Saturday, May 1, 2021

Darren Hayman - May Day 1894 (Chants For Socialists 2015)

You know what? This shouldn't really work, but it does. Darren Hayman putting an old William Morris poem to music.

It's wonderful. Happy May Day!



Our May Day Message (1952)

From the May 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Just over sixty years ago an international labour conference of reformers of various kinds, thrown up by the labour movement and movements for national self-determination, proposed that the workers throughout the world should take a holiday on the 1st May each year for the purpose of holding demonstrations as an expression of their international brotherhood. Each succeeding year until the outbreak of the first world war these demonstrations were held. On the platforms appeared a hotch-potch of political "leaders," Trade Union "leaders" "leaders" of nationalist movements and, of course, the ubiquitous "intellectuals." Fiery speeches were delivered and the emotions of huge audiences were stirred up until, at an agreed upon moment, a resolution expressing the international fraternity of labour, was put from each platform and carried with acclamation.

May Day is here again but, to the Labour movement, only as a faint memory of times long since gone by. The ideals of those times are now nearly dead and forgotten by the movement that sponsored them. Two devastating world wars, the rise of modern dictatorships, the struggles for new national groupings, the emergence of Labour governments and the unscrupulous and defiling hand of Russian "communism" have submerged these ideals in a world tortured and torn into fragments by conflicting sectional interests and breathlessly bent on a gigantic armaments race.

In place of the solidarity of labour workers in their trade unions take action to resist, or hinder, the employment of their fellows, both at home and from abroad; support national groups of capitalists in their struggle against foreign competitors; send deputations to employers to advise them on methods to adopt to help run the industries successfully and to resist foreign competition. Labour “leaders" who once cut a figure as rugged sons of toil, claiming to represent their fellows in antagonism to the interests of the employers, have now become transformed into pontiffs of industry and trade, supporters of “national” ideals and banquet addicts.

The unfolding of this sordid and bitter story, which has ended in hopes gone astray, we foretold at the beginning of this half century of disillusion. Its ending was inevitable because it started off on a false trail. It set out to lop off, bit by bit, the branches that sprouted from the tree of property ownership instead of uprooting the tree itself.

So this May Day finds us still in a system of production for profit, with its anarchy in production, its competition, its insecurity and its gloomy portents of a slump on the horizon. Again we call attention to our oft repeated May Day Message which is the only message of hope in a despairing world.

There is a solution to the troubles of to-day, a simple, complete solution, and one that can be applied without turmoil or war. Its application requires only the understanding and co-operation of the people of the world, which is guaranteed by their common humanity. That solution is the establishment of a new form of society—Socialism; a system in which there will be neither propertied nor propertyless because all that is in and on the earth will be the common heritage of all mankind. Each member of society will co-operate with his fellows to meet their mutual needs and will thereby be enabled to fully express himself by taking a direct part in the production of that which is useful, harmonious and pleasurable. The touchstone of production will be usefulness and not profitableness.

In place of the present antagonist elements, and the time-worn “solidarity of labour,” Socialism implies the harmonious co-operation and fraternity of all the inhabitants of the earth. This, and this only, is the real solution to the troubles that afflict the world to-day.
Gilmac.

The Decline of May Day (1951)

From the May 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism pollutes almost every institution with which it comes into contact. Whether such institutions are absorbed from a previous social system or whether they grow from the foundations of the capitalist system itself, they are either moulded to suit the interests of the capitalist class or are deflected from their original purpose to meet the needs of capital May Day is no exception.

