Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Words and Men. — Part 4 (1934)

From the January 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard


As the old aristocracy merged into the titled bourgeoisie, literary form and substance gradually extended to comprehend more and more of the interests of the bourgeoisie. The growth of sciences was reflected in the increasing use of prose and its extreme virility and terseness. The firm establishment of individualistic society produced the novel as an accepted and popular art-form. The need of commercial society to know the happenings of its different sections and localities called into being the regular news-sheets, and we have the beginnings of journalism. Daniel Defoe, a class-conscious bourgeois, has been called the first English novelist and the first journalist, Though he slightly preceded the first regular periodicals, he was a prolific and imaginative pamphleteer and one of the first to issue graphic topical accounts of spectacular events. His Robinson Crusoe (1719), directly descended from the Elizabethan narratives of authentic voyagings, is a masterpiece of homely and convincing detail and the first outstanding landmark on the road to realism: Defoe, Swift, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Austen, Thackeray, Dickens—the genealogy is plain.

Pope, who applied flawlessly classical technique to topical and even trivial subjects, represents both the culmination and the collapse of aristocratic poetry. Steele and Addison, elegantly witty essayists, supplied the popular demand for news and culture; all their Tatler and Spectator articles show clearly the steady growth of detailed realistic description, always, of course, of bourgeois households and habits. Both were recognised leaders of literature, and it is significant that both also held high political office. Johnson followed them with similar forms, but more widespread knowledge.

The master-stylist, however, of this—or perhaps of any—age is Swift, whose terse, bare, virile language clothes with forceful economy his scalding invectives on human society. He saw the deficiencies and evils of social life without in the least understanding their cause. His best-known work is Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a satirical romance which commonly fails of the appreciation it deserves; no one who delights in social criticism couched in superb language can afford to miss it. A lesser work, The Modest Proposal, is a vitriolic pamphlet which for irony has never been surpassed.

Swift’s passionate outcry against man’s claim to be a reasonable being itself demonstrates the extensive sway of the cult of “Reason” at this time. For the best examples of this cult we must turn again to France, where the forces of incipient capitalism straining at the leash of feudal institutions were producing ideas of revolt. Commercial production was dammed up; the capitalists were becoming more and more conscious of the need to attain power; and a revolutionary literature was thrown up by the political and economic aspirations of the would-be dominant class. Those embryonic theories of Liberty, Justice, Reason and Universal Science, which were proclaimed during the Renaissance, were now brought down to earth, and exemplified by reference to everyday experience. The symbol par excellence of feudal conservatism and repression being Holy Mother Church, the struggling capitalists directed much of their energies full tilt against that "infamous” institution. A weapon lay ready to their hand: the struggles of the English capitalists had also been aimed largely at Catholicism, and criticism had gone beyond Puritanism: it had produced the elements of materialism in the writings of Bacon, Hobbes and Locke.

The rebellious thinkers and writers of eighteenth century France seized upon this rudimentary materialism and used it to express the discontent with current social organisation which was then rife. The chief body of theory and discussion of this time appeared in the Encyclopaedia, but the best known single figures of the period are Voltaire and Rousseau, two men who expressed similar class aspirations with a wealth of difference. Voltaire, "as artful as a monkey, as cruel as a cat,” virulent enemy of the Church and passionate upholder of “justice” as against aristocratic class-dominance, was yet conservative and whole-heartedly despised the lower orders. “The people must not be educated,” he declared; he would have had society a ”benevolent despotism,” corresponding with his deistic idea of the universe. His snappy, sarcastic style, his apt retorts and comments have made his name a byword for witty denunciation.

The Encyclopaedists, however, offer the most comprehensive view of the intellectual ferment in France during the 50 years before the Revolution. The Encyclopaedia, 1751-1780, corresponded roughly to the now firmly established news-sheets in England. Conceived and largely executed by Diderot, it was to be a complete survey and interpretation of the whole of human knowledge. It contained full technical information, with engravings, on a wide range of subjects, but its particular value lay in its incessant propaganda for materialism and the “Rights of Man.” Locke’s Sensationalism (“There is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses”) and the Natural Man theory were either openly discussed and demonstrated or else skilfully woven into articles on quite alien subjects. The theory that man in himself is a kindly and reasonable creature but that he has been corrupted and warped by evil social institutions was valuable in spite of its limitations. Its supporters maintained that men are not individually responsible for their characters, and that men and their actions are formed by the circumstances in which they live; change those circumstances and men will react accordingly. So far, so good. But the theory in essence assumes a “natural man,” a state of grace or Golden Age from which man has departed; it is thus quite unhistorical and foredoomed to inconsistency and sentimentalism. Nevertheless, it was an important step towards historical understanding.

The Encyclopaedia attracted enormous attention. Many copies were confiscated; contributors and printers were imprisoned, but it continued to appear, and to captivate all thinking persons with its indomitable common sense. Diderot himself must have special notice, for he epitomises every tendency of importance in that age. He went further than Voltaire himself in religious criticism, for there is sufficient evidence to warrant the belief that he was a thorough-going atheist; he was the first to attempt “realist” or bourgeois drama, thus paving the way for Beaumarchais’ Figaro' (1775 and 1784); he was the first to write a full-length novel with a propagandist purpose; his celebrated art-criticisms, while not always sound, are always intelligent and stimulating; and from him Rousseau directly and admittedly derived his most celebrated theories. He swam perpetually on the crest of the intellectual wave, and in a flash here and there overtopped his times by almost a century; but his work is scrappy, often difficult to trace, and overlaid with that lip-service to orthodoxy which was often the only road to publication. Engels refers to his “Rameau's Nephew" (a conversation leaping from topic to topic over a wide range) as a “masterpiece of dialectic," and it is worth remarking that Rousseau's “Origins of Inequality," which Engels mentions in the same breath, was written at Diderot's suggestion and to his plan.

Rousseau adopted the idea of man’s perversion by corrupt institutions and gave it poetical, even voluptuous, expression. He became the seer and visionary of the coming order, the lion of a thousand banquets. His luscious style, his overflowing emotionalism, brought to his feet legions of admirers whom the logic and argument of the intellectuals had failed to stir. “Julie" (1761), a novel in the manner of Richardson’sPamela," enjoyed unprecedented popularity, becoming the rage of court and city immediately on publication. It is almost entirely concerned with man’s natural goodness. of heart and his susceptibility to sweet reason.

In England, meanwhile, the novel had emerged fully fledged from the hands of Richardson, who describes with loving detail the day-by-day existence of well-to-do families. Fielding, who began by parodying Richardson and ended as ardent a novel-writer as the man he jibed at, made the novel lighter, shorter, more selective. Smollett did not confine himself to the leisured class, but introduced “low life" and “robustious" humour.

Poetry now was inclining towards the romantic school. The Industrial Revolution was getting under way, and the growing complexity and sordidness of life were producing the beginnings of a reaction. A “back to Nature’’ movement—connected to some extent with Rousseauism and the Noble-Savage-Golden-Age theory—became increasingly popular; Thomson, Collins and Gray foreshadow it; Cooper, and especially Burns, give it frank and full expression. With the turn of the century the return to Nature is in full career in the writings of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the Romantic movement is well under way.

At the very core of Romanticism lies the desire to escape from reality; as the real world becomes grimmer and more squalid, sensitive men seek refuge in dream worlds of varying kinds. Sometimes they wish simply to return to the country life of their parents; sometimes past history, more or less remote, takes on a glamorous enchantment for them; sometimes they turn to exaggeratedly colourful painting or to eccentric clothes. The English Poetic Romantics were Byron, Shelley and Keats, all full of haunting phrases and pitiful despair; the content of their work is wholly emotional. To the Romantic, thought is a weary burden which only lands him in self-hatred.

In prose Romanticism was less extreme. The link between eighteenth and nineteenth century novels is Jane Austen, whose minute attention to apparently useless detail belongs essentially to the realists, but whose determined refusal to mention the existence of any sort of social problem, at the time of the Combination Laws, The Six Acts, and the Luddite Riots, places her emotionally with the Romantics. Chief of English Romantic novelists was Scott, whose influence was greater on the Continent than here.

After the French Revolution events moved swiftly. Economic development proceeded apace, and literature did not lag behind. As France began to catch up with England industrially, her literature showed similar tendencies to ours; her tardy beginning meant increased pace, and we find the swing from realism to romance much more hotly dismissed and carried to far more fantastic extremes in France than in England. Moreover, the promise of the “Reason" cult was not fulfilled. The new society proved no more reasonable than the old. An extremely violent reaction against classicism and philosophy set in; this linked up at once with romantic influences from England. Scott was much translated and enjoyed a great vogue in France.

