Sunday, February 6, 2022

50 Years Ago: See the Conquering Hero (2006)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Religion is not yet at such a discount in the United States as it is here; and it is from America that Billy Graham has made his sallies across the Atlantic. Dr. Graham commands more real income than two or three English bishops: and members of the British ruling class hurried to give him financial backing in his tours of this country – among them Mr. Alfred Owen, the racing-motor magnate, and Major-General Sir Edward Spears, the Chairman of the Council of the Institute of Directors, and a director of five companies. Lawyers, politicians, army officers, all hurry to Graham’s side, and the Prime Minister receives him at No. 10, Downing Street.

Count me in
The significance of Dr. Graham’s success is not lost on English church leaders. Though his antiquated theological views are so discredited and exploded that anyone holding them would be turned out of any self-respecting theological college, leaders of the Anglican and Nonconformist Churches rush to climb on his bandwagon. Prominent Methodists like the Rev. E. Benson Perkins, and Anglican prelates like the Bishop of Barking, would three years ago have sooner joined the Rationalist Press Association than had any truck with anyone holding Dr. Graham’s fundamentalist views. But nothing succeeds like success, and a man who gets as many thousand dollars a year as Billy Graham does merely for preaching must obviously be on to a good thing. So on to Dr. Graham’s platform troop Benson Perkins and Dr. Gough of Barking: in the fabulous company of the Graham gospel-singers and cheer-leaders the reverend gentlemen find that they can swallow not only Jonah but also his whale.

The church leaders who support Dr. Graham are, from their own point of view, on the right lines. For it is only by filling the churches again that the leaders of organized religion can win back their former high place in society.

(From an article by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, February 1956)

Political lines (2006)

Book Review from the February 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Christopher Hampton: Border Crossings. Katabasis £7.95.

We don’t often review poetry in the Socialist Standard, but here is a volume which merits a brief notice at least.

One poem speaks of ‘something other than this money system’ and of the need to ‘make resources work for the social wealth’. Another, in an echo of Brecht’s work (‘Who built Thebes of the seven gates?’), refers to ‘those / without whose skills no cities can be built’ – ordinary people, rather than gods or rulers. The Anonymous Makers repeats this point: that it’s nameless people who have built and grown things, not those who live off their backs. The invasion of Iraq is satirised: ‘We’ve hearts and minds to win and markets to invest’. But all this is spoilt by a poem supporting Allende’s Chile: ‘this workers’ President, this hated workers’ state’ (hated by the rulers of the US, that is).

Best to remember this volume though for its attempt to supply ‘words that cross the frontiers / of hope and failure’.
Paul Bennett

A utopian vision (2006)

Book Review from the February 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Omasius Gorgut: Poor Man’s Heaven: The Land of Cokaygne. Past Tense Publications. £1.00. (Available from Past Tense Publications, c/o 56a Info Shop, 56 Crampton Street, London SE17. Postage 30p.)

The Land of Cokaygne, reprinted as a modernised verse in this pamphlet, is a 14th century utopian image of an earthly paradise, largely created by serfs, which became a popular song or ballad. This pamphlet puts it into context, linking it with other stories and songs of the time and later.

In the Land of Cokaygne there is “joy and green delight”. There is nothing good but fruit to bight. Indeed,
“In Cokaygne we drink and eat
Freely without care and sweat,
The food is choice and clear the wine
. . .no land is like it anywhere,
Under heaven no land like this
Of such joy and endless bliss.

Many fruits grow in that place
For all delight and sweet solace,
. . .every man takes what he will,
as of right. . .
All is common to young and old,
To stout and strong, to meek and bold.”
The author of Poor Man’s Heaven notes that in most of Europe, in their folk tales and popular songs, the poor of the Middle Ages dreamed up a land where their sufferings were reversed, and where people lived in harmony and plenty without having to work. The Church, however, told them constantly that they could not expect, and should not dream of, a better existence in this life; but that paradise existed for them in another, after death. Utopian dreams appeared not just in England, but in France, in Ireland, in Medieval German legends, in Holland, and in Celtic mythology. The author suggests that early popular medieval utopias may be pre-Christian.

Interestingly, the Land of Cokaygne is enjoyed without effort. It stresses idleness rather than the largely unrewarded labour of the serf. As in much revolutionary utopian thought of the Middle Ages, in Cokaygne there is neither rich nor poor. There is equality says the writer, as in, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman.” Of course, the peasants did not just dream, or sing, of a better world. Often they revolted, as in England in 1381.

The writer of Poor Man’s Heaven links the story of Cokaygne with the modern American songs The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Poor Man’s Heaven, where the barns are full of hay and there are streams of alcohol. “There’s a lake of stew and whisky too.” The singer is bound to stay where they sleep all day”. And in the Poor Man’s Heaven:
“There’s strawberry pie that’s twenty feet high
And whipped cream they bring in a truck. . .
We’ll eat all we please off ham and egg trees
That grow by the lake full of beer.”
This pamphlet is well worth reading, depicting as it does what, in the past, could only be a utopian vision of a better world.
Peter E. Newell

Blogger's Note:.
A longer review of the same book in the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and Empire. (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Patriotism and the problems of Empire have always proved stumbling blocks to the workers and to their immature organisations, and nothing has more clearly shown the danger of half-knowledge than the ease with which the ruling class have been able to muddle their minds and inflame their passions by raising such issues. The world war and late developments of capitalist imperialism have given the question prominence by making more numerous and more bitter the struggles for independence of colonies and subject races, and in the verbal dispute between Communists, the I.L.P., the Labour Party and others the air is thick with charge and counter-charge of treachery to the Empire and treachery to the working-class. The dispute, however, leads to no simple conclusion because, as so often happens, the disputants have neglected first to decide whether they can agree on a few elementary Socialist principles. Before we examine the various proposals we must have a clear idea of the economic position and class interests of the workers, because it is from this foundation that they ought always to approach the issues presented to them.

The Position of the Workers. 
Wealth (excluding the air and other things abundantly supplied by nature) is produced by work. The work is performed by the great propertyless mass, the working class, but the means of wealth production, the machines, the land and so on, are owned by a class of non-workers, the capitalists. From this arises a great cleavage of interests, for it makes the workers dependent upon the owning-class since they cannot live except by entering the service of the owners. Out of the total wealth produced by their labour the workers receive but a part as wages, the remainder being retained by those who employ them. The one class lives by selling its services and the other by owning property. The everyday struggle over the division of the product sets these classes in perpetual antagonism, but the Socialist urges the workers to aim consciously not merely at increasing their share but at destroying the system of society which compels them to maintain a propertied class at their expense.

For the Socialist all forms of “living by owning,” rent, interest and profit are in effect nothing more than forms of exploitation, or robbery, of the wealth producers.

If this is correct, then it follows naturally that it is to the interest of the workers all over the world to act jointly in resisting any attempt to heighten the degree of that exploitation, and in overthrowing the system which is based upon exploitation. The enemy of the working class is the capitalist class.

But certain complications exist which prevent many workers from seeing where their interests lie. Lack of knowledge and race prejudices prevent those in one country from realising how essentially similar is their condition to that of workers in foreign countries. There are too real differences between the present circumstances of the workers in the more advanced and the more backward countries. Standards of living, of education, of political and personal freedom, and of political knowledge vary from, say, England or America to the hardly developed Asiatic dependencies of Great Britain; this in spite of the quite marked tendency towards a general equalising of conditions as industrial developments become more uniform all over the world under the pressure of competition.

