Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Position. (1919)

From the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Old Tale Retold. 

The major portion of the population of the earth have to put up with lives of slavery and the never-ending struggle against starvation, yet a life of ease and freedom is within their reach if they will stretch oat their hands and grasp it.

Here are food, clothing, and shelter in abundance, and yet poverty, misery, and destitution are here in super-abundance. Here are people who spend their lives working or looking for work—these are members of the working class. Here are other who spend their lives in one long round of pleasure— these are the Capitalist Class.

Broadly Speaking, the inhabitants of the civilised parts of the earth belong to one or other of these two classes.

All wealth that is produced, no matter what form it takes, is the result of the application of human labour power to nature-given material. This material and the finished product are owned by one group of the people—the international capitalists—those people whom we are told advance the money to carry on industry. The labour power is supplied by the miner, bricklayer, carpenter, manager, dustman, office boy, and other members of the working class. The brains and manual powers of the workers are utilised to produce articles that belong to the capitalists.

The statement that the capitalists, by advancing the money, have a right to the result, collapses as soon as the case is investigated. The particular function of the money as means of exchange has a tendency to confuse and cover the process of production with a mystical cloud. It is a matter of fact that it does not require money to dig for coal. It requires food, clothes, shelter, and the other things necessary to the maintenance of the miner while getting the coal. The capitalists have the monopoly of the necessaries of life, and they advance these necessaries of life to the workers with a view of obtaining a profit. The fact that these necessaries take the form of a sum of money in the first place is due to an historic development which lack of space prevents us describing in this article.

In these circumstances, therefore, the capitalists are the employing class and the workers the employed class. The interests of these two classes are directly opposite.

It is the interest of the employers to get work done as quickly and as cheaply as possible, for the cheaper the production the greater the profit— other things remaining equal.

But the interest of the workers as workers is the provision of work: the more work there is the fewer will there be in the unemployed army. Consequently it is to the interest of the workers to produce in as wasteful a manner as possible —digging holes and filling them up again is the ideal condition.

The energies of the employers are centred upon obtaining up-to-date machinery and institituting improved methods ; but this means less work for the employees— a greater number of unemployed to fight for the jobs that are going.

Now why does this state of affairs exist ? Why is work the all absorbing interest of the working class? It is because the workers do not own the product of their labour power. Yet all wealth is produced by the working class—even the very gold and paper that function as money are obtained by the workers.

The more the capitalists take from the total wealth produced the less there is left for the workers, and conversely, the more the workers take from it the less there is for the capitalists. This is the centre of the whole business. The interests of the capitalists are opposed to the interests of the workers, and consequently a struggle is always going on as to who shall get most out of the pile. This is what the Socialist calls the class war.

Who gains most in this struggle is obvious. As the years roll on the wealth of the masters grows into colossal proportions, although vast quantities are recklessly expended. On the other hand, the lot of the workers grows worse from year to year. The toil and anxiety of making ends meet brings grey hairs sooner than formerly. Rarely is a member of the working class to be found hale and hearty at an advanced age. The saying, "Only the good die young," could almost be converted into "Only the workers die young."

Improved machinery and improved organisation displaces more workers and the competition for jobs keeps wages at the level of subsistence. Even the draughtsman, the mathematician, the chemist, the doctor, and similar "professional" men, who need long and careful training to render them efficient, can only command a wage that means toil from the earliest days of manhood to the end. The capitalist buys abilities as he buys potatoes and other merchandise. Numberless are the instances where those employed in these professions have chosen the suicide's grave in preference to the grim and forbidding prospect ahead of them.

To swell their self-esteem these workers, together with the struggling small shopkeeper (who is but a salesman for the capitalist), are given the honorary title of "Middle Class." Though exploited by the capitalist the same as other workers, they are too swelled out by a sense of their own importance to allow themselves to be classed as workers. In actual fact, however, the are, in the last analysis, but wage workers like the rest of us.

Workers attempt to alleviate their lot by combining in unions to keep up wages and improve their conditions. By this act they recognise in a subconscious way the opposition of their interests to those of their masteis. Unfortunately the recognition is only subconscious, and the masters take every opportunity of blinding workers to their real interests and dangle before them illusive reforms on which workers employ their time and waste their energy.

For years the workers have attempted to alleviate their lot by trade union action, but at the end of it all the sorry truth must be faced that to-day their position is more insecure and their poverty greater than ever. The claim that they might have been worse off had they not been organised is beside the point, and cannot explain away the fact that trade union action has been a failure as far as improving conditions is concerned. The general condition of the workers is growing steadily worse. At the best trade union action but slows the worsening process—it cannot stop it.

The fight between the possessing class and the working class has always resulted in the advantage going to the former. So long as one class owns the means and instruments for producing wealth,, the other class must in the long run be beaten by the pistol of starvation. This being the position of affairs, reform is useless—revolution is the only remedy.

Those who deny the class war and seek to harmonise master and worker are the enemies of the working class, whether their intentions be good or evil. By their attempt to cloud the issue they take sides with the masters and must be treated as enemies, no matter what particular garments they dress their arguments in.

The capitalist class keeps its position as the owner of all wealth by its control of the political machinery. This is the impassable barrier between it and the working class ; and yet the workers themselves put the capitalists behind the barrier by voting them into power at election time.

The workers must first realise their identity of interests as wage workers, and the opposition of their interests as a class to those of the capitalists—the owners of wealth. In other words they must become class conscious.

Having arrived at that knowledge they must understand that the capitalists keep their position through their control of the political machinery, and that in order to overthrow the capitalist class they must vote themselves, and not their masters, into power. They must organise into a political party which has for its sole object the conquest of political power in order to usher in the Socialist Commonwealth. That party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Graham May

Lest We Forget. (1919)

From the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

How the capitalists suppressed the Parisian workers in 1871.

At last the smell of the carnage began to choke even the most frantic. The pest, if not pity, was coming. Myriads of flesh-flies flew up from the putrefied corpses. The streets were full of dead birds. The "Avenir Libéral" singing the praises of MacMahon’s proclamations, applied the words of Flechier; ‘He hides himself, but his glory finds him out.’ The glory of the Turenne of 1871 betrayed him even up to the Seine. In certain streets the corpses encumbered the pathway, looking at the passers-by from out of their dead eyes. In the Faubourg St. Antoine they were to be seen everywhere in heaps, half white with chloride of lime. At the Polytechnic School they occupied a space of 100 yards long and three deep. At Passy, which was not one of the great centres of execution, there were 1,100 near the Trocadero. These, covered over by a thin shroud of earth, also showed their ghastly profiles. ‘Who does not recollect,’ said the Temps, ‘even though he had seen it but one moment, the square, no, the charnel of the Tour St. Jacques? From the midst of this moist soil, recently turned up by the spade, here and there look out heads, arms, feet, and hands. The profiles of corpses, dressed in the uniform of National Guards, were seen impressed against the ground. It was hideous. A decayed, sickening odour arose from this garden, and occasionally at some places it became fetid.’ The rain and heat having precipitated the putrefaction, the swollen bodies reappeared. The glory of MacMahon displayed itself too well. The journals were taking fright. ‘These wretches,’ said one of them, ‘who have done us so much harm during their lives, must not be allowed to do so still after their death.’ And those that had instigated the massacre cried ‘Enough!’

‘Let us not kill any more,’ said the Paris Journal of the 2nd June, ‘even the assassins, even the incendiaries. Let us not kill any more. It is not their pardon we ask for, but a respite.’ ‘Enough executions, enough blood, enough victims,’ said the Nationale of the 1st June. And the Opinion Nationale of the same day: ‘A serious examination of the accused is imperative. One would like to see only the really guilty die.’

The executions abated, and the sweeping off began. Carriages of all kinds, vans, omnibuses, came to pick up the corpses and traversed the town. Since the great plagues of London and Marseilles, such cart-loads of human flesh had not been seen. These exhumations proved that a great number of people had been buried alive. Imperfectly shot, and thrown with the heaps of dead into the common grave, they had eaten earth, and showed the contortions of their violent agony. Certain corpses were taken up in pieces. It was necessary to shut them as soon as possible into closed wagons, and to take them with the utmost speed to the cemeteries, where immense graves of lime swallowed up these putrid masses.

