers to obtain objects only of value to the master class. He fails to see that the weakness of the Labour Party is entirely due to their failure to take up the Socialist position.

The workers, when considering Nationalisation, should not forget the lessons of the war. Government control, or Nationalisation, was the step taken by the executive power in order to economise in men, materials, and transport, so that the largest possible number of men might be available for the fighting line. In peace time, however, the men who would be displaced would merely swell the unemployed army and help to bring down wages.

Mr. Davies is so deeply concerned that the capitalist shall not suffer by Nationalisation that he devotes a good deal of space to the elaboration of schemes that would ensure to them a fixed rate of interest for a number of years with their capital intact at the end. He should listen to an ordinary House of Commons debate on unemployment, and if he has any sense of comparison his absurd consideration for a class that lives by robbery would vanish. With the Socialist it is not a question of compensation, but restoration.

The absurdity of working-class action for Nationalisation is apparent. Besides the enormous increase in unemployment admitted by Mr. Davies the supreme objection remains: the wages system is to retained. There has never been any advocate of Nationalisation sufficiently clear-sighted to recognise that before any improvement can possibly take place in the condition of the working class the wages system must be abolished. No system can be satisfactory to the intelligent workers that does not exclude all possibility of an idle class continuing to live in luxury on their backs. Nationalised industries competing with each other in a world market and paying interest to a class of idlers is merely a modified form of capitalism, possibly its highest form, dominating and exploiting even more ruthlessly than at present. Whether Labour’s blind—or corrupt—leaders succeed in establishing it or not, the workers’ historic mission still lies before them. They must organise to own and control the means of wealth production in their own interests, and not to create either dividends or interest for an idle class.
F. Foan

By The Way. (1920)

The By The Way column from the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is an interesting study to the detached observer to look around and see how the “props” of England’s greatness and the capitalist politicians work up their various stunts, incidentally, of course, contradicting one another time after time.

During the war we were all urged to join in our masters’ quarrel and wage “the war to end war,” with the promise that when this had been terminated the “world would be safe for democracy.” How safe it has become will be easily perceived even by those who have only one eye.

Speaking a short time ago at Portsmouth, Major-General Seely told his hearers what a glorious thing is capitalist society, how under its aegis the inventive genius of man had developed, and what the future held in store for those who remained in this beautiful world of capitalism. He said—
  . . . if the world was plunged into a world war in the years to come, it was quite certain that the whole of civilisation would be involved in the terrible destruction of life which modern science had rendered possible. It would not be eight million men killed, but far more than that, for great portions of their civilization—men, women, and children—would be wiped out of existence in the first few weeks of the war.—”Daily News,” March 9th, 1920.
After this all the stories of the “red” peril and atrocity-mongering campaigners leave us cold. The only way to end war and make the world safe for the people is to wage the class war for the abolition of classes and the private ownership of the means of life. On which side do you stand ? Are you a supporter of capitalism and all the horrors which it stands for, or are you with the ever-growing band of toilers who seek the world for the workers ? Think it over!

#    #    #    #

Coming to a more recent date one finds a report that Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, speaking at the annual meeting of the Union Jack Club, said that we had been told we went into the war to end war.

If one might pause here for a moment it will be easy to recall that six years ago the politician, parson, press, and militarist all joined in the theme of Belgium and the Scrap of Paper. Then it was a case of “our” plighted word and righteous indignation at Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality.

However, to return to the concluding portion of the Field-Marshal’s observations, let me remind all of you who have been enlisted or deemed to have been enlisted that our warrior bold says—
  I hope you men, to whatever branch of the service you belong, will do all you can to keep fit and ready for the time that is coming. Except in August 1914, our country and our Empire have never wanted you more. We are living in ticklish and dangerous times, and our command on sea, on land, and in the air is being challenged in various parts of the world. I hope you will carry this—warning if you like—away with you from a very old soldier who knows what he is talking about.”—”Daily News",  May 19th, 1920.
Perhaps it is fortunate that the remarks made above were in the present tense and not the past, but still they are interesting to those who have been or have been deemed to have been, in which case, from my observations, they will say, “No thanks, old bean.”

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Ministerial answers to questions in the House of Commons are full of interest to those whose outlook is larger than that of those who regularly peruse the columns of the noonday “Star.” Quite recently a number of questions were asked concerning Poland, and whether the Allies were giving the Poles “moral or material support,” either in “money or munitions.” To which Mr. Bonar Law replied : The answer is in the negative so far as concerns His Majesty’s Government.

Some days later the same gentleman, in answer to a further question on the subject, admitted that in October last the British Government offered to supply a certain quantity of surplus stores, part of which was now being shipped. Apart from that no assistance had been or was being given to the Polish Government.
 Mr. Barnes asked whether the position was not now different, having regard to the declarations of the Prime Minister made more recently than October last. 
Mr. Bonar Law : Yes ; but as a matter of fact the bargain was made and the material was actually given to the Polish Government. It is their property, and to have gone back upon it would have been to break our bond.” — “Daily News,” May 18th, 10.20.
Evidently the right honourable gentleman has more regard for “our bond” than his conflicting replies, which savour of equivocation.

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The following remark, made by one who is supposed to be a disciple of the lowly Nazarene, is, I think, worth recording—
  I feel that the presence of children from a late enemy country would make it more difficult to bring people back to the charitable and Christian frame of mind which one desires should mark the arrival of peace. — Rector of Bexhill. — “Daily News,” May 12th, 1920.
Evidently this Holy Joe has forgotten his master’s injunction when he said, “Feed my lambs.”

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Some of the labour leaders, who have been designated by the supporters of capitalism of the “sane” variety inasmuch as they approximate unto them, have had a rather rough time during the May-Day festivities. It is somewhat unfortunate that they were shouted down. But the fact that the rank and file are at last keeping their optics on these gentry is all to the good.

According to that organ of light and learning, the “Weekly Dispatch” (2.5.1920) we gather that “Mr. J. Sexton, M.P., was continually interrupted, epithets such as ‘Liar,’ ‘Traitor,’ being shouted.”

Again we read that ” Mr. J. Clynes had a stormy reception at Manchester, being booed and hissed and told to sit down. . . When he turned to general labour topics the audience broke into ‘ Tell me the old, old story ‘ and it was some minutes before he could proceed.”
The Scout

Purblind Samson. (1920)

From the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is one fact that impresses an observer of social life in the 20th century very forcibly, amidst all the gigantic progress of Science evinced in the harnessing and utilisation of the forces of Nature. This paramount fact is the active power and potentialities of the proletariat. The working class, in fact, is not only all-important, but, with education and organisation on class conscious lines, will ultimately be all-powerful.

The workers, as a class, know not yet their own colossal might. Alone producing all the wealth of the world, the very fabric of society is maintained by their active energies of mind and hands.

