Tuesday, September 27, 2022

August's "Done & Dusted"

A bit late this month's. Problem's with an aging laptop, and all that jazz, means that it's been a slow month on the blog all round.

Cue cut and paste . . . 

A new feature on the blog . . . and like all new features on the blog, one that I should have put in place about 10 years ago. (It's the same with the Pages that I'm slowly introducing to the top of the blog's homepage).

It's perfectly simple. Here's a list of the Socialist Standards that were completed on the blog in the month of August 2022. Slowly but surely the digitization of the Standard is *cough* nearing completion. If I'd hazard a guess, I'd say it will be finished by the end of 2024. Famous last words, and all that. 

They are broken up into separate decades for the hard of hearing.

August's 2022's "Done & Dusted":

The Labour machine in Conference. (1928)

From the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 1928 Labour Party Conference met in Birmingham during the first week of October. The chief work before the delegates was the consideration of the “Programme of Legislation and Administrative Action for a Labour Government,” which had been drafted by the National Executive on the instruction of the 1927 Conference. The draft programme has already been dealt with in these columns. It contains a large number of social, administrative and industrial reforms, the application of which will, in the view of the Labour Party, solve the pressing problems of modern society. It is impossible in a few sentences to summarise the large number of proposals, but it may be said that they continue and extend the policy of past and present Liberal and Tory Governments, in providing legislative safeguards against excessive hours of work, dangerous and unhealthy factory conditions, and propose better provision for those who are prevented from securing employment through illness, old age, trade depression, and so forth. A reduction in the inequalities of income is promised by means of taxes and death duties, and peace is to be secured through the League of Nations. The industry of this country is to be placed in a condition of prosperity primarily through a reorganisation on the lines of State ownership : It is this latter point which is regarded by Labour supporters as marking off the Labour Programme from all others. By it the Labour Party stands or falls.

As this programme of reforms embodies the opinions of the bulk of the members of the Labour Party, its acceptance was to be expected, and as the great bulk of the workers, in and out of the Trade Unions, are not in favour of Socialism, it follows as a matter of course that the programme acceptable to them contains no reference to Socialism. The essential features of Capitalism are : one, the ownership of the means of wealth production by a propertied class which lives by owning; two, the sale of their labour-power by the property-less majority for salaries or wages; and three, the production of goods for sale.

The Labour Party does not propose now or hereafter, constitutionally or unconstitutionally, gradually or suddenly, to abolish these essential features of the Capitalist economic system. Under “Nationalisation,” mineowners, railway owners, bank shareholders and others who now live on property incomes, will still live on property incomes. Their respective industries will be subject to State control, and the State will guarantee to them their privilege of living on the interest from State bonds at the expense of the wealth producers. The working-class will be what the postal workers are already, the wage-slaves of the Capitalist State. And so far from abolishing production for sale, the Labour Party believes that their policy will enable this country to sell more cheaply in face of foreign competition.

We reject that programme and the assumptions underlying it. We say that only with the advent of Socialism will the poverty and insecurity of the workers and their unemployment be brought to an end.

The risk of war will be removed only with the removal of the commercial rivalries of Capitalism. The Labour Programme will fail, not because of the personal merits or demerits of its leaders, but because it is wholly a programme of reforms of Capitalism.

A number of “left-wing” delegates criticised the programme as being “Liberal.” Mr. Clynes, speaking for the Executive took up the challenge. He said (“Daily Herald,” 4th October) :—
“Mr. Wheatley had said that any Liberal would accept most of the programme. Would the Liberals accept such proposals as the public ownership of mines, transport, power, and land? ”
The answer is, yes, they would.

The Liberal “Yellow Book” (p. 229), proposes the nationalisation of agricultural land, and the public ownership of electricity production (p. 82). The Liberals stand for the retention of the public ownership of the Post Office, the telegraphs and telephones. Capitalist governments in different parts of the world have nationalised mines (Germany), railways (France), and shipping (U.S.A. and Australia). The Labour Party’s scheme of public ownership is simply State Capitalism, and as such does not differentiate them from the Liberals. The Liberal “Manchester Guardian,” in an editorial, defined the position of the Liberal Party and the slight difference between its position and that of the Labour Party. For the Liberals “the case for nationalisation must be discussed on its merits as applied to any particular industry,” whereas for the Labour Party “it is stated as a general principle applicable to all industries.” (October 9th, 1928.)

To this we would add that the Socialist Party does not advocate nationalisation at all.

But although there were several delegates who declared the Labour Party Programme to be simply a collection of Liberal reforms, none of the critics is prepared to advocate Socialism in opposition to the Liberalism of the Labour Party. All of them come to heel when faced with the threat of disciplinary action. Thus W. J. Brown, of the Civil Service Clerical Association, said (“Daily Herald,” October 4th):—
“If the whole of the programme were put into effect …. it would not be Socialism, but a system of State-subsidised Capitalism.”
But Mr. Brown is a Labour Candidate and will fight the next election as he has fought past elections, on the Labour Party programme.

Mr. Wheatley, whose criticism is referred to above, said a few days later :—
“Neither Mr. Maxton, nor he himself, nor any of their friends had the slightest intention of leaving the Labour Party or of splitting the Labour Party” (“Manchester Guardian,” Oct. 16).
It is a Liberal Party, but Mr. Wheatley and Mr. Maxton are going to remain in it !

The I.L.P. suggested a number of additional Capitalist reforms (family allowances, banks nationalisation, etc.) and failed to get them carried. Having failed in open conference, it adopts the face-saving plea that they may be wangled into the actual election programme. The I.L.P. itself did not suggest that the Labour Party substitute a Socialist programme for its own and is not contemplating leaving the Labour Party. It allows a prominent member of the I.L.P. (H. N. Brailsford) to advocate a Liberal-Labour coalition on the ground that “we of the I.L.P. have failed in our efforts to induce the Labour Party to adopt our programme.” (“New Leader,” October 12th).

There would, after all, appear to be no reason why Messrs. Wheatley, Maxton, Cook & Co. should strain at a Liberal coalition after swallowing the Labour Party’s Liberal programme.

And the reason for the failure of these “Left Wing” Labour M.P.s to act on their words is simple enough. It is candidly stated by Mr. Alfred Salter, Labour M.P. and member of the I.L.P., in a letter to the “New Leader” (October 12th). He says :—
“There is not a single constituency in the country where there is a majority of convinced Socialist electors. We have plenty of districts, such as Bermondsey, where there is an overwhelming Labour majority, but it is a sheer delusion to think that the greater number of these people understand what we mean by Socialism. They neither understand it nor want it.”
Here we have the rock on which all the reformist parties from Labour to Communist are wrecked. It is this plain brutal fact which nullifies all the fine words of the left wingers and makes all their protests impotent. All of these professed “Socialist” M.P.s (including Dr. Salter) are in the House of Commons under false pretences. None of them—Maxton, Brown, Saklatvala, Wheatley, or any other M.P,— has been elected by Socialists’ votes on a Socialist programme. None of them could be so elected now, because there is no constituency in which the majority of voters are Socialist. They can criticise the Labour programme, but they dare not defy the Labour Party machine in the constituencies. Hence the long list of reforms which is the stock-in-trade of the candidates of the I.L.P., the Communist Party, etc.

The Socialist Party alone has seen that there must be Socialists before there can be Socialism, and acts on it.
Edgar Hardcastle

The battleground of the class struggle. (1928)

From the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism can only be realised by the success of the working class in its struggle against the owning class. The Socialist movement is built upon the facts of this class struggle. It is useful and necessary therefore to learn what the class struggle really is and the field in which it is carried on.

