Thursday, May 27, 2021

Letter: Rip Van Winkle. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,—

Re your reply to my letter, I hardly think it meets the case. The fact of new people developing capitalism does not alter the fact that it is possible for a country to acquire means whereby it can escape going through all the stages of capitalism. You half admit this yourself, for your assumption that the Russian people would not keep abreast with Western development is not in accordance with facts. For instance, the rapid growth of capitalism in Japan is an instance of how a backward people can acquire proficiency regarding the manipulation of modern means of production. We must understand that the Bolsheviks holding political power are in the position of giving their people full scope for development. It is not necessary for a person to fully understand a machine before he is capable of operating it. Regarding the S.P.G.B. Standard—what I meant was that it was not necessary for a people as a whole to be capable of understanding Marxian Economics. That is why 1 quoted the passage from the preface to the “Critique.” The passage precedes the one over which Mr. Dight first crossed swords with you. The passage following is also illuminating. It runs as follows :— “Therefore mankind always takes up such problems as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.” Now I claim that the Russian Bolsheviks were justified in seizing power and attempting to establish Communism, since it seems clear to me that it is possible by importing modern means of production into the country of at least escaping the worst of capitalist development. If I am wrong, I would like to be put on the right track. I asked you to explain the passage I quoted from the “Critique.” You declined, brushing it aside, saying that it did not require interpretation ; I asked because I put a certain construction on it that you might think wrong, and I require information which you did not give. My interpretation is briefly this :—That Marx foresaw a seizing of power by the intelligent section of the community, backed by the unrest and misery of the workers on the breakdown, partial or complete, of a preceding system. Where he says—”and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out,” it strengthens the idea that despite a changed economic foundation, a great bulk of the people would not have an ideology in keeping with the change. He points out that “the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production.” Briefly, this is my construction, and I think that it is also the construction of the Russian Bolsheviks. I again ask you for your interpretation. Regarding my “astounding blindness,” it still remains, that whichever country or countries subsidised the buccaneering expeditions into Russia, it was always with the purpose of overthrowing the Bolsheviks, for they all realised, if J.F. does not, that they had little hope of fleecing the workers of Russia whilst the Bolsheviks held power; so I do not see the refutation or answer to the latter part of my letter.

One more point I would like to ask. In the reply to Mr. Dight, J. F. says there is no race or nation of people that have passed from feudalism to fully developed capitalism without going through the essential phases of capitalist developments. Will J.F. kindly explain what he means “by the essential phases of capitalism.”
Yours fraternally,
D. S. O'Mahoney.

When a correspondent sends any question to the Socialist Standard, the facts and arguments in support of our case are put forward in the simplest language, consistent with accuracy, at our command. If such a presentation of our case fails to reach the understanding of the questioner, it is evidently useless to carry the discussion any further.

All the points given in Mr. Mahoney’s letter have been answered in various articles in the Socialist Standard, and were specifically dealt with in the answer to his previous letter in the August (1922) issue.

Mr. Mahoney admits that he still fails to understand that the most colossal war in human history was not between two nations at different economic stages, but between two whose stage of development and economic conditions were practically identical. In the face of such a mentality, it would be a waste of time and space to deal with his other statements.
Editorial Committee

Letter: Steps to Socialism. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

I should be glad if you would state upon what “lines” you consider Socialism will be achieved? Could you tell me, as nearly as possible, the successive steps by which the working class will overthrow the existing order, and how the means of life will be distributed when the workers have conquered the powers of government, national and local?

(It is argued in Communistic quarters that the officers of the army, navy, etc., would refuse to obey a working-class Parlia­ment by the way.)

Perhaps you would be good enough to show, for example, how the raw materials for clothing and housing would be obtained and manufactured, and made avail­able for members of Socialist Society.

I am, yours faithfully,
J. C. C.

Answer to J. C. C.
To attempt a forecast of the details of a social revolution would be a waste of time. A little thought will show that such details will be decided by the conditions existing at the time of the revolution. As it is impossible to forecast the date of the revolution, evidently it is impossible to know in detail the conditions that will prevail then. The general lines of the change are more easy to define, because the general conditions are known:—

(1) As the centre of power is Parliament, and members of that body are returned by the votes of the working class, it is quite clear that the first step is the conversion of a majority of the voters to a recognition of the need for the establishment of Socialism.