A section of them strike, and the withholding of their labour frequently disorganises industry. Many sections strike concurrently, the wheels of production cease to revolve, and a serious crisis is precipitated. Labour, the mighty Samson, has not yet learnt his strength.

For the truth is that though the scales are slowly falling from his eyes, he still suffers with dimness of vision—is, in fact, a purblind Sampson !

The working class, indeed, is made up of those whose political and economic vision varies very considerably. Very many are as yet blind to the realities of the capitalist system; they do not understand that they are wage-slaves to those who own the mean’s of life of society; they do not see that they are robbed by means of the wages system of most of the wealth they have produced and continue to produce. Not understanding the essentials of capitalist production, they fail to understand Socialism, or even the need for it. In fact, with docility and diligence they “mark time” for their masters like automata.

As time goes on the class struggle itself, in which the workers are involved, is performing a wondrous operation upon them, for they are suffering through the inevitable evils of capitalism—unemployment, pitiable wages, and chronic poverty. At the mercy of their exploiter sand profiteers they frantically turn this way and that to cope with the evils of capitalism, and out of unwisdom try futilely to set things straight. But the SYSTEM that produces their sufferings they do not dream of attacking ! They see neither a definite goal, nor the way to it.

Yet a small minority there is who, by experience, thought, and study, are clear-sighted enough to see the way before them. These are the class-conscious and revolutionary proletarians. They know that no palliatives or tinkering reforms of any kind will, or can remove the blighting effects of the present system or emancipate their class from wage slavery.

Only the destruction of capitalism itself, and the establishment by the workers of the Socialist Commonwealth in its place ever can—and it inevitably will. And this they know can be proved by a series of irrefutable facts—a perfect arsenal of scientific proofs, historic, material, economic, and political.

We have seen, during the last few years particularly, an accentuated and ever-increasing class-struggle, growing out of the essential antagonism between the wealth-producing workers and their exploiters. And that conflict of interests produces an increased class-consciousness in some, whilst it illuminates and reveals for others the essential clash of the classes that is the outcome of the capitalist system, and of which they probably had not been otherwise aware.

Also the development of a predatory and ruthless system of capitalism automatically not only produces its antagonists, but drives them to combat it. And the result is that weapon after weapon will be tried and discarded—because they are no good.

Syndicalism, Direct Action, Industrial Unionism, etc.—what are these but names of various forms of pathetic futility ?

Co-partnership is a childish scheme in that it does not even aim at the abolition of the exploitation of the worker, and only increases his servile relationship to his “altruistic” employer. The Trade Unions are used by the capitalist class as instruments by which, through treacherous and lying Labour “leaders,” the clamour of their members for better wages and conditions of labour can most effectively be suppressed.

At the best the function of the Trade Unions is simply that of collectively bargaining for a better price for their members’ labour-power, and better conditions, not to abolish the system under which they are daily robbed.

It all finally reduces down to the matter of class-consciousness—an exact knowledge of their position, importance, and potentialities, on the part of the workers AS A CLASS in relation to society as a whole, and especially to to the capitalist class, to whom they stand as propertyless, wealth-producing slaves.

Class-consciousness must be the basis of all revolutionary political action, and it is a tremendous driving force, wherever it is developed. It germinates from a mixture of experience and the study of Marxian economics.

Without class-consciousness as arriving force all the varied activities of the proletariat to better their conditions must necessarily be weakened in power.

Our exploiters, the capitalist class, hold, and will continue to keep as long as they can, the whole edifice of society as a means to conserve and further their own class interests. It is only because they have the POLITICAL POWER that they wield such force as they do.

Shorn of that, their parasite-hold on society at once relaxes—they are hurled from their position of dominance.

But whilst they are in possession of the political means of “Law and Order” they not only make the laws in their own class interest, but will have them enforced if necessary by the Army, Navy, and Police.

It is obvious, then, that no action whatever on the part of the long oppressed proletariat will emancipate the workers from wage-slavery other than the capture of political power for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism and establishing Socialism. All else is blind battling with temporary evils, and a mere beating of the air.

Labour, the purblind Samson, uses but a tiny bit of his strength. At present he lacks vision. Education in Socialist principles, political and economic experience will act as goads. Then, organised on the economic field, and on the political field for the capture and control of the machinery of government, he will use his Titanic power for the overthrow of capitalism and the upbuilding in its place of the Socialist Commonwealth. He will have been the slavery of his class and all that he is robbed of; he will see that SOCIALISM is the only hope of the workers, and he will not be satisfied till it is established.
Graham May

The Blindness of the Workers. (1920)

From the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one of the world’s great novels, Dickens’s “David Copperfield,” occurs the following passage, the poignant significance of which appears to have been overlooked by the majority of even the most assiduous Dickensian students: “There was a beggar in the street, when I went down: and as I turned my head towards the window, thinking of her calm seraphic eyes, he made me start by muttering, as if he were an echo of the morning : ‘ Blind ! Blind ! Blind !”

Whether Dickens realised the almost universal application of what he had written is a matter of conjecture. Probably all he had in mind was its application to the particular set of characters with which he happened at the moment to be dealing. But to the Socialist, looking around at the world as it is to-day, seeing the foolishness, the illusions, the ignorance, which go to make up the mentality of so many men and women, it would seem as though a film had fallen across the eyes of his fellow-workers, causing either what amounts to total mental blindness or to so distorted a vision as to preclude any possibility of the realities of life being seen in their true perspective.

We could adduce many facts to show how mentally blind the working-class people of the world are. At the outbreak of the late war, for example, the people of this country (and of all other belligerent countries) who up to that date had, and desired, no quarrel with their reputed enemies, were so blinded by the wave of patriotism that swept over them, originated as it had been by the training and teaching they had received in childhood and youth, encouraged as it was by the insidious propaganda instigated from press, platform, and pulpit, that thousands, hundreds of thousands, of them clamoured for permission to kill and be killed in what they thought was the interest of their country, by which they meant, one presumes, their own interest.

Needless to say, permission to so kill and be killed was graciously conceded by their masters and accepted by the poor, deluded fools who, not understanding their class position as wage-slaves, not knowing what was at the bottom of of the whole bloody business, thought in their blind folly that they were doing something noble and heroic, thought that they were fighting and dying to save for themselves and their descendants what they considered their freedom, to save their “national heritage,” their “share in the Empire,” their womenfolk and children from the bestiality and oppression which they were quite convinced would be their fate were the forces against which they were fighting to prove successful.

