Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Wild West. The Myth and the Reality. (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this rapidly changing world, the form of entertainment indulged in by the majority of the population in the industrialized countries has undergone many changes in the last 50 years. Not only have the forms of dancing, popular music, films and literature changed, but the fictional character also.

There is, however, one familiar figure who has been our constant companion on the screen and bookstall during all these years. In silent “flicks,” talkies, colour, Three-D, Cinemascope, he still remains the same—long, lean and suntanned; with Stetson hat and pistols, his mount well-groomed—our old and ever- popular friend, the Cowboy.

Popular Appeal
To the densely-herded urban masses whose wide-open spaces are confined at best to a small suburban garden (or for the less fortunate, a cactus in a flower-pot), the unrestricted country of the American West has a vast appeal.

It is probably the fictional Westerner’s apparent freedom that is the real attraction. Our celluloid and paper-pulp hero spends his time destroying the forces of evil, be they represented as Indians, rustlers or land-grabbers. He is gallant with the ladies, and never fails to defend or restore legally-owned property. Sometimes he is on the wrong side of the law, forced into this position by some ruthless landowner, or a victim of the financiers' guile. In spite of these lawless trends, however, our hero's basic goodness still shines through. Faced with this dilemma m their hero, the film producers' usual way out is to get him conveniently killed.

Modern man is generally tied down to one job, often tedious and uninteresting. The Westerner is aloof from this. He never seems to be very closely tied to any full-time occupation, even when he dons the uniform of the U.S. Cavalry. To imagine oneself able to undertake any adventure, or punish any infamy, is a wonderful escape from punching the time-clock.

The Western film or story has generally a twofold approach. One shows a desire for justice and for the removal of tyranny. The other depicts violence and. quick action as opposed to thought and reasoned movement. The stories are seldom complicated. The viewer or reader does not have to rack his brain over subtle psychological mysteries or unpleasant social problems. The stories are easy to write and the films cheap to produce. They are ideal products for a mass market.

A Glimpse into the Past
At this point, let us look at the birthplace of these modem legends, and roll back the years.

The term "West" in American history covered each stage of the frontier as it moved towards the Pacific from the early Atlantic seaboard settlements. We take up the story when that frontier had reached the Mississippi River.

It was the Spaniards who first moved up into what are now Texas, New Mexico and California, and explored the Mississippi. They built churches, mission stations and settlements. At the same time the French were moving along the Great Lakes and the rivers from Canada and extending over the plains to the Rockies. A few were priests, but the majority were fur-trappers and traders. These latter mixed freely with the wandering Indian tribes.

The English were the next settlers, consolidating and developing as they went. In time they came to represent a new rising Capitalist class, viewing the New World as something more than just a possession of an overseas absolute monarch.

Francis Parkman who, in 1846, journeyed from Kansas over the Oregon Trail to the foot of the Rockies, mixed with the Indians and noted their habits. In his journal he writes at length about the French trappers and trail-blazers and their inter-marriage with the Indians. He noted something else that was to have a more important effect on history—the settlers' wagons heading for Oregon and California, Mormons striking out into the wilderness to found a new home in Utah, the adventurous seeking the new-found gold. America was in the process of making another frontier.

The United States, having purchased Louisiana and secured Florida, was still faced with a foreign power in the south-west. In 1821 Mexico had become independent of Spain, and the lands over the Rio Grande passed to her. Land could be purchased in Texas for 12½ cents per acre, or one-tenth of the price that the U.S. Government charged for land. Within a few years about 20,000 Americans, mostly southerners, moved into Texas. A smaller number travelling by sea had secured land in California.

Mexico had officially abolished slavery, but the newcomers, fresh from the slave-owning south, had no wish to become peasants. Hired labour was rare, so Mexico looked the other way. The rapid changes of Mexican government made the Texans uncertain of the status of their slave property. In 1835, Santa Anna abrogated certain states' rights (this included Texas) and these economic and political struggles led to the Texans' declaring a provisional government. Some 200 of them were besieged and slaughtered in the fortified mission-station of the Alamo, but the siege gave time for the Texans under Houston to form an army and get support from the U.S. Houston avenged the Alamo by capturing Santa Anna and destroying the Mexican Army.

The final result was that the lands north of the Rio Grande were annexed. Five new states were formed in the Union, and all except California were declared slave states. They were, however, too lightly populated and unsuited for one-main-crop agriculture to be affected by that form of property. The growing industrial north did feel, however, that the Mexican War had given more power to the slave-owning south.

The Self-made Man
The rapid expansion of America in the west brought great personal opportunities. A land that had no old-established ruling class flung up its new Capitalists and developers from among those of humble birth. Individualism or, better still, individual property rights became the order of the day.

The man, who through luck and resource, amassed money was a being to be looked up to. Not being tied down with the ideas of aristocracy, making money and not how it was made, was the new Capitalist ethic. The Press slated those who returned from the West to a somewhat less lucrative but probably more secure life in the East Failure was against the nation and the destiny of America.

In the new areas the State machine was weak, and weakened further by the great regard for property. Nothing must stand in the way of the “go-getter." There was little restraining influence on wealth or the way it was secured. Laws tended to be flouted openly when they stood in the way of personal advance.

The Gold Rash
In 1848 gold was discovered in California, and before long the country was over-run with prospectors. Whereas in other areas the settlers followed hunters and turned the land under the plough and spade, in California the principal attraction was gold. Mostly the newcomers came by ship, round Cape Horn, or broke the journey by the short overland route through Panama, but some crossed the continent by waggon, a long and most dangerous journey. Wandering Indians and the hot, arid desert valleys were but two of the problems to be faced. The waggon train scout, Wm. Manley, reported graphically of these emigrants' torments.

San Francisco became the centre of the Barbary Coast and, as was to be expected in a gold-rush community, catered for every vice. At this time in the settlement only two per cent. of the population were women, and to meet the shortage boatloads of ladies of uncertain virtue were sent out from the eastern states and from Europe. The reader can get some idea of the turbulence when he considers that from 1848 to 1856 there were some 1,200 murders and only three official hangings In the San Francisco area, especially as the population only numbered some 20,000. California, not deriving its wealth from the slaves or the soil, developed what was in fact a new financial and Capitalist outlook.

Pike's Peak and Oscar Wilde
Another gold rush started in 1858, when gold was discovered in the Pike's Peak area of Colorado. The same stream of wagons, with some prospectors even pushing their belongings on handcarts, creaked across the plains. It was in this area that Horace Tabor, “the Bonanza King," arose; living in splendour, he even built an opera-house in Leadville. To this flamboyant and noisy setting came, on a brief visit, the prince of aesthetes, Oscar Wilde, who declared the miners to be "Capital fellows, and not at all rough."

One settlement that stands out from all the rest was the Mormon headquarters at Salt Lake City. They built a city in the wilderness after many hardships, a town that in many ways was an example to others springing up at this time. They showed how a group of people with a strong communal sense could accomplish a more stable way of living than the purely individualistic elements.

The War
When the Civil War broke out, the Confederate South counted on support from the Mid-west, principally on the point that these areas had always used the Mississippi as an outlet and the Confederates controlled the sea outlet of New Orleans. The Confederates overlooked the railways : the West could now link up directly with the industrial eastern states, and so the economic grip of “Old Muddy" was broken.