Labour Party and Capitalist opponents either viciously deny the class struggle or allege that we Socialists make the struggle ourselves by appealing to class hatred and stirring up discontent which should be left to slumber.

Added to these types of opponents we have had those who claimed to be Socialists, but who argue that there is no real class struggle of the workers apart from the Socialists who wage it.

Classes arise in the historical march of economic evolution. They result from property divisions caused by economic change. The fact that society is made up of owners of various kinds of property and those who practically have no property, naturally leads each section to take action to protect its interests. Owners of wealth inevitably seek to hold on to their possessions and to add to them.

The great body known as the working’ class, own no wealth as a class, and are compelled to take action to protect their interests as a working and dispossessed group of men and women. The interests of the workers every day is to live as well as they can while employed by the owning class. Naturally the interests of workers and owners clash, because the owners employ the workers to get a profit or surplus out of the work done, and the smaller the proportion given to workers as wages, the more there is left for profits.

Is then the struggle between workers and employers over wages and working conditions the class struggle? Is that the struggle which carries hope of victory for the workers? Is that struggle for better wages and shorter hours, etc., the real fight? Is the workshop, the factory, the mine or strike headquarters, the real final and chief battleground of the class struggle ?

The workers under the present system must seek masters and obtain the best terms for the sale of their working powers. The whole working life of the working class means that they are engaged in the class struggle, a struggle to uphold the interests of their class in the daily conflict with employers.

It does not depend upon the workers’ state of mind, ignorance or alertness. The struggle is bound to exist whether it is recognised or not. The existence of a body of the population with no means of living but that of working for the group of owners —that fact alone denotes a class struggle. The workers cannot take action to seek work and wages without displaying the conflict of interests between them and employers, and the inevitable struggle that is involved in it.

The continual struggle about hours and wages seems to some to be petty and in¬effectual, and they therefore deny that these daily struggles of trade unionists and other workers are a part of the class struggle. But these never-ceasing battles over details of wages and hours are the actual result of the conflict of interests, and are inseparable from the struggle of the working class to live as wage-slaves in a society which allows them no other way of living as a class.

The field of industry is therefore a battleground of the class struggle, but it is not the only one. Around the question of “the job,” and job conditions, the workers are always compelled to struggle, and always will be while there is a working class dependent upon employers for existence. The changes in hours and wages always taking place never destroy the power of the employers over the workers. Through all the variations of hours and wages, there is but, on the average, a subsistence wage for the worker, with a rapid exhaustion of his physical powers. The economic battleground of the class struggle is limited to a guerrilla warfare, with no chance of a victory for the working class.

On the industrial field the power of the workers to fight the employers is small to-day. The workers have practically no savings, and cannot stop work for long. To withhold their labour-power from the employers is in most cases to simply postpone their surrender.

The workers cannot stop the use of modern wages-saving machinery or speeding-up methods, and neither can they prevent amalgamations and trusts dispensing with large numbers of workers required in competitive trading.

Craft and industrial differences have helped to keep alive a narrow, sectional or trade outlook among the workers, and the industrial field with its job rivalries, does not easily promote a class outlook.

It takes much time for the various branches of workers to realise that the competition and conflict among themselves is itself a result of the position of the working class. The workers do not quickly grasp the fact that they are driven to compete with each other because the economic system of to-day reduces each worker to a seller of merchandise (labour-power) in a market where there are less buyers than sellers.

The limitations of the economic struggle are greater than ever to-day, because the employers are closely organised, and the real control in most industries is in the hands of large combines who dominate the situation. Almost every step in industrial development throws the scale heavily against the workers, who in spite of the long strikes and lock-outs are eventually defeated.

On the industrial field, too, there is the sinister and powerful factor which plays so much havoc with the workers’ efforts to fight for better conditions. That factor is the labour leader—Liberal, Labour, Communist, matters not—who, for the sake of his job or to earn the goodwill of the employers—side-tracks the struggles of the worker into blind alleys and to trust in the employers.

The employing class maintain their supremacy in the struggle because they have control of powers which enable them to defeat the workers. That power is political. How are the great strikes of our time smashed? Not because the employers rely upon economic means, but because they make use of the law and the armed forces at the disposal of the political rulers. Every Emergency Powers Act, Trades Disputes Act, and Prosecution of Strikers, shows where the real power lies.

Beyond the mere victory in a strike, the employers have the wider and permanent victory of being still in control and possession of the means of production, etc., and that is why they so carefully and strenuously seek to retain control of the political machine.

The real success in the class struggle by the workers can only be secured if they are able to obtain control of the machinery by which the employers at present dominate. That is, if the class struggle is to be waged victoriously by the workers they must win political power, and thus get the machinery in their hands to put an end to Capitalist ownership.

The economic battlefield of the class-struggle is one therefore where the workers are bound to continually struggle within Capitalism for a bare existence.

The political battlefield of the class struggle is the only battlefield where the workers can finally win and abolish the struggle altogether by abolishing classes and Capitalism altogether.

Necessary though it is that the workers should struggle on the economic field, the most important battleground of the class struggle is on the political field. But they must become conscious of their class interests—they must fight for Socialism.
Adolph Kohn

SPGB Meetings. (1928)

Party News from the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: Socialist Definitions: A Rejoinder. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard


In your answer to my objection to the use of the word “services,” you adduce two equally inane arguments. First, you ask me, “By what reasoning does he reach this conclusion?” namely, that services are things done. My reply is: not by abstract reasoning, but by the simpler process of reference to several authoritative dictionaries. In the main, the dictionaries define services as things, duties, etc., performed, done, effected, the verb always being in the past tense.

Now, Capitalists do not buy anything done from the workers, but their power to do things. This is as true now, in spite of the fact that wages in their money form are not paid in advance, as it was when Marx pointed it out. In simple language the masters say, “You can work a few hours for yourselves if, and only if, you will work more hours for us.” Secondly, you say that “the word ‘service’… will have a meaning depending upon its context and tense.” Apart from the fact that “service” is a noun, and therefore has no tense, your admission destroys your own case, since any textbook of logic will inform you that the desideratum of a definition is that, by giving a precise and fixed meaning to every name capable of having such a meaning assigned to it, so that we may know exactly what attributes it connotes and what objects it denotes, it be unambiguous. It is by the use of such sloppy, equivocal words as “service” that you build definitions with which bourgeois economists mislead our class. Your definitions 1 and 2 quoted in my previous letter use the word “service,” which you admit varies in meaning. Your definitions are therefore loose, equivocal, anti-Marxian.

Your answer to my fourth objection savours of intellectual dishonesty. You said, “Wealth is the product of human activities applied to Nature-given material.” I protested that sweat fulfils the conditions of your statement, and in consequence your definition is anti-Communist because it is only half true. That it is produced by labour on natural material is not a sufficient mark of wealth.

Test it with a syllogism :—

The product of human activities on Nature-given material is wealth.

Sweat is a product of human activities on Nature-given material.

Therefore sweat is wealth.

Oh, well-endowed workers !

Similarly, waste, factory-smoke is wealth, which is absurd. You cannot claim a fallacy on the grounds of my putting your definitions backwards because a good definition is affirmative, unconditional and universal, hence cannot suffer by direct conversion. Manifestly your definition is incomplete. It should run, “Some products of human activities on Nature-given materials are wealth, namely, the useful products.”

I therefore added “useful” to your sentence and turned it into a definition of wealth, thereby correcting an unfortunate blunder of Mr. Fitzgerald’s. Marx always stressed the necessity for use-value as a basis of wealth. You remarked, in addition, that my word “useful” begs the question. What question?

