Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Communists and Ireland. (1922)

Editorial from the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard 

On the front page of “The Communist ” (8-7-22) there appears an article entitled “Our Duty to Ireland ” that calls for some comment on our part on account of the nonsense contained in it.

The main struggle in Ireland is not, and never has been, a struggle of wage workers against masters. Here and there in the history of Ireland there have been minor struggles on the part of the workers, but the greater part of the stage has always been occupied by the national struggle for freedom of enterprise on the part of the various groups that might benefit by greater freedom to exploit Irish Industry. As Ireland exists principally by agriculture the small farmers or peasants have figured largely in the strife. The fact that the poverty-stricken peasants have borne the bulk of the burden of struggle is no evidence that they will obtain any benefit, whatever be the outcome.

This struggle in Ireland has been going on for centuries, and bitterly indeed have the peasantry suffered by the coercive actions of the foreign land-owning class, who were backed up by the different English Governments.

Irish industry is backward partly on account of the lack of certain economic resources such as coal and iron, partly because it suited Irish landlords and English capitalists to keep Ireland in the main an agricultural country.

Though the capitalistic development of Ireland has been slow, yet considerable progress has been made in that direction. The wage labouring class has relatively increased and the farmers have come more and more under the control of large industry. The farmers are, in the main, in the hands of the agents of the large exporters—egg buyers, cattle buyers, corn buyers, creameries and so on. The European war made the farmers temporarily well-to-do, and they poured money into the Sein Fein movement in the belief that the latter movement would conserve their prosperity. Peace, however, is bringing them back to the position of paid growers and distributors of agricultural produce.

An Irish Sein Fein Republic will not solve the difficulties of the wage labourers and farmers—it will, in fact, intensify their misery. They will then be under the control of the same people who control affairs now—Irish buyers—Irish Capitalists—without being able to salve their wounds by blaming all their troubles upon the English oppressor.

The way out of the difficulties facing the Irish town and country worker is the same as the way their fellow workers have to follow, no matter what country they chance to exist in. That way is to join with their fellow workers the world over in the struggle to put an end to Capitalism by introducing Socialism. Anything short of this will only bring in its train bitter disillusion. They who tell the Irish workers to organise for anything less than this are their enemies.

Such in brief is the general position. The article mentioned in our opening remarks advises the present minority in Ireland to fight on, and the reason they advance for backing the minority is contained in the following extract:
  “De Valera never was, never can be, a leader of the workers. Nevertheless, most of the revolutionary workers are with O’Connor and him.

  “They are with them for the same reason that we, if we had to make the choice, would be behind De Valera and O’Connor—because they are fighting the British Empire. (Italics theirs.)

   “That reason—no other.”
The Communists, therefore, support the minority in Ireland “because they are fighting the British Empire—that reason— no other.” What a brilliant attitude for a self-styled working class party to take up. If they follow this policy out logically (not that we wish to be accused of suggesting that the Communist can follow anything out logically) then on the same ground they would have been bound to support the Central Powers in the European War, incidentally supporting the oppressors of foreign working men, and the useless slaughter of working men generally. In other words they tie themselves to a policy of supporting the murderous conduct of different groups of foreign capitalists “because they are fighting the British Empire!” A delightful position indeed—but a fitting position for sensational gasbags.

The above is not all—the article concludes as follows :
  “Workers of Britain, show these politicians they are wrong.

  “You have no cause for quarrel with your oppressed comrades in Ireland. You never had. Whether the present armed conditions in Ireland are prolonged or no.”

  ”Stop making munitions for Ireland ! Stop sending munitions to Ireland ! Demand the withdrawal of British troops ! Do for the Irish what you did for the Russians !” (Italics theirs.)
This is really the most absurd part of all—if one can define one piece of nonsense as more absurd than another. Not many months ago they themselves made the following enlightening observation on “what you did for the Russians.”
  “Frankly, the National Council of Action has failed, and its failure is all the more disappointing when one remembers the unanimity and enthusiasm of the great Central Hall Conference held at the beginning of August last. It was formed to prevent the supplies and munitions being sent in support of the attack on Soviet Russia, which it is quite obviously not doing. Somehow, and from somewhere in this country, those supplies are being sent.

  “A Moscow report alleges that England has sent seven steamers of munitions, three tanks, and twelve small steamers with provisions in aid of Poland, and that these have been unloaded at Danzig. German reports refer to foreign vessels passing through the Kiel Canal, presumably to the same direction.’ ” (The Communist, 7/10/20.)
This is “what you did for the Russians.” What blind rhetorical balderdash !

