Wednesday, April 7, 2021

50 Years Ago: A Message for Aldermaston Marchers (2010)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the first French atom bomb was exploded a few weeks back, General de Gaulle exclaimed, “Hurrah for France!” He knew that he was really saying hurrah for destruction and death, because that is what military power means. But military power is only necessary to modern states because in peace and war, they are struggling for economic advantage. This is a world where everything is produced with the intention of selling it profitably, which means that sellers compete for markets, manufacturers for plentiful raw material sources and transporters for trading routes. These are the disputes which, when everything else fails, are settled by force—by war (…)

In these conditions, national states are bound to maintain a military machine to fight for the interests of their ruling classes and to equip that machine with the most powerful—the most deadly— weapons possible. It is futile to expect them to do otherwise. In 1917, it would have been suicidal for them to have thrown away their tanks, or in 1944 their bombers. In 1960 they are similarly reluctant to give up their nuclear bombs. There is only one way to deal effectively with this problem. Go to the roots. The capitalist system is the cause, from beginning to end, of modern war and the horrifying methods of its prosecution.

Marching from Aldermaston, sitting in the mud at Swaffham, or lying in jail, the nuclear campaigners deserve our respect for their concern with one of the horrors of modern society. But we can only regret that so much energy is wasted in such a topsy-turvy movement. If it is desirable to abolish one weapon of war, how much more so is it to get rid of them all? Or to get rid of war itself?

(From article by Ivan, Socialist Standard, April 1960)

Greasy Pole: Michael Foot – An example of principles? (2010)

The Greasy Pole Column from the April 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

A handy tool for a balanced assessment of obituaries of the Great and the Good is to be aware that the more fanciful the praise for the deceased the greater the relief that they are no longer around to cause any trouble. Consider, for example, the tributes to Michael Foot on his death, at 96, last month. This is Gordon Brown, overlooking that during Foot’s life he would have been one of his consistent opponents: “…a man of deep principle and great idealism…one of the most eloquent speakers the country has ever heard … An indomitable figure who always stood up for his beliefs…” Here is Tony Blair, the intensity of whose antagonism towards Foot would have rivalled that of Brown: “…a giant of the Labour movement, a man of passion, principle and outstanding commitment…” Finally, still dealing with Prime Ministers, this is Margaret Thatcher “…a highly principled and cultivated man…if I did not think it would offend him, I would say he is a gentlemen…” Except that that was not a comment by Thatcher after Foot had died; it was what she thought at the time she had crushed him in the 1983 election. Principle? Idealism? Passion? The fantasies about Foot live on, like a virus infecting those who promote themselves as successors.

He was swept into Parliament in the Labour landslide of 1945, when the votes showed that the lies about a safer, healthier world emerging from that greatest ever human crisis had been gratefully absorbed. Foot’s constituency was Devonport in Plymouth, where his comfortably powerful family (his father had been an MP, one brother was an MP, another became Governor of Cyprus) had their affluent home. Before that he had worked as a journalist on the New Statesman and Tribune. Aneurin Bevan, whose reputation as a viperous left-wing orator had not been an obstacle to him forming a close friendship with the Tory press baron Lord Beaverbrook, suggested that Foot (“…a young bloody knight-errant…”) would be a useful employee for one of the unconventional lordship’s newspapers. Perhaps because of Beaverbrook’s seeming vulnerability to those he saw as fellow rebellious misfits Foot was placed in a job which refreshed him with regular pay rises until he became editor of the scandalously strident Evening Standard. In 1945 Foot transferred to the Daily Herald, part-owned by the TUC but later transmogrified into Rupert Murdoch’s Sun with its Page Three girls and screeching headlines.

Guilty Men
By that time Foot’s reputation as a rebel had been cemented into place, although it was typically impulsive rather than consistent. In the 1940s one of his most successful projects had been as the co-author, with two other journalists, of the book Guilty Men. Published by the Left Book Club, this was a best-selling polemic against the Conservative government’s apparent preference for negotiating about – or appeasing – Nazi Germany’s expansionism instead of building up British forces. Guilty Men does not spare Foot’s political allies: “Up to the arrival of Hitler on the scene, the Labour Party officially went through all the antic motions of ‘resisting militarism‘. This consisted of adopting pretty well every half-baked disarmament proposition that was drawn up, and annually voting against the Service estimates”. But effective a rant though that is, it takes no account of the fact that Foot had not always opposed disarmament. In 1933, when the Geneva talks, aiming at multilateral disarmament, broke down he came out in favour of unilateral disarmament . His election address in 1935, when he stood unsuccessfully for Monmouth, attacked the Tory Prime Minister Baldwin for his policy of re-armament, stating that “…the armaments race in Europe must be stopped now”.