Again, this very competition leads many workers astray. Exceptional prosperity in the British coal industry at a given time is gained at the expense of some foreign competitors. Viewing the matter from an individual and local standpoint, the miners are only too liable to agree with their employers who argue that the interests of British workers and owners are as one against those of their German or American rivals. Extending our view from one section of a capitalist industry to the whole of the industries of a country or group of countries, national rivalry often presents itself in such a form—war, for instance—as to induce great numbers of workers to join their own section of the ruling class against other sections which are likewise supported by their workers.

The Position of the Capitalist.
Capitalist countries—all of them—must organise their forces and direct their policy to ends which are vital to capitalist society, they must seek markets for surplus products, endeavour to monopolise sources of supply of raw materials where these are geographically limited, and protect ocean and overland communications to these areas. Britain holds tenaciously to her practical monopoly of tropical rubber producing areas, sits tight in Egypt in order to guard the routes to India, and keeps firm hold on the latter because it is a market of first importance and an area for the profitable investment of surplus profit gained by the exploitation of workers at home. The necessities of such imperialist policy bring our ruling class into inevitable conflict with other imperialist powers who also seek markets and monopolies, and into conflict with the colonial and native capitalists who resent having to share with foreign investors the profits of the exploitation of their own working class ; hence the war of 1914, and the independence movements in Ireland, India, Egypt, Canada and elsewhere.

Now let us examine the various parties in this country which claim to represent the working class.

The Labour Party.
The Labour Party openly and unashamedly supported the war in 1914 and associates now with its German patriot prototypes, the Social Democrats. It interests itself in the political and economic difficulties of the British capitalists, offers remedies to solve their industrial problems, assists in maintaining armed forces to defend capitalist property, loyally supports the Empire and opposes the grant of unconditional independence to any part of it. It is unnecessary to labour this point or answer the assertion that the Labour Party has changed for the better since the war because Mr. H. N. Brailsford, Editor of the New Leader, has recently written of the position now occupied by his party.
“We must face our own record as frankly. (I speak, of course, only for myself.) From the date of Mr. MacDonald’s first letter to the Indians on the eve of taking office, down to the recent debates on China, India, and our rubber monopoly, he and his closest associate, Mr. Thomas, have been leading the Party, openly and plainly, towards a reconciliation with Imperialism. His Indian record in office was worse than negative. Not only did he do nothing to advance Home Rule or to help the sweated Indian worker : he sanctioned the shameful Coercion Act in Bengal. His most recent speech gave reasons for doing nothing in India of which an old-fashioned Liberal would have been ashamed. There were other symptoms—the attitude to Mexico, the curt refusal of the Cypriote petition for union with Greece. But the gravest matter was his plain rejection of the League of Nations as the arbiter in our dispute with Egypt over the Canal and the Soudan. . . . We stand, as the French Party stands, a buttress of capitalist Imperialism.” (New Leader, August 21st, 1925.)
Leaving aside the influence of Liberal tradition and the habitual unthinking acceptance of capitalist ways of regarding politics, the ultimate explanation of this Labour Party attitude is that they have no basic quarrel with the capitalists or capitalism. They regard “profiteering” (or excessive profits) as “unjust,” but they do not hold all profit-making to be robbery of the workers. When they speak of “exploitation” what they mean is the payment of exceptionally low wages, they do not recognise that there can be no wage-earning, no wages system without exploitation. Thus Mr. Thomas, in “When Labour Rules,” Mr. MacDonald in “Socialism— Critical and Constructive,” Mr. Sydney Webb in “A Constitution for a Socialist Commonwealth,” all justify private property and the payment of profits, or interest to property owners. As Mr. Clynes says, “It is no part of Labour’s policy to establish revolutionary Socialism or to confiscate private property” (Glasgow Evening News, Oct. 4, 1923). Thus again in 1914 the workers of this country were urged by the Labour Party to fight lest they should, through a German victory, become slaves; and when the French occupied the Ruhr the same Party protested on the ground that it would make the German workers slaves. We, on the contrary, recognise that all the workers in a capitalist world are already wage-slaves to the propertied class, and that no fortune of war, whether victory or defeat, can alter the essentials of that situation. As we propose to deprive the capitalists of their property and do not admit that they have any rights whatever, it matters nothing to us that capitalist groups strive to plunder each other. The Labour Party recognise those property rights and therefore quite consistently seek to defend those whom they consider to be the rightful owners. It is consistent with their views of property but it is decidedly not consistent with working class interests and with Socialism.

“The Communist Party." 
This attitude does not meet with the approval of the Communists who oppose to the patriotism of the Labour Party an inverted patriotism of their own. They can see clearly enough that the interests of British workers clash with those of British capitalists but they cannot rest content with urging the workers everywhere to concentrate on resisting exploitation and on fighting their exploiters. They accept the false reasoning used by Mr. Francis Meynell when he edited the Communist. He urged support of the Indian native capitalists in their struggle against the British Government, on the ground that all enemies of the latter are the friends of the Communist Party. They proclaim the necessity and practicability of disrupting the British Empire, and ally themselves accordingly with every independence movement. What they forget or intentionally gloss over, is that national independence for Irish, Indians or Egyptians is no more a concern of the workers in those countries and should no more be fought for by them than national defence should concern workers here. To exchange Irish exploiters for English ones does not better the condition of Irish workers in the slightest degree; in actual fact, by stressing racial differences it adds to the obstacles preventing international co-operation in the trade union and political world. The enemies of the British ruling class are not necessarily friends of the British workers. We want to increase, not to obscure, the antagonism between one class and the other, and this cannot be done by urging Indian wage-slaves to waste precious years chasing the will o’ the wisp of nationality. Their masters alone will gain from such a course.

The Communist mind is also perverted by the determination not to read the signs of the times in Russia. British governmental hostility to the Russian Government leads the Communists to completely uncritical praise of the latter’s actions, oblivious of the extent to which those actions are driven by pressure of circumstance against working class interests. The Communists know quite well that there is no solution for the unemployment problem to be found in developing foreign trade, yet they have for years lent themselves to the anti-working class propaganda which promises untold benefits for British workers if only full trading relations with Russia are opened up. At present much of the hostility to the Bolshevik Government arises from the wish of foreign capitalists to have free access to this relatively undeveloped field for investment and exploitation. But whether that field is developed with or without the direct control of foreign capital, the entry of this new competitor into the world’s markets can only result in a worsening of the industrial conditions of workers generally, and an aggravation of the clashing of interests between capitalist groups. The Communists, too, like the Labour Party, refuse to recognise that exploitation is the necessary accompaniment of wage-labour. When the Labour Government proposed a £40,000,000 loan to Russia, the Communists were overjoyed, and Russian trade papers in their anxiety to attract foreign capital are full of reports of high profits earned by foreign traders and concessionaires. They decline to face the plain fact that interest on loans and profits on investments can come only from the exploitation of the Russian workers.

