Saturday, January 29, 2022

Letter: Capitalist Rewards and Responsibilities. Is the Worker Free? (1941)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following letter has been received from Mr. Maurice Hely-Hutchinson, M.P. : —

House of Commons, S.W.1. 
November 30th, 1940.



I write to thank you for your courtesy in sending me a copy of your issue of November, 1940, containing an article entitled “Incentive Under Socialism” over the signature “H.,” in which the writer points to some actual and some apparent exceptions to a general statement of mine that “there must be a hierarchy of incomes if there is to be a hierarchy of responsibility.”

The article is all the more stimulating because it is both pleasantly and temperately stated. I do not know to what extent it may be your policy to open your columns to a reply, but may I say at the outset that as the “truths” of “Capitalism” rest on an empirical rather than a doctrinal basis, then if, and to the extent that they fail in practical application, they call for qualification.

As a background to a reply, here, in very condensed form, are some of these “truths” ; and it will be apparent that each one of them falls short of universal application. Indeed, as I think Aristotle taught, the only abstract truths are mathematical; in life itself, there can be no such thing as truth and justice except in relation to a set of facts.

The fundamental human urge is parentage. The unit of society is the family, not the individual or the State; and, as the late Pope declared, “The Head of the Family is above the State.”

The bias of capitalism is towards personal rather than collective responsibility. Some form of reward is necessary to induce people to accept increased responsibility. Hemmed in as most of us are by pitiless circumstance—and this applies not only to the poor—this reward must be in most cases, to a great extent, material. This does not exclude other forms of reward. It is possible, for example, to give instances of persons who have refused Cabinet Office not directly on account of the loss of income involved, but because that loss of income would have involved sacrificing their children’s education: otherwise they would gladly have accept the lesser income.

The maximum of satisfaction is likely to result from leaving people free, as far as possible to contract for their own goods and services, to their own best advantage as they see it (undoubtedly this will not prevent some people being dissatisfied with the result), and to take the consequences of their decisions, e.g., of rating their goods or services so high that they fail to sell them. It is undesirable that an Officer of the State should be the judge of individual advantage, for tastes differ.

Enterprise and invention are essentially qualities of the individual. The State is only a fabric of organisation, it has no personal life. While many activities, especially those which have themselves become standardised can best be conducted—and are so conducted—by the State, improvements and extensions, and new activities are most likely to come into being as a result of individuals using their own initiative in pursuit of what they conceive to be their own advantage.

As Henry Maine wrote, the history of emancipation is the story of progress from “status” to “contract.”
As a result of freedom of contract many anomalies appear. But no substitute which the wit of man can devise will ever prevent strong men and beautiful women from getting more than their neighbours. Is this a bad thing? Admittedly it is easier to grieve with the sad than to rejoice with the glad—but that is because of the universality of jealousy. It is untrue that all men are equal; nor is it desirable that either they or their circumstances should be; there must be a difference of potential if the current is to flow ; nor can it be said that social justice will be achieved by seeking to make all men lie on the bed of Procrustes.

It is not possible to conceive of productive property save in conjunction with the idea of management, and of responsibility therefor. There can be no such thing as wealth without intelligent direction; the tests of intelligence must, from the nature of things, be empirical rather than theoretical; there is no mechanical substitute for judgment. It is because of the association of productive property with management that the State has from the earliest times recognised and supported the testamentary power, to ensure the continuity of management and therefore of production; and parallel with the growth of forms of property divorced from the responsibility of management, e.g., stocks, shares and particularly debentures, taxation of unearned income and on property passing at death has progressively increased. As to the concentration of large, or relatively large amounts of property in individual hands, this is to the advantage of the community if the owner’s capacity for management is above the average. If it is not, nothing can long prevent a fool and his money from being soon parted. Bankruptcy and the sack are the safety-valves of capitalism. The noise of history is made by the clatter of the wooden sabots going upstairs and the “frou-frou” of the silken petticoats coming down.

Finally, Sir, let me acknowledge the truth of what Taussig, the American economist, once wrote. So long as life presents to one man the chances of battle, of reward for accomplishment, of great prizes for the taking of great risks or the exercise of great talents, while to another it presents nothing but the intolerable prospect of hopeless competition with better equipped superiors, so long will the endless debate as to the relative merits of private enterprise and Socialism continue.
Yours faithfully,
Mr. Maurice Hely-Hutchinson.

Our correspondent, Mr. Hely-Hutchinson, covers a great deal of ground in his letter, so much, indeed, that it is impossible to deal with each separate point. There is, however, a general observation that can be made on the whole letter. While giving an account of what are described as the truths of Capitalism, and explaining why they are only partly applied, Mr. Hely-Hutchinson does not explain what is the ultimate basis of these “truths.”

Is the ultimate basis nature, including human nature ? Or is it, as Socialists perceive, the particular form of private ownership known as the Capitalist form? If these “Capitalist truths” are merely the ways of adjusting industry to the needs of the privileged class, then it is necessary for our correspondent to go farther into the question of having a different basis (common ownership) for which these adjustments will not be required.

While it may be highly convenient, under Capitalism, to make some approximation to relating the wages of grades of workers to their degree of responsibility to the Capitalist for the safeguarding of his property, no such need will exist when Socialism replaces Capitalism, and there is no longer a wages system. Socialists do not agree that human beings cannot and will not accept responsibility except on the condition that it carries a higher income. All kinds of voluntary activities carried on now show this to be untrue. Mr. Maurice Hely-Hutchinson will readilv recognise this in the conduct of voluntary political organisations (the S.P.G.B. among them), and in the field of amateur athletics, dramatic societies, choirs, music societies, expeditions of exploration, etc. A very large part of the population habitually accept responsibility in some activity or other for which they do not receive an additional income.

Conversely, and this is vital for the apologists of Capitalism, a willingness and capacity to accept responsibility has exceedingly little to do with the ownership of property to-day. At one time the apologists would have maintained that Capitalists are “self-made men,” and that this demonstrates their superior right to own property. Nowadays, this is utterly untenable since it is common knowledge that the great bulk of the wealth of the present generation of Capitalists is inherited. Mr. Hely-Hutchinson offers instead the plea that “nothing can long prevent a fool and his money from being soon parted,” but this, again, does not now accord with the facts. The wealthy “fool” has his investments spread over many concerns, and has at his disposal paid advisers who are not fools.

Again, personal responsibility for the management and direction of industry is becoming the exception. Personal responsibility is merged into the collective responsibility of companies, corporations, etc., and it is not true that “there can be no such thing as wealth without intelligent direction.”

In the concluding paragraph of his letter, Mr. Hely-.Hutchinson quotes a passage from the American Economist, Taussig. If Taussig meant that the propertyless workers are always at an enormous disadvantage as compared with the few who own the means of production and distribution, and that out of this arises the workers’ growing interest in Socialism, Socialists can agree. But there is nothing to indicate that either Taussig or our correspondent really appreciates the truth about the workers’ disadvantageous position. Elsewhere in his letter Mr. Hely-Hutchinson refers to Henry Maine’s theory that “the history of emancipation is the story of progress from status to contract.” It is interesting here to consider the words used by Maine in his “Ancient Law” (end of Chapter V). He says: —
  “Starting . . . from a condition of society in which all the relations of Persons are summed-up in the relations of Family, we seem to have steadily moved towards a phase of social order in which all these relations arise from the free agreement of individuals.”
He goes on to say that “the status of the slave has disappeared—it has been superseded by the contractual relation of the servant to his master.”

The important point to notice about this is that Maine thought he could see “the free agreement of individuals.” Socialists point out that there is not, and cannot be, any such thing as “free” agreement of workers and employers, because the workers are without access to the means of production and distribution, except by the consent of, and on the conditions laid down bv, the owners. The progress envisaged bv Maine has only run half its course. Socialism will finish it and achieve actual emancipation.

Briefly replying to other points in the letter, it is surely wrong that “the fundamental human urge is parentage”—before it comes hunger. And the unit of Capitalist society is not the family—the State applies its penalties to the individual in the main.