More recently, Foot has presented himself as “an incessant and inveterate peacemonger” – which was not taken seriously by anyone with so much as a passing acquaintance with his history. Among other attitudes, he supported the formation of the US dominated NATO military alliance and the American policy of propping up the dictatorship in South Korea before the war began there. The audacious cynicism demanded by this was starkly exposed over the Falklands war. In an emergency debate in the Commons on 3 April 1982 the rage of the Tory hawks left Thatcher, in the words of one observer, “humiliated” and of another “strangely halting and subdued”. But Foot changed the course of the debate with a passionately belligerent speech demanding that there was “…a moral duty and political duty and every other kind of duty” to send in the task force to eject the Argentinian occupiers. This “peacemongering” was pleasing to a number of remarkable allies for Foot. Like Edward du Cann whose chairmanship of the Lonrho conglomerate was memorable for Ted Heath’s description of it as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. Like Julian Amery, a leading light of the Monday Club. Like the late Alan Clark, an “historian” whose pitiless egocentricity and human aversion found expression in his excusing the wartime atrocities of the Waffen SS as “heroic cruelty”. Later, in the controversy over the torpedoing of the Argentinian cruiser Belgrano when it was sailing away from the battle zone, Foot was in favour of the attack, even if it did cost hundreds of lives. And this was an opinion which he steadfastly held to.

Was Foot trying to re-assure his admirers, as well as his antagonists, when he greeted his election as Labour Party leader in 1980 with the bold declaration “I am as strong in my socialist convictions as I have ever been”? He did not offer any clear definition of the word, which encouraged the assumption that his “socialism” was the kind of confused, panicky responses to capitalism’s crises, notable for the depression of workers’ life standards, which he had been closely involved in during his time as a minister under Callaghan. This had reached its nadir with the Winter of Discontent and, no matter how compulsively Foot wheedled and manipulated at resuscitation, the end of that government in 1979. Among other problems for the Labour Party then there was the exposure of the fact that Foot’s “principles” were as worthlessly malleable as they needed to be in capitalism’s abrasive politics. 

Will capitalism collapse? (1927)

From the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Five years ago in these columns (Feb., 1922) the present writer criticised the doctrine of the “Collapse of Capitalism.” During the same month a leading member of the Communist Party admitted that the plans of the Communists for world-revolution were bound up with the acceptance of this catastrophic view of social development, and agreed, in answer to a question, that ten years would prove or disprove the soundness of their view of events. Ten years would show the Communist movement within striking distance of final victory in this country, or it would show Communist policy to be false and the Communist Party would be deservedly dead and damned. Another Communist, Mr. Palme Dutt, likened capitalism to a house in imminent danger of collapse. It was beyond repair—reforms could no longer prop it up—and there was no time to organise and educate the majority of the workers to a recognition of the need for deliberate steps to take over power from the ruling class and set about reconstituting society from the bottom upwards. The “psychological moment” had arrived, capitalism was in ruins, we must get out or go under. (I wonder what has happened of recent years to our old Communist friend, “Psychological Moment ? Did she die of overwork and hope deferred, like “Soviets for Britain” and the “United Front”?)

Half of the allotted time has passed, and many Communists themselves have now come to see either that the theory of collapse was radically unsound, or that the nearness of that happy event was grossly exaggerated. We would be pleased to see the Communist Party approaching a more realistic view of the working-class position, but unfortunately, in driving out the false conception of social revolution, the lessons of experience have in many cases driven out also the desire for revolution itself, and large numbers of disappointed ex-Communists have followed Ellen Wilkinson, Philips Price and Walton Newbold into the ranks of the anti-revolutionary Labour Party, or have altogether lost their interest in politics. The Communist Party in this country, judged by results, and especially in view of the enormous sums of money spent on advertisement and propaganda, has not been a success, and its want of success can be ascribed to this erroneous theory more than to any other single factor. If that theory were correct, it would be sound to attach far greater importance to getting the attention and sympathy of politically backward workers, than to educating them. It would be wise to try to develop “mass organisation” of the unemployed and manoeuvre Communists into official position in the Trade Unions and the Labour Party. But the theory was all wrong, and the abundant enthusiasm of Communist members has brought no good to their party or to Socialism. Where, now, are the unemployed organisations? What is there to show for the energy devoted to supporting Labour candidates and trying to get into the Labour Party? After fluctuating violently and falling as low as 3,000, the membership of the Communist Party has during 1926 leapt up again and is now, apparently, about the same as in 1920. Is this progress? It is certainly not the success they looked for. Communism in the eyes of the mass of workers has come to be associated not with the real and unassailable Marxian position, but with a press-distorted version of the policy of the C.P.G.B., and the ability of the press to misrepresent is largely due to the foolish actions and erratic changes of policy on the part of Communists themselves.

