Wednesday, April 14, 2021

American Reformists in Difficulties (1934)

From the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Socialist Party of America, among many similar organisations, has on numerous occasions acted in the capacity of a “case history” for the scientific Socialist. It has provided an abundance of evidence to support the Socialist contention that a membership which is ignorant of the basic principles of Socialism can never hope to build up an organisation which has as its object the capture of political power, and its use to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism. Such a membership can at best be used for the capture of political power in order to introduce certain reforms, which, in due course prove themselves futile to solve the basic problems which perpetually confront our class. Such an organisation, whilst it can be most active, cannot, because of its membership's political ignorance, go any further in its objectives than the object of its members without undermining the loyalty of such members.

The above contentions are illustrated by an item which appeared in The New Leader, organ of the Socialist Party of America, of December 16th, 1933, under the caption “ Party Standing Imperilled in California," with also a sub-caption, "Desertion by Sinclair, and Communist Manoeuvres cause Confusion in Party." The writer of this news item, a New Leader correspondent, opens his article as follows:—
   “With the election of Hyman Sheanin as State Secretary of the Socialist Party to succeed Harold Ashe, removed by the State Executive Committee because of recently acquired Communist views, and the desertion of the Party by Upton Sinclair to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, the Socialist Party in this State faces a new situation. Because of 'united front’ manoeuvres by Communists and their sympathisers within the party, quite a number of party branches have been more or less divided, some verging on disruption.”
This situation is by no means a “new" one in the Socialist Party of America. On several occasions the organisation has been split from top to bottom. Evidence for this can be found in plenty by the student of that party's history. One need only read the work of a Socialist Party member, Nathan Fine, entitled “The Labour and Farmer Parties in the United States, 1828-1928," for such evidence.

The interesting part of the aforementioned article is the attempt to explain the cause of this new division in the ranks of the Socialist Party of America. From the sub-caption it would seem that only two factors, the desertion of Upton Sinclair and the Communist manoeuvres, were responsible. The writer even stresses the latter cause, the "Communist manoeuvres":—
   “ . . . This appears to be the result of plotting by Communists, and it has had its effect upon some members who joined the Party in the last several years. These unschooled members have fallen victims to certain fears which include apprehension that a complete collapse of capitalism is just around the corner, that the Fascists are going to get us soon, and that our only salvation is unity of action with the handful of Communists who are active in California. The psychology is for all the world like those party members who in 1919 flocked to the party faction that was coming under the control of Moscow and which was soon talking of 'Johnny get your gun'. (Italics mine.)
These “unschooled members’’ are not altogether to be blamed for their muddled condition. For, in examining the files of the party organ, The New Leader, we find that influential members whom we are to assume are “schooled“ have subscribed to these self-same views. If "the “unschooled” and newer members were guilty of believing that capitalism is collapsing, so too, were much older members who have had plenty of “schooling.” An example of this belief by one of the older members is the following:
  “Four years of industrial chaos, bottomless misery and general despair under Republican administration have amply demonstrated the pitiable incapacity of the ruling classes to prevent a catastrophic collapse of their much-boasted economic order." (Italics mine.) Morris Hillquit, in the “New Deal,” November, 1933.
In the same paper, Norman Thomas, standard-bearer of the party for the office of President of the United States, says the following on the menace of Fascism in this country:—
  “Moreover, a vote for Socialism this year is a vote against the danger of turning the opportunities which exist under the N.R.A. into a drift toward a Fascist society . . .” (Italics mine.)
Only a week or so back, this organisation called a mass meeting in New York’s famous Madison Square Garden, to demonstrate against Fascism in Austria, which ended in both the Socialist Party of America and the Communists demonstrating against each other, with the Secretary of the Communist Party having a chair broken over his head.

Is it to be wondered at, then, that members of this party, with their views on leadership and their hero worship for the two above-mentioned leaders, should take these leaders’ views seriously? To these misinformed workers the great stir and stew of the Communists over these questions passes as action, intelligent and revolutionary action, and attracts them.