Also, though, perhaps, this is a matter of taste and opinion, is it really true that all our Capitalists are “strong men and beautiful women”? Who are these company directors and millionaire captains of industry who frequent the spas ? And is Lady X——? really beautiful?
Edgar Hardcastle

The Mixed Blessing of Big Canadian Wheat Harvests (1941)

From the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

On November 19th two newspapers, the Manchester Guardian and the News Chronicle, both published some observations on the bumper harvest in Canada. The Guardian had a letter from Mr. Robert Tasker, M.P., who asked that “in the midst of our thanksgiving for the home harvest let us hold in grateful remembrance this year the bounty of the Empire crop. . . . All told, Canada will have about 730,000,000 bushels of wheat this season, as against 591,000,000 a year ago.”

In the News Chronicle Mr. Reuben Hogg was not quite so certain as Mr. Tasker. He wrote at length on the necessity of prompt and drastic steps to deal with this bounty. It will mean, he wrote, “that Canada has an exportable surplus equal to the entire world’s peace-time needs for about 14 months. But actually only about a quarter of Canada’s surplus is likely to be exported before her next harvest. A very large quantity will have to be carried forward . . . .”

Here enters problem number one, for the Canadian banks “are naturally hesitant to advance money for wheat that may never be marketed.” So the Canadian farmer will be the first to curse the superabundance of wheat.

Then there will be repercussions on British agriculture—”Farmers at home cannot see these surpluses accumulating with equanimity. Remembering the collapse in British agriculture that followed the last war, they are wondering more and more if things are not beginning to point to a repetition of that sad event.” Then there is the Argentine : —
 “The Argentine faces a similar problem with maize, for which a surplus of 25,500,000 quarters is anticipated next April. Unsold feeding stuffs are also piling up elsewhere, particularly in parts of the French Empire. It is said that Indo-China alone has a million tons of feeding stuffs held up and unsold.”
So although the bumper Canadian harvest may make it easier to supply the demand in Britain during the war, it looks as if Mr. Tasker’s thanksgiving for Nature’s bounty will not be shared by quite a number of people.

Capitalism is indeed a curious system of society.
Edgar Hardcastle

No Compromise (1941)

From the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent successful operations by Greece and Britain against Italy have given rise to a feeling of optimism amongst the unthinking section of the proletariat: one frequently hears the opinion expressed that the war will be over very shortly, or that it will not last beyond the spring.

A moment’s reflection enables one to see that the wish is father to the thought: there are as yet no signs of the end; everything points to the fact that hostilities are only just beginning.

It is to be noted that the Prime Minister is extremely cautious when he speaks on recent events. He infers that the situation is hopeful, but this is unaccompanied by any prophecy indicative of a knowledge of something likely to bring about a quick finish.

The Radio and the Press are supposed to supply us with information in regard to what is transpiring, and one would have thought that the recent wonderful improvements in the methods of communication, etc., could be of great service in this connection, but, alas! though much is written and spoken, very little is said. That which appertains to the real position is for the initiated to know; a wise ruling class sifts the news and decides what shall constitute the mental pabulum of the wealth-producing section of the community.

The working class in the main think in accordance with what their masters have put into their heads: so long as the wage slave views life from the same standpoint as the exploiter, he will dance to any tune his master cares to play; he will work, fight, join the ranks of the employed or unemployed at the word of command, and justify or explain his conduct as his tutors have decreed he should.

This war is said to be a fight to a finish between Dictatorship and Democracy. We are not indifferent in regard to the issue, but we are not so enthusiastic as we are told everybody else is. It is plain that under a Dictatorship you are robotised: you do not think, you obey; under a Democracy yon imbibe ideas, carefully fostered, which result in causing you to believe you are following your own inclinations when safeguarding ruling class interests.

We much prefer a Democracy to a Dictatorship. We have been brought up that way, but when we see the dangling carrots held in front of the donkey to induce him to pull the load, we are wise to the game. In peace or war, so long as Capitalism shall last, the wage slave is doomed to drag his weary burden, and to receive as a recompense just about sufficient to enable him to do so. The promises regarding the improvement to be made in his lot after the war are on a par with those made to his predecessor.

“The proletariat cannot raise itself without the whole of Society being sprung into the air.” Even were our masters desirous of increasing our wages or improving our standard of living, they could only do so within certain limits. If they can get more out of us when on the job, they can put a little more into us. They can improve the quality of labour power and get more production and—increased profits.

Relatively, the wage worker’s position declines, though his standard of living may be higher than that of his grandfather. Man is a social animal, and those now living should have their lot judged in accordance with the times in which they live; the future of the upper strata of Capitalist society is being safeguarded now as far as is humanly possible; that of the lower is left to the future winds of chance. There is no outspoken demand outside Socialist circles for the common ownership of the means of life : the henchmen of our masters never even hint that such a change is desirable; all the propaganda emanating from the master class, and even from platforms of the Labour and Communist Parties is designed to induce the working class to give up their Socialist birthright in exchange for a mess of Capitalist pottage. Why is State ownership pedalled as Socialism if not to trap the minds of the unthinking and the unwary? The crimes of Dictators smell to high Heaven, and the hypocrisy of the leaders of Democracy arouse disgust amongst those to whom working class interests are paramount. Now, as never before, we must hew to the line. Amidst the chaos and confusion, the greed and the graft which Capitalism entails and the war intensifies, we must stand for Socialism. Capitalism has its own economic laws which work in defiance of the decrees of governments or the platitudes of politicians : things are not going to be better after the war if the system is maintained, but a jolly sight worse, no matter which gang of exploiters happens to be in control of the reins of power.

The war will undoubtedly shake Capitalism to its foundations, but unless the working class organise to abolish the wages system, the mechanism of exploitation will survive the struggle, and this means that the relative positions of wage slave and Capitalist will be maintained, and labour power remain in the category of a commodity.

When a Greek sticks a bayonet into an Italian fellow-worker on an Albanian mountain side, one may ask what induced both of them to go there ? The reply, obviously, is that one was sent by the Greek ruling class, and the other by Mussolini; the latter was desirous of subjugating Greece and sent soldiers for that purpose; the Italian working men were driven back by Greek working men. The property of Greek Capitalists was safeguarded by those who do not own it. If the invasion had succeeded, the Italian working class would have derived no benefit from the enterprise. War, from the standpoint of working class interests, is a ghastly tragedy; it is the price we pay for the luxury we are supposed to enjoy under Capitalism. Mussolini has not hesitated to use the most brutal methods to attain his ends; he has been ruthless, he has mercilessly exploited the Italian people for his own self-aggrandisement. Force, however, has its limits. Those rulers who rely solely upon this means of subjugation will shortly realise to the full the truth of the maxim of Napoleon, “You can do anything with bayonets except sit upon them.”

King Winter is just commencing his yearly reign. He will be followed by King Famine and King Fever. Millions will suffer from cold, starvation and disease. Countless numbers are already doomed to agonising deaths. Although we in this country may be relatively fortunate in this connection, we shall not escape those horrors which war brings upon the working class of a country involved in a war.

The policy of Britain in Europe is the maintenance of the Balance of Power. The ruling class of this country will never allow any single nation to dominate the European Continent. To do so would be to pave the way for the dissolution of the Empire. Consequently, we may expect our masters to stake everything on the outcome and fight it out to a finish. As the resources which Britain can command are greater than those Germany possesses, or can obtain, in the view of the writer the latter is doomed to defeat.

There is, however, no peace under Capitalism, and if the system is allowed to continue, the overthrow of vampire Hitler does not mean the abolition of war. Neither Russia, Japan, or any other Capitalist nation has the slightest intention of beating their swords into plough shares. Russian “Communism”‘ German Nazi-ism, and Italian Fascism are different sects of the same religion, which is not, as the followers of Hitler would describe it, “National Socialism,” but can only be defined correctly as National Capitalism.