They could not see that the war was simply a struggle generated by rival groups of capitalists for the possession of certain favourable (from the commercial point of view) portions of the earth’s surface. They could not all see that the only freedom they, as members of the working class, possessed was the freedom either to starve or allow themselves to be exploited for profit by their employers. They could not see that their only heritage, national or otherwise, was the lifelong heritage of hard and sordid work (when they were not unemployed) nor that their “share in the Empire” had no substance in fact, but was only a magniloquent phrase very useful to politicians at election times for purposes of vote-catching. They could not see that their womenfolk and children were, and always had been, the drudges, the toys, the slaves of a system whose bestiality and oppression had never been equalled since the dawn of the world’s history. They fought, and died, and were maimed, for —what? For an illusion which had been given a semblance of reality by the vicious teaching and smart word-spinning of innumerable capitalist agents. The people fought and died in their millions and the nett result is that, from a materialist standpoint, they are still struggling to rise to the very poor level at which they stood prior to the war.

Again, when we come to examine the attitude of the workers in regard to their political representation, we find how in a similar way the blindness of the people operates. At the last General Election they were, in the main, carried away by what they considered was the need for stabilising the “fruits of victory”—one of the pet phrases of the war rhetoricians—and voted practically solid for the Coalitionists. They have since tasted some of the “fruits of victory,” and found the taste not altogether to their liking; so at the subsequent bye-elections they have largely voted in even a worse and more foolish way; that is, they have voted for the “Labour” candidates.

Doubtless exception will be taken, in some cases, to the statement that it is more foolish to vote for a Labour man than for a Coalitionist. But when one considers the confusion caused by these Labour misleaders, these advocates of reforms which they must know are useless and worse than useless to the workers, these mouthers of phrases full of the most fatuous cant and sentimentality, the writer is justified, he thinks, in his antagonism towards them and his statement as to the enormous harm they do.

All these men seem to consider is how best to get into Parliament so that by virtue of the magic letters “M.P.” after their names they may be able to draw their salaries of £400 a year, to serve (for a monetary consideration) on Committees and Commissions ; to obtain well-paid jobs on capitalist newspapers and magazines. How these activities benefit their working-class constituents it is impossible to fathom.

As a matter of fact, neither they nor anyone else can benefit the working class. The working class, as we continually reiterate, must work out its own emancipation. The veil of illusion must be torn away from before the eyes of the workers, and this will only come about as the facts of life bite deeper and still deeper into their mentality, and as the unwearied propagandist work of the Socialist Party comes more and more to fruition.

We do not blame the workers for their blindness to their own interests. Indeed, the question of blaming or praising anyone or anything does not enter into the Socialist philosophy. What we endeavour to do is to open their eyes to the facts appertaining to capitalism and the logical deductions to be drawn from such facts.

The Socialist may claim to be the oculist of the working class. His aim is to give sight to those of his fellow-workers who are wandering in the darkness of capitalist orthodoxy. So the work the Socialist Party has in hand—the work of making Socialists—must go on until a majority of the people see eye to eye with us and organise themselves with us in one united political party. Then, and not till then, we shall know that the dawn of the Socialist day is near, wherein the potentialities of life will, at last, have an opportunity of developing on sane and healthy lines instead of being forced into a groove of insane and unhealthy activities which are all the present system of capitalism can afford to its wage-slaves.
F. J. Webb

Editorial: Who Pays? (1920)

Editorial from the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The advocates of Nationalisation of the Mines proceed from folly to folly. According to Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, M.P. (writing in “Lloyd’s Sunday Newspaper,” June 13,) the policy of the Miners is to force Nationalisation by demanding such wages as will leave such a small margin of profit that the owners will be glad to have their mines Nationalised, and—for there is a second side to the business—deluding the people into believing that they pay the piper, and so inducing them to call for the Nationalisation tune. This is what Mr. Hartshorn writes:
The miners will make a wage demand whenever the price of coal is raised, and increased wages will follow increased prices ad infinitum, and the public will pay.
And lest there be any doubt as to his meaning we give this further quotation from Mr. Hart­shorn’s article:
We say if the public are so foolish as to countenance private control of the industry they must pay for their folly.
As to the merits and demerits of Nationalisation in general, and as applied to the Coal Mines in particular, we have dealt with that many times in the past, and undoubtedly in the course of our opposition we shall deal with it many times in the future. But we do not propose to do so now.

Mr. Hartshorn may give what fancy designation he likes to the miners’ policy as declared by him, but through the thin disguise it is easy enough to see our old acquaintance of a few months ago—”Direct Action.” The only new feature acquired is a sort of false nose by way of disguise—the attempt to delude the public into the belief that they pay for the rises of wages. We shall see presently that it is hardly likely that this trick will win many adherents to Nationalisation, but for the moment we are concerned in another direction.

Not long ago capitalist agents were thundering from every platform the imperative need for every worker to turn out more wealth as the only means of reducing prices, and the first to rush to their aid were the labour leaders. The workers, however, little as they understood of economics, could see as far as the end of their noses, and they preferred to fight for higher wages in order to meet the enhanced prices. Now along come the labour leaders with the tale that it is the consumers who must pay for the wages increase— in other words that is high wages that cause high prices, and not high prices that cause high wages.

This, of course, is just the identical illusion that the capitalists would give untold wealth to have the workers believe. And Mr. Hartshorn’s treachery is not the less because he tries to disguise it in contradiction.

“The miners will make a wage demand whenever the price of coal is raised,” says Mr. Hartshorn, “and increased wages will follow increased prices ad infinitum, and the public will pay.” The contradiction in this is that if the wage advance follows the increased price, then the public do not have to pay the wage advance ; but if the public do have to pay the wage advance, then it is the increased price that follows the increased wage, and not vice versa.

We are not, however, to take our choice of these contradictions. The miners, it seems, under the guidance of their misleaders, have adopted a policy based upon the theory that wage movements affect the consumer—that what the workers gain in wages they lose by increased prices. They are going to force the people (which means the workers in this case) to demand Nationalisation in order to escape from having to pay for endless increases of wages. There is no other construction to be placed on Mr. Hartshorn’s words.

So these labour leaders are now telling the workers that the result of their struggle for higher wages is to bring about the nullification of their efforts through higher prices—exactly the view their natural enemies, the masters, so much desire them to take, for the simple reason that the logical deduction is that the struggle for higher wages is futile.

As to whether Mr. Hartshorn and those who mislead with him are right in their estimate of the effect of their policy upon the public, is a matter for argument. It will need a lot of assurance to convince them that, given Nationalisation, the miners wage demands would cease. Perhaps Mr. Hartshorn would like to suggest such an outcome to the miners themselves.

Apart from any backing they might get from the public, the miners are in exactly the same position as regards their strength as they were before this shallow and even clumsy “policy” was conceived. It was always open to them to strike for higher wages, or for Nationalisation. It was never necessary for them to wait for a rise of prices before making a wage demand. On the other hand it was always open to the masters to resist the demand. The result did not lay in the price the masters got for their coal. The situation is unchanged, except that if the masters think that the wage concessions are going to bring Nationalisation nearer that is in itself an additional incentive for them to resist commensurate to their estimate of the danger to their interest, while if the public think that they have got to pay the piper, they can safely be counted on to render the miners no support.

