Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The capitalist and his case. (1925)

From the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist argues that in the typical capitalist industry of the twentieth century, the proprietor or proprietors have degenerated into mere receivers of dividends, and are therefore no longer a necessary part of the organisation for producing and distributing wealth. This does not involve any condemnation on “moral” grounds either of the system or of the capitalist class, nor does it prevent us from recognising the great historical role played in the past by the revolutionary capitalists when they struggled to clear Europe of the encumbrance of decrepit Feudalism. But the capitalists, like their Feudal predecessors, have overstayed their welcome, and the duty falls upon the workers of preparing for further progress by removing the encumbrances of this age and generation.

There is no lack of capitalist apologists willing, and in their own opinion able, to justify the system and the privileged position of those who benefit by it. Let us then examine some of the more familiar arguments.

First of all, there are those who tell us that the capitalist works just like any member of the working class and that his income is as much “earned” as are the worker’s wages. If this were true, it would not justify the enormous inequality between the one income and the other, and would not explain how it is that the capitalist is frequently able to live in luxury and yet increase his wealth, while the worker has barely sufficient to live in modest comfort and can usually save nothing at all. In fact, it is not true, except in small concerns and in certain unimportant industries, where the small concern still holds its own. In large-scale industry the shareholder does not work. The ordinary shareholder is not even permitted by law to interfere in the conduct of the limited company in which he invests his money. No one would be more surprised than the investor in railway stock if it were suggested to him that he take his turn along with porters or cleaners on the line. He probably knows and desires to know nothing about the unpleasant processes associated with the running of “his” business. It is absurd on the face of it to suppose that investments made thousands of miles away from the residence of the investor, yield an income because of the work done by the investor. When financial failures and frauds bring into court such men as Bevan, of the City Equitable, no surprise is felt when a managing director declares that he is ignorant of managerial duties and pays someone else—a member of the working class—to perform them in his name. This brings us to a special type of work concerned with organising production. Our apologist says that, while it may be true the capitalists do not nowadays actually work alongside their employees, they still provide the brains and directive ability.

This claim is, of course, as false as the other. Granted that some men have organising powers approaching genius, and that some of these men happen to belong to the employing class, it is a sheer physical impossibility for, say, the late Hugo Stinnes to organise and direct literally hundreds, of concerns of the most varied nature operating in all parts of Central Europe and with world interconnections employing a million and a half hands. To master all the technical processes of one of the industries would more than tax the powers of any man. Moreover, if so much depended on the brains of the proprietor, his removal by death would—but does not—bring chaos. It does not, because salaried officials (members of the working class) can and do master the specialised work of direction just as they do any other trade. So plain is this that one of the most noted defenders of capitalism, the Austrian economist, Bohm-Bawerk, readily admits it. In his “Capital and Interest” (Macmillan, 1890, page 1) he writes about interest on invested money in the following terms :—
  “It owes its existence to no personal activity of the capitalist and flows in to him even where he has not moved a finger in its making.”
He further asked, but never answered, the question, 
  “Whence and why does the capitalist without personally exerting himself obtain this endless flow of wealth?”
When it is argued that the capitalist owes his superior position to his superior brains, we would also like to ask one question : If it is his brains and not his property which make him privileged, and in view of the fact that his brains will remain at his service, why does the property owner so strenuously resist attempts to take his property from him? The apologist often assures us that even under Socialism we could not keep the brainy capitalist down in the ranks of the common herd, but his determination not to take the risk gives the lie to his words. A recent illustration will help to drive home the absurdity of this position. A New Yorker named Suydam was left 50,000 dollars by his father fifty years ago. Last year he died worth 1,000,000 dollars, and for the whole fifty years Mr. Suydam lived in a lunatic asylum, mentally unable to direct his own or anyone else’s affairs. Whence then this increase of 950,000 dollars? Labour, directive ability, of course. But whose labour and whose directive ability? Not Mr. Suydam’s, but those of the workers employed in concerns in which Suydam, Senior, had invested the money.

Then we are told that the capitalist “saves,” and thus makes future production possible. In answer, we cannot do better than quote Sir W. Ashley, a Conservative historian and economist of note :—
  “Senior, in 1835, introduced the term “abstinence,” as more fitly expressing the source of capital. . . . He characterised abstinence as implying “self-denial,” and declared that “to abstain from the enjoyment which is in our power” is “among the most painful exertions of the human will.” Phrases like these have occasioned no little mirth; it is hard to discover self-denial or parsimony as the world understands those words, in the processes by which modern capital is most largely accumulated.”—(Economic Organisation of England, p. 157.)
Under Socialism provision would naturally be made by society as a whole for future developments of plant, etc., instead of, as now, handsomely rewarding a favoured few because they cannot consume or waste the whole of the proceeds of their robbery of the wealth producers.

The greatest and most impudent stand-by of the capitalist economist is the “risk,” which needs to be paid for. The very real risks from industrial accident run by miners, and railwaymen and others count for nothing in this argument. They were in the past permitted to occur without any penalty for negligence or liability for compensation resting on the employer, until it was found that this was really an expensive method, despite its appearance of cheapness. Throw-outs on the industrial scrap heap simply became burdens on the Poor Law, and in the long run prevention was cheaper than indifference. Thus do our masters make a virtue of their meanness and boast of their humanity when their pocket induces some capitalist reform. But the capitalist is supposed to run the risk of losing his capital, and this is said to justify his being paid his profits. Now what is the basis of this argument? The Socialist replies that it is merely a man-made law which protects capitalist private property, and we propose, of course, to terminate such laws when we control the machinery of government. The capitalist, on the other hand, says, or at least believes, that we are here concerned with some law or vital principle of nature in accordance with which risks are rewarded. This is nonsense. The man who jumps off Waterloo Bridge runs the risk of being drowned. Does he for that reason anticipate being rewarded by Nature? If he selected the Monument he would run the risk (so great as to be almost certainty) of breaking his neck. Would he expect some compensation commensurate with the risk? And to come nearer to the actual conditions of industry, compare two possessors of £10,000; one of whom invests his money in some safe stock, Government Loan, for instance, while the other keeps his at home. The latter would run great risk from burglary, while the former would run no appreciable risk of loss at all. Yet at the end of a year the man who risked nothing would be wealthier by the amount of the interest, and the man who risked much would be no better off. Capitalist practice disposes of the risk theory.