Although Britain can be expected to win the war, the people of Britain cannot expect to win the peace, no matter what is attempted by the ruling class in the way of social reform. In a Capitalist sense this country is handicapped; her natural resources, except coal, are practically exhausted; she has few natural means of producing power cheaply, and in a competitive world she is thus in a bad position as an industrial nation. Trade may be expected to move westward, the Pacific Ocean will probably supersede the Atlantic as the highway of commerce. After the war, the workers of Britain will be fighting a rearguard action, trying to defend a declining standard of living. The working class in a country where Capitalism is developing, where new means of production are being produced and operated, are relatively in a favourable economic position, and are therefore able to win certain concessions from their exploiters; they act and save the movement from stagnation.

As for us, who are seared with the brand, let us remember, at all times and under all circumstances, that the class struggle is the guide to tactics: we rejoice in the fact that thousands of Italian workers are refusing to fight for Mussolini, and we look forward to the time when all who live by selling their labour power will refuse to support those who run Capitalism, and organise for the express purpose of transforming the present social order into something nearer to the heart’s desire.

It is quite true to state that the present issue is an issue between a Capitalist Dictatorship and a Capitalist Democracy. We freely acknowledge that we prefer the latter, because, under a Democracy, there is a better chance for the laws of social evolution to work themselves out without unnecessary violence.

On the class issue, however, we are adamant. Our slogan is, “No Compromise.” We extend the hand of comradeship and fraternity to all workers in all lands who, like ourselves, stand without equivocation for Socialism.
Charles Lestor

Sacrifice and the Influence of Money (1941)

From the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Constant appeals are being made to us for war savings. We are asked to save to the limit. Sir Robert Kindersley says : —
 “Pennies, sixpences, shillings, pounds—all are needed to reach the goal. Let us hold nothing back that we can spare. And when I say “spare,” I mean by saving to the point of sacrifice.”—(Sunday Express, November 17th, 1940.)
When we read these words addressed to workers we wonder if people in the economically sheltered position of Sir Robert Kindersley have any real conception of the workers’ position and social circumstances. The workers are always saving to the point of sacrifice if they have a penny over at the end of the week after paying for absolute necessities, which include some minor means of enjoyment. In fact, they have to go without many things that are really necessities because they have not the money to pay for them, and they suffer accordingly.

When one compares appeals like that with contemporary actions, one is struck by the overwhelming influence of private property and profit making on the actions of people even at a time of self-confessed dire national crisis. The very same paper that reports the above appeal also has a few paragraphs on ”Ramp in Leeks,” from which it appears that on account of the onion shortage a ramp in leeks is starting, and four-pence worth of leeks now costs three shillings !

A further illustration of the evil influence of money is provided by an instance that has been brought to the writer’s notice. Although all London traffic is under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board, which appeals to the public to stagger hours and do what they can to ease the transport difficulties, yet a person holding an underground season ticket from Baker Street to the Bank may not use the alternative service of the buses unless the underground is out of action—because he has paid for a ticket on the underground. If he goes by bus he must pay again. One sees here how, even under the fiction of public control, and even though the buses be nearly empty and the underground packed to suffocation, people are still only allowed to use the particular service they paid for. Sacrifice does not enter into the question, money is the all-important guiding principle.

Again women and children of the poor are urged to evacuate from London to areas where they are less likely to suffer the horrors of bombing. Among the reasons that prevent them from going some women have pointed out that one of the principal obstacles is providing the necessary warm clothing and boots required by children in country districts. A magnanimous government has informed them that they can be supplied with these necessities, and instead of paying for them all at once, payment can be spread over a few weeks—like the hire purchase arrangements with which the poor are only too familiar. As these people cannot even afford to adopt such a procedure it has not apparently occurred to the authorities that the solution of the problem is to supply the article in question for nothing—a simple and reasonable way out of the difficulty. Why ? Because the idea of giving something for nothing is repugnant to the system we live in to-day—unless that something is profit.

Another instance which appears in the same paper (the Sunday Express), illustrating the chasm between poverty and riches, the privilege of having money and the penalty of being without, is contained in the report of the case of Captain Marenday, imprisoned for taking an unauthorised photograph. In his story Captain Marenday made the following statement: —
“Later they put me in a bay of the prison (Brixton) and I was given the special privileges of a remand prisoner. All of us there were able to order our own food from restaurants outside. Always providing we were ready to pay for it.”
So that privilege even extends to prison, and the remanded rich man can eat luxuriously while the remanded poor must keep to prison fare. A queer twist to the idea of freedom and democracy and one born out of the power of money.

Notes by the Way: Workers Sacked for their Opinions (1941)

The Notes by the Way Column from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers Sacked for their Opinions

A case came before the Court recently in which three workers claimed that it was illegal, under the National Service Act, for their employers (a Co-operative Society!) to sack them merely because they were conscientious objectors. The magistrate, quite properly, confined himself to the legal position, and refused to express any opinion on the action of the Co-operative Society, but his judgment made it clear that not only under that Act, but also at Common Law, it is quite legal for an employer to dismiss his workers because he does not like their opinions.

The following extract from the judgment of the Huddersfield Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr. W. R. Briggs, is taken from The Manchester Guardian (October 29th, 1940): —
 “The evidence was, and he had already found as a fact, that each complainant was dismissed because he was a conscientious objector. No man was bound to employ another of whose opinions or conduct he disapproved, and provided that he gave the proper amount of notice an employer might dismiss his employee for any or no reason.  
  It was possible that there might be employers who would dismiss a man because he was a Conservative or a Communist, a trade unionist or a non-unionist, a Roman Catholic or an atheist. Such action might or might not be reprehensible— he expressed no opinion on that point—but if the proper notice was given it would certainly not be illegal. Similarly in his opinion it was not illegal either at Common Law or under the Act to dismiss an employee because his religious beliefs made him a conscientious objector. For these reasons he was of opinion that the prosecution had failed to establish the commission of any offence and all the summonses would be dismissed.”
The defenders of Capitalism will say, of course, that the wages contract is a free contract between worker and employer, and it is free to the worker to leave because he does not like his employer’s views just as it is open to the employer to dismiss the worker. The notion of equality before the law is nonsense. The worker faces the loss of his livelihood, while the employer is at most slightly inconvenienced if a worker leaves.

The absurdity of the law can be seen from another angle, the activities of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology and similar bodies. For example, in the April, 1940, issue of their journal, “Occupational Psychology,” is a report by two investigators who used various tests to discover why a number of unemployed girls came to be out of work. The investigators studied the “intelligence” of the girls in the light of various intelligence tests (The so called “Dotting Test,” under which “the subject” ims through a slot at a number of paper discs fixed on a rotating plate, is worthy of notice by “Beachcomber”). The investigators and the Institute are no doubt thoroughly reliable, there is no trouble they will not go to, and no field of inquiry is closed to them— well, no field except one. Never on any occasion are they called in by the workers to conduct Dotting Tests or any other tests, on the intelligence, diligence, nervous stability, etc., etc., of the shareholders, directors, or other bosses in the concern. Nowhere do they ever conduct intelligence tests based on the principle that the more intelligent the worker the mere he or she resents the privileged position of the propertied class and the crass stupidity of the present industrial arrangements for which the latter are responsible.

Among all the very clever people who conduct investigations, including all the bright brains known as captains of industry, and the thousands of inventive geniuses, not one can rise to the slight insight and imagination required to see that industry could be (and will be under Socialism) run on a basis which will separate working from getting a living. Every one of them accepts it as a kind of inescapable law of nature that the worker (but not the Capitalist) shall only get a living if and while he can get an employer to approve of him (and his opinions). They fondly imagine, if they ever think about it at all, that unless the threat of the sack is always held over the heads of the workers, work would cease and all would die of starvation. They do not understand the obvious fact that the cult of dislike for work is itself simply a product, on the one side, of the Capitalist’s snobbish contempt for those who have to work because they are propertyless, and on the other, of the workers’ resentment of the conditions under which they have to work. Socialism will have its problems, but this will not be one that will be of dimensions sufficient to cause anyone the slightest disquiet.