From time immemorial men have adopted the practice of setting aside a day in each year to celebrate or commemorate some event. In earliest recorded times such days usually had a religious significance. Prior to the rise of the modern religions when men imagined that supernatural agencies were at work in everything around them, they set aside annual days for the worship of their various gods. With the spread of Christianity and other religions that accepted the central theme of “the one god," the annual days of pagan worship disappeared, but their place was taken by a considerable number of saints' days. On the days dedicated to the greater of the saints men rested from their work. G. M. Trevelyan in his "English Social History" tells us that:
  “But men rested on Sundays and an indefinite number of greater saints' days. Custom enforced this rule, and the church courts did useful service in exacting penance or fine for work on Sundays and Holy Days."—(Longmans Edition, p. 88).
The urge to produce wealth for an ever expanding market gave rise to the determination to keep men, and women, at work for as many days and hours as possible. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with a workers right to work and to create profit for his employer. If religious custom stood in the way, then religious custom must be overthrown. The saints days, as holidays, disappeared until today the only religious days of significance that remain as customary holidays, in an emaciated form, are Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Capitalism in its turn adopted the practice of days of celebration, although not in the form of days of rest. In different countries the day selected for flag-wagging and fireworks, patriotic speech making and military parades, is a day to commemorate the emancipation of the national capitalist class, either from the yoke of Feudalism or from the domination of a foreign capitalist power.

In America, the Fourth of July is the anniversary of American independence from British domination-independence Day. In France, the Fourteenth of July is a day to celebrate the acquisition of political power by the French capitalist class in 1789. It was the day of the fall of the Bastille. In Russia, the Seventh of November, the day of the fall of the Provisional Government and the seizure of power by the Bolshevik party, is a day of national celebration. In Britain, a day is earmarked on the 24th of May, the anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, to enable children to parade and rejoice over the “Glorious British Empire." These celebrations, like the empire, are dwindling. So on at length. New Zealand and Canada have Dominion Days on September 26th and July 1st respectively, whilst Northern Ireland has its Orangeman's Day.

In July 1889 the First Congress of the Second International met in Paris. This was a second attempt to form an international organisation of working class political parties, many calling themselves Socialist parties, in an endeavour to achieve international working class solidarity. The issue of an eight hour working day was foremost. In many countries, with varying degrees of success, the struggle for a reduction of the working day to eight hours had been carried on for the past decade. The Congress set about the task to make the eight hour day international and legal.

To this end the representatives of workers of 22 countries carried a resolution:
   “.. . There shall be organised a great International Demonstration on a fixed date, so that in all countries and towns simultaneously on the given day the workers shall demand of the authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours.”-(Quoted in “Labour's Turning Point,” edited by E. J. Hobsbawm.)
The day selected was May 1st and the first May Day Demonstrations were held in 1890.

This was not a day of celebration or commemoration but a day of demonstration; not a day of rejoicing or puerile sentiment but a day of demand with determination. It was to be a day on which the workers in all lands should cease work in order that they might congregate in some local, central place to evince their solidarity with one another. It was the beginning of a new kind of annual day—the workers’ day— a day of prominence in the class struggle.

The leaders of the reformist, self-styled “Socialist parties," had little conception of the class struggle. At the outset they altered the date of the demonstrations to avoid any question of strike action. Instead of the 1st of May they chose the first Sunday in May. The Congress carried a further resolution urging:
   “. . . to hold a single demonstration for the workers in every country and that this demonstration should take place on the First of May, and recommends strike action everywhere where such action is not impossible.”—(Quoted by Emile Burns in “Labour Monthly,” April 1932) 
The Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in 1904, also found it necessary to resolve on the matter.
   “Whereas the unity of the demonstration only exists in some countries, and in others not the First of May, but the first Sunday in the month is celebrated, the Amsterdam Congress reaffirms the resolution (of proceeding Congresses) and asks all socialist parties and trade unions of all countries to organise energetically for working-class demonstrations on the first of May . . . but this demonstration can be most effective only through the suspension of work on the 1st of May.”— (Quoted by Emile Burns in “Labour Monthly.” April 1932.)
The idea of a day of working class idleness was abhorent to the employers. Their toadies and cronies in the reformist political parties set to work to render May Day harmless. The Second International was not an alliance of Socialist parties but of parties akin to the British Labour Party; parties which neither accepted nor recognised the class struggle; parties which were nationalist in outlook and reformist m character. The International was powerless to enforce its will on its component parties. Gradually the class character of the May Day demonstrations evaporated. Not only were the demonstrations organised for the first Sunday in May instead of May the First, but where any demonstration was held on May the First it was invariably in the evening, so as to avoid dislocation to trade and stoppage of work. In 1927 the London Labour Party, soon followed by the Labour Party and trade union officials throughout the country, set out to boycott the “single demonstration of the workers in every country" by organising a series of local demonstrations in preference to the main demonstration that had always been held in Hyde Park, London and in similar open spaces in other cities and towns.