(2) The next step is the organisation of that majority into a political party for the purpose of returning delegates into control of Parliament.

(3) The Socialists, being in a majority, would pass laws for the purpose of converting the great means of wealth production and distribution into social—or common—property.

(4) If necessary force will be used to carry out these laws, but this use will depend not upon the socialists, but upon the capitalists, who may turn rebels against society and law.

The raw materials would be obtained by setting men and women to work for that purpose. An illustration, though perhaps not a very good one—was the action of the Government in taking control of materials during the war. Distribution would be according to the needs of the members of society, the details being dependent upon conditions at that time.

The statement of the Communists that officers of the army and navy would refuse to obey orders is a sheer assumption, and no evidence has ever been brought forward to support that statement.
Editorial Committee

A Word on Organisation. (1922)

From the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

An organ is something that works. Or­ganisation is the assembling and arranging of the parts of a compound body in a manner for use; that is to say, that each part may co-operate with the others to a given end, the whole working as one organ. A tree, with its multitude of diverse cells, is an example of exquisite organisation.

In the same way, when men and women organise themselves they are proceeding to work together, with an agreed objective. They are forming a single body, of which each individual is a part; and should any part deviate to pursue some different plan, the advance of the whole will be hindered by just so much. The body may be very small, or it may be immense; the same remains true.

When a man joins a party, therefore, he automatically proclaims himself as in agreement with its declared aims. No amount of disclaimer or qualification does away with this fact. The outsider assumes, and is justified in assuming, that the aims of the party represent his ideas. The members expect, and have a right to expect, that he will conform at all points to its principles. Why else is he there? If, once admitted, he proceeds to advocate principles which do not agree with those of the party, the members will only act consistently in expelling him. The inside of the party is not the place for such an advocacy, and the application for membership was a ruse : he did not join for the purpose of working with others for an agreed object. Moreover, the outsider has good reason for not attending to his message, since he proclaims one thing in his words and another by his actions. What is true of the individual in relation to parties, is true of parties in relation to federations.

The application of this? The S.P.G.B. is sometimes asked why it does not seek affiliation with other bodies professing themselves socialist or labour. The foregoing is one reason, and in itself would be sufficient. The programmes and actions of these various parties have been frequently examined in the pages of the Standard. None of them agree with our idea of socialist principle. Therefore affiliation, if obtained, would be unfair to their members, confusing to those out­ side.

The other reason is that the movement towards working-class emancipation would not be strengthened thereby. We want the greatest possible number of our fellow workers with us ; but purely formal organisa­tion is useless in any sphere of action. Organisation must be the expression of a real unity of purpose, whether the purpose be the felling of a tree or the building of a new society. The more momentous the work, the more important it is to remember this. In the case of the class war, formal unity is worse than useless. It is a pretence and a danger. If it were possible to form a vast and disciplined organisation of workers with their present degree of class-consciousness, it would be but a more convenient instrument of exploitation for the master-class. In short, organisation must follow education, not precede it.

This is true alike on the industrial and political fields. In industry we workers must learn the meaning of the tasks which emerge in the daily fight over conditions of labour. That we cannot hope to placate the exploiter, nor look for impartial arbitration. That we have to expect capitalist aggression —with fleeting exceptions, progressively more vigorous every year. That we have but one weapon on this field, the strike, and even that will fail us whenever the master­ class decides to fight an issue out. That to make the best use of the strike we must have, not many unions for one industry, nor one for each industry, nor even one for each national group—but a world-wide workers’ union. And that this day to day struggle must be waged, not for us by leaders, but by us through delegates.

We shall not have advanced far on this road to industrial solidarity before we are forced to see that the utmost we can do by these means is to resist attacks on our already poor standard of living. We cannot improve our standard to any appreciable extent, much less entirely free ourselves from exploitation. To do this we must take the vast machinery of production into our own hands. And since this is an issue which our masters decidedly would fight if they could, we realise that direct action on the industrial field will no longer suffice for us. We do not intend that the capitalists shall be able to starve us by commandeering the food supply, nor slaughter us by using the army and police. While we hope that in that day our fellow-workers in the armed forces will be with us—while we are going to do our utmost to make them so—we do not mean to take risks by allowing the capitalist class to give them orders. We find that we need political power. We need an assembly of workers’ delegates, with a mandate for socialism ; and we organise in the Socialist Party with the object of getting it.

