Saturday, May 30, 2020

Russia: The Land That Did Not Abolish 
Unemployment (1933)

Editorial from the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Up to 1930 the existence of a large body of unemployed was officially admitted by the Russian Government, and particulars of the numbers out of work and of the small relief payments made to them were published in the Soviet Union Year Books. Then, in 1930, it was claimed that the building of factories and railroads, etc., had absorbed the unemployed workers and had, in fact, created a scarcity. Communists blazoned forth the tidings that Russia was “ the land without unemployment.” Superficial observers like Lord Passfield and G. B. Shaw were so overjoyed when they found a government trying to run capitalism on Fabian “strait-jacket” principles that they accepted the Russian claim and hastened back to tell Europe and America how to solve their problems by copying the Bolshevists. The S.P.G.B. was, it seems, entirely alone in refusing to accept the claim. We did not deny that Russia, or any other capitalist country, could show a comparatively small amount of unemployment during a period of great capital expansion. In that respect, Russia's experience is one which every country has shared at some time or other. What we did deny was that Russia could permanently escape the consequences of being part and parcel of world capitalism. Just as in 1918 the S.P.G.B. pointed out that economic conditions and the backwardness of the population utterly ruled out any possibility of Socialism being established in Russia at that time, or in the near future, so in 1930 we said with equal certainty that the world crisis would, in due course, upset the attempt at segregating Russian capitalism from the rest of the world. Russia could not and cannot do without the outside world. Hence, the impossibility of carrying out planned production and distribution. The Bolshevists planned to export certain commodities (oil, for example) and to import machinery, trained engineers, etc. The drastic fall in raw material prices and the curtailment of purchases of Russian exports inevitably deranged the plans. Faced with the need to meet its obligations abroad, the Russian Government had to curtail imports and cut its expenditure. The method followed was the usual one of reducing staffs. In February (see Times, February 26th) orders were issued for the dismissal of large numbers of employees in the State enterprises, and for the strict enforcement of the rule that wages must not exceed the planned total amount. The result has been an increase in the number of unemployed till it has reached large figures—how large it is difficult to say in the absence of official statistics. The correspondent in Russia of the Manchester Guardian (March 29th) states that the recently introduced Passport System , (under which nobody is allowed to live in Moscow and other big cities without a passport) had already resulted in 750,000 people being refused passports in Moscow alone, with the probability that the figure would rise to 1,000,000. The correspondent says that passports are refused to all unemployed persons, but he does not know how many of the 750,000 are unemployed, beyond the statement that in the towns the number of unemployed is "considerable.” For those driven out of the towns the prospect, he says, is starvation, “since everyone knows that outside the cities famine conditions prevail.”

Mr. Gareth Jones, formerly foreign adviser to Mr. Lloyd George, who has just returned from an extended tour of investigation, states that the economy drive in the factories has often resulted in the dismissal of from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. of the staffs. (Daily Express, April 8th.) There has, so far, been no re-introduction of unemployment pay, but doubtless Russia will, sooner or later, have to make some provision for its "industrial reserve army of unemployed,” just like the other capitalist countries.

So Russia joins the long line of countries on behalf of which, at different times, it has been claimed that unemployment has been abolished without abolishing capitalism: Canada and Australia, France, Italy, America, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and now Russia. Can we now hope that the I.L.P., the Communists and the Labour Party will be unable to put over any more hoaxes of this kind?

Socialism Inevitable (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Engels wrote to the effect that the establishment of Socialism would mean the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom he was not guilty of a mere rhetorical flourish. He was expressing a profound sociological truth. The fact that under Socialism social forces will be under man’s control to an extent never previously reached, and further, that this would be the inevitable result of the development of society, as the dissolution of Capitalist society is mainly a question of time, plus the action and interaction of social forces in their entirety. 

Let us explain, in a more general way, our meaning.

The continuity with which the presence and pressure of adverse social conditions has pervaded human society is such that the idea of moulding human association to exclude privation and want impresses some people as being the product of a sentimental imagination. This arbitrary assumption is wholly wrong. The idea in question is the result of a logical deduction made after a study of the social history of mankind, and considerably animated by the pressure of the effects of capitalism upon us as members of the working class.

The socialist philosophy of life is born and nourished by the knowledge that capitalism can never be made to function in the interest of those who produce the means of living, or even of making the essential needs of social life its primary concern. This view may be challenged on the ground that capitalism is a social system and, as such, must concern itself with social needs.

We may speak of capitalist society as a social order, as one that has evolved from other and different forms of social life, but our reason for doing so is that its structure has a basis from which certain more or less regular and regulated economic, political, legal and sex[ relationships arise. It is, therefore, known in the science of sociology as a social order.

Since the breakdown of tribal society, under which private property had little or no meaning as a social status, social convulsions and revolutions have been experienced through which one form of class rule has superseded another. But whilst each ruling class has fought for social control in order to remove the obstacles that impede its further development, the social organisation following the conquest of power is the result of normal development and not the conscious design of the ruling class in question. Economic and political development has continued without those who have gained most from it being aware of the nature of the process.

Society to-day has an orderly appearance, but the anarchic character of its foundations produces effects that are constantly felt. At the very basis of this social system, in the course of the production and distribution of its wealth, there exists, despite the social form which production takes, a considerable degree of anarchy among those under whose “guidance” the process of production and distribution is carried on. The preservation of class rule compels a measure of co-ordination among the rulers in order to conserve the institution of private property, but in the quest for enrichment the scramble between capitalists is carried on with an intensity that bears comparison with the struggle for life in the animal kingdom.

In this scramble for wealth the machinery of production is overworked and the world becomes flooded with goods which the producing class cannot obtain in sufficiency and the owning class cannot dispose of at a profit. Where this condition obtains wealth is often destroyed instead of being consumed, because consumption was not the underlying purpose of its production.
Looking at the matter superficially one might take it for granted that the needs of society as a whole would be the first concern, but ,this is not sq in class society. Were it really so, the trash that passes under the name of human requirements would never be placed at our disposal.

It is true that the wealth produced in capitalist society has a use-value, but such use-value as it may have is a mere incident to its existence. It is not for its usefulness that it is produced, but for its capacity to bring profit to the capitalists. No profit, or ultimate prospect of profit, then no production is permissible.

In thus criticising capital’s mode of activity, we socialists imply nothing of moral significance. We are too well aware that things cannot be different from what they are as far as the main purpose of capitalism is concerned. Our case is strengthened, not weakened, by the recognition of the fact that business in capitalist society cannot be run without profit. But we are concerned with the consequences which flow from the quest for profit, because, as workers, we know our exploitation is the source from which profit is derived, and hence is inseparable from capital’s existence. And this brings us to a lesson from another side of the effects of capitalism.

It is estimated that approximately thirty millions of people throughout the world are unemployed, and not even the most daring of our social optimists can reasonably point to the probability of these millions being entirely absorbed in a “trade revival.”

Were it not for the tragic side of this feature of social development, it would be possible to share some sensation of humour from the irony of the situation. Here is the vital force of capital’s organism, the source which gives it life and growth, a mass of human labour power rendered stagnant because of the inability of those who normally profit from its use to set it in motion. At the behest of the capitalists more has been produced than is sufficient to satisfy what the economists call the effective demand of the market. Therefore, workers must be unemployed, with their already meagre means stinted still further.