T. Johnston, I.L.P. member of Parliament and Editor of the Forward, takes the Communists to task for what he calls their “Whiggery in a Red Cravat.” He rightly condemns the obscured vision which can draw distinctions between sections of the capitalist class and see a friend of the workers in every exploiter who happens to have a quarrel with the British Empire. But Johnston himself is open to equal condemnation. He also is prepared to support schemes for the improvement of Empire trade, schemes, that is, to assist Empire capital in driving competitors from the world’s markets. Neither he nor anyone else has ever yet explained how this will benefit the world’s workers. The poverty in work, and greater poverty out of work, of the wage-earner is not dependent on the temporary ups and downs in particular industries or of all industries together. However, the total product of industry may vary with foreign trade fluctuations, there always has been, and is now, an enormous residue over and above wages, doles and relief, which is retained and consumed by the propertied class. What idiocy it is to tell the workers they must revive trade in order to get work and increase their wages, while an idle class is living on the product of the workers’ labour. When the workers wish they have the power on their hands to cut into that existing surplus whether trade is good or bad, or getting better or worse. While there is a single able-bodied property-owner living without working, only ignorance or treachery could ask the workers to devote thought to the increase of production, or to the quickening of foreign trade.

Johnston, again, owes his confusion to his inability to grasp what is meant by exploitation. Thus in Forward (Sept. 19) he writes in favour of the Labour movement here giving more attention to and entering into more cordial relations with Queensland which has a Labour Government. On the strength of this latter feature, Johnston, while repeating parrot-like the necessity of fighting exploitation, dubs Queensland a proletarian State. Actually, Queensland Government publications and the speeches of Labour Ministers and Members of Parliament demonstrate the incontrovertible fact that capitalist profits and the degree of exploitation of the workers in Queensland are greater, and the proportion of total production received by them as wages is less, than in any other Australian State now, and than was the case in Queensland when the Labour Government first took office ! (See Socialist Standard, Dec., 1923, and Feb., 1924.)

The Socialist Position.
The only safe rule of conduct for the workers is to stand firmly on the basis of their class economic interests. From this standpoint there can be no circumstances requiring them to participate in capitalist wars or trade rivalries. Even the supposed hardships resulting from military defeat do not outweigh the arguments in favour of the Socialist course of action outlined above. We have always urged that Reparations like rates and taxes are and must be a burden only on the propertied class. We are therefore not surprised to learn from the Ministry of Labour Gazette (June, 1925, Page 217) that an enquiry by the International Labour Office shows that real wages in Germany are approximately what they were in 1914 as are also wages in London. In victory and defeat the workers are still wage slaves, their poverty and insecurity are their only lifelong possession. They should not fight for “country and empire,” because they have nothing to fight for. They should refuse to help solve the economic problems of capitalist industry, or the political problems of capitalist empires and concentrate all their energies on the fight for Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Economics and ideas. Their influence on political institutions (part 7) (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Concluded from last month).

School, Press and Platform.
The impregnation of the worker’s mind with individualist beliefs and his delusion of freedom are obviously a tremendous asset— practically a necessity—to the smooth running and perpetuation of the capitalist order. This was early recognised by intelligent agents of the employing class, and, from the dawn of the system the deliberate fostering and strengthening of such ideas by propaganda was attempted—but in an inefficient and unorganised way. But after the workers had won the franchise, definite organs for their “instruction” in the “way they should think” were necessary. “Now, if ever,” says Engels, “the people must be kept in order by moral means.” Engels, in his “Socialism—Utopian and Scientific” (Introduction), goes on to show the use the English bourgeoisie made of religion. Here we will consider three other agents—the school, the press, and the platform.

Upon the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867, one prominent politician sarcastically exclaimed, “Now we must educate our new masters.” Within three years the first State education scheme in England was adopted, and the Board Schools established. Six years later (1876), elementary education was made compulsory. No worker could now escape from acquiring not only the groundwork of bourgeois ideology in his most impressionable years, but also the special national applications of it through falsified history and the glorification of his “heritage”—the constitutional “charter” of his “liberties.” The training of the young worker was a master stroke of the ruling class.

Newspapers from their origin had hitherto been primarily organs of opinion and information amongst the propertied classes— and solid, serious, relatively trustworthy, and comparatively expensive. But when the workers had the capacity to read and the power of the vote, the press developed a new purpose and with it new methods and characteristics. The press especially for proletarian consumption—the sensational, hypocritical, lying, “yellow press”— appeared. In 1855 the Stamp Act had been repealed, and this, with new developments in paper-making, made a more popular press possible. New cheap papers sprang up all over the country, and old ones reduced their price. But it was after the extension of the franchise that the great developments occurred. The “Britannica” article, “Newspapers,” clearly states its basis:—
“Between 1870 and 1880 a complete revolution was effected as a result of social and educational changes” (564). “The modern impulse culminating in England in the last decade of the 19th century in what was then called the ‘New Journalism,’ was a direct product of American conditions and ways of life (political democracy), but in Great Britain it was also the result of the democratic movement produced by the Education Act of 1870 and the Reform Act of 1885, and it affected more or less all countries which came within the influence of free institutions.” (11th ed., vol. 19, p. 547.)
The modern newspaper sets before the worker distorted “news” and a view of affairs deliberately calculated to foster the hold over him of bourgeois ideology. It does not produce this ideology, but constantly provides fresh details acceptable to it—the “evidence” upon which it feeds and thrives.

That unique political fact, an enfranchised slave-class, furthermore, meant the unqualified triumph of the type of politician whose business it is to deliberately cajole and mislead the electorate. In his “Democracy and Liberty,” Lecky deplores the deterioration of English “political morality” that came after 1867—without, however, recording the true cause of it. The new political showmen were a necessity of the new political situation. They became the latest popular “heroes of society.” To regularly give a semblance of intense sincerity to the most hypocritical arguments is no light task, and men who excelled in it won the gratitude of the ruling class. Lloyd George is, of course, a splendid latter-day specimen, but perhaps the most skilful of all the modern political demagogues was Gladstone. Lecky, in the book mentioned, commenting on his special abilities says :—
“No one could compare with him in dexterity of word fencing and hair-splitting, and in the evasive subtleties of debate. . . . Nothing was more curious than to hear him make a speech on a subject on which he did not wish to give an opinion. The long roll of sonorous and misty sentences, each statement ingeniously qualified, each approach to precision so skilfully shaded by some calculated ambiguity of phrase, speedily baffled the attentive listener. . . . There was seldom a speaker from whose words it was so difficult to extricate a precise meaning; who so constantly used language susceptible of different interpretations; who so often seemed to say a thing, and by seeming to say it raised hopes and won influence and applause without definitely binding himself to it. Further, no other great politician so habitually steeped his politics in emotion, and this was one great cause of his wide, popular influence.”
Gladstone became the most popular and adored statesman of his time, and his portrait, along with that of Jesus Christ, still defaces the walls in thousands of working-class houses. Finally, it is significant that in the United States—the land of “liberty” in excelsis—where the workers have been enfranchised for a longer period than in any other capitalist State, the art of the “spell-binder”—of gushing, emotional, meaningless, wordy rhetoric—has achieved its most exquisite development.

The Modern State. 
The school, the press, and the platform are used assiduously to foster the “great illusion” of capitalism—that the worker is a free man, possessing freedom of opportunity with every other man, and liberty of contract. The preservation of this illusion is almost a necessity to, and is certainly one of the greatest safeguards of, the present system—and is recognised as such by the clear-sighted agents of the ruling class. The bourgeoisie are compelled to avoid anything that will tend to destroy this illusion. Even the “right to strike,” apparently menaced from time to time by “compulsory arbitration” schemes, is a necessity to the capitalists as well as to the workers—and the more far-seeing members of the employing class well know it. If ever the capitalists, in the height of fear and folly, endeavour to force the proletariat, as a class, to labour by law, and thus to thrust them into a legally recognised worker’s “status,” then indeed their days of power will be numbered.