The cemetries of Paris absorbed all they could. The victims, placed side by side, without any other covering than their clothes, filled enormous ditches at the Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Mont-Parnasse, where the people in pious rememberance will annually come as pilgrims. Others, more unfortunate, were carried out of the town. At Charonne, Bagnolet, Bicêtre, etc. the trenches dug during the first siege were utilized. ‘There nothing is to be feared of the cadaverous emanations,’ said La Liberté ‘an impure blood will water the soil of the labourer, fecundating it. The deceased delegate at war will be able to pass a review of his faithful followers at the hour of midnight; the watchword will be ‘Incendiarism and assassination.’ Women by the side of the lugubrious trench endeavoured to recognize these remains. The police waited that their grief should betray them, in order to arrest those ‘females of insurgents.’

The burying of such a large number of corpses soon became too difficult, and they were burnt in the casemates of the fortifications; but for want of draught the combustion was incomplete, and the bodies were reduced to a pulp. At the Buttes Chaumont the corpses, piled up in enormous heaps, inundated with petroleum, were burnt in the open air.

The wholesale massacres lasted up to the first days of June, and the summary executions up to the middle of that month. For a long time mysterious dramas were enacted in the Bois de Boulogne. Never will the exact number of the victims of the Bloody Week be known. The chief of military justice admitted 17,000 shot, the municipal council of Paris paid the expenses of burial of 17,000 corpses; but a great number were killed out of Paris or burnt. There is no exaggeration in saying 20,000 at least.

Many battlefields have numbered more dead, but these at least had fallen in the fury of the combat. The century has not witnessed such a slaughtering after the battle; there is nothing to equal it in the history of our civil struggles. St. Bartholomew’s Day, June 1848, the 2nd December, would form but an episode of the massacres of May. Even the great executioners of Rome and modern times pale before the Duke of Magenta. The hecatombs of the Asiatic victors, the fetes of Dahomey alone could give some idea of this butchery of proletarians.

Such was the repression ‘by the laws, with the laws.’ And during these atrocities of incomparably worse than Bulgarian type, the bourgeoisie, raising to heaven its bloody hands, undertook to incite the whole world against this people, who, after two months of domination and the massacre of thousands of their own, had shed the blood of sixty-three prisoners.

May-Day Talk. (1919)

Editorial from the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the eve of May-day, in probably the most momentous times in history, it is meet that we should have a glance about us, a little stock-taking, a summing-up of the general situation as it affects "Labour," and as viewed through the eyes of those who have made a special study of the needs and interests of the working class over many years.

Our masters are talking now of peace. But what significance has such a word for those— we were going to say who work, but we must use the more expressive term—who toil ? During the great "Business War" the horrors of the industrial strife have been largely removed to the military cockpits. The burying alive of men in mines has found its counterpart in the burying alive of men in trenches ; the gassing of men in the bleaching powder factories has been paraleled in the gassing of men at "the front" ; the tragedy of the Titanic has been reproduced in the "atrocity" of the Lusitania; the crime of the abolition of the Plimsoll line has found its twin brother in the villiany of mined seas. These things, done in "war," and between race and race, have attracted to themselves tense attention, but there is nothing, nothing, in the whole range of battlefield horrors, that is not matched in the everyday struggle of the workers for bread and of the masters for profit, an almost common-place occurrence of toe everyday existence of those who toil.

And now we are to exchange again the horrors of war for the sevenfold horrors of peace. Our masters' "gratitude" to their "heroes" has already reached the vanishing point. In little open spaces in the London suburbs, and on the ugly blank walls of London slums, ugly little wooden shrines have been erected to the "honour" of those same "heroes"—the cheapest of cheap carpenter's jobs, but neatly varnished and glazed, and "eye-washed" with a picture of Christ or a Mons angel looking upon cannon fodder, and provided with a shelf for other people to leave floral offerings on. And inscribed upon the page of fame behind the glass behold the names of the local warriors, with here and there blank spaces where the names of the fallen had been written in in red ink, and have long since faded from the sight of man. The symbolism of the whole thing is perfect. The shoddy show, the superstitious dope, the appeal to private charity—and nothing could better have stood for the transient nature of capitalist "gratitude" than that ironic, contemptuous, fleeting red ink.

The "gratitude" of the class for whom the war was "fought and won" is already dead. The Lord Derbies, who sweated so profusely in the khaki of the labour battalion, are, it is true, now "hard at it" on the work of reconstructing—the Turf. The rich find no great problem (for themselves) in the transition from war to peace. But in other directions the work of "reconstruction" goes on about as fast, probably, as those to whom a great unemployment crisis would present a welcome opportunity to put the screw on wages desire. The shortage and consequent high price materials of every description has a fatally deterrent effect on the resumption of the ordinary productive processes of peace time, and this applies with greatest force in that most important industry where the increased cost must be saddled on a relatively permanent product—the house-building industry. There is, therefore, looming ahead, the prospect of such a time of suffering for those who toil as will indeed cause them to ask themselves what signify those little wooden shrines to working-class agony and capitalist greed.

The vampire class are getting ready for the inevitable result of the world conflict. Already the chiefs among the thugs are denouncing the victims of their blood-orgy who have the indecency to claim the out-of-work dole as lazy impostors. Pledges are being given by the Government, who got their present places and power upon lying promises to carry the working-class safely through the "transition period," that those doles (already reduced to ludicrous inadequacy) will cease to be paid in November. The Army is being strengthened with men whose pay is sufficient to claim their heartfelt allegiance to any duty; the police are having their grievances settled with a lavishness that is eloquent testimony to their future usefulness to the exploiting class. "Public opinion" has been sounded on and broken to the patrol of "tanks," armed against the workers, through "our" city streets, and the filling of "our" municipal buildings with soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets and machine guns and bombs. Oh, yes, the masters have made their preparations.

And how about the workers ? What will they do when desperation seizes them ? In what direction will they seek surcease of their torment when they find themselves workless and wage-less in the face of high prices ? If failure has not utterly discredited Bolshevism by that time there will doubtless not be lacking those in this country those who will make an attempt to lure the desperate into "living dangerously" in the Bolshevik way. Soldiers returned from hell to find themselves displaced by women or supplanted by machinery, to learn that all they have suffered for is the right to starve, and used as they are to reckless and violent methods, may prove to be fertile ground for such appeal to fall on. A rude awakening awaits those who participate in any such attempt.

There is only one remedy for working-class misery and that is to overthrow the present social system, based upon the private ownership of the means of living, and to set up in its stead a system based upon the common ownership of those things. Since this involves the abolition of the capitalist claes, they will certainly resist it to the utmost extremity of their power. They who have hurled millions of their slaves to death in a mere trade squabble would turn the very world into a charnel house to maintain their robber privileges. Hence the essential first step in the working-class revolt is for the toilers to get control of the armed forces of the nation. These armed forces, as we are continually pointing out, are controlled by Parliament. It is therefore necessary for the workers to organise in a political party for the capture through the ballot of the Parliament. When they have captured this capitalist stronghold they will have control of the machinery of government, and will be able to proceed to their emancipation secure in the control of the means of dealing with any capitalist rebellion.

Such political party already exists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The S.P.G.B., is founded upon sound principles, principles which have stood the searching test of the last five years, and have proved sufficient to keep the organisation true to working-class interests. Those principles are set out on the back page of every issue of this journal. We invite every working man and woman to study them in a critical, a challenging spirit, and to proclaim any flaw he or she may find in them. If they are sound the worker's duty is dear.

Correspondence. Concerning the Russian Constituent Assembly. (1919

Letter to the Editors from the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

To The Editor.