History, or rather very pseudo-history, became the fashion with the picturesque and soulful dramas of Victor Hugo, such as “Hernani" and "Ruy Bias." The poetry of Lamartine is bathed in melodious tears for the rapid flight of time and the vanity of human wishes. de Musset and de Vigny have more vigour, but the one despises himself and the other hates life, both natural and social; and neither has any very practical solution to their problem of unbearable existence. In short, the French Romantics are a miserable band, broken upon the wheel of advancing capitalism without any conception of what is happening to them save that they are crushed and bleeding and do not know how to escape.
Stella Stewart.

(To be concluded.)

Words and Men. — Part 3 (1933)

From the December 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard 


During the post-Renaissance period we notice a striking increase in popularity of “subjective" literature—that is to say, works in which man turns his attention inwards to his own thoughts and feelings, instead of preaching a doctrine or uttering conventional sentiments. Individual human reactions and the relations between small groups of individuals take on paramount importance; so much so that even in describing inanimate objects or external nature writers project their own feelings on to the thing described and give it human characteristics.

This development is, of course, part and parcel of the new spirit of free expansion and expression of the individual which in terms of economics meant unfettered competition. 

Let us turn back to France and see how /the work of the Renaissance progressed there.

The seventeenth century in France is known as the Great Century, and its typical king as the Great Monarch. Its literature presents a dazzling array of famous names; its books are intoxicating in their diversity and verve. Yet through even the wittiest of them runs a streak of melancholy and disillusion. To comprehend this we have to examine the underlying structure of society. The French Renaissance, as we have seen, was as brilliant as any: but it heralded a growth whose maturity was to be long delayed. England, owing to the circumstances of being an island, had an efficient navy long before France; she utterly routed the fleet of Spain, her only serious trade rival, while France was still plunged in civil wars. Moreover, England had furnished since as early as the thirteenth century the main wool supply of Europe. France, though a much larger country, was undeveloped, having many tangled forests and wild mountains overrun with wolves, bears and bandits. Her economic development was retarded, but the power of the aristocracy was weakened, and a strong absolute monarchy was set up under Louis XIII and XIV, like the Tudor dynasty in England; unlike the latter, however, the French Bourbons were able to retain their authority unchallenged for nearly two hundred years. The Protestant Reformation was checked, and society remained fossilised in a semi-feudal structure. The work of the Renaissance and the influence of expanding England remained, however, to modify the trend of men’s ideas. New thought had been introduced into literature; knowledge was spreading.

In the thirties of the seventeenth century France produced a philosopher, Descartes, and a poet-dramatist, Corneille, who, in their different manners, expound similar ideas. Descartes is a materialist to this extent: he insists on the physical basis of emotions and the “soul”; but he urges very strongly the idea of free will and the power of mind to dominate matter. He is an anti-theologian, but finds room in his philosophy for “faith,” and keeps discreetly just within the shelter of Mother Church. The dramas of his contemporary Corneille are uniformly concerned with conflicts in individual beings or groups between their intellects and their passions; as, for example, the prolonged battle of love and duty in his tragedy “The Cid.”

Towards the middle of the century the Regency of Anne of Austria ended, and her son, Louis XIV, “the Sun King,” began his reign in earnest. There ensued the “classic” period of French literature, comparable with the “spacious times” of Elizabethan England, but surpassing that age in polish and sophistication. It was an aristocratic literature commissioned by a small leisured class, and, so far, typically feudal; all the classic poets uphold the divine right of kings and the sanctity of tradition. Their style is remarkable for its elegance and clarity; their subject-matter deals with problems of individual human beings, not with traditional “types": here is the Renaissance at work, striving towards free personal expansion. Within the limits of their subjects they are startlingly real in their treatment; but those subjects, narrow and over-simple, soon become unreal and pretentious.

Perhaps the best-known author of this time is the actor-comedian, Molière. His satirical portraits of men and manners, his grim lack of faith in "human nature" reflect on the one hand the general dissatisfaction of the shackled bourgeoisie and on the other the writer's personal misery. Although humorous, his work is very narrow and formalised; this is typical of the time. A similar but rather mellower outlook is expressed in the form of rhymed fables by the poet La Fontaine.

The writer of this age most esteemed in France, however, is the dramatist Racine. Each of his plays is a concentrated and flawless piece of craftsmanship; he has no trouble in abiding by the art-conventions of the time; he exalts the State and depicts devotion to it as the noblest of man's passions. Yet even he, the idol of the court, retired disillusioned. The most disillusioned man of the great century is, however, that immortal cynic La Rochefoucauld, whose slender volume of Maxims and Thoughts compresses into a few pages all the soured weariness that lay behind the glories of the Sun King's court. The brilliance of his penetration is in part due to personal disappointments; he attained popularity because his mood found an echo in many brains. A few examples from his epigrams will suffice to indicate his scope. "Our virtues are generally vices in disguise." "We refuse praise in order to have it repeated." "Virtue would not go so far if vanity did not keep it company." “Love of Justice is generally fear of suffering injustice." “However well men speak of us they teach us nothing new." "We would rather vilify ourselves than not speak of ourselves at all."

The close of this classic period brings an essayist. La Bruyere, and the beginnings of the novel. La Bruyere's book of “Characters" is a series of pen-portraits in the manner of Molière and La Rochefoucauld. He was embittered by the constant necessity of toadying to an effete aristocracy who ignored or insulted him; so that his sarcasms are the very epitome of the slowly gathering feelings of revolt that were later expressed in the philosophic literature of the eighteenth century. The novel, at first a narrative of adventure imitated from the mariners' accounts, was becoming more topical and realistic; soon, with the Gil Bias of Lesage, it developed strong satirical tendencies.

Meanwhile in England the restoration in 1660 of the Stuart line and the subsequent prosperity and relative tranquillity, gave at first a literature calm and courtly; in poetry there is the benign Andrew Marvell, with his flowers and gardens and his equable temperament; the religious but not fanatical Henry Vaughan; and the exuberant heroicisms of Dryden. In prose the continued interest in religion shows itself in Bunyan's "Pilgrim’s Progress"; this sober work presents a lively contrast with the spate of wittily wanton plays by Wycherley and Congreve, soon to come into favour. These two opposing tendencies in literature have their political and economic backing in the Whig and Tory conflict just then taking shape owing to the hostility between the dominant court faction and the merchant class.
Stella Stewart

(To be continued.)

Words and Men. — Part 2 (1933)

From the November 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard


Here it is necessary to deviate from the path of literature proper to recall certain landmarks of this revolutionary epoch.

In England the feudal barons were engaged in the internecine squabbles called Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), which represent the death agony of the feudal aristocracy and ended by exterminating or impoverishing all the leading barons and establishing, with the Tudor Henry VII, a dynasty embodying the alliance between the central monarchy and the burgher guilds.

Gutenberg in 1445 had perfected his printing press, a copy of which was introduced into England by Caxton in 1477. This invention was of inestimable value to literature; it meant that books became comparatively cheap and ceased to be an aristocratic or priestly monopoly; the spread of knowledge to all classes was now possible.

Following a period of keen competition among the various Mediterranean traders came the siege and capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. This finally blocked the most important route to India and the Far East, whence came not merely luxury silks and ornaments, but the gold and silver required by commercial society and the condiments and spices vitally necessary at a time when there was no efficient means of preserving meat. Supreme incentive was thus given to the attempts at finding a new route to the East; Prince Henry in 1460, Diaz in 1486 and Da Gama in 1498 coasted round Africa until the way to India lay open; Columbus in 1492 and the Cabots in 1497 attempted a westward passage and came across America; Amerigo Vespucci crossed the South Atlantic in 1500 and in 1520 Magellan followed him, rounded Cape Horn and ended by circumnavigating the globe. Gold and silver were at first obtained by robbing or taxing the natives; later rich deposits were discovered in Bolivia and Mexico in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. The increase in navigation led to far-reaching astronomical investigation, and soon all ideas of the nature of the universe had been entirely revolutionised.

This vigorous stir and bustle of adventuring after new worlds immeasurably extended the bounds of literature, enriching its vocabulary and multiplying its subjects. Moreover, Constantinople had for centuries been the cultural descendant of classical antiquity, the centre of European learning. The invasion of their city by the “infidel” Turks sent hundreds of scholars with their scientific instruments' and ancient manuscripts into Western Europe, particularly Italy and France, where their command of philosophy, literature, art and science received unstinted appreciation from an expanding society athirst for every aspect of knowledge.

In England the Renaissance was assisted by the closing of the monasteries, which left numbers of men with no ideas of living but the sale of their ability to read and write.

