Sunday, May 16, 2021

Elections in Austria (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Value of the Vote

Parliamentary Elections in any part of the world are ever watched with keen attention and invariably occupy much space in the press. This is understandable since with the world-wide interests and ramifications of capital, investors in every civilised country depend for the security of their holdings on stable governments and the continued acquiescence of the mass of the people in things as they are, i.e., wealth and a comfortable life without the necessity to work for a favoured few, and a life of poverty and insecurtiy for the mass of the workers not only at home but also abroad. In a class society such as ours, any upsetting of the government or any upheaval with the ever-present danger of the flouting of established authority by the poverty-stricken masses, strikes apprehension and fear into the hearts of property-holders; the cry goes up that “law and order" must be maintained at all costs. When, for example, Germany collapsed and Austria found herself without a government, the Viennese populace joined wherever they could the invading military forces in plundering to their hearts' content since there was nothing to stop them. Shops and warehouses were stripped bare—the sacred rights of property thrown to the winds, forgotten for the time being, until a government and law and order had been re-established. The old staunch upholders of capitalism, with the late Dr. Renner at their head, assisted by the occupying Powers, saved the situation and the beloved fatherland for the exploiters, as they had done before at the end of World War I. Since then the Austrian statesmen have so thoroughly convinced the foreign investors of their capability of safeguarding their private interests that, but for the distrust of one occupying Power, the other three would probably long have withdrawn their troops.

The general election in February (consequent on the resignation of the coalition government after some discord between the Conservatives and the "Socialists”) with the big and costly propaganda efforts made by a medley of parties, the specious promises of better times, the long lists of reforms dangled before the eyes of the people and dinned into their ears by the radio, bear witness to the concern of the propertied class and their State to get its subjects (mark the term "subjects') to vote for the peaceful continuation of their social order which guaranteed them their privileges. The election over, great satisfaction was expressed by the press of what is now called the free world, over the return of a new government that, whatever its eventual composition, guarantees the continuance of the Trinity of rent, interest and profit in Austria.

While the Austrian electors were extravagantly thanked by the home press for their good sense, the foreign press, with the exception of that behind the iron curtain, joined in the great chorus of praise for the political wisdom and maturity shown by the people. If Socialists cannot join in this eulogising concert and sing-song of the Austrian workers’ political ripeness, our reasons are, of course, very different from those prompting the attitude behind the iron curtain and their agents regarding the Austrian elections. Unlike Socialists, the Russians are not concerned with the workers’ understanding or lack of class-consciousness; all they are concerned with is commercial interest, to maintain the strategic position and control of the rich provinces which they have attained as a result of the war. And this is where they fall out with the other thieves.

It is true that Austrian workers have often fought and suffered for the democratic ideal, i.e., at least for freedom of organisation and association, free discussion, freedom of the press, etc. Who has forgotten the Austrian workers’ tragic heroism in 1934? (see Socialist Standard for March, 1934). But, withall, can one say that the workers of Austria are politically enlightened and mature any more than the mass of the workers in other lands? The answer must, unfortunately, be no. The fact alone that the numerically huge S.D.P. collapsed like a house of cards at the outbreak of World War I, and again even in times of peace, in 1934, at the hands of a mediocre clique led by a political dwarf like Dollfuss, proves their political backwardness. One can reasonably agree with the Austrian S.P. member who wistfully said to this writer at the time of the 1934 defeat: “ If only 10 per cent, of our members had understood and been imbued with the democratic and Socialist ideal, we would have had more fighters than we needed to crush the Schuschnigg-Dollfuss gang.” To which one might add that, if there had been 10 per cent class-conscious workers in the party, such a clique of usurpers could never even have raised its ugly head, and the working-class would have been spared the awful sacrifice and punishment that was inflicted upon it.

Political maturity! What with all the past promises of better times remaining unfulfilled, with the promise of full employment having turned out to be mass unemployment, and yet the people continuing to vote for the bankrupt upholders of a social order that produces all the misery and conflicts—one may well ask: Where does die political enlightenment and maturity come in? Were it not so tragically serious, one might consider it a joke. Why, a ripe and alert working class would surely not waste their time and energy listening to the worn-out platitudes and piffle of capitalist politicians and being taken in by their cliche programmes, which invariably include, of course, a "fight for the country’s freedom and independence,” “securing its economic future,” "increased production,” "social justice,” "peace, the rights of man” and so on, ad nauseam.

With some 300,000 men and women on the dole in a country of only about 6 million people, and with the problem of the unemployed youth, which will add another quarter-million to those seeking work, and knowing, on the other hand, as people must by now, the utter impotence of the existing political parties to effect any improvement in this dreary picture and appalling outlook, a people politically ripe and understanding the Socialist message, would consider that the time had come for revolutionary political action to end the sorry farce of capitalism instead of keeping on supporting and inflicting it on their children. As it is, however, about half of the electors were probably quite at a loss to know how to vote, since there is nowadays hardly any difference between the various political set-ups.

Even the much-vaunted improvements in housing conditions must be viewed against the background of the dreary picture of the general position of the workers. Does anyone imagine that there is happiness and a sense of security behind the facades of these huge blocks of council houses ? Gone is the time of the low rents; the screw has been put on, and anybody thinking that the “red city administration” and their banks, who control this property like everything else, have softer hearts than other capitalist overlords, is woefully mistaken. Even when in work, the tenants have to fight their life long to keep the wolf from the door, but woe betide when the breadwinner falls on evil days and becomes even less able to face the bills for gas and electricity and the rent collector! He will then discover how much of all this “public property“ belongs to him.

Political maturity! Only those are mature who have realised that the present social order has come to a hopeless impasse and that all attempts by the existing political parties and their spokesmen and statesmen to improve conditions, or avoid the terrible conflicts engendered by and raging within the framework of that competitive system, are doomed to failure; only those who have realised that what is needed is a fundamental change in the constitution of present-day society, as advocated by the S.P.G.B., their companion parties and by the great pioneers of scientific Socialism, Marx and Engels; only those who have the will and who will work for that fundamental change; only such people can lay claim to political maturity. All else is quackery and confusion and illusion.