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.) (1920)

From the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the last contribution we noticed the opposite outlook on life of the feudal worker, producing wealth for himself (working to live), and the modern worker, producing wealth for others (living to work). A superficial examination of the position has a tendency to lead some people (particularly of the small shopkeeping type) to pine for a return to these earlier conditions. But bad though the slave position of the modern wage worker is, it yet contains the kernel of future economic salvation.

The means and methods of producing wealth cannot stand still. They must go on developing and continually taking on new forms, and with them society must also develop and take on new forms.

To return to our former illustration: The flail, after a tortuous development, culminated in the threshing machine. The threshing machine organised squads of workers to attend to its needs. Not only did it do this, but it also reacted on the operations that precede and follow its use. The methods of gathering corn and of handling it after passing the thresher had to be speeded up to meet the standard of speed and efficiency set up by the thresher. In America to-day an eight foot cut and self-binder is in use that can cut twenty acres of wheat in a day, and in some areas one vast machine ploughs across the fields, taking the grain from the stalks and depositing it in bags ready for the grist mill.

The land-loving, home-loving serf, producing to live and owning his own simple means of production, was tied to the idea of private property and viewed with alarm (even as his out-of-date successor does) any projects that interfered with his petty private property rights. The modern worker, on the other hand, living to work and owning no property but his power to work, is being forced by his economic situation to the opposite idea of property directly social in its nature.

The means of production of the peasant were small, simple, and independently operated. The means of production to-day, on the contrary, are immense, complicated, and socially operated. Inhabitants and material at the most distant parts of the earth have a connection, directly or indirectly, in the production of the simplest articles around us. The thresher incorporates the products and the skill of different countries; it represents in itself social production.

The consequence of this is that the ideas and ideals that float around to-day, and are gradually taking a definite form, are social ideas and ideals. The fact of social production is steadily giving birth to the idea of social ownership.

The tremendous chasm that, exists between the serf and the wage worker in the method of producing the means to sustain life has bred a similar chasm between the ideas that flow from the different sets of economic circumstances. Even the “unchangeable East” has been drawn, by virtue of its economic development, into the web of international affairs, and the ideas of the West are fast becoming the ideas of the East. The same method of examination that we have applied to the case of the feudal serf and the modern worker, if applied throughout the whole course of social development from primitive times to the present day, will give a clear understanding of the course of history, and make history an intelligible science instead of the confused jumble it presents in the hands of its professional interpreters. A knowledge of the development of landed property in ancient Rome lays bare to us the mainspring of the of the events of that period ; a knowledge of the development from the local to the international market (and what it involved) lays bare the mainspring the events of the English and French revolutions. Finally, a knowledge of the basis of modern capitalistic production lays bare the hidden cause of the events that are taking place around us. It was the understanding of this that led Karl Marx to undertake his painstaking examination of commodity production.

The Materialist Concept not only furnishes us with the key to the past development of society, but also to its future direction. It shows us wither society is tending and enables to adjust our actions accordingly. It shows us the “earthly core of misty creations” and keeps us out of the tortuous ways of the metaphysician. In other words, it compels us to be practical scientists instead of abstract dreamers.

Correspondence. (1920)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a letter from Mr. J. Chelsom stating that, while he agrees with most of our Declaration of Principles, he can­ not subscribe to the last clause, where we define our hostility to other parties.

He asks us to justify our attitude. Also he considers that we would not be sacrificing any principle if we joined with “other working-class parties” if we always stated our case on Reforms and either voted against the Reforms or abstained from voting. He thinks that a refusal of admittance by the Labour Party, or, having joined, our expulsion from that body (he does not say on what ground) would put us in a stronger and more logical position, than we hold at present. Further on he says “hostility can be best proved by combatting first hand that which is retarding Socialism.”

It is interesting to note how people can often accept premises and yet refuse to adopt the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from those premises.

If Mr. Chelsom accepts clause six of our Declaration of Principles, it is difficult to see how he can find fault with clause eight, as the latter merely defines a line of action laid clown as necessary by the former.

To achieve its emancipation the working class, when equipped with the necessary knowledge, must capture political power. For this purpose it must organise into a political party to fight for this control of power on its own behalf. Any other use of political organisation necessarily means the retention, or extension, of the political power of the masters. Because of this simple fact, a working-class political party striving for the emancipation of the workers must oppose all supporters of capitalism, or stand condemned as a fraud.

Mr. Chelsom is quite in error in supposing that the chief crime of the Labour Party is the advocacy of reforms. The great central treachery of the Labour Party is its urging the working class to vote capitalist candidates into political power, and its various bargains for seats in Parliament on the basis of exchange of support. This treachery is also practised by other so-called workers’ parties (the I.L.P., B.S.P., N.S.P., etc.), as Mr. Chelsom is very well aware, because he has read the Socialist Standard for several years, in which we have given overwhelming proof of the truth of our charges.

Yet, after condemning what he, wrongly, calls our “separatism,” Mr. Chelsom states that “hostility can be best proved by combatting first hand that which is retarding Socialism.” Now this being exactly what we do, it is puzzling to find our correspondent condemning us for carrying out a policy which he supports. Far from standing apart and watching the struggle from a distance as he suggests, we attack “first-hand” at every opportunity we get, those who are retarding Socialism.

To give an instance that will, no doubt, still be fresh in Mr. Chelsom’s mind; in the October 1919 “S.S,” we attacked the various Labour leaders who were urging the workers to increase production. In “Reynolds’s Newspaper” for November 30th 1919 Mr. Clynes tried to com­bat our attack and quoted from our article, though he did not mention our paper by name. His “reply” was pulverised in our issue of December last, and, later on, for some special reason, Mr. Clynes contradicted in Parliament the case he had tried to make in “Reynolds’s.”

It seems as though Mr. Chelsom has been misled by the revolutionary-sounding phrases that many of the Labour leaders are ready to use at particular meetings, or else, like many other workers, he fancies that because an organisation is composed in the main of working men and women, it is therefore anti-capitalist in character and action. But the phrases of the Labour leaders are contradicted by their actions which we have exposed so often, while on the second point it is too often forgotten that every political party depends upon the working class for its actual power. Even so aristocratic and reactionary a body as the Primrose League depends for its political power upon the agricultural labourers. If we can join hands with one set of supporters of capitalism why not with another ? Where are we to draw the line ?

The B.S.P. just now is supporting “Soviets” and “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” and defending Russia, while remaining a part of the Labour Party that helped to place in power a Government that is doing so much to overthrow the Russian Soviet Republic ! Such action simply makes confusion worse confounded.

The line is already clearly drawn in all developed capitalist countries. Every party, no matter who compose its membership, that assists the masters to retain political power, under any pretext whatever, thereby proves itself an anti-Socialist party. It must, therefore, be fought by the Socialist Party of that country. That is our position and work in Great Britain. We are the only party in this country that organises for the capture of political power by the working class, for its emancipation. To join with those who are working against this capture of power would be sheer idiocy. We, therefore, combat them all “first hand” because that is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from Socialist principles.
Editorial Committee

The Historical Method of Karl Marx by Paul Lafargue. (1920)

From the June 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reprinted from the “International Socialist Review,” Oct., 1907.

