Thursday, May 21, 2020

After shipwreck (2020)

From the WSPUS website

Socialism will never work. It goes against human nature. 

So we are often told.

But where do we get our ideas of human nature? Partly by observing ourselves and those around us. Partly also from the books we read and the films and TV programs we watch.

Few books can have had as big an impact on people’s ideas of human nature as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. First published in 1954, this novel has been bought by tens of millions of people, translated into over 30 languages, turned into two films (1963 and 1990), and adapted for radio and the stage. As the many study guides devoted to it show, it has been a set book for innumerable students of English literature. And it was the inspiration for Reality Television!

The story line is simple enough. A group of schoolboys are marooned on a desert island. They soon start fighting. Out of their fears and the power lust of a dominant boy they create an idolatrous cult with chants, rituals, and painted faces. The message is painfully clear: the veneer of ‘civilization’ is skin-deep and once the constraint of authority is removed our inner savage quickly emerges.  

But this is fiction – a lesson taught by a misanthropic schoolmaster prone to alcoholism and depression. Now Dutch historian Rutger Bregman has uncovered a true story of how a bunch of real schoolboys behaved in the same situation – a ‘real Lord of the Flies’ that conveys a very different idea of ‘human nature’.

In 1965 six boys, aged 13–16, got bored with their life at a Catholic boarding school in the Polynesian island kingdom of Tonga, so they ‘borrowed’ a fishing boat and set sail. They were shipwrecked in a storm, drifted at sea for eight days, and were washed up on a deserted Pacific island where they lived for 15 months before being rescued by Australian adventurer Peter Warner. By that time they had been given up for dead and their funerals had been held. 

Even while adrift at sea, these boys cooperated and treated one another as equals:
They managed to collect some rainwater in hollowed-out coconut shells and shared it equally between them, each taking a sip in the morning and another in the evening.
On the island
  the boys set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire… [They] agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty… Their days began and ended with song and prayer. 
The boys survived at first on fish, coconuts, tame birds, and seabird eggs. Later they found wild taro, bananas and chickens in an ancient volcanic crater where people had lived a century before. 

When one boy slipped and broke a leg, the others set it using sticks and leaves and looked after him until it healed. Occasional quarrels were resolved by imposing a time-out. 

In short, they demonstrated – on a very small scale, to be sure – that socialism is not against human nature and that it can work. 

Unfortunately, the owner of the fishing boat did not fully appreciate the boys’ achievement. He  pressed charges against them and had them imprisoned for theft. It is understandable that he should have been annoyed at the boys, but a more constructive reaction would surely have been to get them to build him a new boat.

A study of post-shipwreck societies

The original version of this article ended here, but after uploading it I discovered an author who has made a comparative study of post-shipwreck societies — Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2019). 

Christakis examined numerous historical accounts of shipwrecks and their aftermath, but focused on 20 cases between 1500 and 1900 in which a group of at least 19 initial survivors set up camp on an uninhabited island for 2 months or longer. What factors were most important in determining which of these groups succeeded in ensuring the continued survival and eventual rescue of their members?

Available resources mattered a great deal, of course – both resources found on the island, especially food and fresh water, and things salvaged from the wreck. Another factor that mattered was terrain. For example, the survivors of one shipwreck were handicapped by finding themselves at the bottom of steep cliffs that they had to climb. And it helped if members of a group had a variety of usable skills. 

However, the relationships that developed within a group of survivors also made a big difference. The mini-societies that fared best were those based on cooperation, equity, and altruism. Their members worked together on agreed tasks, shared food fairly, and did not separate into subgroups based on military rank or social status. 

One group in this category consisted of survivors from the Julia Ann, wrecked in 1855 in Pacific reefs known as the Isles of Scilly. This was an unusually large group of 51 people, all of whom were rescued after 2 months. The ship captain set an example of unselfish behavior right at the start, when he saw the second mate about to remove from the wreck a bag containing $8,000 belonging to the captain. He told the man to abandon the money and carry a child ashore instead. 

In 1864 two ships were wrecked on opposite sides of Auckland Island, south of New Zealand. The two groups of survivors, though on the island at the same time, were unaware of one another. Of the 19 who came ashore from the Invercauld, only 3 were still alive when rescue came a year later. They had behaved in accordance with the motto: every man for himself. By contrast, all 5 initial survivors from the Grafton worked closely together and were rescued after almost two years. 

One striking difference between the two kinds of group concerned how the sick and injured were treated. You might think that by looking after ’useless mouths’ a group would lessen its chances of survival. There would be less time to gather food and the food would have to be shared among a larger number of people. Abandoning the sick and injured would seem to be more sensible. Eating them would seem to be even more sensible (cannibalism was actually a rare occurrence). In reality, this sort of crude arithmetic was outweighed by the fact that taking care of the sick and injured helped a group build mutual trust and solidarity. It was on balance an activity that increased chances of survival. 

In terms of political structure, non-cooperative groups might be either anarchic or harshly authoritarian. Cooperative groups were more democratic, but this did not exclude an element of leadership. Thus the 5 men from the Grafton elected one of their number to act ‘not as a master or superior but as a head of family.’ It was his assigned duty to ‘maintain order and harmony with gentleness but also firmness.’ It was agreed that this person could be replaced on a future vote if necessary.     

Christakis acknowledges that cooperative groups were relatively few. This should not be too much of a surprise, considering that many shipwreck survivors were traumatized and all had come from competitive and highly status-conscious societies. What is remarkable is that cooperative post-shipwreck societies did exist, demonstrating that even under unfavorable circumstances human beings have the capacity to act together as equals. 

Blogger's Note:

As it was not in the beginning, it will not always be. (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

In human history, just as in all other directions, the principle of change operates. Social systems arise, grow, and decay, just as animals and plants do, the new system being a growth out of the older system.

A glance along the path the human race has traversed in its development brings to light the fact that there have arisen at different times certain fundamentally different social systems, and in each epoch the people of the period have had their own particular outlook on life; as the epochs have been fundamentally different, so have the ideas of the times.