Until the people have succeeded in overthrowing the present grotesquely stupid and inhuman social order, the mass of the people will remain what they are—heirs to the slavery of ages, exposed to all the evils and vicissitudes of a system based on property and production for profit. It is the height of folly on the part of the working class to continue placing their trust in mealy-mouthed professional politicians and glib-tongued “personalities,” and to fall again and again for their propaganda, despite all past disillusions and these leaders' glaring failure everywhere to deliver the goods. With the technical achievements and mass production that the last 100 years have brought to mankind, the social adjustment to this technical development, i.e. the fundamental change in the constitution of society as taught and advocated by scientific socialism, is now the only thing that matters. That teaching is that the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution must be converted from private and state control to the common property of the whole people, if poverty, insecurity, class-conflict and war is to be effaced from the face of the earth. It's as simple as that.
Rudolf Frank

Electoral Activity (1953)

Editorial from the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Party’s recent Annual Conference it was decided that, in the event of a by-election in North Paddington, we should contest the constituency. A by-election in a constituency which we have previously contested affords us a splendid opportunity to conduct an all-out concentrated propaganda drive, and to bring the Party’s case into greater prominence.

Such an effort does, of course, require money. Special literature, meeting halls, advertising, etc. are needed, and the initial outlay is much more than the Party has in hand at the moment

If we are to make a success of such a campaign we must prepare for it NOW. We therefore appeal to every member and sympathiser to raise the necessary money. At the time of going to press it seems possible that we shall shortly have the chance of contesting a by-election at N. Paddington. So this is our immediate objective. Therefore we must have all the money we can get for the purpose immediately.

Please send us as much as you can for this purpose AT ONCE. We will announce in the June number the amount of money we have received and what we can do.

Send donations marked “ Parliamentary Fund ” to: E. Lake, S.P.G.B., 52, Clapham High Street, S.W.4.

Human Nature and Socialism (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

I—Introduction

In this and five succeeding articles we shall outline the socialist view of the human aspect of society. In doing so we hope to make it clear why we believe that a new form of society, more in harmony with human needs and desires, is within the bounds of possible achievement. We may also be able to dispel some of the prejudices that exist concerning the aim of the socialist movement.

It is no exaggeration to say that most objections to Socialism are basically forms of asserting “it’s against human nature.” We do not underestimate the difficulties of overcoming the comforting feeling that the present system, despite its shortcomings, is “natural” and incapable of being fundamentally changed. The real defence of capitalism consists in perpetuating the myth (which need not be explicit to have its effect) that no other system is possible.

To the casual observer it seems strange that such great strides should have been made by science in the non-human or material side of nature and so few in the essentially human side. The explanation of this is to be found in the fact that the motor of history within private property society has been the development of the means of production. Under the stimulus of the need to increase productivity in order to compete successfully with rivals, capitalists have spent much money on research into all branches of science that aid this. Small wonder that the sciences of society—sociology, history, anthropology, etc.—have shown such meagre advances in comparison. Other fields of study, e.g. psychology and ethics, hardly rank as sciences because they have remained chained to idealism and religion.

We must not, however, underestimate the changes that are being brought about in the climate of ideas. The declining power of religion and the scientific (if not political) death of the dogmas of racism are evidence that man's knowledge of himself in society is growing rapidly. Old prejudices and false ideas are being swept away because they do not fit into the pattern of knowledge generated by the complex society in which we live. 

Every Individual Counts
The essence of the socialist case is that man can have the sort of world that will solve his present problems, by accepting the ideas necessary to bring it into being and to sustain it. But it is not merely a question of getting a majority of people to say—“ Yes, Socialism is a good idea—let’s have it.” With the changing of the ideas that predominate now must come a changing of the ways in which people are accustomed to look at every aspect of life.

So long as people believe that as things are so they have always been, they will not be in a position to take the requisite action to change them to achieve desired ends. They may agree with us when we point out the need for change, but will excuse themselves from taking any action by making some such remark as “ it's a good idea, but it will never come in my lifetime so what’s the use? ”

The reduction of the worker to the status of a cog in a vast machine helps to foster the feeling that the views of one individual make no difference to the total, and therefore no difference to what is “bound” to happen. Yet those who, at election times, seek support for the continuation of capitalism do not take this view—they stress that every vote counts, which, of course, it does. They know that there is nothing inevitable about the electorate choosing one of the parties of capitalism. It is only when trying to combat the case for Socialism that they seek to deny the effect of individual views.

We are concerned not merely with explaining Socialism but also with overcoming all the factors that hinder the growth of socialist ideas. Not the least of these is the false concept of his own nature that man has built up within property society. From time to time he has believed himself to be the plaything of the gods, the victim of a predestined fate, or the product of a mathematical mind behind the universe. All such views have had the effect (usually, but not necessarily, intended) of making him resigned to his lot, and of turning him away from any constructive action to change it. “It’s human nature” has been more often used in extenuation of the avoidable ills, malpractices, injustices and cruelties of men than any other phrase in the language.

Meaning of Human Nature
There is probably no more misused and misunderstood term in the language than ‘human nature.’ Everyone has used it, but few have understood it. In order to dear away some of the confusion, let us refer to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, which takes over 500 words to define ‘nature.’ In connection with ‘human’ it gives:
The general inherent character or disposition of mankind.
More fully human nature.
e.g. Modern. It’s only human nature to do that.
The compilers of the dictionary must be congratulated upon choosing an example that illustrates well the looseness and vagueness of the term. They might have chosen a commoner example, such as ‘it’s only human nature to be selfish’—but then they would have been in the position of saying that selfishness is the general inherent character of mankind. Caution is indicated to all who would enlarge upon what it is ‘human nature’ to do.