* * *

A New World Order for Millionaires

New world orders are all the rage to-day, though some of them do not look very new. On the day that the Press published an account of Mr. Herbert Morrison’s outline of his new world order, the Ministry of Information issued a pronouncement from which it seems that the new order is already in being in the British Empire. When the Ministry claims (Daily Herald, December 12th, 1940) that “This is the only kind of World Order worth having—the only guarantee of security and happiness when the war is over,” they are very optimistic if they think that it will look so attractive to the populations of countries outside the Empire. The Daily Herald wants the Government to issue a statement of war aims, “making it clear that we are fighting for a new kind of world” (December 12th), but at the same time it wants the statement to be one “to which every party subscribes, and which carries the endorsement of the whole Commonwealth.” What sort of statement is it going to be if it fulfils the condition? Plainly, if it has got to be endorsed by the Conservative Party, it will be about as new and attractive as the kind of new world produced after the last war. It will certainly not be the only kind of new world worth having, a Socialist world. In his speech at the Dorchester Hotel, Mr. Morrison wanted an end to social insecurity and of a state of things “where millions go in need while supplies are deliberately kept short, or prices high, so that profits may be safeguarded,” but if the Daily Herald report is correct, he nowhere pointed to the cause, the class division of society. Had he done so, it would certainly not have been possible for one of his audience, Lord Nuffield, to say to the Chairman, Lord Nathan, afterwards, “I agree with every word of the speech—and I am a millionaire.” (Daily Herald, December 12th.) Another sidelight on the meeting was the statement attributed to Mr. Morrison by the Evening Standard (December 12th): ” I want change so big that I do not like to tell you about it.”

* * *

War has a Logic of its Own

Molotov has been reported to have said, recently, that war has a logic of its own. This is something worth considering by anyone who thinks that war can be waged under all kinds of restrictions designed to curb its ferocity. The following passage is taken from General de Gaulle’s “The Army of the Future “: —
  “If war is, in essence, destructive, the ideal of those who wage it remains, none the less, economy, the least massacre with the greatest results; a combination of forces making use of death, suffering and terror in order to attain the goal as quickly as possible, and so put an end to all three.”
As Alexander Werth says, in the Manchester Guardian (December 3rd, 1940): “Except, perhaps, for the last few words, the German Generals would no doubt fully subscribe to these sentiments.”

* * *

Mr, Maurice Webb Makes a Discovery

Mr. Maurice Webb writes articles for the Daily Herald. He shares their political views, and supports the Labour Party policy on war. That is to say, he has for years preached that it was necessary to “stand up to Fascism,” even if that meant waging war against the Fascist countries. He believes that there was no other way of securing peace and Democracy for the world’s workers. He not only held these views, but he took it upon himself, in the columns of the Daily Herald, to teach these things to others, who, in his view, had not grasped the truth about world affairs. Now those who set up as teachers are in effect assuring those who listen to them that they have learned before teaching and have fully considered the consequences of what they say should be done. But Mr. Maurice Webb, it seems, did not do this. It is only now, when the war is well into its second year, that he has begun to notice what war is, and what it does.

At the beginning he was full of that curious belief that we were all very friendly towards the German workers, and that the war was being waged not only for us but also for them. We would, he thought, just strike a blow to remove their oppressors, and then, all free men joined together in amity, we would set the world aright. Only Mr. Webb had quite forgotten to study war, its consequences, and the way it has to be waged. So now he has had a shock. He wrote an article, in the style that his readers adored at Christmas, 1939, only to find that this Christmas his readers, or many of them, have moved on and don’t want that kind of stuff any more. They have been bombed and they think differently.

He still thinks in terms of “Peace without vengeance.” They want vengeance, and plenty of it. In the Daily Herald of December 7th, he reproduces extracts from their letters. For them the German people are snakes in the grass, “and must be ruthlessly exterminated.” Likewise the Japs The German is “a loathsome beast.” Emphatically, “there are no good Germans.” “Grind them down to misery and poverty for a million years.”Wipe the damned lot off the face of the earth.” Poor Mr. Webb says, sadly, “there can be little doubt that the majority of Britons are beginning to nurse very bitter feelings towards the German people.”

Now Mr. Webb is in a quandary. If we are to have permanent peace, there must be no vengeance after the war, but the Allied Statesmen will not be able to succeed in that task, he says, if they have at their backs “hosts of envenomed ‘clean sweepers’ urging them on to suicidal and ruinous policies.” It looks, indeed, as if Mr. Webb is almost convinced already that the kind of peace he says we must have is just the kind of peace his readers decidedly will not accept. They have had a bitter dose of war, and the consequence is just what everyone expected who had seriously taken note of what modern war is and what it does. But Mr. Webb was not one of these. He did not share the Socialist view that war sets in motion all sorts of destructive forces which make it impossible for war to be the kind of benevolent, constructive agent he thought possible.

If Mr. Webb is now learning his lesson and taking a responsible view of things, perhaps he will let us have his second and more useful thoughts. We would like to hear from Mr. Webb what he now thinks about his past notions.

* * *

The Profiteer

Socialists want to see the end of the profit system altogether, and have always thought the popular attitude to what is called “profiteering” an odd one. If it is good and necessary to encourage the making of profit, why try to limit it? Can there be too much of a good thing ?

Logical or not, war always brings a popular outcry against what are called profiteers. But when this war broke out, all the newspapers and politicians were agreed that it would be run on different lines from the last. Never again would there be big increases of prices, and emphatically not the making of big profits.

The following, however, is taken from the Sunday Express (December I5th, 1940): —
  “The food profiteer is among us. He is making a lot of money. Last week hundreds of complaints concerning the swiftly rising prices of all kinds of unrationed food were received by the Food Ministry.

  They alleged unfair distribution of food and “illegal conditions of sale” imposed by some brokers and wholesalers upon shopkeepers.

  Another charge was that fixed price orders were being sidetracked by unscrupulous buyers.

   Lord Woolton, the Minister, has now stated that anyone found imposing “conditions of sale” or buying over the fixed price will be prosecuted. Reports by his investigators will be placed before him to-morrow.

   This much has been established. Huge profits in food are being made by someone, or some group of people, at present unidentified.”

* * *

Who Will Civilise America ? 

Mr. Robert Lynd, in a review of a book called “America, Our Ally,” by H. N. Brailsford, summarises Mr. Brailsford’s views thus: —
 “He advocates the liberation of India as the best way in which to impress America of the sincerity of British professions, and he urges America to throw herself wholeheartedly into the war, to send men as well as money, in order to establish a civilisation that will ensure to all belligerent peoples security and work.—(News-Chronicle, December 2nd, 1940.)
Mr. Lynd finds himself in agreement with the author of the book, but what simplicity lies in their hopes. They assume that India (does this mean the Indian peasant and workers?) will be “liberated” through a change in the relationship of the British Empire. Yet they must know that such a change, even if it meant complete severance, would still leave the mass of Indians enslaved to their own native-born ruling class. Next they assume that a desire to impress American opinion of their sincerity is a factor of vital importance to the British interests that stand for the retention of India. Why should it be? Equally flimsy is their expectation that those who at present control the United States will be concerned with establishing a new and better social order for the benefit of the populations of the European countries at war. Before inviting these rulers of America to put Europe right, Mr. Brailsford might have asked what the same gentlemen have done to America. In a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph (August 9th, 1940) it was reported from New York that there are in the U.S.A. more than 50 persons whose yearly income is £200,000 or more, and according to the Manchester Guardian (November 21st, 1940) a mere 13 families in that country control as part of their fortunes £540 million worth of securities in 200 of the leading corporations. This information was published in a report by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, and the same report disclosed that this colossal wealth represents only a part of the total possessions of the 13 families.

Among the 13 are Fords, with upwards of £120 million; Du Ponts, with over £110 million; and Rockefellers, with £80 million or more. This, be it noted, is after eight years of Roosevelt’s administration.

The necessary accompaniment of this accumulation of American resources in the hands of these and other industrial and financial barons is the existence of extreme poverty in the ranks of the workers, millions of unemployed, widespread undernourishment and all the other evils of capitalist civilisation. One aspect of this has again been brought to light when conscripts were called up under the compulsory military training scheme. According to the New York correspondent of the Daily Telegraph (November 28th, 1940), “much surprise has been caused by the large proportion of men called up …. but rejected by army doctors. Although these men had been passed as physically fit by a medical examiner who assisted the local selective boards, many who are now reporting for duty are being sent home again, principally on the grounds that teeth or eyesight are not up to army standards. It is estimated that rejections are roughly at the rate of one in four . . . .”

