Friday, May 21, 2021

Bevan—Reformer, Prophet and Politician (1952)

Book Review from the May 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his book In Place of Fear Mr. Bevan states his case in opposition to official Labour Party policy and pleads his alternative. It is skilfully done; clever in the way in which it uses quite a lot of words to say nothing, and in telling the old, old story to make it seem quite new, proposing what are in fact the old reforms but making them appear revolutionary.

Mr. Bevan has been connected with the Labour Party from youth and it is an understatement to say that he knows it very well. He knows the sort of working men and women who make up its membership, and the mixture of ex-working men, capitalists, aristocrats and careerists who lead it. Mr. J. Strachey, reviewing Bevan's book in the Daily Herald gave it some faint praise, but warned Mr. Bevan of the fate that will overtake him if he splits the party. That would not be forgiven. That, however, would depend on the size of that part of the split that might be behind Mr. Bevan if the split occurred. And there would seem to be little doubt of Mr. Bevan’s opinion of his chances if it did. It could be that Mr. Bevan, who has seen many a previous attack on official policy in the past prove abortive, might believe that he will achieve the changes he desires without splitting the party. The chances would seem fair. Despite six years of Labour governments, discontent and frustration rankle more deeply than ever among members and supporters of the Labour Party. And if Mr. Bevan’s proposals can crystalise this discontent he may find himself leading the Labour Party.

It may be no accident that Bevan opens his book with an emotional narrative of his early days as a worker in the mines. Certainly from what can be judged from some of the many comments in the Labour press this might have a calculated purpose. Knowing the workers it is, of course, not unlikely that Mr. Bevan considers that emphasis on his youthful experience and sufferings as a worker might give him an advantage over the sort of “middle class” uplifter that so often send working-class audiences to sleep. Mr. Bevan was a sensitive young man and learned from the working-class movement. He read, among others, Marx, De Leon and Morris. The evidence from this book is that he learned from them how to clothe his challenge to wealth and privilege in anti-capitalist phraseology without committing himself to Socialism. The intellectual food that came the way of the young aspirant in the Labour movement in Bevan’s day was the sort of food that fed the Socialist. Like others with him, and before him, he stopped short of Socialism, and applied what understanding he acquired to the advancement of Mr. Bevan and the perpetuation of Capitalism.

For there is no mistake about it: there is no proposal in this book which is fundamentally different from the reformism of the Labour Party’s policies for fifty years. There is no proposal which could not be the official policy of any capitalist party if it happened to suit the interests of any one of them. If Mr. Bevan differs it is on a question of degree and not principle. The reviews of the book in the capitalist press show not a little pleasure and relief at his mildness and “statesmanship.” Here is no leader gathering his armies for the final assault on Capitalism. He had seemed much more of a menace in speech than in writing. How right they are.

Here are some of Mr. Bevan’s main contentions. There should be much less private, and much more public, spending. Hence he argues for more controls of investments. And he says, “Once Competitive Society is compelled to serve a general social aim the automatism of the market is interfered with and we are no longer in the capitalist system at all. . . . From this point on, moral considerations take precedence over economic motives. . . . The decision what to do without, or take less of, necessarily places that item of consumption lowest in the order of priorities.” It is sufficient to note that Mr. Bevan considers that the restrictions on production, the controls, and the rationing of the past six years' Labour Government as “no longer the capitalist system at all.” He would extend that policy. Under his proposals he says “We shall have abandoned selection by competition for selection by deliberation.” This statement epitomises Mr. Bevan’s conception of the function of the State over which he would preside. Social security, that guarantee of working class poverty, would administer to the needs of the poorest of the workers and soften and offset the worst effects of low wages and salaries. He also agrees that the middle class and professional men should have incomes comparable with “status.” There should be more Nationalisation. He says, “Once a larger proportion of industry is publicly owned, a larger part of public spending could be finance out of the surplus which now accrues to private incomes. This would mean compensation at a low rate on gilt edged securities, and more surpluses from these communally owned industries would accrue to the national exchequer and taxation would be correspondingly reduced. . . . . This would not mean that the taxpayer would have more money to spend. As we have seen this could only be done by hurting the recipients of public benefits. But it would mean that more of the whole would be distributed in the form of private income could in the main be privately spent, and the individual would be spared the pain of seeing so much taken from him that he thought was his to spend.”

