Friday, April 23, 2021

Progress and Politics. (1923)

Book Review from the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Progress and Politics. by Ramsay Muir. Methuen & Co., 36, Essex Street, W. C.2. Price 3s. 6d.

The dust cover advertises this book “as an attempt to survey the whole field of politics from the standpoint of a progressive who is deeply dissatisfied with many aspects of the existing order, but who is convinced that the Socialist scheme of reconstruction is no better than a will o’ the wisp.”

After reading the book we can share the author’s conviction concerning what he calls “the Socialist scheme of reconstruction,” for throughout “Socialist” is used to denote the Labour Party, and for the workers the schemes of that party, like the schemes of the Liberal Party, are will o’ the wisps.

We have no space here to quarrel over the meaning of words, but to apply the term Socialist to the Labour Party is unfair both to responsible Socialists and to the Labour Party. The Labour Party is not, and never has been, a Socialist Party. Even its own publicists admit that, as witness Mr. Snowden’s statement that
  “the British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle.”—(Page, 528, “Manchester Guardian” Reconstruction Number, 26th October, 1922)
And so, while Mr. Muir is convinced the futility of Labourism, he says nothing about Socialism, and it is therefore impossible to know whether he has any convictions on this subject.

But more of this anon; for the present the book itself provides ample scope for comment. It can be divided into three sections, dealing with (1) the broad aims of Liberalism, 2) the achievements of Liberalism in the past, and (3) the Liberal solution of immediate problems. 

To take the last first.

It proposes as a solution of modern financial problems, increased death duties (the capital levy is discussed and turned down), the League of Nations as a means to abolish war, and a re-organisation of industry and an improved dole system to solve the present unemployment problem

The capital levy and death duties are no concern of the workers. The incidence of taxes falls on the people who can pay them, not on the propertyless class. Financial problems are therefore problems for master class, who will have to solve them unless the workers do so by ending the system which engenders them.

As for the League of Nations, only a Liberal can imagine that it will prevent wars. They have their basis in the economic structure of society itself, and result from the struggle for markets under competitive production. And although the workers allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder, they are all the time only fighting their masters’ battles while neglecting their own. The futility of expecting to end war under capitalism by peaceful negotiation is shown with naive clearness by our author himself on page 89, where he writes :
  “It was by the use of the Concert of Europe that Sir Edward Grey succeeded in averting the almost annual threats of war by which Europe was disturbed during the years 1906 to 1914, and he could have succeeded in averting the final menace of 1914 by the same means if Germany had only permitted the concert of Europe to come into being.”
Moreover, somebody will be doing things like this again, for Mr. Muir is not going to trust a pacific League of Nations with an army,
  “for the commander of such an army would have in his hands the means of making himself the despot of the world.”
The League of Nations is to be bossed, not boss, you understand !

And then unemployment. As this did not arrive with the war, but was quite a flourishing problem which should have appealed to Liberals of the past prior to 1914, and as “it is a problem of manageable dimensions capable of a reasonable and just solution” (page 133), it is strange that it was not solved by one of the many Liberal Governments the workers have chosen for themselves. But, there, even Liberals cannot do everything at once, and while the House of Lords needed reforming, what time had they to deal with a problem like unemployment, which was soluble and would therefore present no difficulty? The solution is Government relief work, and insurance by industries. Of course,
  “there would remain a large group of industries which could not be directly helped by this method ; the textile trades, for example. In these industries the only way of minimising—for that is all that is possible—the evils of a period of exceptional trade depression would be a system of organised relay work with partial unemployment relief.” —(Page 136.)
As Mr. Ramsey Muir does not know, or at least does not say, how periods of “exceptional trade depression” can be avoided, this is an admission of blank failure and shows that even Liberalism of the pinkest hue will not give the workers that security of which Mr. Muir prates.

So much for the future Liberalism. What of the past?

In his outline of past achievements, our author is continually compelled to confess that Conservatives shared in the so-called reforms of the nineteenth century. Thus we get frequent passages like these :
  “This Act (giving the counties representative councils) of 1888, though it had been drafted by a Liberal statesman, was actually carried by a Conservative Government.”—(Page 94.)

   “A Liberal Act of 1871 saved the unions from this danger (of prosecutions for conspiracy in restraint of trade), though it had to be supplemented by a Conservative Act in 1875.”—(Page 95.)