May Day today has little of its original character left. It is not taken seriously by many workers. Whereas it was once an opportunity for an outing with a definite purpose in view, it is now merely an opportunity for an outing, which few are prepared to take.

The national political parties that formed the Second International lined up with their respective capitalist gangs in the 1914-1918 war and urged their members at each others throats in a war they said would end war. No May Day demonstrations were held in this country during that war. The discontent amongst the workers following that war caused a brief revival of the May Day demonstration spirit. On May 2nd, 1920, the Daily Herald estimated that "not less than 8,000,000 workers took a full day's holiday” and the London demonstration was estimated at nearly one million. Similar demonstrations were held throughout the capitalist world and demonstrations were held in Japan, China, India and other eastern and colonial countries where they had not been previously organised. 1926, the year of the General Strike in this country, was another year of large May Day demonstrations, but, apart from these occasional bursts of enthusiasm, May Day as a day of demonstration of working class solidarity has steadily declined. The labour and trade union leaders have assisted this decline and helped to ensure that May Day shall not embarrass the capitalist class by providing an opportunity for international working class activity. Because, if the workers can act in world wide co-operation on one day in the year, there is no reason to suppose that they will not do so on the other 364 days.

As class consciousness grows amongst the workers in all lands, co-operative action will be planned. It will not stop at the organisation of marches and demonstrations to the parks and squares of the great cities. It wifi be co-operation to speed the abolition of capitalism.

Until then we will use May Day to re-emphasise our very real and genuine expression of solidarity with our fellow workers all over the world and to reiterate our pledge to oppose all capitalist wars and to work for the emancipation of our class without distinction of race or sex.
W. Waters

Our Message For May Day, 1948 (1948)

From the May 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

This time a hundred years ago the European world was immersed in conflicts that were bom out of the struggle of Capitalist industry to smear its murky thumb across the pages of history. Since then it has spread across the world, carrying war, ruin and misery in its wake.

Although the wounds of the last war are still open, millions still fret over the loss of their loved ones, and hunger and disease are ravaging a large part of the population of Europe and the East, the leading powers of the world are preparing to engage in another war tragedy with means of torment and destruction more terrible than mankind has ever known in even the most murderous epochs of its history. With cynical hypocrisy, after so recently exchanging vows of eternal peace and mutual congratulations about the final destruction of the dragon of autocracy which, they claimed, had for so long threatened the peace of the world, our masters, again bring forward, as an imperative justification for a new period of slaughter, the worn out claim of a battle to safeguard democracy. Thus in a world still suffering and torn by the dissensions thrown up by the last useless holocaust of slaughter, the war clouds are fast gathering again.

This new war that is foreshadowed is a struggle between the Eastern and the Western imperialistic powers, the old brigands and the new. In this country the Labour Party are in the seat of power and their attitude to the problem of war is the same as that of their predecessors in power—the defence of the interests of the British section of the capitalist class. The Communists, in their blind worship of Russia under the Bolsheviks, are defending the imperialistic policy of Russia in language that is a repetition of the familiar pleas put forward on behalf of the older imperialistic powers.

In these circumstances it is necessary to call attention once again to the following facts:
  • That the wealth of the world is produced by the labour of the working class of the world, who receive in return wages that are barely enough to provide a poor existence for themselves and their families;
  • That the wealth so produced takes the form of commodities, which are sold on the markets of the world on behalf of the capitalist class, the owners of the means of production, for the sole purpose of providing a profit for that class in order to enable its members to live in luxury without the necessity of working;
  • That this profit represents the difference between the value of what the worker produces and the value of what he gets, in the form of wages or salaries, to provide him and his family with means of subsistence;
  • That the pursuit of this profit, the result of the exploitation of the workers, is the fundamental cause of all modern wars which are quarrels between sections of the master class over the division of the spoil arising out of the robbery of the working class;
That, therefore, the workers of the world should unite across the false barriers of territory, race, colour and creeds into one world-wide combination of their class for the purpose of putting an end to their exploitation by abolishing the present system of capitalist production; in its place they should establish a socialist system, in which the means of production will he owned in common by the whole of mankind and used for the sole purpose of fulfilling equally the needs of each member of society, thus removing the profit motive as a social incentive and replacing it by the socialist principle of “from each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs.”