The Pacific States being so far from Washington, there was always the threat of secession from the Union. Representatives from these states had to make a long sea voyage round America; only the hardy and the poor attempted the covered wagon overland route. The North, aware of these problems, speeded up the railway programme. In 1869 the two lines met at Ogden, Utah. The gap was filling in, the wilderness was being conquered.

The Mid-west prospered because of the War, and by the fact that England and the rest of Europe had bad harvests in the 1860s. Industrialization was creating a new market to be satisfied, and exports of foodstuffs increased.

The Coming of the Cowboy
In the vast central area called the Great Plains, settlements were few and far between. Towns sprang up round the mining camps, and it was these places that dominated the scene. The Plains were not considered to be of much use other than for Indians and hunting. They were areas that wagons passed through, but not to settle; the gold and the sunny fertile valleys of the Pacific were the main attraction. Here, on these plains and deserts, was America's last frontier.

Texas and the south-west had always been a cattle-raising country, at least near the Rio Grande, way back in Spanish times. It was in these lands that the Vaquero or Cowboy lived and learned his trade. The Cowpuncher was a man who worked in the railway stockyards as a grader and loader, and later the name was applied to all ranch workers.

As a result of Texas joining the Confederates in the Civil War. she was cut off from the sea and the Mississippi by the Union forces. A surplus of cattle resulted, as there was no market available. Faced with ruin after the war. like so many other cattle-men Joseph McCoy conceived the idea of driving the sellable surplus cattle along the Chisholm trail to Abilene, thence by rail to Kansas and the eastern states. The cattle could live on the herbage that fed bison; it was just a question of linking-up with water courses and holes. This was the commencement of the great cattle-drives that still figure so much in the cinema and magazines.

The increased industrialization of America and Europe led to a need for more and more meat. Profits went up, and it became the age of the cattle kings and the cowboy, owners of great herds like Chisum and Kennedy. This period of the fictional saga was not very long in fact, yet it has provided thrills and entertainment for millions since that time.

By 1871 some 600,000 head of cattle were driven to various points north from Texas, and the idea caught on. Cattle-raising and driving spread right up to Montana.

The cattle kings, like the miners, brought wealth to many small towns, but like them it was sometimes transient; The ranch-workers, miners and settlers who worked hard and were often isolated for long periods tended to get together whenever possible. If they were in a religious mood, then large camp meetings were held, at which fervour and emotions ran riot. At the other extreme, the saloon played quite a part in the growing towns. People who were often without the means to create or study tended to "bust loose" in town. These saloons provided drink and refreshment, women, gamblers, bullies and thugs, and the social get-together.

It is in this cattle age that we find the now almost legendary figures of the West. The sheriffs and bad men, like the Earp Brothers, “Bat” Masterton, Sam Brown, Plummer and Frank Loving, not forgetting the old favourites Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill. Some of these characters would have been better confined to the pathological ward.

The end of the frontier was near, however. At Abilene, T. C. Henry sowed "winter wheat" and it was a success. The plains could now be turned under the plough, and settlers moved in in great numbers. From this arose the struggle between the ranchers and settlers, the battle between the unfenced range and the boundary wire. By the 1880-90s. improved agriculture and grasslands, as well as improved stock and irrigation, won the day. The ever-spreading railways killed the "big drive" and the “Lead Steer." The vast open range was out; it was no longer good business to wander for days looking for grass and water. Output could be increased in a smaller space. The mines also were being grouped into large concerns, and the prospector became a mine-worker. 

The Redskin
It is as well we take a brief glimpse at the original occupant of this land, the Indian. Small in numbers, therefore of no great use to the slave-owner or the farmer and industrialist, he was generally regarded as a form of dangerous vermin. Whatever the Abolitionist may have said about the evils of slavery, or what tears he may have wept over the Negro, he certainly never extended these sentiments to the Indian.

The Redskins' main source of food was the bison, herds of which often covered the plains for miles. The settlers, the railways, sportsmen and Government policy soon reduced the bison to a few thousands. The Government thought this would keep the Indians tied to their reserves, make them devote more of their time to agriculture, and cease their wanderings and tribal warfare. Unfortunately for the Indians, the reserves got smaller and the game for food less and less. People with a Stone Age culture, they found it hard to grasp what was happening. At one time a number of them, so disturbed by the numbers of trains and wagons passing over their land, pathetically tried to go east because they thought everyone had left there. 

Attacks on Indian camps by soldiers were by no means unusual. This is a point that the film moguls generally omit from the typical “western.” In 1876, for example, a Colonel Reynolds attacked a Sioux camp at Powder River and burnt it out, the temperature at the time being 40 degrees below zero. The Indian braves counter-attacked and drove the soldiers away. These incidents caused a great meeting of the Sioux tribe, Cheyennes and Arapahoes on the Little Big Horn, under Sitting Bull and Two Moon. It was this gathering that defeated General Custer, an incident that the ardent Western fan must have seen portrayed many times. Indian risings occurred all the way down to Mexico. Like the Mau-Mau of our own time, the Indian terrorists’ tactics did not tend to improve their position or gain them much sympathy.

The Apache War of 1883-85 is the one in which the famous Geronimo took part. With 35 men and over 100 women and children he engaged 50,000 U.S. troops, 500 Indian scouts and a hostile armed populace as well as the soldiers of Mexico for about 18 months before surrendering.

The last violent uprising came rather late. A prophetic dream and ritual dance having its origin in a Nevada reserve soon spread among the Indians. Some 350 Sioux deserted their Dakota reserve. U.S. cavalry intercepted them and under Hotchkiss guns as protection started to disarm them. A chief began the ritual ghost dance and donned his war-bonnet. The immediate fighting resulted in the deaths of some 200 Indians and 60 soldiers. Thus ended once and for all any attempt by the Indians to get their problems solved by violence. Properly-defined reserves and infiltration into the mass of the population with their many trades and occupations soon left the Indians as living museum-pieces.

The development of America, like the advance of industrialization in Africa and Asia, is one of the principal aspects of Capitalist society. The old tribal organizations are broken up by the unstemmed tide of investment for profit. Capitalism, now more or less universal, likes to look back on some aspect of its earlier days. From the American viewpoint, the glorification of the early West does just this.

One point the magazine and film producers seldom show is that a large land mass was brought under cultivation and development in a fairly short space of time by people who, generally, were far removed from the much boosted and vaunted violence so usual a feature of their films and stories.
Jack Law

The Passing Show: The last days of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen (1956)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last days of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen

The village of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen lies in a valley among the peaceful hills of South Wales. It runs no risks from volcanoes or other forces of nature. And yet, if the National Coal Board carries out its declared intention, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen will be destroyed as surely as Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii.

The National Coal Board, like any other Capitalist board of directors, thirsts after profit. But it took over coalmines which private Capitalism had bled white; much investment must be made before the mines can become profitable again. In the meantime, some pits, because of such geological conditions as faulting in the seams, lose more money than others. And because of such geological conditions, there are more disputes between masters and men at such pits over proper rates of pay. Strikes occur, men are dismissed because the management say they are employing “go-slow” tactics, bitterness increases; and this in its turn leads to more disputes.

Among such pits are the East and Steer pits at Gwaun-Cae-Gurwenn. Over a thousand men from the village work there. There is no alternative employment nearer than Margam steelworks, 20 miles away. Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen lives because it works at the two collieries.

And on May 11th last the National Coal Board gave 14 days' notice to all the miners at the two pits. It intends to close both of them because "continued restrictions of effort, lack of co-operation by the workmen, and low productivity” have resulted in serious financial losses. (The Times, 12/5/56).