There it is. Sort it out. Something for everyone. Gilt edged securities for the capitalist. Reduced taxation for the taxpayer. And (touching thoughtfulness) consideration for the recipient of public benefits, sparing the taxpayer (excepting the millions of workers who do not pay income tax and the recipient of the public benefits) the pain of seeing so much taken from them. He continues: “I am not suggesting the abolition of income tax. That would only be possible if all industry belonged to the community.” (Our italics.) Really what box of tricks could produce more.

There is more to come. “ Suppose we fix a date —towards which we should at once begin to work— when a definite percentage of what we are spending on arms shall be set aside for the peaceful development of backward parts of the world.” The reviewers have really fallen for that one. It has really put him amongst the “statesmen.” It seems they are impressed even though he thought of it after General Marshall and after the Labour Government had inaugurated something like it through Colonial Development schemes.

On the question of Russia Bevan spreads himself out. There is an “over assessment of Soviet military strength.” Russia is “less belligerent than some American publicists.” Russia “would have struck by now if she were going to strike at all.” Russia has her own internal problems. The more her industrial economy grows, he argues, the more Russia will develop the need for democratic institutions through which ideas and technical knowledge must find free expression in order to develop. Equally conjectural arguments could be found to deduce conclusions the opposite to Mr. Bevan's. This part of Bevan’s case, however, is in some part suspect as a rationalisation for his resignation from the Labour Government This was defended on the grounds that the country could not afford the burden of £4,700,000,000. Mr. Woodrow Wyatt M.P., casts some light on this in the News Chronicle (7.1.52).
  “It is always difficult to convince the Labour Party of the need for armaments, and I am glad that it should be so. Mr. Bevan was a key figure in securing general Labour support for the defence programme and his achievement in that direction culminated in his brilliant speech in the House of Commons a year ago.

   “His concluding phrases on that occasion still echo in my ears. ' . . . we do beg that we shall not have all these jeers about the rearmament that we are putting under way. We shall carry it out; we shall fulfil our obligations to our friends and allies. . . .’

  “When he withdrew his backing for the £4,700 million programme last April it was understandable that the confidence of many Labour supporters should be shaken. At the same time he said that the earlier and smaller defence programme—£3,600 million over three years—was sufficient.

  “Adherence to the smaller programme was repeated in 'One Way Only' and maintained until the announcement of the Conservative Government's defence programme for this year. Then it was disclosed that the balance of payments situation, never anticipated by Mr. Bevan and his friends, had forced a slowing down of the larger programme.

  “The speed of rearmament, allowing for rising prices, has been reduced to that of the smaller programme which Mr. Bevan had always said was within our capacity even without American aid.

   “Did Mr. Bevan welcome this reduction and support the new programme? No, astonishingly, he attacked again and divided the Labour Party in the House on it." 
Mr. Bevan’s friends say that this book intends to convey a “mood.” It could also be the intention to create a mood favourable to the idea of Mr. Bevan as the "Man of Peace.” That would seem to have quite good political prospects.

And there is no doubt that Mr. Bevan is quite a politician.
Harry Waite

Workers Beware—or the Withered Labour Party (1952)

From the May 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

As was to be expected the Labour Party in opposition is looking around for means and ways to regain power. Having put their programme into practise and been thrown out of office after six years they must find something new, or at least something that looks new. When in opposition there is no time to lose, preparations must begin at once for further wool pulling and political scheming in order to get back, and who should be first to see the necessity of this than that worthy journal with “Forward with the People ” as its slogan—the Daily Mirror. A month or so ago this paper drew attention to the fact that the Labour Party’s aims had been put into operation and they now needed a new plan to meet the challenge of the times. On Monday, 25th of February, a series of articles entitled “Whither Labour" began in the Daily Mirror. These were written by ex-ministers of the late Labour Government and Mr. Sam Watson, a member of the National Executive of the Labour Party. We will review these articles here to show how empty they really are and how unworthy of working class support First let us stress that the very need for a new programme shows the futility of the first one. But if nationalisation and all the other past reforms, designed to bring better times and upheld as the cure for all ills by the Labour Party, have proven fruitless, what indication is there that they can dream up something new to solve workers problems?

