Friday, September 24, 2021

Hopes and Fears for Democracy (1941)

From the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the present war the word democracy is continually being used by many who have different ideas as to its meaning. We are supposed in this country to have developed a means of democratic expression to a point beyond that reached by the people of other lands, but so long as the means of production are owned by the capitalist class democracy is worked in the interest of the exploiter. Bertrand Russell, in his book Power,” brings out a point or two in this connection.
  In democratic countries the most important private organisations are economic. Unlike secret societies, they are able to exercise their terrorism without illegality since they do not threaten to kill their enemies but only to starve them. By means of such threats, which do not need to be explicitly uttered, they have frequently defeated even governments, for example, recently in France.
The above is interesting and induces one to recall certain incidents nearer home, but the most striking statement in the book is the author’s contention that exploitation can take place in a country where the means of production are in appearance “commonly” owned if there is not full and free political democracy.
 Under any form of Socialism which is not democratic those who control economic power can, without ‘owning’ anything, have palatial official residences, the use of the best cars, a princely entertainment allowance, holidays at public expense in official holiday resorts, and so on and on. And why should they have any more concern for the ordinary worker than those in control have now? There can be no reason why they should have, unless the ordinary worker has power to deprive them of their positions. . . . To suppose that irresponsible power, just because it is called Socialist or Communist, will be freed miraculously from the bad qualities of all arbitrary power in the past is merely childish nursery psychology.
Of course the author is wrong in calling this a “form of Socialism.” The old Socialist was not far out when he wrote : “There can be no Socialism without democracy and there can be no democracy without Socialism.”

The suppression of democracy in Germany, Japan, Italy and Spain is an attempt to turn the clock back, and we are interested in the matter inasmuch as we are desirous of knowing to what extent the dictatorships are in line with the economic development. In other words, is there to be a curtailment of democratic privileges even in the so-called democratic countries? Capitalism is a system that will last until it is replaced, and those who live by exploiting labour power will not hesitate to use any means they may possess to safeguard their ownership of the means of life.

Who would have thought even five years ago that the French people, after over a century of democracy, would be compelled to submit to decrees of a dictator ?

Things slip back very quickly under certain conditions ; the privileges the working class are supposed to have enjoyed for generations may disappear overnight.

Some three years ago there appeared a book by Aurel Kolnai, “The War against the West,” which clearly depicted the dangers of “National Socialism.” The literature published by German writers was little read here before the present war, but a study of it shows that “National Socialism” is, and prides itself on being, the great counter-revolution against the Western revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

It is, according to Auriel Kolnai, an uprising against the ideas of 1789.
 Against liberalism and the rights of man, against any rational universal order and against the bare attitudes of Christian and Greek civilisation. The doctrines of National Socialism are deeply rooted in German history and expressive of some aspects of the German mind. Nazism is more than Prussianism has ever been, it is more than National Chauvinism. It bears within itself the seeds of pan-German Imperialism as well as a semi-religious pan-Fascist Imperialism. It is therefore not only a menace of war but a fountain head of propaganda. All economic and social issues in Germany have since the rise of Hitler been subordinated to one central thought—the approach of the epoch of the Germans on world history.
With the victory of the counter-revolution over the West, the nation “that will crush the humanitarian life of Europe and hoist the banner of true order,” will necessarily become the undisputed head and leader of Europe and all mankind—so runs the Nazi creed.

He concludes with Masaryk’s words: “Democracy is still in its infancy.” If we had to probe the subject more thoroughly we should in all probability find that the material conditions prevailing in Europe, and in Germany in particular, after the war 1914-1918, were in the main largely responsible for the appearance of Nazism and Fascism, but the ordinary writer does not look at things from a Socialist standpoint and considers that a particular ideology is responsible instead of reasoning the other way round.

The present struggle is spreading to every portion of the planet, and the ruling class of the democratic countries can only hope by arousing the working class of their own countries to be able to wage war whole-heartedly against the dictatorships.