We are also told that the capitalist advances capital to the worker over the period which passes before the product of the latter’s labour is completed, and thus the capitalist aids production and earns his reward. But here again capitalist usage refutes the argument. It is customary for weekly, monthly and even many yearly contracts to be so framed that the workers do not receive their pay until after they have put in their agreed amount of work. In truth then it is the worker who advances his service to his employer. And, moreover, how does the capitalist himself live in the meantime, except on the food, clothing, etc., produced by the labour of other workers?

A defence of private property of which we still occasionally hear is that it is a “Divine” institution and must not be touched. We might be more ready to believe that those who use this, do so sincerely, if they demonstrated their confidence in their “omnipotent God” by trusting him to look after his own. Instead they behave just like any non-believer and employ policemen, soldiers and sailors to protect their property for them. We are compelled therefore to assume that this relic of a day when religious “dope” was more effective than now, is intended to deceive the unwary.

A whole tribe of defenders of private property concentrate on the alleged social virtues which with culture and learning are the monopoly of a leisured ruling class. The argument fails for three reasons, if for no others. In the first place the monotonous series of disclosures in the law courts of the filthy intrigues and low standards of the “upper ten” do not bear out the assumption that leisure to cultivate necessarily results in cultivation of social virtues. In the second place neither learning nor artistic achievement and appreciation are by any means confined to the wealthy, in spite of certain decided advantages they enjoy. And lastly there is no such thing as an hereditary and exclusive ruling class. Every revolution in industrial processes brings some new section of property owner to the fore and the blue-blooded and effete aristocrat of one century is invariably the descendant at a few removes of the upstart new-rich of the century before. What education and surroundings can do for the few we propose to make possible for the many.

These and other futilities produced by the profound thought of professors of economics are the kind of thing they offer in the name of economic science. The stagnation of economic thought is due largely to the necessity felt by university lecturers of pleasing those, whether Governments or private companies, who endow these “educational” establishments. The stagnation was foreseen by Marx, whose work they all agree to decry (the only thing they can agree upon), and their capitalist bias was admitted in a letter to “The Times" (March 11th) by E. J. P. Benn, a publisher of economic works. He writes of Cannan, Mallock, H. D. Henderson, etc., as “writers whose object is the defence . . . of the existing order of things.”

Their inability is well illustrated by the consequences of the recent war. All the economists of Allied and Central powers were quite unable to forecast in even the most elementary way the effect of war on prices, production, currency and trade. Even now, seven years after the Peace, when the gold standard is returning to Europe, they still have not made up their minds whether it was ever necessary to depart from it. They have not even been able to agree on an explanation for the rise of prices. The capitalists who imagine that social progress will cease at the strange medley of commands issuing from the professors are in truth relying on a broken reed.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Class Struggle. (1925)

Pamphlet Review from the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Class Struggle by R. Neft. 16 pages. Price 2d. James Davies & Co., Llanelly.)

Mr. R. Neft is a Labour candidate who vainly tries to persuade himself that he can at the same time be a Socialist. A previous pamphlet on the Capital Levy was noticed in these pages. It was almost worthless because of Mr. Neft’s lack of understanding of the structure and working of the capitalist system. He has improved. For instance, he has now learned that for practical purposes there are in developed capitalist society only two classes—the propertyless, who work, and the propertied, who live by owning. At least, he knew this up to page 13, and there he falls back into his old habit of writing about “all classes.”

His pamphlet is an attempt to give a simple sketch of the development of the means of production in human history, and the parallel growth of forms of ownership and social systems. He shows how exploitation came into existence, but he makes a serious omission in not describing the corresponding political evolution. Had he shown how the capitalists won and keep their position as a ruling class, he would perhaps have seen the glaring inconsistency of his own position. When we realise that the workers must gain political power before they can establish Socialism, we see also the impossibility of a Socialist giving support to the Labour Party which seeks power for numerous purposes but not for Socialism. We have often enough shown that that Party’s principles are anti-Socialist, and we invite Mr. Neft to prove that the Labour Party is committed to the abolition of the exploitation of the workers by the property owners.

He quotes Marx extensively, but quite fails to appreciate the Marxian view of the class struggle. He is pleased because ”merchant-middlemen and shopkeepers” are swelling ”Labour’s right wing” (page 7), yet he must know, as Marx knew, that these people are in the worst sense reactionary. They fight—when they fight at all, and don’t merely whine—to win back “pure” small-scale capitalism. They want us to assist them in staying capitalist economic development. They are the last people to desire the abolition of the system. We look forward; they look back.

Mr. Neft believes (page 10) that when once they learn of the existence of the class struggle, the capitalists will “join the Socialists.” This is untrue, and contrary to Marx, whom he quotes with evident approval. Allowing for some exceptional individuals, the more clearly capitalists recognise their own interests, the more determinedly will they organise to protect their class privileges and resist attacks on capitalism. They will continue to associate their interests with the welfare of society as a whole.

What misleads Mr. Neft is the capitalist support he sees increasingly going to his party. Some day perhaps he will realise why this is happening. It is because the capitalists are coming to believe that the Labour Party really is, what it boasts of being, “not a class party,” but the “only bulwark against revolution.”

