Monday, July 13, 2020

Running Commentary: Junk society (1988)

The Running Commentary Column from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Junk society

It's not often that I find myself in half agreement with a lackey of capitalism, in this case Edwina Currie, junior Health Minister. When she made her headline-grabbing remarks that Northerners are more overweight than Southerners, eat too many crisps and drink too much. I could only concur with her. While aware that Southerners eat junk food too, Mrs Currie raised a question to which any socialist could have given her the answer: diet is related to economic circumstances.

Two years on medical "experts” have reached the same conclusion and are taking Mrs Currie to task for omitting this explanation from her previous comments. The Henley Centre's director of health. Mr Kreitzman. told a BUPA conference in Leeds that by the early part of the next century life expectancy in the South would be longer than in the North. "We are talking about four to five years, which is quite significant", he said. "Just as we are developing an economy with affluence and poverty living cheek by jowl, so it is the case with health" (Guardian, 2 June). Currie was also attacked by Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the Clinical Research Division of the Royal College of Practitioners, who said that she had failed to understand that a northern diet is based on a tradition of low wage levels and heavy manual work.

One explanation for the northern predilection for "comfort" food may be that offered by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier:
 Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would rather starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less you feel inclined to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita; an unemployed man doesn't. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little "tasty".
As long as capitalism exists, if you have caviar tastes but a fish and chip budget then your choice of food will be restricted by the amount of money you get for selling your labour-power to a minority ruling class. If you really want to improve both your health and your happiness then abolish this junk system of society. Abolish capitalism.

Sheep’s brain

Tucked away on the back page of the Guardian of 7 June was a hundred and fifty word report headlined "Howe insists on the beneficence of the capitalist system". In a speech in the City of London the day before Sir Geoffrey Howe had defended the social responsibility of the capitalist economy by claiming that those acting in their own interest in the market were promoting an increase in others' well-being. (Those readers who haven’t at this point fallen off their seats, and are rolling about consumed with hollow laughter, read on.) Replying to recent criticism by the Church of England, Sir Geoffrey said. “Where people are able to respond to the signals of the market place, they are responding to the preferences of their citizens. In effect, in seeking to increase their own well being, they are often helping to promote an increase in other people’s well being." He concluded that the welfare state, by promoting rights rather than responsibilities, had undermined traditional obligations.

Assuming that all readers aren’t curled up on the floor at this point, screaming "Please, Sir Geoffrey, no more. Have you ever thought of auditioning for Bob Monkhouse's Opportunity Knocks?', let me remind you that Denis Healey compared being criticised by Howe to being savaged by a dead sheep. This is a mistake. One must never under-estimate the power and influence of a member of the executive of the modern state, the committee for managing the common affairs of the ruling class, no matter how inane or ineffectual he or she may appear to be.
Dave Coggan

Running Commentary: Tenants’ choice (1988)

The Running Commentary Column from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tenants’ choice

The government’s housing bill is currently undergoing its report stage in the House of Commons. This piece of legislation represents yet another example of the way in which government twists the meaning of language, purporting to give tenants more "freedom" and "choice" by granting them the "right" to opt out of local authority control. Just how far language is distorted is evident in the supposedly democratic procedures laid down in the bill for voting on whether ownership of an estate or block of flats should be passed from the council to a new landlord.

Only local authority tenants resident at the time the prospective landlord made his or her application to the local authority to take over specific properties can vote. This initial application may have been made as much as six or nine months before the ballot is actually held. As a result the “electoral register" will inevitably be out of date. In fact, any tenants who have left the relevant property in the intervening period will still have the right to vote — as will tenants who have died — even though they will in no way be affected by the decision made. On the other hand, tenants who have moved into the estate or block in the months before the ballot will not have the right to vote.

The second perverse feature of the voting procedure is that anyone who does not vote who is eligible to do so will be assumed to be in favour of the property being transferred to the new landlord, and that includes any dead eligible tenants.

Finally the transfer of the property will go ahead unless more than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote, vote against. What this means in practice is that the privatisation of an estate or block of flats can go ahead even if no one actually votes in favour of it. And they dignify this farce with the name of "tenants' choice ”.

Life and death

Many workers find aspects of capitalism morally repugnant: the degradation, misery and exploitation that continually flow from a class society throw-up impassioned voices of criticism and protest. Take the following examples of the way in which workers are brutalised for the sake of profit.

A Japanese electrical company was reported in the Daily Telegraph of 11 April to have been worried that its workers were not competitive enough. To overcome this problem fifteen trainees were deposited on an uninhabited island three miles from the mainland for a three-day survival course. Reporters were told by an enthusiastic employer that "The trainees will have to exercise their imagination and will-power to survive . . . We need flexible people." The article went on to discuss the way in which school-children, on joining Japanese companies, are often sent to military bases for a crash-course in discipline, conformity, teamwork, competitiveness and patriotism. The writer concluded: "Parade ground drill, three-mile runs and saluting the National Flag attune young people to the sacrifice demanded on their life-time marriage to the company".

The same paper on 5 March revealed that the Lord Mayor of London recently sought to persuade City firms to send their young employees into the Territorial Army. As in Japan, firms have been told that training professional killers will instil into employees the competitive will to succeed. Ironically it was advertised as less expensive than sending City workers to Japanese-style weekend training courses. It also falls conveniently in line with ideas put forward by the National Employer Liaison Committee, set up by Thatcher herself, which wants to increase employers' support for the state's reserve armed forces.

In the last week of May the Daily Telegraph reported the death of a Sales Manager. He had worked more than 12 hours a day to meet the demands of his employers, who still were not satisfied with his performance. Before he killed himself they wrote to him stating that "Quality and customer satisfaction must become an obsession". For good measure they advised him that he would have to work harder for less money. The coroner concluded that "There is so much more to life than business schemes and profit". but did not suggest so informing the CBI.

Rigid discipline and the nurturing of aggressive behaviour are vital to capitalism. It requires such qualities no matter what the cost nor how unpalatable they are to workers involved. No moralising will make them disappear because the pursuit of profit must inevitably trample on human needs and brutalise individuals in the process. This is nothing more than a fact of life under capitalism.

Workers have two choices. They can go beyond the promises of politicians and the hollowness of reformism and organise politically to abolish capitalism. Or they can resign themselves to a lifetime of wasted effort working in charities, signing petitions, attending marches or writing harrowing books exposing this or that acute social problem. To do so will condemn us to stumble from one crisis to another and brutalise, degrade and maybe even kill us in the process.
Richard Lloyd

Running Commentary: Sweet talk (1988)

The Running Commentary Column from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rowntrees, the confectionery firm, have been "fighting off" take-over bids from nasty foreign rivals Nestlé and Suchard, defending our native Kit Kat and the like. But I am puzzled; surely the name Nestlé (we always called it "Nessels") is familiar from childhood. and inextricably wedded to the experience of losing your shillings in the chocolate machine? What is really astounding is that no one has asked the opinion of the foremost expert on the subject — Sandra Boynton. Her book Chocolate: the Consuming Passion (Methuen. 1982) reveals an extraordinarily wide knowledge (and I consider myself no slouch on the subject). Showing a firm grasp of economics, she says "It was the capitalists who first realised that it does not really matter whether chocolate exists or not. as long as people buy it". In the present "crisis" the vital question is whether the general consumer (for example me) will still be able to afford sufficient quantities of this essential commodity. To quote again: "If the current unequal distribution of chocolate continues unchecked, we increasingly run the risk of general depression. Chocolate is not a privilege: it is a right. As such, it must be provided as a readily-available service in every community throughout the civilised world." I couldn't have put it better myself.