By the opening of the sixteenth century merchant capitalism had taken root all over Western Europe ; it brought a period of strong monarchies, increased leisure, comparative peace, and enormous intellectual activity of every kind, and notably a rapid growth of diverse and elaborate forms of art: painting, engraving, sculpture, gold and silver work, wood-carving, architecture, poetry, philosophical works, satire, essays, “Utopias," stories of adventure real and imagined. This time of prolific expression is called the Re-Birth or Renaissance. In it we see the enterprise, vitality and optimism of the new and lively ruling class finding an immediate and abundant echo in every art form as yet known to man.

The Renaissance in literature is represented in England by poets like Thomas Wyatt and, later, Spenser and Philip Sidney, essayists or philosophers like Thomas More, Bacon and Thomas Browne, and playwrights like Marlowe, Jonson and Shakespeare. In France it early found complete and peerless expression in Francois Rabelais, who more than any other one man is the prototype of the fresh order of society. His first work, Gargantua, appeared in 1532, twelve years after the first journey round the world; he produced three others before his death in 1552. The key-note of them all is an ardent devotion to “universal science” and a boundless love of life. Life is good; the world is good; mankind must have every freedom to develop fully in all directions; original sin is absurd, metaphysical speculation of any kind is absurd; let us collect concrete facts about this amazing universe and approach its most diverse aspects with unquenchable curiosity. The bourgeois class, as it gathered its strength to throw off the shackles of feudalism, was grasping at the whole world, not at mere abstractions and forms, but at life itself; and that is what Rabelais offers. He cares nothing for beauty or morality, and hardship and suffering are but further manifestations of the abundant variety of life. This was, of course, a highly convenient philosophy for a society engaged in establishing a new form of the slave trade. His terrific command of words reflects the fertility of his brain, his gigantic optimism the vision of a new world both physical and intellectual.

He was followed in France by the sceptical individualist Montaigne, whose use of the essay-form was coincident with the growth of the physical sciences, especially astronomy, mechanics and hydrostatics, whose insistence on personal liberty was typical of a society desirous of unlimited free competition, but whose pessimism showed that the high hopes of limitless expansion for mankind held at the time of Rabelais were not being fulfilled. This streak of pessimism is to run through all French literature so long as the anachronisms of feudal organisation remain to dam the tide of social change.

Some seventy years after Rabelais comes Shakespeare (1564-1616). The bourgeois class in England had been able to develop fairly freely, and English buccaneers were supreme on the high seas; the landowners and merchants had achieved a temporary compromise, and society as a whole presented a stable aspect. Individualism by now was taken for granted, and literature was becoming more and more subjective. Moreover, the anti-Catholic feeling had its effect on literature; men studied languages in order to criticise Church texts, and history in order to score off Church legends. Shakespeare is always subjective, even in natural description; his vocabulary is much influenced by foreign words and his histories formed part of a complete cycle of English and ancient history; Marlowe’s Edward II belonged to the same cycle. Shakespeare’s subject matter is generally trivial or melodramatic; he is invariably concerned with emotion rather than thought; such moralising as he offers is complacent, never stimulating. But he is the most brilliant master of language yet seen: and there lies his chief importance. His fluent, supple, incisive metaphors and startlingly virile similes rendered an incalculable service to English speech.

Contemporary with Shakespeare were a number of lyric poets such as Fletcher, Drummond, Campion and Drayton, most of whose verse celebrates the ups and downs of romantic love. This form of literature is frequent in leisured society. But the Elizabethan lyrics are distinguished by their diversity of form and metaphor, their elegant language. At this time also began the steady intrusion of introspective religion into poetry. The merchant capitalists were not altogether satisfied with the Elizabethan compromise, and their dissatisfaction found some outlet, prior to open revolt under Cromwell, in an ever sterner and more uncompromising Protestantism. The current interest in the problem of religion and the State was bound to influence poetry as well as philosophy; some of John Donne’s and all George Herbert’s work exemplified the tendency, but its political aspect is most greatly voiced by Milton. His deep impatience of authority and vast self- confidence (“to justify the ways of God to man”), together with his bold experiments in metre and rhythm (Lycidas is written in free-verse) are all clearly symptomatic of a rebellious and arrogant movement in society. It is impossible to read Paradise Lost or Samson Agonistes without envisaging the old rebel, undaunted in spite of defeat and difficulty.
Stella Stewart.

Words and Men. — Part 1 (1933)

From the October 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Socialist analyses literature

To analyse literature we must first discover its sources. Three things are fundamental to the subject: rhythm, speech and writing. A survey of the origins and relationship of these three is, therefore, essential if we are to understand the vigorous growth and complicated development of the many phases of literature in later ages.

Let us begin with rhythm, which is the basis of all art-forms. Rhythmic sound in particular was almost certainly the earliest form of art. The reason lies in what may be called brain and nerve economy: regular pauses, or the periodic recurrence of stress, help listeners to focus their attention, and were early used as part of the ritual at tribal feasts. Such feasts would be accompanied by regular bursts of meaningless sound, of speech and of movement; these evolved into music, poetry and dancing, the three at first occurring simultaneously as a composite art-form very closely linked with religious rituals, and later branching off into their specialised channels. It will be noted that rhythm cannot occur as an art- form until there is some social existence, some degree of communal organisation.

Secondly, we must examine speech. Every higher land-animal is able to make sounds with its lungs, throat and tongue. Man, as he became social, developed from these purely emotional animal sounds—expressions of pleasure, pain, desire or fear—a system of labour-cries; they were closely connected with the need for rhythm already mentioned. and helped men to concentrate and economise their energy. To communicate with each other at this stage men seem to have had a crude gesture language, imitating with their hands the action to be done or the things desired. (This is a spontaneous impulse and can readily be observed in monkeys and young children; adults sometimes use it to supplement their words.) Frequently, of course, the rhythmic labour-cries and the gestures of the hands would take place at the same moment; thus arose a sub-conscious association between them. When, therefore, developing society and more complicated labour introduced the problem of "talking with your hands full," men easily compromised by letting their tongues, lips and palates give a rough and ready imitation of the previous hand-gestures, at the same time calling attention to their desires by emitting sounds from the lungs and larynx. Innumerable and convincing examples of the resemblance, in a given word, between the movements of the speech-organs and the corresponding hand-gestures are to be found in all the most primitive languages (A detailed exposition of this theory of the origin of speech can be found in "Human Speech," by Sir Richard Paget.) Now, this process was not necessary—and therefore could not exist—until human society existed; and it became more and more complex in direct ratio to the amount and organisation of labour and of collective activity generally. The languages of savage tribes, for example, have a mere four or five hundred words, as compared with the hundreds of thousands in French, German or English.

Without speech there is no thought; indeed, thought may be summarised as “inward speech," although this definition must be used warily. Many people contest it because they mistake for thought certain highly complicated emotions or reflex actions; neither of these is necessarily connected in any way with speech, but abstract rational thought cannot be dissociated from it. Words are the only means of crystallising complex associations, first of facts then of ideas, and storing them away for future reference and still further association. Since, therefore, thought is dependent on speech and speech on social organisation, it is clear that the form of society and the mode of production not only condition the form taken by thought, but decide its very existence.

Our third fundamental, writing, was an offshoot of painting, which in turn began as a form of "sympathetic magic”—that is, objects or incidents were depicted out of a passionate desire that they should appear or happen. (For painting as a form of Sympathetic Magic .see “Ancient Art and Ritual" by Jane Harrison; Home University Library.) This use of painting to record desires naturally led—as speech and thought developed—to its use in recording ideas; as thoughts, keeping pace with social evolution, became more complex, systems of writing grew increasingly intricate.

* * * *

It is not possible in these articles to survey the literary history of the whole world; ancient literature is closely interlaced with religious rituals and legends, and should be dealt with under the heading “Religion" rather than here; while modern developments are so bewilderingly diverse, and offer so many fascinating by-paths and magnetic individual writers, that we are tempted at every turn not to see the wood for the trees.

Nevertheless, modern literature is more easily understood than ancient, because we have at our disposal more historical facts relative to the period. It is besides more familiar and more palatable to the modern reader. We shall, therefore, after glancing at ancient and classical literature, approach our own times as rapidly as possible. It is necessary to narrow the field of observation; we shall for that reason confine our examples almost entirely to France and England, whose respective literatures afford the most abundant proof of the influence of social and economic forces on literary as on all other history.

* * * *

Greek drama is considered one of the comer stones of European culture. Its early forms have marked religious characters, and are obviously the direct outcome of tribal thanksgiving rituals, particularly of the communal dances.