Finally, you had recourse to an interesting bit of bourgeois chicanery, known as argumentum ad ignorantiam, i.e., you think you prove your definition by showing the impossibility of proving the negative. Conjuring tricks ! You ask me : “If wealth is not the product of man’s activities applied to Nature-given materials, what is it?” I never denied it. My point is that your vague statement is not a definition until you accept the modification “useful product” or something equivalent in meaning.

Your masters love slipshod definitions ; it becomes so easy to trip them. An egg is the product of evolution. True enough, but so is an elephant. Half-true statements can put the Socialists in the same category as rat-fleas on the ground that they carry trouble about with them.

If sweat is not wealth, why not?

Your final stab about the difference between “Communist” and “Socialist” is merely silly. You evidently believe that Communism is the policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who are as anti-Communist as your definitions were anti-Socialist. Either Mr. Fitzgerald is getting into that doddering stage where incisiveness of argument disappears or else he is afraid of admitting his mistakes. A quicker man than Maxton would have slaughtered his definitions without accepting them.
Yours for Socialism,
J. Woltz.

Answer to Woltz.
In our previous reply to Mr. Woltz we gave an illustration of the use of the word “service” —”offered their services”— to show how in a certain context the word meant power to perform given actions. Another instance is when a firm “dispenses with the services” of a number of workers. Mr. Woltz carefully ignored our point and refers to “authoritative dictionaries” to support his view. Wisely, however, he does not mention any particular authority, but prefers to indulge in general terms.

The greatest “authoritative dictionary” in the English language is the “Oxford English Dictionary,” and if one consults that work they will find no less than 38 different meanings given to the word “service” ! In addition, shades and qualifications are given to many of them. These meanings vary both in time and place. Mr. Woltz’s “authorities” have let him down badly.

Moreover, when he says “the verb always being in the past tense” he is just indulging in a piece of bounce. In certain instances the verb is given in the future tense in the work referred to above, as when defining feudal service as a duty which a tenant is “to render” to his lord.

Mr. Woltz is hardly happier with the term wealth. He stated that the definition given in the report of the debate was “self-evidently only half true.” We asked him to tell us what wealth was, if not the product of the application of human energy to Nature-given material ? He now says he never denied it, and then goes on to deny it again by calling it a vague statement.

We said his own definition merely added a word that begged the question. Mr. Woltz now asks “what question?” The question: “Useful to whom or what?” Let us take the word Mr. Woltz thinks so wonderful and crushing—sweat.

In his former letter he said sweat is not wealth because it has no use. A little elementary knowledge of physiology would have saved Mr. Woltz from this absurd blunder. Sweat is necessary for the preservation of health; so much so that in a certain stage of fever its presence or absence will mean life or death to the patient. Moreover, as is well known, many people will pay to be placed under conditions that will induce sweat, as in a Turkish bath. Sweat therefore is not only useful, but necessary to life, and according to Mr. Woltz’s own definition, is wealth.

Mr. Woltz’s claim that a good definition is “unconditional” is metaphysical nonsense. There is nothing “unconditional” in existence, but probably this is a sample of “Communist” logic. In conclusion, we may state that we are not concerned whether the communism of Mr. Woltz is that of the Communist Party of Great Britain or some particular brand of his own. Our definitions and propaganda are Socialist, and not Communist of any type.
Editorial Committee

Monday, September 26, 2022

Some Socialist points on the Beveridge Report (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Time does not allow a thorough examination of the Beveridge Report in this issue, but a few preliminary remarks may be made on aspects of particular interest to Socialists.

First we may ask why all this fuss about proposals which even the Times—not remarkable for its generosity towards social reforms—admits are “moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence”? (Times, December 2.) The spokesmen of capitalism are already preening themselves on the score that the Report shows what a generous and progressive country this is. They might pause to notice Beveridge’s claim that everything he proposes could and should have been done decades ago. All that time they have been boasting of the numerous reform measures they have introduced, yet the sum total of them all is so niggardly and displeasing in the eyes of its beneficiaries, the workers, that the latter can be impressed by the seemingly important advance the Beveridge scheme represents by contrast with the evil condition of to-day.

Even so the scheme should be viewed in proper perspective. The Times reads into the Report the “confident assurance that the poor need not always be with us,” but this is merely a misuse of terms, and one incidentally for which Beveridge appears not to be responsible. He talks all the time of abolishing “want,” by which he avowedly means something quite different from abolishing poverty. By want he means the condition into which the workers fall when their wages stop, not the condition in which they always are because they are carrying the capitalist class on their backs. Beveridge is quite clear about the distinction and says so. Did he not make a statement on December 1 (reported in the B.B.C. news broadcasts but apparently not in the Press) that it had always been his view that want could be abolished within the ranks of the wage-earners without any inroads into the wealth of the rich? He is saying in effect in his Report want could be abolished without interfering with capitalism, but neither he nor the Times want to abolish poverty. But for the poverty of the poor there could be no riches for the rich—a state which he and they find quite acceptable.

The Report has had a good Press, and already it is claimed that the Liberals and half the Conservative Party view it with favour. A characteristic and intelligible capitalist comment was reported in the Daily Worker (December 3, 1942) from Captain Somerset de Chair, who is a’ Conservative M.P. He is reported as follows : —
“I welcome it as a comprehensive plan to remove insecurity without resorting to the uncertain hazards of social reconstruction, he said.

This plan promises what we young Conservatives have always demanded—a square deal for the working man within the existing social and economic framework, instead of some utopia on the further side of an economic torrent.”
The Report is mistakenly referred to as a measure of insurance for the workers against the evils of capitalism. It would be more accurate to see it as a measure of insurance for the capitalists against the (for them) desperate evil of working class discontent with capitalism. Better far to give something away in time than to risk losing all.

The Report has been criticised by the Insurance Companies whose profits would be affected by the proposal to hand over their industrial assurance work to a Government Board. This was to be expected, but it gives rise to some interesting speculations. The Insurance Companies, with their enormous investments in all kinds of industrial and commercial enterprises, wield great influence, not excluding influence in Parliament and the Press. Fifteen or twenty years ago it was common in so-called Labour papers to see bitter attacks on the Prudential and other companies. What has happened to change all this, so that nowadays the clamour against them has almost disappeared? The Daily Express (November 28) had a curious little reference to this in an article on a book by the late Sir Arnold Wilson in which he attacked the insurance companies. According to the writer of the article. Sir Arnold was struck by the way in which the economists had ignored the problem presented by the “concentration of financial power” in the hands of the companies. “The oracles,” he found, “were strangely dumb.” “He searched libraries. He found little. He consulted the experts. And chief among them was Sir William Beveridge, who explained why the London School of Economics, on grounds of expediency, had ignored the subject.” (Daily Express, November 28. Italics ours.)

Sir William is, of course, no longer with the London School of Economics, and perhaps finds his hands less tied. In one fundamental respect, the scheme is a gamble, and Socialists can be certain that the gamble will be a losing one, for it is based on the expectation that unemployment will be permanently reduced after the war to a level less than it was before. If this optimistic assumption proves wrong, then the whole of the financial provisions are undermined and either the benefits would have to be reduced, or the high contributions raised still more or a large further deficit made up from taxation. This optimism of Sir William Beveridge is too much for the City Editor of the Times He points out (December 3) that Beveridge assumes that unemployment will not exceed an average of 8½ per cent. of the insured workers, but
“Only in one year, 1927, in the 14 years before the war was the average below 10 per cent.; in 1932 it was over 22 per cent. It is right to hope that unemployment can be reduced to below 8½ per cent. . . . But it is clear that a corollary of the social security plan must be a plan for full and efficient employment. Without it the social budget will be thrown out of gear.”
The Labour Party who gaily went into office in 1929 with a pledge to deal with unemployment and a hope that things “were on the up grade” should not need to be reminded that what happened to them (unemployment soon mounting to three millions) may well happen again even in the best of all possible capitalist worlds.