We are, however, safe in saying that human nature is the nature (as defined above) of human beings. That being so, it must obviously only apply (even with the qualifying adjective ‘general ’) to the vast mass of all human beings. It is not the nature of all Britons, or of all the people in the world at present, that is under discussion, but what is common to the natures of human beings, as a species, since they first inhabited the earth. Since this is generally agreed to have been anything between 50,000 and 500,000 years ago, care must be taken lest a character is wrongly attributed to human nature. Love of money, for example, could only have arisen when money did (about 5,000 years ago) and is therefore not “natural” to human beings.

“Human nature” only applies to those characters which all human beings share. It is reasonable to include among these such universal needs as shelter, clothing, work, play, companionship and love. Human life can exist, at least for a time, without these things, but they may be regarded for all practical purposes, as universal and basic.

But the term “human nature” is seldom applied in this way. When used correctly, it usually supports some other statement that is fully capable of standing on its own merits, such as “ he needs to be loved—it’s only human nature.” Only when an attempt is being made to prove a doubtful assertion is it extended beyond its true meaning. Take the example quoted earlier, “it’s only human nature to be selfish.” If it is possible to show that any significant number of men have not been selfish, then “human nature” is not applicable. Some other phrase, such as “human behaviour,” must be used to indicate that selfishness is the attribute of only some men under certain conditions.

Heredity and Environment
We must now introduce a concept that is of the greatest importance to an understanding of the socialist view of human nature. It concerns the parts that heredity and environment play in human evolution.

The first thing to recognise is that man’s bodily structure has had little to do with his progress. For all practical purposes, modern men have the same physiological organs as the earliest men. But the products of human evolution—ideas, theories, social organisations and the like—do change, and are, in effect, what distinguish men of one period of history from those of another.

Physical characteristics, such as colour of eyes, skin and shape of head are inherited through the genes, according to certain reasonably well-defined laws, the details of which need not concern us here. But the characteristics which count in the field of human endeavour are not, and cannot be transmitted by physiological reproduction. Each individual must acquire them anew from the human environment in which he is born and develops. Ideas, ways of thinking, habits, motives—in short, the psychological features as distinct from the anatomical—are given to the individual by all the influences of the human world, by the state of society in which his development proceeds.
  “Humanity, as a whole, is the only organism which transmits the products of human evolution. A man does not derive them from his parents; they contribute almost nothing in that respect. Every man is born a wild little animal, susceptible of developing into a howling savage, a man of the fifth century, of the fifteenth century, of the twentieth or of the twenty-fifth. It is the vast organism, the human world, which makes him what he is, and determines to what stage of human evolution he shall belong.” (‘‘The Making of Humanity,” by Robert Briffault, p. 64.)
From this, it follows that there is nothing in the biological make-up of man that makes one system of society possible and another impossible. What determines this is the behaviour of people, which is the product of all the environmental influences.

Social anthropologists point out that had any one of us been reared among Hottentots his behaviour would be that of a Hottentot. And if we were to be transferred, even as adults, to a social culture radically different from the one in which we grew up, our behaviour would, in time, begin to resemble that of the people in the new surroundings more so than our former habits. It is only because we remain in the environment in which our habits originally arose that our behaviour stays fairly constant.
Stan Parker

(Next Article: “ You Can’t Change Human Nature ”)

Correspondence: Engels on the relationship of landlord and tenant (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent, Mr. C. E. Berry, Torquay, draws our attention to a statement made by Frederick Engels in his “The Housing Question.” Mr. Berry writes:—
  “It appears that a landlord confronted by a tenant is not, per se a capitalist nor engaged in exaction of surplus value.”
Mr. Berry refers to the mention of “land ” in our Declaration of Principles and asks:—
  “Does this mean that ownership of houses apart from land, such as leaseholds, is not contrary to Socialism? Where does common ownership of property divide off from property in personal ownership, i.e. personal property, under Socialism?”

Reply

1. The relationship of landlord and tenant
The passage referred to is one in which Engels criticises the statement of a German follower of Proudhon who had written:—
   “As the wage worker is in relation to the capitalist, so is the tenant in relation to the house owner.”
Engels points out that the above statement is incorrect. People who rent houses (whether they are workers or capitalists) are buying a commodity (the use of a house) from the house-owner. They are not in the position of worker to capitalist, for in this relationship the worker is the seller of a commodity (labour-power) and the capitalist is buying it

The capitalist exacts surplus value when he buys labour-power. He does not exact surplus value when he sells commodities, though it is in the act of selling commodities that he realises surplus value. If the Proudhonist argument were correct then all sales, not only sales of accommodation, would be an act of exacting surplus value—which would produce the odd result that the capitalists exploit each other, and also that the workers are exploited in production and everybody, capitalists and workers alike, is again exploited in the act of buying commodities.

2. That the landlord is not per se a capitalist
Our correspondent’s conclusion from Engel’s statement is that “ a landlord confronted by a tenant is not, per se, a capitalist.”

This overlooks the fact that the capitalist is still a capitalist after he has exploited the workers in production; he is still a capitalist when, as a seller of commodities, he confronts workers or other capitalists—but in the latter act he is a capitalist who is realising surplus value by turning commodities into money.

3. Landlords mid Socialism
Our correspondent’s further conclusion is in the form of asking whether the ownership of houses is compatible with Socialism.

Socialism requires that the means of production and distribution shall cease to be privately owned and become the common property of society. This relates to the means of production and distribution and the consequence of their common ownership will be that the products will be freely accessible to the members of society.

In those circumstances the members of society will take the products in order to consume them. They will consume the accommodation by living in houses and will of course not do so by permission of an individual house owner any more than they will eat bread by permission of a bread owner. There will be no such owners.