II. Deistic and Idealistic Philosophies of History—

But to show the progressive development of the bourgeoisie for a certain number of centuries back does not explain that historic movement any more than to trace the curve described in falling by a stone thrown into the air teaches us the causes of its fall. The philosophic historians attribute this evolution to the ceaseless action of the Spiritual Forces, particularly Justice, the strongest of all, which according to an idealistic and academic philosopher, “is always present even though it arrives only by degrees into human thought and into social facts.” Bourgeois society and its way of thinking are thus the last and highest manifestations of this immanent Justice, and it is to obtain these fine results that this fine lady has toiled in the mines of history.

Let us consult the judicial records of the lady aforesaid for information on her character and manners.

A ruling class always considers that what serves its economic and political interests is just and that what disserves them is unjust. The Justice which it conceives is realised when its class interests are satisfied. The interests of the bourgeoisie are thus the guides of bourgeois justice, as the interests of the aristocracy were those of feudal justice. Thus, through unconscious irony, Justice is pictured blindfolded that she may not see the mean and sordid interests which she protects with her aegis.

The feudal and guild organisation, injuring the bourgeoisie, was in its eyes so unjust that the immanent Justice resolved to destroy it. The bourgeois historians relate that it could not tolerate the forcible robberies of the feudal barons, who knew no other means of rounding out their fields and filling their purses. All of which does not prevent their honest immanent Justice from encouraging the forcible robberies which, without risking their skins, the pacific capitalists have committed by proletarians disguised as soldiers in the barbarous countries of the old and the new world. It is not that this sort of theft pleases the virtuous lady; she solemnly approves and authorises, with all legal sanctions, only the economic theft which, without clamorous violence, the bourgeoisie daily commits on the wage worker. Economic theft is so perfectly suited to the temperament and character of Justice that she metamorphoses herself into a watchdog over bourgeois wealth because it is an accumulation of thefts as legal as they are just.

Justice, who, as the philosophers say, has done marvellously in the past, who reigns in bourgeois society and who leads men toward a future of peace and happiness, is on the contrary the fertile mother of social iniquities. It is Justice who gave the slaveholder the right to possess man like a chattel; it is she again who gives the capitalist the right to exploit the children, women and men of the proletariat worse than beasts of burden. It is Justice who permitted the slaveholder to chastise the slave, who hardened his heart when he lacerated him with blows. It is she again who authorises the capitalist to grasp the surplus value created by the wage worker, and who puts his conscience at rest when he rewards with starvation wages the labour which enriches him. I stand on my right, said the slaveholder when he lashed the slave; I stand on my right, says the capitalist when he steals from the wage worker the fruits of his labour.

The capitalist class, measuring everything by its own standards, decorates with the name of Civilisation and Humanity its social order and manner of treating human beings. It is only to export civilisation to the barbarous nations, only to rescue them from their gross immorality, only to ameliorate their miserable conditions of existence that it undertakes its colonial expeditions, and its Civilisation and its Humanity manifest themselves under the specific form of stupefaction through Christianity, poisoning with alcohol, pillage and extermination of the natives. But we should be doing an injustice if we thought that it favours the barbarians and that it does not diffuse the benefits of its Humanity over the labouring classes of the nations which it rules. Its Civilisation and its Humanity may there be counted up by the mass of men, women and children dispossessed of all property, condemned to compulsory labour day and night, to periodic vacations at their own expense, to alcoholism, consumption, rickets; by the increasing number of misdemeanours and crimes, by the multiplication of insane asylums and by the development and improvement of the penitentiary system.

Never has ruling class so loudly clamoured for the Ideal, because never had a ruling class had such need for obscuring its actions with idealistic chatter. This ideological charlatanism is its surest and most efficacious method for political and economic trickery. The startling contradiction between its words and its acts has not prevented the historians and philosophers from taking the eternal Ideas and Principles for the sole motive forces of the history of the capitalised nations. Their monumental error, which passes all bounds even for the intellectuals, is an incontestable proof of the power wielded by Ideas, and of the adroitness with which the bourgeoisie has succeeded in cultivating and exploiting this force so as to derive an income from it. The financiers pad their prospectuses with patriotic principles, with ideas of civilisation, humanitarian sentiments, and six-per-cent. investments for fathers of families. These are infallible baits when fishing for suckers. De Lesseps could never have inflated his magnificent bubble at Panama, raking in the savings of eight hundred thousand little people, had not that “great Frenchman” promised to add another glory to the halo of his Fatherland, to broaden civilised humanity and to enrich the subscribers.

Eternal Ideas and Principles are such irresistible attractions that there is no financial, industrial or commercial prospectus, nor even an advertisement of alcoholic drink or patent medicine, but is spiced with it; political treasons and economic frauds hoist the standard of Ideas and Principles.

The historic philosophy of the idealists could not be other than a war of words, equally insipid and indigestible, since they have not perceived that the capitalist parades the eternal principles for no other purpose than to mask the egoistic motives of his actions, and since they have not arrived at the point of recognising the humbug of the bourgeois ideology. But the lamentable abortions of the idealist philosophy do not prove that it is impossible to arrive at the determining causes of the organisation and evolution of human societies as the chemists have succeeded in doing with those which regulate the agglomeration of molecules into complex bodies.

“The social world,” says Vico, the father of the philosophy of history, “is undeniably the work of man, whence it results that we may and must find its principles nowhere else than in the modification of human intelligence. Is it not surprising to every thinking man that the philosophers have seriously undertaken to know the world of nature, which God made and the knowledge of which He has reserved for Himself, and that they have neglected to meditate over that social world, the knowledge of which men may have, since men have made it?”

The numerous failures of the deistic and idealistic methods compel the trial of a new method of interpreting history.

III. Vico’s “Historical Laws”

Vico, scarcely ever read by the philosophical historians, although they play with a few of his phrases, which they interpret badly as often as they repeat them, formulated in his Scienza nuova certain fundamental laws of history.

He lays down as a general law of the development of societies that all nations, whatever their ethnic origin and their geographical habitat, traverse the same historic roads; thus, the history of any nation whatever is a repetition of the history of another nation which has attained a higher degree of development.