As the establishment of this socialist system of society is the only means to prevent wars we call upon the workers of all lands to join together to accomplish this end and we point out the need for haste if the world is to be saved from a devastation that might well involve all in a common ruin and put an end to humanity’s progress for hundreds of years to come.

We further affirm our determination, whatever the immediate future may bring, to continue our policy of opposition to war and our advocacy of Socialism as the only solution to the problems that beset the working class, no matter on what part of the world’s surface sections of that class may be employed.

This is our message for May Day, and it is the only message of hope in a world that appears to be on the verge of catastrophe.
Gilmac.

Mirthless May Day: The Workers and their future (1947)

From the May 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The legacy of World War Number 2 is not relished by its heirs. The dismal consequences of total conflict are ruins, starvation and despair. Nothing has been settled. On the contrary, the fears and uncertainties that haunted the minds of the workers previously are multiplied as they watch their rulers make pathetic attempts to grapple with a world that appears more complex than ever. Pity the poor “statesman”—the hurdles are upon the rider before he has time to get used to the saddle.

The Labour Government has been in power for nearly two years. They have not covered themselves with glory. It is no use pleading that they are trying to heal the wounds of war; these wounds show no signs of healing. A greater lack of food and houses for the workers at home; quarrels and military conflicts abroad. Is this the kind of world the workers expected from the party they helped to build and raise to power?

Added to this is the effrontery of the Labour politicians in aping every propaganda trick used by the capitalists whenever they wanted more work for less pay.
“Work harder and spend less.”
Full employment, but not full stomachs!
Whining about the "poverty” of "debt-ridden Britain” cuts no ice with Socialists. The capitalists of this country are not poor. Despite the hole made in their coffers by the war they are rich enough to allow their providers, the working-class, a higher standard of living and still have plenty left over for themselves. Why should they if Labour leaders are not ashamed to stump the country with the old familiar sob-story on the employers' behalf?

But our Labour politicians should occasionally read the press. They would have been informed that at the beginning of April this year £100 millions of British capital has been invested in the Union of South Africa for the purpose of establishing new industrial enterprises; in a recent issue of the Tribune it is revealed that the total of British capital invested in South America is still in the region of £900 millions. Think how much food this could buy.

The transfer of £100 millions must surely have enhanced the flavour of the Royal visit or is this purely co-incidental?

The swindle behind the "We-Are-Poor-Now” story is known to every company promoter. The capitalist class as a whole form themselves into a limited company known as the State. Thus they can incur debts collectively whilst as individuals they remain the owners of vast wealth. Was there ever a time when employers showed generosity?

The picture is no more inviting when we turn to world affairs.. At the time of writing the representatives of the big powers are in Moscow staking the frontiers from which they can launch the next world war. This is no exaggeration. Professor H. Laski argued at a meeting held in London on March 2nd that the Russian armies would only leave Germany if driven out by force. Every report from this conference of former allies confirms this opinion. This means that Europe will remain an armed camp until the next war starts.

The ruling class of Russia is playing a desperate game. No one can tell for certain what the conditions of the Russian masses are At the present time, for the facilities for independent inquiry normal to Western capitalism are absent. The standards of living must be nearer the Asiatic levels rather than the already lowered European standards. Guarded speculations made recently in the Manchester Guardian concern themselves with the parlous state of the Soviet State capitalist economy, which, despite the "blood transfusion" of plunder from Germany and Austria, must be at its lowest ebb since the civil wars of 1920. The return of Russian soldiers from higher-developed countries, must be giving serious trouble to the Russian authorities, for an intelligent comparison makes nonsense of Russian internal propaganda. The new law forbidding marriage with foreigners shows the straits to which the rulers of Russia are reduced. A further pointer is the brief report in the People dated April 6th that Kharkov will be occupied by troops to deal with “thieves” who have over-run the city.