Sir,—The editorial reply (in your April issue) to "A Wage Slave" states that the Bolsheviks "squashed the Kerensky crowd by suppressing the Constituent Assembly." The assumption that the Kerenskyites were in a majority in the Constituent Assembly is a very prevalent one— the Liberal weekly ''The Nation," for instance, once held it—but it is quite erroneous, as I showed in the "Cambridge Magazine" of 26th October. The Kerenskyites and the Kadets— in fact all the "Oborontsi" (the "defenders") as they were called during the Provisional Government era—were numerically quite negligible in the Constituent. The majority was composed of Social Revolutionaries of the Centre "led" by Tchernov, who as an individual stood for peace and also, at one time at least, for a revolutionary land policy (as I pointed out in another of my letters to the "Cambridge Magazine," see issue 11th January), but by resigning from the Provisional Government during July 1917 (in face of the hostility of Kerensky and the Kadets) when it was a question of carrying out that land policy, he showed his weakness and his activities ceased, except in so far as they were employed in heaping abuse on the heads of the Bolsheviks week alter week in his paper "Dielo Naroda."

As the Russian working classes—with the exception, perhaps, of the Italians the most class-conscious in Europe, in spite of your assertion to the contrary—already held power in the Soviets and in the workshops, they acted quite rightly, in my opinion, in sending Tchernov and his majority about their business. What could Tchernov give by Parliamentary methods (so beloved by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) that the Bolsheviks had not already given or that large numbers of the Russian masses had not already taken, for a considerable number of peasant labourers (I am not referring here to peasant owners) had already seized land—and committed "atrocities" into the bargain of which WE NEVER HEARD, OF COURSE—during the latter months of the Kerensky regime, when it became obvious to them that nothing was to be expected from "constitutional" methods under Provisional Governments!

As your space is, I know, limited, I shall now close, although I should like to have said something about the socialisation of land, the Lenin and Spiradonova ideas with regard to same, and the "chaos" to which this has led. Perhaps I may again be allowed to occupy a little of your space in a future issue.—
Yours, A, P. L.

It is not easy to grasp the point of our correspondent's letter. We did not say or imply that the Kerenskyites were in a majority in the Constituent Assembly. Our first critic, "A Wage Slave," challenged us to explain how it was that "the workers of Russia overthrew the Czarist and then the Kerensky Government if they were not class-conscious." Our reply was not that the workers had returned a Kerenskyite majority to the Constituent Assembly, but that they had elected a "bourgeois majority"—"the working class voted the bourgeoisie into power." The Kerensky crowd were included in the Constituent Assembly, and when the Bolsheviks suppressed the Constituent Assembly they "squashed the Kerengky crowd" with it. We do not profess to know what was the numerical strength of the Kerensky party in the Constituent Assembly. We have (and do again) frankly confessed our ignorance on the subject of the situation in Russia, more particularly as to details, and we have ordered our policy in accordance with that ignorance. Of course, if we cared to accept every unsupported rumour that is bandied about we could make good copy in plenty, as others are doing. But the number of Kerenskite noses in the Constituent Assembly did not concern us in the least. The point is that they were bourgeois noses, and were put in the Assembly by the vote of what "A Wage Slave" claimed was a class-conscious working class, and overthrown—by whom ? By the "class conscious" proletariat who had a few weeks previously shown their "class-conscious^-ness by electing them? Only "A Wage Slave" has dared to tell us so yet.

And we notice that, whatever may have been the numerical strength of the Kerenskyites in the Assembly, "A.P.L." speaks of the "Kerensky regime."

"The Russian working classes," says our correspondent, "with the exception, perhaps, of the Italians, the most class-conscious in Europe, in spite of your assertion to the contrary—already held power in the Soviets and in the workshops, they acted quite rightly, in my opinion, in sending Tchernov and his majority about their business." In the first place we should be glad if "A.P.L." would point out where we have, made the "assertion to the contrary" he refers to. Comparing the degree of class-consciousness of one race with that of another is a pastime we leave to correspondents who know all about it. But what does it matter whether the Russian working class are more or less class-conscious than other proletarians ? Goodness knows it is not saying much to say that they are more class-conscious tham the workers of this country !

The point is, of course, were they sufficiently class-conscious to seize their opportunity and make the most of it. Our correspondent seems to think that they were. Will he tell us, then, why they elected their worst enemies to the Constituent Assembly? He will doubtless be among the first to admit that this folly, giving the ruling class of other countries the excuse that the Bolsheviks were mere usurpers, who had overthrown the chosen authority — the democratically elected representatives—of the people, more perhaps than anything else ruined their cause among the workers of other lands, and strengthened the hands of foreign capitalists in providing a screen for the Russian bourgeoisie to organise behind.

"A.P.L." need not fear that we shall weep for the dismissal of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly as such—as a bourgeois instrument, that is. As against the workers we have no atom of sympathy with the bourgeoisie, and recoognise no duties toward them, no privileges attaching to them, no rights claimed by them. Our hatred of them is unutterable, and removes them entirely beyond any other and softer emotion within us. But there is another aspect of the case. Besides being an instrument of bourgeois tyranny the Assembly was the expression of the will of the Russian people. At least, we understand the basis of the election to have been such as would make it so, and even "A.P.L.," in his search for an excuse for the Bolshevik suppression of the Assembly, does not say that it was not democratically elected. Without claiming anything more sacred than working-class expediency for the democratic principle, this was a reason for suffering the Assembly. For as Socialists we hold that the franchise presents to the workers the way to their emancipation. Until the workers learn to use this instrument properly they are not fit or ready for Socialism. To suppress the Assembly was simply to try to force on an unready and unwilling people a social system for which their economic conditions were no more ripe than their mental state—to challenge, in the face of that mentally and economically unready people, the organised might of the whole capitalist world. Even complete success in that challenge could not, as far as our information shows, justify the adventure. For to successfully establish Bolshevism, on the evidence to hand so far, is a step backward. It is a reversion to peasant-proprietorship on the land. As the products of the soil must therefore belong to the peasant propietors, the products of the factories cannot belong to the community without fatal social discord. Our reasons for making this statement have been given before. The inevitable result must be the strangulation and final death of manufacture and the lapse of Russia into a state of barbaric agrarianism, a state under which Russia cannot develop into a Socialist commonwealth.

The Russian working classes, "A.P.L." declares, held power in the Soviets and in the workshops. If that were entirely true the sequel (when we reach it) would only furnish one more proof of the truth of our contention that only by the capture of the political machinery, indicative as that event must be of the readiness of the people for the social revolution, can the working class proceed. If the workers hold power in the Soviets and workshops it appears pretty clear that their power on the military field is fiercely challenged. And after all it is there in the first place that they must be confirmed in their power.

But our correspondent's remark that "a considerable number of peasant labourers bad already seized land . . . during the latter months of the Kerensky regime, when it became obvious to them that nothing was to be expected from 'constitutional' methods under Provisional Government!" illuminates the whole landscape in one vivid lightning flash. It reveals the "class-conscious" Russian worker expecting something from a Bourgeois government; lays bare the true foundation of much of the Bolshevik "power in the Soviets," at least in the rural districts; and it shows, with its context, how little our correspondent understands the real object of the Socialist determination to capture the machinery of government.

Not to hand out parcels of land to "peasant labourers" (our correspondent's term, not ours) or factories to the workers therein do we aspire get possession of machinery of State, but in order to gain control of the civil and military forces, so that we shall be in a position to make the land and other means of living the property of the whole people. The ''peasant labourers," disappointed in the bourgeois representatives they had so foolishly returned to a bourgeois parliament, may not have found it difficult to seize the land they wanted, but the methods they have embraced do not help them any more than did those they have abandoned if they prove unable to hold the land they have seized.

Whatever may be the outcome of the Russian revolt (and we have no doubt as to that) it may be pointed out that, just as her backward industrial development makes Russia about the least fit for Socialism of all European countries, those very conditions make her about the only one of them all where Bolshevism stood even the ghost of a chance. For people to advocate similar methods in this country is extravagant folly, with no advantages to compensate its perils.
Editorial Committee

Past Class Struggles. (1919)

From the May 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

As was pointed out in a previous article, early England was Feudal, and under the Manorial system rural England was composed of estates divided among villeins (a particular kind of peasant proprietors), who owed certain services to their lords.

The growth of commercialism broke up the Manorial system and introduced the Capitalist system. The foundation of the Capitalist system was laid by divorcing the labourer from the soil, i.e., converting the peasant into a "free" labourer.

