Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Retrospect. Lessons drawn from the Socialist Movement from 1848 to 1895. by Frederick Engels. (1919)

From the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard


Link to Part 1

Moreover, with this successful use of the ballot, a wholly new method of proletarian warfare had gone into effect, which was rapidly extended. It was found that the political institutions, by means of which the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is organised, afford further handholds by which the working class can attack these very institutions. The party took part in the elections for State Legislatures, Aldermen and industrial courts, and contested against the bourgeoisie for every office in the filling of which a sufficient number of the proletariat had anything to say. And thus it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to a pass where they feared the lawful activity of the Labour Party far more than its unlawful activity ; they dreaded the result of an election more than those of a a rebellion. For here, too, the conditions of the struggle had materially changed. The old style rebellion, the street fight with barricades, which down to 1848 gave the final decision everywhere, had become decidedly antiquated.

Let us harbour no illusions on this point; a victory as between two armies, is a thing of the rarest occurrence. Moreover, the insurgents had seldom aimed at this. Their only object was to soften the troops by moral influences, such as in a conflict between two warring countries would be of no effect at all, or at any rate, in a far smaller degree. If this plan succeeds the soldiers refuse to obey orders or the officers lose their presence of mind and the revolt is successful. If this plan does not succeed, nevertheless, even in case the military is fewer in numbers, the result shows the superiority of their better equipment and training, of the unified leadership, of the well-planned arrangement of forces and their discipline. The most that an insurrection can attain in real tactical action is the scientific construction and defence of a single barricade. Mutual support, the disposition and utilisation of reserves, in short the assistance and co-operation of the separate divisions, which is indispensable for the defense even of a single district, to say nothing of the whole of a large city, is very imperfect, and for the most part wholly unattainable ; concentration of forces upon a vital point is out of the question. A passive defense is the characteristic form of the struggle. The attack will extend here and there to occasional sallies or flank movements, but only as exceptions, for as a rule it will be confined to occupying the positions abandoned by the retiring troops. Then, further, the military is supplied with artillery and with completely equipped and trained battalions of pioneers, which the insurgents in almost all cases wholly lack. No wonder, therefore, that even, those barricade fights which were conducted with the most heroic bravery, as at Paris in June, 1848, at Vienna in October, 1848, and at Dresden in May, 1849, ended with the suppression of the revolt as soon, as the officers of the army, unhampered by political considerations, fought according to purely military principles and the soldiers remained trustworthy.

The numerous successes of insurgents down to 1848 are due to manifold causes. At Paris in July, 1830, and in February, 1848, as also in most of the Spanish street fights, there stood between the insurgents and the military a citizens' guard, which either sided directly with the revolt or by its lukewarm and hesitating attitude caused the regular troops also to waver, and in addition to that, furnished the insurgents with arms. Wherever this civil guard at the start took a stand against the revolt, as in June 1848, at Paris, the insurgents were defeated. At Berlin, in 1848, the people won partly through an important addition of fresh forces during the night and on the morning of the 19th of March, partly on account of the fatigue and lack of care suffered by the troops, and partly on account of the hesitation of the authorities. But in all cases where a victory is won it was because the troops mutinied, or because the officers were lacking in determination, or because their hands were tied.

Therefore, even in the classical period of street fighting, the barricade was more of a moral than a material force. It was a means for breaking the loyalty of the army. If it accomplished this, the victory was won; if not the cause was lost.

Even in 1849 the chances were already poor enough. The bourgeoisie had gone over to the side of the governments; "culture and property" greeted and treated the troops marching out against the insurgents. The barricade had lost its charm. The soldiers no longer saw behind it the people, but only rebels, rioters, plunderers, "dividers-up," the outcasts of society ; the officers had in time become skilled in the tactical forms of street fighting. They no longer marched out straight ahead and unprotected against the improvised breastworks, but went around them through gardens, courts and houses. And this course, with a little skill, would be successful in nine cases out of ten.

And since then many things have changed, and all to the advantage of the military. Though the large cities have become larger, so also have the armies. Paris and Berlin have not quadrupled since 1848, but their garrisons have been increased more than that. By means of the railroads these garrisons can be doubled in twenty-four hours, and in forty-eight hours can be expanded into gigantic armies. The weapons of these enormous hosts are incomparably more effective than formerly. In 1848 they had only the smooth bore, percussion-cap, muzzle-loader ; to-day the small calibre magazine breech-loader, which shoots four times as far, ten times as accurate, and ten times as fast as the other. At that time they had only the comparatively ineffective solid balls and cartridges of the artillery ; to-day the percussion shells, a single one of which is sufficient to demolish the strongest barricade. At that time the pick of the pioneer for breaking through walls ; to-day the dynamite bomb.

On the other hand, for the insurgents all the conditions have become worse. A revolt with which all layers of the population sympathise can hardly come again. In the class struggle all the middle layers of society will probably never rally around the proletariat so exclusively that the reactionary party which rallies to the bourgeoisie will almost disappear. The 'people'' therefore will always appear to be divided, and thereby a powerful lever is wanting which was so exceedingly effective in 1848. Even if more trained soldiers are found on the side of the insurgents, it will be so much the more difficult to arm them. The hunters' and sportsmen's guns from the retail stores, even if the police should not have rendered them unserviceable by removing part of the lock as a precautionary measure, cannot by any means compete with the magazine gun of the soldiers even at close range. Up to 1848 a man could manufacture the necessary ammunition himself out of powder and lead ; but to-day the cartridge is different for every gun, and in only one particular is it alike everywhere, viz., in that it is a technical product of large scale industry, and therefore cannot be extempore, and therefore the most of guns are useless so long as one has not the ammunition specially fitted for them. Finally the new districts of the great cities have been laid out with long, straight, broad streets, as if made with special reference to operations with modern cannons small arms. The revolutionist would be insane who would deliberately select the new workingmen's districts in the north and east of Berlin for a barricade fight.

Does the reader now understand why the ruling classes are so anxious by all means to get us where the rifle cracks and the sabre slashes? And why they to-day accuse us of cowardice because we do not straightway betake ourselves to the street, where we are beforehand certain of a defeat? And why they so passionately beseech us to play cannon fodder just for once? 

These gentlemen are wasting both their prayers and their dares for nothing and less than nothing. We are not so green as all that. They might just as well ask their enemy in the next war to follow the line of formation used by Frederick the Great, or the formation in columns of entire divisions √† la Wagram and Waterloo, and that, too, with the old flintlock gun in the hand. As conditions have changed for warfare, so not less for the class struggle. The period for sudden onslaughts, of revolutions carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where the question involves the complete transformation of the social organisation, there the masses themselves must be consulted, must themselves have already grasped what the struggle is about and what they stand for. This is what the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is needed, and it is just this work that we are now doing, and that, too, with a success which drives our opponents to despair. 

In the Latin countries also people see more and more that the old tactics have to be revised. They have everywhere followed the German example of using the ballot and of winning every position which is accessible to them. In France where the ground has been broken up for 100 years by revolution upon revolution, where there is not a single party which has not furnished its share of conspiracies, insurrections and all other revolutionary doings; in France where, as the result of this condition, the Government is by no means certain of the army, and where the circumstances generally are far more favourable for an insurrectional venture than in Germany,—even in France the Socialists are coming to understand better and better that no enduring victory is possible for them unless they first win the great mass of the people;—that means there the peasants.