Let there be no misunderstanding. The rivalry between the United States and Russia, which is nothing less than a dispute over the mastery of the entire globe, poses even more serious problems for the workers of this and other countries than did the conflict between Britain and Germany. Gone is the easy optimism of Labour circles about “friendship with our Soviet comrades.” The hypocritical statements by Mr. Attlee during the recent Parliamentary debates on foreign policy and conscription, asking for British military strength in order to “support U.N.O.,” deceived no one.

This is the situation to which the development and interplay of the forces of capitalist economic rivalries has brought the human race. At a time when all mankind could have been free to enjoy the fruits of its technical progress, the vast majority is condemned to slave more feverishly for the meanest subsistence and cower in fear of more terrible instruments of destruction. For this situation the movements of so- called “Social Democracy” and "Communism" must bear a large share of the blame. They have used the natural desires of working people for a better life to win power for themselves and by their ghastly failure have destroyed the aspirations of millions who might have become the builders of world socialism. Instead, cynicism and frustration dominate the working class political scene.

For this crime the parties responsible must eventually suffer. Already, all the signs point to further and more convulsive crises, political and economic, particularly in Britain, France, and, dare we say, in Russia?

In this country the Labour Government is resting on very shaky foundations. The press abroad freely speculates on the early possibility of its fall and the formation of a “Coalition." This fall might free many workers from the shackles of mistaken loyalties, and help to fit them mentally for the Socialist movement. One thing is certain: Only a rapid development in Socialist understanding can save the world from another, and more devastating, catastrophe. 
Sid Rubin

May Day, 1937 - A Warning (1937)

From the May 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another “May Day” has come and still the position of the workers is unchanged. Denied access to the means of wealth production, except by the consent of the capitalist owners of those means of production, the workers suffer the miseries arising from their enslaved condition.

On the surface the prospects for Labour do not appear very bright at present. In Europe the opportunities for working-class organisation and unity appear to have grown less. In Germany and Italy Hitler and Mussolini seem firmly entrenched in power and able to drive underground all attempts of the more active workers to organise some resistance to capitalist oppression. In Austria a situation similar in many ways exists and in Spain the workers are fighting a heroic battle, with the loss of thousands of valuable lives, striving to resist the attempt to fasten on them regime that promises to put an end for the present to working-class organisation of any useful kind. In America huge labour disputes over trade union recognition are, at this late day, the principal feature of industry.

As far as the Fascist and near-Fascist regimes are concerned, gloomy though the future may appear to the faint-hearted and the pessimists, there is at least one thing certain—no governmental system can carry on indefinitely that closely fetters opinion and refuses to allow any but official political and industrial organisations. However securely founded such administrations may appear, their internal contradictions will eventually bring disaster. Some of the security of these systems has been due to the fact that they have been prepared to adorn themselves with phrases borrowed from the Labour movement and they have also been prepared to destroy some of their members in the interests of expediency.

In all probability the Labour demonstrations, outside the countries under Fascist regimes, will take the form principally of protests against Fascism itself. This is a dangerous trend that may have unfortunate consequences for the worker in the future. Setting up Fascism as a peculiar and overriding danger to the working-class movement focuses attention on one aspect of capitalism only and plays into the hands of the capitalist rulers of the so-called democratic countries, giving them a useful slogan with which to rally the workers against any opposing capitalist groups they care to designate as “Fascist." In other words, it prepares the ground for a war between “democracy” and “Fascism” in pursuit of hidden capitalist aims—similar to the protestation and the reality of the last Great War.

As Fascism is at bottom but capitalism naked and unashamed, it is urgent that workers should not allow themselves to be ensnared in a net that there seems no doubt will be spread by crafty rulers experienced in the art of converting mass emotion to their own uses. Capitalist ownership of the means of production is the real source of the workers’ poverty and misery. Capitalism, by whatever name it is called, is the workers’ real enemy.