Once again, too, is the theory of leadership, so dear to Socialist Party of America members, tried and found wanting. Once again after many years of activity in this party, during which time he has enjoyed the admiration and adulation of the membership, Upton Sinclair, the leader, deserts his admirers to join an avowedly capitalist party. His name is added to the already long list of “leaders" who have deserted the Socialist Party of America for more profitable fields of endeavour. Sinclair, in California, joins Paul Blanshard in New York. Both will do their best to put over Roosevelt's “New Deal." Once again, too, does the party cover its shame by a posthumous discovery that what they have lost is no loss at all. We are informed by the correspondent already quoted: —
  “The treachery of Sinclair is quite as damaging, as he also has had an effect upon some unschooled members. Sinclair had formerly posed as a left winger, especially in matters relating to Stalin and his fellow commissars. His seeking of the Democratic nomination for Governor has revealed how shallow his political and economic thinking has always been." (Italics mine.)
We are almost tempted to say “sour grapes" ! Not alone is it bad enough that this “comrade," who was torn between Stalin, Norman Thomas and Roosevelt, should finally turn to the last-named leader, but what is much worse, he takes with him others of the Socialist Party, who are, in turn, tom between their devotion to that party and Upton Sinclair. For we are informed:—
  “The result is that we lose some uninformed members who follow Sinclair, while others come under Communist influence.”
After the correspondent has stated what he thinks are the factors responsible for this split in the party's ranks, he then gives the real due to understanding this condition:—
  “Old time comrades who have watched this development have come to the conclusion that the Party has been too careless in admitting people to membership who know little or nothing of Socialist principles. The well-informed younger comrades agree with this point of view. The Party has also been too tolerant and has not exercised that discipline that is necessary to build a growing working-class party.”
Here, then, is the kernel and cause of this and past splits in all such organisations. The scientific Socialist and his party have not paid mere lip service to this view but have seen to it that all who apply for membership in their ranks shall understand and accept at least the Declaration of Principles of Socialism. As is so well stated in the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s little pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion ” : —
  “Hence the test of admission to the Socialist Patty must be neither more nor less than acceptance of the essential working principles and policy of Socialism as a class movement. To demand more is to degenerate into a sect; to require less is to invite anarchy and embark on the slippery incline of labourism and compromise. These essentials of Socialist principles and policy are outlined in the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party (of Great Britain). They can be easily understood by the average worker, and they comprise the irreducible minima of the principles and policy of Socialism; narrow enough to exclude all who are not Socialists, yet broad enough to embrace everyone who is. They form, in consequence, a reasonable and sufficient test. . .”
Because the Socialist Party of America, like its kindred parties the whole world over, ignored the above essentials for membership, its history is full of crises when ignorance and confusion have led—as is inevitable—to schism.

It is most doubtful if they have even learned from their recent experiences. For the correspondent whom we have quoted ends his article with the following:—
  “The betrayal of the Party by Sinclair may prove a terrific blow. The Socialist Party vote may be such that it will lose its official standing. In that case the enormous number of signatures required to get on the ballot will make it almost impossible for the Party to nominate candidates. The peril the Party faces as a result of Sinclair’s action is recognised by every real Socialist, and the utmost will be done to avert it.”
Here is the usual plea of the vote-catcher for still more vote-catching when he sees that the votes are turning elsewhere.

Those who place an intelligent membership before a large but politically inexperienced one see in this further proof that the Socialist Party of America is not a Socialist party. For the workers who support it the future can hold nothing but disappointment, and often despair.

To those workers in the United States who seek the only solution to their problems, Socialism, we of the Workers' Socialist Party open our ranks. We have the one thing worth having, an organisation devoted to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
Sid Felperin.
Workers' Socialist Party

"The Plebs Atlas" (1934)

Book Review from the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Plebs Atlas: Sixty Maps for Worker-Students. Drawn by J. F. Horrabin. N.C.L.C. Publishing Society, Ltd., 15, South Hill Park Gardens, London, N.W.3.)

The N.C.L.C. has published a revised edition of “ The Plebs. Atlas," containing sixty maps.

The series of maps are set out in a manner which simplifies an understanding of the events they describe. Each map has an explanatory footnote. The author has followed the method of leaving out all matter not considered essential to the lesson he wants to drive home. For example, in the map of Europe each country is shaded to illustrate its dominance by French, British, or American capitalism; other physical and geographical features which usually characterise maps being left out. There are maps showing the postwar changes in the boundaries of Europe; maps explaining the “Polish" Corridor," the "Balkans Problem," the "Far Eastern Question,” etc. A study of these will leave the student in no doubt of the reasons for the last war and will show him the conflicts of capitalist interest which may lead to another. One map shows the zones of influence of the chief capitalist powers; another is illustrated to show the chief industrial centres; others the ramifications of British capitalist interests throughout the world.

Altogether, the Atlas is a useful work: useful when studying history, and handy for reference in connection with current political events and press reports. The price of the Atlas is 1s., well within the reach of most students.

Notices of Meetings & Lectures (1934)

Party News from the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris 1834-1896 (1934)

From the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard
“A life in which every human being should find unrestricted scope for his best powers and faculties.”
When Morris proclaimed this as his hope and ambition for the future he was treated as a silly dreamer; the mere idea was dismissed as puerile fantasy. But there was nothing dream-like about Morris’s sturdy propagandist methods of fighting to achieve this, his strongest desire, and nothing fanciful about his acceptance of the hard fact that its achievement was bound to be a long and often disillusioning process. However, for a persistent stresser of the class issue, as Morris was, misrepresentation is inevitable. What is our view? We know, as he did, that such an extension and encouragement of individuality throughout society is historically possible; we hold, with him, that its attainment is well worth the struggle; he constantly maintained, as we do, that the oppressively different conditions prevalent to-day are the result solely and only of the division of society into classes, exploiting and exploited, and that the one possible means of changing those conditions is to do away with class society.