As primitive society gave place to Barbarism and later forms—coincident with the development of tools, the change from small to large-scale agriculture, and the growth of commodity-production and a system of exchange—a chieftain class emerged, and literature more and more became a glorification of “heroes." It is noticeable that in such literature there is never any hint that ordinary men may become heroes; they are born, not made. And such was indeed the state of society at that time; men remained permanently, as a matter of course, in the class into which they were born. To this period belong the Homeric legends in Greece, the Hiawatha in North America, the Kalevala in Scandinavia, and the Cuchulain and Finn cycles in Ireland—all concerned with hunting exploits or wars between tribes and petty nations, and all frequently recording almost identical incidents.

Satires originated early in song-duels (these are still to be found among some African tribes) in which two groups, each having a leader or soloist, took turns to abuse and taunt each other in the most picturesque language they could muster. Simple allegories or parables, and through them symbolism in general, sprang from magical ceremonies intended to ensure good crops or propitiate spirits.

In the palmy days of Athens, under the chattel-slavery system, the ruling-class enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and leisure. Men studied each other and contemplated the universe. Ritual drama became human tragedy with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, while the rapid advance of scientific knowledge in physics, mathematics and astronomy brought about the development of prose-writing. Plato, Herodotus, Socrates and Democritus all testified to the advance of learning, and with it of clear, precise expression, at this period. Similarly in Rome some time later the lucid, majestic rhythms of Cicero and the incisive dryness of Caesar reflected both a high degree of knowledge and a simple but rigid economic and political system. The poetry of Rome was mainly didactic or professorial; this again was symptomatic of chattel-slavery, for the knowledge was graciously imparted by a cultured few to the less enlightened of their fellow-rulers.

In the early and relatively static period of feudalism originality was sternly discouraged. Only “aristocratic" literature was countenanced; that is, songs and ballads directly commissioned by the lords and barons from singing poets (“troubadours") who plied for hire from castle to castle and, of course, piped whatever tune their buyers fancied. The best preserved and most famous of such lays are the French “ Songs of Deeds" (Chansons de Geste) of which the best known is the Song of Roland, story of the half-mythical Emperor Charlemagne and his bodyguard of twelve peers. The skeleton of this song-story is provided by ancient legends of the sun surrounded by the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and by rituals of the great Earth-Mother cult and of ancestor-worship; but these crumbling bones are clothed in most mediaeval flesh, and the behaviour and outlook of the characters are essentially feudal, particularly in their unswerving loyalty to their lords and their blind submission to an abstract Duty.

With the twelfth century Western Europe was entering upon the later stage of feudalism; the towns were increasing in number and size, commerce was extending, and a citizen or “burgher” class, independent of and opposed to the Lords of the Manor, was growing in power and confidence year by year. At this time Italy, self-contained and relatively prosperous, was the leader of thought and culture.

The divergent interests of barons and burghers reflected themselves in literature; a struggle began between conservative lyric poetry—given up to adulation of lords and sanctification of ladies— and the satirical realism of the "fabliaux” (notably “Reynard the Fox”) which were being chanted in the towns by the growing merchant class. These burlesque ballads depicted homely town life and mocked at courts and castles; their heroes were citizens and journeymen; they turned nobles and often priests into grotesques. At the same time we notice a growing use of dialect and colloquial speech in literature, as against Latin or the stilted old-fashioned Court language.

At this period also drama, which for centuries had been entirely religious in character, began to have a secular flavour. Irreverent comic relief or worldly advice was inserted between scenes of the Passion and Mystery Plays, and there grew up the Morality plays, in which, although the subject matter was still saturated with religious allusions and aspirations, the central characters were not supernatural but human beings.

The irruption of the burgher (or “bourgeois”) class into literature is seen at its height in Italy about 1300 with Dante, in England about 1400 with Chaucer, and in France about 1450 with Villon. This sequence is exactly in line with economic development in these three countries. The three poets, however, do not present exactly identical attitudes and emotions, for they did not write at exactly identical periods in relation to their respective countries. Dante was the very embodiment of bourgeois revolt, the supreme individualist ; he came before the success of the Italian burgher class, while' they were still weak and galled by the restrictions of feudalism, and is therefore essentially gloomy. Chaucer, on the other hand, wrote when the burghers of England, having gained power, were consolidating it, and he is full of pleasant humour and cheerful philosophy. The Frenchman, Villon, most interesting of the three, can be set in neither category. Nearer the threshold of the new society than Dante, he was both more jovial and alert—for life was growing fuller and held ever more diverse interests— and sourer, more sardonic, for life’s pitfalls and restrictions were more apparent and more keenly felt. His poetry reflected, accurately and subtly, bitterly and brazenly, the prolonged battle that was taking place between the old and the new, a battle contested not only in society at large, but in individual brains, and in particular the poet's own.
Stella Stewart.

(To be continued.)

The Jews and Racial Purity (1935)

From the September 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the past month there has been another orgiastic outbreak of Jew-baiting in Germany; and a Manchester slum child has received front-page publicity for a childish essay maintaining that “England is the best country in the world." Is there any connection between these two facts, the one so brutal, the other so smugly conventional? Decidedly. The members of the National Government have, in their well-bred, take-it-for-granted, true-blue-British way, been comfortably preening themselves on an unchallengeable “racial superiority," just as confidently, and just as unwarrantably, as have their crudely blustering Nazional fellows in Germany. 

Superstitions on the subject of race, of racial differences and superiorities, are so rife even today that we can well afford to examine the subject.

In its usual everyday acceptance the term “race" is loosely used to equate with “nationality." There is a widespread belief that there are inherent and immutable differences between “races" (meaning nationalities), and that one’s own is vastly preferable to all others.

Such beliefs are amply demonstrated in anti-Semitic movements, in the position of negroes in the U.S.A., in the Australian Yellow-Peril phobia, in the “colour problem" generally. The growth and consolidation of the British Empire has particularly fostered these theories in every quarter of the world—always, of course, in favour of the British “race." Shaw speaks ironically of “England’s legitimate conquests, given to her by God because of her peculiar fitness to rule over less favoured races for their own good," but there are large numbers of people who hold that view in all seriousness.

Such beliefs are dangerously reactionary. They very conveniently serve to conceal, to justify, or to help intensify the exploitation of one section of the world by another. They represent, however, a slapdash, rule-of-thumb sociology which is by no means founded on fact.

Properly speaking, the word “race" is used for a purely physical, scientific classification of human beings, just as horses or dogs are classified. A race, anthropologically, is “a group of people possessing similar physical characteristics." The primary determining factors are the shape of the head, the height and the colour of the skin, all three being taken into consideration. Mankind is divisible, on these lines, into three races: the fair, the dark, the yellow. Each can be further sub-divided, but for the purpose of this article the sub-divisions of the fair race are all that need be noted; they are Alpine (short, dark, round-headed), Mediterranean (short, dark, long-headed), and Nordic (tall, fair, long-headed). But, in the world to-day, practically no pure races exist.

Only two remote sections of humanity, the Eskimos and the Pigmies, have any real claim to racial purity, and they are dying out. All the rest of the world is racially thoroughly mixed, and only in occasional, isolated, individual cases is a pure racial type to be found. Race overrides both national and linguistic frontiers; people of similar race speak entirely different languages and live in different countries, and, at the same time, people of divergent race speak the same language and live in the same country.

Many so-called races are nothing of the kind; for example, “Celtic" “Latin" and “Aryan" are all language divisions and by no means racial. Latin (or Romance) languages are spoken by people who differ widely from each other racially—Bretons and Roumanians, Spaniards and Walloons, for example. As for Aryan, not only is it not a racial division, but even as a language division it is no more than an assumption. There is a large group of languages called “Indo-Aryan" but the root derivation of them all has never been discovered. Hitler uses the word Aryan to describe a type which would correctly be called “Nordic"—but we may note that a very small minority of those speaking Aryan languages are of Nordic stock. Most Germans, for example, are of alpine type. So are the Jews, who are a religious and not a racial group. They are no more a race than are the Christians. Racially they are very mixed, but predominantly Alpine and Mediterranean, though with a fair admixture of Nordic stock. Only about thirty per cent. of the Jews have the so-called “Jewish nose"—which is actually a characteristic of the East Alpine group, irrespective of religion. From an anthropological point of view the Hitler doctrines and policy are comic to the point of absurdity; logically, to exclude all but the Nordics, he would have to dispense with some two-thirds of the population of Germany—while if he countenanced the Alpine stocks of which most Germans come, he would have to include most of the Jews, too. He is not, however, concerned with logic: an anti-Jew campaign helps to lessen the unemployment problem of non-Jews and distracts attention from other social problems; and foggy ideas about race foster the prejudices which encourage his campaigns.