Maggie's moral crusade (1988)

From the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Margaret Thatcher is the personification of a system which is uncaring, callous and hypocritical, but it does not follow that socialists are primarily concerned to win a moral battle. As human beings in an inhumane world which exploits and oppresses our class we are, to be sure, motivated by a profound indignation about the iniquities around us. Many workers, along the way to becoming socialist, express moral outrage at the system of capitalism — they see it as unfair, unjust and immoral. But. as historical materialists, we can see that capitalism is, indeed, '‘fair", 'just” and "moral" because the class which rules determines what is meant by fairness, justice and morality. The moral standards of any society are a reflection of the selfish class interests of those who control it. Not much more than a century ago in America slavery was considered morally acceptable. Only when economic forces made slave ownership an obsolete way of organising production did the new capitalist morality view the ownership of man by man as offensive.

On 21 May Margaret Thatcher addressed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It was an opportunity to outline her morality. And in doing so, she was able to express the moral outlook of the class of thieves and manipulators which she defends with such vigour. It is worth taking a look at what this message amounted to.

What is certain . . . is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm. We are all responsible for our own actions.
Are we? Is it the case that we individually determine whether we shall be born into circumstances of affluence and comfort or poverty and deprivation? Of course not. Is it the case that we are individually responsible for deciding how much access we shall have to goods and services? If so, then we must conclude that the tens of thousands of homeless families in Britain are without shelter, not because they are too poor but because they are too irresponsible to be housed. We must assume that the fifteen million children (world wide) under the age of five who die of starvation each year do so as a consequence of their own. individual lack of responsibility. Such reasoning is a distortion of reality. The geriatric workers who endure lives of impoverished semi-existence, threatened with death from hypothermia or because NHS cuts mean that there is no district nurse to attend to them, are not in such a position through irresponsibility. The wage slave whose life is one endless misery of trying to make ends meet is not in a self-created rut but one caused by capitalism, a social system which excludes the majority of people — the workers — from power over society and its resources.

It would be a mistake for socialists to blame the existence of working-class misery, which is a consequence of workers not establishing socialism, on individual irresponsibility. We must ask why it is that workers have not brought about a change which is in their interest. And in asking, we will not help ourselves to formulate a serious answer if we attempt to explain the continuation of the profit system in terms of the moral shortcomings of its victims.

We are told [in the Bible] we must work and use our talents to create wealth. “If a man will not work he shall not eat", wrote St Paul to the Thessalonians.
Here we have a representative of a class which is free to be idle — which defines success in terms of the freedom to live without working — telling us that if you do not work you should not be allowed to eat. If this moral maxim is to be taken seriously, then it follows that those who are too old. weak, ill or young to work should be allowed to starve. In that sense at least, the moral would reflect life as it is, for under world capitalism it is precisely those who are unable to find a job who are most likely to be moneyless and hungry.

In the gentlemen's clubs of London various idlers and ponces of Thatcher's own political party — not to mention others who support the other capitalist parties or none at all — spend their days doing virtually nothing. They get drunk, they sniff cocaine, they purchase prostitutes (both male and female), and they sleep a lot. These people eat very well indeed. What they leave on their plates at banquets would do very nicely for those who have to squeeze enough money out of a wage or a dole cheque in order to feed the kids. They eat with great energy; they work not at all. Perhaps St Paul should call in on the parasites whose interests Thatcher so ardently defends next time he is having a word with the Thessalonians. whoever they may be.

If it is our moral duty to "work and use our talents", then is Thatcher saying that those who prevent willing people from doing just that are immoral? Of course not; for remember. humble brethren, if you don't do what you "must" do it is because you are irresponsible. Millions are unemployed because of a shortage of personal responsibility.

. . . it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but love of money for its own sake.
Clearly the Prime Minister is not the prime reasoner. It is as clear as can be that she has made one statement using two different terms as if they mean the same thing. Wealth is the product of human labour on natural resources. Factories are wealth, what is produced in them are wealth, the produce of the land is wealth, coal and steel and textiles are wealth. Money is a means of exchanging wealth. It is an economic artificiality of property society. The working class produces the wealth of society. The capitalist class accumulates money because it legally steals the fruits of the workers' toil. Of course, there is nothing wrong with creating wealth; if we stopped we would all die after a certain time. But why create money? Because those who own and control the wealth require a buying and selling system which is totally outdated, and which socialists want to replace with a system where all people have free access to wealth. As we are not living in a free access society, the love of money becomes a way of life for many people — capitalists and workers. Thatcher should approve of such behaviour; indeed, she is hypocritical in pretending not to do so. It is only by allowing money to dominate the lives of men and women that she can have her so-called enterprise culture — a culture of total obedience to the laws of monetary gain.

The Bible
. . . we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.
One: "we" are not a nation. The nation belongs to "them", not "us". Two: their nation is characterised by a distinct lack of ideals. People do not go to the Stock Exchange to philosophise about "ideals" their objective is to make money. The best way of doing that is to exploit workers for profits. No ideals, just plain thieving. Three: Thatcher has a very selective vision of the Bible. Does it not include the commandment "Thou shalt not kill"? Did Thatcher not urge us to rejoice when Argentine workers in uniform were being killed? Does the Bible not speak of the rich giving up all their money? We have not observed any passion on the part of Thatcher's class to dispose of their money in preparation for entry into Heaven. Does the Bible not inform us that the meek will inherit the earth? Unless this is a reference to the meek in mind — in which case the Prime Minister's husband and son are assured of their inheritances — we are under the impression that Thatcher views the prospect of the powerless taking over the earth as a dangerous, Marxist threat.

Socialists have no interest in arguing with our class enemies over rights to the Bible. They have spilled enough workers' blood in wars which have been justified by men holding Bibles — let them keep the bloody book. The truth is that Thatcher does not really believe all this theological tripe; we give her credit for being wiser than her ancestors of old, who actually believed the Biblical nonsense. The current moral crusade of the Tories is clearly a political crusade for workers' minds, an attempt to persuade us to look at the world through the eyes of the ruling class. But every time they come before workers with their stinking class morality we shall be there too, demonstrating in clear terms that there is a better society which we could have.
Steve Coleman

1688 and all that (1988)

From the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year is a good one for patriots as there are three big anniversaries for them to celebrate. The shipwrecking of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the colonisation of Australia by British convicts in 1788 and the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. This last is perhaps the least well known. Not that this is such a bad thing since there was nothing glorious for ordinary people in the revolution which replaced King James II by King William III.

1688 did, however, have an immense importance for the propertied classes of Britain as it established a stable property regime that has lasted to this day, under which those who held property at that time were legally established in their rights and their descendants have ever since enjoyed the full legal backing of the Courts against the kind of arbitrary dispossession that frequently occurred up until then. It also established the constitutional principle that the sovereign is subordinate to Parliament. Although he was more than the well-paid rubber stamp that present-day occupants of Buckingham Palace are, William was appointed king by Parliament. He did not claim to rule by “divine right” as had all previous monarchs, including his immediate predecessor James, who paid dearly for his illusion, as did his father, Charles I, who had his head chopped off in 1649 in the course of the English bourgeois revolution that much more deservingly merits the title of “glorious”.