Capitalism is not only the workers’ real enemy, but its periodical financial and industrial convulsions show how creaky it is and how incapable of running smoothly. It produces contradictions and absurdities that glare at us everywhere and frequently bring to destitution and misery large groups of the world’s population. One important instance is before us now. Only a short time ago the producers in the wheat areas of the world were being reduced to destitution because, so we were told, the world was choked with unsaleable wheat —although millions of people were unable to get sufficient bread for their needs. America had huge stocks, a deal of which had to be used up in ways that practically amount to wasting it, while quantities were actually destroyed, in the effort to reduce the abundance that was bringing so much ruin. In the last few weeks the price of bread has gone up and, according to reports, a wheat famine is threatened. The wanton destruction under capitalist direction, together with a deliberate reduction in the sown areas and a ruinous harvest, have been the main factors in reversing the situation. The position has only been aggravated by heavy buying by Germany and Italy. What more could one want to make clear the inadequacy of capitalism as a social system?

Contradictions such as this show how important it is that workers should occupy themselves organising to end this system that oppresses them instead of merely demonstrating at times against effects of it.

It is good that workers are prepared to demonstrate their international solidarity, but it should be a demonstration of real and understanding solidarity. Not mere words and emotion that, like a weathercock, can be changed with every wind. Lack of real understanding of the workers’ unchanging wage-slavery while capitalism lasts, in spite of huge May Day demonstrations, enabled the opposing capitalist rulers to line up the workers against each other in the devastating war of twenty years ago. Lately the signs of another world war have made their ominous appearance with the beginning of an armaments race. It is an urgent matter that workers should reflect calmly and not allow plausible argument to manoeuvre them into the shambles again.
Gilmac.

Air Pressure (2021)

Beijing (Greenpeace)
From the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the middle of March a sandstorm resulted in orange skies and incredibly unhealthy air quality measurements in Beijing. Sand had blown in from western desert areas in amounts far higher than usual, and this was at least partly due to large-scale deforestation. Meanwhile in the UK, legal limits on toxic air pollution have been broken for a decade, and over nine-tenths of the country (including a quarter of homes) is affected by pollution from roads, much of which consists of tiny particles from brakes, tyres and the burning of fossil fuels; this affects human health and also the wellbeing of wildlife.

These are specific examples of air pollution, discussed more fully in a report State of Global Air 2020 produced by the Health Effects Institute in Boston, US (see www.stateofglobalair.org). It states: ‘Air pollution was the 4th leading risk factor for early death worldwide in 2019, surpassed only by high blood pressure, tobacco use, and poor diet.’ Women who are exposed to particulate air pollution are more likely to have babies who are born premature or have low birth weight, both of which may lead to health problems for the children.

Over ninety percent of the world’s population experience concentrations of ambient fine particle air pollution (PM2.5) above the WHO Air Quality Guidelines, the highest being in India, Nepal and Niger. Rates are fairly low in North America and most of Europe, and levels have declined in some regions, but not in those which are most polluted. Ozone pollution, which can be caused by and contribute to climate change and mainly results from the burning of fossil fuels, has also been steadily increasing over the last decade, despite decreases in some places, such as China and Russia. It affects food crops as well as human health. Household air pollution results from burning fuels such as coal for heating or cooking; the extent of this has been much reduced, but half the world’s population remains exposed, primarily in the least-developed countries, and it particularly affects babies.

Long-term exposure to air pollution contributes to increased risk of illness and death from heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and so on, with children and the elderly the worst affected. The estimate is that in 2019 it contributed to 6.67 million deaths, largely in Africa and Asia, including half a million deaths among infants who did not survive their first month. Compare the nine million or so who die each year from hunger and just under three million who die from obesity.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in cleaner and clearer skies in many locations, but it will take a lot more to restore clean air to as much of the planet as possible. Establishing a society that puts human well-being and the health of the planet first would be a major step in the right direction.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Melvin Tenner (2021)

Obituary  from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to report that Melvin Tenner died in April after failing to recover from a serious health incident in November. He was 74. He joined the old Paddington Branch in 1972 after meeting a member selling the Socialist Standard outside a tube station in West London. He had previously been associated with various left-wing groups. He had been at art college but at the time was working at a university bookshop. Subsequently he set up his own mail order bookselling business, the Academic Book Club. He used to recount how on one occasion after innocently selling a collection of difficult-to-get technical books to an Iraqi he was interviewed by MI6. Maybe they mistakenly thought that his politics inclined him to support Saddam Hussein. Whatever, the Iraqis weren’t pleased either as the books were old and they thought Melvin had diddled them when they compared the old pounds shillings and pence on the cover with his standard finder’s fee.