“There exists”, he says, “an eternal ideal history traversed on earth by the histories of all nations, from whatever status of savagery, barbarism and ferocity men set out to civilise themselves”, to domesticate themselves, according to his expression. (Scienza nuova, libr.II, §5)

Morgan, who probably had no knowledge of Vico, arrived at a conception of the same law which he formulates in a more positive and complete fashion. The historic uniformity which the Neopolitan philosopher attributed to their development according to a pre-established plan the American anthropologist assigns to two causes, to the intellectual resemblance of men and to the similarity of the obstacles which they have had to surmount in order to develop their societies. Vico also believed in their intellectual resemblance. “There necessarily exists”, he said, “in the nature of human affairs, a universal mental language, common to all nations, which designs uniformly the substance of the things playing an active part in the social life of men and expresses it with as many modifications as there are different aspects which these things can take on. We recognise its existence in proverbs, those maxims of popular wisdom, which are of the same substance in all nations, ancient and modern, although they are expressed in so many different ways.” (Ib. Degli Elem. XXII.)

“The human mind”, says Morgan, “specifically the same in all the tribes and nations of mankind, and limited in the range of its powers, works and must work, in the same uniform channels, and within narrow limits of variation. Its results in disconnected regions of space, and in widely separated ages of time, articulate in a logically connected chain of common experiences”. Elsewhere in this book Morgan shows that, like successive geological formations, the tribes of humanity may be superimposed in successive layers according to their development: classed in this way, they reveal with a certain degree of exactness the complete march of human progress from savagery to civilisation; for the paths of human experiences in the several nations have been almost parallel. Marx, who studied the path of economic “experiences”, confirms Morgan’s idea. The country most developed industrially, he says in the preface to Capital, shows those who follow it on the industrial ladder the image of their own future.

Thus, then, the “ideal eternal history” which according to Vico the different people of humanity must traverse each in their turn, is not a historic plan pre-established by a divine intelligence, but an historic plan of human progress conceived by the historian who, after having studied the stages traversed by every people, compares them in progressive series according to their degrees of complexity.

Researches, continued for a century on the savage tribes and ancient and modern peoples, have triumphantly proved the exactness of Vico’s law. They have established the fact that all men, whatever their ethnic origin or their geographical habitat, had in their development gone through the same forms of family, property, and production, as well as the social and political institutions. The Danish anthropologists were the first to recognise the fact and to divide the prehistoric period into successive ages of stone, bronze, and iron, characterised by the raw material of the tools manufactured and consequently of the mode of production. The general histories of the different nations, whether they belong to the white, black, yellow or red race, and whether they inhabit the temperate zone, the equator or the poles, are distinguished from each other only by Vico’s stage of ideal history, only by Morgan’s historic stratum, only by Marx’s round of the economic ladder to which they have attained. Thus the most developed people shows to those which are less developed the image of their own future.

The productions of intelligence do not escape Vico’s law. The philologists and grammarians have found that for the creation of words and languages men of all races have followed the same rules. Folklorists have gathered the same tales among savage and civilised peoples. Vico had already recognised among them the same proverbs. Many of the folklorists instead of considering the similar tales as the productions of nations which preserve them only through oral tradition think that they were conceived in only one centre, from which they were scattered over the earth. This is inadmissible and contradicts what has been observed in the social institutions and other productions, intellectual as well as material.

The history of the idea of the soul and the ideas to which it has given birth is one of the most curious examples of the remarkable uniformity of the development of thought. The idea of the soul, which is found in savages, even the lowest, is one of the first intellectual inventions. The soul once invented, it was necessary to fit it out with a dwelling place, under the earth or in the sky, to lodge after death, in order to prevent it from wandering without domicile and pestering the living. The idea of the soul, very vivid in savage and barbarous nations, after having contributed to the manufacture of the Great Spirit and of God, vanishes among nations arrived at a higher degree of development, to be reborn with a new life and force when they arrive at another stage of evolution. The historians, after having pointed out in the historic nations of the Mediterranean basin the absence of the idea of the soul, which nevertheless had existed among them during the preceding savage period, recognise its rebirth some centuries before the Christian era, as well as its persistence until our own days. They content themselves with mentioning those extraordinary phenomena of the disappearance and reappearance of so fundamental an idea without attaching importance to them and without thinking of looking for the explanation which, however, they would not have found in the field of their investigations, and which we can only hope to discover by applying Marx’s historical method, by seeking it in the transformations of the economic world.

The scientists who have brought to light the primitive forms of the family, property, and political institutions, have been too much absorbed by the labour of research to have time to enquire into the causes of their transformations: they have only made descriptive history, and the science of the social world must be explanatory as well as descriptive.

Vico thinks that man is the unconscious motive power of history and that it is not his virtues but his vices which are the active forces. It is not “disinterestedness, generosity, and humanity, but ferocity, avarice, and ambition” which create and develop societies; “these three vices which lead the human race astray, produce the army, commerce, and political power, and consequently the courage, wealth, and wisdom of republics: so that these vices, which are capable of destroying the human race on earth, produce civil felicity.”

This unexpected result furnished to Vico the proof of “the existence of a divine providence, a divine intelligence, which, out of the passions of men, absorbed entirely by their private interests, which might make them live in solitudes like fierce beasts, organise civil order, thus permitting us to live in a human society.”

The divine providence which directs the evil passions of men is a second edition of the popular axiom: “man proposes and God disposes”. This divine providence of the Neapolitan philosopher and this God of popular wisdom who leads man by the aid of his vices and his passions, what are they?

The mode of production, says Marx.

Vico, in accordance with the popular judgment, affirms that man alone furnishes the motive power of history. But his passions, bad and good, and his needs are not invariable quantities as the idealists suppose, for whom man has always remained the same. For example, maternal love, that heritage from the animals, without which man in the savage state could not have lived and perpetuated himself, diminishes in civilisation to the point of disappearing in the mothers of the rich class, who from its birth relieve themselves of the child and entrust it to the care of hirelings; – other civilised women feel so little the need of maternity that they make vows of virginity [1]; paternal love and sexual jealousy, which cannot show themselves in savage and barbarous tribes during the polyandrous period, are on the contrary highly developed among civilised people; – the sentiment of equality, vivid and imperious in savages and barbarians, who live in communities, to the point of forbidding any one the possession of an object which the others could not possess, has become so fully obliterated since man has lived under the system of individual property, that the poor and the wage workers of civilisation accept resignedly and as a divine and natural destiny their social inferiority.

Thus, then, in the course of human development, fundamental passions are transformed, reduced, and extinguished, while others arise and grow. To seek only in man the determining causes of their production and evolution would be to admit that although living in nature and society, he does not submit to the influence of the surrounding reality. Such a supposition cannot arise even in the brain of the most extreme idealist, for he would not dare to assume that we should meet the same sentiment of modesty in the respectable mother of the household and the unfortunate earning her living with her sex; the same swiftness of calculation in the bank clerk and the philosopher; the same agility of the fingers of the professional pianist and the ditch digger. It is thus undeniable that man on the physical, intellectual, and moral sides is subject unconsciously, but profoundly, to the action of the environment in which he moves.