Thus our industrial and political activities must be two sides of one movement : the industrial for safeguarding conditions with­ in the capitalist system, and probably forming the basis for the industrial organisation of the Socialist Commonwealth ; the political for the expropriation of expropriators.

These things we have to learn, and only on the basis of this knowledge can organisa­tion proceed.

The Broom. (1922)

From the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Those who opposed it on ‘principle’ [the tactic of seeking affiliation with the Labour Party]—(in reality because they just cannot stand the Hendersons and MacDonalds . . .) —who prefer to carry on their ‘revolutionary activities’ far from the madding crowd . . . are happily not in our ranks. On their banners the word ‘purity’ is writ in large letters, and over it a dainty broom as a warning. Alas, they have failed to understand that only the newly-born are pure; that in order to become pure again, we must go through purgatory. … If the present trade unions are hells we have simply got to go through it—not save our souls by running away to start unions of our own. If the local labour party is a hell we have got to go through it, and so with the National Labour Party.” (The Communist).
The supreme desire of the Socialist is for the triumph of his cause. His heart is “scared with the knowledge of preventable human woe” ; his dreams are bright with the possibilities of the future commonwealth. His ambitions are no longer individual, nor are his joys and sorrows. He is glad and downcast with the flow and ebb of the movement. He views events in their relation to the revolution; he asks of institutions whether they can assist or only obstruct it. The needs of the cause are imperative calls, the advantage of the cause is his highest expediency.

He knows that the revolution is no one’s business but the workers ; and therefore asks himself, “Is our class to-day, generally speaking, ready for such a step ?” It is not. We are not even capable of fighting with any degree of success the everyday battles of industry. In the perennial struggle around conditions of livelihood we suffer defeat on defeat; worse, we combat one another. We allow ourselves to be divided on all manner of pretexts. We have not learned to unite even in defence of the meagre things we have. As to completely re-organising social life, we should call the suggestion madness. Send our masters packing—why, who would pay our wages? Produce and distribute by democratic arrangement—the work would never get done. Claim and receive what we need from the common store—why, we do not even laugh at the idea. It lies outside our imagination.

The present order of things suits us very well; only we should all like to be kept in work, draw higher wages, and pay less rent.

Such being the state of mind of those whose mission it is to overthrow capitalism, the Socialist and his comrades buckle down to their task. They may do one of two things : lead the workers or teach them. That is to say, they may select a non-revolutionary political party which at the moment has the favour of the workers, and associate themselves with it, regardless of whether its activities are in themselves an advance toward revolution. By zeal and devotion they may aim at acquiring a strong influence with the members, so that when decisions are to be taken their advice will be asked and followed, even though the members are not convinced Socialists. This does not mean that they will neglect to teach socialism, but that they are prepared to attempt a revolution, relying for support on people who better understand the efficiency of Socialists than the full meaning of Socialism. On the other hand, they may devote all their energies to education, assisting no reformist activity, but rather making clear the worthlessness of such endeavours, and the true remedy for the distress which gave rise to them. In this case the minimum pre­-requisite of a seizure of political power would be a majority of Socialists. That is not to say that the majority need be profound Marxian scholars , but they must (1) understand well the basic principles of capitalist and socialist society respectively; (2) have freely decided to destroy the one and set up the other; and consequently be able (3) intelligently to exercise the right of recall, if any of those whom they depute to give effect to their will shall seek to play them false; or (4) to appoint suitable successors if chance should remove some of their delegates, so that the direction of the revolution is in nowise accidental.

In other words, Socialists may either act for their fellow-workers, making all efforts meanwhile to bring them into line, or they may concentrate on making them capable of acting for themselves. The method of leadership recommends itself to some, because it appears at first sight to be the quicker. Naturally no Socialist is willing to defer the revolution a year—a day—beyond what is necessary. In face of capitalism’s terrible daily waste of human life and happiness; with men and women dying every hour, worn out at an age when they ought to be enjoying their full powers of mind and body; with babies born every hour into such conditions that they can only be­ come grotesque caricatures of humanity; what Socialist would not be impatient ? Walk round Bermondsey, look out as your train runs into Bristol, or make a tour of a Lancashire mill, and see whether you can feel patient about the last years of capitalism! It is all too easy to understand men like Martin Nexø‘s anarchist character, who was so obsessed by the suffering of his neighbours that he threw away his life in a futile attempt to effect an immediate remedy. There is not a Socialist who does not desire the transformation to­ morrow, if that were possible.