  “In the early days, a great Tory philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury, was one of the most persistent advocates of factory legislation, which always had Liberal majorities.”—(Page 100.)

   “Conservative Ministries and Parliaments contributed from time to time to the work.”—(Page 101.)
From this it is seen that if the worker had cause to be grateful for these reforms, if they mitigated the evils of his slave condition, his gratitude must be showered on Liberalism and Conservatism alike. Such reforms have not fundamentally altered the position of the working class, however, and no gratitude is needed. And if Factory Acts and the abolition of slavery are achievements to be referred to with pride, does Mr. Muir forget that the Liberals like Cobden, so energetic in freeing slaves, were equally energetic in opposing Factory Acts? And in spite of capitalist historians, was the emancipation of slaves so disinterested and high-minded as Mr. Muir would have us believe? The Act liberating slaves was passed in 1832. David Hume had already pointed out in 1711 that
  “from the experience of planters, slavery is as little advantageous to the master as to the slave, wherever hired servants can be procured. A man is obliged to clothe and feed his slave and he does no more for his servant. The price of the first purchase, therefore, is so much loss to him, not to mention that the fear of punishment will never draw so much labour from a slave as the dread of being turned off and not getting another service will from a free man.”
And in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” occurs this passage :
  “Though the wear and tear of a free servant be equally at the expense of his master, it generally costs him much less than that of a slave.”
The liberation of slaves was as charitable and disinterested as is the sending of “armies of missionaries whom Britain maintained” into every land, which our author claims to be characteristic of a new policy of Liberalism (vide page 92).
  “The purpose of the Missions is not to develop trade, but trade is inevitably developed by missions. They steadily increase material needs: soaps, oils, cloths, sewing machines, books, tools, follow hard on Mission enterprise. Missions teach thrift, industry and honesty in commercial dealings. It is worthwhile for business men to support Missions if from no other motive than that they create new, larger and better markets for their goods.”—(Record of the Home and Foreign Mission work of the United Free Church of Scotland, December, 1919, page 267.)
These are a few of the past achievements of Liberalism which Mr. Muir rakes up. There are some he has forgotten. What of Mr. Asquith sending soldiers to Featherstone in 1893, when the miners were shot down, and Churchill’s calling out of troops at the time of the Dock Strike in 1911, when, by mistake, of course, Mr. Tillett told the dockers to rush the bakers’ shops? For an author who chides Labour orators with trusting to the ignorance of their hearers (page 86), this is a serious omission. And how does he square this use of force with the statement that the Conservative is distinguished from the Liberal by
  “the use of force rather than persuasion as the easiest weapon for dealing with any sign of revolt against the established order.”—(Page 9.)
The use of force as a protection to the master class is another honour shared equally by these two parties, and with the advent of a Labour Government there will arise a third participator.

Force is the foundation of capitalist domination, and that force is obtained through Parliament; capitalist control there means capitalist control everywhere. The workers therefore have nothing to gain by supporting any party which seeks to maintain that control. Concessions and reliefs may have been granted in the past by both parties, but none of these concessions, none of these vaunted reliefs, such as Old Age Pensions, State Insurance, etc., have altered the general position of the workers in society. They are still slaves, and whilst Liberalism, Conservatism, or Labourism has their attention they will remain slaves. Mr. Muir admits that
  “Liberalism and Conservatism are united in their belief that private enterprise must, in the future as in the past, provide the main driving force in the economic sphere.”—(Page 7.)
And that statement damns Liberalism for the workers, to whom the only problem of vital importance is the problem of ownership and control of the means of life. The ending of private ownership solves the problem of the division of the product of industry, in which Liberalism promises the workers a larger but still a small share. The object of the workers should be to dispossess the master class. They therefore have no use for any party which denies the class struggle. For the achievement of their emancipation the Liberal Party is as useless as the Conservative or Labour Parties. The workers alone can free themselves from the burden of their condition—this they can do when they wish by organising on a class basis.
W. J. R.

Co-operation—A hopeless experiment. (1923)

Editorial from the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 

There are many who believe that the Co-operative movement will provide an easy and painless means of transforming present competitive production into production upon a basis of common property. There are others who oppose the Co-operative movement on the ground that it is Socialist. Those who advance these views have not given sufficient consideration to fundamental matters.