The ideological defence of the 1688 revolution was provided by John Locke whose Two Treatises of Government is still required reading on political philosophy courses in English-speaking universities. This work is not only a defence of the “rule of law” as drawn up by a parliament of property-owners but an explicit defence of private property as against common ownership. Locke was forced to do this in order to refute any embarrassing literal interpretation of the Christian doctrine which he quoted in the chapter “Of Property” in his second treatise: “God gave the World to Men in Common”. Political argument at the time was conducted in religious terms — which takes some getting used to for those, like socialists, who know that god is a myth and religion a collection of superstitions, but less than 40 years before William III replaced James II, Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers had interpreted Christianity in just such a communist fashion.

Locke’s way round this embarrassing aspect of Christian dogma was to argue that God did indeed give the world to humanity in common, but that it wasn’t his intention that it should remain so. According to Locke, it was clearly God’s intention that humans should take action to keep themselves alive and that to do so they should consume products from nature, insofar as they worked to obtain these products (even if the only effort involved was reaching out and picking an apple from a tree) they were entitled to ownership rights over them. As Locke, speaking for God, put it:
Though the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property. It being by him removed from the common state Nature placed it in, hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men.
Locke’s argument here, that natural materials that are “common to all Men” can legitimately lose this status and become private property when they are mixed with human labour, is not as obvious as he assumes. For it could just as logically be argued that the natural materials from which all wealth is fashioned should remain common property even after they have had human labour mixed with them. This, at any rate, was the prevailing view in those societies which practised common ownership. Nor is human labour the individual product Locke assumes, but a social product — all humans acquire their skills in and through society — and, in fact, since human beings are a part and a product of nature, human labour is itself a natural force.

Locke used the same principle of labour to justify private property in land: a person was entitled to own the land which they had worked because they had mixed their labour with it. At one point in his argument, however, Locke contradicted himself, writing about his right to own “the Turfs my Servant has cut” whereas, on his own argument, these turfs ought to be the property of the servant, who actually did the work and mixed his labour with the natural material, rather than of the servant’s employer who had done nothing. This was probably only a slip on Locke’s part, but a revealing one, as it demonstrated that Locke took for granted the division of society into masters and servants and the right of the master to appropriate the product of the labour of the servant. It was, of course, by exploiting this contradiction that early socialists, at the time of the Chartists, were able to turn the labour theory of property against the landlord and capitalist classes and to denounce them for the parasitic exploiters of other people’s labour that they were.

But Locke was concerned not just with justifying the private property of the working farmer or artisan but also with justifying that of the rich merchants and large landed estate-owners who existed both before and after 1688 and whose rights the revolution was intended to consolidate. Here again he came up against Christian dogma which taught that humans were entitled to take from the common store of nature and make their property only what they needed and no more. In fact, to the extent that taking more than was required for personal use deprived someone else of their basic needs, this was robbery and the person in need was fully entitled to take what they needed from the greedy person’s surplus.

Such a doctrine provided no justification for the accumulation of capital and the concentration of property ownership that were necessary for the development of the capitalist society that the 1688 revolution was designed to accelerate. On the contrary, it ruled out the accumulation of property beyond the personal needs of the property-owner. So, after refuting common ownership, Locke had to go on to refute also the idea that there were limits to the size of property holdings. He did so in what has to be admitted was an ingenious, if entirely specious way.

Agreed, he wrote, property-owners have no right to own more than they can use but the reason for this limitation is that they have no right to let any surplus to their own needs go rotten. If however, he went on, some means could be found of accumulating a surplus in a form which didn’t rot this would be all right from a moral point of view. This could be done, Locke concluded triumphantly, if the surplus in the form of perishable agricultural products is converted into non-perishable metals like gold and silver, in other words, if they are sold for money and accumulated as such.

Locke took the argument even further. In agreeing to the use of money and to the putting of a value on it, humans had tacitly agreed to the accumulation of property and the unequal distribution of wealth ownership:
But since Gold and Silver, being little useful to the Life of Man in proportion to Food, Rayment, and Carriage, has its value only from the consent of Men, whereof Labour yet makes in great part, the measure, it is plain, that Men have agreed to disproportionate and unequal Possession of the Earth, they having by a tacit and voluntary consent found out a way, how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus, Gold and Silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one, these metalls not spoileing or decaying in the hands of the possessor. This partage of things, in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of Societie, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver and tacitly agreeing in the use of Money.
It is for having provided this pathetic justification for unequal property society that Locke is regarded by contemporary capitalist society as the greatest political thinker of the 17th century and is taught in English-speaking universities throughout the world. Winstanley, on the other hand, who was by far Locke’s superior, both in style and quality of argument, is dismissed as a minor religious fanatic. But then, he defended common ownership and denounced the rich merchants and landowners as robbers and usurpers while Locke flattered them and justified their riches.

Locke was, however, right on one point: the link between money and the unequal distribution of wealth. A money economy is, or inevitably soon develops into, a society characterised by two main classes, those who own and accumulate wealth having a monetary value and those who don’t. It is because the so-called Glorious Revolution was designed to stabilise such an unequal society that we socialists won’t be celebrating it. After all, as class-conscious members of the majority propertyless class in society, why should we celebrate the consolidation of the property rights of the ancestors of today’s property-owning minority?
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Who are the malingerers? (1988)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now the Public Assistance Board have nothing to do with the class of people who dominate the Ascot parades. It is not they who are referred to as malingerers. Yet they are the people who "toil not. neither do they spin. " The wealth they enjoy is obtained from the blood and sweat of the working class. Among the men who are described by the Public Assistance Board as having been continuously unemployed for three years are those who have helped to make possible the wonderful clothes and ornamentation of these Ascot and other "society" gatherings. Malingering is a disease arising from the anarchy generated in human relationships through class exploitation. To live without working, to live above the standard of those who have to work, that is the hall-mark of "success" in capitalist society. Parasitism is an essential part of social life today, therefore, the fact that here and there a few who belong to the working class may sometimes attempt to "get by" without work is but mere child's-play when it is compared with the gigantic exploitation by ten per cent of the population of the other ninety per cent. Socialism will end social parasitism in every form.

[From an article in the Socialist Standard, July 1938.]

Letter: Ex-entrepreneurs Unite! (1988)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ex-entrepreneurs Unite!

Dear Editors
I'm so glad that someone has at last spoken up for the unemployed "business-people". I thought no-one wanted to know us. Especially since I've "failed" and slipped back into the under-class. Worse off than ever having spent up savings from when I was last employed. With your MSC folder — "You've got the Enterprise, we've got the Allowance" — you go from being a despised unknown to being much sought after by sellers of advertising space and organisers of trade fairs and such like after your precious fortune of forty pounds a week. Suddenly complete strangers know your name. You are flattered and famous! This tells the "ex" claimant a lot about a society where your worth is based on your material wealth and potential for increasing other people's wealth. Your value as a human being just doesn't come into it.

But personal sour grapes apart, I am very worried about the implications of all this lonely (it is pushed as mostly sole-trader) enterprise. Obviously the government sees it as yet another way of hiding real unemployment figures. There isn't sufficient support such as low-rent premises and adequate financial assistance for it to seriously create new jobs. After all. they think when most of last year's entrepreneurs have gone bump, there's this year's batch to take off the register, and last year's failures can then be hassled to take low-paid jobs on Restart

Also there is the question of self-exploitation. Life isn't exactly a bed of roses for the employed worker, but while on the scheme I was told that 80 hours a week is necessary to succeed in business. And if you can't cope with an 80-hour week? If you fail? How convenient; no longer do you blame the capitalist — you blame yourself What better way to break our solidarity.
Paula Dibb 

About ourselves (1989)

From the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist Party?
An independent political party which stands opposed to all others in this country, including the Labour and Communist parties. Our only links are with similar socialist parties in some other parts of the world.