Slow propaganda work and parliamentary activity are recognised there, too, as the next task of the party. The results are not lacking. Not only has a whole string of municipal councils have been captured; even in the Chamber of Deputies there are fifty Socialists, and these have already overthrown three Cabinets and one President of the Republic. In Belgium last year the workingmen forced the granting of the electoral franchise and won in a fourth of the voting districts. In Switzerland, in Italy, in Denmark, yes, even in Bulgaria and Roumania, the Socialists are represented in Parliament. In Austria all parties are agreed that our entry into the imperial council can no longer be prevented. We are bound to get in, that is certain; the only question now is, by what door ? And even in Russia, whenever the celebrated Zemskij Sobor shall be assembled, that national convention which young Nicholas is trying in vain to prevent, we can count on it with certainty that we shall be represented there too.

It goes without saying that our foreign comrades do not relinquish their right of revolution. The right of revolution is after all the only actually "historical right," the only right upon which all modern States without exception rest, including even Mecklenburg, whose revolution of the nobility was ended in 1755 by the inheritance agreement,—that glorious charter of feudalism which is still in force to-day. The right of revolution is so irrefutably recognised in the public consciousness that General von Boguslawski out of this popular right alone derives the right of forcible usurpation which he justifies on behalf of the Emperor.

But whatever may happen in other countries, the German social democracy occupies a particular position, and hence has at least for the present a particular task. The two million voters which it sends to the ballot box, together with the young men and women who, as non-voters, stand behind them, constitute the largest and compactest mass, the decisive corps of the international proletarian army. This mass furnishes already over a quarter of the votes cast; and it grows unceasingly, as shown by the elections for the Reichstag, for the separate state legislatures ; for the municipal councils, and for the industrial courts. Its growth goes on as spontaneously, steadily, and uninterruptedly, and at the same time as quietly as a process of nature. All the efforts of the government against it have shown themselves to be futile. We can to-day count on two and a quarter million voters. If that keeps up, we shall by the end of the century win the greater part of the middle strata of society, both small tradesmen and peasants, arid shall become the determining power in the land before which all other powers must bow down, whether they want to or not. To keep this growth going uninterruptedly until of itself it overtops the prevailing system of government is our chief task. And there is only one means by which this steady increase of the militant Socialist forces in Germany could be momentarily checked and even set back for a time, viz, a conflict with the army on a large scale, a blood-letting like that of 1871 at Paris. In the long run even this would be overcome. Take a party which, runs up into millions and all the magazine guns in Europe and America together would not be sufficient to shoot it out of existence. But the normal development would be checked, and the end of the conflict would be delayed, prolonged, and accompanied with heavier sacrifices.

The irony of history turns everything upside down. We, the "revolutionists," the "revolters," prosper far better by lawful measures than by unlawful measures and violence. The law and order parties, as they call themselves, go to ruin under the legal conditions which they themselves have established. They cry out in despair with Odilon Barrot; la legalité nous tue, ''lawfulness is killing us"; while we, under this lawfulness, are getting firm muscles and rosy cheeks and are the picture of eternal life. And if we do not so completely lose our wits as to let ourselves be drawn into a street fight just to please them, then there remains nothing else for them to do finally except to break down this lawfulness themselves, which has proved so disadvantageous to them.

For the present they are making new laws against revolts. Again everything is turning upside down. These anti-revolt fanatics of to day, are they not themselves the revolters of yesterday ? For example, did we conjure up this civil war of 1866 ? Did we drive the King of Hanover, the electoral Prince of Hessen, the Duke of Nassau from their legitimate and hereditary lands, and then annex these countries ? And now these smashers of the German confederation and of three grace-of-God crowns complain about revolt! Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes ? Who could permit Bismarck's worshippers to complain about revolting ?

Meanwhile let them pass their anti-revolt laws, and make them still more stringent; let them turn the whole criminal code into caoutchouc ; they will accomplish nothing except to furnish new proof of their impotence. In order to get at the social democracy effectively they will have to take entirely different measures. The social democratic revolt, which just now finds its greatest advantage in observing the laws, can only be checked by a counter revolt of the law and order party which cannot exist without breaking the laws. Herr Roessler, the Prussian bureaucrat, and Herr von Boguslawski, the Prussian general, have pointed out to them the only way by which perhaps they can get even with the workingmen who will not let themselves be enticed into a street fight, breach of the constitution, dictatorship, a return to absolutism, regis voluntas suprema lex ! Courage, therefore, gentlemen, no lip-puckering will answer here; you have got to whistle !

But do not forget that the German empire, as well as all the small states composing it, and in general all modern states, are the product of a treaty; a treaty first of the princes among themselves, second of the princes with the people. If one side breaks the treaty, the whole treaty falls, and the other side is then no longer bound either.

It is now 1,600 years ago, almost to a year, that likewise a dangerous revolutionary party was carrying on its work in the Roman Empire. It undermined religion and all the foundations, of the state. It denied absolutely that the will of the people was the supreme law; it was fatherlandless, international; it spread out over all parts of the Empire, from Gaul to Asia, and even beyond the limits of the empire. It had for a long time worked underground and in secret, but for some time past it considered it self strong enough to come out into the light. This revolutionary party, which was known by the name of Christians, also had a large representation in the army. Whole legions were Christian. When they were ordered to attend the sacrifice ceremonies of the established heathen religion to perform the honours of the occasion, the revolutionary soldiers carried their impudence so far that by way of protest they struck into their helmets peculiar emblems—crosses. Even the customary floggings by the officers, with the cat-o'-nine tails of the bar racks, were fruitless. The Emperor Diocletian was no longer able to look on while order, obedience and discipline in his army were being subverted. He took hold energetically while there was yet time. He issued an anti Socialist —or rather an anti-Christian law. Assemblies of the revolters were forbidden, their meeting halls closed or even torn down, the Christian emblems, crosses, etc., were forbidden the same as red handkerchiefs in Saxony. Christians were declared incapable of holding state offices, and could not even become lance corporals in the army. As they did not yet have at that time judges so carefully trained to observe a "respect for the person" as contemplated by Herr von Koellers' anti-revolt bill, the Christians were forbidden outright to resort to the courts at all. This exception law also proved ineffective. The Christians tore it down from the walls with contempt, aye, it is said that while the Emperor was in Nicomedia they set fire to the palace over his head. He revenged himself by the great persecution of Christians which took place in the year 303 of our era. It was the last of its kind : and it was so effective that seventeen years later the majority of the army consisted of Christians and the next succeeding monarch of the whole Roman Empire, Constantine, called by the priests the Great, proclaimed Christianity as the state religion.

Note from ALB on the English translation of this text:

First published in English in an abridged form under the heading “Revolutionary Tactics” in The Plebs, London, 1921, Vol. 13, No. 1, January, pp. 12-15; No. 2, February, pp. 48-50; No. 3, March, pp. 71-74; No. 4, April, pp. 112-14. Published in full in English for the first time in: The Revolutionary Act, New York city, New York Labor News Company, 1922.

Apparently from MECW.

This link refers to an earlier translation:
“Excerpts from The Class Struggles in France were first published in English in the journal The Marxian, New York, 1921, Vol. 1, No. 2, and it appeared in full as a separate edition by Labour News Company, New York, 1924.”

Either there was an earlier American translation (the one in the Standard is American, see spellings of defense and pretense ) or the date of the one from the Marxian is wrong. Later quotes from Engels’ introduction are from the Plebs one.

I have the 1922 SLP edition and the one in the Standard is not the same as that. In fact I’ve sent it to the MIA and it is now up here.

Our £1,000 Fund. (1919)

Party News from the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Christmas is coming—that’s the way with Christmas, its always either coming or going. The important point for the moment, however, is that about the time of the coming of Christmas it becomes the fashionable thing for people to distribute largess, in other words, to chuck the spondulix about. That truism of every-day life (dare we)—“The fool and his money’s soon parted,” is by common consent suspended far the moment, and ceases to have any significance. In fact, there seems to be more than a suspicion that respectability demands that one would run around pressing gifts on all and sundry.