It is idle to insist that the conditions so far referred to arise from such a social disturbance as the late European war, or that they are occasioned by the particular government in office at any given time. Their existence is independent of any political administration, and would be here though the late war had never been. Wars and policies of governments may aggravate such conditions, but they do not cause them to exist. Given the condition that an individual or a class has the right and power to own the land, mines, mills, factories, and other means of obtaining those things which we need to live, and the whole of the conditions referred to follow as an inevitable consequence. Class ownership of the means of life, it cannot be too often stated, is the root cause of poverty, unemployment, wars and such-like social anomalies.

The class division in modern society tends to become wider and wider as time goes on, which no amount of social “amelioration” can stay. So much so that world economic conferences are now a generally accepted fact in capitalist psychology. Many who previously accepted the doctrine of no interference or intervention in matters of finance and industry by the State, now gladly welcome its assistance. Surely this must be taken as a sign of the trend of events, when the capitalists employ their State machine more and more to check the havoc wrought by their own machinations.

Yet these things were all seen by thinkers long before they reached their present dimensions; in fact, whilst they were yet in their infancy.

In the early part of the 19th century, Charles Fourier, an eminent French historian and sociologist, and one of the early utopian socialists, predicted that the unbridled competition of his time (immediately after the French Revolution of 1789) must result in great concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few. He saw, also, the growth of one of civilisation’s greatest contradictions, poverty “born of superabundance itself.” Fourier proved to be a forerunner of a writer on a similar theme, who came a few decades later and had the added advantage of surveying a more developed capitalism, namely, Karl Marx. It was he who first scientifically diagnosed the source of the economic ailments of mankind, and correctly exposed the process by which the working class is exploited. The mechanisation of industry (I almost said, of life itself) Marx saw with the full force of its consequences. But he did not blame the machine or its inventor. With the clear insight of the social scientist he saw that in the form of its ownership, together with the same form of ownership in all the means of production, lay the cause of the trouble.

Since Marx wrote, the ever-increasing development of machinery has proceeded apace, spreading misery among the producers throughout the entire capitalist world, and making more difficult the problem of finding markets.

What, then, of the future of human society? Are we to relapse into a state akin to barbarism, which some fear? or is society to move forward along the path marked out for it by the laws of social development ?

In the light of the lessons of history, we socialists declare for the latter course, not merely on the ground of the wish being father to the thought, but because, as indicated above, history shows that when any given form of society reaches a stage where further development is hampered, those whose interest it is to take the step for advancement, invariably do so; even though the immediate consequences of the act may serve as a deterrent.

It is a fact becoming demonstrably clearer as time proceeds that capitalism has outgrown its usefulness to humanity, and stands as a barrier to social advancement. How this increasingly affects certain sections of the capitalist class itself, causing them to cry out for world organisation, the cancellation of war debts, and the thousand and one other nostrums now proposed for the rehabilitation of capitalism, is no concern of ours or the working class in general. Our only concern is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.

The workers are denied the possibility of enjoying the fruits of their labour, as they are hampered in sharing the real benefits bequeathed to society by all past history. It is they whom social laws have selected to bring the next stage in the development of society.

The generalisation of Frederick Engels, with which we opened this article will then be an accomplished fact. The subjection of the powers of production to social control and regulation through Socialism will likewise vindicate the words of Marx, who declared of the capitalist thus: —
  “Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake; he thus forces the development of the productive powers of society, and creates those material conditions, which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of society, a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle.”
Robert Reynolds

50 Years Ago: May Day before the 1939 War (1989)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no practical effective internationalism except that which springs strong and self-reliant from the workers' community of interest, sweeping across national frontiers like a cleansing wind blowing away bestial hatreds and fears. The future of the human race demands the destruction of the national barriers which divide the peoples of the world. Not the defence of national independence but the destruction of capitalism must be the watchword of those who would build for the future of the human race and at the same time help to stem the flood of war in which capitalism threatens to engulf civilisation. The doctrine that each group of workers should rally round their own ruling class in defence of the "national interest" only plays into the hands of the warmakers in every country. Just as British and French workers gain hope and courage whenever they read of German and Italian workers who have resisted the mass propaganda of their rulers for war and nationalism, so also the internationally minded workers in Germany and Italy would be inspired to further brave efforts if they heard that their British and French comrades were refusing to ally themselves with Anglo-French imperialism: and correspondingly depressed to learn that many of those workers were falling into line behind their capitalist rulers For, make no mistake, Europe is not on the verge of war for the sake of Nazism and democracy, but for the sake of a re-division of the spoils of the last great capitalist war.

(From an editorial "May Day and the War Clouds", Socialist Standard, May 1939.)

Socialist candidate 
in European Elections (1989)

Party News from the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is planning to contest the Tyne and Wear constituency in the elections to the European Parliament that will be taking place on June 15.

Our candidate will be standing on an exclusively socialist programme against Alan Donnelly. Labour candidate who is replacing the sitting Labour MEP, Joyce Quinn. As the constituency covers 8 Westminster seats (Gateshead East. Houghton and Washington. Jarrow. Newcastle East, South Shields. Sunderland North. Sunderland South, and Tynebridge) over half-a-million voters in an area of Britain where this has never happened before will be offered the opportunity of expressing agreement with a socialist society based on common ownership and democratic control and the application of the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs".

Further details, offers of help and money write to: Tom Oakley. 44 McCracken Drive. Wideopen. Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE13 6NG

Alternative socialist alphabet (1989)

From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Action: What makes you angry? The destruction of rain forests? The threat of nuclear weapons? Apartheid in South Africa? Do you believe that support for, or membership of, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, African National Congress and Amnesty will help solve the problem? There are so many problems and causes that call for attention. Where will you find the time to write all the protest letters, go on demonstrations and earn the money for all the donations? Don’t try to alleviate the effects. Act against the cause.

Brave New World Throughout history the idea of a perfect world has captured the imagination. Thomas Mores book, Utopia, published in 1516, described an imaginary island with a perfect social and political system. The term "Utopian" is used to describe what is thought to be unpractical. Ask yourself, whose interest does it serve for you to think that a better society is an impractical proposition?

Class: No one admits to being working class. It conjures up pictures of flat caps, three ducks on the wall, breeding pigeons and keeping coal in the bath. Even being thought lower class is more acceptable. Ask anyone, they'll tell you that Britain is the most class-ridden country in the world. This may come as a surprise, but there are only two classes in society If you have no means of providing the necessities in life other than by selling your labour power for a wage or salary, you belong to the vast majority, the working class. If, however, you are one of the minority who own the means of production and distribution, who get their wealth from exploiting the working class, then you belong to the capitalist class. Wouldn't you rather live in a classless society?

Depression: Haven't you ever said, “I'd rather be rich and miserable than poor and happy?". Everyone gets depressed with life at some time. Isn't one of the major causes of depression money? Or rather, the lack of it. The incidence of depression is highest in an economic slump. Capitalism is cyclical. Economic depression follows boom as surely as night follows day. Economic depressions result from over-production. What kind of society is it that is capable of producing enough goods to satisfy everyone's needs, but which refuses to let those who need, have, if they cannot afford to pay?