Feudalism rested upon the reciprocal duties of lord and peasant or villein. The rise of the trading and manufacturing class brought about the need for a large number of labourers who could be exploited without restriction. In order that the commercial or capitalist class could become the supreme class in society the serf had to be converted into a free labourer—free of all feudal ties and relying only on wages for his living.

The commercial class, who had acquired money through trade, had steadily grown and permeated the existing system to such an extent that it was gradually breaking the bonds of Feudalism. In this the trading class were assisted by the great feudal lords themselves, who, while despising trade as vulgar, coveted its riches.

But the starting-point of capitalism was the free labourer. The landed proprietors, to get money, leased their lands and commuted labour rents into money rents. The rise of woollen manufacture on the Continent brought about a corresponding rise in the English wool trade. Then the great landowners commenced enclosing the common lands and evicting the peasants to make room for sheep. At the same time the suppression of the monastries and the break-up of the bands of feudal retainers, drove thousands of other people to seek employment under the growing new conditions.

In these various ways the principle raw material of capitalism—the free labourer, who must work for wages or starve—was produced.

The whole system of government, however, was built upon the feudal organisation and the Court was in control. As the capitalist organisation was breaking up the feudal, it became necessary for the moneyed class to obtain supreme control of social affairs in order to sweep away the privileges and restrictions that were hampering its development. Society had to be reorganised, politically and religiously, to conform with the new economic organisation.

The religious change took the form of the Protestant Reformation, Catholicism, with its many fast days and ceremonials, was inimical to commercialism, hence the fight of the commercial class for political power was suffused with the glamour of a new religion. Freedom of contract in earthly affairs was bolstered up by the plea of freedom of judgment in affairs spiritual.

During feudal times a struggle had been going on between the Court party and the great nobles. In 1215 the nobles forced from John the concession of the "Great Charter," the gist of which was that the sovereign could not levy taxes himself, payments having to be granted by a council of barons and bishops. In 1265 the town element (representatives of shires and boroughs) was introduced into this council of Parliament. The succeeding history is that of the struggle for supremacy of Parliament against the royal power.

The merchants, embittered by the harassing and interrupting of commerce by enemy ships and the waste of money on foreign wars, time and again refused to grant the necessary subsidies and Parliament was dissolved. But the emptiness of the regal treasury always compelled the sovereigns to re-assemble Parliament.

By the time the bourgeois had arrived at wealth, then, and desired to become the ruling power, the Crown had secured the powers of government into its own hands, but at the same time, the necessities of the regal exchequer had compelled the feudal party to concede certain privileges and powers to the new class, and in this way the former helped to dig its own grave.

At the outbreak of the Revolution the parties taking part were : The Court Party, the lords and large landed proprietors ; the merchants ; the small farmers or country squires ; the town shop-keepers ; the political adventurers or opportunists ; and underneath all the poor of town and country.

The actual struggle commenced in 1642, when the Commons strove for the right to control the militia, and so take the military power out of the royal hands. In spite of the refusal of Charles to grant this request the militia were rapidly enrolled and lord lieutenants appointed.

The Lords desired to limit kingly power, the Commons to abolish it. In the early part of the war the Lords or Presbyterian party predominated and the policy of compromise was adopted. Underneath the Lords, however, were the Independents, growing daily in strength, menacing the policy and position of the Lords, and eventually compelling them to go over to the Court.

The Independents appealed only to Reason. Institutions, laws, customs everything, was by them brought before the bar of Reason and called upon to order itself according to the will of man, i.e., mercantile man. Equality of Rights, the "just" distribution of social property, was their cry. Let us hear Guizot speak of them.
"There was no contradiction between their religious and political systems ; no secret struggle between the leaders and their men ; no exclusive creed, no rigorous test rendered access to the party difficult; like the sect from which they had taken their name, they held liberty of conscience a fundamental maxim, and the immensity of the Reforms they proposed, the vast uncertainty of their designs, allowed men of the most various objects to range beneath their banners ; lawyers joined them in hopes of depriving the ecclesiastics, their rivals, of all jurisdiction and power; liberal publicists contemplated by their aid the formation of anew, clear, simple plan of legislation, which should take from lawyers their enormous profits and their immoderate power. Hanington could dream among them of a society of sages; Sidney of the liberty of Sparta or Rome; Lilburne of the restoration of the old Saxon laws; Hanison of the coming of Christ; even the non-principle of Henry Martyn and Peter Wentworth were tolerated in consideration of its daring ; republicans or levellers, reasoners or visionaries, fanatics or men of ambition, all were admitted to make a common stock of their anger, their theories, their ecstatic dreams, their intrigues ; it was enough that all were animated with equal hatred against the cavaliers and against the presbyterians, would rush on with the same fervour towards that unknown futurity which was to satisfy so many expectations."
"History of the English Revolution," Guizot, p. 216.
The principal figure in this party was Oliver Cromwell, a country squire of Hundingdonshire. Cromwell was a descendant of the unprincipled adventurer chosen by Henry VIII. as his chief instrument in the confiscation of the monastic lands, in which, process Cromwell the elder succeeded, by embezzlement, in amassing an enormous amount of wealth. Cromwell's parents had further augmented the monastic spoils by the profits derived from a lucrative brewery business. Such were the origin and connections of the man who was to lead the wealthier merchants to victory.

He organised a band of religious zealots drawn from the ranks of farmers and tradesmen, who contributed much to the earlier successes of the Parliamentary forces and also considerably exalted the power of their commander.

As the war progressed the Independents gradually gained the ascendant, and Charles I. was executed Jan. 30, 1648.

By 1649 the Independents had become strong enough to declare a commonwealth with a single House of Commons and Council of State, Cromwell managing to manoeuvre himself into the position of Lord Protector. The final working out of this was that all the executive power was centred in his hands. Then commenced the much desired epoch of the Merchants.

The commercial wars of Cromwell are described by Gibbins as follows :
"He (Cromwell) demanded trade with the Spanish colonies, and religious freedom for English settlers in such colonies. Of course his demands were refused, as well he knew they would be. Whereupon he seized Jamaica (1655) and intended to seize Cuba; and at any rate succeeded in giving the English a secure footing in the West Indies. He seized Dunkirk also from Spain (then at war with France, with a view of securing England a monopoly of the Channel to the exclusion of our old friends the Dutch. . . . Not content with victory in the West, Cromwell, with the full consent of mercantile England, declared war against the Dutch, who were now more our rivals than our friends. It would have been perfectly possible for the English and Dutch to have remained on good terms ; but the great idea of the statesmen and merchants of the 17th and 18th centuries was to gain a sole market and monopoly of trade, and so the Dutch had to be crushed. . . . Cromwell succeeded in his object. He defeated the Dutch and broke their prestige in the war of 1652-54, and designed to win their trade by the Navigation Acts of 1651. The contest between the English and Dutch for the mastery of the seas was already practically decided by the capture of New Amsterdam (New York), and the subsequent wars of Charles II. reign, completed the discomfiture of Holland."—"Industrial History of England," p. 123.
The defeat of the Dutch gave the English merchants the carrying trade of the Baltic and the Mediterranean. The Navigation Acts of 1651 referred to above set forth that all goods brought to England must be carried in ships of the actual country manufacturing the goods. As the Dutch had been previously the principal carrying nation, this was a direct blow at their supremacy, and also an indication of the growing power of the English mercantile marine.

Cromwell died in 1658, and shortly after the Royalist element began to regain a little power and succeeded in obtaining the recall of Charles II., but with greatly reduced royal power. This sovereign, more wily than his father, played into the hands of the wealthy class and was thereby enabled to enjoy a life of luxury. He pursued a foreign policy similar to that of Cromwell, enlarging the sphere of action of the merchants. He died in 1685, and his successor, James II., too thick headed to recognise the trend of the times, tried to restore the old supremacy of the Court.

In the meantime the French had grown in power and began to threaten the commercial position of England. William of Orange drew the attention of the English on account of the skilful way in which he harassed France. In consequence of this, and of the dissatisfaction aroused by the conduct of James, William was invited to the English throne in 1688. He landed with a force of Dutch, and with the help of the merchants and landowners defeated the Royalist forces.