Mr. Morrison and “Social Justice.”
The first contributor was Mr. Herbert Morrison who made a great deal of play with “social justice” but skilfully avoided telling us what it is. He said social justice is as much part of our defence as "planes, warships and guns” so perhaps he had in mind the prosecution of the dockers last year by Sir Hartley Shawcross under order 1305 or the banishment of Seretse Kahma or may be he thinks the record-breaking profits under Labour rule alongside the wage freeze policy was socially justified. Mr. Morrison goes on to gloat about “publicly owned industries, the great health and social services,” but fails to mention that despite these things the mass of the workers still live in poverty. Unemployment is creeping back and wars are still going on in which Britain is involved. He then says something quite funny which he should know is not true:—“What we were doing was new” as if Britain was the first capitalist country to go in for nationalisation, in fact all of these things had been done years before in Germany or Denmark, Australia or New Zealand, Russia or Italy and in many other countries sometimes by avowedly capitalist governments but in not one instance did they alter the lot of the masses. Just like the Tories he stresses the need to export and “rearm to protect the freedom we have won over the centuries.” One might almost think Mr. Churchill had written this. The freedom such as it is has not been won by re-arming or going to war but by bitter battles between workers and capitalists here at home. The right to strike or even form trade unions, the right of free assembly, even the vote, were not obtained by bloody wars in other countries but in the class war in this one. The big “if” on which Mr. Morrison pins the Labour Party future is whether they can kid the workers to sink their differences with the capitalists and think of the nation “as a whole” a “socially inspired community,” the workers working as usual and the capitalists, state and private, playing their important rolls by hogging 90 per cent. of the accumulated wealth.

Then Mr. Gaitskell
Mr. Gaitskell wrote the second article which appeared the next day. He right away declared himself to be in favour of increased efficiency. Workers must scrap “all restrictive methods and practices” if we are to achieve “a peaceful world, a steady job, a decent house and rising living standards:” these are “the things that really count.” Weird indeed is the fact that six years of Labour government have not removed the need for these things. Who says the Labour Party was once really anti-war? Mr. Gaitskell declares he “supported rearmament in the 30’s” and he maintains that arms are the way to lasting peace.

This Labour leader also urges us “to work together for the common good.” At the end of his article he shows that he knows the Labour Party is sunk “unless we first win over a million doubtful voters:” he might well explain what made them doubtful in the first place.

Bevan the “Rebel"
The third writer was that bloodcurdling rebel Mr. Aneurin Bevan. From him, the “leftest of left,” many workers may have looked for something different, but no it was the same old song being sung, only off-key. Political parties must be ready with the right “kind of action required in the national interests at any time.”

He engages in the usual mock battles with the Tories and private enterprise, though Mr. Gaitskell had said the day before “smaller businesses will need help in finding capital,” so perhaps they should have got together to see which it is to be.

Mr. Bevan makes an observation made by the S.P.G.B. years ago that we are “faced with the prospects of semi-starvation, if not actual hunger, at a time when the physical sciences dazzle us with their achievements.”

He stated that “the pursuit of profit failed to ensure the provision of essentials first and secondary things afterwards,” but how empty all this vote-catching becomes when we read on—“ If the community is to survive, then investment must be compelled to follow the discipline of long-term planning.”

Capital must be controlled, for capitalists when on the loose compete and in time of crisis this does harm to "national interests,” so they must be collectively looked after.

The Labour Party only left office in October last after six years of power, yet Mr. Bevan tells us “Private enterprise has failed to make sure that our manufacturing capacity is matched by a flow of the necessary raw materials. Thus unemployment and short time working are once more showing themselves in our midst, and this has been aggravated by a rearmament programme of impracticable proportions and unrealisable speed.”

He forgot that he was a member of the Government which brought in the arms programme, but then he only objects to its “proportions” and “speed,” not to its existence. The rest of the article shows his deep concern for the welfare of British capitalism. He challenges the Americans’ right to world leadership on the ground that Britain is looked to to provide those counsels “for which she is fitted by her experiences and her sacrifices.”