The Labour Party might also reflect on another incident in their experience. When the crisis occurred in 1931 it was a common theme with them that capitalism was for ever bankrupt and never again could there be any question of trying to make capitalism palatable to the workers by offering social reforms. Capitalism, they said, would never again be able to afford reforms. Socialists pointed out the absurdity of this belief that capitalism, choked with its own surplus products, could not afford to surrender some of them to alleviate the workers’ miseries. What have the Labour Party to say now that they are hailing Beveridge and allowing themselves to be manoeuvred into defending his scheme ?

One of the major purposes of the Report has already been served, its use as war propaganda. Both from the point of view of offering the workers at home some more or less concrete hope of benefits to come and from the point of view of offsetting Nazi propaganda for a new European Order the Report can be described as an instant success for the Government.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Reward of Honest Industry (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

No matter how careful the capitalists and their apologists may be, the inconsistencies of the present economic system constantly come to light. Even such an innocent radio programme as “In town to-night” sometimes brings out a point that an observant listener can use to show the inconsistency of what our masters would have us believe is a happy land, providing peace, comfort and security for all those who are willing to work.

On Saturday, September 26th, in this programme, a manager of a pawnbroker’s shop gave the usual tbree-minute talk on the people with whom he deals. To a Socialist, the most important observation was that although some of his customers occasionally tried to swindle him, “Nine out of ten of the customers are honest, hard-working people.”

Well might the Socialist ask what sort of system it is in which “honest, hard-working people” have to pledge their clothes and blankets in order to obtain the necessities of life ?

This statement was made with reference to peacetime, not war-time. In fact, such are the contradictions of capitalism that during a war, when one might expect hardship, many of the workers who were forced to frequent the Labour Exchanges for the measly shillings which the Government granted to those in the “industrial reserve army,” as it has been called, are now in the position of having money to spend and few goods to buy. The Government, knowing the temptation to spend money that arises in those who are all too often denied that pleasure, are fearful of inflation, as occurred in the last war, and are pleading and cajoling the workers to put all “surplus” money into war saving, with the idea of helping to pay for the war. “Helping” is right, for even with the relatively high wages earned during wartime, the money that the workers could save, i.e., the money over and above the cost of living, would not pay for the war in a million years !

There is also the fact that whatever money the workers are able to save now that they are all in work will assist them to live through the slump that most economists predict to follow the post-war boom.

All the capitalist juggling in the world will not be able to create new markets to take the commodities which will result from the change over from war-time to peacetime production, and without a market, i.e., a group of buyers with the purchasing power to acquire the goods which the capitalist has for sale, the production of commodities will soon be curtailed, though the need for the goods may and will be as urgent as ever. If no one can purchase the goods which industry will be turning out by the million, those goods will stay in the warehouses, or be destroyed, as coffee, wheat and fish have been destroyed, among other goods, in the past. Under a capitalist system, goods are produced for sale, not for use. The difference may appear slight, but a worker who has no money, standing outside a boot shop in a broken-down leaky pair of boots, knows the practical difference between a commodity, i.e., an article produced for sale, and an article produced solely for use, as they will be under a sane system of society.

The only way to do away with pawnbrokers, and their immediate cause, poverty, is to do away with the private property system of society and substitute a system in which the means of production are owned by and run for the benefit of society as a whole.

This Means You ! (1942)

Party News from the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Large sums of money are donated annually, to scores of organisations appealing for funds to alleviate the povertv of this or that particular section of society. Organisations for the Relief of Ladies of Gentle Birth in Reduced Circumstances, Waifs and Strays, and Penniless Parsons.

The S.P.G.B. is not organised for the purpose of relieving the more or less obvious results of poverty. Our object is to abolish the cause of poverty, not to waste our time and energies in futile attempts to mitigate some of the more glaring effects.

You may agree with our object, our principles, and our policy, but for various reasons find it impossible to give us your active support. If this is the case, may we point out one way in which you can help us. Many workers have yet to hear the Socialist case, but our efforts to enlighten them are severely restricted by our meagre financial resources. We need financial support to enable us to carry on propaganda meetings, publish literature, etc.; in other words, to continue the struggle for Socialism. This is where you come in, and, by the way, we mean you, not all the other readers of the Socialist Standard !

You can play a necessary and important part in our struggle by sending along a donation, or, better still, a regular monthly donation. Send your donations to the Treasurer, S.P.G.B., 33. Gloucester Place, W.1. Cheques and Postal Orders should be crossed and made payable to the “Socialist Party of Great Britain.”
A. Price, 
Party Funds Organiser.

Editorial: Anticipating Beveridge (1942)

Editorial from the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Writing in advance of the issue of the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance, amidst the deafening clamour that has heralded that much boosted publication, we confidently predict that from a working-class standpoint it will be one of the ripest political red-herrings of our generation. It is one of those occasions when the Socialist prophet cannot go wrong.

In justification of this discordant note in the almost universal harmony we can point to the limited scope of the inquiry, and the well-known anti-Socialist views of the author. The outstanding social problem of our age is the poverty of the working-class. It is not the result of unemployment or of illness, or of industrial accident, or of inadequate powers of wealth production. It exists side by side with great wealth and affects the employed as well as the unemployed worker. It is the result of the private ownership by the capitalist class of society’s means of producing and distributing wealth. The facts of this concentration of ownership in the hands of a small minority of the population are well enough known, and Sir William Beveridge is, of course, quite well aware of them. Nor is it a new story. To go back no further than 1904 we have the telling statement of Sir Leo Money: “It is probably true that a group of about 120,000 people who with their families form about one-seventieth part of the population, owns about two-thirds of the entire accumulated wealth of the United Kingdom.” With perhaps some slight modification, that estimate is still true as other, later, investigators have shown. Sir William Beveridge and others like him may answer that they do not believe it necessary or practicable to abolish the system of society which rests on that foundation, but why is that fact about the basis of the capitalist system excluded and deliberately excluded from this and every other official “investigation” into the poverty problem of the working class? And why should the workers allow themselves to be side-tracked by inquiries into poverty which start off by excluding the major factor in the case? In an address to the Fabian Society on November 21st, 1942, Sir William, according to a press report (Sunday Express, November 22) urged the need for “thorough unbiased investigation and discussion,” but he had already stated the scope of the inquiry so as to exclude any investigation into capitalism itself. The problem, he said, “is that of discovering how to combine the proved benefits of private enterprise at private risk . . . with the necessity of national planning in the aftermath of war.” In short he, and those who selected him for the investigation, are only concerned with the problem of alleviating some of the secondary evils of capitalism.

Those who chose him knew what they were doing. They took no chances. Throughout his public career Sir William Beveridge has been a defender of capitalism, confining his diligent inquiries to fields which exclude the question of a frontal attack on the capitalist system. His concern has never been with the problem why are the working class poor, but always with the problem of providing for the periods when the worker’s income from the sale of his labour power ceases. As he wrote in 1924 in his “Insurance for All and Everything” (published by the Daily News, Ltd.) :
“The problem is not that of guaranteeing an income at all times to everybody irrespective of his work and services. That way lies Communism. The problem is the narrower one of giving security against all the main risks of economic life to those who depend on continuous earning, of arranging that part of what such persons earn by their work shall take the form of provision for themselves and their dependants whenever their work is interrupted or stopped by causes beyond their control.” (Page 31.)
In other words, Sir William, accepting the system which gives the privileged class their property-income without the necessity of working, limits his examination to the problem of legislating for the propertyless class. It is all right though for the capitalist to have an “income at all times irrespective of his work and services.”