Well, having got that off our chest; “Here we comerwissilin'". You know what we mean. Its your money we want. There is that £1,000 Fund. Rapidly as it grew at first, it is not now making the progress that it should be making. It is starved and stunted, weak and and debilitated, knock-kneed, anemic, run-down and showing unmistakeable signs of the rickets. It is a damned disgrace to the revolutionary movement, and if the poor little cuss doesn’t buck up, it will be a question if we shall not have to wring its miserable neck and put it under the turf.

And yet that would be pity, for there is a real place in the world for it to fill a real need for its existence. Never before have the master class been at such pains to lead the workers astray. They are pouring out wealth like water in an active propaganda which would have been beneath the dignity of any British Government a few years ago. The reason is plain. The happenings of the last five years have shaken the sleeping masses up. What they have been called upon to undergo has shown them that they have vital interests outside their beer and their skittles and their football and their work, and the masters are jumpey.

To enable us to make the most of the situation we ask our friends to send us a Xmas donation.

Outlook For Socialism In America. (1919)

From the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since last writing these notes three conventions have been held in Chicago (Sept. 1-7), and the dyed-in-the-wool social reformers and opportunists have remained in the Socialist Party of America. The great bulk of the delegates, however, formed the Communist Party. This is composed to the extent of about 75 per cent. of foreign-speaking federations, Russians predominating. They adopted a program and manifesto slavishly imitating that of the Moscow Bolshevist Conference in 1919. It is based on the idea that capitalism has collapsed and that now we are in a revolutionary crisis. Mass Action is therefore advocated, and it means the spontaneous instinctive rising of workers, organised or not. It is insurrection doomed to failure. The platform also stands for Industrial Unionism without specifying any organisation supporting it. Educating the workers in Socialism is ignored, and we are told "now is the time for action." The program and manifesto are written in a language all their own, and as far as the average worker is concerned it might as well be written in ancient Greek.

The "left wing" element split, part going with the Russians and forming the Communist Party, another part joining together under the name of the Communist Labor Party, whose strength is mostly drawn from the West. This party contains confusion enough for a dozen parties—reformers and Bolsheviks side by side with avowed I.W.W.s and Nationalists. The leading spirits are Jim Larkin, the supporter of a Labour Party for America, Jack Carney, late of the London Daily Herald League, John Reed, the Bolshevik envoy who never acted, Max Eastman, pacifist and dilettante utopian. Later these two parties may unite, as both of them are but echoes of the Bolshevik movement, however little they understand its significance. The Communist Labor Party endorses the I.W.W. and is Syndicalist in tendency.

The combined activity of these two parties is having little more effect than causing police raids and arrests, and making it harder to hold meetings and conduct educational work.

Apart from these groups there is growing, slowly but surely, a number of groups throughout the country holding to the Marxian position. Study of the classics of Socialism combined with reading the Socialist Standard and the work of those who have been connected with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, are large factors in the Marxian movement here. The "Proletarian," a monthly of Detroit, promoted by the Proletarian University, has been doing good work, but some of the elements associated with it are not yet fully conscious of the correct policy for the workers. The delegates of the Michigan State worked together with Russian Federations to organise the Communist Party, but found themselves in a hopeless minority. Michigan's platform and policy drawn up specially for presentation as the basis of the new party was superior to that of the Russians, which was adopted. The Michigan platform, however, was a mixture of excerpts from Bolshevik manifestoes, Industrial Unionism, etc., which fitted in strangely with the Marxian ideas also inserted. These confusing ideas were a concession to the Russians and the Mass Action element of Louis Fraina and his satellites. If the Michigan delegates had kept to the former and fairly clear position long since conciated with the "Proletarian" the chances for a new party here would be brighter.

The Socialist Party of the United States was formed in 1916 in Detroit from a group of comrades who seceded from the Socialist Party of America together with some members of the Socialist Party of Canada and the Socialist Party of North America. They afterwards took the name of the Worker's Socialist Party of U.S. They promoted lectures and study classes, and conducted much educational work, but lack of preparation outside the motor city hampered their activities, and the entry of America into the war drove the most active workers to distant parts of this and other lands doing "war" work.

When the Michigan State of the S.P. of A. showed signs of becoming Socialist and was expelled, many of the remaining members joined the expelled S.P. and looked forward to seeing a real party at last! Proletarian or Marxian clubs have been formed in New York City, Cleveland, Portland (Oregon), and San Francisco, and intensive educational work is going on which may result soon in the secession of the Marxian minority element from the Communists and their linking up with others in the building of a Socialist Party on sound lines. At present persistent criticism and education of the best elements is the road ahead.

Great strikes are the order of the day here as elsewhere. Judge Gary, the head of the Steel Trust, has driven the steel workers to strike and refuses to allow them to organise or arbitrate. These are the men who worked night and day to make the steel to win the war. The strike is gradually dying under the influence of armed force and hunger. This is a A.F. of L. strike as the steel workers have only just been organised and the organiser of the strike is a Syndicalist, William Z. Foster.

The Workers' International Industrial Union is progressing—backwards. It adopted a resolution, demanding Irish self-government, which is full of national sentiment, and another resolution advocating steps being taken to secure unity between the W.I.I.U. and the I.W.W. Such is the clarity of our De Leonites !

William D. Haywood has been released on bail from prison pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. He at once gave the Associated Press the following statement (July 28, 1919):

This is strictly in line with their tactics at the trial, when they tried to show their loyalty by producing soldier members as witnesses.

The Non-Partisan League in the North West is growing amongst the farmers and so-called Radicals. Many prominent S.P. men have joined it to get the pickings in the way of fat jobs. Arthur LeSueur and Walter Thos. Mills are two ex-members of the S.P. Executive who have secured plums and are touring for the league in the two Dakotas, Montana, etc. This body promotes reform agitation of an agrarian kind, especially amongst the farmers and their slaves. It has a program of capitalist reforms, and owing to pacifist and Syndicalist tendencies it has many supporters among the I.W.W. and so-called Socialists. It has many members elected to State legislatures.

The present position of the S.L.P. of A. reminds one of Huxley's picture of the prospects of the Catholic Church, once so fair, now facing disaster. The lowest ebb that has ever been reached in its career was recorded recently when practically all its prominent members sailed out into other fields. Edmund Seidel, the Editor of the "Weekly People," was expelled and is now the candidate for New York for the rotten S.P. of A. Rudolph Katz, author of "With De Leon since '91," and an official of the I.W.W, was expelled after nearly 30 years in the S.L.P. Like Siedel he began to flirt with the S.P. as he thoughtlessly imitated, the unity craze of the S.L.P. The Presidential Candidate of the S.L.P. at the last election (1916), Arthur E. Reimer, resigned as he thought the war might have a democratic tinge and he no longer believed Industrial Unionism was essential. The Vice-Presidential candidate, Caleb Harrison, was expelled, and the Chicago Local were expelled because they would not expel Harrison —Harrison was a delegate to the spurious Communist Labour Party. The Philadelphia Local was dissolved, also New York City, and had to be re-organised as Industrial Unionism mixed up with Socialism causes gymnastics and ideas fruitful of confusion.