For the same reason we may regard the enfranchisement of the workers, once established, as a necessity for the continued existence of the system. The ideology of the proletariat, flowing, as we have seen, from the relations of production, makes it inevitable. Engels says :
“The highest form of the State, the democratic republic, knows officially nothing of property distinctions. It is that form of the State which, under modern conditions of society, becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity. The last decisive struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie can only be fought out under this State form” (“Origin of the Family,” p. 210).
But we must not, of course, overlook the fact that the capitalist system and its State forms are still in process of development, and that there exists to-day in concrete reality a number of capitalist societies, each with a different history and each showing minor traits peculiar to itself. In Europe nearly every State contains vestigial institutions left over from Feudalism which affect its activities to a greater or less degree. More important, however, is the fact that capitalist production has by no means completely eliminated petty industry, and, in particular, wherever the peasantry are numerically very strong, as in Spain, France, and Italy, democratic forms can at least be temporarily suspended without immediate injury to the ruling class. Were the majority of the Italian population, for instance, proletarians, it is certain that the Fascisti reaction would have been much more hazardous, if not impossible.

The necessity of the Parliamentary State, with an enfranchised working class, where capitalism is highly developed and the industrial proletariat strong, was vividly demonstrated after the collapse of the German Empire in 1918, when, amid an unprecedented political crisis, when larger masses of workers were agitated and organised for revolt than probably at any other time in capitalist history, the bourgeoisie were compelled to set up the most democratic republican constitution in the world, with male and female suffrage over the age of twenty, proportional representation, and the referendum.

The State, however, of no matter what period or what form—monarchic, oligarchic, or parliamentary—remains in essence the same. It has one function, and one essential function alone—the preservation of the property of the exploiting class, and, accordinglv, the suppression of the exploited. Throughout the history of capitalism the State has served as the instrument of the bourgeoisie. The slaughter of the Communards of Paris, the bloody suppression of strikes all over the world, from Homestead to Featherstone, Colorado to Johannesburg, are evidence that it has served right well its historic function.

The capitalist class dominate society to-day because they control the public forces of coercion. But, unlike the ruling classes of other ages, this control does not arise from the fact that they themselves are the essential part of those forces. The bourgeoisie are not, and never have been, a military class. They, unlike their predecessors at the helm of State, are not only economically, but politically and militarily, entirely dependent upon the working masses. The workers make up almost in entirety the armed forces, and the workers, through the political machinery and through their bourgeois ideas, place these forces in the hands of their oppressors. The capitalists rule the immense majority of society because that immense majority sanctions their rule. The slave and the serf knew they were enslaved and exploited; the wage-worker does not. The economic relations of modern production serve to disguise the fact of exploitation, and, furthermore, tend to generate that widespread individualism and the illusion of freedom that facilitates the inculcation of ideas and opinions favourable to bourgeois rule.

As Engels says :
“The possessing class rule directly through universal suffrage. For so long as the oppressed class, in this case the proletariat, is not ripe for its economic emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible” (“Origin of the Family,” p. 210).
And when will the proletariat be “ripe for its emancipation”— except just when they realise that they require emancipating and understand the facts of their exploitation? Not when they begin to know that there is something rotten in the state of capitalism—for they know that now—but when they realise the cause of that rottenness. Then, when they grasp the truth that the evils of capitalism are inherent and inevitable, not accidental and curable, will they set about its destruction and the inauguration of a Socialist society in which the producers will control production and the distribution of its product. This transformation of attitude towards the system will involve, necessarily, the shattering of the illusion of “freedom,” and the replacement of economic individualism by a realisation of the possibilities of social ownership.

The essential process that must precede the proletarian revolution is the preparation and education of the workers for their revolutionary task. By “education” we mean, primarily, the education flowing from observation and reasoning—the instruction of experience. To-day Socialists as a body are largely students who have acquired their mental outlook on society to a great extent by books and lectures—secondhand, so to speak. So long as the simple elements of Socialist thought generally necessitate this kind of preparation, the Socialist movement is in its early, almost embryonic, stage. Not until the basic proposition of Socialist theory takes root in the minds of masses of men because they are the inescapable inferences from the facts of social life, provide the obvious solution for the pressing, immediate problems of the social situation, and are so self-evident that no counter-propaganda can efface them—not until then can we consider that the movement has reached maturity.

There is evidence that capitalism has yet a considerable future before it; a future of intensive exploitation of the yet untouched areas of the earth; a future of economic centralisation crushing out the last effective remnants of individualism; a future of imperialism and war, of industrial and political anarchy without parallel; a future in which the workers will be hammered and battered into a recognition of social realities.

But alongside the education of experience and practice will go also the education in theoretical principles and tactics born of the conception of history we owe so greatly to Marx. The first form will provide the necessary groundwork of class-consciousness; the second, the essential guidance to a policy avoiding the pitfalls and errors that beset a revolutionary class groping its way amid endless problems along the path towards emancipation.

When the “knell of capitalist private property sounds” and the workers are massed in their might to overwhelm the puny masqueraders—fossil guardians of order and civilisation—they will move with a resolute intention that nothing can frustrate, win the powers of society from the paralysed hands of the parasites of property, and, with confidence born of knowledge, forged in struggle, build up on the basis of man’s conquests over nature the Co-operative Commonwealth.
R.W Housley

A scientist on his knees. (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is no mere incident that Sir Oliver Lodge in the pulpit finds his views in harmony with those age-long superstitions dealt out to the Workers by the Church. That institution has nobly played its part as hand-maid to the Ruling Class. It continues to do so to-day, despite the fact that scientific advance has banished much of their crude stock-in-trade. The science of a former decade found favour with the rising Capitalist Class because of the need to weaken the power of the clergy and aristocracy who hindered their progress and who claimed privilege by divine right. The Capitalist having won complete power, now seeks to convert the scientist into his paid servant in an endeavour to fight his more formidable enemy, the Working Class. It must be made to appear that the religious soporific of an after life has been approved by science. But the scientist in the pay of the Ruling Class need not expound scientific views. The hope is that his assertions will carry weight and preserve some of the ignorance on which the existence of our masters depends. Sir Oliver, as a bogey man, finds difficulties, so he attempts to meet them thus:—
“It might be said, and had been said: If the world is ruled by an all-seeing Providence infinitely wise, why pray to have anything changed ? . . . But that did not prevent them from asking for help. Could they not ask a friend to help them without interfering with anything.” (Sir Oliver Lodge, at St. Bennett’s Church, Mile End. Reported, East London Advertiser, June 6th, 1925.)
We suggest that the difficulty will be overcome when the workers realise the many absurdities of a system in which prayer is suggested as a remedy for social evils; when they understand with what ease their efforts could provide comfort and leisure for all if used for that purpose. But the Masters wish the Workers to look upward, away from this earth.
“If they found good evidence for a spiritual world let them accept it. … The existence of such a world might not appeal to their senses, but all the important things were detected by the mind, and not by the animal senses.” (Ibid.)
Note the “ifs,” and the “mights,” and the subtle inference separating the mind and the senses.