The theory of inherent differences of temperament or outlook between racial groups is entirely baseless. It springs not from fact but from national prejudice. The only innate differences between races are the purely external physical ones of skin-colour, height and shape of head. These superficial distinctions have no influence whatever either upon temperament or intelligence. Intelligence is determined by quickness of sense perceptions, especially sight and hearing; it is conditioned—warped or encouraged—according to social environment. “Intelligence tests carried out in Australia and South Africa have shown that black children are not inferior in intelligence to white children. These results have caused some surprise, but there is no real reason why they should. Intelligence in children is the result of quick sight and good hearing. Every child born with good eyes and ears is born intelligent, though in most cases it is soon made stupid by disease, dull surroundings and dogmatic teaching. So-called racial differences, so far as our evidence goes, are merely differences in upbringing. Nationalism exists and thrives on the entirely false belief that these artificial, and often indeed non-existent, differences are innate and unalterable." (Lord Raglan, in the Listener, October 3rd, 1934.) The social circumstances, the sum total of manifold social influences, are what determine such differences as do exist between people of different nations.

But in class society the paramount social factor, overriding and often obliterating all others, is class. Class distinctions are stronger and more apparent than national or racial ones. There is an infinitely greater resemblance between two workers of different race, than between a worker and a capitalist of the same race. Except for the language barrier, a white miner and a yellow one would find far more in common with each other than either would with a mineowner of his own colour. It is easier to mistake a Pole for an Englishman or a Dane for a Frenchman, than to mistake Mr. Selfridge for a navvy or an archbishop for a 'bus conductor.

What are the uses of this race superstition? It both springs from and foments social prejudice: it assists political domination, that is, economic exploitation, as in India and Africa; it assists capitalist sections by encouraging jingoism and war-mongering, as in Abyssinia; above all, it is invaluable in obscuring the class issue: by setting up barriers of superstition and prejudice among them, it prevents the workers all over the world from realising their common cause. Actually, the world is divided into two opposing classes, buyers and sellers of labour power, whose interests cannot be reconciled under capitalism. But the race superstition makes it appear that there are numbers of “races" (corresponding with political divisions) whose characteristics and whose interests are fundamentally and inherently at variance. That is mere nonsense; but the capitalists would rather the workers' heads were filled with such nonsense than with sense about the class struggle and how to end it. This particular nonsense is a useful spur to patriotism when national sections of the capitalist class come into conflict, and want the workers to do the fighting for them.

There is only one way to end all this confusion of thought, this muddle of prejudices: remove the ignorance on which the exploiters trade. Do not allow the real nature of present-day society to be shrouded in these webs of misconception and falsification. By clearing away such fancies we lay bare the class issue which is the crux of the world problem. The workers must understand, plainly and unequivocally, that society to-day stands on a basis, not of nationality or of race, but of private ownership of the means of life; that it is organised not for “progress" or for "enlightenment," but simply and only for profit. The sooner the workers grasp these simple facts and their implications, the sooner will they sweep away the present organisation of society and all its superstitions, and bring into being a state of things organised to produce not for profit but only for use.

Not until the means of production are collectively owned and controlled by the whole community can class distinctions vanish. Not until then will the idea of race be wholly freed from these false associations that are bound to cling to it in capitalist society, which depends for its very existence on the exploitation of man by man.
Stella Stewart

Marx’s Capital. (2004)

Book Review from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx’s Capital.
By Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho, Pluto Press, 2004.

This book was favourably reviewed in the Socialist Standard when it was first published in 1975 and again with the third edition of 1989. This fourth edition is substantially rewritten, doubling the text length, yet still coming in at under 200 pages. This is quite an achievement for an introduction to the thousands of pages in the three volumes of Marx’s Capital, as well as some of the multi-volume Theories of Surplus Value, the so-called fourth volume of Capital.

As the authors point out, “Marx is not interested primarily in constructing a price theory, a set of efficiency criteria or a series of welfare propositions; he never intended to be a narrow ‘economist’ or even a political economist”. Rather, they argue that Marx sought to challenge the assumptions that political economy (the older and more accurate term for economics) makes about capitalism:
  “the monopoly of the means of production by a small minority, the wage employment of the majority, the distribution of the products by monetary exchange, and remuneration involving the economic categories of prices, profits and wages”.
As an introduction to Marx’s Capital, this book offers a much more reliable guide than the late Ernest Mandel’s 1976 introduction in the current Penguin edition of Capital. Mandel, in common with other Trotskyists, defended the then USSR in the misguided belief that it had overthrown capitalism.
Lew Higgins

Council tax or free access? (2004)

From the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pleased with your latest council tax bill? This tax on property was introduced in 1994 by John Major as a replacement for Thatcher’s poll tax which was removed (along with Maggie) after it caused widespread public resentment and riots. Council tax has risen by up to 60  percent since 1997. It leapt 12 percent on average last year, and after the latest increases it’s also now causing considerable upset and anger.

This government like previous ones wants to stay in power, so while it likes to be seen attempting to improve services delivered by local authorities, like education and policing, it doesn’t want to be seen raising taxes to pay for them. Whitehall and local governments both understand and play the resulting game: get what you can from each, but blame one another – and blame other parties – if and when the public complain. Councils blame central government for not providing enough money, and the government accuses councils of inefficiency, mismanagement and proclaim that they will cap unacceptable increases.

While the government is worried about a popular revolt against council tax – something Gordon Brown tried to diminish in his March 17 budget with a £100 reduction-cum-sop for pensioners over 70 – it seems likely Labour will keep this property tax but reduce future increases by allowing councils to raise additional money by charging for more local services.

The council tax is a property tax but it is only a pin-prick for those who own the most property. In fact, the more property you own the less painful it is. While the Duke of Westminster, worth £4.6 billion and owner of some 190,000 acres in Britain is able to live a luxurious life in the grandest of mansions, his council tax bill will be no more than a few thousand pounds. Rich aristocratic and agro-industrialists who represent just one percent of the population but who own 70 percent of the land in Britain, are actually paid property subsidies and grants of tens of thousands each year.

Those on high incomes can also shrug it off. Tony Blair and Cherie’s council tax can be paid off with just half-a-day’s worth of their earnings, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy’s with a mere couple of days worth of theirs. This reflects the inequalities of ownership and income that are at the basis of present-day society.

Despite appearances, in the end it does not matter to most people what form or level taxes take. To enable us to remain fit to work, our wage, salary or benefit has to cover all the normal costs of living, including any taxes. Abolishing or reducing taxes wouldn’t leave us any better off since it only allows them to pay us less. National and local finance is not really our problem. Whatever the system’s politicians decide, our after-tax income is never going to be much more than enough to keep ourselves fit to work.

Free access
We in the Socialist Party say people should have full access to services like public toilets, education, properly maintained roads, refuse collection,  libraries etc, but we ask you to reject taxation or direct charges as ways of providing them. Instead, we ask you to support free access to these vital services as well as to all other needs, like food, housing, public transport, domestic appliances, furniture, gas, electricity, clothing etc.

A society of free access to whatever people need is readily achievable by replacing today’s capitalism with a new system where we all collectively and directly own and democratically control the means of production and distribution (i.e., farmland, factories, raw materials, power stations, water supply, roads network, railways etc).

If we all directly own and control these assets – rather than them being owned by private individuals and, or, the state – then we will also collectively own all that they provide, resulting in free access to all goods and services. People don’t have to buy what’s jointly theirs already.

Nothing will have a monetary cost with real socialism. In fact, money, having no function at all, will be redundant. People will still work, but the purpose will then be for meeting society’s needs – not making profits for, and rewarding, a tiny minority class who have taken possession of the vital resources and machinery that make life possible.

Do you want to stick with council tax, local income tax, national income tax, value added tax, stealth taxes, National Insurance – a tax by another name – or get rid of the lot of them, along with the time-wasting, bureaucracy, confusion, stress and worry they cause, by choosing to have classless moneyless leaderless free access from democratic real socialism instead?

50 Years Ago: What To Do About The H-Bomb (2004)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The probable consequences of using the hydrogen bomb as an act of war must now be familiar to everyone. The newspapers, screens and radio have given enough facts and pictures of the latest tests to leave us in no doubt about the “progress” that has been made in the development of atomic weapons since the days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Almost as often as we hear descriptions of the tremendous destructive power of these weapons, we hear a demand to “ban” them . . .