Before Mr. Brailsford concluded that the Fords, Du Fonts, Rockefellers and their like are to be the civilisers of Europe, he should have wondered when the American workers are going to begin a little job of civilising at home.
Edgar Hardcastle

“S.S.” difficulties (1941)

Party News from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have had some difficulty in getting the “SOCIALIST STANDARD” out this month. The type for the issue was set up ready for printing but was destroyed during one of the bomb attacks on London. Some of the articles have been lost and the continuation of the “War: Offensive and Defensive Methods” will have to be re-written. Portions of other articles have also disappeared.

Appeal for the “Socialist Standard” (1941)

Party News from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers will be aware that during recent months we have been losing heavily on THE SOCIALIST STANDARD. Sales have fallen owing to the difficulties of holding meetings and of distribution. On the other side, costs have risen. One method of reducing the loss is to cut down the number of pages. This will have to be done unless other methods are found. We therefore ask all those who can afford to do so to send donations to enable us to keep the “S.S.” at its present size. The need is urgent. Send donations to the Treasurer, 42, Great Dover Street, S.E.1. Postal Orders and cheques should be crossed.

Voice From The Back: Never Steal Anything (2006)

The Voice From The Back Column from the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Never Steal Anything 

The owning class through their schoolrooms and churches are forever telling young workers never to steal, but in reality the capitalists turn out to be the biggest thieves of all. “Fraud is costing British business £72 billion a year, according to a report out this week. Despite the warning of recent corporate scandals involving Enron, WorldCom, Parmalat and Refco, UK companies are still estimated to be losing 6 per cent of their annual revenue to fraud and corruption, says a study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and international lawyers Mishcon de Reya.” Observer (20 November) £72 billion a year! It seems to be a case of never steal anything .. small.

Room At The Top 

Good news for the homeless in France, according to a recent report on hotels that have some vacancies. “The least expensive room at the George V, is about £390 per night including bedroom, bathroom and breakfast. The most expensive suite at the Plaza Athenee costs almost £10,000 per night and includes four rooms and breakfast.” Times (30 November)

Old, Cold And Hungry 

Malnutrition amongst elderly Scots has soared in the past ten years and pressure groups blame the Scottish Executive for allowing pensioners to live below the poverty line. In 1995, 40 Scots died from malnutrition, but last year that figure had soared to 99.” Times (21 November) Even more alarming figures have been released for the UK by the charity Age Concern. “150,000 people over 65 have died as a result of the cold in the past five years.” Times (25 November)

The Slaughter Of The Innocents

Capitalism’s record of murder is even more horrific when looked at from a world perspective. “Nearly six million children die from hunger or malnutrition every year, The Food and Agriculture Organisation says. Many deaths result from treatable diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles, the agency said. They would survive if they had proper nourishment, the agency says in a new report on world hunger.” BBC News (22 November)

Our Masters’ Voice 

The Confederation of British Industry expresses the views of the British capitalist class. Here for instance is Sir Digby Jones, the chairman of the CBI, on trade unions and international competition: “Trade unions in the private sector in the 21st century will become largely irrelevant…. There are 1.3 billion Chinese out there who want your lunch and a billion Indians who want your dinner.” Times (22 November). Sir Digby is of course indulging in wishful thinking, he knows that the British working class’s greatest protection against the profit-mad owners on the industrial front is the union. A greater threat to all the capitalists of the world would be the world’s working class uniting politically. (See Rigg’s view below).

Ah, Progress 

The rapid growth of capitalism in China and India has been greeted with acclaim by all its supporters. There is another side to the story though, illustrated by two recent developments as reported in the Observer (27 November)  The Chinese city Harbin, population 3.5 million, has had no water supply for four days because of the pollution caused by 100 tonnes of benzene – a colourless, odourless carcinogenic chemical – spilling into the river upstream after an explosion at the local chemical factory. “The poisoning of the Songhua river has exposed the murkier side of China’s spectacular economic growth; the emphasis on business rather than environment, the tendency to cover up health risks and splits within the government.” From India comes news of the exploitation of children to feed the rapacious growth of capitalism. 400 children were found working in factories in Delhi. “Housed in a night shelter for beggars, the embroidery workers, aged 5 to 14, were waiting yesterday to hear their fate.”

Pathfinders: The Tomorrow People (2006)

The Pathfinders Column from the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tomorrow People

Future society will be populated by very special people. Within their ageless bodies will exist rejuvenated organs cloned from versions of their cells that have been made younger; youthful hearts and youthful lungs that will beat and breathe forever. Beneath their skin will scamper nanobots: blood-cell sized robots which, like highway maintenance vehicles, will rove their bloodstreams destroying pathogens, removing waste, correcting errors in DNA and reversing the ageing process. The same tiny machines will also enable brain-to-brain communication – telepathy of sorts – via the internet and ensure a vast expansion in human intelligence. Arguably, those special people may become less human as their bodies merge with a technology so advanced that it gradually begins to exceed and replace mere flesh and blood. At least, that’s the prediction of Ray Kurzweil, a Massachusetts-based inventor and writer, in his article ‘Human 2.0’ (New Scientist, September 2005). As is all too common with techie gurus, he has only the vaguest concept of political realities, so it doesn’t occur to him to question whether the future in question will be capitalist or socialist. If Kurzweil even grasped the difference, he probably still wouldn’t understand why the question was relevant. He observes certain anti-progressive tendencies in modern society, and ascribes them to some anomalous general human behaviour, rather than class, specifically capitalist class, behaviour. Consequently he proffers dire warnings about what we ought to do with our collective human knowledge, without ever addressing why we, the vast majority, are not in a position to control or determine what is done with that knowledge. Those of us who take an interest in the scientific adventure feel frequently piqued at the tendency of ‘futurologists’ like Kursweil, Toffler et al to overlook the fundamental political issues arising from the fact that human society is class-based. Scientists can be very far-sighted but at the same time have only a very narrow field of view, like a blinkered racehorse. Still, given our interest in the implications of science for a future socialist society, his predictions are interesting nonetheless and could be seen as relevant to it.

Ray Kurzweil is a pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic musical keyboards. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, and technological singularity. He is also an enthusiastic advocate of using technology to achieve immortality. He predicts that ‘we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress’ due to exponential rather than linear techological change which will result in the Singularity, ‘technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history’ (

The concept of a singularity, a new technological ‘big bang’, is an exciting one, and Kurzweil is clearly very taken with it. It is fairly obvious that science does not progress in linear fashion, like a train along a railway, but in geometric fashion, doubling and doubling again. Revolutions in science are almost a weekly event these days, and it is therefore not hard to imagine a ‘super-revolution’, a point where the whole of human society has to change very suddenly. In a way, a socialist political revolution is almost implicit in such an event, as the fetters and restrictions of outmoded social practices are blown to pieces in a matter of days or weeks by the devastating power of the singularity.

Of course, he could be wrong. There may be no singularity, despite all the indications. Alternatively, the powers that be might be able to prevent or limit it. You don’t get rich by giving things away for free. There is every reason to suppose, for example, that nanotechnology, one very likely factor in causing the singularity, will be strictly controlled and limited, a bomb kept in a concrete box.

Tellingly, Kurzweil comments that ‘to proscribe such technologies will not only deprive human society of profound benefits, but will drive these technologies underground, which would make the dangers worse’ (New Scientist, September 2005).

It’s not difficult to see how the proscriptive tendency of capitalism, governed by the rule of production for profit not need, could put a dampener on Kurzweil’s technology-enriched version of humanity. If such technology does come onto the market, to whom will it be available? All of humanity without exception, as Kurzweil perhaps hopes, or only those wealthy enough to afford it? After all, it is likely to be expensive treatment, making its beneficiaries not only economically superior, but genetically superior also. Yet another proscriptive tendency is intellectual property right (see Patent Absurdity, and also ‘Intellectual Property: a further restriction on personal freedom’ for a fuller discussion of this subject).