Science has demonstrated that the evolution of the whole cosmic system is one interminable chain of cause and effect working through ascertainable law. Man’s place in nature has been established, and the death blow given to Gods and superstition. Physiology shows the dependance of intellectual capacities upon the brain as an organ of thought, like other organs the result of age-long development. Not a shred of evidence can be advanced for the existence of any other life but the present one, for only in life can we have consciousness, and the only things we can be conscious of are the sensations and impressions of the material world around us obtained through the senses. Such knowledge is not for the workers—yet. For them the slightly modified superstitions of their primitive ancestors. After generations of mental distortion facts often cause them mental disturbance, but their only hope lies in the removal of ignorance, political and religious. The scientist, when speaking for his masters, wishes to preserve the attitude of mind conducive to such ignorance; says he:—
“They had to approach the subject in the attitude of little children in the presence of wiser and stronger people than themselves.” (Ibid.)
The same old story, trust your masters, and allow them and their sycophants to do your thinking for you. As Socialists we do not fight religion as a separate evil, it is only one of the institutions of the present system which, like poverty, crime, disease, and other evils, will depart with that system. Man’s power over, and control of, nature’s forces will be the end of super-naturalism and the coming of a world in which physical and mental development of the highest order will be the birthright of all.
W. E. MacHaffie

A Look Round. (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ethics of Commerce.

Capitalism produces some vile things. In no other age could the motive arise to adulterate and half poison the very essentials of life as is done to-day. As far back as 1860 an Act was passed for “preventing the adulteration of articles of food and drink,” yet the report of the Public Analysts recently published in a blue book admits that adulteration takes place “about the same as in former years.” (Report Morning Advertiser, Sept. 10, 1925). There is adulterated milk, butter containing washing soda, condensed milk containing lead, copper and tin, and jams dyed by salicylic acid. In one case a sample of “strawberry jam” was found to contain not less than 75 per cent, apple jelly, and not one “whole strawberry.” A trader was fined for exposing for sale jam which was described by the prosecution as being indescribably filthy and containing dust, dirt, and straw, and even a small piece of ham bone. Two samples consisting wholly of flavoured maize starch, without any dried egg, were described as “delicious custard.” There is even “Glorious Beer” contaminated with lead, arsenic, or an excessive amount of salt. Small wonder that the workers overworked, stifled in slums, and half poisoned, fill early graves in such numbers. Nor are the public authorities immune from suspicion. The very existence of an army of food and drug inspectors is evidence that this form of sophistication is inevitable under Capitalist society :—
“The owner of a carcase of meat which no one required locally, decided to send it to a large town. There was no local inspector, but under the regulations, the carcase had to be inspected locally. An inspector of drains and nuisances was sent for to carry out the inspection, although he lived five miles away and admitted that he knew nothing about the work.” (Letter from W. S. Stevens to the Times, July 22nd, 1925; quoted also Vegetarian, August.)
When medical science has said the last word it still remains for the Working Class to establish a sane system of society (Socialism). Only when such a system prevails in which pure food, fresh air, and rational pleasures are the prerogative of all, can the human organism develop powers of resistance to disease, disease which is admitted by all authoritative opinion to be mainly the outcome of unhealthy social conditions.

* * *

The truth about the Rates and Taxes.

Probably one of the prejudices most difficult to dislodge from the workers’ mind is their concern over Rates and Taxes. The truth regarding this question is obscured by appearances, and discussion is often difficult because most of the workers’ thinking is superficial. To remove confusion, these deceptive appearances must first be put aside so that a deeper insight may be obtained. The question is an economic one. Out of the total wealth which the workers alone produce from nature’s material—what determines the share that falls to the Working Class and the Capitalists respectively? Rates and taxes have been put on and taken off year in and out. Prices of the necessaries of life have likewise varied. Taking a sufficiently lengthy period (say, 20 years) all the variations have been experienced. Have the workers ever gained any real advantage from these variations ? Did bonuses help them during the war when they barely covered the already advanced prices? Did the later fall in prices help them? Did not the removal of bonuses and wage adjustments bring conditions roughly to their former state? The answers are all plain ones. Likewise, there have been years of relatively higher or lower rates and taxation but each year end finds the Working Class as they were at its beginning—in poverty. Why? They can produce much more in a given time than is necessary to sustain them for that time, but that “much more” is the property of their masters. The chattel slave of antiquity did likewise, but he was fed and sheltered directly by the slave owner. No one would suggest that he paid the Taxes of the Roman Empire. They were paid out of the wealth which the slaves produced. Where, then, is the difference? It is merely a surface one; though the modern slave receives a wage he can only obtain with it the necessaries of life on the average. The exploiting nature of the buying of Labour Power is covered by the deceptive appearance of the money payment. Deluding the workers that they contribute towards taxation is pre-supposing that in some mysterious way they receive more than a subsistence wage. But the Capitalists take ALL the wealth produced and return only that wage, or cost of living. All Capitalist expenditure, therefore, such as the maintenance of criminals, of paupers, and the cost of Poor Law Relief, comes out of the wealth the workers produce but DO NOT GET. If the workers want proof that these expenses concern the Master Class only, we point to the reform legislation introduced by them that deals with such expenditure; Old Age Pensions, for example. The cost of maintaining aged paupers is less outside than inside institutions. The cost of the Workmen’s Compensation Act is less than other forms of maintaining Capital’s human wreckage. The Widows’ Pensions Bill is further evidence. Introducing this Bill Mr. Chamberlain proceeded to deal with the charge that it would impose an impossible burden on industry :—
“Proceeding, he put some considerations on the other side which are to be taken into account in weighing up the advantages and disadvantages. . . . There will be immediate relief of the rates, estimated at about 3 millions a year, which will probably rise until it gets to about 7 millions a year” (quoted, Gleanings and Memoranda, June).
Thus the paraded philanthropy of Widows’ Pensions is found to be a repetition of the Lloyd George Old Age Pension swindle, a device for saving Capitalist rates. Fellow workers, study our position and you will cease being bated by your masters and their agents over matters that haven’t the slightest concern for you if you but knew it. Which is the most important, relief for your masters’ rates and taxes, or relief from your present slavery and consequent poverty ?

* * *

Nationalisation or Socialism.

The pet scheme of the I.L.P. and the Labour Party has always been Nationalisation. That they call Socialism and they point to the Post Office as its standing example :—
“The Post Office was really the one big Socialist organisation that had been built up in this country.” (Vernon Hartshorn, late P.M.G., Observer, May 4th, 1924.)
We oppose Nationalisation because we claim and show that it is only a form of Capitalist ownership leaving the workers wage slaves still separated from their means of life and compelled to work for the collective Capitalists under a system of State ownership. The economy effected in the use of human labour power through co-ordination means a decrease in the number of workers required for Capitalist production and distribution. Nationalisation, therefore, means that the workers are still to remain a subject class whilst their conditions will be worsened.