“What you did for the Russians” then was to fail completely to prevent munitions being sent to assist those fighting against Russia. The Communists wish the same policy to be carried out again. Funny, isn’t it?

Taking the superficial facts of the situation in Ireland as it is at present concerning the attitude of the minority, the position is. as follows :

The Irish people have voted in favour of the Free State idea by an overwhelming majority. This is the fact that cannot be swept aside by sensational remarks. Consequently, whatever the minority may think of the Free State position, the only sensible course for them to follow is to accept the position the vote of the people has forced upon them for the present, but work to alter the mental outlook of the majority so that future elections will see the Free State position supplanted by the one the present minority favour. To endeavour to alter the views of the mass of the population by battering their heads is a nonsensical attitude to take up. Besides, has not the common cry of Ireland for years been that the majority of the Irish people were being coerced to suit the ideas of a minority ?

Whether or not the English Government has bought over the Collins group does not hide the fact that the majority of the Irish population agree to the position Collins has taken up. This should sign “finis” to the matter for the present without further useless throwing away of lives.

It may appear very heroic to fight a losing battle to the end; martrydom is always a very questionable attitude, though it may be spectacular. In the present circumstances, where it involves the lives of numbers of Irish working people who do not yet understand their social position, it is criminal folly.

Finally, as mentioned above, whatever the immediate outcome of the struggle may be, one thing is certain; it will still leave the Irish workers wage labourers—and that is the essence of the matter for us.

£1000 Fund. (1922)

Party News from the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard 

“Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of”. (1922)

Book Review from the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Trade Unionism Sound ? By J. H. Bunting. Published by Benn Bros. 2s. 6d.

Sir Peter Rylands, who writes one of the prefaces to this book, J. R. Clynes being its other sponsor, is Past President of the Federation of British Industries. He is also Chairman of Rylands Bros., Ltd., Vice-Chairman of Pearson, Knowles Coal and Iron Co., Ltd., and director of several com­panies including the London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Co., Ltd., Moss Hall Coal Co., Ltd., Partington Steel and Iron Co. Ltd; quite a captain of industry, in fact, eking out a meagre existence on what our author calls “wages of superintendence.” When therefore he closes his blessing on the book with the remark that “some of Mr. Bunting’s premises may require further examination before they are completely acceptable,” I suspect him of cynicism. Sir Peter must know enough about industry, even if he is a director, to be aware that the less they are examined the more liable are Mr. Bunting’s premises to be accepted as the truth. Examination damns the book from first page to last as a mass of economic untruths, confusions, and contradictions. In style and matter it resembles those “Pay-day talks” which nowadays bulk larger and larger in pay envelopes. It extends to about 100 pages, each one more puerile than the last.

Before dealing with a few of the points it raises there is one small criticism I have to make. The book is entitled “Is Trade Unionism Sound?” Now in a book with this title the reader expects to find something about trade unionism. He expects to have the author’s definition of the term set before him, with a survey of trade unionism in the past, and lessons to be drawn from that survey. All this the reader expects reasonably enough, and yet nowhere in this book, save on the flyleaf, do the actual words “trade unionism” occur. Without counting I cannot say how often the phrase “trade union” is used, but certainly not half a dozen times. The author ignores the subject he is supposed to be writing on. He leaves it without apology or excuse and plunges at once into his world of dreams, to preach of brotherhood and good feeling between employers and employees. But let us turn to the material Mr. Bunting offers. From so much that is false it is difficult to chose items for comment. And to show briefly what in Mr. Bunting’s opinion is wrong with the world is equally difficult, for he does not definitely tell us. The one thing that certainly is not wrong with it in his opinion is capitalism. As well as I am able to make out Mr. Bunt­ing’s case it is this :—
“The total production of industry is the gross production of the workers who out of it have to pay (1) so much for the use of capital ; (2) so much for the use of land; (3) so much for the employers’ services.” (Page 25.) The balance they keep for themselves. This constitutes their wages fund. Now “if the amount of production could be increased, prices would be reduced accordingly, more capital could be conserved, and it would follow that it would be at the disposal of the workers at a lower rate. This would mean that capita­ lists would receive a smaller proportion of the total production, leaving a larger proportion of the increased production to be shared between the workers.” (Page 35.) And how to increase production? Why work for whatever wage an employer will offer? Don’t insist on 70s. when only 66s. is tendered. Take 66s., and then you create a demand for 66s. worth of commodities, and thus for workers to produce them, and these workers in their turn create fresh demand for labour and so “ad infinitum.” Everyone is employed, prices fall, real wages rise, the workers continue to pay less and less for the use of capital, until finally “they enjoy its use practically free of charge.” (Pages 18 and 29.) What a lovely dream ! Only un­fortunately it is only a dream, and does not stand examination, Sir Peter !