Those who extol the merits of the British ruling class say that in Britain no one is punished without a fair trial and conviction. But here is. punishment—and what punishment is more severe than deprivation of livelihood? —without trial, without even individual accusation; it is group punishment, for which the British ruling class condemned the German rulers in the last war—making all suffer for the supposed faults of some.

Wasted Effort
But apart from that, how clearly the action of the N.C.B. demonstrates the position of the workers under Capitalism, Private or State. The worker is employed by the kind consent of the Capitalist; when the Capitalist no longer wants him, he casts him out; and the worker must crawl away until he finds some other property-owner who will make a profit out of employing him. In such a case as Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, the worker must cut his family ties, and perhaps leave the village where he was born, before he can find other work.

What a tragedy is here! Troy was taken and wiped out by enemy soldiers, hiding in a wooden horse which the enemies of Troy had built. But Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen is to be destroyed by the National Coal Board, for the creation of which no one worked harder, or sacrificed himself more eagerly, than the South Wales miner. Capitalism, whatever it is called, does not change its nature; the National Coal Board is preparing to offer up Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen as a tribute to the great god Profit with as little compunction as private Capitalists could have shown.

Gambling—selective criticism

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England, the Congregational Assembly—all join in condemning Mr. MacMillan's new premium bond scheme. The scheme, they say roundly, constitutes government encouragement of the practice of gambling. But not a word from the reverend archbishop, or from the august assemblies, about the great gamble which is the Stock Exchange. Which is not surprising. The Church of England is doing very well from its speculations upon the Stock Exchange; and all churches realize, consciously or sub-consciously, that their function in present-day society is to allay any discontent among the masses by promising a rosy future in the sky; and to draw attention to the activities of the ruling class, upon the Stock Exchange and elsewhere, is not the best way to perform that task. So while the churches criticise some forms of gambling, they keep quiet about other and more serious, kinds.

Mass deportation

At the conferences among the victorious war-chiefs at the end of the second world war it was agreed that eastern Germany, beyond the Oder and the Neisse, should be given to Poland to compensate her for territories she had to give up to Russia? As was foreseen, Poland deported the millions of Germans living in this part of Germany, and repopulated the territory with displaced Poles. As the knowledge of this atrocity—surely one of the most gigantic "War-crimes” committed by either side—spread, the western allies tried, by undignified squirming, to put all the blame on Russia. Russia, of course, must bear her share of the blame, but not all of it.

But not all of our "leaders” have abandoned mass deportation as an answer to the problems of Capitalism. Step forward, Mr. R. T. Paget, Q.C., M.P. Mr. Paget believes that mass deportation of the Cypriots to Greece would solve the Cyprus problem. He wrote to The Times on April 27th:
   "Whenever an act of terrorism takes place and no information is forthcoming from the locality, then compulsory purchase orders should be served on all Greek property owners in that locality and the inhabitants should be deported to Greece. . . . The ships that deported the Greeks would return with Turks who would purchase and settle in the property we had acquired from the Greeks."
“This process,” Mr. Paget writes blandly, “would continue until there was a Turkish majority or until terrorism stopped.” Mr. Paget, as becomes a leading supporter of Capitalism, leaves out of the reckoning any question of the human suffering this would entail, the merits of punishing all for the faults of some, and the justice—even by Capitalist standards—of deporting people from an island where they and their forbears have lived for hundreds of years. It only remains to add that Mr. Paget is a prominent member of the Labour Party, which claims to be devoted to increasing the sum of human happiness.

Queensbury Rules

Another Labourite, and former M.P., Tom Driberg, also has some comments to offer upon the Cyprus situation. Unlike Mr. Paget, Mr. Driberg believes that “when government degenerates into tyranny... violent resistance is legitimate ” (Reynolds News, 13-5-56). He goes on:
  "Violent resistance, however, should have its code of decency. Attacks should be directed primarily against enemy installations—camps, airfields, stores of weapons, radio-stations. It is wrong to throw bombs into married quarters, to shoot soldiers off duty, shopping with their families."
The code which Mr. Driberg offers for the guidance of the EOKA resistance in Cyprus is not the code which the British forces pursued in the last war, with no protest from Mr. Driberg. Bombs were not only thrown but dropped in large quantities into every kind of quarters; British soldiers and airmen did not stop to enquire whether the Germans they killed were soldiers off duty, or indeed whether they were soldiers at all. If Mr. Driberg thinks so much of his code, he should have offered it to the public earlier, during the last war, when he was in Parliament.

As for Socialists, they have nothing to do either with bomb-throwing Cypriots or schoolboy-flogging Britons. The issue being fought out in Cyprus is this: are the Cypriot workers, Greek and Turkish, to be exploited by a British ruling class or a Greek ruling class? The Socialist attitude to Cyprus is the same as the Socialist attitude to every other part of the world; abolish Capitalism, which subsists on exploitation and leads to bloodshed and establish Socialism
Alwyn Edgar

"Up—and Down !" (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “If the unpaid labour supplied by the working-class and accumulated by the Capitalist class, increases so rapidly that its conversion into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labour, then wages rise, and, all other circumstances remaining equal, the unpaid labour diminishes in proportion. But as soon as this diminution touches the point at which the surplus-labour that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantities, a reaction sets in; a smaller part of revenue is capitalised, accumulation lags, and the movement of rise in wages receives a check. The rise of wages, therefore, is confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalistic system, but also secure its reproduction on a progressive scale" 
(“ Capital” Karl Marx, Vol. 1, Chap. 25, page 680 Kerr Ed.).

Editorial: Don't Be Sidetracked By Automation (1956)

Editorial from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 20-year-old word Automation, which was designed to describe automatic processes involving electronic devices but is how being loosely applied to any replacement of human labour by machinery, is being used to divert workers' attention from the matters that ought to concern them. What matters to the workers of all countries, and ought to receive their undivided attention, is not what kinds of machines are used to turn out goods but who owns the machines and who owns the goods. If we lived in a system of society based upon common ownership of the means of production and distribution nobody would have cause to fear the introduction of more efficient methods. No individual would suffer hardship through the abolition of his job and all people would gain through the greater production of wealth. But all countries in the world operate Capitalism and it is Capitalism not the machines that creates the problems and hardships for the men and women who work the machines. This aspect is entirely ignored by all except Socialists.

Many defenders of Capitalism, worried by the resistance organised workers are showing to the new production methods, are trying to counter it by stories of the better times that will come after the hardships. The Daily Mail in an editorial (3 May, 1956), had the following about what it calls the spirit of "anti-automation": -
  "It results from fear of the robot—the thought that men skilled and unskilled alike, will become redundant when their work can be done by the press-button and the electronic brain. We must all sympathise with this feeling.
  "In the long run automation will mean a stupendous rise in standards of living."
There is no evidence whatever to justify this promise of a stupendous rise in standards of living for the workers. In the first place there is no evidence that automation will do more than increase somewhat the past small annual increase of powers of production—a point that will be dealt with further. But even if automation did vastly increase the efficiency of production that would not give any guarantee that the workers would benefit, for the products do not belong to the workers who produce them, but to the Capitalists who own the plant and factories.

What if anything the workers get out of increased production depends on their ability to back up their demands with effective struggle. Employers will not in the future, any more than in the past, give higher wages merely because output and profits are rising.