What is your aim?
The replacement of the existing capitalist system of society by a new and different system we call socialism.

What is capitalism?
A system based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth (land, industry, railways, offices and the like) by a section only of society who thus form a privileged class. The others, who in return for a wage or salary produce wealth for sale with a view to profit, make up the producing or working class. In Britain less than five per cent of the population belong to the owning or capitalist class. Most people — those who work in offices as well as those who work in the factories — are in the working class.

What is socialism?
A democratic world community without frontiers based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth by society as a whole. Socialism will abolish classes and free all humanity from exploitation and oppression. The basis of socialism is this ownership of all the means of production by the whole community; control over their use will rest in the hands of the community through democratic institutions. Wealth will be produced not for sale or profit, but solely to satisfy human needs. This means the end of buying and selling and all the other financial and commercial institutions like money, prices, wages and banks. People will cooperate to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs.

Will everything belong to the State?
No. The State does not represent the whole community; it serves the interests only of those who own the means of production. State ownership or nationalisation is one of the ways in which this class controls industry. When the State takes over industries (like the railways and coalmines in Britain) it does so in their interests. State ownership leaves unchanged the class basis of society, the profit motive and the wages system, all of which socialism will abolish. Nationalisation is just State capitalism.

What system exists in Russia?
Russian society is part of world capitalist society. It shows all the essential features of capitalism: a class who control the means of production through their control of political power: another class forced to work for wages: production of goods for sale with a view to profit and the accumulation of capital out of profits. The same goes for countries like China, Cuba and Yugoslavia. They like Russia have State capitalism.

Do you want something like the kibbutzim in Israel?
Socialism can only be a world community without frontiers. It cannot be established in one country let alone on one farm. The kibbutzim do show that human beings can live without money and can work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so that young people are tending to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

How do you advocate socialism should be established?
By the class of wage and salary earners, once a majority of them want and understand socialism, taking democratic political action to change the basis of society from the class to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Why must there be a majority in favour of the change to socialism before it can be made?
Socialism, by its nature as a system involving voluntary co-operation, could only be kept going by those who really wanted it and knew what it involved. Any attempt to establish socialism without a majority first being in favour is bound to fail.

Do you repudiate undemocratic minority action to achieve socialism?
Most definitely. No leaders, however sincere or able, can lead a non-socialist working class to socialism. Leaders who take power while a majority do not understand socialism have no choice but to develop and administer capitalism, as has been shown in Russia and by the various labour governments in Britain. When a majority do want and understand socialism they have no need of leaders, but only to organise themselves democratically.

Why do you advocate political action to achieve socialism?
It is their control of the machinery of government that now allows the capitalist class to protect their privileged position as the owners of the means of production. In Britain it is parliament that makes the laws granting them property rights and it is the police and the Courts, and if need be the army, that enforce these laws. The socialist majority must win political power in order to remove the protection the government machine now gives to class ownership and to carry through the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production.

How do you advocate the socialist majority should win political power?
By using their votes to elect socialist delegates to Parliament and the local councils. A socialist victory in a democratically-run election would demonstrate to all that a majority were in favour of the change to socialism.

Why are you opposed to all other political parties?
All of them accept the capitalist system and believe that current social problems can be solved within its framework.

Why do you think that reforms of the capitalist system are not the solution?
These problems are caused by the class ownership of the means of production which all reforms leave unchanged. The policy of trying to deal with social problems one by one by reforms of capitalism is futile, as this is to deal with effects and not the cause. We call this policy "reformism" and are opposed to it.

But surely you are not against all reforms?
We are not opposed to reforms which may bring temporary relief to some workers, but we do not regard it as the task of a socialist party to propose reforms of capitalism. Were we to do this we could easily soon become just another reformist party. To avoid this danger we advocate socialism only.

Why have all the other parties failed?
Basically because capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the class of wage and salary earners. It is a class system that can only work for those who own the means of production. Any party, be it Labour or Conservative, which takes power under capitalism is forced to run that system in the only way it can be and so is inevitably brought into conflict with the mass of people who work for a wage or salary. This has been proved time and again.

So it is not because the politicians are not determined enough or are incompetent or dishonest that they fail?
No. No matter how determined or able or sincere the members of a government may be they still could not make capitalism work for the good of all. The politicians fail because they have to accept the class system which causes the problems they are always promising to solve.

If you agree with these views or have any questions, please write to us or come along to one of our meetings

Caught In The Act: The Greasy Pole (1989)

The Caught In The Act Column from the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Greasy Pole

Down in Westminster there has been a certain amount of scrambling and scratching a little way up what was once memorably described by a Tory ex-minister as the Greasy Pole.

Those who were saddened by the abrupt decline in the fortunes of John Moore, who now attempts to run the degradation factory called the Department of Social Security, probably had mixed feelings about his recent effort to resuscitate his political career in a speech which set out to challenge the poverty lobby at what is perhaps their strongest point—the statistics of indictment. Just after the last election Moore was widely publicised as the Man Most Likely To Succeed Thatcher. There was no evidence that Moore realised how dangerous it was to be written up in that way—how likely it was to encourage a coalition of rivals keen to put the skids under him. It was whispered that his outrageous obsequiences to Thatcher had left him practically without friends and when he found himself in trouble he did not possess the cunning or the resources needed to fend it off. By the simple, instant method of chopping his job in two and giving him the smaller bit he was demoted and since then has been waiting his chance to stage a comeback.

That is why he recently announced that the idea of deep, widespread poverty is an absurdity. Moore relied on the fact that people on low incomes have been known to drink booze and smoke fags, to watch TV and keep what little food they can afford in a fridge. Harking back to the Tory obsession with Victorian England, he compared how the poor lived then with how we get by today and invited us to agree that poverty had therefore ceased to exist in any meaningful way. Well he would, wouldn't he? According to the Daily Mirror Moore lives in a detached house with a swimming pool, in a posh London suburb which could be sold now for about £850.000. Meanwhile thousands of people in London sit and watch TV in homeless accommodation, or in slums or on bleak estates. Thousands more exist in wall-to-wall stress in mortgaged homes, worrying about redundancy and the bills and what they will have to pay the building society for "their" home, asking themselves whether they can afford to go on holiday when they should get the roof fixed.

It was apparent that Moore's object was to appeal to the more callous and cynical elements in the Tory party and to make himself the centre of a popular debate about living standards. So it is as well to get one or two things clear now. Possession of things like a fridge and a TV is no gauge of poverty: the rich in Victorian England did not have such things but that fact did not make them poor. Poverty existed then and it exists now; the elements of how it expresses itself may change with time, in the same way as how riches express themselves also changes, but poverty endures because it is a necessary product of capitalism. This society is one of class division. beginning with the ownership and control by a minority of the means of life which leaves the rest—the majority—in poverty. That does not necessarily mean destitution, which is a condition lying at one extreme of poverty while the kind of wealth which Moore has access to lies on the way towards the other extreme.

If Moore wins the debate (which would not mean that he has the strongest argument) he may succeed in talking out concern for a desperate social problem which causes an enormous amount of despair, sickness and sheer misery. He may well have safeguarded his place in the Tory hierarchy and perhaps have inched a little way up the Greasy Pole. On such cynical calculations political careers are so often founded. The fact least worthy of attention is that real human beings—their conditions. their welfare their lives—are also at stake.

