Saturday, June 12, 2021

Taxation and the workers. The budget and the bottom dog. (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The introduction of the Budget has once more provided the Labour Party with an opportunity of demonstrating their utility to the master-class and their utter uselessness to the workers ; and right nobly have they risen to the occasion. While hundreds of delicate, half-starved women are being told by unemployment committees that they are not genuinely seeking work these redoubtable champions of the under-dog can find nothing better to do than to kick up a shindy over a tax on silk stockings !

Not only do they find themselves in the company of Liberals such as Runciman and Co. and Tories such as Colonel Gadie, of Bradford and other representatives of the employers of the West Riding, but that notorious organ of democratic enlightenment, the “Daily Mail” also rallies to their support and condemns the fiscal folly of the chameleon Chancellor. How inspiring ! What enthusiasm the spectacle must awaken in the breasts of those who seek to persuade us that the Labour Party is entitled to the support of Socialists !

Now, frankly, fellow-worker, what do these taxes matter to you? Have you ever known them make any practical difference to your condition in the long run? When, for instance, the man who won the war (you know who I mean, of course) bilked the tyrannous landlords of a halfpenny in the pound on the unimproved value of their estates, to provide money for battleships, did you buy a car or take a tour to the Riviera? Of course not ! You went along to your job just as you always had done or you lined up at the Labour Exchange along with hundreds of thousands of others in a similar plight; and such has been your lot whatever taxes have been put on or taken off. Nor is the reason far to seek.

Why are taxes imposed at all? That is the question you must first answer if you are to arrive at any understanding of the matter. As hinted above they are imposed for the purpose of providing for the expenditure of the State. The Labour Party themselves have on occasion shown that the greater proportion of that expenditure is upon the armed forces. Do those forces exist for your benefit? Is it for your sake that the Navy guards the products of the farms and ranches overseas, of the tribute of the gold-fields and of the cotton, cocoanut and other tropical plantations? Is it on your behalf that aircraft terrorise the inhabitants of India and Iraq, where the oilfields are? You only need to remember what happens when a large strike is on to find your answer. Then another branch of the services is told off to see that you do not lay unholy hands on the products of the labour of your class. You are forcibly reminded that in the land of your birth you are the bottom-dog whenever you seek to challenge the "justice” of your subsistence wages.

Of course there are not lacking fatuous boobs who profess to believe that taxation can be and is used for what they are pleased to call “social amelioration” as a primary object. The facts are all against them. Take any form of non-militant expenditure such as that on education, sanitation, the relief of destitution and the like and you will invariably find that such expenditure is manifestly totally inadequate to raise the workers above the level of mere profit-producing machines.

The “education” provided is such as will fit the child for absorption in due course into the factory, shop, or office of the boss. It is primarily an education in discipline necessary to capitalism. The instinctive curiosity of the child is smothered under a heap of “facts” systematically loaded with the cant and prejudice of religion and patriotism. That is all that education means to the workers beyond the rudimentary three r’s.

The sanitation provided in working class areas is the minimum necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases to the areas occupied by their exploiters. It is notoriously inadequate to prevent the workers sinking to the C3 level ! After a century of sanitary legislation the slum still survives, a standing menace to healthy social development.

As for the relief of destitution by such methods as insurance, these have been shown in these columns repeatedly as being nothing more than attempts to economise by centralisation—the alternative to extra police protection. Once again the sums given are nothing more than will actually prevent the masses of the destitute from raiding the food stores.

The entire machinery of government thus exists simply for the purpose of preserving the system by which the workers are robbed of the greater portion of the fruits of their labour. It is, therefore, a matter of indifference to the workers how taxes are raised. The essential point to bear in mind is that the sums raised are utilised in opposition to the interests of the workers.

Reformers and taxation-tinkerers of all kinds endeavour to establish some connection between taxes and the workers’ condition in order to claim their electoral support. Protectionists try to maintain that certain forms of taxation will increase employment. Free Traders pretend to oppose them on the ground that such taxes will increase the workers’ cost of living. Neither side have ever proved their case; but even if they had the fact would contain no consolation for the worker.