The means of production to-day are in the hands of a small but tremendously wealthy class; a class that is powerful because it controls the State machinery. The means of production are operated by a large but poverty-stricken class of wage workers ; a class that is in slavery because it leaves the State machinery in the hands of its oppressors.

Production is on a gigantic scale, based upon sale for profit. The increase in quantity and complexity of the machinery used makes necessary ever less and less workers to turn out the things required by society. The big capitalists undersell the small, and eventually drive increasing numbers of the latter out of business. Only a short time ago the Small Traders’ Association was complaining bitterly that their members were being rapidly wiped out of trade. In fact, the small traders are becoming little more than salesmen for the powerful trusts.

Assuming the continuance of present production for sale, the large capitalists can only be driven out of business by a still larger type. Any organisation that is going to offer serious opposition to the present owners of wealth must have an enormous capital at its disposal. Imagine the size of capital an organisation would require to, compete successfully with, say, the Steel, Oil, or Meat Trusts, or similar gigantic corporations ! Further, such an organisation to live and flourish would have to adopt the same methods as its competitors—exploit its workers.

Over a hundred years ago Robert Owen conceived the idea of organising a new society in the midst of the old. He thought the workers could band themselves together into producing and distributing groups, spread over the whole of society, and eventually freeze the capitalist out. Subsequently he had to modify his ideas somewhat, owing to the strength of the opposition, and tried experiments by establishing co-operative colonies on comparatively virgin soil—but, of course, with people brought up in capitalist surroundings. These experiments all ended in disaster; they ultimately ruined him and demonstrated the futility of attempting to found ideal societies in a capitalist world.

There was an excuse for the dreams of the heroic and good-intentioned Owen. In his time knowledge of the organisation and development of society was comparatively small; and he was one of those by whose disastrous experiments later generations were to acquire a sound understanding. Since his time social investigators have piled up literally mountains of information, showing how one form of society grows out of another, owing to the operation of forces that already exist in the old society; and that a new society is never grafted on to the. old, as it were, from the outside.

In Owen’s day the capital required to start an important industry was but a tiny fraction of what is required to-day; and the power that lies in the hands of those controlling the State was not yet sufficiently realised by the oppressed class or its would-be deliverers. The powerful capitalists have it in their hands to smash to pieces, whenever they wish, any rising productive or distributing organisation that challenges their existence, long before such an organisation could reach any serious proportions. The very fact that they make no serious effort to interfere with the development of the various Co-operative Societies shows that they expect no dangerous opposition from these societies.

In his “History of Co-operation,” the late G. J. Holyoake, one of the best-known advocates of Co-operation, defined it as follows :
  “The equality sought is not the mad equality of equal division of unequal earnings, but that just award of gains which is proportionate to work executed, to capital subscribed, or custom given. . . and there is equality in a co-operative society, when the right of every worker is to a share of the common gain in the proportion to which he contributes to it, in capital, or labour, or trade—by hand or head ; and this is the only equality which is meant, and there is no complete or successful co-operation where this is not conferred, aimed at, and secured.”—(Vol. I., page 4.)
From this it will be seen that he who subscribes most capital will gain most; in other words, those who “have not,” who are the ones that most require aid, will remain as they were before—without. Inequality in the means of living, and hence private property, is at the root of the Co-operative movement—that is, the very opposite to Socialism.

On page 5 of the same volume the author states :
  “It touches no man’s fortune ; it seeks no plunder ; it causes no disturbance in society ; it gives no trouble to statesmen.”
Here the death knell of Co-operation is sounded, from the point of view of any advantage it offers to the workers. If those who own the means of production are not to have their fortunes touched, from whence are to come the productive powers of tomorrow? If there is to be no disturbance in society, then the slaves are to remain as they are—slaves. If it is to give no trouble to statesmen, then the capitalist can rest content that, so far as the Co-operative movement is concerned, the parasite will be kept for ever.

At present the mass of the people obtain, on the average, barely sufficient to keep themselves and their families from starvation; consequently they have no appreciable sum to invest in Co-operative shares. Their wages are so small that as a general rule they must buy in the cheapest market. The wealthy Trusts have demonstrated again and again that, when necessary, they can undersell and bankrupt their smaller opponents.