But what would be the outcome of a revolutionary venture employing the method of leadership —such an attempt as Engels criticised— “carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses ?”

To count on the support of people who do not understand your purpose is to build your house on the sand. At your most need they may desert you. If they can be influenced by you, they may be by your enemies too; and, in the hardships and uncertainties of the transition period, will they not be fruitful ground for the seeds of counter-revolution ? Moreover, if you surmount the first dangers, are these the men and women successfully to work a socialist system of industry ? Accustomed to leaders, how shall they show the qualities necessary for democratic control—the independence, the responsibility ? Not understanding how the system should develop, where is the safeguard against their wrecking it by unsound decisions ? And if to prevent that you must govern your fellow-workers after all, what is it you have established ? Not a co-opera­tive commonwealth, but a bureaucratic state —a sorry achievement of leadership, which leaves the task of education still before you.

For this reason, believing that no genuine and enduring transformation of society is possible until the majority of the workers have embraced socialist principles, the S.P.G.B. directs all its actions towards organising an ever-growing body of socialist conviction. It takes no part in reformist agitation, but calls on the workers to come together for the one action that can help them. Nor does it by keeping its independence lack opportunities of reaching the workers. Men and women are not confined to barracks labelled Labour Party, National Unemployed Workers’ Committee, and so on, and only approachable through those doors. They may be members of these or­ganisations, yet none the less exposed to our socialist bombardment, in the workshop, the trade union branch, at the street corner, in the parks. We do not lack opportunities for propaganda; but we do avoid confusing our message, as we should confuse it by advocating socialist principles with our lips and supporting reformist programmes by our actions. We seek to ensure that new comrades join us with their eyes wide open— knowing the road without need of a leader. Such a party is framed to triumph, because the fabric is sound all through. Say in time of revolution a man is entrusted with a great task. He fails or he dies; it is but to supply his place with another. The revolution will not fail or die with him. All are not equally gifted, but the field of selection is as wide as the party, not limited to a small vanguard.

Leaders, however strong and cour­ageous, cannot guarantee victory, and a defeated insurrection would sow despair and defer what it sought to hasten. But a resolute majority, equipped with knowledge, is invincible.

Specific comment on the paragraph at the head of this article is almost redundant. We might perhaps advise our Communist friend not to be mistrustful of principle. It’s a good thing to have. Without it he will be only a ship without a helm. Nor be too guilty-conscious of his own fall from grace. However little he may look like a pure revolutionist at present, there is hope for him, though for a member of a relatively “newly-born” party it’s rather sad to feel that urgent need of purification. Since he seems to have a fondness for scriptural allusion, we counsel him to strive to become again as a little child in the movement, by discarding the opportunism that has sent him astray. If he must have a taste of purgatory, why the preference for the Labour Party ? There are the Liberal and Conservative parties too, also supported by the workers, who hoped from each in turn sympathetic attention to their interests. They sent these parties to power in the hope of something being done for them; they now bid fair to send the Labour Party for no better reason—certainly not because they are determined at last to think and act for themselves.

We like the device of the broom which he inscribes on our banners. We accept and shall use it to sweep the dry leaves from our revolutionary path—daintily for such as he, for that is all that is necessary ; but for our enemies, with a stroke that shall hum across the world.

“Liepocracy.” (1922)