Whether the workers are busy or idle they are poor and the boom is inevitably followed by the slump. So much for the Protectionist. America is eloquent testimony to the fallacy of his arguments. The Free Traders, whether they call themselves Liberals or Labour men have nothing better to offer. Even were it true that taxes on commodities materially affected their prices for any length of time (which is a mere assumption) how does that affect the workers? Wages are based upon the cost of living of the working-class as shown in last month’s issue of this paper. If there is any truth in the dogma that “the consumer pays” then a rise in the cost of living is “passed on” to the consumer of labour-power, i.e., the capitalist employer ! In actual practice, however, quite irrespective of the incidence of taxation, the workers are engaged in a continual struggle to prevent wages sinking beneath the level of subsistence.

Protectionists and Free Traders alike simply represent the interests of different sections of the exploiting class. The Cobdens and the Brights no less than the Chamberlains were concerned with screwing the maximum amount of profit out of their slaves and simply used the cry of “Taxes” as a means to dupe them on the political field. The triumph of Free Trade was the signal for an all-round reduction in wages.

The Labour Party claims to have inherited the mantle of these Liberal hypocrites. So far as the Socialist is concerned they are very welcome to it. Socialism remains the only means by which the workers can achieve their emancipation from poverty and subjection. The Socialist therefore does not advocate this or that method of financing the State, but only the capture of the machinery of government by the consciously organised working class for the purpose of establishing Socialism and ridding us of the instrument of oppression for ever.
Eric Boden

The conflict between religion and Socialism. (1925)

Editorial from the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much space has been devoted to this subject in the correspondence columns of the “Daily Herald” since the appearance of an article in which Mr. Wheatley expressed his opinion that there is no reason at all why a Catholic should not be a loyal member of the Labour Party. On this occasion Mr. Wheatley chose to pretend that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party, and that to show that the Labour Programme is compatible with the acceptance of Catholicism is the same thing as showing that Socialism is likewise compatible with it. The force of Mr. Wheatley’s argument is completely destroyed by his own definite assertion elsewhere that the Labour Party is not a Socialist Party. (See April Socialist Standard and Forward, 3rd November, 1923). It is, therefore, not surprising that the Editor of the “Daily Herald” declined to insert a letter pointing out Mr. Wheatley’s contradiction of his own argument. This is strictly in accordance with the “Herald’s” well-known principle of throwing open its columns to all shades of opinion—which agree with the Editor’s. If the opinion disagrees the columns are still open to those who can afford to pay the usual advertising rates.

The controversy was carried a stage further by the assertion of Mr. C. Diamond that a Catholic could not be a Socialist, but could be a member of the Labour Party because that body is not a Socialist Party. Mr. Diamond is the Editor of the “Catholic Herald,” and has three times stood as a Labour candidate with the official endorsement of the National Labour Party. He was accepted each time
  “In face of the fact that he distinctly declared that while he was a Labour man he was not a Socialist Candidate” (Catholic Herald, 23rd May, 1925).
He wrote to the “Daily Herald” (8th May) and after quoting from our pamphlet. “Socialism and Religion,” in support of his views, went on :—
  “Mr. E. Van der Velde, leader of the Belgian Socialist Party in his “Essais Socialistes,” p. 148, says: “To be at the same time Catholic and Socialist, is not only a contradiction but a practical impossibility.” ….
   Cardinal Mercier declares “all the Popes who were witnesses of the dissolving action of Socialism—Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV—condemned Socialism. The present Pope, Pius XI, condemns it.”
  It is surely only fair to Catholics and Socialists that the truth should be known.”
The Editor of the “Herald” added his comment as follows :—
  “Mr. Diamond, who has been three times a Labour candidate, must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view. He must know also that the controversies between Catholics and Socialists (and, indeed, Liberals as well) on the Continent have no counterpart in this country.
   Mr. Diamond accused Mr. Ben Spoor of having stated that the Labour Party was not Socialist. Mr. Spoor has denied that in our columns, but Mr. Diamond offers him no apology.”
With regard to Mr. Spoor and the statement he was alleged to have made, Mr. Diamond informs his readers that he is still engaged in a search for the exact quotation (23rd May). But surely the request for an apology is a piece of impudence, coming as it does from the “Daily Herald” Editor in view of his refusal to publish the admission made by Mr. Wheatley or to publish a similar admission made by Mr. Snowden and sent to him after the publication of Mr. Diamond’s letter. Other correspondents whose letters the “Herald” selected for insertion claimed Father O’Meara, of Corpus Christi Church, Brixton, and Father Hagerty, as Catholic priests, who are also Socialists.