In this country the bait is held out that automation will enable the manufacturers to produce more cheaply and sell more cheaply and thus gain new or widened markets for British goods. But every other country is developing the new methods too, and in each country the workers are being told the same story. Cheaper British cars will meet in the world market the competition of cheaper cars from U.SA, Germany, France, Russia, and all the other producers, so automation if it led to all-round cheapening would solve no problem and alter nothing. In actual fact it is by no means certain that it will lead to cheaper cars but cheapness is not all. Another of its purposes is to enlarge the output and quicken production—which is not necessarily the same thing as to cheapen it. But it is of vital importance to manufacturers to get their new models on the market with minimum delay and thus get the cream of the market ahead of competitors. A contributor to the Financial Times (10/5/56) describing the £4,000,000 new tractor plant of Standard Motors says, "it does not follow that the new tractor will be relatively cheaper," for against some expected saving of labour in the works has to be set the great cost of the new plant.

In the motor industry, battles for supremacy and survival are being fought inside America and Britain, and internationally with other competitors. Automation is a weapon in the struggle, but the struggle is a typical feature of the way Capitalism operated long before this latest of the technical developments. It should not be forgotten that the tens of thousands of unsold cars that led to workers being put on short time in Britain, and the 900,000 unsold cars that have had similar consequences in U.S.A, were not to any extent the consequence of automation: they were the normal results of over-production in face of a falling demand.

On the experience America has already had with automation an article in the Economist (5 May, 1956) has some interesting things to say. In chemicals automation has led to real economies of production and “ here automation pays already; and pays well.” The same is true of the steel industry, “but in most cases, particularly in the automobile and electrical industries, automation means that machines have become bigger and more expensive and that there are more of them.”

The article goes on:—
  "In the newer production industries, automation has come to stay and probably to predominate. This is not at all the same thing as saying that automation has begun to pay. When the giant machines and automatic transfer devices arrive in one plant, its competitors feel compelled to get them as well to secure the same increases in the pace and capacity of their output. But the suspicion is growing in Detroit and Pittsburgh and Cleveland that, in spite of its speed, automation is very expensive.”
  “Automation does reduce direct labour costs but not always proportionately, since the remaining operators have to be more highly-skilled. In addition, most firms are finding that the ‘automated’ lines require large numbers of maintenance men, who must be first-class technicians."
The writer in the Economist adds one wry comment about the attitude of the trade unions:—
  "If any net saving in labour costs remains, the trade unions have made it clear that they expect this gain to be paid out as higher wages to the remaining workers. In some cases, therefore, the savings anticipated when the machinery was ordered may prove illusory.”
We can say that that trade union attitude is more sensible than passively accepting whatever the employers want to dictate but it is not at all sensible in relation to the real need of our age, that of getting rid of this cut-throat, wasteful and war-producing system of society so that greater powers of production will harm no-one and will benefit all.

50 Years Ago: The Plight of the Teachers (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The National Union of Teachers has been in existence for 35 years. It has three representatives in Parliament, a membership rivalling in numbers the great Trade Unions, each member a “captain and guide of the democracy.” An Archbishop sends greetings to its latest Conference. Vicar and Major, Ex-Cabinet Minister and M.P., all unite to “welcome” and patronise the delegates assembled at said Conference. All are greeted with rapturous “applause,” and all is as well as well can be in this best of all possible educational worlds.

And yet—and yet—the career of a “captain,” the lot of a “guide,” is still like unto the policeman’s life “when constabulary duty's to be done." List to the plaint of the President:—
  “A career inadequately remunerated, passed under harassing conditions, practically, in many cases, the servants of officials who rule with an iron hand, depending for their livelihood on voice and brain, and, if these fail, cast aside without remorse."
He is a little higher than the artisan, and a little lower than the bank clerk. In any case he is absolutely dependent upon wages for his subsistence. He is, in short, a proletarian. Does he ever seriously consider that, for class purposes, he is ever busily employed in manufacturing better material for the merchant and sweater, sturdier stuff, mayhap for “cannon fodder,” obedient tools to shoot their own kith and kin if necessary.

#    #    #    #

If 35 years of Unionism has effected so little for you. might it not be worth while to seriously review the position, and, dominated by a set definiteness of purpose, recognising your position as but units—useful units—in the great Capitalist game of Grab, infuse a more dignified, less cap-in-hand attitude into your Union? The declared reason for the existence of the N.U.T. is the furtherance of the interests of the child. Is there not a danger that it may become the happy hunting-ground of the eloquent Party-man in a hurry to round his own life into a success?
[From the "Socialist Standard," June, 1906.]

Do Wages determine Prices? (1925)

From the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist frequently encounters the illusion that prices of commodities generally are determined by, or in some way based upon, the wages of the workers producing those commodities. This illusion is common amongst members of all political parties to which we are opposed. Who has not met the Tory who regards strikes for higher wages as responsible for the high cost of living? or the Labourite who holds that strikes are useless because the capitalist can always recoup himself for an advance in wages by raising prices? In fact it is curious to note that the Tory and the Labourite both lead the worker to the same false move, i.e., the abandonment of the strike weapon. No Socialist exaggerates the value of that weapon, but likewise no Socialist is fool enough to propose to discard it under capitalism.

The illusion referred to rests upon ignorance of the economic laws of present-day capitalist society. The person suffering from the illusion regards wages and prices as quantities arbitrarily fixed, either by the workers or the capitalists, or both. Prices are conceived by him as a compound of wages plus other cost of production. (raw material, machinery, etc.) plus a certain percentage of profit which is decided, apparently, by the capitalists’ own sweet will; yet a moment’s reflection should show that if the capitalist had the power to manipulate prices how and when he liked, there is no limit to the profit he would charge !

A reference to one well-established and widely-known fact should be sufficient to knock the bottom out of the fallacy. Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914 prices commenced to soar to a level 100 per cent. to 200 per cent. above their starting point. Was this the effect of a rise in wages? Obviously not! Wages did not commence to rise till after the general rise in prices commenced. Wages rose in fact only because the rise in prices made it impossible for the workers to continue producing wealth with their diminished purchasing power. Was the rise in prices due to a sudden increase in the greed of the capitalists? Again the supposition is absurd. Capital’s greed is constant. That which varies is the condition for its satisfaction. It was the alteration of this condition (i.e., the increased difficulties of production due to depletion of man-power in the factories, etc., coupled with the increased demands for various forms of wealth, munitions, etc., by the various States) which provided the reason for the rise.

One striking and important feature of this example, too, is this : that in spite of the national emergency and the impossibility of the workers living on the old wage, the wage rate rose only as a result of a struggle on the part of the workers themselves. This is the answer to our opponents of all shades who from time to time suggest that wages can be safely left to regulate themselves.

Having said this much, let us examine the actual basis of wages. Wages, in reality, are the price of a commodity, namely, labour-power. As such they are determined by the cost of production of that commodity, that is to say, they are based on the cost of living of the working class. The prices of other commodities are ultimately determined in a similar manner. The cost of production in terms of the labour-time spent in production (not, mark simply the money advanced by the capitalist), forms the value of a commodity which is expressed in its price.

Prices, however, are not maintained at value-level, automatically, but are arrived at as a result of competition between buyers and sellers. According to the variations, in the state of the market, prices fluctuate above and below the value-level. Wages are no exception. Only the constant vigilance of the sellers of labour-power, the workers, can prevent wages being pushed below subsistence level. Herein lies the economic justification of the strike, i.e., the refusal to sell labour-power except on certain terms. Wages, then, are not determined apart from the struggle between the classes; they are an essential feature of the system in which that struggle is involved. Profits are the difference between wages and the total wealth produced.