Until the latter half of the last century the early history of mankind was, comparatively speaking, something of a mystery. There was no guide or key to assist investigators ; no scientific theory to bring order out of the apparent chaos and render fruitful and intelligible in this field the work of ethnologists and archaeologists ; all was shrouded in darkness.

To the late Lewis Henry Morgan, the American ethnologist, we are indebted for the clearing away of the clouds that obscured man's early social history. His laborious, careful, and lengthy investigations have not only provided us with a wealth of material, but have also given us the key to the progressive movement of man from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilisation. Morgan analysed and explained the development of the Gens (the blood relationships and all that this signified) and the part it played in primitive society.

Since Morgan published the results of his investigations, other workers in the same field have followed the paths he pointed out, so that we now have ample material to enable us to understand primitive society.

In view of the attempt on the part of Capitalist professors to spread the false idea that Capitalism, in one form or another, has always existed, the work of Morgan is especially valuable to the Socialist movement. He has provided us with indisputable proof of the existence in the past of communities practising communal ownership; and he has shown that the introduction of private property broke up the old societies founded upon kinship and started society off on a new career founded upon private property—the territorial tie. The re-introduction of communism—the aim of the Socialist—will write finis to the social systems based upon property, and bring society to a new communism—but communism upon a vastly higher scale; communism with the advantages that will accrue from all the discoveries and accumulated means of wealth-production obtained by the human race at such a cost of blood and tears and misery to the wealth producers since society passed out of primitive communism into early civilisation.

If a broad glance be taken at history, it will be found that four distinct forms of society have existed at successive periods in social development, i.e., the Primitive, the Antique, the Feudal, and the Capitalistic. In each of these social systems the method of obtaining the means to satisfy social needs, or, to put the matter more simply, the way in which wealth was produced, differed. In the Primitive commune all the able-bodied members took their allotted part in obtaining what was required to satisfy the needs of the commune, and as all shared the work, so they also shared the fruit of their, work. In the Antique system, which flourished during the palmy days of Greece and Rome, the wealth of society was obtained by means of the work of chattel slaves, and the wealth produced flowed into the hands of Greek and Roman proprietors. Under Feudalism the bond slave was the beast of burden, and the feudal proprietor the appropriator of the wealth obtained. In our day, the day of fully-fledged Capitalism, the wage-slave does the toiling and moiling in the obtaining of the means of social existence, whilst all the wealth produced is owned by the Capitalist proprietor.

So far, then, each social system had a different economic foundation—its own peculiar method of satisfying its needs. But each system has not been what we may call "self-developed" ; that is to say, they have not grown from separate isolated seeds. Each has grown out of the preceding system. The question that immediately confronts us, then, is : What has been the dynamic factor of the matter? What has caused one to be transformed into the other? How, for example, came society to forsake its communistic basis for a private property basis?

In the first place, Karl Marx subjected this point to a thorough analysis and elucidated the cause of social change. But, independently of Marx, Morgan also solved the problem, and his investigations shed light on the matter.

Morgan divided early social development into two main periods—Savagery and Barbarism ; and these periods he split up into six sub-periods—lower, middle, and upper stages of Savagery, and lower, middle, and upper stages of Barbarism. The transition from one sub-period to another is marked by the discovery of a new means to obtain from nature a better subsistence. For example, the transition from the earliest form of social existence to the middle stage of Savagery was marked by the discovery of fire; the transition to the upper stage of Savagery was accomplished by the invention of bows and arrows; the discovery of pottery introduced the lower stage of Barbarism ; the cultivation of food plants and the domestication of animals introduced the middle stage of Barbarism; the melting of iron ore the upper stage of Barbarism; and the invention of letter script and its utilisation for writing records brought mankind to the threshold of Civilisation.

Each of the different discoveries mentioned brought mankind into better harmony with natural forces; enabled him to take greater advantage of the latter to the end that he obtained a better subsistence. But the increase in the means of production, the obtaining of a better and easier subsistence, led to the production of a surplus over and above what the community immediately required, and this in turn led to a struggle for the ownership of the surplus. Here we have the embryonic class struggle, the germ of future class struggles and social systems. Society had developed to the point where all need not be workers, owing to the fruitfulness of the wealth-producing appliances; hence the struggle as to who should own and who should work these appliances; the establishment of a class of owners (the introduction of private property); and the struggle between the owning and producing classes, which, as fresh method of obtaining wealth were discovered, gave birth to new social systems with new social classes.

The following quotations from Morgan's chief work, "Ancient Society," on the introduction of private property, are an example of his insight and grasp of the matter :
  ''When field agriculture had demonstrated that the whole surface of the earth could be made the subject of property owned by individuals in severally, and it was found that the head of the family became the natural centre of accumulation, the new property career of mankind was inaugurated. It was fully done before the later period of barbarism. A little reflection must convince anyone of the powerful influence property would now begin to exercise upon the human mind, and of the great awakening of new elements of character it was calculated to produce. Evidence appears, from many sources, that the feeble impulse aroused in the savage mind had now become a tremendous passion in the splendid barbarian of the heroic age. Neither archaic nor later usages could maintain themselves in such an advanced condition. The time had now arrived when monogamy, having assured the paternity of children, would assert and maintain their exclusive right to inherit the property of their deceased father."—pp. 553-554.
  "During the Later Period of Barbarism a new element, that of aristocracy, had a marked development. The individuality of persons, and the increase of wealth now possessed by individuals in masses, were laying the foundation of personal influence. Slavery, also, by permanently degrading a portion of the people, tended to establish contrasts of condition unknown in the previous ethnical periods. This, with property and official position, gradually developed the sentiment of aristocracy, which has so deeply penetrated modern  society, and antagonised the democratical principles created and fostered by the gentes. It soon disturbed the balance of society by introducing unequal privileges, and degrees of respect for individuals among people of the same nationality, and these became the source of discord and strife." —Page 560.
  "Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its forms so diversified, its uses so expanding, and its management so intelligent in the interests of its owners, that it has become, on the part of the people, an unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own creation. The time will come, nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be brought into just and harmonious relations. A mere property career is not the final destiny of mankind if progress is to be the law of the future as it has been of the past. The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the past duration of man's existence, and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim ; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes."— pp. 561-562.
The above quotations are an indication of the remarkable insight and thorough grasp of his material Morgan had. Perhaps it will be an incentive to the reader to get a closer acquaintance with Morgan's writings. In particular, a study of "Ancient Society" would reward well the effort expended.