On occasion Sir William Beveridge has attempted to justify his bias for capitalism and its inequality. He did so in a speech on November 10, 1942 : “To concentrate on absolute equality of incomes for all men is an unpractical and a wrong aim. It attaches excessive importance to material things and treats envy as our master passion” (News-Chronicle, November 11, 1942). Of course nobody ever suggested anything so unpractical as trying to build a social system on private ownership of the means of production and “absolute equality of incomes,” but we need not here go into that caricature of Socialism. What is of interest is the slick defence of our millionaire-pauper system with the ethical argument that to aim at equality attaches excessive importance to material things, and treats envy as our master passion. It was ever the trick of those who have material things monopolised in their control to deprecate the sin of envy in the dispossessed. What, we might ask, of the greed of those whose motto is “What we have, we hold”?

In conclusion, we may quote a passage from Sir Leo Money’s “Riches and Poverty” (1904). Commenting on the way in which reformers of his day ignored the facts about inequality, he used a description which might well be applied to Sir W. Beveridge and othere of his kind : —
“Our most ardent reformers discuss their plans without reference to the economic framework of the society which they propose to reform. As a result we get a vast amount of misdirected effort, a dreary outpouring of vague and empty rhetoric . . . and a succession of timorous proposals for reform ludicrous in relation to the nature and magnitude of the problems with which they seek to deal.”
Something will perhaps result from the Beveridge proposals after they have been discussed elaborately to the exclusion from many workers’ minds of the real poverty problem, and after being scaled down in the customary way. Thus they will serve the main purpose of those who instituted the inquiry, but unless the workers themselves speedily attack the problem of the achievement of Socialism, another ten years will find a new and vain inquiry being started to clear up the mess left behind by Beveridge.

Can Labour govern? (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Can Labour Govern?” was the title of an article which appeared in the Sunday Pictorial of October 4, 1942, in which the editor airs his opinion that the Tories are in bad face with the electorate and that the gap between Parliament and the people is wide. He quotes Mr. Vernon Bartlett from the New Statesman to the effect that an attempt to close the gap need not be in vain, and then gets on with the task of weighing the pros and cons of the new leader—Churchill’s successor—dealing with such men as Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr. Ernest Bevin. Dr. Hugh Dalton, and Mr. E. Shinwell, but leaves the gate open for a back-bencher to emerge.

One other point, and probably the most interesting from the Socialist’s point of view, is that, although the writer distinguishes, between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour Party itself, he is able to make this statement: “For the secret is out—the Parliamentary Labour Party does not believe in Socialism.”

The S.P.G.B. has been telling the working class for years, not merely that the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Committee of that party, do not believe in Socialism, but that they are an organisation which hopes and attempts to reform capitalist society, neither understanding the basic structure of capitalism which it wants to modify, nor Socialism which it claims as its objective. The question that forms the title of the article can be answered with a definite affirmative, the Labour Party can govern the working class in its function of wealth production and the Labour Party can administer capitalism—but only in the interests of the capitalist class; coalition, or “truce” and co-operation with avowed capitalist parties during wartime, and two Labour governments in the interval are ample demonstration of this.

The Labour Party has as its programme that which it calls the “Socialisation” or State control of industry, factories, mines, banks, railways, etc. But this pulls no wool over the eyes of the Socialist, to whom it is unimportant whether the natural development of the present system from its early individualist form to the latest phase (monopoly capitalism) demands a Labour or a Conservative government. The concentration of capital produces a working class that is numerically stronger and relatively poorer : the capitalist class discards its smaller fry and these become sellers of labour-power, meanwhile the richest become more powerful and more obscure behind Boards, Trusts, Corporations, etc. Minor illustrations of this trend were obvious before the present war, such as the London Transport Board, the Central Electricity Board, the Post Office, etc., and the greatest scope in the post-war period will exist for those organisations whose mammoth resources and modern equipment enable them to overwhelm the minor competitors who are unable to maintain the mad rush of production.

Yes, the Labour Party can govern; it can and must make promises which induce the electorate to give it support—but can it keep them ? The Labour government of 1929-1931 did not repeal the Trades Disputes Act; it continued the imposition of test and task work; it was responsible for the bombing of natives of Iraq. Yes—but the leaders were wrong? It was due to Ramsay Mac, or J. H. Thomas, or Snowden—they formed the government but were not in power. None of these excuses is correct; the explanation is that capitalism runs its course irrespective of the minor differences of theory of Messrs. Macdonald, Baldwin, Churchill, Bevin, or Cripps—but there will always be impressive leaders as long as workers desire or tolerate them.

The S.P.G.B. calls upon you workers, you who sell for wages the only commodity that you own—your ability to work—to consider its case—the case for Socialism; consider your position as members of a class that is sweated in in dustry and bled in wars; consider the poverty, misery, disease, and slum life of your fellow workers and class-consciousness—not leaders—will enable you to capture the control of the machinery of government and thereby the means of producing and distributing the wealth that will allow us to live like men. The alternative is existing like slaves.

War and Health (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the beginning of the present conflagration we have been assured by numerous authorities that the nation’s good health has been maintained “beyond all expectations.” Wireless and press, doctors and politicians, have all remarked on this rare and peculiar phenomenon. We also wondered. We thought of Sir John Orr’s statement on pre-war conditions, “that one-third of the nation are not receiving enough food to maintain them in a reasonable standard of health and efficiency.” We thought of the health of the unemployed.

There is no doubt that many workers are better off now, despite food rationing, than they were on their labour exchamge diet. Making bombs and shells requires more fodder than merely sitting on a park bench. We reasoned, though, that a slightly higher intake of food into the workers’ stomachs would be more than offset by the strain and slogging of war production. And then we learned all about the newly discovered virtues of carrots and potatoes, of dried eggs and dehydrated meat; and during the “blitz” we were told of the invigorating effect of a two hours’ sleep. . . . But at last it comes out. An increase in diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and chicken-pox is now reported; there are cases of smallpox in the North; a disturbing rise in tuberculosis, particularly among children, and a rapid growth in the case rate of venereal disease.

Nevertheless we still hear that “the stubborn good health of our people is maintained. We have, thus far. avoided serious epidemics.” Of course, much depends on what our medical experts care to define as a “serious epidemic.” We are inclined to think that the scope of infection will have to be high indeed before any disease conditions are thus described. After all, we must not be too faddy in war time!

However, we are afraid that the health of the workers will surely and quickly deteriorate despite frantic appeals to eat carrots and be inoculated. There is no device known to the doctors that can prevail against the effects of overwork and underfeeding, and the anxieties inseparable from total war. One can appreciate that the health situation is not so pleasant if the chief medical officer is obliged to entertain us over the air with a fireside chat on consumption and syphilis.

It may well be that the number of people killed on the battlefields and through air-raids will be surpassed by the millions destroyed by sickness. The great influenza epidemic that followed the last war is stated to have been responsible for more deaths than were sustained in four years of fighting.