Who, then, was this William Morris? Contemptuously referred to in his day as the “poet upholsterer” or the “craftsman Socialist”, he presents to our study one of the most admirable personalities and complex intellects of the nineteenth century. Orthodoxy knows him best as artist and craftsman, reviver of dead or dying arts such as tapestry, weaving, dyeing, and the staining of glass, a maker of dignified furniture, rich textiles and fine books. But, alas for orthodoxy, here was an artist who would not conform to artistic tradition and spurn the affairs of this world. He knew, and cried it from the housetops, that art is a social phenomenon, and that for an artist to attempt to divorce himself or his works from society is mere childishness. To Morris art was inseparable from the everyday life of society, or else it was poisoned at the roots; and the underlying cause of the sordid “eyeless vulgarity” of current everyday life was, he saw and insisted, simply the private ownership of the means of life. His art and his Socialism are inseparable. (It must, of course, be understood that, although in many respects his “Socialism” was a good deal nearer to our position than that of most of his contemporaries, he naturally had by no means a complete grasp of the Socialist case as we understand it. In particular he was no student of economics, and admittedly found the subject bewildering apart from broad essentials.)

Born in 1834, two years after the Reform Bill, he grew up in the period of definite capitalist ascendancy and consequent smugness. His family was well-to-do; he had, however, the good fortune to run wild considerably and thus both gathered reserves of vitality and escaped much of the conventional training and discipline. A great deal of his childhood was spent roaming Epping Forest (wilder then than now) where he acquired a deep love of open air and stored up rich memories of the shapes, colours and movements of wild plants, which, years later, were incorporated in his designs and decorations. Early in life, also, he showed a fondness for studying architecture, particularly the simple, massive, spacious Gothic.

He was sent to Oxford to take Holy Orders, but religion seems to have slipped almost unperceived from his life after his early days at college. He found there a group of unconventional friends, and, before long, had decided on architecture as a career. His Oxford friends, the chief of whom was Burne-Jones, were all connected with the Pre-Raphaelite movement in painting, and in revolt against the ugliness of contemporary life. The emotional reaction against drabness and dirt was expressed by means of glowing colours applied to subject-matter deliberately archaic, as far removed as possible from hated industrialism. Morris, on leaving Oxford, worked in London as an architect, living with his friend Burne-Jones, in close association with Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite school. Presently he gave up architecture and began learning to be a painter, writing poetry meanwhile; but his real career started when, after his marriage in 1859, he attempted to furnish a house, but failed to find any goods on the market fine enough either in design, material or workmanship to suit his taste. Characteristically undaunted, he decided to design personally, with the enthusiastic help of a group of friends, not merely the furniture and decorations, but the house itself. So the Red House at Upton was built and furnished. In the course of its building the firm of Morris & Co. was founded. The firm’s history is one of magnificent technical achievement in every branch of decorative art, the details of which are not, however, relevant to our purpose here. Suffice it to say that Morris always resented the fact that the competitive and exploiting social system made it impossible for his beautiful products to reach the mass of the population, although it was not until the firm had been in existence for some fifteen years that he began to realise that, with the Socialist movement, lay the explanation of his difficulties and the solution of his problems.

His first appearance on public platforms was in connection with the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, which he helped to found, and which he facetiously nicknamed the Anti-Scrape. A little later he joined the Eastern Question Association, then the National Liberal League, and, finally, in 1883, the Democratic Federation. There followed a period of strenuous political activity, lecturing, writing and street-corner propaganda. The DF became the SDF and produced a weekly paper, Justice, but it was not long before Morris and Hyndman found themselves unable to agree. Continual dissension as to tactics, principles and authority led to the secession of Morris, at the end of 1884, and the formation of the Socialist League. This body held that the time was not ripe for Parliamentary action, and that the business of the moment, and, indeed, of some time to come, was simply to make Socialists, however slow and unspectacular that task might prove.

When a sufficient number of Socialists had been made, they said it would be time enough to consider taking political action. In 1886 and 18867 a number of “Free Speech” demonstrations, and, in particular, the events of Bloody Sunday, when an unemployed demonstration was broken up by force of arms, helped to make the Socialist League’s name known for its propagandist activities on these occasions, and Morris became a prominent political figure. But opportunism was creeping in; Morris found his policy opposed, he was considered too slow; Anarchist tendencies also began to show themselves. In 1889 he was deposed from the editorship of the Party journal, the Commonweal, and, in the following year, he withdrew from the League, his local branch forming itself into the independent Hammersmith Socialist Society. The League rapidly degenerated into loud-mouthed Anarchism, while the Hammersmith Socialist Society never achieved much more than a local influence except in so far as the lectures delivered there by Morris were subsequently published and had a fair sale.