From the foregoing it can be seen that each social system has had at the back of it an older one, right away back to the time when our ancestors forsook their arborial abodes for the solid ground. Just as each social system has given birth to or foreshadowed a later system, so Capitalism at the high tide of its development foreshadows another system in which the evils that flow from the economic foundations of Capitalism will cease to exist; economic insecurity will be as remote as the marvellous development of science can make it; no longer will those toiling myriads be bowed down with the weight of economic troubles, and the miseries we know to-day will disappear as snow before the sun.

Jottings. (1921)

The Jottings Column from the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the economic field there is constant conflict between the masters and the workers, each in turn fighting to reduce and increase this common standard of subsistence. If, therefore, a section of the master class are successful in shifting the burden of taxation imposed upon them by Parliament, for the purposes before mentioned, it amounts to the fact that by so doing they have succeeded in reserving for their sectional interest a larger proportion of the surplus value, which they and their class as a whole filch from the workers.

The activities of Lansbury and Co., therefore, in the interests ot the local industrial capitalists and landlords (our George is one of 'em), is another illustration of the political profiteering of this "Come to Jesus" humbug. There are others besides him, and the Communist Party of Great Britain do not intend to be caught napping by anyone after "Stunt Championships." Listen to what they have to say on the issue :
 "Poplar Borough Council is in gaol. It has done more in one week for the workers than all the other Labour Councils have done in all their little lives." . . ."The assumption of everyone was that a Labour Council in Poplar would be good and carry out the 'precept' of the L.C.C. —levy, as usual, money, that must be wrung, at any rate immediately, from the starving to save the pockets of the wealthy West Enders." —"The Communist," 17th Sept., 1921. 
The Communist Party of Great Britain, affiliated to the Third International, claiming to base its actions on the Marxian doctrines ! Phew ! Revolutionary substitutes.


"America is the home of the free," so they say. We happen to know, however, that the workers in that country, faced with a capitalist system of production, are subject to similar evils that afflict the workers everywhere that system obtains. They do things on a much "higher" scale in America, however. For instance, we read the following from the "Daily News," 3rd Sept., 1921 :—
  "According to latest advices from Mingo, the recalcitrant miners of West Virginia are to be attacked forthwith by American aviators with tear bombs and gas bombs . . . merely a very modern form of police protection. It is probably a tip taken from a recent German book which showed how effectively aeroplanes could be employed in times of peace for dispersing unauthorised assemblies. If the American bomb droppers really get going they will be able to show the Black and Tans a thing or two."
Overlooking the sardonic suggestion to the Government for a speedy means of settling the Irish question, contained in the last sentence of the above, we did not think that the American masters would devise such an ingenious way of bringing their slaves—with tears in their eyes—to their proper senses. But the Yankee worker will tell you—chewing gum the time—that "he won the war" and that "America is God's own country—believe me." But he forgets to add "for the American Capitalist."

  "The day may be far distant when the actual political arrangements of the world will realise the highest ideal of which our social instincts are capable; but every life honestly spent in the faithful service of the Commonweal, every hour devoted to the earnest study of the public good, brings that day more surely within our reach." —"History of Politics," Ed. Jenks, M.A.
The object of the Socialist Party is the establishment of Socialism, a system of society wherein the means of production will be owned and controlled by the producers, the Working Class. It is because these means of production are privately owned by the Capitalist Class to-day that millions of the workers throughout the world are in need of food, clothing, and shelter. Wealth is socially produced; it is the result of the co-operation of effort of the Working Class of the world applied to natural resources. But this wealth and the means for producing it are privately owned. It is this antagonism which the Socialist Party is out to abolish. Under the Socialist system harmony will take the place of the existing chaos, because there will be social production side by side with social ownership. This change in the social order is the revolutionary ideal of the Socialist. All else is illusion.

Workers, mark well the words contained in the above quotation, and fit yourselves for the mission which historical development demands—that you shall, by the power ot your own individual and collective effort of muscle and brain, some day triumphantly achieve. When you will, who shall say you nay?

"Compromise is virtual death. It is the pact between cowardice and comfort, under the title of expediency."—George Meredith.
Great brains think alike, so it is said. Note the hostility clause in the Declaration of Principles at the back hereof, and in conjunction therewith, write for a copy of  our Manifesto, which explains our attitude of hostility towards all other parties. Price 3d., post free 3½d.

 "A sunny view of world and life 
As balm for brain and heart, 
It is with health and beauty rife, 
With noblest works of art. 
But do not for a moment think 
That it is captured in a wink. 
The golden harvest does not grow
 Unless the early tempests blow. 
And only bitter woe and strain 
Will bright and lofty wisdom gain." 
The present social structure was not conceived by any one man or number of supermen. It is the result of slow, steady evolutionary processes. So with the new order—the Socialist society of free men and women—it will come when the time is ripe, when the productive forces are developed to the point when a change will be inevitable. Our message to the workers is: Be prepared for that time to welcome the birth of the new social order ; to herald in the Co-operative Commonwealth. As the poet puts it: "What is life?
'Tis not to walk about and draw fresh air
From time to time and gaze upon the sun.
'Tis to be free. When liberty is gone
Life grows insipid and has lost its relish."
To those who yawn in this black hell of Capitalism, arouse yourselves to the work of Working Class emancipation.