William was presented with the "Declaration of Rights," after signing which his coronation was celebrated.

In the "Declaration of Rights" was incorporated the principles of the now all powerful capitalist class. The two chief points were—

"The raising and maintenance of a standing army to be the prerogative solely of Parliament.
Levying of taxes or loans without consent of Parliament to be illegal."

The early part of the Revolution had witnessed the desire of the revolutionary Bourgeois to abolish kingly power, but they soon found that such a measure was not entirely in their own interests. The mass of the people, seeing old habits and customs so ruthlessly jettisoned, began to question even the right of private property! During the expedition for the conquest of Ireland undertaken by Cromwell in 1629, a body known as the Levellers broke out into open insurrection, demanding "true and perfect freedom in all things." This outbreak was crushed, but it frightened some of the "eternal laws of reason" out of the capitalists, hence their acquiescence in the restoration of the shadow of kingship.

The successful culmination of the rebellion put the rising capitalists in a position to reap to the full the advantages of the new system of colonisation and unlimited competition. It brought to the English working class a depth of misery and slavery hitherto unknown.

Sting in the Tail: The Herd Instinct (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Herd Instinct

Suddenly for no apparent reason, the herd was off in a panic-stricken stampede. Possibly it had heard something but nobody really knows.

A scene from a Hollywood cowboy movie? No, only the London stock market last month when “panic buying" by investors sent share values soaring by over £11 billion in one day.

And the cause? Various pundits thought that the equally mysterious rise in share values on Wall Street was responsible; others put it down to the “feel good" factor following victory in the Gulf war, while some suggested that falling interest rates had fuelled hopes that the recession was ending — the Director General of the CBI had “anecdotal evidence" of an upturn, and so on.

The fact is that big investors, especially the Institutions, all have vast amounts of cash seeking ways of earning rent, interest and profit The cash HAS to go somewhere so any hopeful sign, real or imagined, was enough to send those investors stampeding to buy, buy, buy, because, as one report put it, "they were afraid of being left behind".

£11 billion on nothing more substantial than rumour, hope and follow-my-leader. Who says capitalism isn’t a crazy old system?

A Happy Thought

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Labour leaders like Gaitskell, Wilson, Callaghan, etc., were forever being attacked by the grossly misnamed "Young Socialists" for being "right wing".

Top Tories used to laugh at this and give thanks that the Young Conservatives were more interested in ping-pong than politics. This situation changed in the last decade when the YCs became "radical" and their actions and utterances more and more embarrassing to the party leadership.

Now Murdo Fraser, National Chairman of the YCs, has denounced none other than John Major for scrapping the poll tax, being indecisive and having no sense of direction (ITV's Oracle 6 April).

Tory leaders were outraged at this attack but they're not the only ones feeling angry, for Major was the very one the "radicals" happily claimed was the man to "carry through the Thatcher revolution" when he became PM!

The fact is that it doesn't matter that Major is a dithering wimp, even if he was Rambo he wouldn't be able to make capitalism work except as a system that puts profits before needs.

Marx's Raw Deal

The Guardian has really got it in for Karl Marx. An article on 10 April outlining Albania's new draft-constitution appears below the headline "Tirana abandons Marxism". The article then reveals that what has been abandoned is "Marxism-Leninism" which is the Leninist distortion of Marxism.

This is typical of the Guardian. No opportunity to misrepresent Marx and his ideas is missed with every Eastern European or banana-republic dictatorship dubbed "Marxist" and without even a shred of evidence to support this.

Hard Times

Many workers are experiencing the full blast of the recession. Some are having to settle for less than the inflation rate in their annual wage negotiations. Some are even being told they will get NO increase at all this year.

Pickford's Travel have gone one worse by proposing that their employees take a 7.5% wage cut. This is bad enough but spare a thought for Gene Lockhart, the highest-paid director of Midland Bank. He has suffered a 41% reduction in his salary. Mind you that still leaves him £429,216 per annum to keep the wolf from the door.

Lockhart's salary is performance-related and the Midland Bank has experienced a particularly bad year only making £11 million profit in 1990. All is not gloom In banking circles however, because Sir John Quinton, chairman of Barclays bank managed to get a rise of 21% to £404,000.

This must be a great consolation to the bank clerks at Barclays who are being asked to accept a 6% increase. Hard times indeed — but only for some it seems.

The Military Mind

The splendid insanities of the military mind are a constant source of astonishment to socialists, but we have recently been sent a newspaper clipping that had even your old battle-scarred Scorpion gasping.

It seems at least one facet of capitalism's inglorious military paraphernalia may be due for the dustbin of history — The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  On future battlefields unknown soldiers may well be identified by the genetic structure of cells found in the blood which vary with each Individual. The technology is so precise that the Pentagon plans to develop a kind of "DNA Dog Tag" for all military personnel. Major V. Weedn, Chief of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab. says, "In the future there should not be any more unknown soldiers.”
(Herald Tribune 11 March)
We suggest that the best way to ensure that we have no more Tombs to the Unknown Soldier is to get rid of the cause of war — world capitalism!

A Familiar Tale

"Fame is the Spur", shown on Channel 4 on 5 April, is the film based on Howard Spring's novel about Hamer Radshaw, a product of the Manchester slums in late Victorian England.

Radshaw used his talent as a spell-binding orator first for the rising Labour movement and then to become a cabinet minister in both Labour and National governments.

The story charts his unprincipled progress from street-corner agitator to "statesman" and finally to the House of Lords. Who was he based on? There's a bit of Victor Grayson there and Ramsay MacDonald too, but the Labour Party has spawned dozens of Radshaws, men and women who used the working class in their single-minded climb to power and privilege.

Eventually, workers will discard the naive notion that their fate can be left to labour politicians, but in the meantime there are many more Hamer Radshaws patiently awaiting their opportunity.

Prize Specimen

After the Oscars and the Tonys comes the Maggies. This is a prize that the Thatcher Foundation will award annually to the person whose work has best "identified free enterprise with freedom".

The first recipient is Professor David Marsland and he is a worthy winner of this Creep of the Year award. He recently declared "We must get rid of the social worker". He also wants to abolish unemployment benefit and he has great plans for our kids:
  He has also called for lessons in patriotism and civil defence to be put on Britain's academic timetables, with encouragement for children from the age of 11 to join "voluntary defence training corps in schools"
(The Observer 21 April)
Give him the Maggie — give us a bucket to be sick in!

Why you should be a socialist (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why are there so many social problems?

Because present-day society is not organised primarily to serve human needs. We all live in a world economy which is based on the competitive accumulation of wealth, and this has some bizarre consequences. Food is not produced directly to be eaten, houses are not built directly to accommodate people and clothes are not made directly to be worn. They are provided, if at all, through the market to be sold at a price and for a profit. And our access to them depends on our ability to pay.

To get the things we need, most of us are compelled to sell our working abilities to an employer. We have to get the best price (wage or salary) we can on the market. But our employers have an interest in getting as much out of us for as little expenditure as possible during our time in employment. So our present-day organisation of society is founded on conflict, and this gives rise to specifically capitalist problems of society.

Don't recent events in eastern Europe show that socialism doesn't work?

No, they don't. Many people in eastern Europe and elsewhere are unhappy for much the same reasons as we in the West are. They too live in countries based on conflict. But they had the additional problem of living in police states. Now those countries are being organised more along the lines of Western liberal-democratic capitalism.

We, as socialists, have always maintained that centrally-controlled economics have nothing whatsoever to do with socialism. We argue that Lenin and his followers set up dictatorships to develop stale-run capitalism. Those countries were — and still are — all part of the world economy. There too human needs come second best, behind a parasitic ruling class.

We have always been opposed to the opportunist and dangerous ideas and practices of Lenin and Trotsky. We welcome you to check our record on socialist opposition to all regimes that call themselves socialist.

Why do we keep having booms and slumps?

Because they are necessary and inevitable given the way present-day society is organised.

A slump or depression does not mean that something has "gone wrong" with the economy. What happens is that industries go into a boom period when most of them are working to full capacity and unemployment is correspondingly low. Encouraged by high profits, however, some industries produce more than can be profitably sold in their particular market. A crisis may then occur. And, if the combined effect is large enough, it is followed by a slump as other industries get sucked into the downward spiral of unsold products and falling profits.