Our alternative is common ownership, which will abolish privately owned wealth and the class subjection which is its outcome. Speaking at Durham Ramsay McDonald said :—”The Labour Party stands for Nationalisation”; but, more important, he said also :—
“I should not be doing justice to you or to myself if I told you that Nationalisation was going to get you out of your present difficulties. You know I should be lying if I tried to spoof you in that way.” (Times, July 27th, 1925.)
So, for 25 and 30 years respectively, the Labour Party and the I.L.P. have been lying and spoofing you because they have told you thousands of times that public ownership or Nationalisation is the only remedy for the social evils from which you suffer. Furthermore, we have always insisted that with even a substantial Labour majority as in Australian Labour Governments, you cannot have Socialism, if such Party has been elected on a mandate merely to administer Capitalism. Such Parties fail because they cannot, even if they wished, force Socialism against the wishes of a Working Class who still cling to Capitalism under some form or other. Again the hypocrite, MacDonald, supplies the evidence though not at election times, that would lose votes :—
“Even if they had a revolution they could not create a Socialist state out of it. In building up their state they had to deal with the habits, the prejudices, and the expectations of the people, and when that failed they would be compelled to retreat.” (Report of I.L.P. Summer School, Daily Herald, August 4th, 1925.)
One of the mental habits of which the Working Class must rid themselves is the expectation that any Government or set of people can achieve their emancipation for them : While the workers place political power in the hands of the Master Class or their decoy Labour agents they will be compelled to retreat again and again : only when through class understanding they elect and control their own Socialist representatives can they go forward with the objective they have in view, the conversion of Capitalist Property to Common Property, the Socialist objective.

* * *

‘Orrible news from Russia. 

Apart from the possibility of establishing Socialism in any isolated country, we have always maintained that a widespread Socialist opinion was impossible in such a country as Russia, where social production, the generating condition for such ideas, had not even been developed. That did not prevent us from giving the Bolsheviks full credit for their achievements carried through under great difficulties. Likewise, we have consistently refused to pour scorn upon them for failures that were inevitable under the particular conditions prevailing in that country. Many and varied have been the opinions of the Labourites who have visited Russia. Apparently, each sees exactly what he wishes others to believe he has seen. Lansbury went “to see what a Socialist Revolution looks like at close quarters and came back convinced that there is perfect freedom for everybody to worship God.” (What I saw in Russia : Lansbury.) The trade unionists find perfect models of trade union organisation and decide to apply their experience to British conditions as soon as they return home. (Visit of W.I.R. Delegation, Morning Post, Aug. 18, 1925.) Others profess to see only starvation and misery, while Mrs. Snowden finds the Bolsheviks insulting the great religious figures and decrying religion (Daily Telegraph, Sept. 8, 1925). Some may remember the stock bogies of the Capitalists and their agents in the past : the Boer and the white flag, the always drunk and bestial German officers, the alien agitator spreading sedition in “our” country. Mrs. Snowden’s pet obsession is :—
“One little fellow who rattled off his father’s pet Communist speech and demanded that we should go back home and tell the British workman to turn the rich people into the street.” (Through Bolshevik Russia, Mrs. Snowden.)
That was in 1920, but another precocious orator appears in 1925 :—
“One little fellow of 13 or 14 years of age delivered a speech which he had learnt by heart in the language of the Commissars. It was one long tirade against everybody except the proletariat.
  On another occasion a little boy said to Mr. Ben Turner : “Why don’t you in England kill all the bourgeoisie? In Russia we have killed them.” Mr. Turner mildly explained that people in England did not do such things, but the boy turned away in contempt, saying-: “It is better that you should kill them.” (Daily Telegraph, August 8th, 1925.)
Mrs. Snowden thinks such words strange to come from the lips of a little boy. So do I, but not for her reason. Boys of 13 are not in the habit of memorising long political speeches. And there does not appear any language difficulty. No interpreter was, apparently, there, the “little fellow” just turned away uttering his murderous views as he “turned.” Perhaps.

Ben understands Russian “mildly,” or. being considerate perhaps, the “little fellow” spoke in English. Strange—yes ! Such trifles apart, however, they enable Mrs. Snowden to prate of “the effects of teaching the hard theories of Bolshevism without the softening influences of Christian Faith, love and justice.” Regarding the latter, most people will remember their practical application by the Christian Nations during the years 1914-18. As for the softening process there certainly does seem some evidence. Loosely speaking, we would say that it takes place in the region of the thinking apparatus.
W. E. MacHaffie

The highways of slaughter. (1925)

From the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The daily slaughter of the workers on the railways, in the mine, in fact, throughout industry, has almost become a commonplace. Being a commonplace, it excites little more than passing sympathy, and the usual flood of nauseating Capitalist cant. But a new peril has arisen : “The Slaughter of the Highway.”
“There were 25,342 street accidents in the metropolitan area of London alone, during the quarter ending June 25th. Fatal injuries were inflicted on 226 people, 191 of them by motor vehicles (quoted, The Ratepayer, August). 73 casualties occurred in England and Wales from motor accidents for the week-end September 13-15th, 1925, of which number 26 were killed” (Daily Express, September 15th 1925).
The above figures only allow a very small estimate of the toll of human life throughout the country, but it might cause the workers to ask a few pertinent questions. Whose is the commercial motor? Is it not the property of the speeding-up-profit-grinder?—whether it be the heavily laden motor-lorry or the traffic grabbing ‘bus combine. Whose is the Rolls Royce and the Daimler? Is it not the expensive toy of the class for whose pleasure and profit our class are murdered on the sea, the battlefield, in the mine, and now upon the very streets we walk? Dare their apologists deny it? They cannot without lying. They can only whine lest you realise at long last that the pleasures and the profits of the few are the fruits of your sacrifice in every department of life. Hear them :—
“It would be a grievous thing to the life of the road and of the community if hatred of motorists follows in the wake of the daily toll of accidents that are collected by the Press” (Westminster Gazette, September 21st, 1925.)
Would it? What a grievous thing if the workers realised that the toll of the road, bad as it is, is as nothing to the toll of human misery the Capitalist system engenders for them. The community, indeed (sic). In their sense it is merely the cant word for Capitalist Class. Did that class consult the “community” over that stupendous event, the war? Do you think they will bother about a mere handful of you in comparison with the loss of life that the war was bound to involve? No. Just as in a mining disaster they rush their black coated clerics to the scene lest the tragedy arouse your hatred of them and their hellish system, so their prostitute journalists rush into print in an effort to lull you into the belief that the ever growing motor peril is incidental and passing. But even in their efforts to bluff you they belie themselves as they invariably do in other matters concerning Working Class life. The same writer admits that even after precautions and penalties have been scientifically enforced :—
“We shall still have to accept a residuum of yearly accidents as an average. That price must be paid for the boon which motoring has brought, just as a similar price has to be paid for transport by sea, railroad, or air” (Ibid).
We ! To whom has motoring brought the boon? And who are the “we” that must ”pay the price” ? As Socialists we welcome all means to shorten toil and extend pleasure. But just as the vast improvements in machinery, transport, and scientific methods of producing wealth bring their harvest of disasters and poverty under Capitalist private ownership, so the motor, both commercial and pleasure, in the hands of the Capitalist highwaymen extends the inconveniences and the dangers of your already here-to-day and gone-to-morrow poverty existence.
W. E. MacHaffie

New Publications. (1925)

Party News from the October 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hard Coal and Soft Soap. (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to Professor Harebrain, the cause of the trouble in the mining industry is a very simple one. The miners eat too much, far too much. If they would only cut their animal needs down to, say, two meals a day, later to be reduced to one or less, their industry would flourish as of yore. Consequently, as their meals decreased, the need for wages would diminish, and when they had learned to dispense with meals altogether, wages could be brought down nearly to zero. Clothing they have already reduced to the minimum, and as for shelter, well, the roof of the mine is usually sufficient. An example so infectious could not fail to impress the railwaymen, who bring the coal from the pithead to the consumer. Working above ground, they would, doubtless, feel the need for more clothing than the miner, but even now, their benevolent employers insist upon supplying their needs in this direction. With only shelter to concern them, their wages would not be so near absolute zero as the miners, but obviously the room for an economic wage would be enormous. Then, look at the tremendous repercussion of these conditions on the rest of industry, and on the world. With coal at fivepence halfpenny a ton and rail carriage about the same, we could undersell and bankrupt the whole of Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Australia and Bardsey Island. Doubtless, this would injure our foreign trade, but, as the Professor says, “damn foreign trade, anyway.” Food we should have dispensed with : clothing would become unnecessary; for with coal so ridiculously cheap, we would have huge fires all the year round. As for shelter—well, in the last analysis, all the population could enter the coal mines and so render even that superfluous. The eminent Professor realised that at this point the question arises—with the whole population safely stowed in the mines, why produce coal at all? Exactly ! Well, possibly the last man in will take a few dynamite cartridges in his pocket, and having cut the cage rope will set alight to himself and so solve the problem for all time.