Another important point arising from the example quoted is the following : whereas wages lagged behind other prices in rising, after the war they were first to fall ! Here, again, we are not dealing with mere spitefulness on the part of the master class, but with a notable feature of the system by which they profit, i.e., the steady improvement in their strategic position on the economic field. During the war the introduction of more up-to-date machinery and new methods of industrial organisation had been stimulated by the factors above mentioned. Consequently, when demobilisation replenished the labour market, thousands found their occupations gone for ever. The normal process of capitalist development, expressing itself in an increase in the industrial reserve army (the unemployed), greater concentration of accumulated capital and relative lessening of the workers’ powers of resistance, had been accelerated.

So far, then, is experience from bearing out the utopian conceptions of the Tory and the Labourite, that the class struggle in its primary form, i.e., the struggle over wages, is indeed more desperate than ever, For the workers the position grows progressively worse, yet some people consider this an argument for abandoning the struggle. The Socialist realises more than anyone the hopelessness of the struggle so long as the workers confine their efforts to dealing with effects on the economic field, but this only leads him to emphasise the necessity of pushing the struggle into the political arena with a view to removing the cause. This, we proclaim, is the private ownership of the means of life. So long as the capitalist class own and control the sources of raw material and the means by which that raw material is worked up into useful articles and distributed among the population, just so long will the workers be compelled to struggle for wages, representing a steadily-falling standard of life. So long as the present system exists, so long will the few idlers monopolise the comfort and leisure which modern industry can make available for all. Are you content, fellow-workers, to be for ever slaves, to go through life branded by your wages with the status of commodities? If not, then study Socialism!
Eric Boden

Economics and Ideas. Their influence on Political Institutions. (Part 2) (1925)

From the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(continued from last month)

Ideas and Government.
The modern “democratic” state is the only form that has been found adequate to ensure the stability of capitalist society. It alone is capable of giving expression to the interests of the propertied class, interests presenting more intricate political problems than those of any ruling class of the past. Let us consider one of these problems.

The activities of all governments, no matter of what form, are largely determined and limited by the prevailing ideas, amongst the dominant class primarily, but to a greater or less degree amongst the general subjected population also. Even by a so-called “autocracy” the deep-rooted customs and prejudices of its subjects must be respected in the main, if it is to maintain its authority.

In pre-capitalist societies, however, which possess a large heritage of patriarchalism, the mode of life changes very slowly. Generation after generation live after the manner of their fathers and, as a result, the general outlook alters so little except under abnormal circumstances, that for practical political purposes, it may be regarded as fixed and changeless, and is so regarded by the governing authority. Now a constant factor in a problem can be allowed for, taken for granted, and then ignored or made use of as different situations suggest, and this is what actually happens in “despotic” states.

But capitalist society presents a very different problem. Its technical basis is ceaselessly changing, incessantly generating new situations and problems. The immediate requirements and interests of the various groups within the propertied class are constantly and often rapidly assuming new forms. The fluctuations of the world-market affect whole sections of the bourgeoisie, and only less directly every individual in the community. With changing production a whole industry may be undermined and swept rapidly out of existence, whilst another as rapidly arises to pre-eminence. “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”—(Communist Manifesto.)

It is evident that, under such conditions, socio-political opinions cannot be expected to manifest either the uniformity or the stability found in less inconstant orders of society, and in point of fact, one of the characteristic features of politics under capitalism is the endless rise and fall of creeds and panaceas designed to advance sectional interests amongst the owning class or meet the problems constantly arising and pressing for solution.

The only stable and efficient mode of government for capitalism is that which allows expression to the varied and changeful sectional interests, and is sensitive to the fluctuating balance of opinions arising from the vicissitudes of the economic situation. Everywhere capitalist society solved its political problem in the same way by establishing the sovereignty of a representative assembly in which the property owners make laws and control the armed forces directly through their chosen deputies instead of indirectly and inefficiently through the inflexible, arbitrary instrument of a monarchy. Further factors will be considered later.

From the same root springs the “party system.” The representation of diverse interests necessarily gives rise to political factions and through these, using the representative machinery, rival interests can compete for power—up to a certain point—without resorting to the disruption of armed conflict. Internecine warfare—by no means such a regrettable thing to the feudal baronage—is ruinous to modern industry and to the bourgeoisie.

Feudalism and Monarchy 
The establishment of parliament, the representative assembly of the propertied classes as the sovereign power in the state—as the legislating and government-making authority, was only accomplished after a severe struggle with the landed aristocracy and the crown in which the merchant bourgeoisie played the leading revolutionary role.

Kingship and nobility were an inheritance left over from feudal society. In their day they had been the only possible instruments of government. Monarchy was essential to feudalism. Property rights in land was the main plank in its economic system. Now land cannot be produced in unlimited quantity like factory products. But though it is limited in quantity it can be differently divided. The estates of the feudal baronage were originally acquired in war. and in the earlier feudal period they could only be retained by armed force and increased or decreased by conquest and seizure. The barons began as military leaders and continued as such, defending their territories by the swords of their armed retainers. A feudal kingdom was in reality an assemblage or alliance of such lordships in a unified territory, and its political structure was essentially a heirarchy of war leaders under a supreme chief—the king. After centuries of existence feudalism had become a rigidly traditional system, with all its institutions sanctified by its spiritual guardian the Church.

During the feudal period the institution arose that was to evolve, in some cases at least, into the parliamentary system of the future. The mediaeval “parliament” was, however, not a governing body, but a means of raising revenue. In it were gathered the representatives of the “estates of the realm”—the nobility, the clergy and the burghers summoned by the king for the purpose of granting supplies or taxes. Parliament in those days was extremely unpopular with those it represented, who had to pay the piper without calling the tune. Through pressure and precedent, however, it gradually acquired certain limited powers and privileges. From its right to petition the king evolved its influence in legislation. Sovereign power, legislative and executive, still rested with the crown and its council of great nobles, and parliament only assembled at the king’s summons.

Commercial progress undermined the economic basis of the feudal system, while gunpowder wiped out the military strength of the barons and concentrated the armed forces in the hands of the crown. Then arose the Great Monarchies almost or entirely independent of parliament. The State became a centralised bureaucracy, largely dominated by astute politicians like Richelieu. The modern nations were consolidated, whilst the Reformation signalised the breakaway from feudal ideas.

Thus in an increasingly commercial age the power of the State tended to become more arbitrary, less representative and more difficult for the propertied classes to directly control. This was of little concern to the aristocratic landowners, whose vast estates entailed in their family lines were almost changeless, provided no great economic problems, and were a guarantee of perpetual security. They retained their social privileges, and the rule of the State was primarily in their interests, though they had little direct political control. But to the increasingly wealthy and important merchant bourgeoisie with no political privileges, the absolute monarchy, though at first advantageous in comparison with the old feudalism, became more and more not only a serious obstacle to their social development, but, by its revenue-snatching, strangle-hold upon commerce, an actual economic menace.

New Political Theories. 
When, in the 17th and 18th centuries the bourgeoisie were aspiring towards political emancipation, they naturally found themselves coming up against the tenacious idea of the divine rights of kingship and the traditional, almost sacred, veneration for the hereditary privileges of the landed nobility. A necessary step in their progress, then, was the freeing of their own minds from such paralysing conceptions, and the growth of a new and acceptable theory of social rights.