What, then, is this theory which has, in our view, done so much to give a wrong direction to the efforts of many workers? In its most general form it is a belief that friction and the contradictions which result from the basic structure of capitalism will inevitably produce an economic crisis such that the system itself will cease to function. The War, by increasing productive powers and at the same time blocking so many of the normal channels of capitalist trade, aggravated the problems of the capitalist class to a degree which would make collapse certain and imminent. Declining trade, industrial depression, growing armies of workless, stupendous burdens of war debts and taxation, a more than ever infuriated struggle for markets and raw materials— these were the bombing party who were going to blow capitalism into the air.

Where is this conception at fault? In the first place, let us make it clear that it is not Marxian. A system of society is not a pack of cards, or a house, or a piece of mechanism; it is a complex organisation of human beings. The organisational machinery of capitalism, like actual machinery, has no power or purpose of its own; it is governed and, if necessary, changed, by the class who are in control of society. Capitalism might conceivably be rent asunder and destroyed in a long-drawn-out struggle for mastery between contending classes, but, barring the failure of the natural physical basis of human life, it cannot fall and cannot be revolutionised except by the actions of the men and women who compose it. That capitalism contains within itself the germ of its own destruction is not inconsistent with Marx’s words, “Man makes his own history.” The development of capitalism has brought with it a deepening of the cleavage between wage-earners and property-owners, and has relegated the latter more and more to the position of a passive parasitic class simultaneously with an undreamed of growth in their individual wealth and their power over the lives of the workers. The interests of the workers more and more obviously conflict with those of the capitalistic owners of the means of wealth production. “From forms of development of the forces of production these (property) relations turn into their fetters” (Marx, “Critique of Political Economy,” Kerr, 1911, page 12). In this process lies the germ of the destruction of capitalism. The production and distribution of wealth on capitalist lines do not become impossible; the system does not cease to function, but it becomes visibly an anachronism and therefore detestable to the workers. A period of revolution begins, not because life has become physically impossible, but because growing numbers of workers have their eyes suddenly opened to the fact that problems which they hitherto accepted as part of man’s unavoidable heritage have become capable of solution. Life need not have become worse than before—it may have become better—but it becomes intolerable from the moment of realising that only the interests and institutions of the ruling class prevent it from being better still. From that moment the workers forget the consolations of religion and the innumerable conventional barriers in the way of action, and concentrate their energies on attacking the privileges of the capitalist class. Mere suffering, whether through unemployment or a declining standard of living, will not automatically produce such a result. It will not do so if the material conditions are not ripe for solving the problem, or if the victims lack knowledge of the solution or lack confidence to act. Famine in India produces apathy, not revolution. Unemployment in England may do the same.

In other respects, too, those who held the theory of the collapse of capitalism were mistaken. They produced evidence, but their “facts” were one-sided, and their conclusions did not logically follow.

They selected the British Empire, and particularly Great Britain, as their example. The staple industries, they said—iron, coal, and cotton—were in a bad way. Competitors were stealing the pre-war markets of British producers, production in these lines was declining, and exports generally. Unemployment was great and growing, new producing and exporting countries were coming into the field, and pre-war competitors were rapidly recovering or surpassing their pre-war levels of production. On this evidence the outlook appeared to be gloomy and hopeless for the capitalist class ; but was the picture a complete one? It would take too long to deal with each industry, but it should suffice to mention some general conditions which were, and still are, ignored and which upset the assumptions behind that argument. First of all, it must be remembered that technical advance is always accompanied by the scrapping of old and the quick growth of new processes and new industries, and the country which has, like Great Britain, concentrated largely on a few main industries is naturally most affected either by world disturbances of trade or by the exploitation of new processes. But, however difficult the transition might be, was there ever any warrant for the belief that British capitalists would prove less willing or less able to adapt themselves than others? And does the bankruptcy of an old industry accompanied by the prosperity of a new one spell ruin for the capitalist class as a whole? Cotton might be depressed, but artificial silk has been taking its place. Coal might be in difficulties (as it was all over the world) but oil and electricity have been going forward by leaps and bounds. The amount of capital sunk in all branches of the very prosperous British electrical industry is estimated at no less than £768,000,000, and Sir John Snell predicts that the number of units of electricity generated will be trebled within 15 years (Daily Telegraph, Jan. 3). The development of the chemical industry has been crowned last year by the formation of the £65,000,000 Mond Combine. What has misled some observers is the quite natural desire of the capitalists in declining industries to howl their woes from the housetops, and the equally natural reticence of those in other industries who were making enormous profits.