It is easy to see that Professor Harebrain is a bit muddled. It should be just as easy to see that all the other well-meaning people who are just now tendering advice as to how the mining industry should be run are equally muddled. Some say that if the mines were grouped into areas all would be well. Others that only nationalisation will save the situation. Some suggest that the erection of super-power stations at the pithead will bring prosperity; others, again, the hydrogenation of coal into oil.

We will be paradoxical; we will take a wider, and, at the same time, a narrower view. The bulk of this nation is composed of workers. The nation has no existence apart from them. We therefore take their view. Nothing can be wider than that. It, therefore, narrows the issue down to the question of their interests alone, for whoever is not a worker is living at their expense. The mining industry, like all industries under capitalism, contains two living elements : a vast number of workers and a small number of owners. The workers, not yet having adopted Prof. Harebrain’s advice, are periodically hungry, cold, and in need of shelter. They are, as a class, destitute of all save the capacity for work. Bone, brain and brawn are all they possess. They are reservoirs of energy; an energy singularly valuable, for it has the magical quality of giving more than it gets. It can convert the worthless into the valuable. It can take coal, for instance, from the recesses of the earth’s crust, where it has lain for untold millions of years, and convert it into a desirable and useful article. Left where Nature placed it, it is worthless, one with the dried mud which encloses it. Operated upon by human bone and sinew, it becomes a thing of value. Looked at with a microscope, the coal at the pithead differs in no respect from the coal in the seam. But it is different, nevertheless. It contains something it did not possess before. It is human labour. Invisibly crystallised in every shining lump is the blood and sweat of the miner. Daily the miner enters the pit, fresh and vigorous, and daily he returns (if he has not been unlucky) tired and jaded. But his energy has not vanished into thin air. It is embodied in the coal. It can be measured. It is measured. This process is realised when the coal is confronted with an equivalent on the market. A thousand tons of coal may be worth a country estate, or a steam yacht. They are, therefore, exchanged, and the owner of 1,000 tons of coal becomes the owner of a house or yacht. If he were of a confiding, candid nature, he would call his workers together one afternoon and address them thusly :

“Brave lads ! You have worked hard and well. The day before yesterday, 1,000 tons of coal reposed in Stygian blackness in my mine. According to my son, late of Balliol, it had lain where you found it two hundred million years. He may be a few years out, but that need not detain us. Suffice it to say that you have got it out to the light of day for me, and as I had no possible use for such a quantity, I have exchanged it for a steam yacht. In this I propose to visit the Mediterranean during the ensuing winter, and you, my faithful friends can carry on with the good work. You have had an exhausting time, but, after all, you are used to it, and someone has to do it, anyway. My private opinion is that you like it, for look at the years you have been doing it. Before you so kindly presented me with my thousand tons, you had been doing similarly with other owners in the neighbourhood. They tell me that your patience is exemplary, but that, like a docile horse, there are moments when even you jib. But also like the domestic animal, you never get rid of your driver. This seems to me one of your most excellent characteristics. The newspapers call it your inherent good sense. Without doubt, it is a most excellent arrangement, and so long as you are prepared to do the working, I shall be happy to go on owning. (Interruption.) What’s that? Where do you come in ? I am glad you asked that question. I clearly recognise that, after all, you are human beings; you get hungry, cold and exposed to our inclement weather. I can see that your energy is in constant need of replenishment; that if you do not get the minimum of animal needs you will die. And as I could not extract 1,000 tons of coal from the earth myself, I should be hard put to it to escape a like fate, and might even be reduced to the necessity of working myself. This, or rather these catastrophies can be avoided, and, as a reasonable man, I propose to allow each of you a sum that will enable you to support life and renew the energy of which you are so prodigal. Obviously, I cannot do this unless you first make it for me (unless I borrow it), so that you will see the necessity for hard work (on your part) and huge output. True, in spite of all our efforts, I may not be able to sell the coal you have dragged up for me, and you may have to suffer great privation for having produced more wealth than is needed, but this is a state of things unfortunate but inevitable. My brother, who owns a newspaper, has repeatedly explained this regrettable feature of our system to you, and I am sure, having read it so often, you must agree with him that unemployment is a deplorable but necessary and inevitable evil, past the wit of man to remedy. I remember we talked over it quite a lot whilst we were wintering in Egypt last season. Rest assured that if the problem has not been solved, it is not from want of thought. If you only knew the amount of thought devoted to this problem alone on the Riviera, at the Casino, the Cote d’Azur, Aix les Bains, the Tyrol, Switzerland and numbers of other educational centres, you would be astonished. The principal adviser you must shun is the Socialist. He will tell you that I am unnecessary and useless; that, even if I were to stop in the Mediterranean, or drop in the Mediterranean, you could still get along without me. He will tell you that as the mines are vital to the people, the people should own them. He will contend that what is for the common good should be communally owned and worked for the benefit of all. He will ask you to vote your representatives into Parliament, in order to take my mine away from me, the railways and factories from their owners, the land from its owners, and so on. What fustian ! Does he realise that he will abolish the rich; that I and several hundreds like me will be reduced to the necessity of working like everyone else ? What crazy stuff ! Why everyone knows that it is the rich that supply the poor with work. And hard work is beneficial—at least for the great majority of people. So set to, my lads. Scientists say there is enough coal to last us two hundred years yet, so wire in and win it. Drop this talk of ending the present system, abolishing poverty, overwork and unemployment. Drop this short hours and high wages stunt and concentrate on hard work. There is nothing like it. When, in the Spring, I return from my voyage, I want to see every man-jack of you working like Trojans, and stacks and stacks of coal selling like hot cakes. I shall then get the deer forest I have been after, and you—well, you will be getting your wages, won’t you. Good-bye, my lads ! To it with a will. Good-bye!” (Loud and prolonged cheering.)
W. T Hopley

Letter: The Anti-Fascists again. (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Union for Combating Fascism has at last replied to the criticisms of them which appeared in the April Standard. Their reply is dealt with below. Before they sent their reply, the N.U.C.F. forwarded part of an article taken from the July issue of their paper, the Clear Light, and asked us to print it. As it did not mention us and contained no reference whatever to our criticism we naturally assumed that it had been sent in error. We wrote pointing this out and asked for their reply to our “April” article. It arrived too late for our August issue.