Labour Pains

After their disastrous election in 1983 the Labour Party decided that one of their priorities must be to change their image Out went the shuffling, bookish image of Michael Foot, who in spite of everything still managed sometimes to look as if he could be discomforted by reminders about political principles. In came the ambitious, unstudious image of Neil Kinnock, who spoke of principles as inconvenient obstacles to the achievement of power.

Well, Kinnock was by no means an instant success: in fact his liking for long, rambling, multi-syllabic interventions in the Commons quickly won him the title of the Welsh Windbag. Of himself he seemed quite incapable of exploiting that part of working class ignorance which insists that leaders are needed to organise society, to plan our lives for us,tto take decisions and to tell us what to do.

At that time the Labour Party might have ditched Kinnock and gone back to looking for the kind of leader who would bring in the votes just as Wilson did in the 1960s. Instead they chose to publicise him as the ideal of leadership, in cunningly crafted TV material, in carefully protected exposure and in rallies of the party faithful which were staged managed in a manner not unlike those of the pre-war fascists. The idea was that, whatever kind of person he is, however great or small his abilities, Kinnock was to be presented to us as the all-wise, all-caring, all-knowing father of the nation who only had to be allowed into Number Ten in order to look after us all for all time.

There must, however, be more to it than coming across as an unrelenting Mr Nice Guy. Labour's publicity team know that it is also essential, if the votes are to be won. to be Mr Finger-on-the-Button-and-Willing-To-Push-lt-lf-The-Situation-Demands. This is, they tell us, because we need to be protected from rampaging hordes of foreign invaders who are so envious of the British Way Of Life that they want to move in and take it over complete. In fact the reason is a lot less romantic: the button will be pushed, by Kinnock if he is prime minister at the time, if the interests of the British ruling class demand it.

So Kinnock is now presented to us as a leader with a core of steel. The significant thing about all this—about all the policy changes which are clearly coming in the Labour Party and the accompanying publicity blitz—is that Kinnock's personal reputation is welded onto that of the policies. Labour's present tactics demand that the workers cannot have one without the other. But what if the voters—the working class of this country—take the attitude that if there is no obvious difference between the Tories and Labour there is no reason to change from one to the other and therefore elect Thatcher for yet another period in power? In that event Labour's new policies will disappear, along with their leader, into the chaos of recrimination and desperate searchings for other policies, other leaders.

While all this goes on. the capitalist social system continues its grisly life. That means that the class division, with a minority of parasites living sumptuous lives off the backs of the useful majority, will continue. It means that millions will die quite unnecessarily, in wars, of avoidable diseases or of hunger. It means that millions will suffer the unrelenting stress of the poverty which we have to call ordinary life. It means millions existing in slums. The list of the crimes which capitalism commits against the human race is very, very long and the indictment of the system is unanswerable. From that viewpoint—from the viewpoint of human interests—what is happening in the Labour Party is glaringly exposed for the cynical futility that it is.

1844 not 1884
For some inexplicable reason each time we have wanted to say 1844 in the last two issues this has come out as 1884. The title of Engels book (April issue, p.60) was The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 and the Tory Act authorising the nationalisation of the railways (May issue. p.77) was passed in 1844.

50 Years Ago: The Armaments Illusion (1989)

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

One of the ironical aspects of a world given over to war preparations is the undying illusion of the Militarist that the country to which he belongs can secure immunity from attack by building armaments which will be so overwhelming as to frighten the enemy. Not only does each country enter the competition, thus upsetting the calculation, but nobody can possibly foretell with accuracy who "the enemy" is finally going to be, for it is no exaggeration to say that the eternal friends of international politics mistrust each other as much as they mistrust the nations in rival groups.

In the armaments race itself the story is one of constant change in relative strength. No country for long holds a predominant position without provoking competitive building abroad or the formation of rival groupings. Not long ago it was the French Air Force which was the threatening "shadow over Europe", now it is the German and Italian, but Britain and Russia are equally rapidly expanding to keep their lead.

As regards cruisers Germany is building five new 10,000-ton armoured vessels, with another five planned. (Daily Telegraph, May 30th. 1939) The naval correspondent says that "on paper these ships correspond to our 13 County cruisers but in fact the German ships are much more formidable . . . It would seem, therefore, common prudence that we should lay down armoured cruisers at once of a type at least equal in all-round fighting power to the new German ship.

By that time, of course, the Germans, Italians, Japs or some other Power will have produced something bigger and better, and "common prudence" will still be asking for more.

[From the Socialist Standard, July 1939 ]

By The Way (1919)

The By The Way Column from the September 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have for several months now been hearing with wearying monotony that the panacea for the country's ills is work, more work, and still more work. The fact that there are 350,000 demobbed soldiers who cannot find employment does not, it seems, trouble the master class, the idea clearly being to try and persuade those workers already engaged in production to work a little harder and, incidentally, of course, provide their masters with swollen profits. On the other hand, those who are clamouring for a job being unable to obtain one, will have some "incentive" to join up again in the "voluntary" army and "see the world and be paid for doing so." Beautiful idea, this !

While we workers are being urged by labour leaders and other capitalist hacks to increase production, and are daily treated to liberal doses of chatter about reconstruction, our masters see to it that they religiously abstain from such an undignified task themselves. Are we not termed workers, and they—well, just a simple word—shirkers ?

Take a cursory glance round and see the strenuous life they lead. Look how hard they work during the season. They attend the Eton and Harrow, the Oxford and Cambridge matches, visit the operas and the beauty spots of the world, and generally enjoy the good things of life. As we struggle in overcrowded trains and trams in a frantic endeavour to get work, as if this were the be-all and end-all of our existence, I read that—
  During Ascot week the London and South Western Railway ran 74 extra trains, saloon and first class only, at special fares ; and 63 extra trains of first and third class mixed, with ordinary first class fares and special third-class fares. —"Daily News," July 23rd, 1919.
After this off to the moors for a little shooting, and all at the very time when we are informed that without increased production we shall go headlong to ruin and disaster. What swank! Is it not time the workers awoke, rubbed their eyes, and proceeded to inaugurate a social system wherein all the physically fit adults contribute their quota of labour for the social good—where all engaged in healthy work and none were overworked ?


For four years we were enjoined to hate Germany and all things appertaining to it, at the same time being told that after hostilities had ceased some time must elapse before we could stretch out our hands or to have intercourse with our late "enemies." In a few words they were to be treated as moral lepers. How soon these things have been forgotten by those who uttered them is evidenced by the following extract: 
  It is reported that German bankers have been discussing with bankers over here the loan of £100,000,000—we to lend the money. . . We have no very great faith in the patriotism or unselfishness of cosmopolitan financiers ; and we certainly hope that Parliament will not let this loan slip through by default. Unfortunately, cosmopolitan finance is not without its strong supporters in this present House .of Commons, to say nothing of the House of Lords. " —"Reynolds's," August l0th, 1919.
No doubt the general upheaval caused by the war, coupled with the spreading of what is often termed Bolshevism, has tended to widen the outlook of some sections of the capitalist class, and in order to preserve their interests they are prepared to eat their own words. We now read of the allied and associated powers considering the wisdom of granting loans and once again entering into trade relations with the "enemy."


The glories of war. "Dr. Williams, tuberculosis officer for Flint and Denbigh, told the Flintshire Insurance Committee yesterday that the death-rate from consumption had increased enormously since the war, and we were back in the position of 25 or 30 years ago."—"Daily News," August 15th, 1919.