Mr. Diamond accordingly approached Fr. O’Meara, who was a Labour candidate and is still an active Labour supporter, for his views. The reply is a plain denial.
  “You can deny most emphatically that I am a Socialist” (Catholic Herald, 23 May).
As for Father Hagerty, it seems, according to Mr. Diamond, that he has ceased to be a Catholic Priest “in good standing,” and it is therefore as reasonable to quote his views as representing those of the Catholic Church as it would be to quote the secularist Mr. McCabe on the ground that he had once been a monk.

As the “Herald” made some misleading remarks about the Socialist Party, the following letter was addressed to them, but they refuse to publish it :—

May 19th, 1925.
The “Editor,”
Daily Herald,”
2, Carmelite Street, E.C.


Dear Sir,

re ” SOCIALISM & RELIGION.”

Our attention has been called to a letter written by Mr. C. Diamond which dealt with the antagonism between Socialism and Religion, and was published in your columns on the 8th inst. .Your Editorial comment contains the following passage :— “Mr. Diamond . . . must know that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a small organisation which has no authority to commit the Labour Movement to any point of view.” In view of probable misunderstanding arising from this, we ask that you insert this letter in order that your readers may know that while the Socialist Party claims to represent the Socialist view on religion as on all other matters, it has not claimed and has no desire to speak in the name of the Labour Party to which it is opposed.

As too, smallness of numbers is no proof of mistaken opinions, we would welcome the opportunity to state in the “Daily Herald” the Socialist attitude of opposition to religion because so far only one side of the case has been given publicity.
Yours faithfully,
General Secretary.


What plainly divides Socialism from all kinds of religious belief is that “Socialism is a naturalistic and materialistic philosophy. It entirely excludes the supernatural.” What causes the Catholic and Protestant Church as institutions and the Labour Party as a political body to oppose Socialism is equally plain.

Socialism stands for the abolition of private property in the means of wealth production and distribution; it involves therefore the abolition of the right to “live by owning,” which is at present enjoyed by the propertied class. The Labour Party, while advocating certain reforms which meet with the approval of the Churches do not advocate Socialism. They advocate Nationalisation or State Capitalism, which permits the capitalist to continue living on his investments, the only real difference being that he lends the money to the Government instead of investing it in privately-controlled companies. It is ultimately of no importance to the Churches as property owners or to the rest of the propertied class, how they get their income so long as they do get it. It is equally immaterial to the workers whether they are exploited by private companies to provide that income or whether they are exploited directly by the State. What they must recognise is that the Labour Party and the Churches are in favour of a continuance of the exploiting system with certain minor alterations. Moreover it is not simply a question of material interest. Anyone who cares to enquire into the economic doctrines which underlie the Labour Party programme will find that those doctrines do not treat profit and interest as exploitation, and do not recognise the possibility of abolishing them. Thus Mr. MacDonald in his “Socialism and Society” and Mr. Tawney in his “Acquisitive Society” are agreed that industry cannot be carried on unless the capitalist is paid for the use of his property. Interest is for them not a feature of capitalism which can now be dispensed with along with the system to which it belongs, but a feature of modern industry inevitable unless we destroy that industry and revert to peasant and handicraft production.

Here is a fundamental cleavage between the Socialist and the Labour Party. It is also a cleavage between the Socialist and the Catholic Church.

In his Encyclical “The Condition of the Worker,” Pope Leo XIII. clearly recognised this. Dr. Cohalan, Bishop of Cork, preaching on the Encyclical (see Freeman’s Journal, Oct. 12, 1916) pointed out that most people who describe themselves as Socialist do not deny rights of private property and therefore do not come under the Pope’s ban : Taking over railways, tramways, water supply, etc.
  “By the State … is not Socialism. It does not imply a denial of private ownership, or of succession, or of the wage-earning system. The employees of the State are wage-earners.”
Socialism on the other hand means the abolition of the wages system. It may suit the Labour Party to get votes by pretending on the one hand to be Socialist, and on the other repudiating Socialism in order to attract religious people, but for their own sake the sooner the workers recognise the real facts the better for them. We stand for Socialism with all its implications, the Labour Party from confusion of thought and dishonesty of purpose is not even willing to have the Socialist view towards religion stated in the pages of the “Daily Herald.”