To do this they must offer them something worth striving to attain, something worth the sacrifice, and Capitalism has nothing to offer. The question now arises, will democracy be maintained by the momentum of history by those people that are striving to subdue Hitler? Or will the working class of the democratic countries not only line up and fight Nazism but strive in the process to put an end to Capitalism and bring into being Socialism ?

We confess we do not know. Society springs many surprises upon us. Those who live by selling their labour power often take a course of action (generally a wrong one) which even Socialists do not anticipate. As stated before in these columns, events have taken charge and society is largely at their mercy. We cannot tell what is coming in the immediate future, but we know that Socialism must emerge in the long run. We also know what is our duty, and that is to boldly put forward Socialism as the only possible solution to the world’s problems. The common ownership of the means of life is now an economic necessity, and this, together with production solely for use under a democratic administration eliminates Nazism, war and economic worry.

When Socialism comes then is man free. Under Capitalism “the commodities control the producers.” Man is the creature of the mechanism of his own creation.

The war at bottom and in the last analysis is a blind attempt on the part of society to escape being crushed by the forces which man himself has developed and set in motion. Forces which he does not, and, under Capitalism, cannot control. He must understand the nature of these forces, and by understanding transform them from merciless masters into willing servants.

A knowledge of Socialism enables man to command by knowledge these social forces and change society for the benefit of all.
Charles Lestor

Where Did They Get Their Wealth ? (1941)

From the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following is an extract from a pamphlet, “The Origin of Great Private Fortunes,” by Gustavus Myers, published by Charles H. Kerr and Co., Chicago. It is summarised from the larger work, “History of the Great American Fortunes,” by the same author.
Many fanciful descriptions have been written of the origin of these great fortunes. Usually these narratives are so much alike, so consistent in their alluring and gorgeous colouring, that the suspicion naturally occurs that well-regulated press agencies are doing their effective work. Always it is skilfully explained how these great magnates amassed their immense fortunes by industry, thrift and ability. It is further glibly explained how they created wealth and were, therefore, signal benefactors of the human race. If, incidentally, some hundreds of millions of dollars adhered to their hands, that was only the just reward of their prodigious labours.

Flowery phrases, of course, explain nothing. It is facts that count, and facts alone; and somehow it is to be invariably noted that facts are lacking in these seductive eulogies. No explanation is ever offered as to how the magnate’s got their first millions. After a man gets a few millions, it is comparatively easy, as the present system goes, to get more. But—and this is the crucial point—how does he contrive to gather in his first millions ? It does not suffice, also, to say airily that on such and such a date he acquired this railroad or that plant. What we want to know is how he obtained the resources with which to do it, and what methods he used. None of the eulogies tell us this.

To indulge in glittering statements is easy, but they leave us no more informed than we were before. They simply inebriate us with words, while all the time we are hungering for the actual facts.

If we stop to reason a moment it becomes evident that the exercise of industry, thrift and ability does not produce fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars. Tens of millions of people work very hard, save money (when they can) and lead temperate and useful lives. But they have no fortune, except bad fortune. Vast numbers literally live from hand to mouth; they begin life in poverty, and after a lifetime of toil, end it in poverty. Others manage to acquire a little competence which is always precariously threatened by being out of work, sickness or business disaster. Obviously, if industry, thrift and ability produced great wealth, America’s working people would all have multi-millionaire fortunes.

This explanation, it is clear, does not hold, and cannot, for a second, stand the test of reason and experience.

Even, however, if one does not give serious thought to the matter, a striking circumstance is of itself sufficient to make him suspicious of the usual run of explanations. If our magnates are so honest and honourable and such pure and lofty patriots and philanthropists, why should they be so sensitive to criticism ? Why should they be so eager to purchase eulogy by contributions to charities and colleges and universities, and by owning or subsidising so many newspapers, periodicals and magazines ?