The socialist argues that it is senseless to imagine that the problem of war will be solved by advocating the banning of this or that weapon, or even of all weapons. Sir Hartley Shawcross was near the mark when he said that it was no use pretending that a treaty made in advance would make countries obey the rules of war as if it were a game of cricket. The only solution to the problem of war is the removal of its cause – the property basis of society.

Let us make our position quite clear. We have no objection to the banning of hydrogen bombs. But we do have an objection to people getting killed by other methods also. Our cry is not, therefore, “Ban the H-Bomb!” Carry this a stage farther. There is no objection banning all war. But, even assuming that this aspect of present society could be changed without changing its whole basis (and there is no reason to suppose that this is possible), it would still leave unsolved the other problems of poverty and insecurity which also take toll of human life and happiness.

All of the separate cries to end this or that social evil in the world today add up to the cry to end Capitalism. The singling out of objects “for immediate attention” may claim the merit of moderation, but it is tragically inefficient in obtaining results. To treat each symptom separately – “Ban his Boil!”, “Abolish that Pimple!” – is to let the patient go on suffering from a disease which only a revolutionary change can cure.

(From front page article by S.R.P., Socialist Standard, May 1954)

Greasy Pole: Alcoholics Non-Anonymous (2004)

The Greasy Pole column from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just when the Lib Dems could have been pardoned for congratulating themselves on their progress towards being the electoral alternative to the Labour Party their leader Charles Kennedy had to spoil their fun by catching a stomach bug, or smoking too much, or suffering from the over-consumption of alcohol. Or perhaps all three. Whatever the matter with him it prevented Kennedy contributing to the pointless shenanigans of Prime Ministers Questions and the Budget statement – which cost his party some TV publicity. He made it, just about, to the Lib Dem’s spring conference but that did not turn out too well because the media concentrated on the fact that he had lost weight and was sweating as he spoke. Of course that might have been down to nervous guilt at having to mouth yet more of the nauseating deceptions inescapable from capitalist politics. What worried his party’s spin doctors was that his condition was so entrancing to the media that it got in the way of them getting the kind of publicity they crave. “We could not” wailed one M.P., “have too many weeks like last week again”.

So Kennedy got a lot of advice – unwanted, unqualified, unheeded – about his health. Cut down on fags, take more exercise, drink less. And while he was about it could he give some attention to his lack of what is called gravitas?  It does not help the case of a party which has ambitions to be involved in government to be led by someone known as Chatshow Charlie after his appearance on the politician-baiting Have I Got News For You. It does not help either for him to have so keen a reputation for what is politely known as a “sociable lifestyle”. Kennedy brushed it off as a bad case of media stereotyping; as a red-headed Highlander he had to be assumed to be over- fond of a tipple which, if it sometimes gets the better of him, will have to explained away as a passing malady.

Parliamentary Drunks
Well of course Kennedy is not the first example of the Mother of Parliaments nurturing someone with an alcohol problem. Arthur Greenwood was a power in the Labour Party between the wars. In Ramsay MacDonald’s 1929 government he was Minister of Health (a lot more important a job than it is today) and after the 1935 general election, while the MacDonald experience still tormented Labour  he was elected  Deputy Leader of the party. But his addiction to alcohol prevented him reaching his potential in the ascent of the greasy pole. By 1940 he was losing his grip, although in the Coalition government and later in the 1945 Attlee government he was allocated some lesser posts. It was almost as if someone felt sorry for him. He died in 1954.

Then there was Nicholas Scott, who was M.P. for Chelsea before it was combined with Kensington to form the safest Tory seat in the country. In the Thatcher government Scott was Minister of State for Social Security and the Disabled, which sounded like a nice job for a man with  a reputation as a kindly toff. Whatever chances he had of being nominated to stand for the Tories in the new seat (the M.P. for Kensington was obligingly standing down) were blown away when he was found face down in the street after attending a Conservative Party reception. The Tories who had successfully stomached the Falklands war, the defeat of the miners and the introduction of harsher conditions for benefit claimants, drew the line at their Member advertising his drink problem and Scott was deselected. In his place the Tories chose Alan Clark, who was not known as kindly but who could be relied on to drink with the best of them without falling over in public.

But Clark was not immune to the effects of alcohol and this, combined with his ready contempt for many of the Members, created a problem for him. In July 1983, as Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, he had to commend- speak in the Commons in support of – an Order. Instead of studying the speech prepared for him Clark preferred to spend the evening dining and “wine tasting” with a friend  and as a result when it was time, later in the evening, for him to speak he was “muzzy . . . I found myself . . . sneering at the more cumbrous and unintelligible passages . . . I gabbled. Sometimes I turned over two pages at once, sometimes three. What did it matter?” This rambling went on until Clare Short, never one to shrink from putting her foot in it, said that although she had read that it was not permissible for an Honourable Member to accuse another of being drunk in the House she believed Clark was incapable and “It is disrespectful to the House and to the office that he holds that he should come here in this condition”. Clark fumbled to the end of his speech. “This week,” he recorded “I went up a stubby ladder; then down a very long snake.”

George Brown  
Probably the most obvious, colourful and instructive example was George Brown, who almost became Labour Party leader and so Prime Minister after the 1964 election. We can only imagine what sort of government it would have been with such an intrusive alcoholic at its head. Brown was not one of Labour’s high flying university graduates; he came up the hard way with a father who drove lorries for a living. A spell as a fur salesman may have provided him with a taste for the high life as well as a sharp, manipulative approach to problems, not to mention a liking for a drink. It did not take him long, after being returned as MP for Belper in the 1945 general election, to immerse himself  in some back stabbing schemes. He took a leading part in a conspiracy to replace Attlee as Prime Minister with Ernie Bevin but Bevin only approved of conspiracies of which he was the instigator and brutally rejected Brown’s advances.

As the post war generation of Labour leaders died away they were replaced by the likes of Gaitskell, Wilson, Callaghan and Brown. In the leadership election after Gaitskell’s death in 1963 the final contest was between Brown and Wilson and Brown did not take it lightly when Wilson won easily. His bitterness endured, in spite of all Wilson’s efforts to heal the breach so that they could both get on with the serious work of running British capitalism—like disciplining the workers, supporting the American war effort in Vietnam, fostering the prosperity of the ruling class and so on.

Perhaps in the faint hope of placating Brown and of keeping him too busy to organise any more conspiracies, Wilson put him in charge of a new ministry with a brief to stimulate the British economy outside the restraining hands of the Treasury. It was called the Department of Economic Affairs; Wilson had his doubts about the move: “I was taking a risk with George Brown, with his erratic habits. The drink problem was always with us.” During the first few months of that government Barbara Castle and Dick Crossman recorded thirteen different occasions when Brown was incapably drunk. But Wilson was canny enough to have been aware that he was driving a wedge between Brown and his other big rival James Callaghan, who as Chancellor of the Exchequer could be relied on the fight the Treasury’s corner against the new ministry.

National Plan
With characteristic energy Brown got his ministry up and running and within a couple of months he produced its first offspring – a Declaration of Intent in which the employers and unions made vows about wage demands, restrictive practises and job security. It was, in brief, an agreement to make capitalism behave out of character and so was doomed but Brown was not deterred from producing his next great delusion. The National Plan emerged in September 1965, with a lot of publicity about long term planning and how a little more effort from everyone (well, at least from those who work for their living) could bring about a controlled economy without any of the slumps and booms which  had become so tiresomely regular.

The National Plan was supposed to organise an increase in national production of 25 percent over the next six years through an annual growth of 4 percent. In fact the unrealistic nature of the whole enterprise was quickly exposed when, just before the plan was published, Brown informed the Cabinet that he could foresee a growth of only 1 percent over the coming year. After the Plan had been consigned to a discredited  past it emerged that the idea of 25 percent growth was not based on any real experience but was an assumption followed by scraping around for evidence to support it. The Plan did not last for six years but for only about ten months. The crisis of July 1966 when, in Wilson’s words, the government’s economic strategy was “blown off course” was enough to collapse all Brown’s promises. The voluntary assumptions in wage negotiations were replaced by giving statutory force to the decisions of the Prices and Incomes Board. It was, in other words, back to Square One; for a while the Plan gathered dust in a few Whitehall trays while the Treasury savoured its victory. In a straight swap with Michael Stewart, Brown became an unlikely Foreign Secretary.