IV. The Natural Environment and the Artificial or Social Environment

The action of the environment is not merely direct, it is exercised not merely upon the organ which functions, upon the hand in the case of the pianist and the ditch digger, upon the moral sense in that of the honest woman and prostitute; it is again indirect and reacts upon all the organs. This generalisation of the action of the environment which Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire designated under the characteristic name of subordination of the organs and which modern naturalists call law of correlation, Cuvier explains thus: “Every organised being forms a whole, a unique and closed system, whose parts correspond to each other and contribute to the same definite action by a reciprocal action. None of these parts can change without the other parts also changing.” For example, the form of the teeth of an animal cannot be modified from any cause whatever without involving modifications in the jaws, the muscles which move them, the bones of the skull to which they are attached, the brain which the skull encases, the bones and muscles which support the head, the form and length of the intestines, indeed in all parts of the body. The modifications which are produced in the fore limbs as soon as they have ceased to serve for walking have led to organic transformations which have definitely separated man from the anthropoid apes.

It is not always possible to foresee and understand the modifications involved by the change which has occurred in any certain organ: for example, why the breaking of a leg or the removal of a testicle in the stag family causes the atrophy of the horn on the opposite side; why white cats are deaf; why mammals with hooves are herbivorous and those with five toes armed with claws are carnivorous.
Paul Lafargue
(Translated by Chas. H. Kerr.)

In A Real State (2001)

TV Review from the February 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over the last couple of years BBC2’s Newsnight has been compiling monthly features about life on a couple of tough estates in an inner-city area of Salford, Greater Manchester. Last month they followed this up with a four-part special documentary series examining the successes and failures of New Labour’s approach to the problems of social deprivation in the area. It made for compelling viewing.

The series—called Real Estates—took a hard look at life in the Langworthy and Ordsall areas of Salford to examine the progress made there since Blair came to office on education, health, employment and regeneration. Narrated by Jeremy Paxman, it highlighted local examples of the initiatives taken by the Blair government to tackle social deprivation and examined their effectiveness by focussing on how they affected individuals in the community. The answer to whether these initiatives had been successful was entirely predictable of course – as by and large, they clearly haven’t been. So much so that even when a particular problem has been contained in one area or school, it has only been at the cost of it emerging in another.

Running like a thread through the programmes were the major manifestations of the social problems that are rife and seemingly unstoppable amongst the most poverty-stricken elements of the working class in countries like Britain—most obviously unemployment, crime, truancy, drug abuse and ill health. The government agencies and their operatives dealing with these problems were often well-meaning enough (at least when there were cameras present). The social workers, truancy and probation officers, health workers and even the police officers were all attempting to bring some semblance of what passes for “normality” to the rows of terraced streets and partially boarded-up council estates that make up the area. But their struggle was necessarily an uphill one and the overall story one of minor and isolated successes amongst much wider despair and frustration.

Not all those watching Real Estates would have reacted in the same way to it. The typical knee-jerk reaction to the problems identified in the series would have been to say that the people at the centre of them all were just a bad lot, and that it was their “human nature” which made them rob, attack one another and take drugs despite the best efforts of the government and social services. Indeed, some would no doubt even argue that to invest money into tackling the social problems of areas like Salford is just to throw good money after bad. What Real Estates demonstrated to the more open-minded observer was something rather different.

It was that people living in communities such as those in Salford are battling against the elements even more than the agencies and government workers who are apparently trying to set things straight. In most instances they show a genuine care and warmth towards their families and friends but have to contend with a hostile social environment, just as their parents and parents’ parents did before them. Indeed, it was clear that there is nothing intrinsically evil about the dispossessed of the inner-cities like Salford. Unlike the little Coronation Street morality plays of the fictional Salford currently served up week after week by Granada TV in their desire to compete with the increasingly appalling EastEnders, the denizens of the real Salford have more tangible dramas and concerns. These are influenced and determined by the real evil that is all around them and which infects their every thought and move—poverty.

Philosophy of poverty
As each programme in the series demonstrated so visibly and movingly, the best intentions of those deprived of what society deems to be acceptable are just simply not enough. From the schoolboy who wants to avoid the older kids on the estate lest they get him into trouble and wreck his chances of a ‘decent job’ when he leaves school, to the young criminals who want to go straight and get off drugs, a life in poverty is never simple. For the truth is that in capitalism lack of money and the means to effectively get it is the deciding factor in people’s social existence. And even those without money who attempt to play by the official rules of the game will always be influenced or affected by all those around them who won’t or can’t.

In such a situation the Daily Mail and its ilk can bleat away forever about people’s lack of respect for authority and their lack of social responsibility. After all, why should people respect their supposed ‘betters’ when they have nothing and are never remotely likely to have anything unless a huge (and hugely unlikely) stroke of good fortune comes their way? To use the type of language the tabloids would understand, what incentive do they have?

New Labour—like many other governments before it – recognises the existence of this problem and is keen to do something about it, hence the much vaunted talk of “stakeholders”, “social partnership” and of the balance between “rights and responsibilities”. But recognising that a problem exists is not enough—you have to know what keeps causing it before you can seriously do anything constructive in response.

This is Labour’s own particular difficulty and it is the perennial one faced by reformist governments. This is because, as Real Estates showed clearly, poverty is not an individual choice or a curse bestowed from above as a punishment for evil but is instead a product of the way society is organised. Jeremy Paxman didn’t narrate this in quite those terms, but it is the obvious inference from a programme which movingly depicted the daily struggle of people against an economy and social structure which first casts them as victims and then as villains.

If it did anything, Real Estates showed how desperate situations—like in Salford—breed desperate people who think nothing of breaking the “norms” the rest of society may aspire to live by. But it also showed that Tony Blair and his Cabinet can in all probability set up all the task forces and social exclusion units they want. For when it is society itself that creates poverty amongst riches as a matter of course and then pits the poverty-stricken against one another in a desperate fight for survival, there is never going to be any solution in piecemeal reform and cosmetic initiatives.

Indeed, that way lies another century just like the last one. And that was a century where reformist schemes and promises persistently counted for little in the larger scheme of capitalist reality.
Dave Perrin

Inside the sports industry (2001)

Botile and Ingle
From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the night of Saturday 16 December 2000 the crowd at the Sheffield Arena must have been stunned when Paul Ingle’s corner forced him back to the centre of the ring to be savagely crushed by his opponent Mbulelo Botile of South Africa. Even one of the commentators remarked that the decision of Ingle’s managers was shockingly unreasonable. Not unexpectedly, Ingle was carried unconscious to hospital with brain injuries. At the end of round 11 everybody, more especially Ingle’s corner, knew he had lost the bout.

The question on the lips of many was why the towel was not thrown in. But how could they do that when they were playing according to the rules of today’s international sports—the cash and fame first before the contender. In fact Ingle’s corner callously hoped that their man could miraculously pull a knock-out.