The prospect for the workers to-day is not very hopeful. Many of them are working long hours in badly ventilated factories, are not eating enough nourishing food, and have to live in the vitiated atmosphere of blacked-out rooms. In these circumstances, it is hardly possible that they will be in a fit and proper condition to enjoy the pleasures of the new world order faithfully promised to them by President Roosevelt and Mr. Winston Churchill. Freedom from good health is more likely to be the reward of capitalism’s wage-slaves than freedom from want.

When Mr. Churchill recently addressed the miners’ representatives it was said that he laid before them the “true facts,” and fully explained “the gravity of the situation.” We feel, somehow, that a good discourse on the merits of steak and onions would have been much more to the miners’ taste.

We hold the view that whatever the military outcome of the war may be, its various effects will influence the lives and health of our class. It is quite certain that the workers in the defeated countries will suffer as much as the workers in the victorious countries; they will have the same share of consumption and lunacy, ulcerated stomachs and venereal disease.

Socialist Capitalists and Capitalist-Minded Workers (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader of the Socialist Standard is perturbed because he has just learned that Frederick Engels, who spent a lifetime helping Karl Marx in his work for Socialism, was a wealthy man, and left at his death “the grand sum in property or otherwise of £24,839.” “Surely,” says this reader, “this sum could only have been amassed by the exploitation of his fellow men.”

There is, of course, no secret about Engel’s position. He was the son of a wealthy manufacturer, entered his father’s business and derived his income from that source. Does this, as our reader evidently fears, mean that Engels was not truly a Socialist? Are we to dub him a supporter of the capitalist system from which he obtained his livelihood? It is not difficult to answer the question. Engels’ devoted work for the Socialist movement is all the answer necessary. As can easily be discovered from the facts of Engels’ life and work—if our reader does not know it already—Engels consistently and tirelessly pursued the object of destroying capitalism and establishing Socialism. Indeed, one of his reasons for entering his father’s business was that he could thus be in a position to give financial help to Marx so that Marx could continue his work for Socialism freed from the problem of earning his living.

Our reader’s difficulty probably arises from mixing up things that do not belong to each other. A capitalist is one who lives on income derived from the ownership of capital. A Socialist is one who holds that Socialism is a practical alternative to capitalism and who seeks to establish Socialism. Because of the way in which their class interests and their environment influence their ideas most capitalists are supporters of capitalism and opponents of Socialism, but this is not always or necessarily so. Some individual capitalists, owing to greater understanding of the laws of social evolution, can see that Socialism is a practicable next stage in the development of human society, and become in greater or less degree workers for Socialism. Engels was one, William Morris was another. Surrendering their capitalist source of income in order not to be associated with exploitation has nothing to do with the question, and has little to recommend it anyway. Such action does nothing whatever to end the capitalist system except perhaps that it may, as has been argued, serve as a small gesture to remind other capitalists of the evils produced by the system. It does nothing to help the working class.

Having considered the individual capitalist who becomes a Socialist, now consider the fact, a seemingly much more curious one, that not only individual members of the working class but the overwhelming mass are supporters of the system that exploits them. This is due to the fact that the workers’ environment does not consist solely of his wage-relationship to the capitalist but includes also his subjection from infancy to the ceaseleses propaganda for capitalism conducted through schools, churches, newspapers, the wireless, etc. Only the jolts of the hard experiences of exploitation, plus the flow of the thin stream of Socialist propaganda, counteract this capitalist propaganda, but here in the long run is the only way of ending capitalism. It lies in influencing the mass of workers so that they will appreciate the facts about their position in society and will acquire the knowledge and will to achieve Socialism. Viewed in this light, which is more important ? that Engels and other individuals in his position should make a sacrificial but almost useless gesture of renunciation or that they should use their opportunities for the furtherance of the Socialist movement. The question is convincingly answered in the valuable work that Engels performed both through his own activities and through the support and encouragement he gave to Marx.
Editorial Committee

Did you listen to Smuts? (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Did you listen in to Smuts?” These were the words on everyone’s lips the morning after the veteran politician’s speech. The answer, due to lack of a radio set, was perforce in the negative. So after working very hard all day for the benefit of a bunch of railway shareholders, we sat up burning the landlady’s electric light till 1 a.m. in order to find out what all the pother was about. To-night, still being worn out after the day’s toil, we will endeavour to convey our impressions to paper. The most striking thing about the speech was the resounding flow of words. One might almost say that he out-Churchilled Churchill in this respect. But words, apart from the meaning they convey, matter very little to the scientist or the Socialist. It is impossible, in the now restricted space of the Socialist Standard to deal with the speech in detail—we can only touch upon one or two points of special interest to the toilers of the world.

Let us quote. Speaking of Britain, he says: “I remember this smiling land, recovered and rebuilt after the last war, where a happy people dwelt securely, busy with the tasks and thoughts of peace.” Is this a true picture? Did any of those who heard these words recall to mind the thrice-weekly queue outside the labour exchange, the miserable dole, the means test? Or, when working, the hard toil under the ever watchful eye of the employer’s deputy, always ready to hand out the order of the sack at the slightest sign of slackness, old age, or insubordination?

He must realise that there must be memories of such things, so he holds out a picture of a new world—but a rather subdued new world—not quite so rosy as the “world fit for heroes” of the 1914-18 Lloyd George epoch.

Quoting with approval the vague “Atlantic Charter,” he adds : “We cannot hope to establish a new heaven and a new earth in the bleak world which, will follow after this most destructive conflict of history. But certain patent social and economic evils could be tackled on modest practical lines on an international scale almost at once.”

The nearest he comes to the concrete is when he says : “Health, housing, education, decent social amenities, provision against avoidable insecurities—all these simple goods and much more can be provided for all, and thus a common higher level of life be achieved for all.” A careful reading of the speech seems to indicate that the provision of all these blessings is intended on an international scale. Thus, although we are not going to have so rosy a world as the Lloyd-Georgian one, we are going to have it on a wider scale. But what are these blessings ? We seem to have heard of them all before—in fact, they are as old as capitalism itself. “Health”—who has not heard of “health”—and health insurance. How many experts have pointed out the sapping of health caused by a poverty diet ? “Housing”—the word almost makes one laugh. It is, of course, the housing of the poor they refer to. For the wealthy, there is no housing problem. But, Smuts or no Smuts, there will always be a housing problem under capitalism, because capitalism breeds poverty, and poor people can never afford decent houses. “Decent social amenities”—does he mean the Carlisle public houses, or municipal parks, or what? Or is it just a string of words, that sounds well, but means nothing? “Provision against avoidable insecurities.” Another fine-sounding phrase—but it looks suspiciously like the “dole,” and the word “avoidable” seems to imply that it will not be distributed too lavishly.

Smuts says that “it is no longer a case of Socialism or Communism or any of the other isms of the market place, but of achieving common justice and fair play for all.” Short of Socialism, we would like to know what other means capitalism’s main defect, poverty, and its subsidiary defects—wars, slums, and unemployment—can be remedied. Smuts clearly has in mind the continuance of capitalism, but while there is competition for jobs and competition for markets, talk of justice and fair play is nothing more than a joke. The past history of capitalism should make this clear.

Numerous politicians have called Hitler’s attack on Russia a mistake. Smuts also calls it a mistake. Yet he says : “Baulked in his air attack on London, he saw that it was unsafe to attempt an invasion of Britain before first clearing his rear in Russia.”

Smuts apparently believes in God and the Devil, for, speaking of Hitler’s failure to attack Britain directly the Channel coast was open, he says : “Providence saved us there, and let us admit that the Devil helped him. Such is always the ultimate function of evil in this world.”

The chief evil is that workers continue to support capitalism and thereby do continue to suffer the evils which capitalism produces.

(The quotations are taken from the Daily Telegraph of October 22, 1942.)