Mr. Neft’s confusion is shown by his absurd statement that the co-operative movement is one of the weapons of the class struggle (page 12). According to the Report of the Registrar of Friendly Societies (see Labour Research Dept. Monthly Circular, February, 1925), the total wages bill of the co-operative societies for 1923 was £17 million, and their total surplus was no less than £16 million. While, according to the N.U.A.D.W., whose members have been involved in a wage dispute with the Leeds Co-operative Society, that society pays an average yearly wage of £123 per employee, and makes a profit of £203 per year per employee. These figures are for 1924 (see Daily Herald, March 5, 1925).

This is a rate of exploitation which would make Leverhulme’s mouth water. Co-operative capitalism is worse than any other because of the sickening hypocrisy of its defenders, who masquerade as representative’s of a higher morality than their fellow-sweaters.

Mr. Neft’s economics are equally weak. He says of Trade Unionism that “The capitalists are forced to give in on the union question, but are by no means defeated. They give advances in wages, and take back what they give by means of higher prices and unemployment.” This is nonsense. Will he kindly tell us where and when he has met this queer type of capitalists who “give advances in wages.” Our experience—and, I expect, Mr. Neft’s experience also—is that the master class always and everywhere resist demands for more wages.

They sell at that price which gives them a maximum profit. Unless other conditions alter, a wage advance to their employees does not enable them to get compensation by raising prices. If it did, they would not resist wage claims. And will Mr. Neft explain why his capitalists were so philanthropic as to refrain from raising prices before wages went up?

This false theory was used with disastrous effect by the Labour Party and other defenders of capitalism during the war. It encourages among the workers the disgusting slave attitude of non-resistance to the attacks of the employing class.

Mr. Neft links Socialism up with Christianity, and says that we both preach ”the brotherhood of man.” We don’t; we preach war against the capitalist class.

He says that trustification is the adoption by the capitalists of Socialist principles, and will eliminate competition. There is nothing of Socialism in large scale capitalist industry, and in widening the area of competition to great national groups it makes for a rivalry not less but more acute and deadly than before.

Finally, Mr. Neft calls himself a Socialist, and then defines Socialism as “vesting the ownership of . . . the means of production, distribution and exchange in the whole community” (page 16). Will he please explain what a Socialist community would need to do with wealth, in addition to producing it and distributing it?

Has it not occurred to him that exchange necessarily implies private property, and does he think that private ownership and Socialism can co-exist?

New Publications Fund. (1925)

Party News from the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and the fire of Spring. (1925)

From the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mankind has always found in the return of Spring an occasion for rejoicing. Poets, musicians, artists have led the rout, and all have joined in the great re-awakening. The return of Proserpine finds its counterpart in most of the mythologies of our primitive ancestors. Even now when experience and the advance of knowledge have dethroned the deities, we love to poetically picture Nature’s great renaissance as the return of a fresh and blooming goddess, garlanded with flowers and heralded by music. Francis Thompson sings :
”Cast wide the folding doorways of the East,
For now is light increased !”
* * *
“For lo, unto her house
Spring is come home with her world
wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”
Nine hundred years ago Omar, the astronomer-poet of Persia, felt the spell, and amid the enchanted rose gardens of Mishapur, called :
 “Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring,
The winter garment of repentance fling.”
Shakespeare with his—
 “When daisies pied and violets blue, 
And lady smocks all silver white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue 
Do paint the meadows with delight.”
“Spring, the sweet Spring, is the year’s pleasant king.”
all join in the chorus of welcome down the ages. And yet there is something about Francis Thompson—
“All things are made young with young desires.”
Here, perhaps, we have the secret of perpetual youth—to retain our young desires. It is admittedly difficult to keep the fires of hope burning through an English winter, especially when followed by a summer like the last one. It is difficult to retain the potency and urge of youth through years of working-class apathy. But the death of desire is the death of oneself. When we cease to hope, and cease to work that our hope may be realised, there is nothing to do but wait for the undertaker.

This is not a lay sermon, a dissertation on Spring poetry, nor a call to repentance. It is intended to be a call to all who hold our views to take a leaf from the book of Mother Nature, and with the coming of Spring to renew their youth with young desires, and fling themselves into the battle once more. We are convinced there are thousands who are with us in everything but actual membership. These we would ask to remember that our fight is their fight, that our aim is utterly unrealisable without them. Socialism is not a system that will come of itself. It must be attained. We are convinced there is only one possible method of attainment—that of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Our method is the steady education of the workers in the principles of Socialism and nothing less, and their democratic consent to every stage in the realisation of our object. It is not sufficient to label oneself a Socialist, or merely consider oneself a sympathiser and leave it at that.
“Lo ! the Bird of Time is on the wing.”
It is help we want, and that badly. We are anxious to make this our record year. We want to increase the size and reduce the price of our paper. We have a dozen pamphlets we should like to publish. We want funds to enable our speakers to operate thoroughly, and often, over a wider and wider area. We want to train and equip new speakers and writers. We want—we want a hundred things; but chiefly and above all we want Socialism. We shall not get Socialism until we get you. If you are thoroughly convinced of the desirability of Socialism and the logic of our method of attaining to it, your place is with us. Do not come in because you think something should be done for the suffering poor. Do not come in because you have a nice kind heart and feel charitably disposed towards your fellows. We are engaged in a grim struggle. The enemy will not go down before an onslaught of sentiment. Come in clear-eyed and clear-headed, knowing that you are part of the working class, knowing that your class is a subject class, held in bondage by a parasitic useless class, small but politically powerful; knowing that you can wrest that power from them, and then—and only then—can remould our world, “nearer to the heart’s desire.” Be “made young with young desires” and join the revolutionary army.​
W. T. Hopley

The red herring of anti-fascism. (1925)

From the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked by the “National Union for Combating Fascism” to sell their literature, including a monthly journal miscalled “The Clear Light.” We certainly do not intend to do so.