Not satisfied with repeating De Leon's nonsense about religion being a private matter against Marx's idea that it was the "opium of the people," the S.L.P. and the W.I.I.U. are discovering fresh "facts." Verily, as Marx says in the "Eighteenth Brumaire," man makes history, at least, the S.L.P. man does, and makes his facts as he goes along. The "First of May Magazine," issued by the W.I.I.U., tells us in an article on Marxism and De Leonism:
"Great as the achievement of the system of Marx is, it nevertheless contains a serious flaw or defect, which if left unnoticed would have caused considerable disorder and chaos in the ranks of the working class. In fact, it already in the past was a great source of mischief and confusion, and would have inevitably led the movement into disaster, if not in time noticed and rectified by the great American thinker, Daniel de Leon. De Leon has supplemented, or rather complemented Marxism; he has, so to speak, re-enforced this wonderful theoretic structure."
And later we are told :
  "It is the HOW of the revolution, the HOW of the transformation, the HOW of the collapse of Capitalism that Marx fails to supply an adequate answer to and the solution of which we are indebted to De Leon."
Such is the dementia produced by Industrial Unionism. Previously they used to argue that Marx supported Industrial Unionism, and they invented imaginary conversations Marx "had" with imaginary people in the land of Nod, to prove their point. But they now find Marx was wrong—only a De Leon could discover the "value" of organising a revolutionary union without revolutionists to take and hold that which the armed forces will keep from them.

Truly the S.L.P. and W.I.I.U. are for weakly people.
Adolph Kohn

Bottom class (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all subjects which are of any significance when coming to grips with a proper understanding of life under capitalism, education is one of the most vulnerable to confusion and misrepresentation. Even many so-called experts pretend to difficulty when called upon merely to define it. (W.O. Lester-Smith, for example, opens his Penguin book Education with the observation: ‘Defining Education has been likened to a parlour game, an innocent but useless way of passing the time'). And although we have all — in this country, at least — been exposed to a greater or lesser degree of formal schooling we seem to have emerged from the experience blind to its true aims and purposes.

The irony of the situation is absolute. The very process which, if we are to believe the hypocritical rubbish we hear and read on the subject, should have endowed us with the knowledge and the confidence to ask challenging and searching questions, and the automatic right to receive truthful and objective answers, has instead made more or less unquestioning conformists of us; at least over fundamentals.

This is no accident; it is the first duty of those responsible for running popular education systems under capitalism to produce, not independent-minded rational human beings, but docile and potentially exploitable units in a capitalist-owned, wealth-producing machine.

Primary Connection
In an article on education contributed to the 11th (1910) edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica a Professor Welton, formerly of Leeds University, had this to say about the apprenticeship laws of Henry VIII which, he observed, ‘contained the earliest germ of state interference’ in education. (It may here be remarked that this assertion applies, presumably, to the British Isles only: the classical Greek state understood and exercised such interference thousands of years earlier).
 These laws obliged children between five and thirteen years of age who were found begging or idle to be bound apprentice to some handicraft. If the immediate object was the prevention of crime rather than education as such, this early legislation is at least significant of the primary and intimate connection that exists between popular education and industrial and economic needs.
Professor Welton, were he alive today, would have no reason to modify this viewpoint.

Of course, capitalism as we understand it did not exist in Henry VIII’s time; neither did the working class, (at least, not in the form in which it has developed under capitalism). The difference today is that an enormous propertyless working class possessed only of its labour-power in the form of a saleable commodity must be made to serve the interest of the property-owning capitalists. Furthermore, that working class must be conditioned to accept that this state of affairs is both natural and inevitable.

Short shrift
Under capitalism the education system is controlled by the state, which in turn forms the executive arm of the capitalist ruling class. In order to ensure that the needs of this class are met, Acts of Parliament are passed which set out what is expected of educational administrators and educators. The 1944 Education Act, for example, which (and I again quote Lester-Smith) ‘in its very first clause gives us a Minister whose duty it is to direct and control local authorities in carrying out national policy’ also instituted (selective) secondary education for all in place of the elementary/grammar school system, thus hoping to meet the need of the capitalists for a more educated labour force. Other provisions included those having to do with the government of schools; aspects of the curriculum; the compulsory practice and teaching of the Christian religion; registration and hours of attendance and their enforcement (the normal school week relates closely to the working week which children will later experience in adult life); and many other considerations. All of these provisions are subject to the attentions of an inspectorate and an advisory service.

It seems almost superfluous to add that anyone employed as an educator or an administrator who steps out of line can expect short shrift. Those who doubt the validity of this assumption should remember what happened to Michael Duane and Risinghill Comprehensive School, of which he was the unorthodox headmaster. Or they may recall the summary treatment accorded some of the staff of the William Tyndale School who were even more unconventional in their interpretation of their duties. But we have yet to hear of cases where those teachers who enthuse over God, Queen and the capitalist system have been disciplined for expressing their views.

Smoke screen
One of the problems of trying to explain the true nature and purpose of education under capitalism is that of the sheer density of the smoke-screen which surrounds the subject. Even the most ‘progressive’ of observers seem reluctant to face up to the —for them— unpalatable truth. Our education system is no less a matter of massive and universal indoctrination because it happens to be hedged about with half-truths (or, indeed, downright lies!) about ‘child centred learning’, or ‘pastoral care’, or ‘free expression’, or ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘community schooling’ or whatever. And as for the teachers: are they not also indoctrinated products of the very system we attack; ready and willing to ‘correctly’ interpret whatever educational jargon happens to be currently in fashion?

What about the more objectionable procedures? All those vicious devices for separating the sheep from the goats: intelligence tests (based partly on the statistics—now known to be phoney — of Dr. Cyril Burt); eleven-plus examinations; bi-lateralism; Leicestershire Schemes; streaming and setting; internal and external examinations, and so on; all carefully calculated to provide the capitalists with the latest breakdown on society’s winners and losers.

Naturally, it cannot be allowed to stop at the classroom door. The sports field, the gymnasium and the swimming pool have their part to play too. Children must never be allowed to dream of a world in which there is no competition; so the omnipresent struggle to ‘prove’ oneself is as important here as it is in the examination- room. The house-point and the tin trophy reign supreme; with the added bonus, for the capitalist, that their future employees will also be physically fit enough to ensure the maximisation of their profits together with the minimisation of absenteeism through illness.

‘Middle class’ snobbery
A great deal of nonsense has been written and spoken about the so-called comprehensive schools. Many people are still determined to believe, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, that these institutions provide the key to an egalitarian — or ‘socialist’ — future. Unless these people are also prepared to believe that the capitalists have at last taken leave of their senses, such optimism reveals itself for what it really is: empty clap-trap, unsupported by a shadow of proof. These confused idealists seem undisturbed by the fact that successive governments, of whatever stripe, have pursued the same goal: the more efficient means of selection provided by the comprehensive system.

It is not difficult to sec why these governments have behaved in this manner. A regime which, hitherto, had given a ‘privileged’ 20 per cent or so of the nation's children an anachronistic education in the grammar schools while allowing the remainder to drop through the sieve into the under-equipped secondary moderns was proving no match for the less-exclusive and more efficient systems obtaining in, for example, the USA and the USSR. The snobbery of those workers in the self-styled ‘middle classes’ could no longer be allowed to obstruct the desperately-needed industrial and economic advance which had become imperative if British capitalism was to survive the arctic winds of world competition. Something had to happen. That something proved to be the comprehensive school.

It follows from this that the bone tossed by Thatcher to her own Stray dogs—the repeal of legislation to compel Local Education Authorities to complete re-organisation along comprehensive lines—will not be allowed to interfere with so fundamental a reappraisal of capitalism’s real interests. The large majority of schoolchildren will continue to attend comprehensive schools where they can the more effectively be graded and conditioned for their future role as wage-earners; or, in reserve, as the unemployed.