Kurzweil likes to define humans as ‘the species that seeks – and succeeds – in going beyond our limitations’. But we will really start making some progress when the scientific community succeeds in going beyond its own limitations, and recognising the political dimension of the human project. Many scientists individually seem to understand the restrictive and anti-progressive nature of current practices, but somehow assume that explicit political positions are outside their remit, or even beneath them. In fact, all humans take a political position, whether they admit it or not. Science does not sit in a rarefied world above politics, it is part and parcel of it, and scientists who care about the world’s future ought to have the courage and honesty to declare themselves, and stop worrying about peer-group pressure. It’s not the professional suicide it once was. If you oppose the restrictive practices of capitalism, then you oppose capitalism. It doesn’t take an Einstein or even a Kursweil to work out what that means.

Patent Absurdity

Patent and copyright laws exist to ‘protect’ their authors and to provide a profit incentive to develop new ideas and technologies, according to the lobby which advocates strengthening patent law. But this lobby generally consists of large companies who have zealously bought up libraries of patents in order to lock out competitors, while the opponents of patent restrictions tend to be small companies unable to get a foot in the door, and who argue that such restrictions hold back development.

Human Genome Sciences of Maryland are well known for patenting much of the human genome, and once tried to patent one of the bacteria that causes meningitis, while Incyte Pharmaceuticals of Palo Alto, California own the patent on Staphylococcus aureus, a species whose study is crucial because it is known to evolve resistance to antibiotics (New Scientist, May 16, 1998).

An independent commission on intellectual property rights reported in 2002 that the World Trade Organisation were strong-arming developing countries into signing intellectual property rights (IPR) agreements which were of no benefit to them, because they had very little to patent, but instead force up prices and inhibit technology transfer. The report concluded that IPRs effectively rip off poor countries (New Scientist, Sept 21, 2002).

The issue of patents is always going to be thorny, because both arguments are correct – in capitalism. Ownership of intellectual property has to be protected in a property owning society, as anyone who has had their house burgled, their car stolen or their idea robbed will tend to agree, but there is no denying that intellectual property rights do indeed stifle innovation in every field, because of the tendency of patents to concentrate into the hands of the intellectual property rich. The scientific community is divided on the question, between those who believe in knowledge for its own sake and therefore wish to pool ideas, and those who wish to profit personally from their research by denying others access. Since this is precisely the same debate as between socialists and those who support capitalism, one might describe scientists who wish to abolish patent and copyright restrictions as closet socialists.
Paddy Shannon

Capitalism and the quality of life (2006)

Richard Hamilton
From the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a society where nearly all the things that humans need or want are articles of commerce, things made to be bought and sold. This is not a complete definition since under capitalism one thing in particular becomes a commodity – the human ability to work and to create things, what Marx called “labour power” – and this is in fact the defining feature of capitalism. It’s a commodity society in which labour-power is a commodity.

This has two consequences. The first is that there is not simply production for sale but production for profit. And secondly, most things that humans need or want tend to become commodities, i.e. have to be bought. It is not difficult to see why. The wages system means that most people are dependent, for satisfying their needs, on the money they are paid for the sale of the one saleable commodity they do possess (their labour power), money which they then use to buy what they must have to live. So the “commodification” of labour power means the commodification of food, of clothes, of accommodation, and of other, less material wants too.

One of the things that the spread of capitalism meant, in concrete terms, was the spread of money-commodity relations. It’s a process that’s still going on in parts of the world and which even conventional economists speak of as integrating formerly largely self-sufficient subsistence farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America into the “money economy”.

What we are talking about here is the commodification of people’s material needs. Some people might not find this objectionable. Some even find it a progressive, even a liberating development. In fact this is one of the standard defences of capitalism – that the money economy gives people the freedom to choose what to consume by how they spend their money and that this is the most efficient way of organising the satisfaction of people’s material needs and wants. Of course this isn’t true in that it assumes that the economy responds to consumer demand, whereas in fact it responds to changes in the rate of profit, while most people‘s “demand” is limited by the size of their wage packet or salary cheque.

That capitalism is not the most efficient way of providing for people’s material needs – and that socialism as a system of common ownership, democratic control and production just for use would do this much better – is the traditional socialist case against capitalism. And it retains all its validity. But, after the last World War, in the 50s and 60s capitalism in North America and Western Europe appeared to live up to its promise of material prosperity for most people through the emergence of the so-called “consumer society”. But then another, different criticism of capitalism appeared: that while it might have solved more or less adequately the problem of “bread”, of dire material want, for most people in these parts of the world, it had still not created a satisfactory society.

Books began to appear in America with such titles as The Lonely Crowd, The Organization Man, The Hidden Persuaders, The Waste Makers, One-Dimensional Man, all critical of various aspects of the “consumer society” as a society in which people were encouraged to regard the acquisition of more and more consumer goods as the main aim in life. In Europe, such criticism took on a more explicitly anti-capitalist form. In France the critical books bore such titles as A Critique of Everyday Life and the Society of the Spectacle. The argument was that in the “consumer society” (called instead, more accurately in fact, “commodity society”) the logic of buying something to passively consume had spread from the purchase of material goods to other aspects of everyday life – to how people spent their leisure time and to how they related to each other.

This type of criticism added another dimension to the socialist case against capitalism: that it not only failed to organise the satisfaction of material needs properly but that it also degraded – dehumanised – the “quality of life”.

It’s not clear to whom the credit for developing this “cultural criticism” of capitalism should go. The Frankfurt School of Marxism (Fromm, Marcuse and others), the Situationists, even radical journalists in America like Vance Packard, would be among the candidates. In any event they were all working on the basis of the observable fact of the degrading effect capitalism was having on the quality of everyday life by spreading commercial values more and more widely.

It’s a powerful criticism of capitalism. Perhaps even these days, in this part of the world, a more powerful criticism than the traditional socialist one that capitalism brings material poverty to most people. Certainly, on a world scale, there are hundreds of millions in dire material poverty. And there are few millions in this country – around 15 percent of the population – who are materially deprived. But we can’t say this of the majority of the population here. Most people in Britain don’t have a problem about getting three meals a day, decent clothes, heating, don’t have to go to the pawnbrokers or live in vermin-invested rooms. In fact, the commodification of the “wants of the mind” is based on the fact that most people have money to spend on satisfying wants over and above those of “the stomach”. If people didn’t have this discretionary purchasing power after having satisfied their material needs, then there would be no market for cultural and entertainment products for capitalism to stimulate, manipulate and exploit. (As to why people have this “extra” money to spend on entertainment, it will have something to do with increased intensity and stress at work requiring more relaxation – more escapism – for people to recreate their particular ability to work.)

The criticism of “consumer society” was not just that it represented the invasion and colonisation of every aspect of social life by money-commodity relations, but that it also encouraged passive consumption rather than active participation. There is a great deal of validity in this point – that the “consumer society” is one where, sometimes literally, people sit in armchairs watching the passing show provided for them. This is a criticism of people’s lack of participation is shaping their lives, a lack that was also reflected politically where “democracy” is conceived of as merely choosing every four or five years between rival would-be elites (using in fact marketing techniques to attract support). Instead of people making their own sport or their own entertainment – or politics – they consume them as a pre-packaged commodity.

There must be something wrong with a society in which, instead of people living their own lives and interacting with their neighbours in a human way, they sit in front of a screen watching actors perform artificial scenes based on exaggerations of everyday life and identifying with the fictitious characters in these programmes. And in which the most widely-read newspapers don’t discuss real events so much as the artificial ones portrayed in these programmes and the lives and loves of the leading actors who play in them – as well as those of other so-called “celebrities” from the world of sport and entertainment.