Exploitation: When your teenage children come home after a week working for a fast-food chain, and shows you their wage-packet, you may describe that as exploitation. But every day, all of us who belong to the vast majority of the propertyless working class are exploited by capitalism. By paying workers less than the value of what they produce, capitalists appropriate surplus value. Profits come from the unpaid labour of the working class. How long are you prepared to be exploited?

Freedom: “Man was born free and everywhere he is chains”, wrote Rousseau. Capitalism gives the world the freedom to go hungry, thirsty, homeless and naked. Tommorow, when another day of wage-slavery begins, ask yourself, how free am I?

Government: Essential to the smooth running of a modern civilisation. Everyone knows that. Why. without it we'd have anarchy! A society without government? Unthinkable. Who tells us so? Politicians! Abolish government? You'll be wanting to abolish money next!

History: It's all about remembering the dates of battles isn't it? It’s about Kings and Queens and Generals and it’s boring. Wrong. The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. History is about you and me, not just about those who control what goes into the history books.

Idleness: You must have heard it at work, or in the pub. or in the post office. “Idle sods, they don't want to work. It's you and me what's keeping them while they're out enjoying themselves all the time. I don't know where they get all their money to smoke, drink and gallivant.” Dole scroungers? Or capitalists? 

Joke: Have you heard the one about the planet where starvation, famine, misery, homelessness and the threat of nuclear extinction reign? All because a minority owns most of the wealth. It's a very sick joke.

Krypton: The planet that Superman comes from. But superheroes don't exist. No one's going to save you in the last reel from the clutches of capitalism. You don't need "heroes", you need socialism.

Leaders: Only sheep need leaders, to fleece them. English soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict were described by a German General as “Lions led by Donkeys". Don't be misled into believing that civilisation would descend into anarchy without leaders. Leaders need you more than you need them.

Money: Something you never seem to have enough of. Money plays an essential role in capitalism. Money dispenses with the need to barter commodities; with commodity-production money serves as a universal equivalent which allows commodities to be exchanged. When goods are produced for need, not profit, money becomes unnecessary. Abolish your ration of poverty! 

Nationalism: My country right or wrong? When this planet is viewed from outer space there are no frontiers dividing one country from another. Whose country is it anyway? Yours, or the capitalist ruling class who own most of the wealth? Bugger the flag, sod the national anthem, stand up for one human race!

Opportunities: One of the biggest regrets in life is to reflect on what might have been. So rather than worry over the poverty of the pension, yet another hospital being closed, and the general awfulness of being a worker nobody wants, find out about socialism. The opportunity hasn't passed, but it's up to you to ensure that it isn't missed.

Politics: It is said that politics and religion are the two subjects of conversation to be avoided if you don't want to cause an argument. Religion is a device of the ruling class to help keep the workers quiet, but politics affect everyone. Only by capturing political power through the ballot box can a class conscious working class bring about socialism.

Questions: Go on, ask yourself, is this really what life is about?

Revolution: Socialists do not advocate manning the barricades. Those who tell you that violent revolutions have resulted in socialist states, like Russia, are kidding you and themselves. Violent revolutions merely result in the continuance of capitalism.

Status Quo: Not just a pop-group. Capitalism is a bit like theories about the origin of the Universe. Some say the Universe has always existed. Capitalists would like you to think that about capitalism. If capitalism has "always been" there's no point in trying to change it. Or is there?

Taxes: The policies of the present government and its attempts to privatise the health service, education, electricity and so on, are designed to reduce the burden of taxation for the capitalist class. Who benefited most from tax cuts in the 1988 budget? Taxes are not a working class problem, capitalism is.

Untiring efforts: If some Dr. Strangelove doesn’t blow us all to hell first, socialism can eclipse capitalism. But capitalism will not collapse of its own accord. Socialism has to be worked for, untiringly and unceasingly.

Value: Socialists do not argue for the abolition of capitalism because it is unfair, immoral or evil. Capitalism continues because the vast majority of the working class are unaware that they, the majority class, are economically exploited by a minority property owning class. Wealth is created by the labour of the working class; wealth which, in a socialist society, would belong to the whole community.

Wages: The price an employer pays for your labour-power. Also your ration of poverty, because your ability to purchase the commodities produced by other members of the working class is restricted by the amount of money you earn. Trades unions call for a fair day's pay for a fair day’s work. Socialists call for the abolition of the wages system.

Xerox: A great little capitalist invention, photo-copiers. A wonderful tool to help in the spread of socialist ideas.

Yoke: As surely as the oxen are tied to the plough, capitalism is a burden that oppresses the working class. Unlike the oxen, the means of releasing yourself from bondage are in your hands. Socialism is the road to freedom.

Zeal: Socialists aren't zealots but zealous, defined in my dictionary as “Fervent in advancing a cause, and persistent in their endeavour". Are you going to wait until capitalism's ruthless pursuit of profits makes the world uninhabitable? Time is running out. The need is for socialism, now. Isn't it a cause worth striving for?
Dave Coogan

Letters: Will capitalism collapse? (1989)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Will capitalism collapse?

Dear Editors.

The sense of the last paragraph of my letter (March Socialist Standard) was completely lost because of your typographical error. I repeat the question I asked you which I notice you did not answer. How can capitalist production which only operates through the prospect of profit, continue to operate prior to the political capture of power when the socialist aim to abolish the profit system becomes itself a serious prospect once the socialist movement reaches a significant size? I think it is important that your readers should have an explanation so that they may judge for themselves the feasibility of obtaining an entirely new economic system more or less overnight without some change in economic relationships having occurred prior to this apocalyptic event.
Louise Cox


Sorry about the error that made the last sentence of your letter incomprehensible. As to the point you wanted to raise, you appear to be saying that the growth of the socialist movement will bring about the economic collapse of capitalism before a socialist majority has come into being.

We have heard this sort of argument before. but we don't see why the socialist movement merely growing to a “significant size" should make profit prospects disappear. An analysis of the way capitalism works discloses, perhaps unfortunately, that the capitalist system will be able to stagger on, even if this involves increasing government intervention, until it is abolished by the conscious political action of the working class.

In any event, the socialist mode of production and distribution, i.e. production geared exclusively to meeting human needs and free access for all to goods and services according to their self-defined needs, cannot gradually evolve within capitalism. Whatever may be the political, economic and social effects within capitalism of the growth of the socialist movement, production for use — and the consequent disappearance of money/commodity relations and wage labour — cannot begin until after the socialist movement has democratically won control of political power and established the common ownership of the means of production by the whole community.

Independence and Culture

Dear Comrades,

The brutal history of capitalism has often involved invasions from abroad as part of the process of its local development. Cromwell's occupation of Ireland, with all its savagery, was an early instance. In Marx's day, when capitalism was still young and insufficiently widespread in its establishment, it might have been valid to argue (and he did) that its further extension was a progressive necessity. Indeed at the time of the Crimean War Marx regarded the possibility of a Tsarist victory as such a retarding factor in historical development that he felt able to look favourably upon the opposing Anglo-French and Ottoman Turkish forces. By the twentieth century the world dominance of the capitalist system was no longer in the balance even if to this day large areas of the under-developed world have yet to undergo their own thoroughgoing changeover to commodity production and wage- slavery.