Good News for Shareholders (1942)

From the December 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following the British and American occupation of points in Morocco and Algeria, the Times (November 11, 1942) reports that there was a further accession of strength to the stock markets. “The large bulk of the active trading was in the industrial and kindred markets, but the more spectacular gains were in oil and mining shares, Far Eastern issues, and European bonds. . . . The feature of the foreign bond market was the strong demand for European and Ear Eastern loans; Greek bonds were marked up by a further two or three points, French railway bonds by four or five points, and Chinese bonds by three or four points. . . . Oil shares were strong, particularly the Eastern group.”

The Times does not report any simultaneous spectacular rise in the wages of the workers.
R. M.

Voice From The Back: Cold (2000)

The Voice From The Back Column from the December 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard


The death rate from cold in Britain is higher than in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Greece . . . Every winter 26,596 elderly people die in London alone—3,129 in every million-compared to 2,457 in Northern Finland. Evening Mail, 19 September.


Britain is not the only country in which the government and charities help to keep wages too low to live on: “According to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which supplies food to about 420 pantries in the region, roughly 12 percent of the population, or 150,000 people, used a food pantry last year. ‘Half of the adults who get food from us are working,’ said David Sharken, executive director of the food bank. ‘It is a hidden part of this economy. The hidden part is that, while there are jobs and the unemployment rate is fairly low, the kind of jobs that most people have found, for the most part, have no benefits or health care.’ The increased use of food pantries has kept in lockstep with the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill, which went into effect in Massachusetts in 1996 and gave able-bodied welfare recipients two years to find jobs before they were cut off from state cash assistance.” Berkshire Eagle, 15 September.


The suffering, degradation and death that lies behind capitalism’s glitzy exterior of modernisation and progress is exposed when the facts are analysed: “More than 800 million people, 13 percent of the world’s population, suffer from hunger and disease linked to malnutrition, the UN Food and Agriculture said in a report released yesterday.” Herald, 16 September.


The workers of the world are, according to a United Nations report, united in just one thing these days: record levels of stress. What is more, the report warns, anxiety levels are set to dramatically increase in the coming years as globalisation continues its relentless march, and the economic costs for business will be massive. In a landmark survey examining stress in the workplace in five countries, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that levels of anxiety, burnout and depression are spiralling out of control. The problem is costing employers billions of pounds in sick leave and lost working time, and often leaves frayed employees grappling with a series of complex mental disorders for years afterwards. Guardian, 12 October.

The coastal dustbin

The catalogue of disasters revealed by the recent survey carried out on the UK coastal waters by the World Wide Fund for Nature should frighten even the staunchest supporter of capitalism: “All the coastal habitats studied have been extensively damaged, ripped up and reclaimed for development—and two thirds of our fish stocks are over-exploited and heading towards commercial extinction. Many mud flats are so polluted by ‘gender-bender’ man-made chemicals, that male flounder are now displaying female characteristics and even producing eggs. There are serious concerns over plankton, one of the world’s most important sources of oxygen, a vital carbon sink, and the basis of all marine food chains.” (Herald, 20 September.) All of these problems could be solved inside socialism, but in capitalism, a society whose only drive is to make profits, the problems just intensify.


We’ve had Thatcher’s “Land of Opportunity”, Major’s “Classless Society” and Blair’s “Third Way”. But behind the glossy promises what is the reality? “Narrowing the gap between rich and poor could prevent as many as 10,000 premature deaths each year in Britain, according to a report published yesterday. Even a modest redistribution of wealth, restoring inequalities back to their 1983 levels, could save 7,500 under-65s a year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says. Many studies have shown that poverty, unemployment and disadvantage lead to poor health and earlier death. These inequalities have been widening in recent years.” Times, 26 September.

Globalising medicine

Just as it is cheaper to produce running shoes in Asia or Africa, so it is proving cheaper and more “efficient” to conduct clinical trials of drugs in the developing world . . . Given this looser environment, some researchers, particularly in America, have been conducting studies they could not get away with at home. Particularly appalling is the fact that such studies are increasingly backed by the very institutions who in their own nations are the watchdogs of public health . . . Debate has been fuelled by Public Citizens 1997 exposure of unethical Aids research in Africa and Asia under the auspices of US National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Thousands of pregnant women with HIV were given placebos rather than AZT, known to be an effective medication . . . “Putting it bluntly,” says Dr Lurie, “as elsewhere in the globalising economy, we are witnessing a race to the ethical bottom.” Guardian, 5 October.

Tribalism, colonialism and capitalism (2000)

From the December 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
The festering of tribalist, nationalist and racist sentiment are nurtured and sustained by the capitalist system
Within the context of neo-colonial statehood, tribalism is a colonial derivative based on matriarchal or patriarchal relations forged in the distant past and used by an ethnic group as a defensive and an offensive weapon against other groups. The position of some of those who see tribalism as the main cause of Africa’s present social and economic predicament follows a familiar pattern of thinking. The colonialists, according to them, tried to make a nation-state out of a hotch-potch of antagonistic and uncivilised African peoples but failed in their pious mission. The various tribes had age-long hatred for one another and as soon as the colonial power went the natives descended into barbarism maiming and killing each other.

Nationalists in Africa see the matter differently, painting idyllic pictures of the African past and blaming all the tribal conflicts that have erupted after independence solely on colonialism. This viewpoint is as historically incorrect as it is undialectical. Facts abound on how the internal evolution of some African communities before colonialism and mercantile capitalism had provided groups of people the opportunity to appropriate the labour of others, accumulate economic surplus and consequently subjugate other communities. This is a scenario that must have generated a certain level of tribal animosity and discrimination based on economic exploitation and wealth, even if this was on a minor scale compared with the situation in colonial times and the post-independence era. It was these differences that were deliberately and carefully nurtured by the colonialists, and later exploited by the neo-colonial bourgeoisie after independence to keep the people manacled to the capitalist system.

In colonial times
Colonialism whether it was of the British, Belgian, French or German variety was not meant to be a benign enterprise. The motive behind its establishment was one: the exploitation of labour and the accumulation of economic surplus. Consequently, the driving force behind it, capitalism, did not spare the exploitation of labour in both the metropolis and other lands even if it meant spilling blood to fulfil this sordid agenda.

This mercenary impulse had implied increased production, technological expansion, the growth of the external and domestic market and ultimately the annexation and political control of other territories. Tribal groups which stood in the way were, in colonial parlance, pacified. But if, as suggested in some quarters, the colonial enterprise had meant to pacify and carve out viable nation-states capable of competing with metropolitan capitalism, the monopolistic tendency and vampire essence of the profit system would have been still-born. Far from creating problems for itself, its policy towards the people of the colonies was guided by the trinitarian doctrine—atomisation, exploitation and domination. This unfolded in its pattern of social and economic investment in what came to be known as Ghana and before that as the Gold Coast.

British colonial policy encouraged investments in only those areas of the colony which were endowed with mineral and forest resources. This pattern of investment engendered considerable regional variations in terms of the provision of roads, railway lines and social services. Thus the Southern Sector which by virtue of its location abounded in timber, gold and fertile soil benefited far more in terms of infrastructural development than the Northern territories which did not have any known mineral resources. But even in the Southern part of the colony there was discrimination in the provision of amenities on the basis of the contribution to the exportable surplus. The pattern of investment that characterised British economic policy was not born out of any preference for the Asante over the Dagarti, but based on cold capitalist reasoning. After all, some minimum maintenance of workers’ health and education was a reasonable investment since it ensured the maximisation of the extraction of surplus from the worker; and the greedy capitalists by their calculations knew this too well.