There are, of course, other aspects of this vital antagonism to be considered. Fraser, in the Golden Bough,” draws attention to one of them.
  “It might with some show of reason be maintained that no belief has done so much to retard the economic, and thereby the social progress of mankind as the belief in the immortality of the soul, for this belief has led race after race, generation after generation, to sacrifice the real wants of the living to the imaginary wants of the dead. The waste and destruction of life and property which this faith has entailed are enormous and incalculable” (Psyche’s Task).
Mentally and materially the obstruction of effort and waste of resources caused by the superstitions of religion and the conflict of sects is still holding back the human race. The believer in a mythical future life will never whole-heartedly devote himself to perfecting the real life here, which is all he will ever know.

Marx coined the striking phrase “Religion is the opium of the People,” and Lenin in our own day was forced to see the necessity of freeing the workers’ minds from the effects of this drug. He held it to be
  “Of paramount importance …. That a magazine devoting itself to problems of militant materialism should at the same time be conducting an untiring campaign of propaganda for atheism. . . ” (see Communist International, Congress Number, 1922).
Those who want to understand the Philosophy of Socialism and the theoretical and practical relations between Socialism and Religion should read our pamphlet advertised in this issue.

Economics and Ideas. Their influence on Political Institutions. (Part 3) (1925)

From the June 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued front last month).

Divine Right or Social Contract.

The struggle of the bourgeoisie for political emancipation culminated in England in the Great Rebellion of 1642-48. The chief immediate cause of the outbreak was the dispute over the right of the crown to levy charges upon property owners either by taxes or forced loans without the consent of their representatives. Its general social causes however must be sought in the developing antagonism between the domination of hereditary privilege and kingly prerogative and the political needs of an increasingly commercial society.

As the crisis approached Parliament definitely demanded the right to appoint and dismiss Ministers, and the control of the army. In the six years’ Civil War which followed, the established regime—the “King’s cause” was defended by the nobility and the more old-fashioned of the landed gentry, whilst to the Parliamentary forces adhered the traders of the cities allied with the freehold farmers.

At this stage no purely political doctrine had an appeal wide enough to rally all revolting sections, and we find the morale of the Cromwellian Army—the backbone of the Parliamentary forces, provided by “puritanism,” which in belief was the antithesis to the Catholicism of the crown and in its attitude to life the mirror of the needs of the yeomen farmers and the small traders.

It was not until the first phase of the struggle had ended in a bourgeois victory, and the question of “divine right” answered emphatically in the negative by the execution of Charles, that its theoretical expression was forthcoming. As Stopford Brooke says,
  “the opposition to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings did not enter into literature till after it had been worked out practically in the Civil War. During the Commonwealth and after the Restoration it took the form of a discussion on the abstract question of the Science of Government, and was mingled with an enquiry into the origin of society and the ground of social life.” (“English Literature” p. 132.)
The result of this enquiry showed clearly the wide influence commercial relations of life now had in the sphere of political thought. The productive organisations and customs of feudalism had their origin in the remote and misty past. Through unnumbered generations they persisted with little change and they were looked upon with veneration and believed to have a supernatural origin.

But commerce and money had brought a new form of organisation. The firms and companies of the traders and manufacturers had a perfectly well-known origin. They were deliberately established as a result of definite agreements between men. The law of “contract,” not of “status” or custom, was their basis and safeguard. What more natural then than that the theorists of the new order should suggest that human society and the State were originally formed by a common agreement for the social good and that therefore the governing authority could be repudiated if it violated the terms of the “original contract.”