At the beginning of this article reference was made to the misrepresentation, not to say downright obfuscation, to which education is subject; also to the fact that a definition of it proved too elusive even for many ‘experts’. It should now be possible to conclude with one:
  Education under capitalism is the primary means whereby the ruling class enables itself to obtain the services of a more or less conditioned, unrebellious and conformist working class, willing to sell its labour power in exchange for wages. It is also the means whereby the working class is prepared to fulfil all those functions — military and civil — necessary to maintain the capitalists in their privileged position as sole owners of wealth and the means of wealth-production.
Richard Cooper

Seventy-Five Years Ago: The Right To Work (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The very latest is a ‘Right to Work Committee’ upon which a number of middle-class persons and some who have discovered that labour ‘leadering’ is more easy and profitable than work have elected themselves. The ‘right’ they clamour for is not for themselves but for others. They ‘appeal’ to the working-class to ‘demand’ from the dominant class more work, when already too much is performed. They would perpetuate the capitalist system by shewing the wealthy shirkers how they may stave off the day of reckoning and save their skins for awhile if they will accept their proposals and make work. For our part we say To Hell with the ‘Right’ to Work; we claim our Right to Live and to live right well. Let us scorn these middle-class decoy ducks and organise to bring about the common ownership of the means of life, which alone will enable us to secure the only Right we are concerned about. Then and not till then shall we recognise our obligation to perform our share of the necessary work. In the meantime, our Right to work is the Right of the wealthy idlers to organise our labour as their wage slaves. The ‘demand’ for that Right we will leave to the agents of the capitalist, whether in the guise of middle-class sympathisers or well paid labour ‘leaders’.

From the December 1905 Socialist Standard.

Whalebone of contention (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why all the fuss about whales? Does it matter that the largest living mammal is about to become one of the largest extinct mammals? Well, it is not just ageing pop stars, fading comedians and second rate TV actors who take part in this new protest movement. In July a Friends of the Whale meeting filled Trafalgar Square. The usual media-catching effects were on display; Save the Whale T shirts, placards proclaiming ‘Extinction is forever’, and a 110 ft. balloon whale. It was not intended that way, but a good time was had by all.

The chances of there being any whales left at the end of this century seem remote. The conservation organisation Friends of the Earth estimate that there are now only some six thousand blue whales left and not many of the other species. Of all the whaling countries, Japan is the biggest villain. Friends of the Earth calculate that one blue whale is worth about £100,000—that, in other words, whales are big business.

The main efforts of the protesters are directed towards the so-called International Whaling Commission (established in 1946). This unlikely body has the task of supervising all whaling but as with other international bodies, its effectiveness is slight. And, of course, some of the members of the IWC are the chief whalers, which makes it hardly likely that they will sympathise with the whales. As a result some conservationists are now going in for a little direct action. One New York Group recently hired a boat and rammed a whaler, putting it out of action for a few months.

No one doubts the sincerity of those involved in this campaign. But while they are scouring the high seas for mammals to save, they might set their nautical sights a little higher. If they did, they would notice another mammal with even less chance of survival than the whale. In leaking, overcrowded boats, usually with little water and less food, thousands of Vietnamese refugees are drowning every month — (it is suggested that one is drowned each minute). The prospects of the fortunate few who get to dry land are little better: those who reach Malaysia are callously shoved out to sea again on their rotten rafts; those who reach Hong Kong fare only slightly better, many spend ages in overcrowded, insanitary conditions.

Friends of the Earth calculate that, in the last 100 years, the blue whale population has declined from 195,000 to its present 6,000—solely by the actions of the human hunter. Yet that slaughter is trivial compared to that of the human being. In recent months more than thirty children have been killed and eaten by hyenas in the slums of Lucknow, India (Daily Telegraph, 27 July 1979.) Capitalism subjects its people to intolerable conditions as well as to appalling cruelty.

The real conservation movement is to end a social system that imposes unnecessary suffering on the majority of people—and on its other species—as part of the everyday normal routine. The Friends of the Earth should consider this society, in which mass suffering is as commonplace as the rising of the sun. Their considerable talents and energies could be more usefully employed.
Ronnie Warrington

'This man would make a splendid soldier'. (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Comment by the Military Representative on a Conscientious Objectors’ Appeal Tribunal, 1914/18 War.)

I was conscious, and grateful, that I was a beneficiary of the courage and persistence of others. Having sat for an hour watching earlier applicants before the Conscientious Objectors’ Tribunal being contemptuously, even angrily, rejected that morning, it came as a surprise that my treatment was so much easier. In Joe Lyons afterwards, drinking a relieved cup of coffee, a reporter from Peace News came to our table and told me that after years of doggedly asserting the case against war, socialists had established themselves, even in the minds of those Tribunal members, as authentic opponents of capitalism and all that went with it. When my turn came, after the war, it only needed to be attested that I was an active member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain for the point to be made.

There were four men on the Tribunal that morning, their faces looming down on me from the bench high above where I stood in the well of the council chamber. In the centre chair sat the judge, an old man who looked as fragile as singed paper. On his right sat a tame trade unionist, a man who had been prominent in the General Strike and whose presence was meant to reassure us that the people’s voice was being heard in the process which dragged young workers into the killing machine. He was dressed in thick, alarming sea green Harris tweed; he knew what socialists thought of traitors to their class and his round, mauve face sweated guiltily at me.

To the left of the judge was a local solicitor, prosperous and hearty and, maybe in consequence, friendly. Perhaps in reflex to the expediencies of a lawyer’s day-to-day refashioning of the truth, he was fascinated by the logic and consistency of our case. Was it possible for people to be so concerned about political principle? He was, I suppose, a sympathiser — to him we were a protected species. The other member was very forgettable and I have duly forgotten him. But I heard tell of another member who came down from his job as a Cambridge don to specialise in slicing up religious objectors with their own chop logic. He was reputed to be a formidably slippery debater and. arrogant eighteen year old though I was, I was not unhappy that he was away from the Tribunal that day.

I had submitted a statement which I was sure was one of the finest pieces of writing in the history of the English language. It had been lovingly polished and embellished with many words dredged up from my Thesaurus and I wanted justice done to it. (I cringe when I read it now.) The judge, however, did not have the same high regard for such great works of revolutionary literature and read it quickly and carelessly, losing all those hard found literary gems in a bored, piping voice which drifted like thin smoke into the brown rafters of the chamber roof. Once, when he misread a phrase I was especially proud of, I wanted to correct him but was restrained by the party member who had come to speak for me. I was, as I said, eighteen and arrogant.

My Tribunal came up a little over a year after I joined the SPGB. The socialist opposition to war had been one of the sticking points on my way to membership; the photographs of the heaped-up skeletons of Belsen and the black ovens of Auschwitz were still fresh in the memory. Shouldn’t workers fight to abolish that, I asked, before thinking about getting rid of capitalism? The man who argued with me, patiently and courteously, himself went to prison for his objection to war just as I joined the SPGB — which effectively impressed upon me that I too had taken a decision to resist.

Two contributions to the brave new post-war world of the 1945 Labour government were the National Service Acts of 1947 and 1948. These Acts made conscription, for the first time during peace, an established part of life in Britain. Perhaps Labour Party members called this socialism; it was in fact a continuation of the policy they followed in 1939 when, almost without debate, Parliament rushed through the measures making men aged between 18 and 41 liable for call-up.

After the war, with the more regular rhythms of capitalism back in operation, the call-up dominated the lives of young men from the day they left school. For a time it provided sociologists with an explanation for the post-war crime wave. It was also a ready source of conversation among socialists; as with the driving test, almost everyone had had a funny experience on their way to or from the Tribunal. There was, for example, the woman (one symptom of capitalism’s progress was that females were also sucked into the conscription machine) who shattered the august judges of her sincerity as an objector by replying, when they asked her ‘What would you do if a German soldier came along and raped you?’with the interested assessment: ‘I expect I’d lie back and enjoy it.’ (There was some evidence that the Tribunals were haunted by the spectre of Germanic virility.)