Again, allowance should have been made for the familiar recurring depression which is a century old feature of the system. Such a depression affecting almost all the world in 1921, no more justified the prophecy of ruin and collapse for British capitalism than depression did in pre-war days. Since 1921 unemployment in this country has been almost halved, currency problems in most European countries have been from a capitalist standpoint satisfactorily solved and no one now supposes that the war debts present any special difficulty. To say that pre-war capitalism had its problems, too, and that a return to approximately pre-war conditions does not signify undisturbed stability, is true, but the essence of the case for the collapse of capitalism is that the war marked a turning point and the beginning of a new and troubled era from which there could be no return to the piping days of peace as it was known before 1914. Incidentally it must not be forgotten that even then the prototypes of the communists of to-day went on generation after generation making similar rash forecasts of collapse.

Much use has been made of figures showing a decline in exports, but rarely do the figures justify the use which is made of them. Although Great Britain depends largely on exports in certain industries, by far the greater part of production in this country is for the home market. The volume of production as a whole can and during the past few years undoubtedly has been increasing, while exports have been decreasing. Profits have since 1922 continually grown in this country, but declared profits again give only a partial indication of the magnitude of the proportion of wealth retained by the employing class. For years it may be the deliberate policy of expanding industries to devote to new plant the surplus which would otherwise appeal as dividends.

It is not suggested that the real position of the British capitalists is easily estimated. Our present purpose is merely to show that hasty answers based on a few declining industries are inadequate and certainly exaggerated, if not wholly wrong. It is by no means incompatible with the evidence presented that the nature of capitalist industry in this country is changing. The transition may be difficult and may disclose features which do not fit into current popular methods of measurement, but difficulties do not mean collapse, and it is always worth considering whether the standards of measurement may not themselves be inapplicable.

But even if British capitalism were doomed to lose its place in the front rank, does that signify a collapse of capitalism? If America ousts Britain is the system itself any weaker? If Europe and England become financial dependencies of the United States banks is it any less necessary for the workers to overthrow capitalism? Just as the decline of the cotton industry implies no necessary weakening of British capitalism, so the transfer of the supremacy from Europe to America may well be a cause of strength to the capitalist system; it is certainly not evidence of a collapse. Similarly the difficulties of the British Empire occasioned by the revolt of dependent countries, like India and Egypt, etc., only shows how virile capitalism yet can be.

India and Egypt, China and Mexico, are going through the painful birth processes of capitalism. British capitalist interests may suffer, but capitalism is not being undermined. In passing it is as well to repeat that in our view the danger to British capitalism from these quarters has been generally misunderstood and largely overestimated.