Such a theory was put forward by Hobbes in his “Leviathan” (1651) and later taken up by Locke and Rousseau. Though Hobbes’ materialistic views met with much opposition on religious grounds the effect of the idea of the “social contract”
“at the time of its first appearance was immense. Its almost universal acceptance put an end to the religious and patriarchal theories of society, on which Kingship had till now founded its claim of a Divine right to authority which no subject might question.” (Green’s “Short History,” p. 615).
In the next phase of the struggle ending in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, the argument of the “social contract” was used with effect in the Parliamentary debates on the abdication of James II. and, in the final indictment against the King, his violation of the “contract” was specifically mentioned.

The Revolution with its “Bill of Rights” vested supreme authority in the House of Commons—the representative assembly of the propertied classes. Following it came another advance in bourgeois political theory by Locke, who cast into more acceptable form Hobbes’ ideas and definitely declared the supremacy of legislative assemblies. Again fact preceded theory. Locke’s “Essay on Civil Government” was the outcome
“not of a pure development of scientific ideas, but of the necessity for having a theory to justify accomplished facts.”
It was
“in truth an elaborate apology for the Revolution of 1688; not ostensibly for its righteousness or policy in the particular circumstances, but for the possibility of such a proceeding being rightful in any circumstances.” (Pollock, “Science of Politics,” p. 65.)
In the new regime the landowners were still predominant but the commercial and banking interests were a great and a growing social power. In the Commons the two rival groups faced each other as the Tory and Whig parties. But many of the wealthier landowners were by now interested also in commerce and finance and the antagonism between the two orders of property tended to become less. The power of the capitalists was manifested in the founding in 1694 of the Bank of England—originally a whig finance company; in the commercial laws based on the “mercantile” principle of accumulating bullion by restricting imports of manufactured goods whilst encouraging their export; and in the trade wars against France which the landed class generally discouraged.

The British Constitution now remained without serious modification for a century and a half, the most important development being the “cabinet system” which placed the executive under the control of the Commons. As an instrument giving political liberty to the exploiters of labour whilst securing the suppression of the producing masses the Constitution was one of the most perfect pieces of machinery in political history. The ruling’ classes rightly revered it as a perpetual guarantee of their wealth and privileges. They lavished adulation upon it. To Blackstone, the jurist, it was—”this noble pile,” whilst Burke went into ecstatic when he contemplated its “delicate equilibrium.” Based upon the right to representation of only a wealthy handful of the population—with an electorate of merely some 12,000 this allegedly democratic constitution was in reality an oligarchic despotism of the few over the many.

Through it was carried out by all due forms of law one of the most callous examples that history records of the spoliation and starvation of a helpless class through the enclosure and appropriation by the large landowners of millions of acres of the “common lands” used by the peasants of England for centuries. As a result of the growing numbers of landless and propertyless and the intense poverty of the new labouring class laws of unprecedented stringency were enforced for the protection of property. Thousands of working-class “criminals” were hanged for stealing no more than five shillings or a sheep, or for firing a rick of hay.

The “Rights of Man.”
The success of the mercantile interests in England in establishing their rule through Parliament gave a stimulus to the bourgeoisie in France—oppressed by economic fetters imposed by a despotism raised upon the remnants of feudalism, bearing the chief burden of a heavy taxation and excluded entirely from political power. Along with the smouldering discontent of the bourgeoisie developed a vigorous attack by the French intellectuals upon all the institutions and traditions of the established regime. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and the authors of the great “Encyclopedia ” directed their shafts of criticism and satire upon the “unreason” of social relations, the despotism of the State over men’s bodies and of the Church over men’s minds.

The English Constitution was eagerly discussed and applauded. In it the French bourgeoisie and their theorists saw the ideal framework of society. Buckle in his “History of Civilisation” gives a detailed account of the extraordinary influence that English literature and institutions had at this time in France. Even Rousseau’s famous work the “Contrat Social,” which became the text book of the revolution, was little more than a development of the ideas of Hobbes and Locke. In it Rousseau declared the irrationality and tyranny of all existing social structure and idealised the “free, independent individual” — the “natural” man. The book had an immense vogue with all the disaffected and its popularity was so feared by the authorities that it was accorded the honour of being burnt by the public hangman.