Owing to the failure of the Working Class to understand their position in society, they easily become the victims of any Labour Shark desirous of fattening on their ignorance. At the present time, millions of workers unemployed or on short time are demonstrating in almost every city and town, demanding work or maintenance. Lacking knowledge, they are easily led into difficulties and conflicts with the Police. Quite recently in Liverpool the unemployed workers demonstrated in great numbers, and one of their number shouted, "Raid the Art Gallery."

Whatever could be obtained by capturing that object passes our comprehension.

The building was immediately rushed and occupied by the unemployed, but they were driven out by the Police with drawn batons, with the result that much damage to heads was done and many unemployed were arrested. We have often pointed out that so long as the workers fail to make a serious study of the Socialist proposition, that the private ownership of the means of life is alone the cause of unemployment and all its concomitant evils, the workers will, sheep-like, follow any politician or would-be Labour leader to their own destruction and disillusionment.

Apropos of the workers, we read the following in the Evening News (27/10/21) :
  "An extraordinary example of the way sheep will follow their leader, even to destruction, occurred here to-day (Yarmouth), when one of a flock of pedigree black-faced ewes attempted to eat some leaves which covered a disused well. The animal fell through the leaves and disappeared down the well. Other sheep immediately followed until 17 had leapt in. All were killed or suffocated before help arrived." 
Further comment would simply spoil it.


It is becoming almost impossible now to pick up any of the daily papers without reading in their columns terribly distressing stories of privation, starvation, suicide, or murder consequent upon the awful struggle for existence of the Working Class. If man's command over Nature had not reached the point it has, where, with the aid of wonderful machinery, he is able to produce wealth in abundance, such starvation and want in our midst to-day would be understandable. Millions to-day are idle, cannot obtain permission to manipulate the machinery of wealth production, and, with the raw material provided by Nature, fashion into the finished products we need for food, clothing and shelter. And yet we can read of the following in the so-called Twentieth Century of Enlightenment
''It is one of these awful cases of dire distress and starvation," said Detective-inspector Hall, in the Thames Police-Court.
Emma Coughlin, aged 41, of Willis Street, Poplar, was remanded on a charge of attempting to murder her three children and commit suicide by means of coal gas.
When arrested she said : "I put some money in the gas and locked the bedroom door. I only did it to frighten him (evidently meaning her husband). I do not know why I did it.
The children are continually crying for bread, and I do not know where to get the money. . . . I sold some furniture and I have pawned nearly everything. I have no clothes for my bed. I did not know what to do." Evening News, 1/10/21
Bread, like every other form of wealth, can only be produced by applying human energy to Nature's resources.

The land, all in it and upon it—the workshops, factories and machinery, the mills, mines, and railroads, all the necessary tools and implements for producing and distributing wealth—are owned and controlled by a comparatively few people in society. The vast majority of the human race, being divorced from the means of life, obtain permission from the owners to produce wealth for the latter, with a view to profit, and in return receive a wage, just a portion of the total value produced.

When a profit is no longer forthcoming, and, incidentally, when the markets of the world are glutted with the good things of life, the workers in thousands remain idle and go without just at the time they should be enjoying the fruits of their energy. Such cases as above could never disgrace a system of society where the means of life were the common property of all, inasmuch as when the whole of those who are physically and mentally fit, capable of contributing their quota of energy in association with their fellows the world wide, would, when the wealth is produced, socially own, control, and enjoy the results of their social labour.


That vile, sickly sentiment, of which only the Press of the Capitalist Class is capable, is once more being indulged in by the daily papers, concerning the coming anniversary of the signing of the Armistice.

Once more they are urging that November 11th should be a day of "National Observance" as paying a tribute to the "Heroic Dead."

If our masters were able to show and to prove that those who survived the terrible struggle in France and Flanders were passing through those "fields of waving corn" promised so often, which have never materialised, something might be said for the tribute they wish us to pay.

Right from when the last cannon and machine-gun spluttered forth its deadly missile, until the present time, the Working Class, including the ex-Service men, have faced a far worse struggle for existence than ever known before.

Since the last anniversary, the workers, irrespective of whether they had been in the armed forces or munition factories, fighting and slaying to maintain the "glorious prestige of the British Empire," have suffered a greatly reduced standard of subsistence as a result of the reductions in wages forced upon them by the Capitalist Class.

Far more common it is to-day to see the "brave lads" begging support in the streets, playing barrel-organs and generally trying to appeal to the generosity of our benevolent Ruling Class! Thousands are seeking employment, many of whom are physically wrecked on account of their experiences in the trenches. Their chance of employment is almost hopeless, and doubtless they will find their way to the heroes' home—the workhouse, or a premature grave, the victims of starvation.

The hypocritical Ruling Class will always pay tributes in words, but not in deeds. Those workers who perished fighting the battles of our masters to satisfy the latter's insatiable greed for profits, we know only too well, did so under a conception of patriotism drilled into them when young and fostered since.

Were it not for the fact that they have no understanding of their position in society, where they are divorced from the means of life, we should see them fighting the battles in the only fight that does matter —the Class War. We who lived through those four years of unparalleled destruction of precious human lives, say again, as we did in our September, 1914, issue of the Socialist Standard: "The struggle did not justify the shedding of one single drop of Working Class blood," and that it was "a commercial war being fought out in the interests of the Capitalist Class for the markets of the world in order to dispose of the wealth robbed from the workers." While we regret that so many workers of all countries lost their lives in the bloody shambles, the appeal of the Capitalist Class leaves us cold.


On many occasions in the columns of the Socialist Standard we have pointed out that the object of Sinn Fein was to further the material interests of the manufacturing section of the Ruling Class of Ireland, and whatever be the outcome of the conflict between them and the British Government, the wealth producers of Ireland will find little alteration in their position. 