This means that the world-wide establishment of socialism no longer hinges upon the yet further spread of the iron heel of capital. But the state-capitalist bureaucrats of Moscow and Peking have not let this inhibit them where the extension of their control over Afghanistan or Tibet has been concerned. It is true that as the harbingers of industrial society the Russian imposed regime in Kabul and the Chinese colonial administration in Lhassa represent modernising trends as did British and French imperialism in their day. But in recognising this and in our repugnance for the superstitious, women-oppressive and backward-looking old orders we must not ignore, as I feel the article "Independence no benefit" in the April issue did, the harshness of imposed foreign ways and language by the latest conquerers. So whilst the notion of “national independence" is rightly shown as being, from the working-class point of view, merely a change of rulers imagine how any of us would feel if the purchase of a postage-stamp, the reading of a "news" paper or our kids' schooling required the use of Chinese! Our rejection of nationalist delusions ought never to show insensitivity to the valid concerns of oppressed people. Moreover. it strengthens the appeal of Socialism to show that in contrast to the imposed uniformity and centralisation of commodity production we aim for a way of life which, of its nature, fosters cultural freedom and diversity.
Yours for the revolution 
Eddie Grant 
London NW4

Why Taxes Do Not Concern The Workers. (1922)

From the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most effective election stunts with which capitalist agents have gulled the workers in recent years is, perhaps, Government extravagance. Not only against the Executive Government is the epithet "wasters" levelled, but against those in office on every district and urban council. County and borough council elections have, for years, been contested chiefly on this issue. Progressives and Labour candidates contended for reforms, more often than not proving that such reforms would benefit property owners, while the Moderates, or so-called Municipal Reformers, claimed that the ratepayers would be ruined or impoverished.

The anti-waste campaign being carried on to-day by a section of the Capitalist press is no different in essence from other campaigns directed against governments since the days of Pitt, or, to go far back into the past, the resistance of Roman and Grecian taxpayers to government extortion. Ancient and modern are alike, the protest of property owners against the payment of taxes levied on the property they own, for the purpose of making their ownership secure. Every property owner recognises the need for government, but general agreement between them ends there. Some argue that a government should confine its activities to the preservation of order within its territory and the prevention of aggression from abroad, thus keeping taxation at a minimum. Others believe that the government should not only do this, but should take cognisance of every social change, introduce reforms and legislation to meet the altered conditions, and generally to supervise the whole field of industry in order to smooth over apparent crises and preserve the system against anarchy or revolution.

Between these two groups exist many shades of opinion ; and sections of property owners are continually forming new parties around particular interests to obtain political control, in order to shift the burden of taxation from their own shoulders on to the shoulders of other property owners. The land owners, the kings of finance, the factory lords, the railway, mining and shipping magnates quarrel among themselves over the incidence of taxation, and the petty capitalists, led by "cheap money" cranks and others, quarrel with them all, though quite hopelessly. Their quarrel is hopeless because they are being slowly but surely squeezed out of industry by the big concerns. The financial monarchs control the Press and educate the voters to their point of view, the struggling petty capitalist whines about the bitter injustice, and tries to enlist the sympathy of the workers. But little capitalists are as much capitalists in essence as big ones. They are all property owners. All of them possess shares, big or small, in the land or other means of production, and if the workers side with the petty capitalists, placing in their hands the reins of power, the latter would merely use that power to improve their own position as far as possible, first by pushing taxation from their shoulders, secondly by endeavouring to hinder the growth of big businesses and combines, and thirdly by encouraging the smaller concerns.

It is easily seen from this that each section or party stands for its own interests; the thing that distinguishes them from each other is the nature or extent of their property. The fact that they own property, further, distinguishes them from the workers, who own none and, consequently, can have no interest in common with either section or party. Moreover, without workers to operate the machinery of production there could be no wealth for property owners to quarrel about, or from which taxes could be paid. The workers produce the wealth, the capitalists, big and little, own it between them, and with a portion of it maintain the necessary government forces to protect their ownership and enjoyment of the remainder. 

In the days of Greece and Rome no one pretended that the slaves paid taxes, though they produced practically all the wealth of those societies. Why should the modern slave imagine that he does? Examine the worker's social status in the two epochs. The Roman slave was forced to work for the master who bought him, and in return was supplied with the necessaries of life according to the standards of the time. The wage-slave is forced to work for the master who buys his labour-power at a price which seldom insures to him more than the bare necessaries of life. The labour market is nearly always overstocked with the various forms of labour-power, with the result that competition for jobs is fierce and labour-power cheap. The tendency all the time is for wages to fall to the lowest level that will sustain life. The wealth produced by the Roman slave belonged to his master. The wealth produced by the wage-slave belongs to his masters. The Roman slave could not pay taxes because he had nothing to pay with. The wage-slave can only pay taxes if the amount of the tax is first added to his wages. In other words, if the necessaries of life are taxed the same effect is produced as a rise in prices, and wages must be raised in order to preserve the standard of living. On the other hand, when prices fall for any reason whatsoever, wages are forced down by the masters. So much is the modern slaves' wages controlled by the rise and fall of prices that sliding scales have become general in many industries by which the workers' standard of living is evenly maintained by the adjustment of wages according to prices.

Thus in two widely separated epochs those who produce the wealth of society possess all the characteristics of slavery in common. In each period they do not own property; are forced to work for a master and receive in return barely sufficient to enable them to live in accordance with prevailing standards and reproduce their kind. On the face of things it would seem preposterous to suggest that the workers in either period could be taxed. If anything was taken from the slave of antiquity he would deteriorate. If anything is taken from the modern worker his efficiency must suffer. The only way to make the worker a taxpayer is to give him more in wages than it costs him to live ; but if this were done and the general height of wages raised for that purpose, it is quite obvious that the worker's position would not have been changed. In the same way, if the taxes imposed on the various articles consumed by the workers were taken off, prices and the cost of living would fall; the workers could live more cheaply and the price of their commodity, labour-power, would fall.

The fundamental difference between the workers of the two periods is that the chattel slave was himself a commodity to be bought and sold, while the wage-slave is assumed to be free, and the sole owner of his labour-power or energy. Given certain conditions such, for instance, as existed in the earliest days of capitalism, this difference would be of real benefit to the workers; but the development of capitalist industry makes it ever more difficult for the worker to sell his labour-power and, consequently, places him more completely at the mercy of the masters, both as regards his standard of living and his working conditions.

The modern worker is compelled to be more efficient and attentive to his work than the ancient. The conditions of the labour market make him more completely a slave, chain him more effectively to his task than any previous system of slavery has ever done. With all their physical aids to compulsion, the masters of Ancient Rome and Greece never had such slaves as the modern capitalist class have, yet the modern slave denies his slavery, because he is the sole owner of his energy. He forgets that he is compelled to sell it to some master, or masters, in order to live, and that when he does sell it he works at their bidding and for their profit while he remains in poverty. Many well-meaning people complain bitterly of the injustice of taxing the necessaries of life consumed by the workers. It is evident that they have not studied the situation, if our reasoning is correct. It is perfectly true that the workers are plundered, but not by taxation. It is true that the capitalist class, with all their agents and flunkies, live on the backs of the workers, but not by means of taxes extorted from them either directly or indirectly. The capitalists and their agents encourage the workers in the belief that they pay taxes for two reasons : to enlist their support in capitalist sectional and party squabbles and to hide from the workers the fact that they are enslaved and plundered in the workshops and factories.