Labour Supporters are not Socialists.
The miners’ secretary in Durham, Mr. Sam Watson, came next and although this gentleman is also a member of the Labour Party National Executive, we must bear in mind when reading what he says the fact that trade unions came into existence to fight the capitalist class in the economic field. Like those who wrote the previous articles, Mr. Watson starts with the Nation and ignores class divisions, but what he says further on must come as a shock for all who expected or expect great things of the Labour Party. It drives home full-swing the accuracy of the Socialist Party’s claim that there can be no Socialism without mass-understanding. After forty-five years of the Labour Party in and out of office he says, “It is wishful thinking to believe that there are millions of people in the country, especially in the trade union movement, who are 'raring’ to go forward for the kind of society Labour wants, and are held back like dogs on a leash only by right-wing leaders in the union or in the Labour Party.” And again: “We deceive ourselves if we refuse to face up to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in the Labour movement have either no knowledge, or only limited knowledge, of the causes of the present grave situation.” Surely Mr. Watson can understand their ignorance, for when has the Labour Party ever made any effort to teach them?

He is typical of the people who sneer at the S.P.G.B. because it is small and insists on understanding. Perhaps this is a good lesson in where mass membership without understanding leads to. Socialists have always said that votes cast for something other than Socialism cannot bring it about. Mr. Watson, just coming to, says, “We had the largest vote in the history of the party in 1951, but it was not secured on a basis of fundamentally changing our economy, but in the belief that if the Tories won they would immediately proceed in principle to cut down the standard of living and might even increase the danger of war.” Votes cast out of fear and ignorance will never solve anything, yet throughout the election this is exactly the kind of vote the Labour Party sought. It is now an established fact also that the late Labour Government made preparations for atom bombs here in this country. How they must blush when they call the Tories “warmongers”! Like those who wrote earlier Mr. Watson hopes for the sinking of class differences, greater efficiency and cheaper production to keep or capture “the markets of the world.” “Fair shares for all” is still to be Labour’s call and those words echo down the corridors of time as Labour Governments come and go without effecting any change in the distribution of wealth.

The “Daily Mirror’s” Contribution.
Having heard from the brains of the Labour Party on Friday, 29.2.52, the Daily Mirror made its own contribution for our enlightenment. Their writers notice that the number of skilled workers is “going down,” which they say is a “disastrous trend.” They first claim credit for having “supported the Labour Party in its struggle to achieve certain declared aims— fair play and fair shares for everybody,” and then they have the nerve to ask “why at the last election the people of Britain rejected a Labour Government”! The answer is simple: they didn’t bring home the bacon. The Daily Mirror can talk about a greater say in industry for the workers and advocate a greater sharing of the wealth produced, but while Capitalism remains, profit making is the motive for production, and the more workers get the less there is for the capitalists, and this would never do. If all the old men in responsible positions in the Labour Party were replaced by younger men the capitalist class would still own the means of living and workers would still be subjected to this as wage slaves, for, high wages or low, the people who pay wages still live on profits sweated for by those who receive wages.

By facing storms the Daily Mirror thinks that “Labour can become a really great NATIONAL party.”

We already have one National Party, but if what this newspaper is getting at is the fact that there is nothing to choose from, we agree. The history of Capitalism has been one of crises, yet the Labour Party have not learnt to do otherwise than to try and patch it up.

A little later on (March 11th) an article entitled “Short Time” appeared in the same paper. Remembering all the social reforms and the “benefits” of six years’ Labour rule this article tells us of the 8,000 workers on short time in Oldham where a family of six exists on £5 13s. a week and have only 18s. 9d. to spend on “milk, meat, fish, gas, electricity, fares and clothing.” They are on short time, says the writer, Claud Morris. After being used to working overtime they work for three days a week at £3 10s., and make it up with unemployment money and family allowances if they have children.

The mill went on short time “because of lack of orders.” All the “industrial efficiency” and “economic planning ” in the world cannot abolish the problems of Capitalism. While politicians here are cooking up schemes to extend trade and capture markets, the politicians of Japan, China, Russia, America and the rest of the world are doing the same. In the final throw, trade routes like the Suez Canal, raw materials such as Malayan rubber, and Persian oil, and the markets of the world have to be retained or obtained by force. The wars of Capitalism, past, present and future, are not in the interest of the working class because they own neither the raw materials, the trade routes, nor the markets.