Objectors who were rejected by the Tribunals, or who would not accept its decision, were required to take a medical examination. This was a crucial dividing line between civilian and soldier; once the army doctor got his stethoscope on a man, he was considered to have joined up. Refusal to take the medical was an offence, dealt with by a magistrates’ court. By the end of the war, after some confusion and suffering, the sentence had settled at three months — the minimum to enable the objector’s case to be put again to the Appellate Tribunal. At that point it was conceded that the objector had proved his ‘sincerity’ and he was usually released. So it was that, by the time I was called up, members of the SPGB were liable to disappear from activity for a few weeks, to come back with tales of slopping out, bawling warders and discussions about the nuances of the third volume of Capital with bewildered fellow prisoners who only wanted to be left in peace to do their bird.

The experiences and the advice of Party members varied so widely that I thought it wise, before I went up to my Tribunal, to consult the Central Board of Conscientious Objectors (CBCO) — a body set up by the Society of Friends, the Peace Pledge Union and the like. The CBCO, which published some invaluable material on the processes of conscientious objection, had its offices in the heartland of pacifist dissent, in Endsleigh Square. My reception there, among the dusty files and misshapen wire letter trays, was not encouraging; the CBCO secretary was gentle and helpful, but clearly he did not think much of my chances, until:

“What are the grounds for your objection? You sound religious.”

“Blimey, no. I’m in the SPGB.”

He perked up at once; hope and relief flooded into his face:

“SPGB? That’s different. You should have no difficulty, then.”

I needed that reassurance, preoccupied as I was with fantasies about the ill-treatment which awaited all who stood out against capitalism’s wars. In fact, there was little of this during the 1939/45 war, or after it. Certainly, there was nothing to compare with what happened during World War I. The CBCO were ever watchful. In 1948, when an objector who was officially a deserter was paraded at an army camp dressed only in a towel, they protested, and at once he was discharged from the army. One group of COs in a store in Welwyn Garden City were known locally as ‘the rats’. In 1940 there was a minor scandal when the government were embarrassed by Peace News publishing a ‘confidential’ memo from a Regional Information (sic) Officer which advocated being “. . . free to call ‘artificial’ conscientious objection by its true names, which are Disloyalty, Treachery and Cowardice.” During 1914/18, such events would have passed without notice.

Nobody knew, in September 1939, what the war would be like. There was a lot of panic propaganda from the government and a widespread expectation that the cities of Britain would soon be in ruins under the bombs; as I stepped onto the evacuation bus I did not expect to see my parents again. Socialists too were unsure of their future; they did not know that they would not get the same harassment as they had received during the previous war. But with the outbreak of war the SPGB again stated its opposition to being persuaded or dragooned into taking arms to protect the interests of our capitalist masters against the interests of our fellow workers. In this opposition they held firm, so that when my turn came there was little left for me to say, no need for defiance to be articulated any more.

My Tribunal, too, seemed to know this and they grew impatient of me. After a few questions they wanted to hear from the other member, who was a well-known speaker for the SPGB. As he came forward they craned towards him from the bench, their faces transformed in eager smiles, anxious to be impressed. The judge obviously wanted his lunch, but the solicitor felt me out with one last question on the socialist opposition to war. By then I thought I knew what they wanted and gave the sort of answer I would have given from the platform. The solicitor and the trade unionist almost applauded; I had, apparently, got it right. They told me I was exempt from military service, provided 1 stayed in my job in the film industry, and they let me go to breathe the sweet air of freedom in Fulham Broadway.

There is much to be said for being a socialist. An understanding of the dynamics of society brings its own satisfactions with the awareness of class interests and how workers should respond to them. That is why we stand out against capitalism's wars. Instead, we immerse ourselves in the class struggle and, defiantly, we do not make splendid soldiers.

Seventy-Five Years Ago: Editorial (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How comes it that the men and women who till the soil, who dig the mine, who manipulate the machine, who build the factory and the home, and, in a word, who create the whole of the wealth, receive only sufficient to maintain themselves and their families on the border line of bare physical efficiency, while those who do not aid in production – the employing class – obtain more than is enough to supply their every necessity, comfort and luxury?

To find a solution to this problem is the task to which the Socialist applies himself. He sees clearly that only by studying the economics of wealth-production and distribution can he understand the anomalies of present-day society. He sees, further, that having gained a knowledge of the economic causes of social inequality, he must apply this knowledge through political action – through the building up of a Socialist organisation for the capture of Parliament and the conquest of the powers of government.

#    #    #    #

We ask you, therefore, to study the principles upon which our party is based, to find out for yourselves what Socialism is and how Socialism and Socialism alone can abolish class society and establish in its stead a society based upon social equality.

From the Editorial in the Socialist Standard, September 1904.

The War, and the Socialist Position. (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following article is reprinted from the September 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard.
Whereas the capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the question of the control of trade routes and the world's markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political ignorance and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters' quarrel, and

Whereas further, the pseudo-socialists and labour 'leaders' of this country, in common with their fellows on the Continent, have again betrayed the working class position, either through their ignorance of it, their cowardice, or worse, and are assisting the master class in utilising this thieves' quarrel to confuse the minds of the workers and turn their attention from the class struggle.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain seizes the opportunity of reaffirming the socialist position which is as follows:
  That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist or master class and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
  That in society therefore there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a CLASS WAR, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
  That the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers.
These armed forces therefore will only be set in motion to further the interests of the class who control them—the master class—and as the workers' interests are not bound up in the struggle for markets wherein their masters may dispose of the wealth they have stolen from them (the workers) but in the struggle to end the system under which they are robbed, they are not concerned with the present European struggle, which is already known as the “BUSINESS” war, for it is their masters' interests which are involved, and not their own.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain pledges itself to keep the issue clear by expounding the CLASS STRUGGLE, and whilst placing on record its abhorrence of this latest manifestation of the callous, sordid, and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home.

Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.

August 25th 1914

WAGE WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win! – Marx

Ethics and the class struggle. (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following article is reprinted from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard.
Among the middle-class “Socialists” who run the so-called labour movement in this country, it is hardly fashionable just now to deny the reality of the class struggle; yet when it is shown how necessary it is to base working-class political action on that reality, these Utopians wriggle like eels to escape such a logical conclusion. When driven by argument from their objections on practical grounds to the class war basis, such sentimentalists often fall back on the assertion that it is immoral, that it stirs up strife and sets one class against another.

Now, with those who profess to base their “Socialism” on the New Testament, such a position is not to be wondered at; for to them the injunction applies, to “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”– Matt. V. Obviously, the only logical attitude for such people is that of absolute non-resistance to the capitalists. And there the working-class may leave them.

As is only to be expected, the capitalist and his satellites strongly deprecate any hostile attitude on the part of the worker. The proper conduct of the working-class should be, according to capitalist ethics, duly sheep-like. According to this code, working men should be thrifty (that they may work cheaply and keep off the rates), they should be industrious (that they may pile up wealth for others), and above all, they should be meek and obedient (that they may duly obey the laws kindly made for them by their masters). The prevailing code of ethics has its foundation in the material interests of the ruling class, and may be summed up in the words, “Whatever injures capitalist interests is immoral.”  The charge that the class struggle is immoral is founded on such a code. For us, then, it is necessary to look at the matter from a higher standpoint, that we may see whether an insistence on the class struggle is immoral or not in the light of humanity’s interests.

What is the basis of the modern class antagonism? It is based on the fact that one section of society owes its income and its superior position to property, to the ownership of the means of producing wealth; whilst another section, so vast as to be practically the nation, owes its inferior position to the fact that it owns no property but is compelled to live by the sale of its labour-power to those who own the means of life. Out of the total product of labour the worker cannot obtain, in general, more than his cost of subsistence. Those who own the instruments of labour appropriate the rest. Thus there is born a class struggle, pursued consistently by the capitalists, but, as yet, ineffectively and spasmodically by the workers. The scientific Socialist urges a more consistent waging of this struggle because (to put it shortly) only by the defeat of the enemy can peace be obtained.