The February issue alone is sufficient condemnation of the Union. They describe themselves as revolutionary Socialists; a claim which is directly negatived by an hysterical 1,000 words of obscurity which appear as their manifesto. They reject the British Communists, but accept their anti-Marxist theory, according to which capitalism will in some mysterious way “collapse.” Thus on page 1 we are told that ”The day is dawning when the onus of choice will be flung upon the masses. . . .” But on page 2 we find that the workers “must be prepared … to overthrow the existing order.” No one explains why the workers need organise to overthrow something which is going to collapse from its own weakness. They are sure that capitalism is weak, the proof being “its greater readiness to resort to Brute Force.” In fact, as even the Communists have come to perceive, capitalism is stronger now than at any. time this century, and does any serious student really believe that American capitalism is weaker than capitalism in England because its methods in home affairs are so much more brutal? Lack of experience and training, not weakness, explain this brutality. The American plutocracy has much to learn from our own more skilful ruling class.

The N.U.C.F. make the idiotic assertion that there are in Great Britain hundreds of thousands of “revolutionary Socialists” accepting the doctrines set out by Marx and Engels in the Communist manifesto. Why these hundreds of thousands do not organise into a Socialist party and why they refrain from expressing their views at the ballot-box are mysteries upon which a clear light might well be turned.

The editors are apparently not of the working class, but are some more of the insolent and ignorant superior people who will show us how it is to be done. “Let us unite, let us prepare the masses, the poor victims of the old order,” is their modest programme.

They take pride in their “simple, clean, direct open light without hesitation and without compromise.” But, like Humpty Dumpty, when they use a word it means just precisely what they want it to mean. “No compromise” means ”Let all sections of the Movement hoist the white flag of truce between comrades.”

Let us “provide a rallying point for the progressives of all shades of Labour, Socialist, Communist and Anarchist opinion. …” The notion of an organisation of Labour – Socialist – Communist – Anarchist- Progressives is one for ribald mirth, and the imagination simply refuses to conceive of the kind of ”simple, clean, direct open fight” it would carry on. The Union thinks that ”the advocacy of violence is reactionary.” This is a curious declaration to be signed by anarchists and members of the S.D.F. and the Labour Party, for the only fight we remember them engaging in was the capitalist war of 1914, when they were of the opinion that violence on behalf of King Capital was the duty of the working class. We as Socialists are not prepared to compromise our opposition to defenders of capitalism masquerading as Labour parties, and we do not wish to obscure a plain issue by associating with members of anti-Socialist bodies.

The so-called Fascist danger is largely imaginary and not at all new. Capitalist violence is as old as capitalism, and the requirements of a Socialist policy have not been changed by the Mussolini episode. Fascist organisation in England can manage to exist mainly because unstable persons take them seriously and organise against them. Behind the rank and file of sincere but panicky people who join these freak parties, whether nominally “advanced” or “reactionary,” are usually to be found numerous job-hunters moved by an itch to lay hands on donations and subscriptions. We need not discriminate between the personalities of the N.U.C.F., for as regards possible harm to the cause of Socialism there never was much to choose between the unscrupulous and the foggy-minded.​
Edgar Hardcastle

SPGB Discord Meeting: Coronavirus and vaccination in India (2021)

Party News from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party Discord Meeting

Coronavirus and vaccination in India

Speaker: Abhishek Chowdhury (WSP India)

Friday 4 June 19.30 (GMT + 1)

What has been happening in India? Have Socialists a position on whether or not workers should get vaccinated? Lively discussion welcome.

All Socialist Party meetings, talks and discussions are currently online on Discord. 

Please contact the Forum Administrator at spgb@worldsocialism.org for details on how to join.

Letters: For the fans? (2021)

Letters to the Editors from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the fans?

Dear Editors,

I was interested to read Dave Alton’s article in the May Socialist Standard concerning the proposed European Super League.

As a football fan for many years, I have seen numerous proposals of this nature come and go. The only variable seems to be how long they take to collapse! The latest fiasco was particularly gratifying as the whole thing fell apart in barely 48 hours.

I am firmly of the opinion that any future similar proposals will go the same way. Indeed, I suspect many of the club owners involved are fully aware of this and are just looking to see how far they can go as a bargaining ploy to obtain a bigger slice of the cake from existing and future TV deals.

Why? Well, as Dave writes, ‘Whatever the purpose, money will be the driving force behind it.’ This money comes from the TV companies who show the matches, and therefore ultimately from their advertisers.

But the ‘elite’ clubs behind such proposals are only ‘elite’ in any meaningful sense in their own countries, where their wealth virtually guarantees success. Put 15 or 20 of them together on an equal basis, and ultimately someone has to finish bottom. Take away any meaningful threat of relegation and the matches between the ‘under-performing’ clubs become meaningless. So you end up with the same handful of clubs playing each other year after year in sterile, pointless games. Once the novelty has worn off (or even before then for me and most other fans I know), no-one wants to watch this.

So what then is the likelihood of advertisers continuing to fund inflated TV deals for something with a minuscule audience? Er, zero! This is the reason why I do not believe such a ‘competition’, in whatever guise, will ever take off. To that extent, fans DO still have power. Dave is right to suggest that impotent rage does not achieve anything, but refusal to watch their product, whether in person or on TV, most certainly will.
Shane Roberts, 


Dear Editors,

‘Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa says the fundamental problem is that the rich always aspire to be more powerful without considering the effects this has on the rest’. This is the caption that should have been attached to this post-match interview (you can see the caption they actually use on the website ).

Bielsa is in no doubt that football works just the same as the rest of society. Addressing the issue of the European Super League, he says that the big clubs are ready to dump the smaller ones when they no longer need them to make money, and that structures intended to limit inequalities in the sport are going to break down.