There is one difference, however, between the ancient and modern slaves that, up till now, we have not taken into consideration. To-day the slave has a political status. He votes his masters, or their agents, into power. They in their turn are compelled to solicit his vote, to obtain his sanction to govern, because the workers are in a majority over the masters. This being the case, it is easy to see that once the workers realise that anti-waste candidates are capitalist candidates, seeking power for their own ends, and that questions of waste or taxation are purely capitalist questions ; they can themselves organise and exercise their voting power purely in working-class interests as opposed to all sections and parties of the capitalist class.

This is the first step towards the emancipation of the working class and the establishment of a system of society where the means of wealth production will be owned in common and democratically controlled by the whole of the people. By educated, conscious and organised action the workers of the world will thus break up the last, most tfficient, and brutal form of slavery that has ever flourished, and replace it with a system where production will be arranged according to the needs of all. Where no class will rule because classes will cease to exist, and where the producers of wealth will neither be chattels bought and sold nor the owners of labour-power which they must sell in order to live, but free men and women associating and organising to satisfy their needs with the least possible expenditure of effort, that they may have leisure for the enjoyment of a fuller life.
F. Foan

Jottings. (1922)

The Jottings Column from the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was calculated that Christmas found us with between 6 and 7 millions within the circle of unemployment. Over three million pounds a week are being expended in some form of relief or other.
There appears to be a great diversity of opinion regarding the adequacy of the amount of relief paid. Some believe, and say, the workless are not getting enough. Others believe, and say, they are getting too much. Many people who happen for the time being to be enjoying a comparatively comfortable standard of life, object to the reiteration by the Socialist of the ugly facts of life, saying that, after all, it is only a difference in the point of view.

They mean that if the Socialist would only keep his mouth shut, things would go along much more quietly. The "poor" would be much more content if left alone. But it is not in accord with the principles of a Socialist to go about with his eyes and mouth shut. He is not going to be quiet about anything that affects the existence of the class to which he belongs. The "poor " don't make half the noise they ought to. But it is something more than that, even. The Socialist presents facts, and interprets those facts by the application of a scientific method. When this is done, it is not a question of a point of view at all, but the acceptance of proved testimony. If those facts are of a damaging nature to some people, they will reject them and conveniently adopt a "point of view."

But this so-called point of view itself is determined largely by the economic conditions under which the individual happens to be living. The question of relative security, for instance. Whilst hunger and poverty of themselves will not make a person into a Socialist, they will yet enable him to distinguish between what might be termed a good time and a rotten one.

Everything is relative—we should go into ecstasies if we were suddenly rewarded with another ten shillings a week, believing we could work wonders with it. And so the Governor of South Australia is resigning his job because he finds his wage of £4,000 a year barely suffices to make ends meet.


If the assurances of our rulers and their working class supporters had been borne out we should now be living in a land abounding in plenty, and with nothing to mar our happiness. What is the actual state ? Does it need describing ? Is not every one of us familiar with it—to our sorrow? It is quite true that a great deal of the actual condition is purposely camouflaged so that the intense misery shall not be apparent.

The capitalists are suffering, too, some of them—not physically like we are, but from a shortage of trade. For trade means exploitation, and exploitation means profits.

Singularly enough, the only solution they can offer lies in a steady lowering of the standard of life and the restoration of a competitive selling capacity in the world's markets by a reduction in the price of labour-power.


One of the results of the capitalists' way of running the world is seen in the present plight of Brazil.

Brazil did not, of course, participate actively in the war, but is, nevertheless, as much a sufferer as anyone else. Indeed, this applies to most countries, whether they were belligerents or not. It shows that the capitalist system is interdependent; to be successful all its parts must work smoothly— for the capitalist.

If any disturbance arises within the system, whether it be a financial crisis in peace time, or a war on a big scale, its effects are far-reaching.

The workers, being already poor, are the first to suffer : that is, their sufferings are increased—and they don't know why.

Primarily, in a system like the present, profits is the first and last thing that matters. It is the only precept the capitalist is guided by: sacred to him as furnishing the initiative which he is prone to regard as the driving force in a capitalist-ridden world.

Before the war Germany imported large quantities of coffee from Brazil. Brazil sold coffee to Germany, not because the Germans were fond of coffee, but because it was profitable to do so. Now, Germany is buying no coffee, not because she doesn't want it, but because she hasn't the money to pay for it, and leave the Brazilian planters and exporters with a profit. No profit—no coffee. Brazil retains the coffee, and is in consequence impoverished, with very little money wherewith to buy goods from other countries.

Clearly the lesson is shown : Abolish the system of production only for profits, with its basis of slavery and economic distress, and substitute one of production for use with universal security


In associating itself with any measure in which the master class is interested, the Labour Party betrays the fact that it considers there are some points regarding the administration of capitalism which are mutually advantageous to workers and capitalists alike. An instance is the support given to the idea of disarmament. The Labour Party considers this to be a question on which organised labour should make itself heard.

According to Mr. J. H. Thomas, at the recent Regional Conference at Derby, the Labour Party would go further than the Washington Conference in the matter of limiting armaments. "When the Labour Party demanded disarmament it meant it to apply on land, and in the air, as well as on sea."

Dear! dear! And who will they "demand " it of ? Everybody knows that the capitalists themselves are the people who will determine what methods of force shall or shall not, prevail. If we find them "limiting" themselves in any particular direction, it is not in response to any "demand," it is because it suits them to do so —in this case because they find the process a rather expensive one.

Questions of disarmament are not working class questions. It may be true, as our "leaders" point out, that millions are being spent on improving the fighting machinery, but it concerns us not in the least.

The worker is robbed, once and for all, at the point of production—that is, in the workshop. When he gets his packet at the week-end, he has got all that is coming to him—he has been skinned to the limit. What happens to the wealth he has been robbed of after he has drawn his pay can make not one iota of difference to his position. The main point is—he hasn't got it. Whether his boss buys cigars or battleships with the money, whether he buys a new car for his wife, or a string of pearls for his mistress, it is all the same—to us.

Armaments, wars, unemployment and poverty are only features of capitalism. They should not be isolated, and efforts concentrated on their abolition, because that is impossible while the system lasts.

The Socialist does not pick out one or two disagreeable things which exist, and concentrate all his energies in "demanding " of those who are responsible for their existence that they shall forthwith abolish them, for that would be foolish. While the Labour Party is organising to "demand" changes within the capitalist system, the Socialist Party is organising to overthrow 
the system. There's the difference.
Tom Sala

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.) (1922)

From the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard


A commodity has two forms—a physical form (coat, basket, spade, and so forth), and a value form (its worth—though not necessarily its price). As we have already seen, it is a useful article and a valuable article. Its valuable property is made evident in exchange relations. Exchange is very complex now (as witness the recent clear understanding of it can be obtained by voluminous literature on currency), but a examining, in the first place, the simplest form of exchange—or value relation, and then progressing through the more complex forms to the modern price form.