Nothing that Engels wrote in “The Housing Question” is in conflict with this. Engels was merely correcting an erroneous statement. He did not draw or imply any conclusion such as these in the question.
Editorial Committee

Mr. Aldred intervenes (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The February issue of “The Word” published in Glasgow by Mr. Guy A. Aldred and enigmatically describing itself as “organ of the United Socialist Movement,” contains two articles attacking the S.P.G.B. The one with which we are concerned here contains letters sent to us by H. Fullarton and John Robertson which were not published by us. In publishing them Aldred claims that he is “rendering a service to the Socialist Movement”

The facts are as follows. In the October, 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard we published and replied to a letter from John Robertson under the heading “ Organisation—Industrial or Political. A second letter from John Robertson was published and replied to in March, 1952 and a third letter in June, 1952.

We then received a fourth letter from him. also a letter from H. Fullarton and a letter from W. T. Fielding all dealing with the same controversy.

As these three further letters largely went over again the ground that had already been covered and as our space is limited we decided to have an article drafted dealing with all three together and the correspondence was handed over to a member who was to draft the reply. For various reasons the reply was not written and eventually the whole matter was forgotten. For this we express our regrets to the three correspondents.

Readers who are interested in the discussion can see the opposing points of view in the issues referred to.

We are still of opinion that the unpublished letters are largely a repetition of what went before, and after this lapse of time there is no point in pursuing the matter.

We note that in his fourth letter John Robertson holds that our reply to his third letter misrepresents what he wrote. Readers can see his letter and our reply in the issue for June, 1952.

We also observe that though Mr. Aldred says that he thinks he is rendering a service by publishing two of the letters he does not reproduce any of the earlier letters or our replies to them.
Editorial Committee

Piece Work, Bonus and the Psychologist (1953)

From the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The problem of how to get more out of the working class has been one which has perplexed capitalist society ever since its inception. The field over which discussion on this subject has ranged has been an unlimited one. Defenders of private property, the Church, the Press, the politician and the professor, indeed most of the stout hearted apologists for Capitalism in its various forms, have all had something to say on the matter. More recently this field has been invaded by the Trade Union leaders and at the moment of writing Mr. A. Horner (Communist) is joining together with Sir William Lawther, a labourite, and Sir Herbert Holdsworth of the National Coal Board, in an appeal to the miners to increase output.

One of the plots that is so often hatched to force us to work harder is piece work or a bonus scheme in some form or another.

The older established forms of piece work are well known. The idea of paying an employee a certain rate for a piece of work turned out has long been established in certain industries and workers have learnt from bitter experience how the system is operated by the employers. Often just when they seem to be gaining a little, the employer declares it to be “uneconomical” and alters the rate for the job. Of course, the results are often quite beneficial to the capitalist The Daily Herald of 9th November, 1950, reported that workers on piecework in the women’s shoe industry produced double the output of those on day wages, although the earnings of the piece workers were only just over £2 per week more.

Another variation of the same theme is to introduce an incentive bonus which is paid in addition to the weekly or hourly rates. During and since the war this has become a popular method of avoiding large wage increases, particularly in the building and civil engineering industries.

A report appeared in the Manchester Guardian of February 23rd, 1953, headed “ Failings of the Group Bonus Scheme” dealing with some research into this subject carried out by a Dr. Norah M. Davis of the Medical Research Councils' Group in Industrial Psychology.

The function of “psychologists” in general has always been something of a puzzle to the writer but an “industrial psychologist” is a bird somewhat easier to define. In general their object seems to be to try and iron out the mental difficulties of the workers in order to make them more contented in their work. Indeed, throughout her report Dr. Davis seems to refer to “the workers” in a similar manner to that of the biologist dealing with the life and habits of some lower specie of animals.

The report states “Over 60% felt a sense of injustice which expressed itself either in aggression or resigned helplessness. This was because the bonus they received each week varies in an unpredictable manner. Although pay was related to work done, the relationship was so complicated that no one understood it and working harder in fact seemed to make no difference to money at the end of the week.”

To the socialist this is by no means an amazing revelation and one wonders why capitalists have to call on their “industrial psychologists” to tell them this. It is a fact that most of us have this feeling at the end of a week’s work, with or without a group bonus scheme. The reason for it has nothing to do with “psychology” but arises directly from the fact that, under capitalism, the wealth we produce belongs to the ruling class. The attitudes of “resigned helplessness” or “aggression” are but the reflection of the very real grievances of the workers. Dr. Davis has a very difficult task ahead of her if she and her fellow “industrial psychologists” hope to create the illusion in the minds of the workers that their sole object should be to work harder and co-operate more together in the interests of the capitalists.

The report does well to mention the “social disunity” of the group bonus scheme, the conflict it created within the group and states that some workers thought it “evil” and that it produced “tragic results.” Those of us who have experienced this sort of scheme at work will know what it is to see one worker against another, the more “diligent” member of the group acting as a sort of unpaid foreman, chasing his fellow workers and blaming them for every fall in his earnings. This must make the employers very happy and no doubt they would be even happier if only the workers would take up the right “psychological attitude."

Dr. Davis notices some further tragic results of the system when she mentions the question of the nervous exhaustion and strain felt by the people working in the factories she visited. One departmental manager said, for example, that his men were “extraordinarily difficult to handle, touchy and liable to flare up over any trifle."

This is capitalism at its modem stage of development, the age of speed, the race for greater and greater production and the struggle for world markets. The roundabout goes faster and ever faster, the more speedy the worker and the more concentrated his work, the greater is production bringing with it ever mounting riches for a privileged minority. As for the workers, they are but the losers of the race, the tragic, fallen victims, nervous and neurotic, of an age of racing production and rocketing profits.

To these problems the “industrial psychologist” has no answer. True Dr. Davis tells us that doctors and personnel managers as well as the management and the “time-study” engineer should be called in to settle the “payment systems.” But we rest assured, that whoever is called in to settle how much wages the workers should receive they will get no more than is necessary to keep them alive and able to work.