All classes will, as in the past, fight bitterly to retain their superior position to the workers’. The only class that can be relied on for the abolition of privilege and power to exploit, is the unprivileged propertyless working-class. The recognition of the class struggle is consequently the only effective basis of working-class action, for it is childish indeed to expect that the capitalists will of their own accord get off the backs of the workers. Obviously, the immediate interests of all except the working-class are opposed to the abolition of private property in the means of life.

The strife of today is, then, not created by the Socialist, but is the result of economic conditions maintained by the ruling class. The Socialist seeks to enlighten his fellows on the causes of this struggle, and to show how utterly futile it is to expect the owning class to abolish the cause of strife, or abandon in any way its own interests. He wishes to point out above all, that since the interests of all sections of the capitalist-class are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the workers, therefore the sane policy of the working-class must be in consistent opposition to all capitalist political factions however these may name themselves. The struggle is already going on. The Socialist endeavours to give it definite and consistent aim, that the conflict may the more speedily end.

Those who would, on moral grounds, have the workers refuse to recognise the class struggle should, to be logical, refuse to struggle against parasites of any other kind. For in society the class which lives by the ownership of the means of life of the workers is a parasitic class, sucking to itself by its monopoly the fruits of the industry of the people. Not, indeed, that one need hate the individual capitalist, for he is the product of his circumstances; but in the interests of toiling humanity the firmest action must be taken. The power to exploit must be wrested from the parasites. They will, of course, oppose this by cunning and by force and will have to be fought, for non-resistance is the policy of the weak-minded.

Clearly then, the cause of the present struggle (i.e., the private ownership of the machinery of wealth production and distribution), can only be abolished by waging war on the class which defends and maintains private ownership. And since the only class that, by its material interests, is unfettered to the maintenance of private property is the proletariat, on this class must fall the toil and the battle for freedom.

Thus the only means of ridding mankind of conditions which now bind the mass in degradation and slavery, is the active opposition of the workers to the parasitic class as a whole; and what is this but the prosecution of the class war?

The victory of the Socialist working-class is the only possible ending of this great struggle. This, however, does not mean the subjection of the capitalist-class by the workers; it means the abolition of capitalism and an end of classes, for the great unprivileged masses cannot secure equality of opportunity without abolishing class privilege, and privilege is based on private property. The triumph of the great working majority thus involves the emancipation of all from class oppression, for the interests of the toiling masses are fundamentally the interest of humanity.

The workers are now the only necessary class in society, and upon them all tasks are devolving. To the capitalist remains the task of tearing the coupons from his shares, and reaping the reward of his abstinence – from labour.

The democratic ownership of the means of wealth production must necessarily abolish the economic basis of classes and of class antagonisms, and unite all in a bond of labour with identical interests. Under such conditions it must be unnecessary and above all unprofitable for the vast majority to exploit a few. Hence society will have but one aim, to lighten the toil and increase the well-being of all by the greatest possible economy of labour and life. In the society of harmonised material interests that must result from the abolition of class parasitism, the greatest well-being of the individual will only be possible by promoting the well-being of all. Thus will the welfare of all become, for the first time, the immediate interest of each.

Socialism is, then, the ethics of humanity, the necessary economic foundation of a rational code of morality. The interests of the human race are bound up with the aspirations of the oppressed working-class in its struggle with capitalist domination. As it has very truly been said: “Militant, the workers’ cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity.”

Might is Right. The Philosophy of the Revolutionary. (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following article is reprinted from the February 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard.
Blessed are the Strong

The Duke of Westminster receives from rents alone £3,000,000 per annum.


No, no, not a bit of it. Who can blame him?

Thirteen millions of people in this country are living always on the verge of starvation!

Again shame!

But why?

By all the logic of nature the former is entitled to as much as he has power to grasp, while the latter deserve no more than they are willing to fight for, ay, and to conquer for themselves.

Man has a right to live only – if he can. The mightiest beast and the meanest parasite have as much right to live – and as little.

The hungry tiger strikes down the hunter and devours him – if he can, and nobody says shame! or thinks it wrong. The maggots burrow deep into the nostrils of the hartebeaste, and we say simply “Nature is cruel.”

Yet Nature is not cruel: she knows nothing of emotions. She leaves her children to fight things out for themselves, giving them one universal law : Might is Right.
“The race is to the swift,
The battle to the strong.”
Let us be strong, then, for the weak have neither right nor portion in Nature’s economy.

The wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Christian priesthood, commonly profess to hold that man has other right to live than this right of might – this elementary right of the tiger and the maggot. Of such jealous guardians of the Rights of Man this question may be asked :

What becomes of the “Right”  to live if the means by which alone it is possible to live are in the hands of others?

Clearly in this case man cannot live by any heaven bestowed “right,” but only on sufferance, So the logic of their own ethic places the Christians in contradiction to the social system which they uphold, and whole central principle – private property in the means of life – is the very denial and negation of their fundamental belief, that God having created man, man has a “right” to live.

Logic in the Making
Far nearer to the truth of things was that London magistrate who answered the pilferer’s plea that one “must live”, with the sententious announcement: “Not necessarily”. Two words sufficed to reveal the naked truth in all its frank brutality. Capitalist society recognises no “right” to live, and the cynical lawyer gives the lie to the sycophantic priest

If man has a God-given right to live, as Christians commonly hold, then it devolves upon men to secure for themselves the means by which alone they can live, in the first place, and in the second place it sets the mark of Cain upon the brows of those who have taken “the earth and the fullness thereof” from the people.

If, on the other hand, man has but the right of might – the right of tiger and of the maggot – to live, then Westminster, with his vast rent-roll, is justified, in the face of starving millions.

If it appears strange that only the ethic of the revolutionary can justify the lords of capitalism, whilst the logical conclusion of the creed that bolsters them up in their high place on their mountain of spoils, condemns them, this is only because the first is the true ethic, both of capitalism and of the revolution it is producing  – ay, and of all life, for all time – while the second is false, a soporific, the chloroform rag in the hands of the social footpad.

However, under both philosophies we proceed to the same action – to live, by our “right” or our might – and therefore to seize all those things necessary for the fullest enjoyment of life; in the one case because common property is the first essential to living by “right”, in the other case simply because it is expedient.

Down with the Meekling! 
The revolutionary requires no other justification than that of expediency. No revolutionary in history ever really did. True they have paid much lip service to Justice and other figments of the popular the mind, but that has been only because they have required the assistance of those who were to gain nothing from revolution, and who had therefore to be inspired with empty phrases and confused with humbug. But the highest sanction revolutionaries ever have required has been – opportunity.

The Socialist asks no more. Let who will grovel at the feet of Justice, or slobber over the “Natural Rights of Man” – the Socialist has no use for such meaningless vapourings. Expediency is his justification for all things, and opportunity finds him always is the right.

Notwithstanding the prevailing cant, Machiavelism is inherent in every “State”. Wherever a “State” exists wherever, in short, society is founded upon the subjugation of a class, there the suppression of that class follows as a matter of course, and utterly without scruple.

In the Name of Law. and Order, and of Freedom and Justice and Equality, as befits a world of commodities whose freedom of motion and equality, become nature, demands at least a fictitious freedom and equality for their owners. And in the name of Christ, too, as behoves men who must seek some higher sanction than that of commodity owners to suppress commodity owners.