In the Party he was one of the editors of the Socialist Standard in the 1980s both as a writer of carefully crafted articles and as designer. We reproduce one of the covers he designed.

Somewhat lugubrious but with a dry wit that reflected his dexterity and intelligence, Melvin was a dedicated socialist and involved in a range of other Party activities too. These included more recently being a member of the Executive Committee, and, at the time of his death, a Party Trustee and Secretary of West London branch.

Outside the Party he was a lifelong Fulham FC supporter and previously Chair of the Fulham Supporters’ Club, leading a successful campaign to raise money from fans to keep the club going. Our condolences go to his family.


Blogger's Note:
A non-political obituary for Melvin was posted on the website of the Fulham Supporters' Trust.

It's a shame that the obituary didn't mention that Melvin was the partner of the late comrade, Eva Goodman, another stalwart member of the SPGB.

Rest in Peace, comrade. 

Who invented money? (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whenever goods are systematically exchanged and so become ‘commodities’, one commodity evolves as what Marx called the ‘universal equivalent’ that can be exchanged for any other commodity. So nobody invented money; it came into being spontaneously. At first this money-commodity was gold or silver measured by weight. The next stage in the evolution of money was coinage, where a state stamped an amount of metal to authenticate its weight. In the European tradition this is attributed to King Croesus of Lydia, an area now in western Turkey, in the sixth century BC.

Historical research now suggests that coins may have been invented in China and at a much earlier date, as pointed out by the Mises Institute in an email note of 15 March:
 ‘China was one of the first countries to develop a metallic money that was valued and exchanged by weight. Evidence suggests that this monetary regime originated during the Shang Dynasty (1766–1122 BC) or the Zhou Dynasty (1122–221 BC). China was also one of the first countries to use precious metals as money and may have invented coined money.’
Also:
  ‘While ideas about the development of money were expressed as early as the seventh century BC, the most prevalent view of money’s origin is attributable to a politician of the sixth century BC. Shan Qi (b. 585 BC) contended that money was invented by one of the ancient philosopher-kings to measure the value of goods. However, several Chinese writers later disputed this story and argued that money originated as a market phenomenon. Sima Qian (104~91 BC) [sic: actually 145~86 BC], Luo Mi (1165~1173 AD) and Ye Shi (1150~223 AD)[sic: actually 1223] basically argued that money grew out of the trading of commodities and could not have emerged in the absence of commodity exchange. Money was only later adopted by kings as an aid in ruling their countries’ (bit.ly/3dc24Sm).
This same debate took place in Europe, with some arguing that coins were introduced by states to enable taxes to be paid in that form and others that they evolved out of commodity exchange. The debate is still ongoing with the proponents of so-called ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ and David Graeber in his book Debt arguing for the former, a position known in the literature as ‘Chartalism’. The other view is defended by Marxists and the Austrian school of economics as represented by the Mises Institute – strange bedfellows as Ludwig von Mises was an arch-enemy of socialism as well as of state capitalism (which he tended to confuse with socialism).

The case for the state being the inventor not just of coins but of money as a ‘universal equivalent’ is given some plausibility by the fact that today the currency – money as a means of exchange – is entirely the creation of the state, ‘fiat’ money as it is known. Gold and silver coins have long ceased to be used as a means of exchange; this is now made up of paper notes and metal discs issued by the state and which have no value in themselves. They are just tokens or counters that can be used to buy things.

However, the commodity-exchange origin of money is still there. Commodity production and exchange is basic to capitalism and the ratios in which they exchange for each other are still related to their labour content. The state issuing more money tokens than needed to carry out these exchanges does not increase the amount of values in existence or to be exchanged. What it changes is the unit in which the price of goods is expressed, reducing it and so raising the number of them to express prices, i.e., increasing prices all round. Which is why the ‘chartalists’ of MMT would come unstuck if ever their policy was to be implemented.