From the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Certain writers in the capitalist press are telling us that Bottomley was a canting hypocrite. What a study for the cynical philosopher? This erstwhile defender and champion of capitalism is now “down and out,” he therefore better than any other can be used as a scapegoat, a means to delude the working-class into the belief that the methods he employed were unusual, were contemptible, and therefore to be condemned. Was Bottomley, during the war, with his highly paid patriotic speeches, a greater hypocrite than his satellite recruiting sergeant, Ben Tillett? Was Lloyd George with his “Land Fit for Heroes” make-believe, or Asquith unsheathing the sword and spending his last shilling less despicable? They knew that they lied, that their words were dope for war victims. What of the flood of nauseating hypocrisy that is launched during a strike, the tears of anguish from the smug and complacent fat bellies for the consequently suffering women and children; even while the same gang at the same time, fight bitterly to reduce the workers to the lowest possible standard of subsistence consistent with the maximum output of wealth. What is all the lying pretence and the soft-soaped promises given to the long-suffering worker at election times by capitalist politician and labour misleader alike, if it is not the quintessence of cant and hypocrisy? The Socialist claims that this insidious form of working-class chloroform is an essential attribute of a now useless and parasitic capitalist class. That they may justify their luxurious and leisured life and your inhuman existence with the consequent antagonism between the two conditions, they pretend sympathy to blur class cleavage; they buy your votes with honeyed words that you shall give them the power to rule you; they insult you with the return of a little of the wealth you alone of the human factors produce, and call it charity. Though you are the only useful class to-day, you have still to become conscious of the fact. When you understand Socialism you will be PROOF against the cant and, humbug of all sections of the capitalist class and their agents, whether it be priest, politician, or pretending sympathiser.
W. E. MacHaffie

£1000 Fund. (1922)

 Party News from the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Man in the Back Street. (1922)

From the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily News, of May 16th, 1922, had an interesting editorial on the Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Masterman’s article in the same issue, entitled “The Wealth of England.” Sentences in the editorial were quite up to the S.S. standard :—
  “The contrast between the gaudy phantasmagoria of politics and the sordid facts which for the great mass of the people make up life is always there. The politicians talk on interminably of their high matters, determining the fate of great nations, regulating, or affecting to regulate, the courses of trade, composing peroration upon peroration on liberty, or the balance of power, or the honour of the Empire, or whatever other catchword best reflects the mood of the moment. The man in the back street feels no doubt in the end, and indirectly, the result of it all. Directly, it has as much relevance to his thoughts and his feelings, his hopes and his fears, as the road to Mandalay. His concern is to keep a roof over his head, and, if he is lucky enough to have one already, to earn enough money to keep himself and his family in some semblance of comfort; to win, if it may be, some stray glimpse of light and colour in the hard, squalid wilderness of his life. It is easy to rebuke men so situated for ‘taking no interest in politics.’ So situated, who would? It is easy to charge them with lack of patriotism or indifference to the things that matter. Let the prophets who say these things change places with their victims, and see how much they care for Empires on which the sun never sets in courts to which the sun never penetrates.”
The Daily News see the workers are tired of the old Liberals, and in despair say plain words about the conditions of the working-class. No doubt the Daily News would like the workers to vote out the Coalition Government. But there is something deeper that is the cause of this darkness and blight on working-class lives. The capitalist system of wealth production and distribution would keep out the sun and brightness whatever the Government, with whatever name you may give it. It tickles us somewhat, when the Editor says, “Let the prophets change places with their victims and see how much they care for Empires, etc.” What funny Daily News to give us. Surely the changing of places of individuals would only change the antics of individuals. Mrs. Soapsuds of the back street would surely become Lady Pears, and Mr. Coalheaver would shine as Lord Hard Nuts? Our cocoa editor—should the Liberals gain office—would get Empire on the brain again. Socialism is the only remedy—and the artfulness of parties out of office helps us to get on with the work—sometimes.
S. W.

Letter: Minted Gold. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received the two following questions from Mr. W. A. Archer :—
  1. Is minted gold, e.g., a sovereign, a commodity within the borders of the nation of issue?
  2. What would be the attitude of the Executive of the S.P.G.B. towards the member of that party who disagreed with the explanation given in reply to question (1)?
Reply to W. A. Archer.
(1) A sovereign is issued for purposes of currency, under Government control, to ensure that fineness and weight of metal shall be constant in all new coins. To attempt to alter, or interfere, with either the fineness, weight or inscription of such coins is an illegal act. Technically the sovereign can only be used as currency inside the country of issue, and is, therefore, not a commodity.

It is true that on rare occasions jewellers take sovereigns and melt them down for use in their business, to save the time and trouble of assaying gold they might purchase in the ordinary way, but the quantity of sovereigns thus used is extremely small. Moreover, as it is impossible to distinguish minted gold after remelting from any other gold of the same fineness and colour, it is exceedingly difficult to detect such illegal occurrences unless the offender were “caught in the act.”

(2) The attitude of the Executive would be to judge any case brought before them on its merits, in the light of the declaration of principles and the constitution of the party.