Such a theory was readily provided by the economic conditions of their existence. It was possession of property, not “blue blood” or “divine right,” that was the basis of their economic importance to society and their sole claim to social influence. In the market all forms of property are interchangeable and meet on equal terms. Accordingly the merchants tended to repudiate the feudal idea that land—“real” property—is a superior kind of wealth and that landowners are a class apart with a natural right to social and political privileges. In opposition, they upheld the principle of the equal rights of all property-owners.

Moreover, the acceptance of property as itself a legitimate basis for social rights led to even more revolutionary doctrines. Property is not a personal attribute like “noble birth,” and “free” bourgeois property is not attached to a family line like entailed real estate. It can be exchanged, increased or decreased, acquired or lost. The idea is inescapable that all men are potential property-owners and have to this extent potentially equal rights. From this, it is only a step to the doctrine upheld by all bourgeois philosophers from Hobbes and Rousseau to Paine and Herbert Spencer—that men are born with equal “natural rights.” Such ideas could commend themselves little to a money-worshipping, narrowly, class-minded plutocracy, but they could and did affect a small minority who could rise, in their search for intellectual consistency, a degree superior to the bias of material interests or class conceit.

The bourgeoisie, like every class, had its theorists—men who took the immediate and particular needs of the class, and from them evolved general principles. Few people are interested in abstract theories for their own sake, but most people look with favour upon and readily come to embrace with sincerity, principles that they can interpret as a justification for their desires, or offer as an “ideal” motive for their actions.

Such “general principles” are of the greatest value in providing a class with weapons of argument and a basis for moral enthusiasm. That which is “material necessity” for the class becomes “moral right” and a “matter of principle” to the individual.

The theoretical basis of a class movement is, however, a growth. It acquires definition and coherence, takes on new forms and becomes of increased utility, as the actual social struggle provides new and unfore¬seen situations and problems for solution.
R.W. Housley

(To be continued)

Revolution and its opponents. (1925)

From the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been necessary to deal in these columns with misrepresentations that have been made on the subject of revolution, and to explain what Socialists mean when referring to the social revolution.

The matter may be discussed again, however, in view of the recent references to it in the Press and in Parliament.

By the term “revolution” is meant that complete change in the relationship between the classes in society, and the fundamental change in the institutions of society that are brought about by the rise to power of a class that has hitherto been held in subjection. And the Socialist, when he speaks of the social revolution, refers to those changes in society which will be brought about when the working class, holding political supremacy, is the dominant class in society, and takes possession of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution.

This object and this method are, of course, in the strongest contrast to the object and policy of the Labour Party.

The Labour Party is a reformist organisation engaged in advocating the patching up of the present system of society. Although some of its leaders are termed Socialists, and at times have claimed that title, they have time and time again made it quite clear that they are nothing other than reformers, and, as such, are to be ranked with the reformers of the Liberal, Tory, and other parties.

Mr. MacDonald’s concern for the maintenance of the capitalist system is by no means new. In the course of a debate with Mr. J. St. Leo Strachey on the 11th May, 1908, Mr. MacDonald said :
  “Moreover you must not imagine that the Socialist simply stands for labour. That is the profound mistake so many of you make. We are the greatest friends the capitalist has got. The Socialist, properly understood, is a better friend of the capitalist than anybody else.”
Mr. Philip Snowden, recently Chancelier of the Exchequer, wrote an article in 1922 entitled “How Far is the British Labour Party Socialist?” (Manchester Guardian Commercial. Reconstruction in Europe, Section 9, October 26th, 1922). In the course of this article Mr. Snowden says :
  “The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; .​ .​ .”
Further on he observes that the Labour Party “emphatically repudiates such absurdities as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ ” After touching upon the Labour Party’s Constitution, Mr. Snowden continues :
  “In view of the foregoing, it may now be said that while the British Labour Party has the Socialist aim in its constitution, while carefully avoiding describing it as Socialism, in fact, its programme is limited to the nationalisation, with democratic management, of the land, the mines, the railways, and other services, which are of the nature of monopolies.”
In 1922 “its programme is limited.” Decidedly. And in 1924, it may be remarked, the Labour Government’s actions are still further limited. They are limited by the requirements of the capitalist class. An excellent idea of the limitations that would operate on Labour Party policy was given some years ago by one of “the greatest friends the capitalist has got”—as the Prime Minister described himself. On May 5th, 1911, Mr. MacDonald spoke as follows in the course of a debate with Mr. Hilaire Belloc :
   “Says Mr. Belloc, we have never confiscated anything yet, and therefore we are no good. Well, we have confiscated a good many things. I will tell you what we have confiscated. We have confiscated a shilling in the £ of Belloc’s income. And if he’s fortunate enough to have any of his income invested in the funds, we have confiscated a little bit more.”
In the same debate Mr. Belloc asked :
   “What step have you taken, MacDonald—you and yours—in the direction of transferring the means of production from those who own into the hands of those who do not own, individually or collectively?”
Mr. MacDonald replied : “Income Tax.”

The Labour Party, then, in spite of what Mr. Snowden calls “the Socialist aim in its constitution,” is seen to be merely a social reform party. The utterances of its leaders, as well as the actions of the Labour Government, show that it is quite as firm in its support of the capitalist system as are any of the other reformist parties.

The real cause of the slavery of the working class is not touched by any of the reforms advocated by any of these parties. The cause of that slavery, with its poverty and insecurity, is the private ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. It is true that the capitalist mode of production, with its property basis, was necessary for the development of the instruments of production to their present stage of efficiency. But the development of the machinery of production has long since reached the stage necessary for the production of the means of life in abundance for the whole of society. The present system is based, however, upon production of commodities for profit. The struggle for markets wherein to sell these commodities becomes keener and keener, especially as the capitalist mode of production, with its more and more efficient machinery, extends in the one-time backward countries. Wars, commercial crises extending over long periods of years, unemployment, and the reduction in the workers’ standards of living—these are some of the consequences of this struggle for markets. More commodities are produced than can be sold for a profit. Therefore restrictions are deliberately put upon production itself. This is not always done openly, but cases occur, and have been restored to in order to promote an artificial scarcity.

The essential facts of the situation cannot be disputed by the reformist apologists of capitalism. Natural material exists in plenty, but must not be used. At the same time vast numbers of people capable of useful work will either be engaged on useless tasks or remain unemployed. The capitalist ownership is seen clearly to be a hindrance to production.

While capitalism lasts, therefore, the working class must remain in their present condition of slavery, always faced with the prospect of unemployment and forced to struggle continuously against reductions in their standard of living. On the one hand the worker is told by the MacDonalds that his conditions are gradually improving—that he is receiving dose after dose of “Socialism.” On the other hand he is told by the Sir Allan Smiths that competition in the world market renders necessary a smaller cost of production with a lower wage for the worker. As for those workers whose masters cater for the home, market, they also are frankly told that their wages are much too high in comparison with those of the more skilled workers.

Socialism, the remedy for the workers’ slavery, cannot be brought about gradually, as the reformers would try to persuade their dupes. It can only be brought about by dispossessing the master class of the means of wealth production, and that cannot take place until the working class has made itself the ruling class in society. To accomplish this the proletariat must win political power, which means the control of the armed forces of the State. By this revolutionary method alone will it be possible to abolish private property in the means and instruments of wealth production and to substitute production for use for production for profit.
A. C. A.