Gone are the days when games were organised with a view to merely entertaining the audience. In our day the motive behind any activity sports included, is profit. If, in the process of any sporting activity people get entertained, it is an unintended outcome of a purely business-oriented venture. In reality sport is now a multi-billion dollar industry masquerading as an entertainment agency. It has become an industry dominated and controlled by corporate bodies.

Sporting activities are organised mainly by IOC, FIFA, CAF, JBF, WBC, etc. The funds with which these bodies organise games are provided, in the main, by big business. Since business concerns will only spend money if they will make a profit, one can easily understand why they provide the funds—they are financially interesting.

Advertising is an essential ingredient in all profit-oriented activity. Getting people to become aware of one’s products is a vital competitive move. Corporate groups sponsor IOC and Co in exchange ttr the right to advertise their products on radio, TV jerseys, shinguards, gloves, and soon that is why you can never see World Socialist Movement or World Of Free Access or SPGB printed in bold characters and lined up around playing fields on stadiums. What you see is Coca Cola, Amstel, Visa, MasterCard, Western Union Money Transfer, Motorola, Ericsson, etc.

In the same vein other businesses deeply involved in the promotion of commercialised sports are the media houses. TV magnates are able to pay and have a stranglehold monopoly of coverage. They reap huge profits when they “sell” their “product” to other media groups.

Since today’s sports is a matter of business due to its profit-oriented nature, it is always spiced with the not uncommon shady deals. Business is nothing but legalised stealing. Its main rule is “grab-as-much-as-you-can”. International sports is therefore plagued with such inevitable phenomena as bribery, corruption, match-fixing, gambling, betting, pools, etc. In fact most many sports ministers, members of IOC, FIFA (the chief organisers of international sporting activities) siphon away huge sums of money in the process of organising games. A typical example can be seen in the famous Salt Lake City scandal which not only exposed but also shattered the credibility of the IOC and blew apart its five interlocking rings. Again, quite recently some German sportswriters have alleged that the German government and some corporate groups bribed Thailand, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to vote for Germany to host the 2006 World Cup. The multinational corporations mentioned were Daimler Chrysler, Bayer, BASF and Siemens (Gambia Daily Observer 21 November 2000).

Wealth (goods and services) is created by labour. In the sports industry the creators of service (entertainment) are the sportsmen and women. These (mostly) youth are by no means different from workers in the factory; clerks in the bank; teachers in the classroom, etc. Sportsmen and women sell their labour power (i.e. their ability to run, jump, kick, swim, etc) to the owners of the means of production and distribution of the services produced. In sports the means of producing and distributing entertainment include the stadiums, the factories the assorted sporting gear, the media houses, etc. These are owned by corporate bodies, states, local councils and the like. The youth use these facilities to entertain society, who pay money that goes to the owners of these means. The sportsmen and women arc then paid wages by the owners (the employers).

It is a common business practice to fire workers who are considered to be not too productive. In the same way sportsmen and women who do not move mountains to prove, maintain and improve upon their competitiveness risk being booted out of employment. Even the language used by employers, especially owners of football clubs, clearly smacks of the business element in sports. Football clubs who hire the services of footballers are often heard talking of “buying”, “selling”, or “giving out on loan” such-and-such a player. Indeed one sometimes gets the impression that the players are not just wage-earners but real commodities! In one report by Reuters carried in the 6 November Daily Observer (Gambia), entitled “Pele attacks ‘slave trade’ in young players”, the Brazilian Sports Minister decries the almost slave-like ownership of young footballers from Africa, Brazil and Argentina in particular. A very recent example is the case of Kanu Nwanko whose masters, Arsenal, refused to release him (from their bondage) to go to play for his “national” team during the just-ended Sydney Olympics.

Having been considered as “commodities” whose price is influenced by market forces, sportsmen and women are constantly engaged in fierce competition with each other. Competition is an unhealthy phenomenon but in sports it is even worse. The use of drugs to enhance performance is a direct result of the unwholesome profit-oriented practices. In the final analysis these people who use the drugs suffer and get disgraced when they test positive. By contrast the organisers and drug dealers, sitting behind their dark sunglasses at the VIP stands get away with their dirty profits.

But perhaps the most serious effect of this dubious U-turn in sports from entertainment-oriented to profit-oriented can be seen in the growing number of serious and in some cases fatal incidents involving sportsmen and women. The story of the British boxer Paul Ingle has already been mentioned. No-one is unaware of the world-famous pugilist, Mohammed Ali. There is also the tragic fate of Michael Watson, another British boxer. A Colombian defender, Escobar, was gunned down in Bogota when he inadvertently scored an own goal during the 1994 World Cup. He met this unfortunate death not because Colombia could not go ahead to win the cup but because, as it was generally believed, some big business people had lost huge sums which they staked in a betting game.

Sports and politics
Another interesting aspect of sports is that it is very much encouraged by governments especially in poor countries. The main reason for this support is the mind-numbing power of sports. A lot of money is spent to get people hooked to and addicted to sports. In fact sports plays the same role as religion, alcohol and the like. Commentators, sportswriters and the like are trained to be able to present the dullest of events or matches to appear to be the most interesting ones to listeners and readers. Sporting activities, as such, are organised constantly and at short intervals—from community through national to international levels. As people’s interest in games soars so is their attention diverted from the mismanagement of social wealth that goes on in the corridors of power. In fact the revolutionary consciousness of people addicted to sports is usually completely blunted.

On this same political front, one notes the narrow-mindedness of so-called sports analysts when they opine that sports encourages togetherness and even has the magic of bringing peace to rival nations. This view dates back to the days of the “Cold War”. These analysts considered the participation in international games by the “West” and the “East” as a positive step towards defusing tension in their world. But a deeper insight into the role of sports in the relations between nations or countries reveals the exact opposite of the claims of these sports experts. Modern capitalist sports is organised with a view to realising profit. Profit-making thrives best when people are kept divided. There is no way then that sports as it is organised today can bring peoples of the world together as one. In reality sports entrenches petty, myopic nationalism and chauvinism. Witness for instance the violence of the famous “English hooligans” during football matches in Europe. There are always running battIe in the streets of towns and cities all over the world during games especially football. Each country sees the other as an enemy. People competing under national flags only helps in keeping them disunited. But we need a single world without boundaries.

Yet sports, at all levels, can be made to achieve its original objective—to entertain both participants and spectators. This however can only materialize when it is freely organised by all persons interested in it—and not only by those who have money. But this possibility is itself dependent on the level of consciousness of humanity When the majority of people come to understand that a society that undertakes every venture with a view to making profit is bound to he plagued with shortcomings. “Money is the root of evil”, as the saying goes. So it is only when the stadia and the factories producing sports-ware are commonly owned by all people, and when the present artificial boundaries dividing them and nations are dismantled that the present violence-prone, drug-infested activity called sport coupled with the slave status of most sportsmen and women can be eliminated. Then sports and games in general can play their unalloyed role of entertaining humankind free of charge.