The Co-operative concern can only flourish by adopting up-to-date methods, employing as few as possible workers to obtain a given output. If, therefore, we were to assume a growth of the Co-operative concerns to an important size it would mean a parallel growth of unemployment. There would be less who could buy shares and more who wanted bread. The problem facing the workers of obtaining the wherewithal to live would be intensified instead of being abolished.

The soundness of this position is borne out by the history of the Co-operative movement. It has adopted capitalist methods and exhibits capitalist evils. At the moment of writing, 15,000 employees of the Co-operative Wholesale Society are out on strike against a reduction in wages. (“Daily News,” 11/6/23).

Co-operation offers no easy road to emancipation. Those who suport the movement,, such as the Communist Party and the Labour Party, are inviting the workers into that alley where they become temporarily disillusioned and apathetic.

The abolition of wage slavery necessitates recognition of the fact that the workers are robbed of the wealth they produce; that the capitalists are the robbers; that the workers can produce for their own consumption more easily than for an idle class ; that the robbery can only be prevented by the producing class owning the wealth it produces ; that such ownership can only be attained by taking from the capitalists the control of the political machinery and converting private ownership into social ownership.

The new society will therefore grow out of the old and not be imposed upon it. All that is valuable in the old society will be retained, and all that is harmful will be abolished. The central idea of present production—profit, with its basis private property—will give place to production for use on the basis of common property.

More for a new reader. (1923)

From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 

We presume that you know little of Socialism. Perhaps you have a dim idea that Socialists are terrible people whose deliberate aim in life it is to overturn everything ; destroy your most cherished ideals out of sheer downright devilment. Let us have a little heart-to-heart talk on the subject. We will not hold your attention long, but we may perhaps assist you to see things in a different way from what you usually see them.

There are many parties appealing for your support, some of whom do so on the ground that they are Socialist parties. “How am I to know which is the right one?” you may ask. You are bewildered by the multitude of parties who all claim that their object is to help you.

There is a well-known proverb that contains an element of truth. It runs : “God helps those who help themselves.” Therefore avoid those who make a great fuss about their desire to help you : seek rather for information from those who urge you to help yourself.

Man is spoken of as being a social animal. He associates with other men—forms part of a society. A society is a group of individuals bound together by a common principle. The larger sense in which the word “society” is generally used refers to the common principle of obtaining a living. Whatever is referred to as “social” concerns man in his connection with other men. It is the opposite to individual or private. For example, when we say a thing is privately produced we mean that one man produces it without assistance ; when we say such a thing is socially produced, we mean that different men produce portions of a thing and their combined efforts make up the finished article. Likewise, when we say a thing is privately owned, we mean one man or a small group of men own it; but when we say it is socially owned, then we mean it belongs equally to the whole of those forming the society.

You are living in a society to-day in which the things produced, and the tools by means of which they are produced (in other words, the wealth of society), are privately owned : that is, owned by one individual or by a small group of individuals—either a single capitalist or a small group of shareholders.

The aim of the Socialist is to make these things social property : to convert these privately owned goods and tools into goods and tools commonly owned by the whole of society. He who acts in such a way as to bring this new state of affairs into being is a Socialist : he who acts in a way that hinders progress towards this end is evidently not a Socialist, no matter what he may call himself.

Owing to the private ownership of wealth the majority of the people of this country are unable to obtain the things they need except by working for those that own them; and these wealth owners can employ whom they please and discharge whom they please, so that the mass of the people depend for their existence upon the desires or fancies of a comparatively few masters. The majority of people are therefore slaves of the wealth owners, because unless they act as the latter wish they are liable to be sacked and lose the wages upon which they depend for getting the necessaries of life.

These two types of people, masters and workers, broadly speaking make up society. They form two distinct classes, one of whom depends for a living upon working, and the other upon owning what is produced.

The workers, then, are wage-slaves. The masters are capitalists because they own capital—wealth (tools and so forth) which they advance with the object of getting back more wealth than was originally advanced or laid out. History will tell you that the wealth the capitalist advances was originally obtained by robbing the mass of the people of their land and liberty.