50 Years Ago: Another Anti-Strike Bill (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bill also provides for the families of men on strike to be reduced below the government’s own poverty line, at the moment £8.50 plus rent a week for a married couple. (…) The extra suffering this will cause should please employers like Lord Stokes who from their well-upholstered boardrooms have been complaining of strikers being featherbedded. Extreme poverty will once again become an important factor in weakening the workers’ side in strikes. How useful financial hardship amongst the strikers can be to the employer was well shown during the Post Office strike and the postmen would undoubtedly have had to give in earlier had this new Bill been in operation.

The government’s Social Security Bill is a vicious anti-working class measure which is intended to hurt the wives and children of workers in order to discourage strikes and force strikers back to work. Like the Industrial Relations Bill, it will strengthen the overall position of the employing class in its struggle with the working class over wages and conditions. For this reason the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to this Bill.

But in doing so, we have no illusions about the role of governments in capitalist society. We do not really expect them to subsidise strikes against their masters, the capitalist class, and are not surprised that the present government is taking advantage of working class apathy and ignorance to cut back on some social reforms which, however marginally, favour the working class. This apathy and ignorance is partly the result of the failure of reformist parties like Labour and of the propaganda of the capitalist press. The old socialist saying that the best way to get or defend reforms (if that is what you want) is to build up a strong revolutionary Socialist movement remains true. That is our policy for dealing with the current Tory attacks on long-standing social reforms.

(Socialist Standard, May 1971)

Humans Being Human (2021)

Editorial from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a terrifying time. This is truly the most cliff-edge, make-or-break moment in the history of the world, in the human story.

Since we first emerged as a species, many thousands of years ago, humans have done two things. We have invented and built more and more powerful tools with which to supply our needs. Technology is now developing exponentially, so that even in a matter of months, huge advances occur. Secondly, we have formed different social systems, each giving way to its successor every few hundred years or less.

From early ‘hunter gatherer’ societies, through ancient slavery, medieval feudalism, early mercantile capitalism, industrial capitalism and today’s global, digital capitalism, the structure of society has changed dramatically. New technologies have made it necessary to revolutionise the way work (and every other aspect of society) is organised. Power struggles between different classes have been the mechanism of revolutionary change. Each new social system has had its own social relations, its norms, its priorities… and always at the heart of each system is the key working relationship which defines its way of providing for humanity’s survival.

Throughout the world today this defining feature is employment. Wage slavery. Salaried staff. Ninety-nine per cent of the population having to work in return for payment only meeting their most basic needs for the most part, whilst we devote our energies to creating far greater wealth for the shareholders and/or state plutocrats who own and control major capital resources.

Human behaviour is more diverse than that of other animals. As a species we are extremely adaptable, versatile, changeable – and able to co-operate with one another in highly complex and sophisticated ways – if we feel the need and if we so choose. Each of these successive social systems we see evolving through human history has made humans act in certain ways, has shaped our incredibly changeable human behaviour anew.

The reason we live in terrifying times is that the social system we live under now has reached breaking point. The tension is more than palpable. The way that society has been structured for the past few hundred years is no longer tenable. We have the technology and resources to feed, clothe, house and meet all the needs of several times the world’s population. But the social priority is still to generate financial profit for a tiny minority, and if production is not profitable, it gets closed down. Repeatedly. Even whilst people starve.

And that’s just the start of it. The world-wide social system we live within also causes, as inevitable consequences of its in-built priorities: war, crime, poverty, climate crisis, homelessness, corruption, competition, global disharmony and conflict, failure to plan, failure to provide for emergencies…

There is a glaringly obvious solution to all of this, which we set out and explore in the pages of this magazine, and in all of our work as a democratic political movement for genuine socialism: a new, co-operative commonwealth in which we each contribute according to our abilities, and take according to our needs.

Some will object that this solution ‘goes against human nature’. They are wrong. It is human nature to solve problems through co-operation, intelligence, hard work and determination. What such opponents of social progress mean by ‘human nature’ is that positive solutions may challenge much of the human behaviour which has been fostered by the current, cut-throat, competitive system we struggle and suffer under. But even within this sick, rotten, outdated system there are constant, incessant reminders of the reality of human co-operation, intelligence, rationality, compassion and solidarity. It is today’s world capitalism which is the true enemy of our nature as humans, as it pits us against one another and causes endless unnecessary misery.