As long as capitalism lasts, the quality of life will continue to decline. There’s nothing that can be done to stop this within the context of capitalism as it is due to capitalism, representing, as it does, the dissolving effects on society of the spread of money-commodity relations into all aspects of life. So, despite the slow, but undeniable increase in material living standards in certain parts of the world the case for socialism as a non-commercial society in which human welfare and human values will be the guiding principle retains all its relevance. With the common ownership of the means of life, there could and would be production directly to satisfy human needs and wants and not for sale with a view to profit – the death of the commodity, the end of what William Morris called “commercial society” – and a classless community with a genuinely common interest in which humans can relate to each other as human beings and not as social atoms colliding with each other on the market-place as commodity buyers and sellers.
Adam Buick

Catholicism in disgrace (2006)

From the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
In Canada, the United States, Australia and elsewhere, but especially in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church stands in disgrace, following the plethora of revelations about the activities of paedophiles and other types of abusers among its clergy. Obviously the structure of the Church and the often uncanny power its priests and bishops have over a subservient laity must make it a target for paedophiles and sadists. But the real and utterly appalling shame of the Church was its subsequent treatment of the abused and its frenetic efforts to cover up by lies and other deceits the contemptible behaviour of its servants.

Was it purely coincidence that the greatest abuse outside Ireland took place in Canada, the US and Australia, in mainly Irish Catholic areas and under the tutelage of the Irish Christian Brothers and Irish priests? Here we look at the historic role of Catholic priests and of Catholic institutions in Ireland over the centuries and for the source of the awesome power and the cavalier attitude of a now-disgraced Church.
The Roman Catholic Church (and, to a lesser extent, its Christian derivatives) arrogated onto itself the role of arbiter in things appertaining not only to matters of what it called ‘morality’ but to all forms of human behaviour and even juridical practice. Canon Law was the ultimate determinant superior to all other legal forms.

As feudalism yielded to capitalism in Europe and modern nation states were freed from the political hegemony of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, the Popes and their cardinals were forced to concede to widening democratic forms which were historically anathema to Rome. Still, even in countries where Roman Catholicism had been politically and morally overshadowed by various forms of Protestantism, different Popes cautioned against democratic concessions to the people.

According to Pope Leo XIII (Encyclical, Immortale Dei ‘On the Christian Constitution of States’, November 1885) canon law is effectively superior to the civil law, having derived from Jesus Christ through Peter and the apostles to the Church:
“In very truth, Jesus Christ gave his apostles unrestrained authority in sacred matters together with the genuine and most true power of making laws, as also with the duplex right of judging and punishing which flow from that power.”
By then, of course, such nonsense was a fatuous Popish aspiration which was in conflict with the material conditions of life in most of Europe. The power to make and enforce laws and the right and the power to punish in pursuit of such laws was now in the possession of the bourgeoisie and its god was profit.

Ireland nestled on the western flank of Europe, its natural development frustrated by its proximity to its powerful neighbour, England. According to legend, Ireland had been Christianised by St Patrick in the fifth century AD but, as in many other places, the Christian proselytizer appeared to have fashioned the new faith to suit the territory, or the native Celtic tribes adjusted it to suit their customs. Druidic Ireland might have accepted the Christian God but it did not give up its Druidic ways nor did it submit to the authority of Rome.

Effectively, the Celtic Christian Church was set within the organisational norms of the clan system. Each clan elected its own bishops and priests, which meant that there were a great number of clan-nominated bishops whose episcopal authority was the writ and the power of the clan.

Eventually in the 12th century Pope Adrian IV in a bull Laudabiliter gave authority to King Henry II of England to invade Ireland and “enlarge the bounds of the Christian faith to the ignorant and rude and to extirpate the roots of vice from the field of the Lord”. In the “Lord’s Field”, as perceived by Rome, the easy moral attitudes and forms of social organisation enjoyed by the Irish were proscribed and as the historian P. Beresford Ellis points out, “The Irish clergy had embraced feudalism (the social system underpinning Roman Catholicism) a system repugnant to the ordinary Irishman long before it was enforced in Ireland”. Whatever the wishes of the Church, the de facto imposition of feudalism in Ireland would take another five torturous centuries.

Outside that area of Leinster, known as “The Pale”, on the eastern side of Ireland, the native Irish clans resisted the incursion of English authority. Initially, within the Pale bishops and abbots, in accordance with the feudal system, became barons under the crown but later Anglo-Norman clerics were rewarded with appointments to Irish livings – inevitably to the chagrin of the native clergy.

In the centuries that followed ownership of land and other forms of property were increasingly denied to the native Irish. But England was still a Catholic country and thus priests and bishops in Ireland, while being denied the more influential positions within the Church, did not suffer any other forms of proscription from the government. Outside the Pale the power of the priest and the Church within the atrophying world of the clans prospered, especially within the province of education.

The war of the two kings
It is argued that it was this ‘prospering’, the strength of the Church and its priests in Ireland, that withstood the force of the Reformation when England became Protestant. Certainly, after the Reformation, and especially after the defeat of the English Catholic Stuart, King James II, in 1691, the Catholic Church and its priests were to suffer legal proscription and vicious persecution. Ironically, James’s defeat in Ireland was at the hands of the Central European powers organised under the terms of the Treaty of Augsburg, and the commander of the victorious forces was William, Prince of Orange, James’s Protestant son-in-law – the famous King Billy, who, despite the subsequent persecution of Presbyterians as well as Catholics by his government is immortalised in the folk memory of Ulster loyalists.

This persecution of Irish Protestantism’s largest denomination as well as Catholics ‘and other dissenters’ was the result of the Establishment of the Episcopalian Church, which made the practice of other religions illegal and subject to severe penalties, including confiscation of property. Later, in 1719 Parliament passed an Act of Toleration granting relief from the Penal Laws to Presbyterians but the Act made no concessions to Catholics. In the years following the formalisation of laws against the Catholic Church and its members some 5,000 Catholics became Anglicans, but the overwhelming majority of the native Irish were mere ‘tenants-at-will’ on smallholdings without either security of tenure or fixity of rents; in fact they were outlaws in the land of their birth.

It was in such conditions that the Catholic Church and its priests, not always speaking with the one voice, gained overwhelming influence over the minds of the people. All forms of agrarian unrest, inevitable under persecution, were roundly condemned by the Church. But the priests were close to the people, their only articulate ally and, almost in spite of the contempt of the hierarchy for the peasantry, their influence over the minds of the people became more telling. The English government was a brutal foreign power visibly persecuting priest and people. Inevitably the Church, in the form of its priests, became the powerful institutional stabilising factor in the bitter lives of an inarticulate, harassed and brutalised people.

Excommunicated IRA members
The Catholic Emancipation Bill of 1829 gave formal legal recognition to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland; by then the power of the Church and its religious fraternities was awesome. It wasn’t only in matters of birth, marriage and death that the power of the church was evident; almost every sort of activity, business, political or sporting had the ubiquitous priest and in the structure and content of education the power of the Church was paramount.

As the Church-supported Irish National Party fell into decay before the burgeoning power of Sinn Fein after 1905, clerical influence was transferred to the latter party though the official organ of Irish Catholicism condemned the Republican Rising of 1916 as ‘an act of brigandage’ and supported the British execution of the rebel leadership. Similarly, during the subsequent guerrilla war (1919-22) the Church condemned the IRA and excommunicated its members, but in the main the old priestly stalwarts were there to lend support and comfort – and, perhaps, save the Church from its own error of judgement.

The guerrilla war ended with a British government-enforced partitioning of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. For the zealots and bigots of Catholicism and Protestantism it seemed a red-letter day, for it lent to each in their respective areas virtually untrammelled political and social influence.

In the north the political agents of the linen lords and the industrial capitalists declared that they had a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people, while the Protestant churches cosied up to a system of sectarian discrimination designed to hurt workers who were Catholics and fool workers who were Protestants into believing that their slums and their miserable life styles made them superior to their even more miserable class brethren.

In the south, all the political parties surrendered to the arrogance and deceits of the Catholic Church and its institutions. The minds of the young were given over to priests, nuns and Christian Brothers for an ‘education’ unquestionably based on a morbid, insular Catholicism. As if that was not bad enough, as we now know, in many of the institutions run by Catholic religious orders children were being physically and sexually abused and the Church was tolerating this abuse.