Resign
More and more, he developed the reputation of a hopeless drunk. Ray Gunter – one of his admirers – said he started on the whisky at nine o’clock in the morning. Denis Healey got fed up with “acting as a psychiatric nurse to a patient who was often violent”. When Wilson and a couple of his ministers responded to the latest currency crisis by closing the gold market, which meant asking the Queen to declare a Bank Holiday, Brown offered yet another resignation but perhaps to his surprise – and everyone else’s relief – this time it stuck and he was out of a job. For a while he sulked; nobody took seriously his declaration that “the left has a new leader”. In the 1970 general election he lost his seat at Belper to Geoffrey Stewart-Smith, a Tory distinguished by an ambition to set up a kind of McCarthyite pursuit of Communists in this country. Brown tried his luck with the SDP, went to the Lords and ended his days, predictably, with some comfortable directorships in industry.

Alcohol persuades a lot of its dependents that life is not as bad as it is; problems seem a lot more tractable through the bottom of a glass. It also encourages some people to believe that they have abilities which they did not know they possessed – like the drunk who imagines he is Pavarotti, waking you up singing in the street in the small hours. Perhaps that is why alcoholism is seen so often among politicians. But alcoholic delusions are dangerous, not only to the drunks themselves but to others as well.
Ivan

The MacDonald-Brunner combination. (1906)

Editorial from the July 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The position of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald as backer of Sir John Brunner's bill, designed to reduce the age limit at which children may be withdrawn from school, seems to have created quite a mild sensation among those who, for some reason we do not pretend to understand, regard Mr. MacDonald as a leader of the working class and one whose departure from what they regard as the straight path, is a notable and highly deplorable event. Thus Mr. Rose, one of the regular contributors to the Clarion, writing in that paper, asks for explanations of “a callous and capitalistic attempt to lower” the age limit. He thinks that as chairman of the I.L.P., Secretary of the L.R.C.. and whip of the Parliamentary “Labour” group, Mr. MacDonald’s association with a whiggish millionaire in the production of a bill which would ‘‘accentuate the worst evils of child labour,” a bill particularly "Anti-Socialistic and retrograde" is exceedingly lamentable. “MacDonald's splendid work for the movement has entitled him to such a measure of gratitude and admiration that it pains one to say a single word of disparagement, but his best friends can hardly defend an attitude of approval toward an attempt to sentence children of twelve to the drudgery of farm labour," etc.

Well, we do not wish to speak disparagingly of Mr. MacDonald either, but really we are at some loss to know why his present action of support of a capitalist measure should give rise to any agitation. We thought it was fairly well understood by every student of current politics that Mr. MacDonald's splendid work for “the movement " was always subservient to his splendid work for Mr. MacDonald. That was the reason why we were quite astounded when reading of him in a contemporary as the “dark-eyed inscrutable Secretary of the L.R.C." Not because he hasn’t dark eyes, but because he was always to us so far removed from the inscrutable. We saw in him a gentleman whose action was most consistently pro-MacDonald. If “the movement’s" interests conflicted with the interests of MacDonald, so far as we have been able to observe, it has always been so much the worse for "the movement."


Blogger's Note:
See also the article entitled 'MacDonald's hypocrisy' in the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard.

The failure of the “Co-operatives”. (1923)

From the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A writer in the Co-operative News (28/7/23), signing himself “Vigilant,” offers what pretends to be a criticism of an article on co-operation appearing in our July issue.

This critic endeavours to take a “safe” line. He ignores what is essential in our article, and aims his criticism at three particular points.

In our article we made clear the present position of the worker, and showed how he was limited by his enslavement. That his funds for investments were practically nil; that he is forced to buy in the cheapest market regardless of “ideals” ; that, as a preliminary step, he must obtain control of political power before he can abolish slavery ; that once in control of the political machinery, he can alter the economic basis of society to suit his requirements.

These points our vigilant critic ignored, preferring to “pass by on the other side.”

He opens his criticism with a false statement, and winds up with two lies.

He writes :
“An editorial article in the July issue of the ‘Socialist Standard,’ an organ of the Socialist Labour Party.”
The Socialist Standard is the organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain; a political party that is opposed to the Socialist Labour Party. The latter is a body professing to overthrow capitalism by “Industrial Action.”

This opening’ error of “Vigilant” speaks volumes for his vigilance, and suggests how similarly “reliable” his succeeding statements may be.

He endeavours to prove that the Co-operative movement has “enormous” capital at its disposal, but admits how small “its financial resources seem in comparison with the capital holdings of great trusts and combines.” Then he inserts figures to show the large amount of money belonging to working men that is in the hands of industrial insurance societies, but handily omits either the source of his figures or information of what the figures represent—whether money paid in or the amount of the policies.

Co-operation is indeed in a bad case when its advocate has to drag in such matters as the above to try to build up capital “in the air.” Even giving him the benefit of his figures, such capital is still small in comparison with that which the trusts and combines control. And the latter also control the sources of raw material which, together with political power, gives them the key to the situation.

Here is a sample of “Vigilant’s” method of arguing :
  “If the working people are determined to obtain their supplies through the co-operative stores, the powerful capitalists are more likely to suffer than the co-operators should they precipitate a struggle.”
It is easy to demonstrate the absurdity of the above. Taking things as they are at present the working people can “determine” what they like, but their wages determine what they can spend and how they can spend. Wages in general are at such a low level that the workers are compelled to buy in the cheapest market, and that market is where the trusts control; they only go to the co-operative for the dividend dangled before them, and when that fails co-operative sales drop.
  “Practically every society in the country is crying out for more and yet more trade, yet many members have stopped purchasing at their own stores because there is no dividend or there has been a reduction in the amount of dividend, arid they take their trade—the life blood of the movement—to establishments where no dividend is ever paid.”—(“Co-operative News,” 18/8/23.)
Farther on “Vigilant” completely smashes the co-operative position. He points to the fact that the Co-operative movement is now taking political action. If they could extend their business so as to beat the capitalist in the economic struggle, why bother about political action? Have they at last obtained a glimmering of the fact that political power gives its controllers the means to smash any opposition?

As a prop to his contention that the capitalists cannot smash the Co-operative movement if they wish, “Vigilant” makes the following remarks :
  “Twenty-five years ago private capitalists banded themselves together to launch their offensives on the co-operative movement. Co-operators were dismissed from private employment, and the flow of goods from private producers to distributive societies was checked. Backed by public opinion, co-operators then beat the boycott, and have since adopted an even more menacing attitude towards the meat, soap, tea and tobacco trusts, their efforts becoming more effective as their control of the productive processes has tightened.”
So menacing has been the attitude of the Co-operatives and so effective their control that at the present moment the above-mentioned trusts control the market in their respective spheres and the Co-operative is nowhere ! Moreover, “Vigilant’s” little fairy tale is shattered by evidence from his own side :
  “In reality, the big financiers and captains of industry did not discover that the co-operative movement was really what it was until the war was well on and they found it nipping in the bud here and there their well-devised schemes for plundering the people through the necessities of the war. In all former wars it had been recognised that, contracting for the Government was a sure means of securing a quick rise to fortune by the supply of shoddy materials at treble prices, and one can imagine the chagrin of those firms who found the two Co-operative Wholesale Societies insisting on charging the Government reasonable prices and supplying goods which were value for the prices charged. This was the beginning of the awakening of capitalism to the co-operative menace, but when once they became thoroughly awake it did not take them long to devise means for clipping the movement’s wings.” —(Editor article in “The Scottish Co-operator,” 23/6/23.)
The above admission proves our contention that the capitalists can smash such an organisation as the Co-operative when they consider the latter a menace. The entrance of the Co-operative into the political arena is further proof that they recognise their own weakness economically.

“Vigilant” scouts our contention that the Co-operatives exploit their workers and makes the curious remark :
  “Theoretically, there can be no exploitation in a co-operative system of society.”
In the first place we are dealing with the Co-operative movement and not a co-operative system of society. We pointed to the frequent strikes of co-operative employees, and particularly the recent one in the C.W.S. Our wily critic, however, carefully ignored these facts, although the columns of the Co-operative News (even the one in which his criticism appears) are full of these subjects.

The President of the N.U.D.A.W. wrote to the Co-operative News (18/8/23) pointing out that the wages in the C.W.S. are lower than those of a private firm doing a similar trade to that at Pelaw and quoted’ the following figures :

  “The flat rate for all women at the C.W.S. is 27/3. In the private firm they are graded into four classes and even the least skilled receive 4/3. per week over the C.W.S. rate.”
The above figures were printed and have neither been questioned nor denied by the Co-operative News.

The same issue of the Co-operative News states that notices of wage reductions have been posted in the various jam works of the C.W.S.

From the above it will be seen that the Co-operative concerns carry on business in. the same way as any ordinary capitalist concern, so far as their workers are concerned.