This question was dealt with more fully in our issue of June, 1917, but we do not think it would be out of place for our readers to note the following (Evening News, 3/10/21) :
"Irish labour leaders do not hide their anxiety regarding the future under a Sinn Fein government. Sinn Fein is claiming greater powers than Ulster regarding the repeal of legislation passed by the United Kingdom Parliament, and in particular takes exception to restrictive trade union practices which are accused of stifling Irish industrial development.
"It is well-known that some of the most prominent men in Southern Ireland believe the Trades Disputes Acts to be inimical to Irish interests and will not assume responsibility for enforcing such laws in Ireland. Realising that they may have to fight their own Government harder than they did the British authorities, the Irish labourers are preparing for conflict.
"They threaten to fight every constituency in the towns, and expect that with the issue of self-government out of the way it will he easier to make headway against official Sinn Fein."
Members of the Communist Party and the S.L.P., please note.
O. C. I.

Birds of a Feather. (1921)

Editorial from the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

To those who depend for their knowledge of politics on the Capitalist Press, there seems to be acute antagonism between the different parties striving for power. The Coalitionists regard the Liberal and Labour parties with indifference or contempt, while the two latter parties appear to be jealous and suspicious of one another, and the noisy Anti-Waste Party attacks all three parties with equal venom. The intensity, vulgarity and violence of party strife, however, is not always a safe guide as to the importance of the issues.

When the worker examines the issues of to-day in the light of reason, he must soon be convinced that, so far as he is concerned, they are not worth wasting time over. When he examines the reforms or principles of the different parties, he must speedily come to the conclusion that there is not sufficient difference between them to warrant him taking up sides. The programme of the Labour Party, for instance, is so little different from that of the Liberals, that arrangements are frequently made between the leaders to support each other's candidates, and the rank and file of the Labour Party vote for a Liberal as a matter of course when no Labour candidate is running.

It is clear from this that there can be no real antagonism between these two parties. The other parties, we know from experience, only contend in the political arena for control over the Parliamentary machine, with no intention of making any fundamental changes in the system. Liberals and Tories come and go, or coalesce, but Capitalism continues while they can do either. Thus all political parties prominently before the workers stand for Capitalism, their only differences being in the methods of administration.

Two things are necessary before we can pass judgment on any political party—Socialist knowledge and knowledge of the party's actions and utterances. By Socialist knowledge we mean a clear conception of the economic dependence and the political subjugation of the Working Class, together with the class antagonism that necessarily arises therefrom, and the necessity for conscious and organised action on the part of the workers for the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. To the Labour Leader we go for information on the Labour Party's attitude and principles. Sir Leo Chiozza Money says (October 6th, 1921) :
  "How should a conscientious Labour man, who hopes and strives for a better condition of society and a saner economic system, treat the system that is ? Should his policy be one of co-operation or non-co-operation ? Should he do his best with the tools that are, or endeavour to clog, stop or destroy the machine in order to compel the making of a better one?
  "The Labour Party's answer to these questions is a common-sense one. The proposals it has issued dealing with unemployment, for example, seek to make the best of things as they are. In the background are the voices of revolution."
Where Sir Leo and all the birds in the Capitalist nest are doing their utmost to keep such voices ; in the background along with the Socialist knowledge that would enable the workers to understand their position. "The proposals of the Labour Party seek to make the best of things as they are." In these words the Labour Party is summed up and condemned—by its own scribe. How is it possible, at one and the same time, to show the rottenness of a system and the need for its abolition, while contending that it should be bolstered or patched up in order to make it last longer? All they do is to raise false hopes and lead the workers away from the only solution of their difficulties. Not only so. When they join hands with Liberals and Tories and tell the workers that the only way to deal with unemployment is to capture foreign markets, they lie. Followed to its logical conclusion, that policy increases instead of diminishes unemployment, because the faster the workers throw commodities into the world's market, the sooner they reach the goal of universal glut and stagnation.

Backed up by the Labour Party, the avowed Capitalist parties reduce wages all round, telling the workers that they cannot get more out of industry than they put in. Who stops them from putting more in? Mr. Lloyd George says the nation is producing now only 80 per cent. of its pre-war output, admits there are a million and a half unemployed through no fault of their own, and says that it is a world condition. The utter helplessness of Capitalist Governments in the face of the present crisis is apparent in every written and spoken sentence of the defenders of the system.

They are applying their minds to the question, says the Premier, but the only result from this application of great minds is, excuses for the failure of their system, accusations of ca'-canny against the workers, and schemes to get necessary work done by local councils at less than Trade Union rates of wages.

One of the greatest adepts in the art of making excuses for Capitalism is Chiozza Money. In nearly every copy of the Labour Leader, for weeks, he has been insisting that the workers must produce more cheaply and co-operate with the Capitalists to get back our lost trade, because this country is mainly dependent on exports and shipping. If his readers gave the question a moment's consideration, they would see in this nothing but a dirty imputation that they are not doing their share in the work of production; the truth, of course, being that the workers do it all. Moreover, going slow may be possible in isolated instances when workers are in demand, but in the present congested state of the labour market must be very rare indeed. Before the Capitalists of this country can regain their lost markets, exchanges must be stabilised and European industry restored, but that is a purely Capitalist question and can only be arranged between the different conflicting groups of Capitalists themselves. The Workers have no voice in the question and cannot increase the volume of trade until they are more fully employed.

The next move is, therefore, with the Capitalists. The gentlemen who are saying that the war debts between nations should  be wiped out have made this clear. The wheels of industry can only be made to revolve when exchanges are stabilised and the countries disorganised by the war resume their normal activities. Both the Premier and Chiozza Money agree that the slump is a world condition, but both of them neglect to add that every Capitalist country can produce far in excess of its own needs, and that this excess of production over national needs is the cause of slumps. Every country must find markets for its excess, and in proportion as it fails to do so, each country finds its unemployed increasing.

Restoration of trade is the only remedy, say the captains of industry, and their political agents, from the Premier to the most obscure Labour hack, repeat their cry. Birds of a feather, they all agree that their paymasters must extend their concerns. They are harnessed to the national car of industry, and serve Capitalist interests, not only against foreign Capitalists, but against the workers of their own land, whose continued exploitation and increasing poverty is thereby insured. Agreeing that the restoration of trade is the only remedy for unemployment, they differ as to the method, and gathering into little cliques they raise the very devil of a noise over causes and remedies, exhorting the workers to patience all the while, until trade begins to revive, when they make still more noise about our glowing prospects.