The problems dealt with by Dr. Davis have very little to do with that which is called “psychology" but arise from the social conditions of the modern world. Harmonious relationships within industry cannot be created within the framework of capitalism. It may be possible to foster the illusion in the minds of the workers that greater productivity under this system is in their interests, but it will be an illusion that will be finally shattered by the ever-pressing problems of the capitalist world.
D. M.

Unhappy Anniversary (1995)

From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
 
The end of the second world slaughter was characterised by a belief that the future would be one of peace, jobs, good homes and free, best available health care for everyone and that unemployment. poverty and want were going to be eradicated forever through state control of resources . . . 
Waiting for the unimaginable to happen, we were in a state of eerie suspense for a short time before VE-Day. Of course we had had time to prepare for the end of the war, as the stress factors were eliminated one-by-one. With the Luftwaffe beaten out of existence the air raids stopped and the blackout was lifted. We had endured the flying bombs and the rockets more easily because we knew they were Germany's last gasp. But then it seemed that all there was to do was to wait, wondering whether there was still enough military fanaticism smouldering in Germany to burst into flame again. So when the date was announced it had some elements of an anti-climax In fact this was partly due to an official bungle; originally May 9 was to be the day, with a dramatically-staged ceremony in Berlin, but the plan was upset by a leaked news report.

A couple of nights later we had our street party, when we fĂȘted the street’s one war hero—a man who had landed at Arnhem but who had then, from his own account, rapidly sought out some Germans to surrender to. At the cross-roads we lit a huge bonfire and another soldier—who had been the local milkman—played an accordion and the grown-ups danced. Well not all the grown-ups actually because the ex-milkman got involved in a dispute with a man whose job as a builder had exempted him from conscription. In the light of the bonfire, the argument expanded into a scuffle and then a fight. The next night each of the men lit their own bonfire with its music and dancing and shouting. I was not best placed because I needed my sleep, to get up early for my paper round which was symbolic because after the war and the celebrations there was still the matter of being on time for work even for fourteen-year-olds.

Never again
When the fires died down and the milkman and the builder shook hands and I went out to deliver the papers we faced the post-war world. The Daily Mirror published a Zec cartoon of a wounded soldier holding out a wreath labelled Peace And Victory in Europe and saying “Here you are: don't lose it again.” There were gaps in the houses and shops where bombs had fallen and gaps in families where people had been killed. A local greengrocer’s son had been caught in a burst of shrapnel from an anti-aircraft shell which had failed to explode in the air and landed in front of him in the street, the butcher’s boy had gone down in a troopship torpedoed in the seas around Borneo; an old boy of my school, we were told one morning in assembly, had been killed in a bombing raid on Germany—a couple of days after he had visited the school to show off the navigator’s wing he had just been awarded.

But as we faced the future we were quite certain that things would be different—better—from now on and that it was up to us to make sure of this. “Never again” was an overworked phrase. Never again unemployment, poverty, racism, slums, malnourished and ill-educated children, never again people denied proper medical treatment because they couldn’t afford it. Never again politicians who promised a land fit for heroes to live in, or those who did deals with dictators while the world slid into war.

The energising of a political will to build a better world from the ruins of the war began some time before VE-Day. In August 1940 Duff Cooper, who was Minister of Information (a job title about as valid as Gcorge Orwell’s Minister of Truth) persuaded the Cabinet to set up a committee on war aims, among them “to consider means of perpetuating the national unity achieved in this country during the war through a social and economic structure designed to serve equality of opportunity and service among all classes of the community”. Duff Cooper in his ministry was not the only one to think on these lines. In January 1941 the magazine Picture Post gave up an entire issue to its feature A Plan For Britain, which included “a job for every able-bodied man . . . a state managed company to make community investment . . . a minimum wage for all able-bodied adults . . . everybody to live in cheerful, healthy conditions . .. " and so on "through medical care, education, agriculture. . . ’’ This Plan, said an editorial: “ . . . is not something outside the war, or something after the war It is an essential part of our war aims. It is, indeed, our most positive war aim.”

State influence
The timing of this was significant because in 1940 and 1941 about the only war aim which would have seemed relevant was survival. But one thing the tenaciously surviving British ruling class had learned from 1914-18 was that in wartime the workers, when they are needed to fight and kill and die and suffer, must be encouraged with promises of a rewarding future. When Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour, went with Churchill to visit troops embarking in Portsmouth for the D-Day landings he was asked whether “when we have done this job for you, are we going back on the dole?” Both Bevin and Churchill replied "No, you are not.” Well, they would, wouldn’t they? What else could they have said to those men, whose first worry was not about facing the channel in those boats and then the German forces wailing for them on the beaches, but about going back on the dole? Coming from the extremities of poverty, those soldiers asked little more than employment—exploitation by a ruling class and in return they were willing to fight and die for that class.

It was not surprising that there should be a popular assumption that the management of the economy to provide for full employment could not be left to private interests. Such things had to be the concern of the state, which during the war had come to be seen as a benign manipulator of our lives. In order to organise British industry and working power for victory the state had taken massive and widespread powers, for example to direct anyone to work at any job anywhere in conditions and at a pay prescribed by the state. Most imported goods were bought through the state, which controlled about half of consumer spending. In other fields the government laid down regulations about the rate of extraction in the flour and in our bread, it supplied children and pregnant women with free orange juice and cod liver oil, it set up the beginnings of a national health service.

Benefits for Labour
The case for state control was given an added impetus by the course of the war in Russia. The fact that that country had survived such an unspeakable ordeal was taken as evidence that the total organisation of a country's resources for a common aim had to be the responsibility of the state. There was not much publicity, then (socialists were among the very few who were consistently giving out the facts) about the famines, the gulags, the show trials and the rest of the Stalinist terror which had wiped out millions of people. In 1944 George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which satirised the Stalinist regime, was rejected by Faber and Faber—by T.S. Eliot—on the grounds that it did not put “the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time”. In June 1942, celebrating the anniversary (yes, celebrating) of Russia’s entering (even if it had been forced on them) the war, the Bishop of Chelmsford prayed “May God bless Russia.” This was asking rather a lot of God, who would surely have remembered what Stalin had done to organised religion in Russia even if the bishop had forgotten it.