It may perhaps surprise you to hear that a few hundred years ago there was neither a landless man nor a beggar throughout the whole of this country. When you hear that and see that the mass of the people are without land and practically beggared to-day, you may wonder how such a change has come about. If you want further information of this, go to the nearest library and look for a book entitled, “Industrial History of England,” by H. de B. Gibbins. It is a book of only about 250 pages. In it you will find much valuable information of early and recent conditions in this country. You will learn how the land was stolen from the people and passed into the hands of a few individuals; how the people were ruthlessly driven off the land and herded into manufactories ; how finally, after many trials and troubles, the one-time member of a peasant commune, owning his land and tools in common, became the wage-slave of to-day, owning nothing but his power to labour, and compelled for his living to sell this power to the present master class, the descendants of those who robbed his forefathers.

So much for the “original” capital of the masters. The extra wealth they obtain over and above that laid out is due to the fact that you produce a quantity of wealth to-day that suffices to pay your wages, make, good what is necessary for further production, and still leave a substantial amount over on which the master and his family and those that minister to the enjoyment of him and his family, live upon. You thus produce surplus wealth—wealth that keeps an idle class in luxury. You keep parasites.

Between you and your masters there is a constant struggle going on over the destination of the wealth produced. You struggle to obtain as large a share of the wealth you produce as possible. It is a share you think of, you don’t think of obtaining the whole, because you think of, and argue about, a high or a low wage. Your thoughts are bound up with the wages system. The masters on their side resist your desire for high wages and pay you as low wages as they can. This struggle over the division of the wealth you produce is an expression of what the Socialist calls the class war.

It you have followed the argument so far, it must be obvious to you that the masters will not give up their privileges without a bitter struggle; a struggle that can only end when you have obtained control of the whole of the wealth you produce; in other words, when you have established Socialism.

The masters, in their fight to keep their privileged position, employ any weapon that they think will assist them. The all-powerful weapon is the machinery of Parliament, which gives them control of the Army, Navy, Air, and Police Forces—those forces which they employ against you when particularly bad conditions drive you to go out on strike. This power you give to your master at election time when you vote them into Parliament.

This Parliamentary weapon, however, has one drawback ; it is inclined to be a rather open illustration of the opposition between your interests and those of your masters, and is likely to bring to your notice the fact that the modern State is on the side of privilege and against the oppressed.

There are other weapons the masters employ that are less obvious and frequently very effective. Religious teaching is one of them. You are led to believe that some supernatural power hath ordained it that man shall eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and you are assured that you are the man to whom this precept refers. You usually forget to ask : “What of the master who works not and yet eats plenty?” You are taught that life on this earth is a purgatory through which you must pass in order to reach the paradise somewhere above. In fact, you are taught to think little of, and not worry about, the trials and tribulations of your short life in this world, as it will be all made up to you in the next. But you will notice that those who subscribe most to religious bodies, and who are most anxious that you should accept the religious outlook, take no chances, but avoid the trials and tribulations of this world, leaving the “hereafter” to take care of itself.

Now you can easily see how useful it is to the master that you accept a view such as that outlined above. Being assured of an endless good time hereafter, providing you work hard and obey those who are over you, you are likely to be content with a slave position here below ; working under bad conditions at low wages without protesting, allowing your masters to enrich themselves to what extent they wish.

Among other methods that suit your masters’ interests are those that keep your mind occupied with petty details ; multitudes of so-called “remedies” for minor evils that waste your time and energy to such an extent that you are prevented from applying the one sweeping solution for all your troubles—the abolition of the cause of your troubles, and that is, as you have seen, the private ownership of wealth.

When the wealth produced, and the tools by means of which it is produced, have been made into the common property of society, no one will want either work or food, because all will give to society of his best and will receive from society the best it can give, regardless of age, sex, or occupation.,

We are members of the working-class, and we want you to join us and help us to carry on the struggle for Socialism. Why are we anxious for your aid? Are we moved by a desire to help you? If you have followed carefully the position outlined above you will see that we are in the same mess as you are, and that we cannot get out of the mess except by the same way as you. We want Socialism because it offers us the only means of leading healthy and happy lives; but we cannot get Socialism until you want it. Therefore we want you to want Socialism and to join with us to fight for it, then we will all have an equal opportunity of enjoying the best that life can offer.