Where Are We ? (1941)

From the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The war on Russia is the manifestation of the dire straits in which German capitalism finds itself. It is an admission of the eventual success of the British blockade which has forced the swashbuckling gangsters into an Eastern war for essential resources. Stalin is now allied to the Churchill Government, and no longer do we hear of the need for a “People’s” Government. Of course the time-serving Communist Party and its Left Book Club merchants will rally the masses, because, according to Molotov, the Germans are “treacherous dogs” and it is now a workers’ war. In August, 1939, Molotov signed a pact of “friendship.'” with these “treacherous dogs.” She followed this up by war on Finland and the seizure of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and part of Rumania. All this was done on grounds of military defence, at a time when Germany was busy on the Western Front. Russia became the great “appeaser” by repudiating the Norwegian and Belgian consuls and thus officially recognising the Nazi occupation of those countries, even going so far as to recognise the Fifth Column coup of Rashid Ali in Irak.

Now that the Soviet-Nazi pact is ended, will Russia restore the territory gained by that pact to their former “independence”? Will the Communist Party still demand to know Britain’s “war aims” ? And will they still demand “independence” for India?

How their chickens came home to roost. The feather-brained Communists used to say, “Who supplied Hitler?” and they replied: “Chamberlain.” The same question, “Who has since supplied Hitler?” could now be asked, and the answer is— Russia. Now that the Nazis have become “treacherous dogs,” will the Communist Party assure that Russian bombs will only drop on German capitalists and not on German workers ?

Tit-Bits from the Press (1941)

From the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Journalism – Twentieth Century

The dishing up of news in the newspaper world is a complicated one with many facets, but in general it may be said, particularly with regard to articles and news items prepared in this country for home consumption, that they have to be written up in such a way that they will appear to support the policy advocated by the newspaper in which they appear. The quizzical attitude in which journalists have come to look upon their profession is exemplified in the following paragraph from the Newspaper World, of June 28th last: —
 The vindication of King Leopold of the Belgians is a perfect example of the need to walk warily the difficult path of newspaper criticism in war-time. Many writers must be wondering now how long it will be before they must think up nice things to say about Stalin. You never know where you are these days. It is not wise to put out the tongue which should be left in its neat resting place—the cheek.
It was on June 22nd that Germany attacked Russia, and prior to this date it was definitely not the fashion to “write up” the wonderful qualities of the Russian dictator.

50 Years Ago: Words, Words, Words . . . (2004)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The style of the Standard then, as now, owed to two principal sources: the sociological textbooks of the time and popular journalism. From the latter it drew a peculiar Joe Miller waggishness that was part of the stock-in-trade of successful newspaper columnists, easier to exemplify than describe. Thus, the Editorial Committee apologizing for a writer who had not made himself clear to a correspondent: “He developed what he calls his style by studying a burr-walnut piano case in foggy weather”. A debate with a suffragette was irresistible, and its report was resplendent with quips about “ye gallant knight Anderson” and “the poor girl”. Perhaps the acme of this sort of wit was with a highly dramatic poem which had the refrain:
“Go! Reckon your dead by your forges red,
And in factories where we spin;
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth,
By Christ! We have paid in full.”
The poem was called “Gawd Struth We Have.”

The writers on economics, socialist theory and political issues put forth their subject-matter lucidly and without frills or ambiguities; style which came naturally through close acquaintance with Engels, Kautsky, Plechanov and the other classical exponents of Marxism. The popularisation of academic and technical subjects influenced later writers, and is still doing so – “science for the citizen” has made its mark. Just as on the platform, the people addressed are more widely informed and less concerned with theoretical questions. That does not mean, however, that the modern writer – or speaker – may neglect theory; it means that he must apply it more widely in a world with wider horizons.

And so it goes on; the business of persuading people to think straight, because that is what the Socialist wants. Words are our weapons. Words, words, words . . .

(From an article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, September 1954)

A letter to the Fire Brigades’ Union (2004)

From the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear General Secretary,

At its meeting of 3rd July 2004 our Executive Committee asked me to write to you to express our welcome of your union’s recent decision to reverse your historic mistake of affiliating to the Labour Party.