This conception of the state as an all-powerful, benevolent parent who could magic away unemployment and poverty while bringing in good health care and community spirit worked against the Conservative Party, who were in any case widely considered to have helped bring the war about. The Tories were in any case in some disarray, after having been forced to accept as their leader a man they had hated so much so recently. Churchill’s assumption of power had more-or-less deposed the established Conservative oligarchy, intensely professional election winners, and replaced them with his own, rather eccentric cronies like Beaverbrook and Brendan Bracken. One Tory MP was so gloomy about his party 's situation that he wrote to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, after a meeting in 1942, that "throughout the country the Conservative Party has become a cheap joke: the press and the BBC treat us with the contempt that we have earned and deserved”. In contrast the Labour leadership had remained intact and had grown in political strength, partly by their role in making Churchill prime minister and partly by their disproportionate power in the coalition government. A series of wartime by- elections had measured how unpopular were the Tories, with swings against them as much as 28 percent. In the general election of 1945, in which the Conservative persisted in nominating some strikingly incompetent candidates, the Labour Party’s victory signalled how anxious the voters were to have made VE-Day the beginning of the end of a discredited party.

Atomic Bomb
We had been told about the heavy water plant in Norway where the Germans were working on an atomic bomb and we were relieved that the plant had been put out of action in a commando raid. That, we thought, was the end of that nightmare, "our” side was much too civilised and humane to use terrible a weapon on warm, living human beings. When we learned otherwise it was among the first in a history of disappointed hopes and discredited visions which have characterised the past fifty years.

If we had been told them that on this anniversary of the end of the war there would be millions in this country in the deepest poverty, tens of millions elsewhere dying of starvation, millions homeless and life a noxious cocktail of drug abuse, crime and despair, we would have called it a betrayal. The thing we cannot say on 8 May 1995 is Happy Anniversary.
Ivan


Blogger's Note:
The illustration on the front cover of the May 1995 Socialist Standard was by longtime Socialist Party of Great Britain member, George Meddemmen. For more information about George — and, ironically enough, his wartime experiences — you can check out this recording of him being interviewed at the Imperial War Museum where "he discusses his life, artwork and 2nd World War experiences serving in the Royal Artillery in Africa and Italy".

Victory and then What? (1995)

A Classic Reprint from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
 
This month the British State celebrates its victory over
 German capitalism in the last world war. They have even
 abolished—without a protest from the unions—the traditional 1 May holiday and replaced it by their own festival of
 militarism a week later. As Socialists, who opposed the last 
world slaughter as yet another war between rival
 imperialisms, we are taking no part in these celebrations.
 Instead, we reproduce below the lead article from the June
1945 Socialist Standard on the end of the war.
Another preventable tragedy is drawing to a close. The War that has spread death and destruction over a great part of the earth has come to an end in the western countries, and men and women in the fighting forces are anxiously awaiting the signal to go home. Home! Back to the old monotonous life in the office, the shop and the factory, toiling like beasts of burden for the enrichment of those who own the means of production, and with the constant dread of unemployment and penurious old age.

Europe is strewn with cities of the dead, the demented, the hungry and the homeless. Wonderful products of man's age long ingenuity, constructed by the labour of slaves, ancient, mediaeval and modern, have been reduced to shapeless heaps of rubble in a wild orgy of destruction unparalleled in any other period of human history. The unbridled savagery of the uncivilized Vandals and Huns of Antique and Mediaeval times has been surpassed by the calculated savagery of the highly civilized nations of to-day. War is always brutal and when the result of decades of scientific discoveries are centred upon means and methods of carrying on warfare, the brutality and cynical destruction is correspondingly colossal. And even so the last year of the War has shown us that we have only had a taste of things to come if the cause of war is left untouched by the only people who can abolish it—the working class.

The tragic aspect of the last six years is the fact that war solves no working class problem; it even throws up more problems and makes old problems more pressing On the one hand it gives an impetus to methods for reducing the amount of labour required to produce a given amount of wealth, on the other hand it converts thousands of ordinary workers into highly skilled technicians to compete with each other for a relatively reducing number of jobs. Many a trained specialist in different fields of industry will be walking the streets looking for a job in the not far distant future, just as their lesser skilled brethren did a year or two after the last War. And yet it is just the working class that bears the overwhelming burden of War, does nearly all the fighting and makes the principal sacrifices.

We now learn that the new world for which so many were called upon to struggle, and for which so many laid down their lives, is not yet. Food in the world is short, transport is ruined, the destruction of bomb and gun must first be made good before any improvement can be expected. We are exhorted to forgo the alleged fruits of “victory", tighten our belts and produce as voluminously as possible so that industry may get on its feet again.

The glowing promises of the early days of the War have gradually dimmed and in place of them we are urged to think of the starving peoples, of the vanished trade, and of anything else that can fob the workers off demanding the beautiful world of dreams by which they were seduced to the battlefields and the bomb devastated workshops. Not for them the type of dinner given by Mr Eden to a select party of diplomats at San Francisco which, according to the Daily Express (3/5/45) consisted of: Martini cocktails or tomato juice; oysters; sirloin steak; new peas, asparagus, potatoes au gratin; ice-cream ring with chopped fresh strawberries, small cakes, champagne. Yes, we must think of starving Europe, deny ourselves and work, but the exalted emissaries of our masters are permitted to forget—and eat.

In the meantime the capitalists of the different nations are completing their plans to fight each other in an economic war for markets, sources of supply and lines of traffic. Already British and American interests have fallen foul of each other over oil and airlines, shipping and island bases. And the scramble is only beginning.