The scandal of the Magdalene laundries, which was highlighted by BBC, ITV and to its credit RTE, demonstrated the quite remarkable power the priests had over an acutely educationally deprived people. The laundries were operated by the Sisters of Mercy (sic!) who brutally exploited slave labour to carry out their function. The slaves were young women who had been abandoned in pregnancy, or who showed promise of behaviour alien to the views of their families. In many cases a priest requested or persuaded a child’s parents to abandon their child to these institutes of brutality and slavery for ‘the good of the child’s soul’. One old woman who had only been released in the late sixties from this dreadful servitude told a television audience how the priest had approached her parents when she was young and advised them that their daughter’s good looks could “present an occasion for sin”.

When a young doctor who in his practice had experienced the ravages of tuberculosis became Minister of Health in the Coalition government of 1948 he promulgated a Bill to give free medical care to expectant mothers and children under the age of five. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin wrote to the then Taoiseach complaining that such state interference could not be tolerated in a Catholic country. In France, Italy or any other Catholic country such absurd temerity would have been laughed at; in Catholic Ireland both the Bill and its political sponsor were dropped.

But the bishops could not control the airwaves nor could they control Irish capitalism’s demand for widening of the education curriculum. Irish Television still placates the bishops with a silence for the Angelus; it is an acknowledged embarrassment but as in all other countries the value-system and vulgarities of global capitalism’s unitary culture overshadows the morbid doctrines of the Church and sometimes even exposes its institutions for the moral cesspits they are.
Richard Montague

Kenya Referendum farce (2006)

From the January 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 21 November referendum conducted by the Electoral Commission of Kenya to vote for or against the proposed new constitution was just a waste of money.

The clamour for a new constitution commenced in earnest with the advent of multi-party politics in the early 90s. Since then it has reached crescendo. Lives have been lost, limbs broken and some of those who have been at the top relegated to the lower levels of society.

During the regime of former president Daniel Arap Moi, short-term political reforms were introduced to keep at bay those clamouring for a new constitution. Mr. Moi succeeded in that he was able to rule for long but, at his departure, left the issue of the constitution unresolved.

With the coming to power of President Mwai Kibaki and his national Rainbow Coalition (NARC), constitution reform was one of the promises given to Kenyans in the 2002 general election campaign. In 2003 a constitutional assembly was instituted at the Bomas of Kenya venue which deliberated on the views collected from Kenyans about the constitution by the Kenya Review Commission in early 2002. The assembly sat for one year.

Its final submissions in early 2004 formed part of what has been argued about. The so-called Bomas draft was viewed as flawed as well as having good contents for the country. Or so those who took part in the deliberations said.

Since the draft which came out of Bomas wasn’t agreeable to all, Kenyan MPs met to discuss the contentious issues (on power sharing, devolution and so-called religious courts). It was from their deliberations that a new draft emerged (the so-called Wako draft). The government gave deadlines for the passage of the draft, the final of which was the referendum of 21 November.

Kenyans overwhelmingly rejected the draft, by voting 60 percent against the passage while those for the passage only managed to garner 40 percent of the vote. It’s back to the drawing board.

A new constitution or not isn’t the panacea for what ails Kenya. The country has only two tribes: the rich and the pathetically poor (though there are 42 ethnic tribes). The rich own factories and employ the labour of the poor, who they exploit to the last sweat. The poor are in the majority but their thinking, lives and even their way of going are controlled by the other tribe.

The new constitution even if it’s coated with sweet words will never solve the imbalance in society. It will never make the poor rich. The rich tribe want to use the constitution to perpetuate their hold on the lives of the poor tribe. They have no intention of making any tangible changes in the lives of the other tribe.

And that’s why I never support or participate in any activity designed to make a new constitution. I’ll only participate in a meaningful activity which is intended to bring a system which has no frontiers, a society in which production is for use not profit, where there are no leaders and where money isn’t worshipped.

Only when such a society is established can we say that we’ve arrived. And arrive we will.
Patrick Ndege,

Life and Times: To Vax or Not To Vax (2022)

The Life and Times column from the January 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

To Vax or Not To Vax

A woman in my own home town has made the national headlines by vowing not to apply the Wales Covid pass rule to people visiting the small independent cinema she runs. She said it was ‘nonsensical and unnecessary’ and she was determined ‘to take a stand’. The Covid vaccine passport for cinemas, theatres and concert halls was, she said, ‘an infringement of our human rights and discriminates against those exercising their right to bodily autonomy’. The Wales government said it was introducing the scheme in response to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and the local authorities responded promptly to the cinema owner’s defiance by shutting down her venue and sticking up closure notices on it. When she attempted to defy the Council by re-opening, she was taken to court where she was ordered to pay the Council’s £5,000 legal expenses and faced imprisonment if she failed to comply. All this elicited a mass of comment on social media and very quickly, in an online appeal, several thousand people raised some £60,000 in support of the cinema and its owner.

Right and Left

What to make of this? Well firstly the issue was taken up and quickly became a cause célèbre among far-right groups. One group in particular calling itself ‘Voice of Wales’ and known for its open Islamophobia and anti-Semitism seized on this to urge people to attend the cinema and its café and form a ‘defence force’ to keep it open. This brought condemnation from the local left-organised ‘Stand Up To Racism’ group calling upon the owner to publicly distance herself from ‘Voice of Wales’ and its supporters. The owner announced that she owed no allegiance to any of these organisations and would not accept any money collected. She repeated that what she was protesting about was ‘an infringement on our fundamental and inherent rights’ (though later she said she would use the money ‘to support others’).

‘Rights’ and freedoms

But what are the ‘rights’ being talked about here and indeed frequently talked about over the last 20 months or so as, in an effort to combat the spread of Covid, governments have brought in laws and rules to curb or limit activities previously permitted? It’s a common belief that, under Western democracies at least, people have inalienable ‘rights’ which it’s illegitimate for governments to try and limit or remove. Among these are said to be the right to ‘free speech’, to peaceful assembly, to move around freely, to use our bodies as we wish, and so on. That’s one reason why the regulations brought in to try and deal with Covid have irked many people, since this has been seen as meaning that these ‘rights’ no longer exist, or at least not to the same extent as before. Of course some of the protesters, those from the extreme right wing of capitalist politics or harbouring fantastical conspiracy theories, have deliberately seized on the Covid restrictions to try and recruit supporters for their views or movements. But there are also many people who genuinely regard the measures, even if seen by most as sensible precautions, as irksome limitations on what they see as their rights or freedoms. The measures we are talking about are such as the compulsory wearing of masks, the prohibition on assembly and now the various regulations to push people into having anti-Covid vaccinations. Hence the protests about people needing to be in possession of ‘vaccine passports’ to attend cinemas, restaurants, etc.

Yet, without judging the efficacy or otherwise of mass vaccination (though this writer finds it hard not to see it as a sensible precaution), it is quite mistaken to think that, in trying to make it compulsory, governments or other authorities are somehow crossing a ‘rights’ line that is fundamental. We all know that the very idea of ‘rights’ is relatively recent. It’s an invention of governments overseeing the system we live under, that of wage and salary work and production for profit. Its underlying purpose is to gain the relative consent of those carrying out the work and ensuring profit is made for the owners of capital. So ‘rights’ form a sort of peace treaty between the ruling capitalist class and the working class allowing routine matters of potential conflict to be resolved and the system to operate in a way which is considered broadly fair by the wider population. But when that peace treaty breaks down, for example through war or unexpected external events such as a killer virus, those ‘rights’ can be easily modified or removed and then there can be open fighting between those who mistakenly considered the previous ‘rights’ situation ‘fundamental’ (such as the owner of ‘Cinema & Co’) and the authorities seeking to impose the new less ‘free’ regime. Disruption can take place and, as we have seen, can happen not only in this country but in the wider world.

Which system?

The plain fact is that, in the system of society we live in, ‘rights’ are not guarantees but, like all reforms instituted by that system, contingent and easily disposable measures. Some readers may remember the hapless ‘right to work’ campaign of the 1980s which fizzled out when it became obvious that the system that rules us does not and can never guarantee such a right. In the moneyless, wageless society of economic equality based on free access to all goods and services, instead of rights on paper, we would have the practical fulfilment of human needs with equal access to the democratic control necessary to secure those needs, making the whole concept of ‘rights’ redundant.
Howard Moss