Editorial: The Truth about the Housing Question. (1925)

Editorial from the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present Government, like the preceding “Labour” Government, has been making a pretence that they have at heart the welfare of the workers, especially with regard to the housing conditions. How eloquent both Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the present Health Minister, and Mr. Wheatley, his predecessor in that office, can become over the deplorable housing conditions of the workers ! And what grand schemes both can produce to solve the trouble ! And yet the housing problem is as troublesome as ever. Why?

Before answering the question, let us see what the opponents of Socialism—the Conservatives and the “Labour” Party—have to say on the matter. In that Conservative paper, “The Sunday Chronicle,” March 1st, Mr. Harold Begbie has an article entitled “The Selfish Builder”; from it we cull the following –
  “Of all the sections of Labour which have thus paralysed our industrial activity and brought incalculable sufferings and sorrows on the head of the working classes, none stands so clearly and so cruelly guilty as that section of Labour which controls the building trade. If the nerves of the mothers of the nation are breaking down, if their children are feeble, dispirited, and mentally dull; if there is more bitterness and cruel misery in our cities than ever existed heretofore ; and, if, among other tragic sins, the deadly crime of incest is hideously increasing, then the guilt for these things lies at the door of those cadging politicians of Labour who have encouraged the operatives of the building trade to make a selfish use of the nation’s direst necessity.”
Mr. Begbie, in his article, is evidently not concerned about proving that the building trade operatives are responsible for the lack of houses, he is told to “sling mud” at the working class and is paid for it. Now it is the building workers; sooner or later it will be another section. In any case Mr. Begbie is expressing the view of the employers. What the Master Builders’ Association plainly want is to speed up the builders’ operatives to the highest possible pitch, to bring in a system of dilution to the industry and flood the labour market with cheap labour power. In other words, the employers want a larger or speedier output at a relatively reduced wages bill, so as to leave them a larger margin of profits. Wherever the workers have not been strong enough to resist this, or where they have been gulled by “Labour” politicians, and trade union leaders, on patriotic grounds, like the engineers during the war, to accept such a system of dilution and speeding up, then has it spelt disaster, in every instance, for the workers.

The “Labour” Party hold the view that the shortage of houses is due to the failure of private enterprise, and that national and municipal enterprise should take its place, failing this the State should subsidise private enterprise by money grants.

The national and municipal housing schemes of the Labour Party have not succeeded, for the same reason that other schemes fail. Capitalism, whether private, municipal or under State ownership, has no mere ethical or “spiritual” basis, its basis is material profit, obtained by the exploitation of the workers and realised by the sale of goods. If there is no sale there is no realisation of profit, and it is solely because the great majority of the workers can neither buy or even rent a newly-built house that the output of houses is restricted. This happens in all spheres of production. Neither the Conservative Party nor the “Labour” Party will reveal the real cause of the lack of new houses for the workers. They will lie and bluff, and say how greatly they sympathise with the workers, and both will blame the shortage of the skilled tradesmen—bricklayers and plasterers—as the real trouble. In fact, no employers’ henchmen have worked harder for the dilution of labour in the building industry than the so-called Labour politician—the bogey of Mr. Begbie.

Now if one were to go to the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives instead of to the capitalist and “Labour” press one would find, as their secretary has repeatedly pointed out, that bricklayers and plasterers are on the books as unemployed, despite the cant of the employers about the shortage of skilled labour.

Moreover, is there any cry about the shortage of labour when a warehouse, mill, factory, bank, theatre or cinema is wanted? No ! These jump up like mushrooms overnight.

On this matter A. Sayle, formerly Housing Sub-Inspector in the Ministry of Health, says :—
  “In one town in which delay was said to be due to lack of skilled labour, much of which was then concentrated on building a new cinema, it transpired that the owner of the cinema was the chairman of the Council responsible for restricting just such ‘luxury building.’” (“The Houses of the Workers,” pages 117-118.)
So much, then, for the bogey of shortage of skilled labour.

The master builders will not concentrate on the building of houses for workers because there is no effective demand for them. That and that alone is the reason, and this again is due to the impoverished condition of the working class who are compelled to submit, in capitalist society, to a lowering status of existence. Workers may require food, boots, clothing, etc., but if they have not the means to buy these commodities, sooner or later production of these commodities will be restricted. In like manner, if the workers require better houses, that in itself is not enough, in capitalist society, to produce them. The question is : Have they the means to pay a higher weekly rental, let alone buy them? We shall let Mr. Sayle answer :—
  “These facts (unemployment) and others which emerge from them have a direct bearing on the question of rents. If rents of 10s. and 12s. 6d. per week, plus rates, were within the means of men earning £5 per week (and the number of these was never as large as it was represented to be—the majority even of skilled fitters, miners, boot operatives, and jewellers earned wages nearer £4 than​ £5 per week) [1919] they were clearly beyond the means of men earning £3 or £2 with the cost of living under other heads still 100 per cent. above pre-war level. The position taken up by the Ministry in the early months of 1920—that high rents were justified by high wages—had to be formally abandoned after the result of the appeal of the Leeds Corporation against the Ministry’s insistence upon such rents.” (A. Sayle : “The Houses of the Workers, page 169.)
So it is plain if high rents cannot be charged, neither the municipality or the State are very keen on venturing on the production of houses for workers; and even if subsidised by the State, private contractors find it more lucrative to build palaces than houses for workers.

Generally speaking, the chance of poverty-stricken and frequently unemployed workers obtaining better housing conditions is a practically hopeless one. The capitalist class, assisted by “Labour” politicians and trade union leaders in forcing down the wages of railway workers, miners, engineers and workers of various industries to their present degraded level, have prevented the workers from getting even many necessaries of life, to say nothing of comforts.

The Housing Question is insoluble under capitalism, and like all other “social problems” can only be solved by social ownership.

What is the Future of Civilisation? (1925)

Book Reviews from the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Study of “Daedalus” and “Tantalus.”

These are the names of two mythological beings who flourished in the ripe imagination of the Greeks. They are also the respective names of two stimulating little essays, the one by Prof. J. B. S. Haldane and the other by Prof. F. C. S. Schiller. It is impossible adequately to review and attempt to answer the two sets of views in a paper this size, but it may not be unprofitable to consider them a little.

Daedalus is sub-titled “Science and the Future,” and though only cautiously optimistic is by far the more stimulating. The rate at which science is progressing is emphasised by the mention that H. G. Wells in 1902 (“Anticipations”) thought it possible that by 1950 there would be heavier than air flying machines capable of practical use in war. Prof. Haldane undertakes to make no prophecies in his paper “rasher than the above.” In that spirit then, he predicts that future developments in transport and communication are only limited by the velocity of light. Progress of this kind is limited by supplies of human and mechanical power. He considers it possible that capitalism itself may demand that the control of certain key industries be handed over completely to the workers therein, so that sporadic strikes may be eliminated. This argument is interestingly developed, and he turns to mechanical power. What will replace coal and oil? Prof. Haldane’s opinion is that four hundred years hence England will be covered with rows of metallic windmills working electric motors. During windy weather the surplus power will be conserved by using it for the electrolytic decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen. The gases would be liquefied and stored in vacuum jacketed reservoirs. In times of calm the re-combination of these gases in explosion motors would furnish electrical energy once more. So much for power.

He next foresees that immense possibilities await the chemist. At present we rely upon plants for our food, even when we take it at second or third hand from animals or their products. Prof. Haldane considers that less than 120 years will see a completely satisfactory diet, produced by chemistry alone. Agriculture will thus cease as an industry. “Synthetic food will substitute the flower garden and the factory for the dunghill and the slaughterhouse, and make the city at last self-sufficient.”