Even the dreamer himself seems to have doubts about the efficacy of his scheme, for he shows us how it would work if applied on Mars, where, for illustration, he assumes “conditions to be very similar to those which prevail here.” Yes; they may be “very similar,” but they are not the same, and because of that the scheme will fail here. Even judged by Mr. Bunting’s own premises it can be shown to be impossible and illogical.

If the demand for commodities increases to such an enormous extent, why should their prices fall rather than rise, and why should the price of capital (i.e., interest) fall with an increased demand?

But, of course, our author is wrong in his fundamentals. Workers do not “employ capital.” The owners of capital employ them. To-day the working class possesses nothing but its power to labour, which, in order to live, it sells to the capitalist class, the owners of the machinery, the raw material—in short, all the means of production. And the capitalist is willing to buy labour power because it brings forth surplus value, because it produces more than is necessary for the workers’ subsistence, because he can appropriate to himself this surplus. When a surplus cannot be obtained production ceases, unemployment ensues. The profits of capital, while undoubtedly produced by the workers, are not paid by them to the capitalists for the use of their capital, but are extorted out of them by the present system of legalised robbery.

Until he realises this, our author will continue to contradict himself and argue in circles. And when he does realise it, he will not be so hazy concerning wages, prices, and profits.

Another statement given without the sorely needed proof is the old one that high wages result in high prices. If it is possible for a producer to raise prices at will, if prices are fixed quite arbitrarily, why is any strike ever contested ? Why do employers organise to prevent wage increases ? It would be cheaper and easier to pay any wage demanded and raise the price of the product. Capitalists and workers alike are subject to the economic forces which, not individual wishes, determine the prices at which commodities sell. To recount all the other fallacies and sentimentalities contained in the book would take too long, and serve little useful purpose. When an author says that half the reward of a miner “is the vision of the comfort that is being brought to the homes of the people, the power that is being supplied for the production of wealth” ; and that capitalists “if they choose to retire from the commercial arena, could obtain sufficient income from their capital without entrenching on their capital or employing labour for commercial purposes” (Marx in “Capital” has already asked : If all capitalists were to do this, where would they find their commodities in the market?)—to quote but two passages typical of many, he is not worthy of serious attention.

But books like these which, whilst ostensibly stating new truths are in reality only propounding new ways of defending capitalism, are becoming more and more common as the rottenness of the present system of production obtrudes itself more on its victims, and unless such attempts are recognised for what they are, still more enquiring workers will be gulled into meek acceptance of their present misery. Knowledge of their position in society will, however, give the workers the power to resist the influence of these pipings, and that knowledge can only be obtained by the reading of Socialist literature and a grasp of the Socialist position.
W. J. R.

The Pierian Spring. (1922)

From the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Addressing an Educational Society meeting in London at the end of March, Lord Haldane, as reported by The Scots­man, said that “he did not think we would get a fully intelligent nation and, as a consequence, a fully intelligent Government, until we got the influence of the University student permeating the whole nation. The Universities were to-day rising to a new function. . . A great change had come over the people. . . The working classes were becoming keen about the higher knowledge. They thought nothing too difficult to learn, from Einstein downwards.” (Down­wards to J. S. Nicholson, we presume.) “He saw in the future a class of University student who would find a career in the missionary effort of going into the industrial centres, and preaching the higher knowledge to the workers. It would be a new kind of work, akin to that of the clergy, but would be pursued from the standpoint of the University.”

We like this vision of Lord Haldane’s. We like it immensely. We thrill to the thought of the young venturer answering the call : “Come over into Manchester and help us.” We follow him in spirit into the wilds of Barrow and Luton, clad in the decorum of Eights’ Week as in a garment, and luminous with Higher Knowledge. Wondrous gospel and full of promise !