He says this should come as no surprise: ‘The logic that rules the world, and football isn’t outside of it, is that the rich get richer at the cost of the poor becoming poorer.’

Football is for the fans? Hmm, think again!
S. Finch, 

Cooking the Books: What the market does (2021)

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

‘No politician’, John Kerry told a virtual climate summit called by the US President, ‘no matter how demagogic or how potent and capable they are, is going to be able to change what that market is doing’ (i paper, 24 April).

As Biden’s climate envoy he was expressing the view that investment in technologies to combat global over-warming had now become so profitable for capitalist enterprises that no government would be able to stop it happening. He may have been over-optimistic or premature but his reasoning was based on a more general assumption – that no government can change what the market is doing.

Applied more generally, it is what socialists say. It’s even the basis of our case against trying to make capitalism work for the benefit of all instead of, as it does, as a system geared to making and accumulating profits. So it is rather strange that a long-standing reformist politician – Kerry was the Democratic Party candidate for President in 2004 – should be saying this.

He could come back and say that he only meant it to apply to the particular case of investment in anti-climate-change technologies. But why would governments not be able to change what the market is doing in this case but would in others? Such as when market conditions mean building luxury flats rather than decent homes for those who need one; or not producing food for malnourished people who can’t pay for it; or cutting back on the production of needed useful things when there’s an economic depression?

Capitalism is an economic system based on the ownership of productive resources by rich individuals, capitalist enterprises or states, where production is carried on for sale on a market with a view to profit. It is driven by the economic imperative not just to make profits but to accumulate them as more capital invested in production for profit. This imperative is enforced via the market.

A capitalist enterprise won’t make a profit unless it can sell what it produces. To do this, it needs to keep its costs down. This involves keeping up with the latest methods of production, installing technologically more advanced plant and machinery. The market obliges capitalist enterprises to do this just to stay in the game. If they don’t, they will be out-competed by rival enterprises and eventually go out of business, either through bankruptcy or being taken over.

This is the context within which governments have to operate and which constrains what they can do. The main constraint is that they don’t have resources of their own and have to get them, directly or indirectly, from the profit-making sector. They must take care not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Or even discourage it. Just the opposite; they have to positively encourage it, by maintaining or creating favourable conditions for making profits.

How much they can take from the profit sector depends on how that sector is doing, whether it is expanding, contracting or stagnant. They can’t stop the boom/slump cycle that is built into capitalism, so they can’t do much more than navigate by sight. They can’t control capitalism but are at the mercy of its vagaries.

Kerry is right. No politician can successfully buck the market. As he said, they have to go with its flow.

50 Years Ago: Ecology: The first decade (2021)

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

Ten years ago, anyone who spoke of the ‘balance of nature,’ or claimed that our food was being poisoned on a mass scale, would have been classed along with nudists, vegetarians and socialists. Such talk identified the crank and the weirdo. As for ecology, few could even spell it.

Today fad has become orthodoxy. The language of the crank has become the language of the Pope, the Prince of Wales and President Nixon. Every school-child knows the meaning of ecology.

Now we have Doomwatch, the biologist’s Dixon of Dock Green. We have advertisements based on ecological appeal, like the one for Natural Gas. Establishment magazines like Time and Reader’s Digest incessantly remind us of the threats to our natural environment. (. . . )

Why does pollution occur? A small amount is due to ignorance or miscalculation. A small amount is unavoidable given present technology and population. But the immense majority is due to the economic network. People pollute because it is in their economic interests to do so.

It is sometimes claimed, though, that the problem arises from a wrong attitude to nature. This has some truth, though it will not do as a complete explanation. The attitude to nature, and the economic system, are interlinked. The present growth of ecological awareness is full of hope, for it encourages a mentality which considers total processes rather than isolated fragments. The vast majority of specialised scientists did nothing to warn us of the menace to our environment, and when people like Rachel Carson raised the alarm, many of the ‘experts’ were more horrified at this usurping of their oracular role than at the gravity of the crisis. In the pesticide controversy, as in the earlier fallout controversy. The authorities were wrong and the ‘faddists’ were right. You cannot trust the powers that be.

[Socialist Standard, June 1970]

Editorial: The Middle East – A Capitalist Flashpoint (2021)

Editorial from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

To live in a region like the Middle East that is abundant in natural resources and with its easy access to the world’s main waterways would, in a rational society, be a blessing for its inhabitants, but under capitalism, with its ruthless and competitive quest for profit, it is an unmitigated curse. Greedy and hungry capitalist vultures are continually circling ready to pounce on their prey. From Iraq to Syria to Yemen, hundreds of thousands of lives have been sacrificed in wars dedicated to the god of profit, more powerful and blood-thirsty than any Sumerian deity.

Palestine was a focus of rivalry between imperial powers long before Israel was established. The Ottomans ruled there until their defeat in the First World War, whereupon the British received a mandate to rule Palestine as part of the spoils of war. In 1948, after facing a guerrilla campaign by Jewish settler groups, the British rulers relinquished their rule over Palestine and the Israeli state was born. Once in power the new regime set about expelling the Arab population (the Palestinians), from their homes and villages. They were exiled to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and many found themselves in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab countries.

Given its strategic location, Israel was always going to be courted by the major capitalist powers. The USSR was one of its earliest supporters until about the mid-fifties when it became an ally of the United States. During the Cold War, the US backed Israel and the Arab states were supported by the USSR. The workers in the region, including the dispossessed Palestinians, were the pawns in this geopolitical power struggle.