It must be remembered that, throughout his life, even at the height of his political activities, he continued to make beautiful objects of every kind, to lecture frequently on art, and to write romances, poems and translations from Greek, Latin and Icelandic. All his work is outstanding for its consistent high quality; in nothing is he less than good. He was a man of superb energy, of unconquerable vitality, beset by an ever-present conception of things as they might be, as they some day would be, and yet always able to take a youthful delight in the homely pleasures of cooking, camping or playing hide and seek. “An incorrigible dreamer, if you like, but master of his dreams; not drifting hither and thither on the tide of his emotions, but navigating his imagination with a port in view; no visionary enveloped in an atmosphere of vague idealism, but a sane level-headed man if ever there was one.”

His theories on art have been much discussed of late. His—rather Ruskin’s—definition of art as man’s expression of joy in his labour has been so bandied about and manhandled that it is not easy to strip off all recent associations and discover what Morris was really trying to convey. Art, he declared, cannot be produced by someone who is unhappy in their work, whereas people whose general everyday occupation gives them joy will consciously, or unconsciously, find means of embodying that joy in the products of their labour and attempting to convey it to others. It does not follow, and Morris certainly did not mean, that everything that anyone has found pleasure in making must be a work of art. He applied the definition in a general social sense rather than to each particular product. He always emphasised the social foundations of art, and, by means of this definition, he wished to make it clear that capitalism, by its ruthless exploitation of the mass of mankind, by forcing almost all men to toil at uncongenial occupations, is destroying all possibility of genuine widespread artistic creation.

It must be repeated that, to Morris, art, if confined to a small leisured class, did not deserve the name. He was very much influenced by the art theories of Ruskin, particularly by his conception of the intimate relationship between beauty and utility. Ruskin had declared, in special reference to unnecessary ornamentation in architecture, that a thing that is not useful cannot be beautiful. This is also true in a sense which, perhaps, neither Ruskin nor Morris intended, that is, that beauty—for example, rich and varied colours, rhythmic movements, harmonious sounds, graceful lines, intertwining patterns—is physically useful to us in that it exercises and develops our five senses, our “best faculties”. It gives us “life, and that more abundantly”. But, apart from that, Morris very astutely perceived that this same distinction between beauty and utility has as its basis the class factor; it can only arise in class-divided society. Abolish classes and establish production for use instead of profit, and you destroy for ever this arbitrary distinction between use and beauty.

To assess Morris’s Socialism, taken as a whole, is a confusing task. At first sight his avoidance of any but the most generalised economic problems, and his exuberant claim that the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were something of approaching a Golden Age, make him appear no more than a muddled-headed old Utopian with his heart in the right place and his head in the clouds. But go a little deeper and you find that, on many points, he took up a position similar to that of the SPGB. He never ceased to maintain that the fundamental cause of all present social problems was class-divided society, production for profit and not for use. He insisted that the only true practical task for many years to come must be simply, to use his famous slogan, “Education towards Revolution”. He disliked seeing untaught masses rushed hither and thither by hotheads and careerists: “Of course”, he said, “as long as people are ignorant, compromise plus sentiment always looks better to them than the real article.” He early learned, from experience of the slow progress of the one important work of making Socialists, that “Socialism in our time” was a vain hope. Nevertheless, though he gave the social reformers credit for the best of intentions, he steadfastly repeated that no amount of reform could give us Socialism. Neither did he advocate that strange hybrid, “State Socialism”; by Socialism he meant common ownership of the means of life, production not for profit, but for use, and he was not to be put off by any fake or substitute.

To sum up, we may say that William Morris was, indeed, a man of contradictions. He glorified in the past, but dreamed of the future; too energetic to be thoroughly reflective, he was yet too reflective not to see the limitations inflicted on his energies by capitalism; an idealistic view of history and a bourgeois life of honest industry and artistic endeavour led him to Marxist Socialism and soap-box propaganda; he detested capitalism’s “sordid, aimless, ugly confusion”, yet he was fascinated by such things as railway organisation; his personality was assertive, emphatic, virile; none the less, the main bulk of his literary work (The Earthly Paradise, The Life and Death of Jason, and the many prose romances), though its quality is always good and his writing is outstanding for its melodious clarity in a rather pretentious period, is yet inclined to be discursive, lacking in concision, in that terse economy of phrase that gives lasting virility to style. His books always paint a colourful and pleasing picture; his craftsmanship maintains a fine level; yet from a man of his extreme vigour and bluffness this general impression of sunny meadows, serene rivers and calm-browed heroes comes, somehow, incongruously. This is not to dismiss his work as anaemic; and, in short poems here and there, in many descriptive passages in his longer works, his manner is as forthright as anyone’s. The main flavour of his literary work, however, is pleasantly satisfying rather than stimulating, graceful rather than incisive. Similarly, with much of his decorative work, the detail of his designs has a grand robustness, but the total effect is over complicated and inclined to monotony, though this, of course, is more apparent to modern taste than it would be in his own day.