The simplest value relation is the relation of one commodity to another one of a different kind. Let us take Marx's illustration. Suppose we assume that
20 yards of linen equals 1 coat;
now let us analyse this simple relation.
The first thing we learn from it (arising out of what we have previously learnt) is that the same amount of energy was used up in producing the 20 yards of linen as was used up in producing the coat. In other words, the same quantity of the same underlying substance is contained in each of these physically different objects. Value is hidden underneath the value relation. In order to elucidate this point it is necessary to forget, for the moment, the quantity side of the matter (20 yards equals 1) and examine the quality side (linen equals coat). It is obvious that "the magnitude of different things can only be compared quantitively when those magnitudes are expressed in terms of the same unit." The basis of the relation we are examining is the essential equality of the linen and the coat as products of human energy.

In the linen equals coat value relation the two articles take entirely different, in fact opposite, parts. In putting them into such a relation to one another an essential peculiarity becomes clear; and that peculiarity is that only the value of the linen is being stated—and it is being stated under the disguise of the physical form of the coat. The coat is giving a visible form to the invisible value hidden in the linen. The human energy that was used up in the manufacture of the linen is now represented by the coat itself. The coat as a coat is of no interest to us, we are only concerned with it as solid value, the representative of the value contained in the linen.

If the foregoing is clear, then it must be obvious that if we wished to state the value of the coat it would be necessary to reverse the positions of the two articles in the relation, e.g.,
1 coat equals 20 yards of linen.
We have already pointed out earlier in our investigation that human energy can only be measured when it is used up—when it is represented by some object that has been produced. In other words, tailoring or weaving cannot be collected in jugs, although the tailor and weaver have given away something the loss of which makes them feel tired, and necessitates the taking in of more replacing material in the form of food. Further, human energy can only be measured relatively—the product of one man's work with the product of another man's work; or the product of the same man's work in different kinds of articles; finally, the proportions of the total energy of society employed in producing different objects. In the example quoted we have the point illustrated—the quantity of human energy employed in the production of linen is compared with that employed in the production of coats. Appearance tends to hide this fact more and more with the growing complexity of exchange.

From the simplest form of value relation it will be seen that in expressing the value of one article in another each takes up opposite positions in the form of expression. The coat, in the expression 20 yards of linen equals 1 coat, occupies the position of equivalent, i.e., the equal to the value of the linen; the linen, on the other hand, occupies the position of relative, i.e., the article whose value is being expressed in its relation to that of the coat. The linen is only linen in this example, but the coat is value itself; 20 yards of linen, for instance, is 1 coat's worth of linen in the case in question.

As these two articles take up opposite positions in the above relation, an effect in one direction on one of them affects the other in the opposite direction. If some new method were devised whereby 40 yards of linen could be produced with the same expenditure of energy as it formerly took to produce 20 yards, then the value relation would be (other things remaining the same) :
40 yards of linen equals 1 coat,
or 20 yards of linen equals ½ coat.
A fall in the relative value of linen and a rise in the relative value of coats. If, on the other hand, there were a reduction by half in the energy cost of production of coats the relation would be :
20 yards of linen equals 2 coats,
or 10 yards of linen equals 1 coat. 
A fall in the relative of coats and a rise in the relative value of linen.

It is apparent, then, that one article cannot occupy both positions in the same value expression ; it cannot be at the same time relative and equivalent—i.e., the article whose value is being stated, and also the object in which that value is being stated. In other words, in a particular value expression an article that occupies one side is thereby excluded from occupying the other side. As Marx puts it :—
  ''The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value ; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes—i.e., poles of the same expression."
By putting the linen and the coat into the above value relation we are, in reality, illustrating the fact that value-making labour is simple abstract labour. Although the linen and the coat are produced by different kinds of work (weaving and tailoring), and perhaps work of different degrees of skill, yet they are, at bottom, the product of just definite quantities of general labour, and hence they can be put into a relation based upon their equality. Weaving, so far as it produces value, is the same as tailoring.

Perhaps an illustration may make this point clearer.

The making of a coat is one particular form in which a tailor uses his energy ; the making of a pair of trousers is another and different particular form, yet coat-making and trouser-making are only different forms of the general activity known as tailoring. Similarly, all productive activity, no matter what particular form it may take, is simply different forms under which human energy is used up.

From the above analysis of the simplest form in which the value of a commodity is made evident, it will be seen that value does not originate in the value form (20 yards of linen equals one coat), but, on the contrary, this form of expression can only exist because commodities contain value—the form arises out of the nature of value. In other words, value does not originate in exchange, as the advocates of capitalism would have us believe, but value must exist before the exchange relation can arise; production precedes exchange; articles must be produced before they can be exchanged. An article exchanges—or is a commodity—because it possesses value; it does not possess value because it exchanges. It is by taking the form of exchange value—entering into a value relation—that the value of a commodity is given an independent and definite form—in our example the form is that of the coat.

As we have already shown, there is no opposition contained in each commodity between use-value and value. This opposition is given an objective or obvious existence when we put two commodities into an exchange relation, one appearing simply as a use-value (the linen) and the other as value itself (the coat). Consequently, the simple form of value—the one we are examining—is that in which this opposition or contrast is clearly demonstrated.

The form of value we have analysed Marx describes as the "elementary or accidental form of value." It is defined as "accidental" because the position of a commodity on one or the other side of the relation (as relative or equivalent) depends entirely upon accident, whether it is the one whose value is being expressed or the one expressing value.

Throughout all history the articles obtained by the expenditure or human energy have been use-values—i.e., useful articles— but it was only at a definite point in social development that such articles became commodities—i.e., useful articles produced for exchange. That point was the period when the human energy used up in their production expressed as objective qualities of these articles—as their value. Consequently, the simple form of value is also the earliest historical form under which a product of human energy appeared as a commodity. The earliest form of exchange was primitive barter on the boundaries of ancient territories or during the accidental meetings of peoples on the march. We will make a more detailed examination of the historical development of exchange later on.

(To be continued.)

Capitalism in East Africa. (1922)

From the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some seven years ago the present scribe ventured, in the shape of an article in these columns (History in the Making), certain observations on economic conditions in East Africa. The interest in these conditions recently displayed by the British capitalist press (from the Observer to the Winning Post) tempts him to amplify these observations and bring them up to date; especially as the Great War and its effects have forced into prominence the increasing importance of the tropical and sub-tropical zones as sources of raw material and markets for the products of European industry.

The popular notion of tropical Africa derived from the mal-education provided for the workers by the masters might be summed up in three words : "swamps, jungles, and deserts"! While these are by no means figments of the imagination, they do not exhaust the picture. There are thousands of square miles of grassy plains supporting thousands of head of cattle and sheep. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of rich arable land already bringing forth to some extent cotton, sisal, flax, maize, coffee and a host of other items of foodstuffs and raw materials. There are mountain ranges, ten thousand feet or more in height, and hundreds of miles in length, covered with valuable timber, and there are immense lakes and rivers capable, when thoroughly harnessed by the aid of modern science, of irrigating the wildernesses and electrifying half the continent. In fact, there need be no wonder as to why the capitalist powers parcelled out Africa amongst them ; its economic possibilities are prodigious ! The fly in the ointment is the intrinsic character of capitalism as a system.