Conflict between the Palestinian population and the state has dogged Israel since its inception. A resolution appeared possible when the Oslo accords were agreed in 1993 which proposed a two-state solution. However, in the last 20 years, more stridently nationalistic Israeli governments have encouraged illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The tensions arising from this led to military conflicts between the Israeli state and Hamas in 2009 and again in 2014. The United States government has continually backed Israel, including supplying arms. Donald Trump, when he was the US President, ramped up the tensions by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The triggers for the current violence have been the attempt to evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers and the firing of stun grenades by Israeli police at worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Reacting to this provocation, Hamas fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. The Israeli military retaliated with airstrikes against buildings in Gaza. As in previous military confrontations, casualties fell more heavily on the Palestinian side, including the deaths of many children. However, an ominous new development has been an outbreak of sectarian violence between Jewish and Arab Israeli workers.

Hamas, would-be capitalist rulers of the Palestinians with links to Iran, are vying to wrest control of the Palestinian areas from their Fatah rivals in the Palestinian National Authority. The odious Mr Erdogan of Turkey is weighing in pretending to be a champion of the Palestinians.

Despite the media narrative, this is not a conflict between Jews and Arabs, but between different capitalist factions fighting over the oil resources and strategic routes. Jewish and Arab workers have no interest in fighting each other, but they have a common interest in uniting with other workers in abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism.

Correspondence: “ Buddha Puts the Clock Back” (1956)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We have received the following letter from the Buddha Study Association: —
Dear Sir,

Re “ Buddha Puts the Clock Back”

I hope that you will in fairness, publish this letter of protest against the article "Buddha Puts the Clock Back,” by Mr. Offord, and published in your September, 1955, issue, in which the writer attempts to show that Buddhists are little more than social parasites.

Mr. Offord commences by offering some "facts" regarding the Buddha and Buddhism, many of which are erroneous; he then picks on the most theoretical aspect of the principle of rebirth, which he confuses with reincarnation—namely, from the human state to that of an animal or insect. From this he goes on to convince himself that Buddhists are so obsessed with the notion of being “reincarnated in another creature” that they lack all social ambition or initiative during their present lifetime in this world as normal human beings.

One has only to visit Buddhist countries to discover that this state of affairs simply does not exist among practising Buddhists.

Mr. Offord strikes a false note in his opening paragraph, when he describes the little statue that "sits cross-legged displaying a broad belly with a prominent navel ” being the "statue of Buddha." These so-called “Smiling Buddhas" do not represent the historical Buddha Gotama, from whose austere philosophy was evolved the popular religion Buddhism. It is obvious that Mr. Offord is ignorant of the finer aspects of both the original philosophy and of the religion for him to refer to the personage "Buddha" without the definite article; a few examples of this ignorance are his references to "an idol of worship" (the Buddha is not worshipped!); the Buddha "was so surfeited with the idle luxury of palace life that at the age of 30 he set forth alone . . ." (even this story which is only a legend, is misquoted: the Buddha-to-be, or bodhisattva, left at 29); that "all men are part of the universe” (a Hinduistic conception introduced long after the Buddha, into Mahayana Buddhism of the Northern School); "in some countries, such as Thailand, it is customary for all men to become Buddhist monks at some time in their lives, though with an eye to realism this is confined to three months" (why omit Burma, Laos, Cambodia?; this period is not confined to three months; it may be anything from two or three days to two or three years, depending upon the individual's inclinations; neither does this time period hinge upon the question of "abstinence from sex," as Mr. Offord states).

We then come to the question of Rebirth upon which Mr. Offord builds a chain of argument which becomes fantastic. In Buddhist philosophy, rebirth means the continuity of a process of impersonal evolvement in terms of simple cause and effect divorced from permanent elements of time and space. This is to say that this process persists irrespective of death. Mr. Offord would like us to think that a man or woman who is reborn in Britain, because he or she believes in this principle of rebirth, cannot fulfill the social obligations of a British citizen. I leave it to the reader to make up his or her own mind on this question!

What has made Mr. Offord biased against Buddhism? and against rebirth in particular? Let me quote the Buddha Himself (Parmatthaka Sutta,.5n iv., 5- verse 3):
“ Experts are agreed that that man who labels things 'bad' is thereby making it impossible for himself to see them as they really are."
Yours truly,
G. F. Allen,
Hon. Secretary.

Re “ Buddha Puts the Clock Back."

Answer to Letter Received.
There are two main sects of the Buddhist faith. The first is Hinayama (Little Vehicle) whose adherents consider Buddha to be not a deity, but as a most eminent man who merely points the way to Nirvana, and incidentally consider him as the only Buddha. Westerners who become Buddhists usually belong to this group. The Mahayana, or majority, deify Buddha and the various Buddhisatvas (Buddhist Saints). In China, page 280, Fitzgerald states that the Chinese Buddhists worship Buddha. In Buddhism—"Studies in Comparative Religion" Poussin also states (page 26) that Buddha is worshipped. In actual practice many Buddhists of the Hinayana sect also worship Buddha. A. H. Brodrick, an experienced traveller in S.E. Asia, in "Little Vehicle" (page 257) says "The Little Vehicle, as it exists today in Cambodia, Siam, Burma and Ceylon, is, for the people a worship of the Buddha, and for the more educated monks, a theology with a fragile philosophic basis." Of course the development of Capitalism and the extension of modern education in these countries is steadily making inroads into the belief there in the supernatural in the West.

As to whether Buddha was 29 or 30 when he set forth... we regard this as a quibble.

Why were Burma, Laos and Cambodia omitted? We presumed that the phrase "some countries such as Thailand " could cover the neighbouring Buddhist countries which our Correspondent seems so anxious to list separately.

The period of three months was mentioned but it was considered unnecessary in that short article to add that of course the exact period varied with different individuals. The article did not say that this period hinged upon the question of abstinence from sex. the actual words used were “to abstain from sex and the other pleasures of life."