But all these contradictions fail to detract at all from his vivid, simple exuberance; they serve, in fact, to show up the directness and simplicity of his personal relationships as yet another contradiction, for such characteristics seem strange indeed in one who embodied so many conflicting tendencies. The man himself was an unresolved contradiction, personifying the contradictory forces ever present in capitalist society, but only in the 1850-1890 period becoming crystallised and apparent to all careful observers. It has been said that he was born as the tide of bourgeois ascendancy was setting in, but capitalism bears within itself the seeds of its own destruction, and it is in the time of capitalist expansion and complacency that those seeds begin to take firm root, ready, in course of time, to produce class-conscious Socialists and ultimately a Socialist working class. Just at that epoch of industrial consolidation and political criticism came Morris, in truth, “a wanderer between two worlds”. His life, inasmuch as it condenses within itself innumerable streams of nineteenth century thought and feeling, is an illuminating study. Many of his theories seem strangely remote from us, though it is not yet forty years since his death, but it may be that capitalism has so blunted our senses that we can no longer appreciate his meaning. Most of his Socialist propaganda is clear enough, however, and there is nothing dreamlike or effeminate about this:-
“Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel. If our ideas of a new society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the due effective majority of the working people: and then I say the thing will be done.”
Stella Stewart

Democratic Control (1934)

From the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Open Letter to the Rank and File of “Labour," "Communist" and "Independent” organisations. 

'Comrades of the Working Class,

I am writing especially with a view to reaching the young and enthusiastic member of such organisations, who, gulled by windy and insincere professions of trust in the “ rank and file," is only too often assisting in a tragic game of “over-backs" perpetually called upon to “tuck in the tuppenny” for the vaulting ambition of “leaders" who come well on their feet on the other side.

The New Leader, the Labour Monthly and the Daily Worker, when not keeping up their spirits with chanting the “United Front" supply choice examples from the said “Front" of treachery, incompetence and “careerism."

The Daily Herald, run on the most approved capitalist lines, descending to all the usual sordid devices for maintaining circulation, enthusiastically Christian with “Good old George,” mildly agnostic with Harold Laski, drinking a loyal toast (fervently adding, “God bless him") with Cripps, forms a convenient clearing house for cheques drawn on working-class ignorance.

In the conspiracy of silence about the Socialist Party of Great Britain, it is difficult to get the “rank and file” to realise the yawning gulf that separates this party from all other political organisations. I ask the younger workers (“Old Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone ”—the succeeding verse is politically apposite, Hosea 4, 17) to acquaint themselves with first-hand knowledge of the constitution of the S.P.G.B. Attend all meetings—all of them. Surprising as the fact may be, there are absolutely no private “sessions” of the S.P.G.B. Our “ Object,” specifically stating DEMOCRATIC CONTROL of the means of life, is reflected in the constitution of the Party. We have emerged from the stage where the superior person, centre of an idolising following, dictates “policy” and creates the “Platform” atmosphere so dear to the Trade Union type of mind.

Get this: Officers and Executive are instruments of the party, strictly accountable to the rank and file (through the branches) for all action taken. Delegates to conferences (come to our Annual Conference on Good Friday, if this reaches you in time; seeing’s believing) are instructed by their branches as to action and voting on specific questions. In short, the S.P.G.B. has for good and all abandoned “leadership" not only in word, but in deed. There is, therefore, no need in the S.P.G.B. to keep an eye on possible “careerists”—“picturesque personalities” (to quote a young I.L.P. friend of mine), or otherwise. The constitution of the party simply rules them out, as the eggs of a fish would be barred from complete fisdom deposited on dry land.

Consider for a moment this item of news (News-Chronicle, January 19th, 1934): —
  “Mr. J. Maxton and Mr. McGovern . . . had a 90 minutes talk with Mr. De Valera. There was a pledge of secrecy upon the subjects discussed.” 
What have these two members to conceal from their Party? After all, things are apt to be disclosed. Mr. Maxton, after the Right Honourable James Ramsay MacDonald had followed to its logical conclusion what stood for his political “convictions,” was compelled to disclose the fact that he had been deliberately supporting someone he knew was “never a Socialist." That Mr. Maxton “was impressed by De Valera’s sincerity and ability” is of no more importance to the working class than Mr. McGovern’s considered opinion that His Majesty has a “good ’eart ”—which opinion was deliberately omitted in the New Leader, although immediately preceding remarks (concerning a silly exhibition at the opening of Parliament) were recorded.