In the first place, being a system of exploitation, based upon the monopoly by a small class of the means of life, it meets with the resistance of a relatively intractable human element. It is one thing to proclaim political control of an area several times larger than Britain, and lease to individual capitalists and syndicates large tracts thereof, and quite another to get the small native population to work for that class so established. Extremists among the white invaders (drawn from the bankrupt middle-class of Europe) have from time to time suggested the radical expropriation of the natives from the soil, but when it is remembered that the natives have few wants, that these are easily satisfied by means of a few acres, and that in any case the total population of Kenya Colony, for example, does not amount to three millions, the technical difficulties in the way of this policy are obvious.

To be sure, bows and arrows, spears and swords would be of little avail against rifles and machine-guns, to say nothing of bombs from aeroplanes, but a solution of the labour problem which consisted simply in exterminating the available supply of labour power would hardly advance capitalist production. This lesson has, of course, had to be learnt from practical Imperial experience in more southerly portions of the continent, such as Rhodesia. A policy which has been applied with success in Europe and Asia, with their redundant millions, has had to be modified when dealing with under-populated Africa.

Secondly, the immensity of Africa's resources is matched by the immensity of its problems. Stock and plant diseases require scientific investigation and control; huge distances require corresponding transport facilities and a comprehensive system of education, technical and literary, has to be established before the native tribes can be expected to keep pace with demands of European progress. All this involves an application of social energy and resources on a magnificent scale, for which capitalism, so far, has provided no adequate organisation.

Every form of capitalist enterprise, from that of the small individual concern to that of the State itself, has but one motive, i.e., the acquisition of profit. It shuns outlay which does not yield a rapid return. It has no interest in posterity. The capitalist class is in Africa to scratch the surface, not to dig deeply; it exhausts temporarily rather than develop natural wealth. Its public representatives talk large and ambitiously. They recognise that this is no country for the "small man," though they have not hesitated to lure him here in considerable numbers for the purpose of sucking him dry. (They call this "encouraging population.") But their activities get little further than talk.

The total white population of East Africa (up till recently predominantly bourgeois) would not provide a decent gate at a second-rate football match in England. Many a scarcely heard of country market-town boasts of greater numbers. Yet this brave land does not hesitate to arrogate to itself the title of "community" (the thirty thousand odd Indians and natives to the tune of two and a half million being, of course, mere outsiders). While never ceasing to regard the Government as the source of all its woes, it everlastingly appeals to this same Government for this, that or the other scheme without which the "country" must go bankrupt. The Government, in turn, pleads lack of funds; is, in fact, itself on the verge of bankruptcy. It is helpless without loans from the seat of Empire, and the Imperial financiers are not philanthropists. They, too, want quick returns.

All this means that the Government must find revenue. Its attempt to do this by means of an income tax produced, of course, the usual excruciating groans from the "community," which promptly went economy mad. The wholesale discharge of white employees by business firms was followed by a ruthless attack on Civil servants' salaries by the elected members of the Legislative Council. These members, most of them large land owners, recently styled themselves the Reform Party, and distinguished themselves by initiating a crusade against the Indian bourgeoisie, who are pressing even more insistently for equal political and legal rights. The pursuits of this latter group are mainly mercantile, though town property is also one of their specialities.

Enormously enriched by the war boom, they in turn have financed an active Radical propaganda, not merely among their own races but also among the natives, proving in this latter respect more astute than their white opponents. These, in turn, are now forced to adopt a most comical defence, i.e., that they (who have only recently reduced native wages by one-third all-round and who, in season and out of season, have publicly abused the native as a loafer, an ingrate and an immoral and bestial ruffian) are, in reality, the protectors of native interests against Asiatic aggression, the preservers of native innocence from Oriental corruption ! Before the war this invocation of the native as a political factor in his own land would have appeared ridiculous, but he, too, is changing his outlook.

Although the Government has been inclined to be chary of conscripting labour for the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry of the capitalist class, it has not hesitated to do so for its own needs. It compulsorily recruited the male natives by the thousand for the military labour corps serving in German East Africa (now Tanganyika Territory), and by the thousand these unfortunates died of starvation, disease and overwork. Vague promises of future reward smoothed the process whereby they were torn away from their homes, and, as usual, these promises proved even more fragile than piecrust. On the contrary, the shortage of labour gave the reason and excuse for a systematic attack upon the native position. In the first place the survivors, on their return, found that the system of registration to which they had become accustomed under the military authorities, was being extended permanently to civil life. Every adult male native employee was docketed and numbered, and provided with a certificate bearing his thumb-print and evidence of his economic history. This badge of slavery serves the same purpose as the brands on the bodies of English proletarians in the 16th and 17th Centuries. It is in every respect an excellent instrument of persecution.

The next "reward" for the heroes was an increase in taxation (levied at so much per head and per hut) of about fifty per cent. ! This on the top of a serious famine which quadrupled maize prices! These famines, which occur in cycles of roughly ten years, are due to rain failure, but are enormously and tragically aggravated by the financial pressure upon the population. In order to find the money for the taxes the native husbandmen (used to cultivating according to their needs) sell the surplus, which in good seasons, should be stored against the inevitable bad ones. They thus sell at the cheapest time and find it necessary to buy just when grain is dear !

This is fairly obviously the road to ruin ! Slowly, but surely, the young men drift to the plantations or the tin-shack townships in search of wages and just as surely increasing numbers of their would-be wives seek refuge in the brothels.

The white "settlers" did not take long to seize their opportunity. The same precious Reform Party above mentioned organised a universal wage-cut. The drop in the extravagant prices of their exported produce supplying the scarcely-needed stimulus.

They were encouraged by the introduction of the much-discussed Labour Ordinance, according to which the native chiefs were converted in practice into labour recruiters primarily for the Government, secondarily for the settlers. And it is curious to note that this measure was introduced by the very man (Colonel Ainsworth, Chief Native Commissioner) who earned the execration of these same settlers by his amendments to the Masters and Servants' Ordinance.

These amendments, based on war experience, were "intended" to protect native employees from excessive exploitation by the provision of adequate housing, feeding, medical attention, etc. Like the early factory acts in Britain, however, these measures of elementary prudence remain a dead letter through lack of the official machinery necessary to give them real effect.

Having shot his bolt, Colonel Ainsworth retired from the scene of action. So often styled a "pro-native," his real attitude may be summed up as follows : Speaking before the Legislative Council on March 12th, 1918, he said : "Whatever our policy . . . there must and can be only one fundamental as regards rule . . . the white man must be paramount—a white minority will, in reality, form the government, and consequently over ninety per cent. of the total population comprising the black races will practically remain without any real voice in their own affairs."
Eric Boden

"The French Revolution." (1922)

Book Review from the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The French Revolution has been a favourite topic with historians of all countries, and it has probably called forth more books than any other event in the history of the world. Yet in the whole literature of the subject one can find little that is consistently good; there is a disproportionate amount of chaff. A book that has just come into my hands, "A Brief History of the French Revolution," by F. W. Aveling, is, however, so really bad, that I think it deserves notice, if only to warn those who might, in their hurry, confuse the author with Edward Aveling, and buy it.