We now have an illustration of “Vigilant’s” knowledge of economics :
  “An elementary knowledge of economics disposes of ‘Gilmac’s’ final point. To increase co-operative production is to reduce prices, and at the same time increase the purchasing power of the common people by distributing higher ‘surpluses.’ Consequently, demand is stimulated, production booms, and more and more workers are absorbed into the co-operative industry.”
An “elementary knowledge of economics” will very easily dispose of these early nineteenth-century free-traders’ slogans.

The Co-operative obtains its “surpluses” by conducting business on strictly capitalist lines—cutting down expenses by reducing wages and sacking workers. Carrying on their work more economically, i.e., by saving labour wherever possible, Unemployment will therefore increase. If a worker has less wages, and even, in some cases, no wages at all, lower prices (if the latter did come about !) would not increase their buying power beyond its present state.

It may, perhaps, be news to many admirers of the Co-operative movement to learn that a considerable amount of the Co-operative funds are invested outside the Co-operative movement. For instance, in 1915 they had “between four and five millions in bank balances and non-co-operative undertakings, of which the railways claim a fair share” (Labour Year Book, 1916, page 391), and “the investment for the movement in the War Loan of July last reached £1,500,000” (same source, page 389).

Here is further evidence that the Co-operative funds are used to exploit workers.

They also were not above “turning an honest penny” out of the slaughter of working men in the European shambles.

It is unnecessary to labour these points further, as they have already been covered in the last two issues of our paper, and “Vigilant” has not met the arguments therein set out.

Before concluding, we cannot pass un-mentioned the last paragraph in “Vigilant’s” alleged criticism. It reads as follows :
  “We note that ‘Gilmac’ refers proudly and often to history in the course of his dissertation. When next he treats of co-operation we hope he will offer more than one historical fact, and that he will take it from a more authentic source than a current issue of the ‘Daily News.'”
In the first place the source of an historical fact is immaterial, provided such a fact is a fact. The “fact” in question was the strike of 15,000 employees of the C.W.S. against a reduction in wages. Significantly enough “Vigilant” sneers at the source, but makes no comment on the fact.

In the second place there are lengthy quotations from G. J. Holyoake; an examination of the workers’ present position under capitalism (which “Vigilant” again completely ignores) ; a statement of the ideas of Robert Owen, which can be verified by anyone from Owen’s short Autobiography; and much more, all of which are historical facts, and not taken from a current issue of the “Daily News.

To conclude, after all the fairy tales and superficial statements of “Vigilant,” the present position of the Co-operative movement is as follows :
  “The net result of the change is that, relatively to its rivals and enemies, co-operation is weaker than it was nine years ago ; weaker financially and weaker administratively.”—(“The Scottish Co-operator,” 23/8/23.)
Gilmac.

A student of frauds. (1923)

From the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The recent debate in the House of Commons on a resolution of Mr. Snowden’s gave rise to quite a number of articles in the press on what is understood by most people to be Socialism.

Now, most of the writers in the daily press who pretend to deal with Socialism—generally, once and for all—display the most pitiful ignorance of the subject. Not one of them appears to know anything of the writings of Marx, except through other writers and critics who have been either incapable of understanding him, or who have been wholly interested in perverting or misconstruing him.

Marx proved conclusively—and showed how—that capitalism is a system where the mass of the people, the workers, are robbed of the wealth they produce by the class that calls itself capitalist. Hence, the capitalist and those who serve him find themselves in direct opposition to those who have adopted the truths discovered by Marx. They are totally unable to deny, or even meet, these truths. There has never yet been either an honest or dishonest critic who has discovered any weakness or flaw in the reasoning of Marx, nor anything false in his facts or the evidence on which they are built.

The book writers who have spelt out dreary criticisms through dry volumes have involved themselves in endless contradictions, and only succeeded in branding themselves as wordy ignoramuses, or, what is worse, perverters of scientific truths. The latter is more likely to be the correct estimate, as such writers usually show that they have some intimacy with the works of Marx.

The average writer in the press, on the contrary, is as serenely ignorant as the majority of his readers as to the nature of Marxian philosophy or the real meaning of Socialism. Their ignorance, however, is easily accounted for. The slight knowledge they possess is obtained from parties like the Independent Labour Party, which only recognises one fact in common with the Socialist Party—the fact of the workers’ poverty. They have never yet proclaimed the cause of that poverty, never admitted the antagonism between the capitalist and Working Class, and never declared in unmistakable language that the workers must abolish the capitalist system and establish a new order based on the common ownership and democratic control of all the means of wealth production. All they have done is to recognise the poverty of the workers, foist themselves upon them as leaders with promises of reforms, and bleed them. Truly, ignorance of Socialism is seen to be, not a disadvantage, but an asset, for Labour leaders, industrial and political, as well as for the average political writer. They can, one and all, write or speak in accord with popular fallacies without fear of the truth getting in the way of better-paying utterances.

Mr. Snowden’s definition of Socialism was, “The public ownership and democratic control of the instruments of production and distribution.” A writer in the Daily Chronicle (18/7/23). calling himself “A Student of Politics,” accepts this definition and quite easily shows what a failure it would be from the workers’ point of view. There is no quibbling with words on his part: “Public ownership” means exactly the same for him that it does for Mr. Snowden and the I.L.P. He argues that the public ownership of the instruments of production means the transference of capital from private capitalists to collective possession by them. He points out quite correctly “That it brings no message of comfort to the worker that henceforth his employer will be an omnipotent abstraction called the State”—a point which the Labour Party has never met when challenged by the Socialist.

With regard to the Labour Party’s proposal to buy out the capitalist, “A Student of Politics” says :
  “I can understand confiscation of capital such as has taken place in Russia. That is revolution and robbery. But Socialism which does not confiscate and refuses to rob anyone, seems to me to have no more virtue than a new system of book-keeping.”
To him nationalisation is “Capitalism in a new guise with the State as master” ; and he is quite correct when he describes it in his title as “Sham Remedies of Socialism.” All these kind of shams stand in the way of the real thing and hide it with senseless clatter and drivel.

If industry is nationalised, a “Student of Politics” points out, interest has to be paid on capital, while so much has to be put by for sinking fund, depreciation, etc., just as capitalists do at present. He then asks where is the money coming from for any great improvement in the workers’ position? The Labour Party has been repeatedly asked this question by Socialists. Obviously, if capitalist wealth is not appropriated—which is so-called confiscation— the payment of interest to buy out capitalists must be equivalent to present dividends. To talk of a fair rate of interest, as some Labour Leaders do, is only begging the question, because a “fair rate” would be an average rate on present dividends. But all such points are dust in the balance beside the main fact that only by cheaper production—less workers and reduced wages—can nationalised industries compete in the world markets.

The object of the Socialist Party is the only possible definition of Socialism. Mr. Snowden and “Student of Politics,” together with a host of others with similar ambitions, are, either knowingly or unknowingly, wrong when they define it as anything else. How is it possible to end the capitalist system unless society is established on principles where wealth can no longer be used as capital? It is the use of wealth in this way that gives its name to the present system. The reverse of capitalism must be a system where the means of wealth production are owned in common and democratically controlled by the whole of the people.

Under such a system there can be no question of the State being the only employer, because there are no longer employers and employed, no longer capitalists and wage-slaves. Instead, there are men and women producing to satisfy all their needs according to a plan agreed upon as the result of experience, discussion, and majority voting.

“A Student of Politics” says :
  “There must be some more modern, some more English diagnosis of our trouble than that of the German Marx two generations ago.”
And if Mr. Snowden’s definition of Socialism were identical with that of Marx, “A Student of Politics” would be right. The Labour Party, however, has never analysed the capitalist system correctly; has never shown why we have poverty in spite of the material means at our disposal for production in plenty. Nor has its greatest exponents, or its most irresponsible wild men, ever outlined a course of action for the workers that would free them from their present exploitation.

“A Student of Politics” should study Marx for himself, when he would not make the mistake of supposing that the childish fallacies and futile reforms of the Labour Party and I.L.P. are built on, or in any way deducible from, the writings of that great thinker.

His own contribution to the subject, entitled “A Liberal Alternative,” is just as fallacious as that of the Labour Party :
  “To have more capitalists to distribute the rewards of industrial efficiency more fairly and to insure as far as possible that no industrial virtue should go without its capitalistic reward.”
The cure for hydrophobia used to be a hair of the dog that did the biting. “A Student of Politics” would substitute another bite for the hair. It requires little reasoning ability to see that an increase in the number of capitalists would mean greater competition for markets, a reduction in wages wherever possible in order to cheapen products, and a consequent intensification of the workers’ struggle for existence. Markets would be glutted more rapidly, and the usual “capitalist reward for industrial virtue”—the sack—would be dealt out to the workers more freely.
F. Foan