My young friends may find the following extract interesting, if not illuminating: 
  “When the Little Peddlington Branch of the S.D.P. or the Flat-ditch Branch of the I.L.P. sends me a pompous notice, written in ungrammatical English on dirty paper, that the comrades in the said Branch have publicly disassociated themselves from me, I retire into my armchair and smile. These poor, dear little comrades, never did have a sense of humour.”
There speaks the typical “leader.” Don't they just despise you? But you ask for it. . . The author of the foregoing quotation? Oh, yes— Robert Blatchford, Clarion (January 14th, 1910). Have I seen the New Clarion? “New presbyter is but old priest writ large.”

The Socialist Standard is democratically owned and controlled by the Party. Battling through thirty years for SOCIALISM, and Socialism all the time, it has never ceased to be the organ of the PARTY, never deviated from the position determined by the sheet-anchor of the Party, our Declaration of Principles.

With Lewis Morgan (Ancient Society, page 344) we believe that “the human race is gradually learning the simple lesson that the people as a whole is wiser for the public good than any privileged class of men, however refined and cultivated.”

Not that one would regard Blatchford’s vulgar outburst as “refined ” or “ cultivated.”
Yours for Socialism,
A. Reginald.

Waiting for Something to Turn Up (1934)

From the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (Mr. G. Turner, Ponders End) writes asking what the S.P.G.B. is going to do about his problem—unemployment. He says that he is in a hurry and that the S.P.G.B. has been in existence now for thirty years and has done nothing but talk nonsense.

It is of course quite evident that Mr. Turner has not grasped what is the case the S.P.G.B. has been putting forward for thirty years. If we had said thirty years ago, to Mr. Turner and others like him: “If you leave things to us we will solve your problem for you. We will get you work or unemployment pay at once, or in the near future, and in the more distant future we will give you Socialism” —if we had said this or anything like it, Mr. Turner could quite reasonably come to us now and ask: "What about it? Where are the things you promised? What have you done to justify your existence?”

But we never made such a promise, and Mr. Turner and his fellow chasers of will-o’-the-wisps have themselves to blame, not us. What we did promise has been justified up to the last dot and comma. We told the working class in 1904 that what they were suffering from was capitalism, that the only remedy was Socialism, and that the only method was through the control of the machinery of Government and the armed forces by a politically organised majority of Socialists. We said that the reformism, the promises of “something now,” the appeals for trust in leaders, and the electoral vote-catching of the Liberal and Labour parties, the LLP. and the S.D.F., etc., would solve no problem and would not advance us towards Socialism by one single day.

Mr. Turner and the great mass of the workers chose to follow another path than that pointed out by us. The result is what we foretold. They have got what their conduct warranted. Now Mr. Turner comes along and asks us what we have done for him. He should ask himself what he has done. Above all, he should stop and think before he allows his desire to get something in a hurry lead him again along the reformist paths which his footsteps took in 1904. If he ignored our warning then, he should consider it now and save himself more wasted years.

Books for Sale (1934)

Advert from the April 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voice From The Back: What fun! (2005)

The Voice From The Back Column from the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard 

What fun!

The newspapers are always reminding us that the US expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq were carried out for humanitarian reasons, so it is good to be reminded from time to time of the mind-set of some of the combatants in those conflicts. “‘Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people.’ Lieut. General James Mattis, who commanded U.S. Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, in comments during a panel discussion for which he was later reprimanded” Time (14 February).

Mind the gap

The gap between the rhetoric of politicians and the economic realities of capitalism is a very large one. Here is a recent example. “As Tony Blair argued that a precautionary approach to greenhouse gas emission was vital to prevent environmental disaster, the European Commission threatened legal action because the UK wanted to raise the amount of carbon that industry is allowed to pump out under the European emission trading scheme. The government was accused of caving in to business led by the Confederation of British Industry” The Observer (20 February). They are messing up our world, how do you feel about that? Pass the inhaler we feel a little sick.

Useless toil

One of the most attractive features about a future socialist society is that it will do away with a lot of dangerous, dirty and nasty occupations. Think of a society without arms manufacture, armies, policemen, jailers, prostitutes, bankers, insurance men and debt collectors. One of the multi-billion dollar industries that will disappear is the advertising and marketing con game. How big an industry is revealed in the following figures of some of the big global advertising spenders. “Procter & Gamble $5.6 bn, Unilever $3.54 bn, General Motors $3.4 bn.” The Observer (27 February). It is reckoned that $60 billion will be spent this year telling you what kind of toothpaste to use, clothes to wear, food to eat and what kind of credit card is “in” this year. What a madhouse.

Nice for some

In January we reported that according to the International Labour Organisation 1.4 billion, the highest number ever, were living on less than $2 a day and 550 million were living on less than $1 a day. So it is only proper that we report the other side of the coin as reported by the 2005 Forbes dollar billionaire list. “Topping the list for the 11th year running is the Microsoft boss Bill Gates, worth £24.1 billion. The 19th annual list shows the world’s rich getting ever richer, with a total of 691 billionaires. Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate who has backed the Labour Party, increased his net worth by £9.7 billion to £13 billion” The Times (11 March).