During the same week that saw publication of the articles, Mr. Attlee, Prime Minister of the late Labour Government, was writing a series of articles in Labour’s own, the Daily Herald. These were on the same lines as the others mentioned, and equally empty.

“The positive remedy is to increase our exports.” We have already seen where this leads. “We must cut down our imports, especially from dollar countries. This means going without some things, but we shall have to put up with this.” We don’t have to re-elect Labour to be told this; the Tories are already doing it. To draw any loose ends together it might be as well to bring to our reader’s attention that the whole lot of articles in both newspapers never once mentioned the phrases “working class,” “capitalist class,” “Socialism,” “fellow workers,” or “workers of the world, unite.” They are concerned with running Capitalism and all their ideas, old and “new,” are in line with that basic fact. One final stunning blow to Labour leaders who brag of their achievements while in office and who are trying hard to trick their way back, is their contribution to the housing problem, the building of the Festival of Britain. As a party which alleges concern over workers' problems and affects to blame shortages of materials for their failings, they stand indicted.

Nobody can say we are being wise after the event, for we state that their future programmes will fail and we know why. There is no way of running Capitalism beneficially to the masses and without war, slumps and crises. To abolish Capitalism is the only way to peace, plenty, happiness and security. Socialism is the solution, common ownership of the means of life and production for use the world over. Socialism is the solution and the urgency for its establishment is now. So don’t be fooled, fellow workers. It's your votes they are after. Socialism requires your understanding. It may be a long road, that depends on you, but until you bring about Socialism you have nothing to look forward to save a fate worse than death and lots and lots of promises.
Harry Baldwin

About New Books (1952)

Book Reviews from the May 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professor V. Gordon Childe is probably the foremost pre-historian of the day. By pre-history we mean the study of the development of human society prior to the time when written records were made. Professor Childe’s newest book is entitled "Social Evolution," and is published by Watts & Co.

Professor Childe is an archaeologist, and, as he says:
  " . . . archaeologists to-day have realised that they are dealing with the concrete remains of societies, and that these societies, albeit illiterate, have left concrete embodiments not only of their material equipment but also of their social institutions, superstitions and behaviour, fragmentary and ambiguous though these undoubtedly be."
So he has taken the theories that Herbert Spencer and Lewis Henry Morgan deduced from their comparative studies of the pre-historic societies that were still in existence during the nineteenth century, and he has examined them in the light of recent archaeological discoveries, or, as he puts it, ... “ in the light of the science which presents societies in a chronological sequence."

The book is not easy reading. In fact Childe himself refers to it as a “ . . . rather tedious examination of archaeological data." All the same, to the student of social evolution, it is a landmark in the study.

Lewis H. Morgan, in his book, “Ancient Society” (1877), divided human history into three main “ethnical periods’’--Savagery, Barbarism and Civilisation. He then made sub-divisions of the former two periods. Morgan made his divisions and sub-divisions on the basis of the technological development of society. The objects of archaeological study are, therefore, useful in an examination of Morgan’s theories, providing proof that Morgan was unable to obtain.

Prof. Childe warns us against a common error. We should not judge the rank of any technical device or process from a general principle. Each device and process must be considered in relation to the conditions in which it was used.
 “Any superiority possessed by an automobile over, say, a bullock-cart cannot be inferred from comparing their respective efficiencies on English roads, but only from the historical fact that automobiles do supersede bullock-carts wherever conditions for their employment can be created.” (P.9.)
Prof. Childe shows that human needs change just as much as the “efficiency" of the instruments for their satisfaction.
  "Did a reindeer hunter in 30,000 B.C., or an Ancient Egyptian in 3000, or an Ancient Briton in 30, really need or want to travel a couple of hundred miles at 60 m.p.h.? . . . . To a Magdalenian society in the last Ice Age a harpoon or antler was just as efficient as a steam trawler is to-day. With the former, tiny groups could get all the fish they needed; the load of a trawler would have been an embarrassing nuisance.” (P. 9.)
You cannot legitimately take some discovered object from one part of the world, give it a label, compare it with something similar from another part of the world, and so deduce its origin and the nature of the society to which it belonged. Professor Childe shows us how, in Ancient Egypt, when the habitable land was seldom as much as two miles away from the River Nile, which was a splendid highway, wheeled vehicles were less useful than they were in Syria which had no natural waterways. Wheeled vehicles were used in Syria fifteen hundred years before they were used in Egypt, but this does not prove that Egypt was more backward than Syria.