Not long since there was a great hullabaloo in connection with the trip of the R34 airship from England to the United States. It is strange indeed that one should read in the columns of a paper which, makes the claim that if you read it in that journal "it is so," such a belittling announcement as the following. Says Horatio Bottomley :
  It is not generally known that the R34, which has recently so distinguished itself in its cross-Atlantic flights, is an exact replica of one of the German super-Zeppelins captured by us. "—"John Bull," July 27th, 1919.

"Unto him that hath shall be given." While Tommy and Jack may think themselves lucky on receiving a few paltry pounds for "saving the country," and incidentally spending three or four years of their lives in muddy trenches or on the ocean waves, not to mention stopping bullets and shells, the master class see to it that the "big men" are well rewarded for services rendered. Now I might expatiate on so interesting a subject, but I forbear. I should be biassed. Rather, therefore, would I quote from a capitalist authority. So here you are:
  Parliament has been pleased to grant from £100,000 to £10,000 to eighteen leading soldiers and sailors. The nation does not wish to be niggardly to men who have served it so well; but we doubt whether there is anything like general satisfaction at this separation of the sheep and the goats. General Blank and Tommy Atkins both did their duty, and offered their lives and their energies to the nation. One, already receiving high pay, gets some thousands of pounds ; the other, receiving very low pay, gets twenty-nine shillings a week unemployment dole if he cannot find work, and nothing if he can."—"Reynolds's," August 8th, 1919. 

The lower cost of living "foretold" by G. H. Roberts, the Food Controller, and the Prime Minister is well illustrated by the following : 
"Official figures supplied by/the 'Labour Gazette' show that the cost of living this month has advanced 5 per cent. on the previous month, or 115 per cent. above the pre-war cost.
Just before the armistice (Nov. 1918)   120 per cent.
June, 1919         105    ""
July, 1919         110  ""
August, 1919                 115  "" 
The worker may well ask himself if his wages have increased in proportion.


In order to demonstrate to the Germans our intense dislike of militarism "a salute of 19 guns was fired on the river front of the Hohenzollern Bridge," so we were informed, on the occasion of the visit to headquarters of the Secretary for War, The Right Hon. Winston Churchill. It is to be hoped that they are now duly impressed by this pompous military reception.


The following item of news makes interesting reading in the light of what has been said and written, concerning England's late "chief enemy."
  An article has been published in the Moscow "Investia" showing (according to the Bolshevik wireless message) to what extent the "supposed German Republic has become an agent of the Entente, and affiliated to the House of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson and Co.
  "The chief objects of this honourable house," says the article, "is the struggle against Bolshevism." —Star, August a6th, 1919.
From which I gather that the much-hated "Hun" is useful if only to assist the Allies in their fight against the Bolsheviks.


We have heard during the late war quite a lot of talk about the blood of Frenchmen and Englishmen, which has been so freely shed, cementing the ties of friendship between the two nations. But now the question of the division of the spoils is coming to the fore the pretty prattle of yesterday vanishes into thin air. Concerning this interesting question a Paris newspaper ("Soir") comments thus on the question of Syria:
  The continuity of British territory from India to Cairo may be an advantage to our Ally, but we regret the animosity which it has evoked in this matter.—"Star, " Aug. 26th, 1919.
Further information with regard to the Paris newspaper and the French Economic Commission, just returned from Syria, tells us that "the interview, portions of which have been deleted by the censor, consists of a review of the economic position in Syria, and gives a very pessimistic impression of the outlook for French trade, industry, and finance in consequence, mainly, it is stated, of the activities of the British."

Again, later, we are told—
  Regarding the alleged incidents in Syria the "Homme Libre" states that for some time past friction with Great Britain has increased only too much.
  The "Liberté" says: British officials are convinced that our exclusion is necessary to the security of the British Indian Empire which to their mind, ought to stretch from Calcutta to the Cape by way of Cairo.
  At most they will consent to leave us, like a bone thrown to a dog, the narrow band of the Lebanon coast, just as in the eighteenth century they left us Pondicherry and Chandernazor. They have only forgotten one thing, and that is that then we were conquered and enemies, and to-day we are conquerors and Allies. —"Daily News," September 3rd, 1919.
All this reminds me of the old saw of our school-boy copy books—"When thieves fall out honest men come by their own." More information on this subject can be gathered from the secret treaties first published by Trotsky, the existence of which was then denied by our truthful Government, but which, owing to the occasional jars in the allied camp, have now become accepted facts.


Once again the attitude taken up by our party in opposing the gentry of the Labour Party (and all other anti-working class candidates) who batten and fatten on the political ignorance of the working class, is justified.

In connection with the contest just closed at Widnes, the following extract throws a flood of light on the worthless character of the ''labour" candidate.
  The Liberal Association of the Widnes Division met this evening, and having considered the political situation in reference to the election now pending; passed a resolution recommending the Liberal electors of the division ‘to vote for the Labour candidate and to support the candidature of Mr. Henderson in every possible way, and thus unite the progressive forces.’" —"Daily News," August 20th, 1919.
The workers of Widnes have been asked to vote for this nominee of capitalism, who was prepared to accept office in a capitalist ministry, went to Russia at the time of the collapse of Tsardom to do the bidding of a capitalist government, and at most is prepared, like any Liberal, to tinker with and endeavour to patch up the awful mess created by capitalist society. 

The folly and futility of such procedure has been exposed time and time again, and even Lloyd George himself has said that as soon as one sore is removed another breaks out. Study Socialism, and then vote fox it.
The Scout.

The Hirelings at Work. (1919)

From the September 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Manifold are the uses of the labour leader to the capitalist class. W'hen the masters wanted war the decoy ducks received their instructions and Patriotism became their watch-cry. When a strike becomes inconvenient to the masters the "leaders" instruct their men to return to work. Now that the labour situation is becoming somewhat uncomfortable for the employers they send out the cry of "More production or national disaster," and right nobly do the henchmen rally to the call.

To enable the inexperienced reader to appreciate the perfidy of these people it is necessary to set forth a few elementary facts.

The basis of the tactics necessary to achieve Socialism is the understanding of, and acting in accordance with, the class struggle—the recognition of the fact that in present-day society two classes exist whose interests are diametrically opposed: the employing class and the employed class.

The employing class own all the wealth produced, and as there is a limit to the amount of wealth that can be consumed by wage-earners—a limit imposed by the limits of the purchasing power of their wages—so there is a limit to the amount that the markets demand. The greater the speed of production the sooner this limit will be reached. The employed class produce the wealth, and the individuals who compose this class, by the necessities of their existence, are compelled to compete with each other for jobs, and so keep wages down to a certain average level.

As there is a limit to the wealth which the markets can absorb, so there is a limit to the jobs going. The more completely production is organised and the harder the employed class works the sooner the limit to the wealth required will be reached and the sooner a large proportion of the employed will be jobless.

Consequently, the present constitution of society puts the workers in the position that an increase in production, in so far as it signifies an intensification of the productivity of labour, is directly opposed to their interests. Considered in this light, therefore, an increase in production means, in the long run, an increase in wealth to the employers, and an increase in unemployment to the workers.

With the idea of smothering the class war and promoting harmony between exploiter and exploited an alliance has just been formed calling itself the Britannic Industrial Alliance, The chairman of the Provisional Committee is J. Havelock Wilson. The committee also includes G. N. Barnes, J. R. Clynes, J. Hodge, and G. H. Roberts. The aims of the organisation are:
  "To bring together employers and employees in this country which are now working harmoniously under Whitley Industrial Councils or similar working agreements, and organisations and individuals interested in developing British trade and British interests."—"Daily Chronicle," 1.9.19.
The only weapon the workers have on the industrial field is to be set aside and we are to sweat riches for wasters without a murmur— in the interests of British trade.