Riding the tiger

Piers Morgan was made editor of the News of the World when he was only 28 years of age. Within two years he was editor of the Daily Mirror, a job he held for nine years until his “exclusive” of fake pictures of British guards abusing Iraqi prisoners was exposed. He has now published his memoirs The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade. It is the usual mix of celebrity-spotting and anecdotes that such memoirs tend to be. Here is an extract from a book review that reveals the high-minded thinking of our leaders. “Before the 1997 general election Morgan suggested to Blair that he shouldn’t forget his friends at the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror in his cosying up to Murdoch to win the “vote” of the The Sun. ‘Piers, I had to court him‘, said Blair. ‘It is better to be riding the tiger’s back than let it rip your throat out. Look at what Murdoch did to Kinnock‘” The Times (12 March).

Read it and weep

Jeffrey D. Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and special adviser to UNO chief Kofi Annan has just written a book called The End of Poverty. Being by a reformer who thinks that capitalism can solve the problem of world hunger, the book has limited value, but what cannot be denied is the mass of information that Sachs has gathered on the state of world hunger today. It makes for awful reading. “Currently more than 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive.” Every morning our newspapers could report “More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.” How? The poor die in hospital wards that lack drugs, in villages that lack anti-malarial bed nets, in homes that lack safe drinking water. They die namelessly, without public concern. Sadly such statistics rarely get written” Time (14 March).


The Game (2005)

Editorial from the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Politics today is a game of Ins and Outs in which gangs of professional politicians compete with each other to attract votes, the gang securing a majority of seats in parliament assuming responsibility for running the political side of the profit system.
To win votes they have to promise – and be believed – to improve things both for the population in general, as by managing the economy so as to avoid slumps and crises, and for particular groups within the population. When the economy is expanding or even just ticking over the Ins have the advantage. They can claim that this is due to their wise statesmanship and prudent management. Such claims are false as the economy goes its own way – expanding or contracting as the prospect of profits rises or falls – irrespective of which gang of politicians is in office. But making such claims can backfire as, when the economy falters, the Outs can blame this on the incompetence and mismanagement of the Ins. But that’s not true either since politicians don’t control the way the economy works.
The Labour politicians who took over from the Tories as the Ins in 1997 have been lucky in this respect. In the past, Labour periods in office had happened to coincide with the downturn phase of the economic cycle, but the last election in 2001 and the coming election this year have happened to coincide with the economy ticking over. So, instead of having to live up to their previous reputation of being the party of austerity, they have been in the position of being able to offer a few crumbs to voters.

But throwing crumbs to the people (or to carefully targeted sections of the people whose votes could swing things) is not the main purpose of government. Marx once wrote that the government is “but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. And it’s still true. The function of any government is to manage the common affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. This involves a number of things. Sustaining a context in which profit-making can continue. Spending the money raised from taxes (that are ultimately a burden on the capitalist class) in a prudent way on things that will benefit the capitalist class as a whole, such as providing them with an educated, relatively healthy and so productive workforce. Maintaining – and if need be using – armed forces to protect sources of raw materials, trade routes, investment outlets and markets abroad.

That’s what most government spending goes on, and balancing this against income from taxes is what budgets are essentially about. It is only because wage and salary workers, active or retired, have the vote that, occasionally if there’s a small margin of money spare, a few crumbs are offered to some section or other of the electorate.

No doubt, the pensioners, the home buyers and the families offered a few hundred extra pounds a year will accept these crumbs cast before them by Gordon Brown in his pre-election budget. Hopefully, they won’t accept them as bribes to vote for his particular gang of politicians, but simply because it would be stupid not to.

Nowadays most people have learned by experience and are rightly just as cynical about the politicians and their promises – and crumbs – as are politicians about how they get people to vote for them. But  cynicism is not enough. This should be turned into rejection. The game of Ins and Outs, to decide which gang of professional politicians should manage the common affairs of the capitalist class, only continues because most of us agree to take part in it.

But by voting for them we in effect give them the power to keep the capitalist system going. And that, not which particular gang of politicians happens to be in office, is the cause of today’s problems since built-in to capitalism is putting making profits before satisfying people’s needs.
Socialists are only too well aware that most people put up with capitalism, and go along with its political game of Ins and Outs in the hope of getting a few crumbs out of it, because they see no practicable alternative. But there is an alternative, as we explain in the articles in this issue.

Politics should be more than individuals deciding which politicians to trust to deliver some crumbs that they think will benefit them individually. It should be about collective action to change society. About taking over the whole bakery.

Pathfinders: What would a socialist society do about nuclear energy? (2005)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

What would socialist society do about nuclear energy?