Industries then curtail production, or close down altogether, and lay off workers. Eventually the conditions for profitable production are restored and business booms . . . but only to repeat the cycle.

No theory of the free market or of economic management, when put into practice, has been able to prevent a slump. Given the profit-seeking nature of the economy, slumps are as necessary to capitalism as hell is to Christianity.

What is the cause of war?

Capitalism is the cause of the rivalries that lead to war in the modern world. In general, these struggles between states are over property. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes, exploitable populations and areas of strategic importance. Within each state in the world there is a conflict of interest over social priorities. But all over the world there are conflicts of interest between states which lead to war when other means fail.

Of course wars took place before capitalism existed. These wars, however, can be attributed to the absolute shortages of the past. Of food in particular. In our own age the problem is a different one. Now the means exist for producing enough to supply the needs of all. In world capitalism, however, we have the problem of artificial scarcity created by the capitalist form of production. Social production takes place for profit, not directly for human need. It is this global system of competitive accumulation that creates the rivalry which leads to war.

How did our environment become so polluted?

Because under the present world economic system, states, enterprises and even individuals are encouraged to dump their unwanted waste products into the environment. It reduces costs. Moreover, not only are basic needs far from satisfied but much of what is produced is pure waste from a rational point of view. For example, all the resources involved in commerce and finance, the mere buying and selling things, and those poured into armaments. The whole system of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by the drive to accumulate wealth without consideration for the longer-term and global factors that ecology teaches are vitally important.

The overall result of an economic system governed by blind economic laws is a pressure on decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

Are there too many people in the world?

No. There are those who argue that population growth tends to exceed the increase in food supply. The result, it is claimed, is a periodic check in population growth by famine, disease and war. Of course, this is a very popular apology for the poverty of capitalism. However, since the industrial revolution technological developments in the means for producing food have allowed for a growing population. The continuing existence of famines focuses attention on population size rather than on food production. It has long been technically possible to adequately feed every man, woman and child on this planet. At the same time we have butter mountains, milk lakes and so on. Why, then, is there poverty amidst plenty? Because the poor do not constitute effective demand in the market place. They simply cannot afford enough food.

The real issue is not overpopulation, nor is it really a question of poverty but whether the organisation of society can allow people to produce the wealth they need.

What can I do about these problems?

Before anything practical can be done there needs to be a majority with a working knowledge of how capitalism operates, and an understanding of what the change to socialism will mean. Social problems such as those above are the result of a divided society. They arise and persist because there are different interests at work. If you agree with what we say, help us to bring about a society based on common interests, with production directly to meet human needs. It is only on this basis that we can all set about solving social problems. If you disagree with what we say, tell us why.

A policeman's lament (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

“I see around me a great sea of wrongdoing that seems not to lessen”. So declared Sir James Anderton, the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police, announcing his forthcoming retirement. Anderton often claimed he was moved by god to act as a scourge to the sinful. This was something he shared with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Anderton may be in serious need of professional help but the essence of his view, that society is plagued with the problem of crime, is held by many people.

Crime, there is no doubt, occupies the imagination. It takes up a great deal of the column inches of newspapers. We are routinely bamboozled with documentaries, soap operas, films and videos about crime. We hear radio broadcasts and read books about it. There is now in Britain even a magazine dedicated entirely to morbidly poring over famous murder cases. The level of crime and the so-called “law and order debate” are major policy issues amongst political parties at election times.

Yet what is commonly understood by "crime” is much less extensive and less deep a social problem than is often portrayed. Research in Glasgow has recently demonstrated that over 30 percent of news stories in several national newspapers are about crime, but this does not reflect the actual level of criminality in society. As Nick Ross always comforts his scared late-night viewers in “Crimewatch UK", the chances of actually being the victim of crime are infinitesimally small.

One reason for the high profile coverage is that news about crimes helps support a picture of humanity as being eternally and necessarily dogged with the prevalence of crime.

But what is "crime"? It is tempting to quickly interpret the word as meaning wrongdoings associated with violence, especially homicides. In fact, probably the best definition is that a crime is any type of conduct or event or state of affairs designated as criminal by the state. What states designate as crimes will vary with the times and the historical circumstances. There is nothing intrinsic in criminal behaviour that runs commonly through all crimes for all times. Anything can be made into a crime.

93 per cent of all crime is property-based.
But crime, as defined by the state, is not even principally about random and brutal violence delivered in a haphazard way. Most so-called crime is about people in the working class trying to alleviate their poverty. According to recent Home Office figures. the police in England and Wales recorded 4.5 million offences in 1990, of which 94 per cent were non-violent crimes of property (Independent, 28 March). So even in a world of institutionalised violence—a society of the legitimate violence of the police truncheon and the prison cell, of the recruitment of people as trained killers in the military forces—even in this brutalising environment, people on the whole arc resistant to the use of violence.

What causes crime?
Historically there have been a great many and varied accounts of what causes crime. Thus in 1746 Cesare Beccaria, who was later to become a professor of Political Economy in Milan, wrote An Essay on Crime and Punishment in which he opposed "capricious justice and barbaric punishment". Punishments, he argued, "should be certain, prompt and only just in excess of the gain to be had by the crime”.

He regarded humans as essentially rational beings who only opted for crime if there was a good chance that it would pay. Aristocrats whose ancestors had acquired their original wealth through plunder and merchant explorers who had negotiated their gains with powerful arsenals could only agree. Beccaria’s book was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1776 for its rationalistic ideas but the basis of his theory has had an enormous influence, especially its implication that if you fix the punishment at the appropriate level this will deter crime as the potential criminal will then rationally opt not to commit it. This type of reasoning is still very popular with governments: the Home Office is forever playing around with the system of punishments and finely tuning them so that it can "beat crime".

There are a number of things which can be said about this theory but one thing is clear: it has not worked. The level of crime in Britain and in several other countries which have used this theory has not significantly altered in any respect.

A century after Beccaria another Italian, Cesare Lombroso, wrote a book in 1876 called The Criminal Man in which he claimed that criminals were a race apart from ordinary people. Lombroso had been affected by Darwin's theory of natural selection (much of which he didn't seem to understand) and saw criminals as throwbacks to an earlier age. Criminaloids could be detected by how hairy they were, the shape of their nipples and the type of eyebrows they had.

This theory was popular with the ruling class because it meant that if criminals were pre-programmed to be that way in any event then there was no need to spend money on expensive social reforms designed to stop people being forced to turn to crime. A stack of theories built on the foundations of Lombroso's basic concept of the criminal as a person set apart from ordinary people persist to this day.

There is no proven evidence for this view that criminals have a particular biological or psychological make-up. Hundreds of experiments of various scientific methods, including "endocrinological profiling" and "encephalographic screening" of so-called known criminals and normal people, have failed to discover any defining characteristic which is indicative of criminality.

Property is theft
Most crime, as noted, is property crime—offences like theft. So, over the course of a year, we are really just looking at a small number of members of the working class aiming to get goods worth a few hundred or a few thousand pounds. We should not get too engrossed in all these petty cases and the moralising obsessions of the Daily Express but should see things in their wider context.

Today a few men and women live in unbounded. extravagant luxury' gaining £100,000 per day or even hour. They do not do any work in order to acquire their wealth. It would go to them whether they were awake or asleep, in Manchester or Malibou. They are socially parasitic on the energies of the working class of wage and salary earners. Ninety percent of the population create all the wealth—excavate, mine, construct, design, service, clean, maintain, teach, nurse, cook and grow. We build the luxury houses and then go home to live in cramped accommodation. We build the Pullman coaches and then pay to travel second class. The wealth we produce, in other words, is appropriated by the ruling class with intent to permanently deprive us of the goods (to quote the Theft Act 1968). That process, however, is flattered with the name of “the wages system". If we try to get back some of the wealth we have produced, then that is called theft and is a crime.

Apart from the routine way in which the social system robs people, it also kills and maims. Each year hundreds of people are killed by companies who have knowingly taken calculated risks with people's lives. Some of these deaths have been carefully documented by the Health and Safety Executive. The London Hazards Centre has estimated that 600 to 700 people die every year from occupational injury caused by the recklessness of their employers— about the same number as personal homicides.