In the ''Daily News" (28.8.19) we read—
  "Mr. W. Adamson, M.P., stated in an interview yesterday that already he had made it clear to the House of Commons that so far as the Parliamentary Labour Party and he were concerned they recognised that there was great need for increased production."
J. T. Brownlie, chairman of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, has issued an appeal to the workers for increased production, and the "Daily Chronicle" (2.9.19) gives a list of "Labour leaders" supporting the appeal. The following paragraph sums up the situation :
  "Quite a number of leading officials of the big unions have been interviewed by the "Daily Chronicle" representative, and in every case there was agreement that the grave position of the country demanded more work, and more work."
Speaking in the House on the Consolidated Fund Bill (12.8.19), Mr. Sexton delivered himself of the following gem :
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when members on this side were complaining, endeavoured to lay at the door of the working classes of this country the blame for the trouble, because he said the men were not increasing production. I want to subscribe to that."
Of course, the whiskers of the "Socialist" movement, H. M. Hyndman, had to put his spoke in the wheel. He, we learn, had an interview with a "Daily Chronicle" representative, to whom he said (18.8.19) :
"Of course there must be increased production. If we had prepared as well for the honors of peace as we did for the honors of war we should not now be in the position we are in to- day."
How well Marx and Engels judged this man half a century ago when they described him as a bourgeois intellectual. For years he has served his class well, reaching the culminating point when he threw all his energies into assisting in the late campaign to smash German competition and incidentally send millions of the workers to eternity.

At the moment of writing we see Ben Tillett has added his mite to the mess. In an article in "John Bull" (0.9.19) he writes :
  ''The whole nation, is in an ugly mood of sulk and suspicion. The more alert and enterprising countries, like America and Japan, had, prior to the end of the war, prepared a scientific and calculated attack upon our export trade, and our trade generally ; while we have reduced our wealth by such immense quantities to the advantage of our Allies in general, and America in particular, that we are economically in a more or less crippled condition. The energy and the organisation of labour and capital, which helped to build our fortune previous to the war, are at the moment viciously and selfishly antagonistic. . . .
"There never was such a chance for recovery as now presents itself—to maintain our position among the nations—and there never was such a moment of peril! Capital and Labour must understand the tremendous obligations of the war, the debts to be paid, the hundred millions to be given to our defenders and their dependents. There is no jugglery in the world to meet these obligations—they must be met by actual effort, and the community owes a debt to the men who braved the fight and the dependents of those who have given their lives. We want virile brains and healthy bodies and happy homes and useful lives—but monopolies, either of Capital or Labour, must go if the country is to live !"
Comment on the above effusion relating to our trade, our wealth, our fortune, our allies, and the debts we owe is needless. It might spoil the beautiful phrases of one of the workers' most contemptible enemies.

Thus do the "labour leaders" echo the cry of the capitalists. Unless we produce more and compete successfully (ah ! there's the rub !) with other countries, they cry, we will go headlong to ruin. What stronger argument is needed for the abolition of capitalism ?

"Labour leaders" are out for pelf and place; they do not advocate the only solution to the working-class sufferings, but seek to conserve the interests of the capitalists by maintaining that more production, more sweating of toilers, will ease the situation.

But already there are thousands who cannot get work, and as long as this is so the words of the Tilletts are known for lies even as they fall from their foul lips—lies intended to wring still greater profits out of those who are fools enough to believe them.
Graham May

Lewis Henry Morgan. An Account and Appreciation of his Life Work. (1919)

From the September 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The year 1818, which witnessed the birth of Karl Marx, also saw the birth, on Nov. 21st, of Lewis Henry Morgan, a man whose investigations into the nature of primitive human society were as epoch-making as were those of Marx into the structure of modern capitalism. Born at Aurora, Cayuga County, in the State of New York, and of "middle-class" parents, Morgan, after the customary school education, graduated, at the age of 22, at Union College, N.Y. Afterwards he underwent a four years course in law, and in 1844 was admitted to the Bar. In partnership with his old schoolmate, afterwards Judge G. F. Danforth, Morgan practised successfully as a lawyer in Rochester, where he made his home.

Studies of the Indians.
While at college young Morgan had become deeply interested in the Red Indians of the Iroquois tribes, the remnants of a once powerful and widespread people, in the State of New York. After his graduation he joined with a number of young enthusiasts in Aurora who, like himself, were fond of Indian lore, forming a club or society which was called the Grand Order of the Iroquois. The "Order," which was of the nature of a secret society, also appears to have been known as the "Gordian Knot."

The idea of its founders was to extend the organisation over the tribal territory which the Iroquois in times past had occupied. Branches were to be established wherever a settlement of the Iroquois was known to have existed, and "council-fires" held at night for the discussion of matters relating to the Indians.

In order to study more intimately their life and institutions Morgan actually went into an Iroquois settlement, and there lived as one of themselves for periods which eventually totalled several years. So well did he gain the confidence and affection of the Indians that in 1847 he was permitted to formally enter, by adoption, into the Hawk gens of the Seneca tribe. They recognised in him a fraternal link between the white men and the red, and gave him the name Ta-ya-da-wah-kugh, meaning "one lying across."

The first results of his investigations Morgan embodied in a series of papers which were read to the "Grand Order," and also to the New York Historical Society, of which he was a member. Subsequently they were published as "Letters on the Iroquois;" under the pen-name of "Skenandoah" in the "American Review" during 1847, and later appeared in other journals.

Among Morgan's closest associates was a pure-blooded Seneca Indian called Ha-sa-no-an-da, who had adopted the English name of Ely S. Parker. He was well educated and a civil engineer by profession. Hasanoanda possessed an exceedingly full knowledge of Iroquois customs and institutions and was himself a Sachem or peace-chief of the Senecas, his name signifying "Keeper of the Western door of the Long House" (see below).

With Parkers' assistance Morgan was able to carry his researches into the past history of the Iroquois and to complete his first great work on primitive society, "The League of the Iroquois," which he published in 1851. This book which Morgan, out of recognition for his services, inscribed to Ely S. Parker, was written, as the author says in the preface, "to encourage a kinder feeling towards the Indian founded upon a truer knowledge of his civil and domestic institutions, and of his capabilities for future elevation," surely, in view of the brutal treatment meted out to the Red-man by the Paleface who had robbed him, a noble ideal.

The first scientific account of an Indian people ever written, this book contains a detailed description based on personal observation of the society, religion, ceremonial, games, art, craftsmanship, and language of the Iroquois. A new edition appeared in 1904.

The league of tribes was the highest type of social organisation achieved by the American Indians. That of the Iroquois was formed in the fifteenth century and consisted of five, and later of six, tribes, the Mohawks, Cayugas, Senecas, Onondagas, and the Tucaroras. The term "Iroquois" is believed to be of French origin. They called themselves Ho-de-no-sau-nee, the "People of the Long House," the latter allusion being to the Indian communal house which was chosen as tie symbol of the League. At the time when Morgan wrote, however, the League was but a shadow of its former self, having lost, with the coming of the Whites, the position which had made it a social and military power of no mean importance.