Let us face the facts. Capitalism is strong, and the capitalists are growing wealthier. They have forgotten their post-war panic and are confident of the stability of their system. The machinery of capitalist organisation, the banks, foreign trade, etc., may bring their problems, but it is absurd to suppose that the capitalists will in the long run allow unprogressive members of their own class to imperil the system by persisting in methods, such as unrestricted competition, which have become more dangerous than useful. The confidence of the capitalists in the stability of capitalism rests on the docility of the working class. Capitalism continues because the workers unthinkingly accept it. To devise means of prolonging this convenient condition of the workers’ minds is the chief and potentially fatal problem of the capitalist class. Capitalism will not collapse. It will end when the workers organise to bring it to an end. To educate and organise the workers for that purpose is the only problem with which Socialists should concern themselves.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: An Anarchist defence of private property (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter has been received from an anarchist reader of the S.S. We append our reply.
There are two Socialisms, one based upon individual subordination and the absolute denial of private property (Marxian and Kropotkin Socialism), the other based upon individual sovereignty and the insistence upon private property (Proudhonian Socialism). Marx attacks liberty—Proudhon attacks privilege. Marx attacks capital— Proudhon attacks monopoly. Marx thought capital was one thing and labour product another. He would abolish wages by confiscating all capital to the State, that is the conscription of all wages and workers— Militarism, Bureaucracy ! Marx said value could not be determined, yet he says that the worker produces four and receives one. How did he find that out? Marx ignored the money question ; like Kropotkin, he was an absolute dud in finance. Marx thought profits, or that part of the product kept back by the employers, was the only means of exploitation worth mentioning, yet profit is simply the difference between what a man buys goods at and what he sells them at. I contend that competition in the supply of a currency divorced from its metallic or specie basis would abolish that difference ! Why, to-day the four hundred millions interest on the National Debt will admit of eighty thousand to live at the rate of five thousand a year, who need not own any means of production or engage in any enterprise, and who can look with philosophic calm on all your strikes and riots as long as the State remains intact ! Why, even Lord Rothermere, through his Daily Mail, has been clamouring for the Government to tax the Channel Islands because Mr. Houston and other millionaires were flying there to dodge Karl Marx, the old Tory tax collector. I shall insist that every trader shall, like the proprietors of theatres, state the amount of tax on each article, including beer, spirits, and tobacco. This will educate the workers and expose the cowardice, hypocrisy, and criminality of your Labour champions and all politicians and invaders. I will conclude with a few questions. (1) Are not the working classes deprived of their earnings by usury in its three forms—interest, rent, and profit? (2) Is not such deprivation the principal cause of poverty? (3) Is not poverty the principal cause of illegal crime? (4) Is not usury dependent upon monopoly, and principally the land and money monopolies? (5) Could these monopolies exist without the State at their back or the sanction of the Government?

Ground rent exists because the State stands by to collect it and to protect land titles rooted in force and fraud, otherwise the land would be free to all and no individual could control more than he could use. Interest and house rent exist because the State grants to their bankers the sole right to monetise the capital and securities produced by the workers, and to issue credits thereon to finance war and to create parasites by endowing churches, colleges, and hospitals, inspectors innumerable, presidents, chairmen and staffs for boards of trade commissions of enquiry, censors for cinemas to see that you get plenty of military and religious dope; staffs for wireless and for ratifying district agreements, with the Labour Party supporting Army and Navy officers as Parliamentary candidates whose interest is, like the lawyers, to increase taxation, and thus ensuring the slavery of the workers by pawning the future products of the workers and their children to the State ! So we have discovered our enemies—the financiers, the State bankers, the currency jugglers are the vipers sucking at the vitals of industry, and the State, the Government, the public trustees are their protectors and co-operators, which only free labour can detach and kill.

Give the workmen their economic independence by giving them free access to the means of life which come without labour, and they will produce and exchange their wealth. As for the usurers and their protectors, stripped of their power to steal, they will have to join the ranks of labour or starve. This is where I stand, and I invite any and all to meet me here and whip me if you can. I should close here, but I must tell you that the Labour Party is the last refuge for bankrupt aristocracies and broken down thrones; hence the riddle of their titled and military members !
T. H. Mahony.

Our Reply.

This is the third letter we have printed from Anarchist individualists, and it betrays the same vagueness and misconception as those from previous correspondents. There is no attempt made to deal with the economic development and tendencies of our time, and no effort is made to show how private property in the great means of production can exist without a rich owning class on the one side and a vast working and non-owning class on the other. The first accusation to be noted is that “Marx attacks Liberty” ! Where does not occur. The only Liberty Marx attacks is the Liberty to rob ! The sheer nonsense of our critic talking of “Kropotkin Socialism” is an example of the general confusion in his letter. Kropotkin opposed Socialism and stood for “absolute individual liberty”—whatever that might mean. Our critic is referred to the complete answer to Proudhon given by Marx in his work, “Poverty of Philosophy.” Monopoly is a direct result of competition and is inevitable under capitalism. The statements made about Marx in the above letter clearly show that Mr. Mahony has never read Marx. Marx shows in “Capital” that the product of labour becomes capital because the product of the labourer is the property of the capitalist and only a portion in the shape of wages is returned to the worker.

Marx did not propose putting capital in the hands of the State, but that the producers should own the means of wealth production in common, and with the abolition of private or class ownership the State would die out.

In the same sentence our critic accuses Marx of advocating the abolition of wages, and then says Marx advocated the conscription of wages !