We are living in a class-divided society where a minority of men and women between them own and control most the the world’s wealth. Production is not run for human needs; it is run for profit, so if there’s no profit in allowing someone to work or produce food for starving people then these things won’t be done.

The radical transformation of society that socialists propose is to put the means of producing and distributing wealth in the hands of the whole community and to let the principle "from each according to ability to each according to need” be put into practice. In these circumstances, crime as it is commonly conceived (petty theft, muggings and the like) will no longer have a reason to exist.

Anderton thought he could change the conduct of individuals by personal pressure and the force of the law:
  I did have a kind of dream that I might, by example and protest, change the course of things so powerfully, and influence society and the country in the matter of rightful conduct, that they would turn away from crime and disorder and wilful criminal behaviour. Sadly, this has not happened. (Guardian.,15 March).
Marx, by contrast, pointed out that people get their ideas and types of conduct from the world around them. The economic structure of the rat race makes people behave like rats:
  . . . so what has to be done is to arrange the empirical world in such a way that man experiences . . . what is truly human in it . . . Crime must not be punished in the individual but the anti-social sources of crime must be destroyed. If man is shaped by his environment his environment must be made human. (The Holy Family).
Gary Jay

Caught In The Act: A Matter of Timing (1991)

The Caught In The Act Column from the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Matter of Timing

As if he has not got enough on his mind already, with all those unkind press comments about him being a vacillating nonentity, John Major has the additional pressing worry of when to call the next general election. From all sides he will be advised that the timing can be crucial in deciding who wins; a month or two either way can mean defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Warning stories are told about Harold Wilson's mistake in 1970 and Jim Callaghan in 1979. Wilson assumed that Labour's position was impregnable and treated the election as a blip on the unruffled business of running British capitalism. If he had waited we might never have had Ted Heath as prime minister. Callaghan, on the other hand, should not have waited; he gambled that things were getting better for his government and would continue to do so. Instead they went on getting worse and the winter of discontent sealed Labour's fate. If Callaghan had not waited we would not have had Thatcher and life would have been a lot less interesting for the people who produce programmes like Spitting Image.

After Thatcher's victory the timing was, apparently, a lot simpler. According to Cecil Parkinson, who was Conservative Party chairman at the time, in 1983 it was so simple as to be a matter of common sense. All the opinion samples indicated that a sweeping Tory victory was in prospect. They had ridden over their crisis of unpopularity and had picked up a lot of support from the more seriously deluded workers over the Falklands War. To help them on their way the Labour Party had elected Michael Foot as their leader and then ran a campaign notable for the ineptitude of their attempts to mislead workers into voting for them. In 1987 the Labour Party ran a much craftier campaign but they had too much ground to make up. The local election results that year persuaded Thatcher that the Tory vote was holding so the time was ripe to allow the great British people to make their democratic choice — which actually means to have Saatchi and Saatchi unleashed upon them.

Mr Nice Guy

For John Major it is not so simple. He is in trouble. One Tory supporter recently wrote to the Daily Telegraph to complain about the prime minister abusing the sartorial standards of all British gentlemen by buttoning up his jacket as he steps out of the official limousine — and you can't get much deeper into trouble than that: Major's image as Mr Nice Guy, unbuttoned jacket and all, is all very well except when your party is hungry for a parliamentary Rambo. It is all very well except when it seems to paralyse your decision-making and reduces your party to a rabble of squabbling back benchers and rivals for your job. It is all very well except when it encourages your supporters to question whether they did the right thing when they got rid of your predecessor.

These things must weigh heavily with Major as he toys with his calendar, his slide rule and his crystal ball. If he decides on an election this summer — which probably means June — and the Tories do badly their conference in October is likely to be historic for the ferocity of the fighting behind the desperately played down smoke screens. It will be the Conservative Party in its element — scheming and intriguing about how to win, or hold onto, power. All gentlemen in attendance are advised to keep their jackets buttoned firmly into place.

One thing which is never mentioned is the presumption at the base of all the calculations about the best date for the election, that workers are particularly susceptible to political deception. In the ease of Callaghan, for example, it is argued that he should have gone to the poll in late 1978 because at that time the voters thought, in spite of all they had experienced, that Labour could control capitalism into a docile, caring and progressive system. After the strikes and disruptions of that winter they were not so sure — and the Labour leadership were not able to offer any bribes attractive enough to cover up their woeful failure. Callaghan is criticised, not because he deceived the working class but because he miscalculated about the best time to exploit their political naiveté.

Gruesome Reality 

Workers swing from one discredited party to another, under the unblinking observation of the opinion pollsters, because they lack a sound understanding of how this social system works and why. So they are deceived into giving a major importance to issues which are in fact trivial or irrelevant and it is on that basis that votes change from one side to another. Issues such as the poll tax or the level of state benefits or whether John Major is an irresolute wimp have no real effect on how capitalism operates or what the system does to its people. Subtle advertising campaigns — which is what elections really are — persuade millions of voters that such matters are history-forming and they go to the polls arguing about them, to emerge convinced that with their cross on the ballot paper they have changed things. It takes a little time for the truth — that nothing has changed — to sink in and so set the votes swinging again, to the excitement of the political experts.

In gruesome reality what the workers have done is to surrender their power to make a real change in society. They have made themselves vulnerable to the schemes and calculations of the politicians and they have encouraged the tricksters of the advertising world in the belief that the workers are pliable to the point of ignorance. If this is degrading and insulting to millions of people — well that is a fair description of capitalism and its cynical propaganda.


Meanwhile the people at the sharp end of all this — the voters — should ponder a few vital questions. Are they satisfied to have their votes, through which they could fashion a free and humane social system, treated with such cynicism? Are they content to put themselves at the disposal of a bunch of ruthless manipulators whose only object is political power? Are they really impressed by the succession of bribes dangled before them by parties who are desperate for their votes? Are they worried whether John Major got any O levels, treats his family well and does his jacket up properly? Are they happy as the world reels under the disasters of that "successful" war in the Gulf, that this should be the limit of their political involvement? And are they going to do anything to change it?

50 Years Ago: Stalin's Capitalist Foreign 
Policy (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have had Hitler sending birthday greetings to Stalin. Stalin being photographed in a friendly party with Ribbcntrop. Molotov all smiles with General Goering, now comes Stalin and Matsuoka, the Japanese Foreign Minister, who was in Moscow late in April. Here is the story from the Evening Standard of what is reported to have occurred when Stalin saw Matsuoka off on the train:
  According to Mr. Hasegawa. the two statesmen were then apparently overcome with emotion and embraced one another to the amazement of the foreign diplomatic representatives present. (Evening Standard, April 28th. 1941.)
It sounds too touching to be true, but no doubt “dialectically considered", as the Communists would say, it is a further piece of Socialist propaganda designed to clarify the ideas of the world’s workers and show them which of the representatives of capitalism are their true friends.

Those who still imagine that the Russian Government's foreign policy is governed by internationalism should note the following, reproduced from the Bolshevik journal Pravda:
  The foreign policy of the USSR is guided exclusively by the interests of the USSR, exclusively by the interests of the peoples of the USSR. This policy dictates to the USSR the desire to develop as widely as possible trade and economic relations with those of its neighbours who correctly appraise the importance of these connections with the USSR for their own interests. The Soviet-German Treaty and Agreements of 1941 confirm with perfect clarity the absolute truth of this proposition. (Reproduced in the Anglo-Russia News Bulletin. January 18th. 1941.)
[From the Socialist Standard, May 1941.]