Any Means that are Means
The feudal lord appeared as a different order of being to the serf. They were not commensurable in the flesh, for heaven had made one noble and the other base. But under capitalism all are commodity owners – the man who holds untold stores, and the man who has only his labour-power to that sell. As commodity owners they are stand equal. Hence suppression in the name of Equality – but not on the authority of all commodity owners: oh dear no, that would never do. Nor on the authority of some commodity owners, for that would be contrary to that beautiful capitalist ideal – the equality of all possessors of commodities.

So Christ is their refuge and their salvation; Christ the meek and lowly submissive, who recognised “constituted ” authority in the command :  “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

But under all this, Might is Right. A great show of “moral suasion” as exemplified in 40,000 parsons, it is true; but for every parson there is a policeman and three bluejackets and half-a dozen soldiers – for every “man of peace” ten “dogs of war”.

Much talk of loyalty and honesty and honour. Loyalty, indeed, with an army to keep us loyal; honesty, indeed, in the thieves’ kitchen of capitalism; honour where nothing is trusted to honour!

Honour and force are contradictory terms, mutually exclusive. Capitalism has no need for the first (except as a piece of humbug): it relies upon force. Among equals honour is the voluntary observance of the rules of the game; but in present-day society we are not equals, hence honour is replaced by force.

The tradesman, in his thirst for profit, gives credit. Does he trust to honour? No. He makes a calculation based on the fact that he has all the forces of the Law behind him. Can I make him pay? is the only question he is concerned with, and he acts according to his judgment of that problem, and if, leaning upon the force of the Law, he finds it a broken reed, be has made a mistake, that is all.

The rules of the game – who made the rules of the game? Those who say we shall observe them. But if a hooligan or a footpad jumps us in the street are we slavishly careful of Marquis of Queensbury rules? Not if a brick is bandy. No, any means that are means!

The Ethic of Socialism
So with the revolutionary. He takes his stand upon the same code that has served to carry so many exploiters, to power, and which last must help the workers to their emancipation. There is no right but might. We deserve nothing but what we can get with our teeth and our claws.

Against the might of the strong few shall be put the might of the many weak ones. Before that might capitalism and private ownership will go down for ever. Then, when society founded upon common property in the means of life, has become one harmonious whole, the brutal dictum, might is right, will hold good only between the social organism and external nature, while between man and man a new ethic will arise – or rather the old ethic of gentile society under a new form – that only the social good is right.
A. E. Jacomb

Running Commentary: Evening All (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Evening All

Old ladies who have been helped across the road by them, lost children who have been restored to their parents by them, black youngsters who have been harassed by them, criminals who have been beaten and stitched up by them, will all be impressed to learn that this month the Metropolitan Police is 150 years old.

The Met, as we are liable to be told by their Commissioner (who is the man to be found sitting uneasily at the apex of this pyramid which contains so much thuggery and corruption) is the finest body of men in the world.

So it is natural that the Post Office, eager to join in the celebrations, should mark the occasion by issuing a set of special stamps. Now special issues can become collectors’ pieces, so they are usually of attractive design, like flowers or nursery tale characters or Christmas scenes.

In line with this gentle tradition, the police stamps will show bobbies talking smilingly to kids, bravely directing traffic at an accident, grandly sitting on a horse, and splashing down the river in a police launch.

Clearly, there is scope here for someone to produce a set of alternative stamps. One showing a red-faced policeman caught out perjuring himself in the witness box; another of the Special Patrol Group wielding their home-made coshes against demonstrators; another of detectives slipping the cooked-up evidence into their suspect’s pocket; another of the boys in blue standing guard over private property during a strike.

The true function of the police is not to be nice to people (in fact, they are actually paid to be suspicious of us all). They exist to protect private property rights — which means to protect the privileged position of the ruling class of capitalism. Which means, further, to perpetuate the inferior, unprivileged position of the working-class.

The fact that policemen are themselves workers makes no difference to this. The capitalist class have to get workers to do their dirty work for them. — workers are not only exploited in the interests of their parasitic masters but are also persuaded to tighten their bonds ever tighter about themselves.

The 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Police is not an occasion for rejoicing or congratulation. Rather it is symbolic of a century and a half of a particular type of capitalism's coercion — and the event should shame workers into abolishing it all.

Cut Price Hospitals

Something remarkable is going on in darkest South London, where the Area Health Authority for Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham refused to implement the £5.5 million cuts ordered by a body described as the Department of Health and Social Security.

The Authority based its defiance on the grounds that cuts in medical services would mean the deaths of people who would otherwise live. DHSS Secretary Patrick Jenkin was unimpressed; the Authority, he said, was already overspending (and what could be more despicable than that?), so their money would run out anyway, which would mean patients dying — not, be it noted, from a lack of treatment, but from a shortage of cash.

Jenkin wanted to sack the Authority but he could not do this legally. So he declared that an emergency existed in the area and appointed commissioners to run the show as he tells them. This circumventing of the law has been carried out by a government which, it must be remembered, won power partly by standing for a respect for the law.

The sick people of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham — places which are not famous for their salubrious surroundings, with health blooming from every paving stone may be grateful that the Minister is concerned enough for their welfare to declare that their treatment is a matter of emergency.

They would be deluding themselves. Working-class medical services have always suffered from a lack of money. They have never been freely available. They have always been restricted by the capitalist priority of producing and working within a budget. And people have died in consequence — died, for example, because they could not afford a kidney machine.

This is something which afflicts only the working class; their masters always have access to the best in medical treatment, as in everything. They can go to the most comfortable clinics (like the Wellington, in St. John's Wood, where it can cost about £900 a week), call on an endless supply of the best qualified doctors.

The Authority members sacked by Jenkin are in grave danger of becoming left wing heroes, garlanded in mythology. Said one NUPE official: “Our union will give the Authority full support, because they are demonstrating that they have the interests of patients at heart.’’ In fact, their rebellion began over a year ago, against cuts imposed by the Labour government.

Anyone who wants to reduce their chances of catching or dying from a number of diseases had better get out of the working-class. But this is virtually impossible; a simpler way is to abolish class society altogether.

Indian Summer

Much energy was expended in the struggle to bring what was called independence to many states in Africa and eastwards, once part of the British Empire. As all school children were told at the time, this was the greatest and most beneficial event in the history of the human race.

Left wingers, unimpressed by this propaganda, took the cause of independence to their hearts, and many a bearded thinker ruminated, in the Movement for Colonial Freedom and the like, on the benefits the people of all these states would receive once the perfidious British rule was banished.

It was a simple argument. The British Empire, said the left, was repressive, exploitative, had a blood-soaked history. This was true. Therefore, argued the left, remove British rule and all would be well. This was not true, and there is a mass of evidence to say that the freedom fighters were deceiving themselves along with a few million other people.

Of all the states which have gained their ‘freedom’, few have had a more turbulent history than one of the greatest of them, and one of the first to become independent. Since British rule was ended in 1947, India has had little peace and her people have lived, as before, under the cruellest destitution.

At present the Indian government is devoting a lot of energy to a ruthless drive to suppress the living standards of its workers. Official figures give some idea of the effect of this, with wages under severe pressure from an increasingly inflated currency.

The Indian workers are fighting back. In 1978, 22 million working days were lost in strikes. But an ominous feature of this unrest is the eruption of violence. In their desperation, Indian workers, even killing, industrial managers and owners — people they regard as responsible for their worsening plight.

This is an unwelcome development. Workers will not improve their lot by committing violence on others, no matter who they are. To kill a manager or an owner may remove a personality, but they will be replaced by another, imposing the same repressions. Capitalism is a  society of privilege and its hierarchies express this fact.

But if it is too much to expect Indian workers at present to look beyond the violence to the permanent solution to their problems to a new society — perhaps they will at least draw one lesson from the crisis. Independence did not — could not - benefit them. It only replaced one set of bosses with another, leaving the society of riches and poverty untouched.