Marx advocated neither. The gem in the above letter is the statement that Marx says that Value could not be determined ! Actually all Marx’s economic writings— “Value, Price and Profit,” “Wage Labour and Capital,” “Capital,” “The Critique of Political Economy,” and others—all state that value is measured by the amount of labour socially necessary to produce an article.

The joke of claiming that Marx ignored the money question is evident to the merest tyro in Marxian study, for, apart from the “Poverty of Philosophy,” the great three volumes of “Capital” and the “Critique” deal specifically and completely with the money question. Marx alone was able to demonstrate the secret of money and showed the actual part played by money in capitalist economy.

If there is any other source of exploitation but that occurring in withholding the product of labour from the producers, it would be interesting to have it stated.

The crude notion that a metal or specie currency is the cause of exploitation is completely answered by the facts of modern life wherever there is a paper currency. No tinkering with currency or allowing any person to issue it would touch the simple cause of slavery and poverty—the ownership of wealth by a section of the population, and the dependence of the rest upon that section for permission to work and live. If the National Debt was abolished, the workers would be no better off, because they do not pay for the debt, but interest and principal is paid for by the employing class out of the surplus values taken by them in production.

The fact of the Daily Mail clamouring for the taxation of millionaires who try to evade taxation by moving to the Channel Islands shows the truth of our position. The capitalists, having to bear the general expenses of government (out of the proceeds of exploiting the workers), are anxious to make all capitalists contribute.

Taxation does not concern the workers. If there were no indirect taxes at all, the causes of working-class poverty would still remain. The questions asked by our correspondent are easily answered.

(1) Rent, interest and profit are three parts into which the surplus taken by the industrial capitalist is divided. These three forms result from private ownership and can only be abolished when the producers own the means of production.

(2) The cause of poverty is stated in answer to Question 1. Rent, interest and profit are not the fundamental causes, but these three forms of stolen wealth are effects of capitalist ownership of the means of production.

(3) Modern crime is due to the material conditions resulting from class ownership.

(4) Interest is a result of private ownership and is legalised by all capitalist Governments as a useful means of carrying on trade and commerce for them.

(5) The State is not at the back of the Capitalists. The State is the Central Committee of the capitalist class and carries on the executive affairs on their own behalf. All private property society needs a State to rule the subject class and to conduct and regulate the affairs of government in the interest of the ruling class.

Economic independence for the worker depends upon their free access to the land, factories, workshops, machinery, etc., and all other means of production.

But as the modern methods of producing involve large-scale production and associated labour, the means of wealth cannot be owned individually by each worker. They are too vast and beyond the means of any producer. As they must be co-operatively worked, so they must be commonly owned. There is no other solution. Individual ownership by the few rich non-producers, with the resulting poverty of the many—or common ownership by the producers themselves for their own comfort and enjoyment. That is the position our critic has to face.

The evading of this important fact of economic evolution by our Anarchist critics, and the calm assumption that we are living back in the days when means of production were small enough to be owned individually by the producers—these two points make all attempts at much discussion with them futile.
Adolph Kohn

Answers To Correspondents. (1927)

From the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A. Lile (Swansea). -
T. C. Morris the South Wales organiser of the Labour Party, has never contributed to "The Socialist Standard." Non-members are not permitted to write for our columns except as correspondents.
De Moc (Essex). -
Name and address must accompany all correspondence intended for publication or reply.

A Look Round. (1927)

From the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who Pays For Royal Trips?

Those who must have the support of the majority of the workers in their present mental state must also of necessity appeal and act in a manner which will not arouse hostility, even although not in the workers’ interest. Whether such appeals are the outcome of sincerity or duplicity does not alter this fact. In the debate on the expenditure for the Duke and Duchess of York’s Australian trip we have a useful illustration, the Labour members being, of course, well to the front.