In spite of the curtain of exalted sentiments behind them the Yalta Conference, the Frisco Conference, and all the other conferences past and future, have only one fundamental object—the enrichment of groups of capitalists out of the labour of the international working class. What we are witnessing now is simply a jockeying for place in this race for enrichment. The capitalists of each nation are asking themselves: “What point of vantage can we get out of the spoils of victory. Hurry or the other fellow will get there first.” Thus among the “United” nations and their friends, the late-comers, there is seething distrust. France tries to hang on to Stuttgart and growls; Yugo-slavia does the same at Trieste; Russia adopts an amenable Polish and Viennese government and the others do the growling; Turkey licks its lips and pounces in for a share; and so on and so forth. Hence another “War to end all wars” with still greater catastrophic results is already in the making, even before the present battlefields have been cleared of their broken human debris.

Working class memories are short and the spokesmen for the capitalists are cunning. The horrors of Buchenwald are trumpeted around the world because it suits the present interests of our masters whilst other misdeeds of capitalist civilization, equal in fiendish cruelty, are overlooked. It was not only Germans who transported hundreds of thousands of negroes in coffin ships from tropical Africa to work as chattel slaves under appalling conditions in the United States; who forced thousands of children of tender age to work in the factory hells of this country and America; who suppressed with ruthless ferocity the French Communards of 1871; who brutally exploited the native populations in every part of the world for personal enrichment. Capitalism drips with blood and tears wherever it raises its ugly head and flaming youth treads the ghastly path to the grave in defence of it. It is not only dictatorships, but capitalism itself that represents the spirit of ruthless unbridled domination.

In these days of “Victory” we remember what capitalism was and is. The relief at the lifting of the war clouds is apt to inspire in many an understandable desire to get back to work and forget, like a bad dream, the horrors they have been through. But the workers must not forget. They must remember, and remembering search for and apply the only remedy for wars and other social ills from which they suffer. The real enemy of the working class is, and always has been, at home. That is the capitalist class of every country and the system of wage-slavery it represents.

The workers must grasp the real meaning of the facts presented to them, and find and apply the only remedy or once again pay the penalty for allowing a privileged class to direct the course of events. They must recognise that they are the producers and distributors of the wealth of the world, but an idle class lives on the results of their toil because the workers allow that class to retain the ownership and control of the means of wealth production although constitutional means are at their disposable to dispossess that class.

Modern wars are not caused by human frailty, but by the greed of capitalists for profit out of the labour of the workers. When the population of the earth owns in common the means of production the product of human labour will be distributed to each according to the needs of each. Then no one will make profit out of another’s labour and the scramble for markets will disappear. This is Socialism, and it is for this alone that Socialists are struggling. When the workers have made up their minds to build a Socialist society, and have set about doing so, war and its causes will disappear from the earth.
Gilmac.

Conscientious Objections (1995)

From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard 
 
Not everybody supported the War. Now portrayed as a fight against the Absolute Evil of Nazism it was in fact a conflict between rival imperialist powers over markets, trade routes, raw materials and colonies. It was opposed by pacifists of various sorts, but also by members of the Socialist Party on the grounds that war was not in the interest of the working class, would not solve any of their problems but was itself a problem caused by capitalism. We publish below a statement by an SPGB member before the conscientious objectors tribunal.
I registered on March 9th as a conscientious objector, and now furnish my statement giving my reasons for my objection to war.

According to my dictionary the word "conscience" means:- mental sense of right and wrong. As a sane being I must claim to have this sense. The word ‘object' meaning: - to feel dislike or reluctance to something. Therefore I find that I have the right to term myself "a conscientious objector", despite the fact that I do not base my objections on religious grounds.

In my earlier days I was conscious of an absolute horror of war. It seemed to me to be quite contrary to common human decency. and I regarded it as murder on a par with the slaughter of one's fellow countryman. It appeared to me that in war man destroyed the life of men with whom he had no quarrel and consequently war was an absurdity from the common people's point of view. Convinced as I am now of the gross indecency, absurdity and barbarous nature of war I have resolved to have no part with it. I realise that the common people (the working class) by similarity of their class position, by poverty and their common suffering have a mutual interest. I realise that in war the British working class, suffering as they do from the evils of the present economic system, must maim and slaughter fellow sufferers, the so-called “enemy", with whom they have no quarrel, gaining nothing in victory and losing nothing in defeat of sufficient importance to justify the shedding of their blood.

It is my firm conviction that this war will not bring peace, just as previous wars, designed to bring peace and security to the “conqueror" (so the common people were told) have not brought peace, only quiet ensured by force.

I believe war to be the greatest example of human folly. I abhor barbarity but I am convinced that we cannot banish barbarism by being barbarous; wrecking the homes and lives of our fellow men. slaughtering, burning and gassing their women and children is no way to solve any of our mutual problems.

Humanity has I believe a choice; to continue along the present road of capitalism and war suffering the disastrous consequences or seek the only alternative which is Socialism. In seeking this alternative I cannot support or sanction war. I contend that NO SOCIALIST WHO ACCEPTS INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM CAN POSSIBLY GO TO WAR any more than can a person who accepts the Sermon on the Mount as the law of life. A Socialist or a Christian must acknowledge that all wars are civil wars and consequently a crime against humanity itself.
H.C. 1940

Blogger's Note:
My educated guess is that H.C. was Harold Cottis.

Private parts (1995)

From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

What would you do. if your home was suddenly besieged by a mob of complete strangers with cameras and tape recorders and notebooks, who were trampling up to your front door, shouting at you through the letterbox, trying to get in through the windows and the backdoor, offering you loads of money just to talk to them or be photographed by them?

Well the first thing you ought to do is find out whether you were a notorious sex criminal or having an affair with a member of the royal family or had won the national lottery. Because those raucous strangers would be newspaper reporters desperate for an exclusive story from you. And to get it they are perfectly willing to do something called Invading Your Privacy.