We have experienced a little difficulty in understanding our Correspondent's explanation of "Rebirth," but we certainly do not wish anyone to infer that we consider that a Buddhist cannot fulfil the social obligations expected of them by the ruling class. In fact the article says the contrary. “Even the pacific side of Buddhism, which one might think could be a drawback in an acquisitive society where wealth, markets and trade routes have to be defended by the workers for their masters with force of arms can be overcome. Japanese Capitalism has obviously found the answer to this." Our Correspondent indignantly leaves it to the reader to believe that a British Buddhist "will fulfil the social obligations of a British citizen." We have no doubts about it

The letter quotes from Buddha himself implying that our article labelled Buddhism as "bad." We deny this for the reason that the article did not just label Buddhism as"bad" but tried to explain its effect on the mind and thus on men's actions including its beneficial effect on art. Our case was that Buddhism, like other religions, is an opiate for the workers and it is because of this that we appear to Mr. Allen to be biased.
Frank Offord

Party News Briefs (1956)

Party News from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day in London was successful and the keenness of members was very heartening. Several came from Wickford and sold Standards outside Hyde Park, whilst others sold literature along the route of the Trades Council procession and then remained selling in Trafalgar Square. Literature was well displayed by the many comrades outside Hyde Park and sales were quite good. A well decorated trolley was the main platform in the Park where a constant audience listened to several speakers and put good questions to the platform. At the same time another good meeting was held at our usual platform. Handbills for the evening meeting in Conway Hall were distributed. This meeting was well attended and a good collection and further literature sales added to the successful outdoor efforts of the afternoon.

# # #

Camberwell and South-West London members held a successful meeting on Clapham Common from 3 p.m. till 6 p.m. A good audience and literature sales are reported. Members hope to continue regular meetings on Clapham Common on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer.

# # #

May Day Week-end in Nottingham. The Branch held its first meeting on the Saturday evening—mainly to advertise the meetings on Sunday. The meeting commenced at 7 p.m. and continued until 9.45. The audience fluctuated between 150 and 250.

On Sunday morning the Labour Party and Trades Council procession assembled in Old Market Square just before 11 a.m. Before the procession left for the Forest, our members sold Socialist Standards. Following the Labour procession were a motley group of "Communists," between five and 50 years of age, and led by a very ancient car, containing a gramophone, playing a much worn record of the "Red Flag."

At 3 p.m. we commenced our May Day meetings proper—against some noisy opposition from a group of "Faith Healers"—complete with piano accordion and tambourine! Our speakers dealt with the origin of the May Day festivities and their later adoption by the working-class organisations and with the activities of two of the allegedly working-class parties in this country—the Communist Party and the Labour Party. As the meeting progressed our alternative to the present system of society was fully developed. The audience was between 200 and 300. The meeting terminated at 5.30 p.m. and re-commenced soon after six o'clock when the meeting was forced to close (mainly due to the noise caused by a Salvation Army band). The audience throughout this meeting was nearly 500 and literature sales were very good.

# # #

Glasgow and Kelvingrove Branches have just concluded their most promising indoor propaganda season since the war. Indoor propaganda is difficult to sustain and indeed, we are the only Party that even attempts to run weekly meetings in Glasgow. But this year consistency and perseverance were rewarded, attendances, literature sales and collections were good, especially in March and April. Members are now looking forward to the summer outdoor propaganda season with lighter hearts and more determination in the ranks than has been evident for some time.

Hopes were high for a successful May Day, but the weather decreed otherwise. Comrade May held an audience of more than 100 for over an hour in the pelting rain at Queen's Park before being forced to give up. Despite the weather our evening meeting at St Andrews Hall was a good one. Although the audience was only about 90, questions were good and discussion lively. Over £2 worth of literature was sold and the collection was £4. Weather permitting, meetings will be held every Sunday at 8 p.m. on West Regent Street Glasgow Comrades are asked to support these meetings and continue the good work that has been started during the winter months.

# # #

Ealing Branch. The special drive to sell the Socialist Standard has got off to an excellent start. At the time of going to press (16th May) the Brandi's previous record monthly total (53 dozen) has already been exceeded. The Branch has ordered 80 dozen Standards altogether and is optimistic that they will sell them. The response to our canvassers has been very favourable and an average of 40-50 copies have been sold on each canvass.

Members are reminded that the Branch’s annual outing is on 10th June. This time we shall be going to Littlehampton. There are now only a few seats left on the coach and members wishing to take the trip are asked to let the Secretary know as soon as possible.

# # #

The Secretary of Ealing Branch has recently been in contact with Comrade Vic Heeley, of Manchester Branch, who, many members may recall, was responsible for the stupendously high sales of our pamphlet "Principles and Policy" in his home area a few years ago. Mainly by canvassing, he succeeded in getting our literature into countless working-class homes, but was forced to give up for a time due to personal and domestic circumstances.

He has lately recommenced this work and promises to make a really big assault during May. If all goes well he should sell a large number of Socialist Standards and other literature throughout the month, and he assures us that this is only the beginning.

But his work does not end there. He has beer a constant and searching critic of Labour and Tory policies
in the correspondence columns of the local Manchester Press had has had a series of letters published—much to the annoyance of some of his opponents.

These "lone wolf” activities are invaluable to Comrades living in areas where no local brandies exist, and can give them the satisfaction of helping forward the Socialist case in a practical manner. Here then is a suggested way in which isolated members can quite easily extend their efforts for the Party. The appropriate committee at Head Office will be pleased to give assistance and advice.
Phyllis Howard

The Critics Criticised – Professor Popper Looks at History pt.1 (1956)

Book Review from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many critics see Marxism as a theory of iron determinism which regards men as puppets pulled by the strings of historical necessity. Mr. K. R. Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies, believes that too. One could say why bother about such palpable errors? The pity of it is not that Mr. Popper has written it but many who read him might come to believe it.