How did this promote tribalism? By annexing the Gold Coast and putting the people in a subordinate status, the British colonial power froze any further evolution and consolidation of a national identity. For example, it destroyed the principal catalyst for achieving the unity of fragmented loyalties. Not only did colonialism deprive states like Benin, Oyo and Asante of all their principal vassals and tributary states, but it followed up the process of fragmentation by smashing the basis of the hegemonic power of these states thus giving full rein to all manner of divisive tendencies.

While pretending to be carrying out a mission of uniting the incorrigibly warring tribes British colonial policy consciously and systematically separated the various people, creating conflict and ill-will among them. The colonial government sometimes saw the value of stimulating tribal jealousies so as to keep the colonised from dealing with their principal opposition—the colonial and the emergent African bourgeoisie who together were milking the people.

By categorising the various linguistic subgroups in the Gold Coast—Frafra, Dagarti, Ninkarsi Kusaasi, Dagomba, Akyim, Asante and Fanti—as tribes the colonial regime began to nurture parochial and exclusivist consciousness among people who previously had regarded themselves as one. All official documents in colonial times, for example, required information on the place of origin and ethnic background of the individual. Names were thus suffixed with one’s tribal background and area of origin. Feeling regarded as a member of an ethnic group by others and that they would behave towards you accordingly, individuals began to feel the need to identify more closely with their “kith and kin” and to promote its interest relative to others.

Racist colonial ideology ignored the fact that the people of the Gold Coast shared a common heritage of colonial oppression and colonially-induced capitalist exploitation with its concomitant ills: poverty, ignorance, disease and malnutrition. As a result, its philosophy of determining the inferiority or superiority of a people in terms of the extent to which they had culturally imbibed all what the colonial establishment represented came to dominate the worldview of some Africans.

Colonial ideology and culture operated on the basis of a hierarchy of cultures in which that of the metropolitan bourgeoisie was supposed to be supreme. The culture of the country of origin of the metropolitan bourgeoisie therefore became the standard by which a people’s level of primitiveness or barbarism was determined. The more your thinking, values and mannerisms were close to the colonialists’ the more human you were; and by implication the further your behaviour and outlook were from the masters’ the less human you were. This explained why the rich and educated elite who were products of the colonial educational system did not answer questions in their African dialect but in English. They talked about the opera which they had never seen except from a distance, referred to winter and Buckingham Palace and, above all, adopted a critical attitude towards other Africans who they derogatively referred to as “bush people”.

But the idea of trying to approximate to the coloniser was not only to be found in the relations between the African and the European coloniser. Sometimes Africans tried to approximate their status to other Africans if they thought those individuals enjoyed a higher status. African ethnic groups which had a high number of educated and rich people within them as a result of their long contact with the coloniser tended to feel superior to others. Even if they were poor and illiterate they identified psychologically with those in their tribal group who were rich and educated. It did not matter to the poor Asante, Frafra or Ewe person if all of them were victims of crude exploitation by colonialism and the African bourgeoisie. In their minds, the identification with the tribal big boss and the fact that they came from the same ethnic background was enough, even if it did not ensure the enjoyment of a spoon of marmalade from the master’s table. These exclusivist and warped thinking explained why a poor Asante for example could feel deeply offended if he was mistaken for a Busanga or any other tribe. This not only lead to more barriers between the ethnic groups but effectively undermined their capacity to confront capitalist exploitation. The inter-ethnic struggle for superiority or at least to avoid the stigma of inferiority dissipated the energies of the people.

Tribalism today
The African bourgeoisie which assumed the mantle of power after colonial rule also did not fail to realise the usefulness of tribalism in the struggle against the African masses. Like racial violence in Europe, tribalism was a means to an end: deflecting the anger of the masses from the neo-colonial bourgeoisie and directing it at other members of the working class. In another sense it was the most convenient cover for the capitalist robbers who stole economic surplus from the working class and poor peasants. The attitude of the African bourgeoisie towards the colonial state that it inherited, therefore, was not that of dismantling and radically transforming the exploitative relations of production. It was guided by the desire to inherit the colonial state-machine and seek accommodation with international capital in the extraction of economic surplus from the working people. Consequently, post-independence politics in Africa has witnessed the arousal and manipulation of tribal passions and petty differences among ethnic groups, for the same sordid reasons that the bourgeoisie in Europe sometimes find convenient it to use racism.

The predatory character of capitalism coupled with the hollowness and hypocrisy of the African bourgeoisie created fertile conditions for the festering of this cancerous disposition. Slogans, values and the moral high ground postured by the bourgeoisie as events unfolded long after independence have been blatantly self-serving. As for their masters abroad, the state machinery has now become an important instrument in their quest for capital accumulation at the expense of the masses, whom they claim in political party campaigns to be liberating from poverty, disease, etc. However, given the peculiar historical and economic circumstances in which it has had to evolve it is not an exact carbon copy of its masters abroad.

The African bourgeoisie is more desirous of imbibing the lifestyles and privileges of its overlords in Europe and America than showing the creative and strong interest in production that marked the genesis of the bourgeoisie in Europe. Its extravagance and neo-colonial conditions have been at the core of the steep declines of production levels in recent times, leading to shocking levels of destitution and poverty. But it is precisely these conditions of want that the bourgeoisie has shamelessly manipulated to scuttle the unity of the dispossessed in the towns using tribalism as a tool.

Cruel economic conditions have forced many residents in poverty-stricken suburbs to seek help and protection by means of a network of social obligations, transferring some of their traditional feudal loyalties and institutions to the urban environment. Most ethnic groups in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takordi have installed chiefs to whom they pay allegiance and seek protection. Tribal associations have also been formed to advance the cause of particular ethnic groups and used as sources of benefit: help in finding a job, accommodation, money and credit. People also stick together to make common cause against other tribal groups in the struggle for economic survival in the dog-eat-dog environment that has been created by capitalism.

It is these tribal associations that provide arenas for the various factions of the bourgeoisie to launch offensives and counter-offensives against each other in their struggle for political and economic power. Events in the run-up to this month’s presidential election in Ghana provide ample testimony of this, as many of such groups with the backing of the bourgeoisie have sprung up, all seeking to advance the interest of the bourgeoisie in the various ethnic groups. They have organised and whipped up the sentiments of the lower strata of their tribespeople against rivals belonging to different ethnic groups. They have created the impression that it is only when one of your tribesmen is at the helm of affairs that you can have a fair share of national development and individual personal advancement. Consequently, where a presidential or vice-presidential candidate comes from has become extremely important.

But as it has always been the case after every election, and will surely be the case after this month’s elections, that those factions that win the election will easily forget about the ethnic support base they so subtly manipulated to propel themselves to power. They will shun the company of their poor tribespeople who supported them and will fraternise closely with their allies in other ethnic groups. The rancour and bitterness that characterised their relations will soon be forgotten, except on political party platforms. They will play tennis, billiards and golf together and discuss lucrative business contracts in posh hotels. As for their indigent brethren who had worked tirelessly to put them in power, they will have to start thinking seriously about how to pay school fees, feed the family, and get good accommodation.

The festering of tribalist, nationalist and racist sentiment are nurtured and sustained by the capitalist system of production which produces only for profits and not for needs. The abolition of the profit system and its replacement with socialism based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for production and distribution would put an end to discrimination and bigotry. But this cannot happen unless people understand and see the need for this kind of change. More than ever before, the formation of socialist parties in Africa to take up the task of spreading the socialist message has become urgent.
Adongo Aidan Avugma