What constitutes Higher Knowledge? We do not know. But be sure it embraces whatever concerns the upward march of man. Its apostle will first make known to the workers that there is no longer any reason why they should be starved either of learning or of bread. That without their toil there would be neither for any man. That the whole history of human kind from the first slaves till now is the story of the many, ignorant and meanly provided, serving in different ways the few, privileged to wealth and culture. That they are the last to win their freedom, and when they resolve to produce for themselves, instead of their masters, neither physical or intellectual hunger will go unsatisfied.

Oh, be sure the Higher Knowledge must begin with this—the setting of the workers’ feet upon the road to universal culture, the Pierian spring at which all may drink and rejoice—well, perhaps not quite that. “With an educated democracy, such as he had in view, the workers would not only earn better wages, but there would be fewer strikes and lock-outs and disturbances, and the productivity of the nation would increase as the result of its system of higher educa­tion.”

So the highest blessings of the Higher Knowledge is, after all, only to make more efficient wage-slaves. No, on second thoughts, there will be no reason to abandon socialist teaching even if Lord Haldane’s dream shall come true. There will still be need of knowledge, simple and unexalted—knowledge with a small k.

Letter: Russian Problems. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

In reply to Mr. Dight, you mention the fact that the case of America is an example of Capitalist Development by transplanted material. I think that Marx has pointed out that the machinery of Capitalist Production must be used for producing under another state. We know that the Russians have been bargaining for more machinery. Assuming that they are successful, don’t you think that we should witness the development of a Proletarian State by transplanted means? I do not think that Marx expected everyone to be capable of fully understanding the anomalies of Capitalism before a revolution occurred.

He states in the preface to the Critique
"With the change of the economic foundation, the entire super-structure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations, the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic, in short, the ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”
This passage seems to show that Marx foresaw a change from one system to another without the people being educated up to, say, the S. P. G. B. standard. I should like to see your interpretation of it. In other parts of your reply you are inclined to exaggerate. For instance, "As the upheaval in Russia in 1917 scarcely raised a ripple among the workers of the West, and certainly not the faintest suggestion of a revolution.” Does the writer remember a person named Liebnecht? Then there is the case of Hungary, Finland, Persia, also, I do not think that the Russians expected to turn the peasant into a Marxist in a single night (although that job with the Bolshevists in Political Power is far easier than the S. P. G. B. job with the Capitalist holding political power). The people I have met and talked with on their return from Russia have said that the peasant supported the Bolshevik because he gave him land and peace. Then again, if there has been no social change in Russia, would the writer tell me why the capitalist powers of the world have been busy subsidising wars against the Soviet Republic? Surely if they are going on the same tine as Capitalist Society there is no need to attack them.
Yours fraternally, 
D. S. O’Mahoney.

Reply To D. S. O'Mahoney.

Our correspondent misses the point of our first reply to H. Dight. In America we have the example of a new people, with higher developed methods, being transplanted into that country. The introduction of modern machinery into Russia would be of little use unless people capable of manipulating that machinery were also taken there. As a matter of fact the Bolsheviks are trying to do this by endeavouring to establish colonies of American skilled workers to operate up-to-date machinery, which Bolsheviks know full well the Russians could not operate.

No doubt the Russian Government hopes to use these colonies as training grounds for native workers, but it will take more than a generation to produce even moderately skilled workers from among the Russians, and thus they will still be behind the Western workers in social development and understanding.

Mr. Mahoney does not state what considers is “the S. P. G. B. standard,” but it is as clear as daylight that social ownership of the means of life will not be established until a majority of the workers see the necessity for it by reaching an understanding of their slave position and the method necessary for their emancipation. Until then they will be content to remain slaves as long as an existence of some sort is allowed to them. Nay, more. They will be prepared to fight to defend the system that enslaves them. The passage from the preface to the “Critique” in no way conflicts with this position, and, therefore, does not call for any “interpretation” on the point.

Liebnecht’s adventure was not a “revolution” and the attitude of the workers after his death showed how small was his following. The upheavals in Hungary, Persia, etc., were mere political struggles without the slightest effect upon the social structure of those countries.

The last query of our correspondent shows an astounding blindness to the events of the last eight years. Germany and Great Britain were on the same capitalist basis, and practically at the same level of development, yet they engaged in a colossal war over questions of economic domination, and carried such war on for over four years. European capitalists have subsidised the buccaneering expeditions into Russia as one of the means to obtain control of Russia for the purpose of exploiting the Russian workers themselves.
Jack Fitzgerald