Mr. Popper holds that Marxist historicism is fatalism. He also holds that it helps to generate beliefs that men are mere instruments of impersonal forces. Such views, he thinks, tend towards men coming to accept a collective tyranny called by him, “the closed society” as against the “open society” where democracy and toleration prevail.

Mr. Popper is a christian toreador who seizes the Marxist bull by the historic horns by declaring there can be no concrete history of mankind. “Such a concrete history would have to be the history of all men; of all human hope, struggle and suffering” (p. 270). We are also told “it would have to be the life of the unknown individual man . . . this is the real content of human experience down the ages” (p. 272). Thus does Mr. Popper consign history to the unknown and unknowable. There are, he tells us, separate histories, viz., the histories of politics, technocracy, art, economics, poetry, etc. Such histories, he thinks, should be studied and interpreted from our own standpoint. We can, for example, interpret the history of political power in the light of “our struggle for the open society.” While history vide Mr. Popper “has no meaning, in this way we can give meaning to it.”

Just as one did not know where to have Dame Quickley, one does not know where to have Mr. Popper. Thus we are told (page 268) “The merits of interpretation must rest on its ability to elucidate historical facts.” Yet he informs us (p. 265), that “the facts of history have been collected in accordance with a preconceived point of view.” In that case they are not historical facts but highly dubious material incapable of providing any valid knowledge of historic causation. Indeed, Mr. Popper contends historical reasoning is circular, because, starting as it does from preconceived theories it can only in turn reduce preconceived theories.

But if, according to Mr. Popper, concrete history does not exist, then only what he terms the various histories can provide historical sources. But these sources he assures us are tainted sources. Any interpretation based on them must be suspect—including the interpretations of Mr. Popper.

Yet we are told (p. 266) that some interpretations have more merit than others. That is some are at any rate more in accordance with the accepted records. But if these records do not constitute genuine knowledge one wonders what real significance can be attached to the word “merit.” Curiously enough in the same paragraph we are told “that if only one authority which gives information on certain events that fit in with his own specific interpretation, can be radically interpreted in a different way, then this deviation may take on something of the semblance of a scientific hypothesis.” On the one hand we are told that the merit of an historical interpretation lies in its accord with the records and on the other hand an interpretation can only achieve some semblance to a scientific hypothesis by radically departing from it. But Mr. Popper’s statement that an historical interpretation can achieve some semblance to a scientific hypothesis is inconsistent with his contention that there can be no factual evidence and hence no valid historical knowledge. For it is obvious that unless such knowledge is available an hypothesis having any semblance of being scientific, becomes impossible.

Mr. Popper also tells us that although there is no such thing as universal history there are, nevertheless, universal laws of the separate histories. They are, he says, trivial and provide no selective and unifying principle. He gives as an example of what he means by a universal law of history by telling us that if two equally well armed and well led forces meet, then the one with a tremendous superiority in man power will win. This merely tells us that a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un. While this may have some relevance in pugilistic circles what relevance it has to the character and content of history and the nature of historical investigation only Mr. Popper knows, but alas he refuses to tell us.

Mr. Popper repeats the stock objection to history by making invidious comparisons between it and what he calls the generalising sciences (such as physics, biology, sociology, etc.) This objection, however, tells most heavily against Mr. Popper, because if physics is taken as a model, invidious comparisons can be drawn between it and large parts of biology. While if we compare physics with the ad hoc assumptions and vast amount of unrelated detail which goes to make up the alleged science of sociology, then the comparison between physics and sociology becomes positively odious. While an evaluation of psychology on such terms would forever exclude it from any pretensions to be called scientific. Indeed, on the logic of Mr. Popper’s “comparison,” many subjects regarded as scientific would have to yield their claims in this respect.

It is true that historical investigation in common with many other fields of scientific knowledge cannot employ “the controlled experiment” of physics. It is not true to say that it cannot acquire valid knowledge. To paraphrase Marx, “In physics and chemistry the microscope and the reagent are used, in historical investigation the force of abstraction must replace both.” The force of abstraction is itself an integral part of scientific procedure. So far then as the possibility of obtaining valid knowledge is concerned it holds good for all fields of systematic inquiry. Thus history differs from physics in the same way that biology or geology differ from physics that is in subject matter and not because physics has a logic and procedure of a different order.

That there is no intrinsic barrier in the nature of things to prevent their scientific investigation is hardly questionable. If, of course, history was able to apply the same procedures and tests as physics then it would not be history. Mr. Popper apparently is not prepared because history is not physics to grant it any scientific validity.

Marxism does not hold that there is some impersonal prime mover called historic inevitability. It simply asserts that the complex phenomena we term history are capable of being coherently organised in a manner which gives knowledge and understanding to the affairs of men and the ability to predict within limits the broad trend of human development.
Ted Wilmott

Self-Deception (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of late years modern psychology, with its Freudian basis, has had considerable appeal for the shallow intellectual. It is so elevating, and causes so little cultural embarrassment, to stand before the mental mirror contemplating one's brain and imagining what one thinks it thinks it is thinking. Needless to say the reality is far from the loftiness of the conception. But it is a very self-satisfying game; puffs one's conceit without the toil of acquiring real useful knowledge, and, like the card-sharper's ability, acquires some financial gain and social standing from, what Barnum referred to as, "the mug that is born every day."

Principles — and Practice (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
 "It is a matter of historical experience that nothing that is wrong in principle can be right in practice.

 People are apt to delude themselves on that point, but the ultimate result will always prove the truth of the maxim. A violation of equal rights can never serve to maintain institutions which are founded on equal rights."
Carl Schurz, United States Secretary, 1878. Quoted by Howard Fast in the "Last Frontier."