Mr. Scurr “did not think that this is a time when this visit ought to have taken place, considering the distress existing in the country.” Mr. Buchanan “thought it unjustifiable to expend this money on a useless visit.” Dr. D. Shiels seemed quite charmed because those in Australia “who belong to the same movement as we do are looking forward to the visit,” as they regard the Royal Family as “the symbol of the unity of the Empire.” How truly democratic these Labourites are ! Perhaps the “best” was what Mr. Kirkwood got off his chest:—
  Here we have got to pay for the sending out of their Royal Highnesses on this excursion, which is simply a joy ride. … I know the responsibilities that my own class are carrying at the present moment and they are very heavy. …. The Duke of York and his wife are being voted this £7,000, and who has to pay for it? The working class has to pay for it— my class, my fellow tradesmen; the engineers, with their £2 15s. a week; the miners have to pay for it. I wish the working class were here just now. I wish they had their eyes on me protesting here on their behalf.” (Hansard, Feb. 17th, 1927.)
This is just clap-trap. The inference is that if capitalist expenditure were curtailed, the money so expended would flow straight into the workers’ pockets. Actually, the enormous wealth you produce is the property of your masters, and that the portion returned to you (wages) never does much more than pay for the food, clothing, shelter and incidentals necessary to sustain your class as efficient units of wealth-producing energy. When you have purchased these necessaries, you could not give any away and maintain the efficiency your masters require. You are too closely rationed for that. How, then, can you pay for anything beyond these rations and incidentals? What you actually receive as wages is not the mere money, but what it buys. 60s. with high prices is no more to you than 30s. with low prices, if it only maintains the same standard of life. It is the money payment that permits the illusion so dear to the workers that they “pay for everything.” Those who retain all you PRODUCE, minus the fraction they return to you in the form of wages, must meet the expenditure incurred in maintaining their Royalty, their navies, armies, paupers, criminals, lunatics, and so on. Though you pile wealth mountain high, the wages system never gives you more than subsistence. These capitalist agents endeavour by any means to hide this fact, because they recognise that for you to have a clear understanding of the cause of your poverty would fit you for the working out of your own emancipation. In that case you would send them about their business, for the capitalist henchmen that they are. At present their only chance of keeping place and pelf is by preventing you from gaining knowledge of your class interests.

* * *

Is Production Too Small?
  But the total production of the world has never been sufficient to keep the population of the world in decency, that is to provide that all shall live up to the standard recognised at any given time as desirable. (Sir Ernest Benn, Times, Nov. 17th, 1926.)
The above is one of those meaningless ambiguities beloved by the so-called business men of to-day. Any standard work dealing with industrial history or a summary of the applied science and inventions of the nineteenth century would show that our potential powers of production were multiplied in that period far beyond anything the human family were ever likely fully to utilise. Allowing for the limitations imposed because capitalism produces only for sale, Dr. Russell Wallace, in “The Wonderful Century,” calculated that our producing capacity at the end of the century had grown ten times faster than the population. Ample evidence is available to show that as far as production is concerned the poverty question was no longer a problem with the coming of modern manufacture and mass output. We learn from a magazine to which Sir Ernest Benn has himself contributed many times : —
  Of all the agricultural countries of the world Canada stands first in ratio of increase of production in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Wheat production at the end of this quarter century was over 600 per cent. greater in yield than in 1900, oats 200 per cent., barley 500 per cent., rye 600 per cent. … It is, in the light of these facts, and prospects, not an exaggeration to say that we are only beginning to grow wheat in Canada.” (Business Organisation, March.)
What applies to agriculture applies equally to manufacture. The fact that in practically every leading industry (agriculture included) production has had to be curtailed, makes Sir Ernest Benn’s statement look childish. The following is only a sample of what takes place with tea, rubber, cotton, wool. etc. :—
  The steel cartel has decided to reduce production by 1,500,000 tons for the first three months of 1927. (Daily Chronicle, Dec. 11th, 1926.)
We do not expect our masters to point out the cause of our poverty; their privileges as landlords, shareholders, and dummy directors are based upon our exploitation as producers. Obviously, then, it must be the workers’ task to convert those material means of providing comfort and security for others into the common property of all. Then, not only could the race be kept in “decency,” but a life of grandeur could be made available for all.

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The Source of the "Social Evil."

It is in the very nature of the reformer to take for granted the continuance and the inevitability of the present system of society. After years and years of tinkering with social evils separately, and seeking to sum up the net result of their efforts, they are often in their more honest moments driven to confess utter failure and despair.