In 1855 Morgan was concerned in an engineering scheme to build a railway through the wilderness of North Michigan, and in conjunction therewith performed some practical exploration which was much needed in this, at that time, little known region. When thus engaged he made some original investigations into the social habits and constructive ability of the beaver, an animal which was exceedingly abundant in this area. His results were embodied in "The American Beaver and His Works," published in 1867. One of the most perfect of zoological monographs, this work drew praise from Darwin, although he considered that Morgan had underestimated the power of instinct and thus rated too highly the reasoning powers of the beaver.

In 1856 Morgan made the acquaintance of Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institute, and of Agissiz, the famous American naturalist, both of whom encouraged him to continue his unique Indian studies.

Studies in Kinship and Sex Relations.
While on a visit in 1858 to Marquette on Lake Superior, one of the terminii of the proposed railway, Morgan visited a camp of the Ojibwa tribe and there discovered the same peculiar system of recognising family relationships which he had found among the Iroquois. According to this system a man referred to the children of his brothers as his own "sons" and "daughters," and all these "cousins" as they would be termed by us, called one another "brother" or "sister." Likewise with the children of several sisters.

The discovery that this system existed among the Ojibwa appears to have been somewhat of a revelation to Morgan, and he now pursued his ethnological researches with redoubled vigour, visiting in the next three or four years different tribes in the extreme West and as far North as Canada. He found, as he had begun to expect, that the same system of kinship was characteristic of practically all the tribes in North America.

After this Morgan, with the assistance of the United States Government, carried his investigations into other lands. Carefully prepared lists of questions were forwarded to officials, explorers, and missionaries in different parts of the world. Most of these lists were returned with the desired information, and by this means Morgan was successful in acquiring a vast amount of data bearing on the sex relations and kinship of numerous peoples the world over.

It was a stupendous task to sort out and classify this mass of evidence, but Morgan performed it with great ability and remarkable results. These were set forth in a preliminary essay published in the "Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences" in 1868.

The complete and tabulated results of these investigations appeared in the "Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family," published in 1871 as Vol. XVII. of the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge" by the "Institute." This work, containing as it does the kinship systems of one hundred and thirty-nine distinct peoples comprising about four-fifths of the human race, is one of the landmarks of ethnology and denoted the entry of exact scientific method into the study of primitive society.

Frederick Engels in his "Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State," thus summarises Morgan's conclusions :

  1. The kinship system of the American Indians is also in vogue in Asia, and in a somewhat modified form among numerous tribes of Africa and Australia.
  2. This system finds a complete explanation in a certain form of communal marriage now in
process of decline in Hawaii and some Australian islands.
  3. By the side of this marital form, there is in practice on the same islands a system of 
kinship only explicable by a still more primeval and now extinct form of communal marriage.
Morgan was led by his researches to the belief that unrestricted sexual intercourse had been the habit of primeval mankind. Progressive restriction upon intercourse between near blood relatives then resulted in two successive forms of group or communal marriage in which a group of men were common husbands to a similar group of women. This custom, by rendering actual fatherhood uncertain, necessarily resulted in the tracing of decent through females only, a fact which had already been inferred by Bachofen in his "Mother Right" (1861) from a study of classical mythology.

Further restriction led to a loose "pairing family"—the intercourse and co-habitation of one man with one woman—and then, as Morgan subsequently showed, the rise of private property formed the basis of the historical from of monogamy, with its permanent union and male inheritance.

In treating anomalous kinship-systems as the vestiges of extinct marital and family institutions, and in coming forth as the ethnological champion of the theory of original promiscuity and of group marriage, Morgan encountered the opposition of the "established school" of anthropologists led McLennan. Just as Owen, Virchow, and other reactionary scientists endeavoured to save the "respectability" of man kind by denying, in opposition to the Darwinians, our animal ancestry, so Westmarck, Andrew Lang and others fitted bourgeois morality upon the primitive savage by declaring, against Morgan and even Lubbock, that human sex-intercourse had never been promiscuous and that monogamy was its "natural" and original form.

Morgan's views on this matter have, in the main, been amply vindicated by the more recent painstaking researches of Spencer and Gillen into the communal marriage systems of the Australian aborigines.

The Roots of Cultural Progress.
After the publication of his ''Systems of Consanguinity'' Morgan pursued the investigation of several series of facts which had attracted his attention whilst accumulating the materials for that important work.

The only literary fruits of his work during the following five or six years were a number of essays on the ancient culture of Central America—a line of enquiry which greatly interested him. Between 1869 and 1876 there appeared in the form of magazine articles "The Seven Cities of Chibola," "Montezuma's Dinner," and "The Houses of the Mound Builders."

Morgan was something of a classical scholar, and it gradually became apparent to him that there was a more intimate affinity between the social institutions of early Greece and Rome and those of existing barbarian peoples than was usually supposed.

He also became aware of the great changes wrought in social and cultural institutions by progressive improvements in man's means of living.

Thus by a variety of channels he arrived at the conception of the essential unity in the course and method of evolution throughout the entire human race. The great antiquity and animal origin of mankind had already been established, but little knowledge had as yet been gained as to the social conditions of existence among primitive men.

Morgan was among the first to scientifically penetrate into the social status of man in the stages proceeding the patriarchal system which, in conformity with Hebrew tradition, most earlier writers, even the learned Sir Henry Maine ("Ancient Law," Chap. 5), had considered to be the dawn of society.

In 1877 Morgan gave to the world the result of forty years study in his chief literary work, "Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilisation." The book is divided into four parts. In the first Morgan shows that the basis of all human progress lies in the discovery or invention of artificial aids to existence in the form of implements and technical processes, and that these processes lead to new methods of living, generating new needs and producing a gradual increase in man's knowledge of and control over natural forces.

The author divides the evolution of mankind into seven stages, each marked off by outstanding discoveries. Thus the lowest or first stage in the period of savagery commences with man, hardly differentiated from the rest of the anthropoid stock, existing as a tropical tree-dweller and consuming raw roots, fruits, and small animals. During this period the first simple form of language was developed and rude tools of stone, shell, bone, and similar materials began to be used.

Then came the making of fires, which made cooking possible and raised man to the second stage of Savagery. Fishing was now adopted and by encouraging migrations along river banks and coasts assisted in the dispersal of the race over the continents. The invention of the bow and arrow ushers in the third stage, in which the savage was equipped for the hunting of large game.

With the art of making pottery the period of Barbarism begins. In its first stage crude picture-writing and probably weaving were evolved. Primitive agriculture commenced to wards the close of this period. Then with the domestication of cattle, sheep, and other hoofed animals in the Eastern Hemisphere and the improvement of agriculture in Central and South America, the middle stage of Barbarism would be reached. This period, in its use of the softer metals, corresponds with the Bronze Age of the archaeologists.

The upper status of Barbarism was reached only in the Eastern Hemisphere when iron smelting was achieved. This great discovery, which placed in man's hands the means of procuring tools of great hardness and durability, gave an unprecedented impetus to agriculture and other forms of production. The invention of alphabetic writing closed the epoch of Barbarism and ushered in the era of written history—of Civilisation.

Morgan's orderly classification of the cultural history of mankind was a marked advance upon all previous attempts. It is still, over forty years after its formulation, recognised as the most adequate and useful of the many schemes which have been evolved (see article "Civilisation," Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition).

To Socialists Morgan's classification is especially of interest inasmuch as it is based upon the principle that "the great epochs of human progress have been identified, more or less directly, with the enlargement of the sources of subsistence" ("Ancient Society," p 19), a thesis fundamentally identical with the Materialist Conception of History of Marx and Engels.
R. W. Housley

(To be Concluded.)