So, the professor marshals his evidence in the main part of his work, to show the successive steps through which different societies have actually passed on their way to civilisation in contrasted natural environments.

In his concluding chapter Prof. Childe examines the effects of intercourse between societies at different levels of development, even modern civilised societies, and he takes to task, very successfully, those who would claim an analogy between social evolution and organic evolution.

A very useful book.

Whilst we are dealing with Professor V. Gordon Childe we must mention another of his books that is well worth reading—"History published by Cobbett Press, 1947. In this excellent little book the professor examines the various theories of history that have held the field at different times. One is astonished at the number of theories of “Historiography.”

Prof. Childe accepts the theory deduced by Karl Marx, the “materialist conception of history,” or, as Mr. Childe himself calls it, “Marxist historiography.” He uses this theory throughout this book. The professor has one misfortune. Like many others his eyes are turned towards Moscow and “the promised land” behind the iron curtain. But his vision does not appear to have become impaired—not yet.

B. Traven is claimed to be a mystery man. He lives somewhere in Mexico, operates through an agent in Mexico City and cannot be interviewed, photographed or “got at” in any way. He is one of the world’s best-selling story writers. His latest book is “The Rebellion of the Hanged,” translated by Charles Duff and published by Robert Hale, Ltd.

Capital must always have wage-labour and it has always been ruthless in the methods by which it has built up its armies of wage workers. B. Traven in this book shows the trickery, the callousness and the vile “legal” practices by which the Mexican Indians were dragged away from their small plots of land and poverty stricken farms in order to be made wage-slaves in the great lumber camps of Mexico.

The story of Candido Castro, Celso, Martin Trinadad and other Mexican Indians is set in the period just before the Mexican revolution which deposed President Porfirio Diaz in favour of Madero. It tells of the brutality and the abominable tortures inflicted upon these poor natives in order to make diem work ever harder and harder. The output of logs demanded from them is continuously stepped up by the lumber camp bosses and failure to satisfy the demand results in floggings, hanging naked by the feet in the tropical sun or being buried up to the nostrils in the sand with the uncovered head exposed to the sun and insects. The hanging is the favourite form of torture with the bosses and foremen and it is that which gives the book its title.

The Indians finally rebel and become more ruthless and cruel than their erstwhile employers. They torture, maim and kill, partly in revenge and partly because they know that they have no hope of clemency if their uprising is suppressed. Their adventures as they march through the tropical forests in the rainy season make stirring reading.

Mr. Traven has no illusions about rebellions. He sees their limitations and knows the difference between a rebel and a revolutionary. When Mexican peóns are killing the landowners their object is to claim the land for themselves, to share it out amongst them. Says Martin Trinadad towards the end of the story:
   ". . . the instinct of possession and property are more anchored than before in this ranch. Only the name of the owner has changed, and I can predict to you, comrade, that to-morrow or the day after the new proprietors will fight like devils amongst themselves with machetes until only one is left, if even one, to enjoy the property. The man who gets possession of the revolver will be the new master, the one who has the shotgun will be overseer. And those who by chance survive will become peóns again.”
And again:
  “Ease and speed are not worth anything to revolutionaries. These here have changed ownership of fields and pigs. What ought to have been changed are the ideas on which the whole system rests. Yesterday the master was called Don Churcho. He'll be called Florencio tomorrow, after now being called Eusebio. There will always be a master; that is to say, nothing will have changed.... A revolution which is explained and needs motivation is no revolution. It's merely a fight to get property and jobs. The true revolution, the one that is capable of changing systems, is deep in the character of all revolutionaries. The real revolutionary doesn't think in terms of the personal benefit he may get from the revolution. He tears down the social system in which he suffers and sees other men suffer. He sacrifices himself and dies in order that he may destroy and bring about other ideas.''
Now that I have read "The Rebellion of the Hanged,” whenever I see the name of B. Traven on the cover of a book I shall be searching through my pockets to find if 1 have enough ready cash to buy it.
W. Waters