The Capitalist Class, with its ownership of the means of wealth-production, its claim to organise industry, and its control of political power, whether it understands the nature of the crisis or not, utterly fails to deal with it. All they can do is to wait for trade to revive, while loudly proclaiming it to be the only solution. They cannot however, escape their responsibility in that way, because the workers are beginning to see that their poverty is not due to lack of means and nature-given materials. If Capitalism, as a system, therefore, is incapable of organising except on the basis of short periods of feverish production interspersed with long years of depression, sooner or later the workers will get tired of excuses and promised reforms and will give their minds to a serious study of Socialism. It is quite plain, among other things, that while Capitalism continues, unemployment, and consequently Working Class conditions generally, must become worse; that only by the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of a system based on production for use, can the workers' conditions be improved; that the Capitalist Class, although unable to alleviate the growing misery, will stoop to any crime in order to maintain the system and their domination over the workers. Socialism makes these facts plain—proves them conclusively—and points to the obvious deduction, the workers must organise to establish the new order for them, in spite of all opposition from the Capitalist Class.

The ruling class sits tight over the means of wealth-production, surrounded by armed forces, and it will not allow them to be used unless they can see profits accruing to them by the process. Such a situation must already appeal to millions of workers as ludicrous. The bulk of human society, held at bay by a relatively small class who live in luxury and idleness and regard it as a favour bestowed when they permit a propertyless human being to work and produce more wealth for them in return for his keep.

This is the actual basis of Capitalist society, the class ownership of the means of life and production for profit. The workers can only live by selling their labour-power; becoming wage-slaves to the master-class. By this means they are robbed of all the wealth they produce beyond what is necessary to keep them fit for work. It is to their interest, therefore, to understand this position and organise upon the basis of their class in order to put an end to Capitalism and establish a system where freely associating men and women will produce for use instead of for Capitalist profit.

Such an organisation will be antagonistic to all Capitalist parties and will recognise the genuine Working Class parties of other lands by the similarity of their principles. They will thus march forward in a real international to capture political power in every country and wipe out the system that denies them the use of the land and means of production for the satisfaction of their material needs.

By such principles the workers will also judge those who profess to lead them. They can safely repudiate the advice of those who tell them to work harder in order to capture foreign markets, because such a course can only benefit the Capitalist. Birds of a feather invariably croak on the same notes.

We cannot, therefore, mistake the friends of the Capitalist even when they label themselves "Labour."

£1000 Fund. (1921)

Party News from the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.) (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard


The last article under the above heading appeared in the Socialist Standard of December, 1920. The long interruption in the series was due to circumstances out of the control of the writer.

In the article referred to, we commenced the discussion of the theory of value; the following is a summary of the conclusions arrived at :

  Economic wealth is the result of human energy applied to the materials provided by nature.
  The wealth of to-day appears as a multitude of useful articles for sale—commodities.
  A commodity is a useful article (not to the producer, but to the potential buyer) produced for sale.
  The uses of such an article are as many as the human wants it can satisfy ; but these uses have no connection with its value.
  The value of an article is something contained in it that is only expressed in exchange. Absolute value cannot be expressed, only relative value.
  The only common property of all commodities, apart from their physical properties, is their property of being the product of human energy.
   All commodities represent certain proportions of simple human energy.
   Human energy is measured by time.
  The value of a commodity is measured by its cost of reproduction in human labour time— the time simple human energy would occupy in reproducing it.

The conclusion that the value of an article is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour contained in it, gives us the key to the apparent mystery of commodities. At the bottom, commodities represent the relation of the labour of one man, or group of men, to that of another man, or group of men; this relation becomes mysterious, simply because it appears before our eyes as a relation between two articles. In other words, at the back of the expression of value lies the relation between different methods of expending human energy.

The next point we have to consider is the double-sided nature of the labour contained in commodities. On this point Marx wrote as follows :

"I was the first to point out and to examine critically this twofold nature of the labour contained in commodities. As this point is the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns, we must go more into detail."

We have seen that a commodity is a useful article and a value; and that the latter is determined bv the amount of labour-power required to reproduce such an article. But just as an article must be looked at from two points of view, so also must the labour contained in it. For example, the labour incorporated in a commodity appears on the one side as the work of a baker, a shoemaker, an engineer, and so forth. That is to say, labour of a particular kind or quality, labour that produces a particular kind of article. But on the other side it appears just as the simple expenditure of human energy—getting tired. All its particular physical characteristics are abstracted and it is viewed as the normal activity of the human organism.

If, therefore, taking for illustration the simple exchange of one article for another, we say : 
l pair of boots = 1 hat,
we are simply stating that the same general substance—human energy—exists in the same quantity on each side of this statement or equation.

On the one hand, therefore, we have concrete or useful labour; on the other hand, abstract or value-creating labour. We look at one from the point of view of quality— the kind of labour (baking, engineering, etc.), we look at the other from the point of view of quantity—the amount of labour; the unifying point is the fact that labour of different qualities is, at the bottom, the simple expenditure of human energy.

From the above it will be seen that labour expressed in value has different attributes from labour as a producer of use-value. This enables us to understand another point around which there is a considerable amount of confusion.

At a first glance it would appear that an increase in the quantity of articles produced would necessarily result in an increase in value—more articles, more value. If we examine the matter closely, in connection with what we have already learnt of the twofold nature of labour, we will see that the above statement is not correct.

Suppose a method of producing boots was discovered whereby two pairs of boots could now be produced with the expenditure of the same amount of energy as it formerly took to produce one pair; we would now have two pairs of boots instead of one (an increase in material wealth), but the same quantity of value is contained in the increased amount of wealth as was formerly contained in the smaller amount. This illustration shows the necessity of understanding the twofold nature of labour contained in commodities.