A committee of experts recently made extensive enquiries on an international scale upon the White Slave Traffic, and a lengthy report has been made to the League of Nations. Among some of the causes enumerated are :—
  Bogus offers of employment in a foreign country are not infrequently used as a means of leading girls to become prostitutes. . . . The contracts also are often drawn up in terms so harsh that the girl who signs one has little or no security. Governments would be well advised to protect their nationals against victimisation of this character. (Times, Mar. 12th, 1927.)
It is almost needless to point out that those who must seek employment, bogus or otherwise, here or elsewhere, are girls of the working class. They have no more security here in “free” England than have their male counterparts in wage slavery. Here, too, the terms of living for thousands upon thousands of girls are so harsh that whole armies are driven to live in the same way as that which is deplored in these Continental cities, considered such sinks of iniquity. A country that can boast 80,000 fresh cases of venereal disease yearly (pamphlet issued by the Council for Combating Venereal Disease) has little right to claim Britain to be the “one bright spot.” Our ruling class, however, are essentially hypocritical, a relic of the Puritanism with which they helped to fight their way to power. The sentiments of this report are akin to the canting ethics of the cotton lords who shed crocodile tears for American slaves whilst fighting legislation aimed at preventing them from working their own child operatives to death. After a column of proposals the Committee practically admits its whole work to be a waste of effort, for we are told :—
  The measures to which we have referred above are not likely to be successful while the incentive of money-making remains. Profit is at the bottom of the business. (Ibid.)
While profit is here held responsible for one evil, we claim that it is production for profit in the wide sense—the capitalist system—that engenders other evils. In our pamphlet, “Socialism,” we show how it begets unemployment, intensified exploitation, and the misery and general poverty from which our class suffer. We have no time to wring our hands and bemoan the foulness of a particular social evil, but carry on our work of spreading the knowledge that Socialism is the remedy for all of the economic problems of the working class.

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Is Socialism government ownership?

Sir Herbert Samuel is a Liberal who makes a few assertions, dubs them Socialism, shows their absurdity, and then congratulates himself that “it won’t stand criticism.” In the “Forward View” (quoted Westminster Gazette, 14/3/27) he writes :—
  But the Labour Party committed two great errors. First, it definitely bound up its fortunes with the theory of Socialism. And Socialism has not been able to stand criticism. . . . the idea that here was a panacea which would cure poverty and unemployment, did not pass the calm examination of practical, impartial minds.
The Liberal is, of course, practical; his remedy, like that of the Labour Party, is to perpetuate the system that produces the evils that they are always going to remove. With years of office and a huge majority, they still have to leave poverty and unemployment to the Young Liberals. The others have grown old in the cause of such stirring reforms as Labour Exchanges, Insurance, and Home Rule. And what, pray, is this panacea that impartial minds can’t pass? Is it Socialism, or only what Samuel, through ignorance or imposture, calls Socialism? It is, he falsely says :—
  …. Transferring the greater part of production, distribution and exchange from private enterprise to some form of public ownership and management. (Ibid.)
This he calls Socialism, but he is only repeating the confusion spread by the Labour Party and their leaders, like Mr. Hartshorn, who says that :—
  The Post Office was really the one big Socialist organisation that had ever been built up in this country. If they could introduce the same principle and the same spirit into the other great industries they would be able to build up a great international brotherhood.  (Vernon Hartshorn, Labour P.M.G., Observer, May 5th, 1924.)
State activities such as the Post Office are run like other capitalist concerns : their profits either go to relieve taxation, or Government bondholders take them, instead of receiving dividends as shareholders in a private company. The workers remain under the State concern as before—wage-slaves—even if their condition is not worsened owing to co-ordination, speeding-up, and consequent displacement of large numbers.
  So far from being a charge on the community the Post Office has in the thirteen years 1912-13 to 1924-25 made a profit of 44 millions, all of which has gone in relief of taxation. Since 1914 there has been a decrease of more than 24,000 in staff, while much work has been added to the Post Office. This has resulted in speeding up and overwork. (Daily Herald, Dec. 14th, 1925.)
Apparently what the Labour Party look forward to is an international brotherhood of overwork and speeding-up. In Australia they have had Labour and State activities for years, yet we get the following admission from those who support the same thing at home here :—
  Australia has had more experience of Labour Government than any country in the world. Some people may expect it to follow from this that Australia is the most Socialistic country in the world ; but, alas ! for democratic illusions. . . After years of office it has nothing to show except pettifogging reforms, and it has actually condoned and encouraged the dominance of Finance capital in its area of control. Is there any guarantee that in Britain politicians of the same school of thought will do otherwise. (Labour Magazine, Nov., 1926.)
No, they will not do otherwise, even were they the most straightforward men who ever took office. Not until the number of workers wanting Socialism is greater than those who are opposed or apathetic, can it be at hand. Socialism is common ownership. Public ownership is State capitalism. Emancipation cannot take place without the former, which involves the abolition of capitalism, and not a mere change in its form.
W. E. MacHaffie