Which has caused a lot of fuss lately—so much that Tory MPs who have been caught out in some extramarital adventures or financial jiggery-pokery have defended themselves by saying that the evidence against them was accumulated only by the media intruding on their private business. That is why so many of them are suddenly so strongly in favour of a law to protect their privacy. Of course their panic is understandable when we remember how many reputations have recently suffered by exposure of the facts which privacy was supposed to hide—the "cash for questions" MPs. junior ministers like Tim Yeo, Lord Caithness and Michael Mates and—most prized, most exposed, of all—David Mellor.

Hospital and royalty
But none of this is new. One member of the Calcutt Committee, set up in 1989 to look into the media and privacy and related matters, commented that "Many of the most appalling cases that were sent to us . . . came from way back in the 1930s and even earlier than that. . ." In June 1988. as Russell Harty was dying in hospital, reporters working on the well-tried principle that there’s nothing money won’t do, bribed a window cleaner to take pictures of him. They posed as doctors, in white coats, and tried to persuade a nurse to hand over Harty’s medical records. In January 1990, when the TV actor Gorden Kaye was in intensive care, seriously injured and not expected to live, two reporters got to his bedside, took photographs of him and tried to interview him.

In all this it would be unnatural if the privacy of the greatest media stars of them all were left unviolated. Prince Charles in August 1990 was photographed by a long-range camera seemingly canoodling with a woman. This apparent triumph of the papparazzi's art turned out to be a massive embarrassment because Charles was comforting the woman, in the presence of her husband, when they told him their child had cancer. The People lost its abhorrent editor—Wendy Henry— when it published a picture of Prince William urinating in a park with the headline (a typical Wendy Henry one) "The Royal Wee". When the Press Complaints Commission, set up on the recommendation of the Calcutt Committee. opened for business in January 1991 one of its first calls was from Sandringham—a complaint about press harassment from the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Double standards
This was in fact an example of hypocrisy such as the sleazier tabloids would be proud of. One thing which has been clear about the current turmoil in the lives of the royals—their affairs, their crumbling marriages, their nervous disorders—is the eagerness of some of them to use the media to publicise their side of the story. Apart from specific episodes like Charles’s selective television soul-baring in interview with Jonathan Dimbleby there has been a steady leak of carefully constructed information to favoured journalists. People who manipulate the media in this way can’t be taken seriously when they also complain about it invading their privacy.

Neither can those MPs. who scream about the unfair violation of their personal privacy when the press spotlights one of their sleazier activities. To begin with, as upholders of capitalism's morality about the sanctity of property they shouldn’t do the things which lay them open to such exposure. And when they are exposed they should remember that it’s all in the day’s work to a social system where what is profitable is good and what is unprofitable is bad. Newspapers make profits by being bold and those which produce the scoop-stories about scandalous politicians, or hypocritical royals or whatever, are likely to sell more.

Humiliation
The politicians tell us that this system is the most effective way of running human affairs. In fact they say there really is no other way. Of course there is the matter of what capitalism and its profit motive does to us—its prisons, weapons, pollution, the indignities which people like journalists will endure in order to obey the law about the production of goods for sale. Under that law the working class—who clamorously vote for those politicians—suffer massive humiliation and abuse, so that they don’t ever have what might properly be called any privacy to be intruded upon. 
Ivan

Rochdale local election (1995)

Party News from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Below is the election address of the Socialist Party candidate 
in the 4 May elections, in Rochdale, Lancashire:
You are once again faced with a bunch of local politicians who can only be distinguished from one another by the colour of their rosettes. These politicians will be promising to provide better local services, improvements in sport facilities, rubbish collection, or in some cases, council housing. Each party and their candidate will be blaming the other parties for the things that are not right. Labour will blame the Tory Government and the Tories will blame Labour because they are in power locally.

For the first time in Central and Falinge, the Socialist Party is contesting a local election. Most of you will not know much about the Socialist Party, this may be the first you have heard of us. Certainly many people have heard the word “Socialism” but imagine it has something to do with nationalised industries, or the form of State Capitalism in the former Soviet Union or China. So it is understandable if you regard Socialism as just another political cliche, used to win votes for Labour politicians and hence having little to do with working class interests.

The Socialist Party is different from ail other political parties because the Socialist Party stands solely for Socialism. Why do we make this principle our aim and objective? Because we do not think that the present social system, capitalism, can be made to work in the interests of the majority of people.

You do not need the Socialist Party to tell you there is something badly wrong with the way society is organised at present.

WHY should tens of thousands of workers be homeless and poorly housed when there are thousands of empty houses and large numbers of unemployed building workers?

WHY must vast numbers of workers suffer and even die waiting for hospital treatment while there is no shortage of resources being allocated to the armed forces, which exist to kill people, not cure people?

WHY is food locked away in cold storage or dumped in the sea while around the world 40,000 starve to death daily?

WHY?

BECAUSE we live under a capitalist system where profit for the few who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution is more important than the needs of the majority.

This crazy way of running society only carries on because the majority have been persuaded to vote for it. Conned into believing that there is no other way, that capitalism run by leaders of left, right and centre, is the only option. The present social madhouse will not last forever. Workers whose political support has upheld the system can be persuaded to withdraw that support.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Unlike the political promises being thrown at you by our political opponents, the Socialist Party promises it will do absolutely nothing for you. If you want to change society you can do it yourself. Socialism is about people—all of us— regardless of age, race, gender, owning and controlling the resources of society, for use, not profit. At last the world will belong to the people who inhabit it, with all of us having free access to the abundant goods and services which society can produce.

If you think the Socialist objective is worth registering your support for, rather than casting another wasted vote for capitalism, or not voting at all, then vote for Roger Chadwick, the genuine Socialist candidate in this election. Do not vote for him if you want a leader to put things right for you. The Socialist Party wants only Socialist votes and plenty of them, so we can show those who uphold this rotten system that there is a growing number of workers seeing through it. 

DON’T JUST VOTE—THINK • DON’T JUST THINK—ACT.