As different commodities are the products of different kinds of labour, commodity production—Capitalism—could not come into existence until the method of expending human labour power had reached the point where it was split up into a multitude of different kinds carried on independently of each other. To put the case another way : Before the exchange of products in the form of commodities can exist as a social basis, the labour of society must have become sectionalised in such a manner that human energy is expended in different ways, each way being carried on independently and for the account of private individuals; there must have arisen a social division of labour. This naturally follows when we remember that, in bringing two different commodities upon the market to exchange for each other, we are in reality exchanging two different kinds of labour. There would be no point in exchanging one hat for another of exactly the same description, i.e., the labour of a hatter for the labour of a hatter. From this fact it follows that while we can have the social division of labour (as in primitive societies) without commodity production, we cannot have commodity production without the social division of labour.

The value of a commodity represents the expenditure of human labour in general, but this simple labour is generally expended under the cloak of labour of different degrees of skill. Skilled labour in essence is more intensified simple labour—a given quantity of skilled labour is equal to a greater quantity of simple labour.

In the process of commodity production all kinds of labour—no matter what the degree of skill may be—are reduced to the simple expenditure of human energy. This reduction of skilled labour to simple labour is not done openly or consciously—as Marx puts it :

"The different proportions in which different sorts of labour are reduced to unskilled labour as their standard are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers, and, consequently, appear to be fixed by custom."

A good illustration of the point with which we are dealing was provided in the Whistler versus Ruskin case some years ago.

In the course of the action, one of Whistler's pictures (the subject of the action, the "Nocturne in Black and Gold") came up for discussion. This picture had been exhibited at a gallery and marked two hundred guineas. After Whistler had informed the Attorney-General that, altogether, he had only been two days working upon it, the latter asked : "Oh, two days ! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas !" To this Whistler replied: "No; I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime."

The above puts the case in a nutshell. Highly skilled labour is the result of the expenditure of energy in the past to make it skilful—it is more intensified labour—a multiple of simple energy.

Out of their own mouths are they convicted. (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Reynolds's" (4/9/21) publishes the following :
"A reporter in Edinburgh complimented the Prime Minister a few days ago upon his attendance at Divine Service morning and evening in that famous city," said Bishop Weldon in the course of an interview. "I am one who cannot but look with regret on the growing laxity in the observance of Sunday. 
"In country houses the Sunday is sadly often devoted to golf and tennis. The oblivion of God in society is responsible in no slight measure for the spirit of unrest in the working classes. The rich are always few, the poor are many; but if it is made evident to the poor that the rich have forfeited their belief in God and the future life, then it is as certain as any event can be, that the poor will claim a predominant share in the good things of this life as compensation for the loss of the hope which once centred in the life after death," etc., etc.
G. H.

Constitutionalism. (1921)

From the November 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Socialist Party says that it is correct to observe the constitutional rules laid down by the political powers of the capitalist class, that band of revolutionary cheap-jacks and super-opportunists calling themselves Communists tell us we are treading the wrong path

They endeavour to prove that a working class party must conduct its fight for supremacy in accordance with rules of its own; that it is futile and waste of time thinking that the ruling class will permit its subject class—the workers—to vote them out of power. Of course, this sounds very heroic and is on a par with the loud-mouthed utterances of all the big men in the Labour movement, who profit by shouting red-hot phrases. Their motto is to make plenty of noise, attract the support of the rank and file, and wax fat on the coppers which they are able to extract from their dupes. We are not surprised, therefore, that an organisation like the Communist Party display inconsistency at times. For example, we notice that during the last few weeks they have acknowledged the necessity of adopting constitutional action. For example, the Edinburgh Branch of the Communist Party applied to the local magistrates recently for permission to organise a badge day on behalf of the Russian Famine Fund. Permission was refused. But fancy asking the powers that be for their permission !

Further, at the Caerphilly Bye-Election they put up a representative, and in so doing were necessarily compelled to observe the legal procedure of the political power of organised constitutional capitalism, i.e., the necessary deposit had to be made according to the law, before a candidate can enter the political arena, no matter what party he represents. It is interesting to read the report of the Communist Party on the result of the Caerphilly Election. The writer spills much ink describing the eleventh-hour stunts resorted to in order to convince the workers of the truths of Communism.

The wild spontaneous raids which are made by political parties at election times are quite the usual thing, and law and order winks at many of the escapades indulged in by the political parties and their followers on these occasions. And once more the Communist Party in quite the orthodox manner endeavoured to out-stunt all the other electioneering stunt specialists.

Men and women are not convinced of the principles of a political policy such as the Socialist Party holds, in five minutes. This is another instance to show that the Communist Party is a confusionist organisation. It adopts all the orthodox methods and tricks of the trade of the political profiteer, endeavouring to ride into office with a few revolutionary war-cries, upon the backs of an ignorant following. Let the workers make the most of their opportunity to become acquainted with Marxian theories ; not until they understand them will they be able to take sound action. When that time comes the howls of the revolutionary opportunists of the Communist Party brand will pass unheeded.
D. C. J.

Voice From The Back: Football fortunes (2010)

The Voice From The Back column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Football fortunes

Every day in the newspapers and on television we are told of the fabulous incomes of some of the footballers in the Premier League. Some are reported to be earning £140,000 a week. To most workers this appears a fortune and yet it is chicken-feed compared to the immense wealth of people like the Russian multi-millionaire who at present owns the Chelsea football club. Of course the majority of professional footballers have to struggle by on more ordinary incomes like most workers. At the other end of the scale from the well-heeled Premier footballers and the millionaire owners we have the poor makers of the footballs. “The city of Sialkot in Pakistan produces as many as 60 million hand-stitched footballs in a World Cup year. The firms here are running out of new workers since child labor was abolished. Western buyers may have a clear conscience, but the children of Sialkot now toil in the local brickworks instead. …Shaukat is a strong, 20-year-old man. He has been working for this independent stitching factory, Danayal, for eight years. Danayal produces handmade footballs for professional leagues. … At the entrance to the factory there’s a notice board showing the current rates of pay. Depending on the model, his employer pays between 55 and 63 Pakistan rupees per ball ($0.65 to $0.75). ‘On a good day I manage six balls,’ says Shaukat. That’s eight hours work. ‘That’s not a lot of money,’ he says as he pushes a needle through the thick synthetic leather and stitches together two patches. His boss is standing close by so he quickly adds: ‘But it’s not little either.’ He gets paid every Saturday and has to feed a family of six with his wages” (Spiegel on line, 16 March). That is how capitalism operates – immense wealth for the millionaire owners and penury for the working class.