For nearly 100 years the Socialist Party has held a clear and consistent position that trade unions and political parties need to remain separate. We have considered it bizarre that trade unionists in public sector unions should hand over their dues money to their, effective, political employers. Feeding the hand that beat them.

We have observed that trade unions need freedom to manoeuvre and represent the interests of the membership – distinct groups within the working class.  This freedom of manoeuvre means getting the best deal for their members within capitalism, often as against the general policy of a political party, which has to at least attempt to represent the general interest of its constituency. Political parties and trade unions only harm each other by shackling themselves to one another.

In the case of the Labour Party in Britain, it is clear that there have been numerous clashes between themselves and the Unions. The Attlee government used troops to smash a dock-workers strike. Wilson’s government floundered over the refusal of the unions to accept the ‘In Place of Strife’ income controls policy. Your own union members were branded traitors and threatened with legislation to deprive them of their freedom to strike in your recent dispute.

This is not caused by individual wickedness of Labour ministers, but by the hard logic of administering capitalism.  The same hard logic that saw Labour governments tear up railways and close down more pits than the Tories ever did. Capitalism is founded on the principle of no profit no production, and if a government is to keep capitalism running, it must obey this hard and fast law.

We thus wish to express our hope that your union will not seek to affiliate with any other political party, and most specifically, not try to recreate the Old Labour disaster that has blighted the workers movement for more than a hundred years. We hope you will use all your union’s resources and funds to defend your members’ interests, rather than those of your political employers.

We further hope that your members will come to understand that any resolution of a pay-deal within capitalism means their continued exploitation by the tiny capitalist class, and that their best interest lies in joining their fellow workers in a movement with the express and single aim of “the abolition of the wages system” and its replacement with common ownership and the free association of producers.

Yours for the World Socialism,
Bill Martin (Acting General Secretary).

Same Old Answers (2004)

From the September 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Saturday 3 July, the lunchtime edition of ‘Any Questions’ on BBC Radio 4, that doyen of the Left Arthur Scargill made a return appearance onto the national stage. In the light of the recent experiences of the Left here and around the world, might he have revised his world outlook? Would the failure of Keynes, the rise of Thatcher and Reagan, the defeat of the miners’ strike, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of New Labour and numerous attempts to get his Socialist Labour Party elected, cause this once colossus of the Left to think a little wider about society?

Arthur’s lack of an understanding of our capitalist world was displayed when he called for Mr Bush and Mr Blair to be in the dock with the tyrant Saddam. He imagines that workers could, under his leadership, provide enough pressure to force capitalists in the USA to put their own man, Bush, on trial for dancing to their own tune.

Next, in answer to a question posed on the ex-Sainsbury Boss, Peter Davis’ £2m bonus that forced him out, Arthur declared he would, presumably if he were to become Prime Minister, nationalise Sainsbury’s, Tesco M & S and all the banks etc, etc and use the profits for the good of the workers and pensioners.

Here Arthur, like Tony Benn, George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan and the rest of the left, has learned nothing from the failures of both Keynes in the West and the Bolsheviks in the East.  Both groups in a similar way, the latter, slightly more extreme than the former, thought that they could make capitalism work in a national-centric arena for the workers and call the result: ‘Socialism In One Country’.

The left work to accomplish a compromise, as proposed by Keynes, with the ideology of the wages system which exploits human labour for profit and places a monetary value on that labour and its products (as commodities).  An ideology which fosters the creed of competition and contest, which leads to human estrangement, brings first squabbles among us then violence and ends with war and death.  An ideology which will deny the human race the talents of all the humans as many are blighted and stunted by a life of miserable wage labour producing useless and cheating products for market and in duplication 100 times over.  An ideology which will preserve the existing partition of humans into economic units (countries or regions) governed by leaders who will seek to protect their power and interests, which are different from the workers, through the rule of law and factitious process of parliamentary democracy.

Finally, Arthur called for more financial investment into the process where we, in Britain, could produce winners for the world sporting arenas.  Not just one Henman, but many many Henmans, across all the sports.

I guess old king coal is still a merry old soul, in his little world of grand delusions.
William Dunn