Prof. Haldane gives the eugenist but short shrift. The eugenic official he describes as a compound of the policeman, the priest and the procurer, and his prophecy as proceeding from a type of mind as lacking in originality as in knowledge of human nature. His own prophecy certainly lacks nothing of originality and consists in what he describes as “ectogenesis.” The first ectogenetic child is to be born in 1951, and apart from the stage of an ovum will dispense with the necessity of a mother. The period of gestation will be spent in a serum or medium, but the more intimate details are left, perhaps wisely and necessarily, to the future. In 1968 France is producing 60,000 children a year by this method, and 150 years hence less than 30 per cent. of children are to be born of woman. Mother Nature must look to her laurels.

One must read in the book how the sands of the desert, instead of growing cold as the ballad singer has assumed, are to be made fruitful, and the deep blue sea to become a permanent beautiful purple. It is not as nonsensical as it may appear. We think it probable Prof. Haldane would not disclaim the label of Socialist, but fear he would not feel at home in the S.P.G.B. The reason will appear presently. It is refreshing to note that he includes Marx with the great figures in world history. He warns the conservative that he has little to fear from the man whose passions play second fiddle to his reason. He is to beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest of his passions. These, the doubters, are the wreckers of effete civilisation. It may take another world-war or two to convert the majority, but the next world-war has at least one satisfactory element. In the last one the most rabid patriots were well behind the front line. In the next, no one will be behind the front line.

He sums up by saying, science is as yet in its infancy, and we can foretell little of the future save that the thing that has not been is the thing that shall be; that no beliefs, no values, no institutions are safe. He reiterates that not one of the practical advances he has predicted is not already foreshadowed by recent scientific work. 

Briefly the outlook appears gloomy and threatening in the immediate future whilst the dull majority is learning its lesson, but the first gleams of a scientific dawn are discernible about 25 years hence.

Prof. Schiller pooh-poohs the gloom. Mankind has always known enough to wreck itself, but chance or providence has enabled it to avoid destruction. What is needed is just a little clear thinking and plain speaking. His first fact is that mankind ceased to evolve biologically about 30,000 years ago. This raises two further questions; how did it happen and what caused it? And secondly why has he progressed in other respects ; knowledge, power and culture. His answer to the first is that man ceased to develop biologically when he developed social habits. Singly nature weeded out all but the giants. Socially the herd protected its weaklings. His answer to the second is that social institutions like language and writing, have dictated social progress by preserving experience and knowledge independent of the death of the individual. Prof. Schiller develops his thesis very cogently, and opines that modern man (with a slight reservation) is slightly inferior to his own ancestors and markedly inferior to the great races of antiquity (like the Greeks) in their hey-day. Morally, we learn, modern man is substantially identical with his palaeolithic ancestors. This is not the end of our tale of woe. In one particular he is in agreement with Prof. Haldane. The latter says that ectogenesis will save civilisation from collapsing from the greater fertility of its less desirable members (page 66). Prof. Schiller occupies about nine pages in developing the same line of thought, i.e., that the “best” elements in civilisation are sterilising themselves through restricting their families whilst the continued growth of population is mainly due to the unrestrained breeding of casual labourers and the feeble-minded. Dean Inge has said something similar, but then he is only a follower of the Casual Labourer of Nazareth. (Capital letters make a difference, don’t they?). All men, professors, or otherwise, have their blind spot, and it is curious though understandable that these two should be so similarly afflicted. It is still more curious and less understandable that men whose obvious pride is clear-cut English and lucid thought should commit themselves to such tawdry, fustian expressions as “desirable,” or “best” as scientific descriptions of definite categories. Desirable for what? Best for what? What a begging of questions ! What rubbish ! Pardon this unprofessorlike language, but we have a shrewd suspicion that we are classed with the undesirables. The Freudians would say we suffer from an “inferiority complex.” We are not of the “best.” The felicity of attending Oxford or Cambridge has been denied us. We have been too busy working for the men whose sons the learned professors are teaching. It is only too obvious that their “desirables” and “bests” are those who have achieved wealth and position in our modern capitalist civilisation ; those who have attained “success,” those who have specialised in the exploitation of their fellows. Whom is it otherwise? Who are the “best”? Who are the “desirables”? And who are the “worst” and the “undesirables?” Professor Schiller permits himself the “shrewd suspicion that certain types, say the feeble-minded, the sickly, the insane, are undesirable, and that …. certain other types, say the intelligent, healthy and energetic, are inherently superior to the former.” This occurs so late in the book as to look like an afterthought. He has therefore no time to inquire whether the causes of the first three conditions are discoverable or remediable. When he says, “no good can come of coddling and cultivating them,” we can almost visualise him idly planning a lethal chamber on the margin of his manuscript. Prof. Schiller is a eugenist and eugenics implies the sterilisation or extinction of those below a certain standard. And who is to set the standard and who enforce it? Would it be universally enforced? We mean, would the Duke of Northumberland, or Westminster, or Lord Banbury, be subject to the same impartial treatment as the village idiot? We venture to doubt it.

We welcome the excursions of thinkers such as Professors Haldane and Schiller into the world of real men but they often seem to have one objectionable quality. Their cloistered seclusion among the sons of the rich seems to have imparted an air of aloofness to their views. They appear to overlook the fact that the little world in which they live, move and have their being is not the real world at all. Their pupils and their friends are by no means the “best” or the “desirable.” Numerically a handful, they are in the strictly scientific sense parasitic. If they were to vanish from the planet, production would go on unperturbed. Those destined for industrial pursuits as they might term them are solely concerned with acquiring skill in the intensive exploitation of labour. The ladders by which they or their fathers climbed to eminence are carefully withdrawn, lest a better man follow and push them down. The real world consists of the toiling millions who compose the vast bulk of human society. Without them there would be no society in a civilised sense at all. They are human society. They may be inarticulate, slow of thought and unimaginative, but we are of them. They are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. We can see undesirables being created every day. We can see our best being starved, stunted, exploited, and robbed always. We can see our geniuses denied opportunity or swindled out of their reward constantly. And we can discern the causes of it all. Society, a social product, is being run for the benefit of a select few. They safeguard their hold on the powers of production by also controlling the armed forces. Society, however, is greater than they, and their perpetual problem is how to get rid of the enormous wealth produced by modern machinery without stopping the machine. The body politic is increasingly liable to the illness called slump, and the slump is increasingly due to over-production. And now, more and more are coming to see that there is something wrong with a society that condemns the bulk of its members to poverty, a poverty which is intensified with every increase in the production of wealth.

Of course there is something wrong. The wealth producing machinery of society is owned and controlled by a few. Their sole concern is not the benefit of society as such but their own individual benefit. The productive forces have outgrown this petty, personal restriction, and the Socialist says the time has come when they should be owned, by society as a corporate organism. Humanly speaking we cannot expect the capitalists to view this prospect with any enthusiasm or to co-operate in its achievement. Fortunately they are numerically negligible and solely depend upon the workers consistently and persistently handing them the keys of power every election day. Their trust has been justified so far, but we propose a change. We propose that at a future election the workers send to Parliament delegates pledged and instructed to take control of the armed forces of the nation, and to then legislatively convert the whole productive machinery of society from private to social ownership. This requires organisation. The beginnings of that organisation exist in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.  Join it.
W. T. Hopley