Cause for celebration?

According to the media the US and Russian leaders have scored a wonderful step forward for world peace. “US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, have signed a landmark nuclear arms treaty in the Czech capital, Prague. The treaty commits the former Cold War enemies to each reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 — 30% lower than the previous ceiling. Mr Obama said it was an important milestone, but “just one step on a longer journey” of nuclear disarmament. Mr Medvedev said the deal would create safer conditions throughout the world” (BBC News, 8 April). Before we crack open the champagne and engage in dancing in the street it would be worthwhile reflecting on what this really means. 1,550 nuclear warheads is sufficient to destroy the whole world! A more sober analysis of the US/Russia agreement is that it is an attempt to limit arms expenditure and aims to discourage non-US/Russia opponents from entering the nuclear arms race. Our champagne remains uncorked.

Capitalism in action

Defenders of capitalism laud it as a dynamic social system that may produce some problems, but claim that in the long run it is the only possible way to run society. “One of Britain’s richest bankers has landed a record pay package of £63.3million. The extraordinary deal for Barclays president Bob Diamond sparked a major new row over payouts to banking fat cats. The sheer size of his salary, perks and shares package flies in the face of assurances that Barclays and other banks have adopted a culture of restraint” (Daily Mail, 20 March). We can understand why the Bob Diamonds of this world would support capitalism but what about the predicament of the kids reported in the latest WaterAid charity leaflet? “Every 20 seconds a child in the developing world dies from water-related diseases. In around the time it takes you to read the next paragraph, a child somewhere will die. Every day, people in the world’s poorest countries face the dilemma of having to trust their health and that of their children to the consequences of drinking water that could kill them. It’s a gamble that often carries a high price — seeing children needlessly dying is simply heartbreaking.” A dynamic system for bankers maybe but a death sentence for these children.

Prostitutes, pimps and politicians

It is the sort of story that those pimps of Fleet Street love. The French to bring back officially-sanctioned brothels! “More than 60 years after Paris shut its famed maisons closes, or brothels, an MP from President Sarkozy’s UMP party is campaigning to legalise them again. Chantal Brunel, who was appointed last month to head the national watchdog on sexual equality, is arguing that crime would be cut and sex workers would benefit from ‘sexual services centres’ similar to those run by most of France’s neighbours” (Times, 19 March). In advocating a change in French law this MP expressed a long-held but completely fallacious notion. “Ms Brunel, MP for the western Paris suburbs, says that France should follow the example of nearly all its neighbours and allow modern bordels. ‘It is true that few women prostitute themselves willingly,’ she told Le Parisien. ‘But we should not be blind. Prostitution has always existed and will always do so’.” Prostitution can only exist in a property based society. For thousands of years before the advent of private property prostitution did not exist, but what is more important in the society based on common ownership of the future affronts to human dignity such as prostitution will be completely impossible.

Our election manifesto: capitalism must go (2010)

Party Election News from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

These elections are taking place in the middle of the biggest economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. In a world that has the potential to produce enough food, clothes, housing and the other amenities of life for all, factories are closing down, workers are being laid off, unemployment is growing, houses are being repossessed and people are having to tighten their belts. And for once the main parties are being honest in offering more of the same, competing with each other as to which of them is going to impose the most “savage cuts”.

Capitalism in relatively “good” times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis makes it plain for all to see that it is not a system geared to meeting people's needs. It’s a system based on the pursuit of profits, where the harsh economic law of no profit, no production” prevails. The headlong pursuit of profits has led to a situation where the owners can't make profits at the same rate as before. The class who own and control the places where wealth is produced have gone on strike – refusing to allow these workplaces to be used to produce what people need, some desperately. So, as in the 1930s, it’s poverty in the midst of potential plenty again. Cutbacks in production and services alongside unmet needs. Why should we put up with this? There is an alternative.

But that's the way capitalism works, and must work. The politicians in charge of the governments don't really know what to do, not that they can do much to change the situation anyway. They are just hoping that the panic measures they have taken will work. But the slump won’t end until conditions for profitable production have come about again, and that requires real wages to fall and unprofitable firms to go out of business. So, there's no way that bankruptcies, cut-backs and lay-offs are going to be avoided, whatever governments do or whichever party is in power.

What can be done? Nothing within the profit system. It can‘t be mended, so it must be ended. But this is something we must do ourselves.

The career politicians, with their empty promises and futile measures, can do nothing for us. We need to organise to bring in a new system where goods and services are produced to meet people's needs. But we can only produce what we need if we own and control the places where this is carried out. So these must be taken out of the hands of the rich individuals, private companies and states that now control them and become the common heritage of all, under our democratic control. In short, socialism in its original sense. This has nothing to do with the failed state capitalism that used to exist in Russia or with what still exists in China and Cuba.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY is putting up one candidate, in Vauxhall in London, to give people there a chance to show that they don't want capitalism but want instead a society of common ownership, democratic control and production just for use not profit, with goods and services available on the basis of “from each according to ability, to each according to needs”. Elsewhere we are advocating that people show this by writing “WORLD SOCIALISM” across their ballot paper.

If you agree, you can show this by voting for us. But more importantly get in touch with us to help working towards such a society after the election is over.

Our campaign can be followed on our election blog at