The philosophers of the “age of reason” were sincere enough in their fierce denunciations of tyranny and glorification of “liberty”—but they could not transcend the times in which they lived. When Rousseau wrote his famous words, “Man is born free and is everywhere in chains,” he was not thinking of the same “chains” as those of the equally famous declaration —”The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Rousseau and those who thought with him denounced the chains of obsolete conventions and beliefs and of legal and political restrictions upon the individual and his goods. They did not conceive of property as a means of enslavement—to them it seemed the guarantee of freedom, of personal independence. Their utopia was a society of independent farmers, craftsmen and traders, and it was from this ideal basis that they formulated the inalienable Rights of Man— “to liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.” It required machinery and the “great industry” to demonstrate the titanic power of slavery latent in the “free rights of property” and the “liberty of the individual,” and thus to lay the basis for the slogan of Marx.

But while the philosophers were indulging themselves with universal principles the merchants, lawyers and politicians were concerning themselves with practical realities. They were not troubled with abstract intellectual problems but with urgent economic, legal and political ones. But the main problems that confronted the revolutionary bourgeoisie in France, though the same in essence as those their English comperes had faced differed in historical setting.

The “grand seigneurs” had not been “corrupted” by commerce to the extent of the English aristocracy. They were still an exclusive, arrogant caste, despising trade, holding ancient feudal rights over the peasantry such as were long extinct in England, and—a most important point, they were entirely exempt from taxation. While the English nobility had faced merely a check to their political domination, only affecting: them indirectly in an economic sense, the French nobility were confronted with a threat to their economic security, to their feudal dues and fiscal privileges—with virtual expropriation. Hence the com¬promise that was achieved with little difficulty in England was in France next to impossible.

When the crisis was upon them the bourgeoisie were reluctantly compelled to ally themselves with the stirring propertyless populace of the cities. It was the “common mob” who took the Bastille. But the traders, the lawyers and the politicians had a wholesome dread of the hungry masses—inflamed with revolutionary phrases and extravagant promises and freed for the moment from their customary habits of subjection. Mirabeau warned the assembly against its “seditious allies.”

Whilst they had need the bourgeoisie readily used the multitude as a threatening weapon against the crown and the aristocrats, but when the strength of the old regime was broken, when
  “the King could no longer collect an army, the force of the crowd was no longer necessary to the Assembly. A kind of Riot Act was accordingly passed under which certain officials might at any time proclaim Martial Law ; to restrain the forces of agitation a censorship was established over newspapers and public meetings and even over the sale of literature.” (Packwood Adams—”The French Revolution,” p. 100.)
Thus the bourgeoisie endeavoured to maintain its newly-acquired and precarious power, to stay the surging forces of revolt that it itself had done so much to unleash and to secure “order”—the bourgeois order of peaceful exploitation.

The great rallying cry that stirred all the sections opposed to the old regime was “liberty ! equality ! fraternity !” But these vague words meant different things to different men. In the mouth of a bourgeois they had a definite, limited meaning. “Freedom” meant—liberation from the tyrannical control which the autocratic rule of the Bourbons had exercised over the lives and property of its unprivileged subjects. “Equality” implied the abolition of hereditary privilege and the guarantee of legal and political equality for all “responsible citizens”—all who possessed property and paid taxes.

When, in June, 1789, the deputies of the “third estate” constituted themselves the National Assembly of France their general aim was nothing more than the abolition of feudal restrictions and the erection of a representative Constitution with a limited Monarchy on the lines of that in England. And when, three years later, the Constitution of 1791 was framed, though prefaced by the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” it divided the people into “active” and “passive” citizens; the former consisted of men who owned property and contributed taxes, and who alone were to exercise the franchise and bear arms in the National Guard; the “passive” citizens were the propertyless multitude who were allowed neither representation nor legal means of resistance. But the “have-nots” proved not quite so “passive” as the “haves” were desirous they should be.

With the further developments—the war, the republic, the inability of the bourgeoisie to consolidate its power, the temporary domination of the propertyless of Paris followed by the dictatorship and “order” of Bonaparte—we need not here concern ourselves.

[Thirteen] years before the Revolution in France, a bourgeois republic—untrammelled by any effete feudal structure, had been set up in America. In spite of its “Declaration” that “all men are born equal” its political system gave the franchise only to property owners, and to show how cynically inconsistent its founders could be, it established the legality of the slave-trade.
R.W. Housley