From Orange Law to Whitelaw (1972)

From the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
March 22nd. Mr. Brian Faulkner in London being talked to by his Tory overlord, Heath. Press says talks “crucial”. Ten hours talking . . . Brian walks out peeved. Brian comes back . . . talk . . . talk. 
March 23rd. Faulkner is back in Belfast giving the bad news to the rest of the gang at Stormont. Northern Ireland tense . . . waiting. Dark clouds over Stormont. Faulkner goes back to London. 
March 24th. The news is out! Stormont is “prorogued”, the semantics of anti-“backlash” strategy. Everybody knows that Westminster is not only the assassin but the undertaker! Orange law is dead; Wullie Whitelaw, Heath’s Ulster hatchetman, takes its place with near-absolute powers. Real change is alleged. 
Trauma . . . anger . . . suspicion . . . fear . . . bitterness . . . hope — all are elements in the emotional shock-wave that hits Northern Ireland. What does it all mean? Whitelaw or Orange law? We say there has been no change: capitalism still rules.
So often over the past few years in Northern Ireland have we seen the unexpected occur in a continual succession of nine-day wonders that have knocked many of the sacred cows from their sacrosanct pedestals . . . so many of the things which the cynics said “will not happen in our time” have happened.

The lessons are many but, primarily, they show two things: they show the speed with which political change can occur and the ability of the great majority of people to reconcile themselves to that change and they also show that whatever amount of apparent change occurs in the administrative organs of the system, they leave, wholly and totally, the real problems that affect the working class intact and undisturbed.

If, like the “Left” the Communists, Labourites, P.D., official I.R.A., etc — we were sufficiently ignorant of the real nature of capitalism, and the alternative to that system, Socialism, to take sides in the major dispute in Ireland concerning how capitalism should be organised or by whom, then we could take either side — almost with equal “justice” — and have an excellent case for rapping our opponents: But we are not “Leftists”, concerned with administering social aspirin to a society suffering the horrible economic cancer of capitalism. We are Socialists, holding to the demonstrable fact that only the surgery of social revolution, carried through with the weapons of democracy and Socialist knowledge, can bring about real change. As such we are not concerned with taking any “side” in the political struggle in Ireland (or elsewhere), a political struggle that has emerged from, and was caused by, the earlier internecine struggle within the country’s propertied class, and are, thus, absolved from the hypocrisy, the lies, the contradictions, the prejudices as well as the deliberate exploitation of working class blood and tears for the accomplishment of purposes that bear no relevance to working class interests.

We have seen anglophobic Irish nationalists demanding “British standards of justice”, sometimes even when the military stalwarts of that “justice” were engaged in the crassest brutality against them. We have seen “Loyalists” of the Unionist Party, and its fringe lunacies, denounce those same British standards while boasting their loyalty to Britain. We have seen the “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people” take in a tame Catholic to its ranks in a lame attempt to convince the world that it was not a Protestant Parliament. And we have seen the British Tory Government sack the local Tory bigots, with all the implications of disgrace, and establish a dictatorial overlord to implement the aforementioned “British standards”!

And we could go on . . . and on . . . but, why? Nothing really has changed. Nothing, that is, that really affects the life of Paddy Murphy, Catholic, workingman or Jimmy Brown, Protestant, workingman. The regime of the alarm clock, the job, the dole, the poverty, the slums, even, the violence — real and intended — goes on and all the happy slogans of reform are turned on their head as their diametrical opposite draws the cheers of the leaders who first taught you the slogans of reform. “One man — One vote”? No! Now we have Whitelaw — and no votes! Abolition of the Special Powers Act? Now we have the infamous Act administered by the British Army with a repressive ruthlessness that sometimes makes even the RUC appear playful! Jobs? Homes? These are now the governmental preserve of the Heath administration and its wanton failure in both fields in Britain can hardly inspire confidence!

Because, so often, we saw the viciously-contorting face of Brian Faulkner vomit its blood-curdling hatred at those whom he opposed; because we lived with his lies and hypocrisy and his leadership of a group of self-seeking political gangsters prepared to stop at nothing to maintain their power and privilege, we may see in the ignominous dismissal of the foul Unionist coterie some victory. But there is no real victory for the working class, even in the satisfaction that some of them may see in the political demise of Faulkner and his cohorts. For these people, like Heath, Wilson and Lynch, or, if they achieved political power, the leaders of the IRA, the Ulster Vanguard or the professional “moderates” of the Alliance Party, are the mere political servants of capitalism.

It was to maintain capitalism in such a manner as would make most effective its exploitation of the working class that Unionism and Nationalism became political forces in Ireland. It was the immediate needs of capitalism in the nearly part of this century that exploited the divisive influences historically bound-up with class society in the country and brought forth the slogans of bigotry and patriotism, hatred and prejudice — the inane Orange battle-cries and the futile Nationalist shibboleths. The poison of sectarianism and nationalism was used by the contending factions within capitalism to rally the working class in the North behind the continuance of union with Britain, in order that the Northern capitalists could maintain their free access to the British markets, and the working class in the South behind the demand for “freedom” from British rule, so that the political servants of the developing capitalist class in the South could take legislative steps to protect a weak native capitalism from the competition of foreign, mainly British, capitalism.

With the changing of conditions affecting capitalism in both parts of the country the old friction of interest between the Northern and Southern capitalists largely declined. It was this decline and the closer economic integration of the UK-Irish economy, endorsed in the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, that led to the closer co-operation of Northern and Southern politicians in the latter part of the Sixties and paved the way for the O’Neill-Lemass bun-worry at Stormont in 1965. Capitalism in Ireland no longer needed the unpleasant levels of bigotry and hatred that had been necessary to promote both parts of its divided interests nearly fifty years before. With as little scruple as had been employed when the weapons of hate and division had been first used, the political servants of capitalism attempted to throw them aside, and, in the process, to take credit for their integrity and political perspicacity! But, in Northern Ireland, the poison had been injected deep into the vein of working class life and the sheep baulked at following their leaders through the pens of hypocrisy to a tolerance based on the new needs of capitalism.

The rest is the history of the last four years: the story of murder, arson, brutality, torture and increased hatred and division when the working class paid with its lives, its freedom and endured privation and repression beyond the norm and the capitalist class saw its profits endangered and its lives discomfited. This was the background to Heath and his gang bestowing on Faulkner and his mob the old order of the boot!

Faulkner and his Tory hate-mongers were kicked out by their erstwhile friends of the British Tory party not because they were the Party that generated hatred and bitterness nor because they had set up an authoritarian statelet in which lies and deceit imposed the same miseries on propertyless Protestants as did hate policies and political coercion on propertyless Catholics. If these crimes had represented the indictment against Unionism, Unionist politicians would never have been allowed to relax their privileged backsides in the plushed splendor of Stormont. No, Teddy and his friends did not abandon Brian and his boys simply because the latter had been found out nor did the Leader of that other great act in capitalism’s political circus, the Labour Party, recommend dismissal on such grounds. Faulkner and his party had to go because they could no longer deliver the goods to the capitalist class in the form of a reasonably peaceful, docile, hard-grafting working class churning out goods for sale and profit without the expenditure of too much in the way of overheads for maintaining “law and order”.

A few points are worthy of note; the Party of acknowledged political gangsters whom Westminster have seen fit to dismiss are the same Party who were given power by Liberal Lloyd George’s Government of Ireland Act of 1920; the same Party that enjoyed the confidence and support of successive Tory governments up to the present Heath administration; the same Party whose political foulness was strengthened by the Labour government’s Amendments to the Governments of Ireland Act, in 1948 and whose corruption was beneath the cognizance of Harold Wilson until it became an expensive embarrassment in 1969.

And the alternatives for the future? Again it is worthy of note that Harold Wilson—who can doubt with the foreknowledge and connivance of Heath? — sat in counsel with “the gunmen and murderers” of the IRA in Dublin. It is worthy of note because capitalism will employ, and has employed, any trick, any hypocrisy, any instrument that guarantees its untroubled exploitation of the working class. And none of the contenders for power are any worse than those presiding over capitalism’s system of theft at present.

And the future for the working class? This we can predict with easy confidence. The continuation of poverty, insecurity, of going without . . . living in slums or letting the larder pay the rent or the mortgage . . . division . . . violence. In a word, no change! But, then, the working class knows its miseries and, ironically, while it seeks assuagement of political or religious problems it does not expect relief from its class miseries. Nor will it get it before it jettisons its inculcated nationalistic and religious prejudices and its notions that a society in which a minority class owns society’s means of living can provide the material basis of a peaceful, a full and a happy life for everybody.
Richard Montague