In his preface the author states that the book is intended primarily as a school textbook. No doubt it will have success as such, for it is moulded on the true lines of all modern school histories. It is a string of events, with nothing to connect them, each one seemingly an accident. The true causes of the revolution and its meaning, the knowledge of which might cause pupils to grow interested in a dangerous field of inquiry, are hidden, and instead the reader is offered a few trumpery excuses, which explain nothing and lead nowhere, but which satisfy that craving for sensation which springs from faulty education and the degrading influence of the press. Aveling's causes of the Revolution bear the same relation to the real origin as does the popular idea of profiteering to the profit-making system. They serve only to hide the relevant facts.

Three reasons are given, viz. :

  1. The vices and extravagances of the kings and their court.
  2. The writings of the philosophers and literary men, particularly of J. J. Rousseau ; and the growth of unbelief in religion.
  3. Bad government on the part of the rulers of the land : the oppression of the poor by aristocrats : the absence of any political power on the part of the great mass of the people.
No mention is made of its being a Revolution of the bourgeoisie ; rather it is made to appear as working class in its objects, and this, although it is now agreed that the French Revolution was the homologue of the English Revolution of 1640-60, 1688, that it was the triumph of the Capitalist class and the final overthrow of feudalism. Such an omission might be excused to a contemporary, but in a modern history it becomes a suppression, and one is compelled to think that the author is deliberately misleading.

The immorality of the Bourbons had as little to do with the French Revolution as did the morality of Charles I. with the English.

And in view of the fact that the poor in France had always been oppressed by the aristocrats and had never had any political power, it is useless to suggest that this oppression and lack of political power alone could have precipitated the Revolution of 1789. Why 1789 rather than 1400?

The prominence of the philosophers and their sceptical teaching themselves require an explanation. Our author does not, or will not, see this, and so it is not given.

Let us see why the revolution came in the eighteenth rather than in the fifteenth century.

In the first place, it is necessary to remember that this, like all others, was an economic revolution. It arose owing to the necessity to industrialism of the abolition of the remnants of the feudal barriers. It was a revolution of the French bourgeoisie, which was confronted with impotence and ruin unless it could seize political power and enter on the same course of expansion as England and the newly-freed American Republic.

Up to then political power was concentrated in the hands of a bureaucratic despotism. The nobles and clergy retained their social positions, feudal privileges, and rights. This hampered the development of the industrial and trading classes, for which a free working-class, as opposed to feudal serfs, and a free circulation of commodities were essential. The Gabelle, a government monopoly of the sale of salt, and the Banvin, or the right enjoyed by the lord of the manor to sell his own wine in the parish, to the exclusion of any other, are but two examples of the many feudal privileges which stood in the way of free development of commerce and industry.

Again, taxation was high, and owing to the exemption from it enjoyed by the nobles and clerics, its burden fell on the propertied commercial class. In the army aristocrats held the chief posts, so that the ambitions of bourgeois officers were checked. This explains the willingness of the lower officers to usurp authority and lead their troops against the dominant class.

It was the growth of the bourgeoisie in France, with its accompanying necessity for a new philosophy and set of ideals, which gave rise to the liberal spirit noticeable earlier in the century. In particular, intercourse with other countries and with England, from which the newly invented machinery was beginning to be imported, fostered this spirit, of which the writings of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau are but the expression. To place too great an importance in the effects of their books is dangerous, especially as only about 4 per cent. of the population could read.

They were the philosophers of the rising capitalists, and it was among the members of this class in the main that they found readers and popularity.

To say, as the author does, that they spread democratic ideas among the masses, is to show a complete ignorance of their works.

Rousseau looked longingly to the Roman State and a return to nature. Montesquieu and Voltaire aimed merely at adopting the English constitutional system. Buckle, in his "Civilisation in England," lays great stress on this, and Gustave Le Bon, a middle-class author, writes : "Although the philosophers, who have been supposed the inspirers of the French Revolution, did attack certain privileges and abuses, we must not for that reason regard them as partisans of popular government " ("Psychology of Revolution").

When Louis XVI., owing to the financial difficulties of the government, was forced to summon the States General, the time for the seizure of political power by the revolutionary bourgeoisie had arrived.

To obtain control of the Tiers Etat, they, with their cry of "Free the land!" obtained the support of the peasants, but "they were as undemocratic at bottom as men well could be; their feeling for the masses was nothing but a mixture of scorn and fear; the perfect type of the bourgeois of '89 combined hatred of the nobles with distrust of the mob " ("French Revolution," Louis Madelin).

Thanks to the support of the lesser clergy, who suffered from the tyranny of the great prelates, they obtained control in the National Assembly, and at once proceeded to destroy all that remained of feudalism. In a short time seigneural rights were abolished, serfs were freed, and later the Church lands were confiscated.

Meanwhile, in the, towns unemployment, consequent on machine production superseding hand labour in many trades, together with lack of bread, occasioned by bad harvests, destruction of the crops by agents of the bourgeoisie, and the speculations of the grain merchants, who were holding back supplies, caused the workers to support the rising class. This provided them with a force which at need they could bring out to overcome the Royalists.

The weakness of Louis and the need to crush the nobility and clergy completely, rendered the introduction of a constitutional monarchy impossible, although certain sections favoured it. And so Louis was executed and a Republic proclaimed.

The rising of the Revolution from the National Assembly to the Directory, which paved the way for Napoleon to consolidate the gains of the triumphant class, is a history of struggles between sections of the bourgeoisie, and of their efforts to drive back the workers into subjection after they had served the needs of their masters.

Even the Terror is a period of bourgeois domination.

But our author would not stain the honour of the master class, our present rulers, so he reviles the workers for the executions. And this in spite of the fact that "out of 2,750 victims of Robespierre only 650 belonged to the upper or middle classes. The tumbrils that wended their way daily to the Place de la Revolution and afterwards to the Faubourg St. Antoine were largely filled with working-men" ("French Revolution," Belfort Bax).

Robespierre himself was merely a tool, although perhaps an unconscious tool, of the bourgeoisie; he served them by destroying the more liberal-minded Herbertists, and was destroyed himself when his task was accomplished.

But although it was not, and could not be, a working-class revolution, study of the French Revolution is of value to the proletariat for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates the truth of the Materialist Conception of History.

Society rests on an economic basis and it is only by examination of this foundation that one can understand the nature and development of the institutions, ideas, and cultural activities of the classes of which the particular society is composed, and explain outstanding historical and political movements and events.

Secondly, it shows the futility of working-class action without class-consciousness.

The workers allowed themselves to be stirred up to do the behests of a higher class, they fought their battles for them, and then, when they had clone all that was wanted of them, they were forced into a new and worse servitude. They were surrounded and disarmed on their return from the army. Their organisations were broken up by "Jeunesse Dorée" (the White Guards of the period) armed with weighted canes!

And attempts of the workers to achieve their emancipation will always end in failure until they, by study, learn their position in society as slaves of the propertied class, and then, acting as a class, gain control of political power and the force it commands.
W. J. R.