The need for a radically new energy technology is not just pressing. As India, Asia and China rapidly  industrialise, it’s becoming a crunch issue. If China were to burn coal at the current U.S. level of two tons per person, the country would use 2.8  billion tons per year—more than current world production of 2.5 billion  tons.

And if the Chinese use oil at the same rate as Americans now do, by 2031 China would need 99 million barrels of oil a day. The world currently produces 79 million barrels per day and may never produce much more than that (Yahoo News, March 9)

Nuclear fission is firmly back on the agenda, with Labour and Tory hedging on the subject and only the unelectable Lib-Dems against. But the waste problem is unsolved and waste free nuclear (hot) fusion is still decades and hundreds of billions of dollars away. If only there was another way.

For scientists, it was like the moment Sir Perceval murmurs the fateful words in King Arthur’s ear: “Sire, I have seen it. The Grail. I had it in my very hands.”

When the world’s first successful cold fusion experiment was announced in 1989 the scientific establishment dropped its collective clipboard, rubbed its horn-rimmed glasses and gasped. It couldn’t be. Cold fusion, at last! Indeed it couldn’t, and alas, it wasn’t.

Like Sir Perceval, the team at Oak Ridge in Tennessee found it and lost it again. Nobody could reproduce the experiment. Cold fusion – the ability to convert matter into energy the same way the sun does it, but without the temperatures – is so fantastic an idea that everybody wants it to be true. A single match will light a cigarette, but the mass of that match, if converted according to Einstein’s equation ‘Energy = Mass times the speed of light’, would light London for months. Forget Nobel prizes, the scientist who delivers success at this will be famous forever for abolishing the world’s energy problems – forever. 

The idea of fusing heavy hydrogen nuclei at temperatures less than 10 million degrees Kelvin goes against every scientific principle. Cold fusion was off the agenda. And then, incredibly, with a new technique called sonoluminescence, it seemed possible again. By focusing sound waves into bubbles in acetone, experimenters, again at Oak Ridge, found bubbles forming with fantastic levels of heat, up to 10,000 Kelvin. The process has been called the ‘star in a jar’.

But was it fusion? BBC Horizon decided to recreate the experiment into bubble fusion (Feb 17) and got a negative result. Improved timings showed no generation of neutrons, one sure sign of fusion. Another problem was that 10,000 K is orders of magnitude too low for fusion. But the controversy rages on. The sun’s surface is only 7,000K because all the real heat is indoors, and new measurements suggest it may be the same with bubble fusion, with new bubbles in sulphuric acid being the hottest ever recorded (New Scientist, March 5).

What’s interesting is  that infinite energy would be as uncomfortable to capitalist markets as it is to scientific orthodoxy. It could never be allowed to get out. If bubble fusion ever becomes proved, we can absolutely rely on one thing – our electricity bills won’t go down. New technology tends to deliver wealth upwards, to the rich who own and control it, not downwards to the rest of us. An orgy of free energy would still have to wait for socialist society to be realized.

Will there be religion in socialist society?

Opinions are divided. Religious people obviously think there will be religion no matter what economic arrangements exist. Socialists tend to regard religion as the mind’s desperate attempt to invent unfalsifiable explanations for a disordered and insane reality, and they also point to religion’s long history of being used by ruling elites to control ignorant and fearful populations.
History indicates that the more a society knows about the world through science the less religious it becomes. In Britain today hundreds of parishes have fewer than ten in the congregation, many churches have closed down (some of them to become pubs, encouragingly) while others are closed through the winter or used as derelict hang-outs for drug addicts and prostitutes  (BBC1 News, Jan 19).

The raging controversy over allowing homosexuality in the Anglican church is partly informed by the sheer difficulty of getting any priests at all. The average age of a priest is 68, and in ten years half of them will be dead.

In France there are so few ordinations that priests are being imported from Senegal and Burkina Faso to mind parishes with 40 churches but congregations of five. These African priests blame western security and comfort (!), since back home they can get 5000 to a Sunday sermon . (BBC Radio 4, Jan 6).

The question is also open from a scientific perspective. Evolutionary biologists have taken up  E.O.Wilson’s idea that religion has an evolutionary advantage, and gone looking for the genetic evidence. The geneticist Dean Hamer in ‘The God Gene’ even claims to have found the holy gene itself, VMAT2 , (New York Times, Feb 19)  while the neuropsychologist Michael Persinger  claimed to be able to produce religious states in people by stimulating their temporal lobes with magnets (Economist, Dec 16, 04), although later research using  double-blind techniques has refuted this claim. Evidence supposedly citing identical twins’ similar levels of spirituality are scarcely conclusive since ‘spirituality’, if it exists, can not be measured.

Socialist society is likely to be full of parties, celebrations  and seasonal rituals, because they’re fun and because we all like to find meaning in life, but there’s no scientific evidence that socialists are ever likely to be more cosmic than sun worshippers in a beach paradise.
Paddy Shannon