Mr. Holdsworth’s letter is given in full :—

Comrades,—In your last issue you charged the National Union for Combating Fascism with being an anti-working class organisation. I could only conclude that you knew nothing about the N.U.C.F., so I forwarded a statement outlining the outlook and aims of the organisation. Your reply took the form of a sarcastic rejoinder through the post, thus proving to me that I had little to expect from the “precarious indulgence of that abstraction you call Ed. Com.” I am prompted to go further into the matter only by the fact that the British Fascisti have seized on your charge and are now using yourselves wherewith to check our attacks on them—a splendid commentary on the N.U.C.F. slogan that sectional bickering, faced with organised counter-revolution, is fiddling whilst Freedom burns.

But you say that you have produced evidence that the N.U.C.F. is certainly an anti-working class organisation. I want your readers to note the nature of the evidence itself. I give it as quoted and misquoted by yourselves.
  1. That we reject the British Communists, but accept their anti-Marxist theory that capitalism will in some mysterious way collapse. (A misrepresentation of our position.)
  2. That an individual writer in The Clear Light has spoken of the need to organise the workers to overthrow the capitalist system. (He has as much right to express his opinion thus as Bax has to say that no man can tell how Socialism will come.)
  3. That we have said there are hundreds of thousands of revolutionary socialists in Great Britain. (Jack London put the figure at 100,000 as far back as 1905.)
  4. That the editors are apparently not of the working-class. (Compare Marx and Engels. One editor and a wage slave.)
  5. That we advocate the simple, clean, direct, open fight, without hesitation and without compromise. (We most certainly do—and what a crime against the working class.)
  6. That we call on all Socialists to unite. (Don’t you?)
  7. That we provide a rallying point for the progressives of all shades of Labour, Communist and Anarchist opinion. (And have been successful, so far.)
On these points you have arraigned us as enemies of the working class. Let your readers judge—or tell them, straight out, that the way of the S.P.G.B. is the one and only way, and that the N.L.P., the I.L.P., the S.D.F., the C.P., the A.P.C.F,, the S.L.P., the N.U.C.F., the C.L.C., and the anarchist groups are, the lot of them, enemies of the working class. You might also explain to them how Marxians arrive at the conclusion that organised counter-revolution is a “red-herring” unworthy of consideration, (I make bold to say that, within two years’ time, unless the Labour Movement takes a hand in checking it, that herring will be a whale, and a black one at that.)

I now challenge your own position, and meet me, if you can, without knocking the bottom out of your own vituperative malice against an organisation, all workers and all of them members of some one of the organisations above-mentioned, seeking to awaken the Movement to the fact that counter-revolution is in the saddle.

The present formation of the N.U.C.F. began as the old S.D.F. began—that school of scientific Socialists—it began, as Bax puts it, “an executive without a tail.” Are we to be dubbed “anti-working class” on that account? Then dub the old S.D.F. likewise—the forerunner of yourselves.

We apply principles to tendencies. Marx did likewise. But we are not fossilised Marxians. We are not a select circle of intellectuals mouthing a bunch of formulae whilst Counter-revolution organises itself. If we were, then you could, with some justification, call us enemies of the working class.

Now let me enlighten you a little further. The N.U.C.F. was not formed or initiated by those at present active in it, but by some other, Socialists likewise, who, finding it uphill work, dumped their burden on ourselves. But we carried on. And we shall carry on. And as soon as ever it is possible, a conference will be held, and we, personally, shall be relieved of the suspicion cast on us by such as yourselves, which, after all, was cast on no man more foully than on Karl Marx.
Alfred Holdsworth,
Editor, The Clear Light.

Our Reply.
For convenience we will use numbered paragraphs as above.

(1) We can only repeat what we wrote in April. On page 1 of the February Clear Light we are told that “The day is dawning when the onus of choice will be flung upon the masses …”, but on page 2 we find that the workers “must be prepared …to overthrow the existing order.” No one explains why the workers need organise to overthrow something which is going to collapse from its own weakness, which is sinking “by its own weight.”

(2) A journal or a party which has one official policy but allows individuals to remain members while expressing their belief that that policy is unsound, is confusing the minds of the workers. One policy or the other must be wrong. It is, of course, necessary for the workers to organise to overthrow capitalism, but this is inconsistent with the N.U.C.F. Communist belief that capitalism will “collapse” through its own weakness. What on earth Mr. Bax has to do with us or with the point at issue, Mr. Holdsworth unfortunately does not explain.

(3) The N.U.C.F. claims (without offering a shadow of evidence) that there are “hundreds of thousands of revolutionary Socialists” in Great Britain. Asked for proof, they can only protest that Jack London in 1905 suffered from the same vice as themselves of mistaking hopes for facts. Jack London may have had some excuse in 1905, and was probably mislead through accepting the idle chatter of the Mr. Holdsworths of those days. We repeat that the assertion is idiotic, and again ask Mr. Holdsworth if he will turn a Clear Light upon the mysterious failure of these hundreds of thousands (if they exist) to organise into a Socialist Party, and if he will explain why they refrain from expressing their views at the ballot box.

(4) Marx and Engels did not talk as does the N.U.C.F. about the necessity for “us” to “prepare the masses, the poor victims of the old order” as if “the masses” were to be mere cannon fodder in the hands of “us” generals of the Revolutionary Army. On the contrary, they recognised that emancipation must be the work of the workers themselves.

(5) A simple, direct open fight is just what the N.U.C.F. does not and could not wage. Not to do so is a crime against the working class. We charge them with that crime. Rallying “the progressives of all shades of Labour, Socialist, Communist and Anarchist opinion …” precludes the possibility of carrying on a “simple, direct” fight for or against anything whatever. The idea of such a weird collection of persons fighting for Socialism is ludicrous.

(6) Mr. Holdsworth now talks about calling on “all Socialists to unite.” In April we criticised Aim number 1 as printed in their February issue. It read as follows :— “To provide a rallying point for the progressives of all shades of Labour, Socialist, Communist and Anarchist opinion …”This we said was nonsense. In the next issue of The Clear Light (April-May) and in subsequent issues the words “Labour,” “Communist,” and “Anarchist” are omitted. Was this because Mr. Holdsworth had to recognise that our criticism was justified and that this aim was indefensible? But even now the N.U.C.F.’s actions belie their claim. We call on Socialists to unite and fight for Socialism. The N.U.C.F. calls on Socialists to join with various kinds of anti-Socialists in supporting the Labour Party and other definitely anti-Socialist bodies.

(7) If the N.U.C.F. has been successful in rallying Communists, Anarchists, etc., why did it alter its aim to exclude them?

Mr. Holdsworth, somewhat late in the day, challenges us to tell the workers “straight out that the way of the S.P.G.B. is the one and only way,” and that a long list of organisations are “the lot of them enemies of the working class.” If he had ever troubled to read our literature or even one issue of the Socialist Standard, he would know that this is just what we do and have always done. Never by word or deed have we supported the Labour Party or any other political party. We advocate our policy because we believe it to be the correct policy for the workers of Great Britain. We do not, like Mr. Holdsworth, belong to one organisation because we believe its policy to be wrong, and that half-a-dozen other contrary policies are just as, good (or bad). We do not mislead by pretending that the question of aims and methods does not matter.

To note one incident only, we observe that not one of the political parties he mentions took up a Socialist attitude to the war in 1914. Those who supported that war were “enemies of the working class.” Let Mr. Holdsworth dispute it if he can.

We do not say that “organised counter-revolution” is an impossibility. We recognised the possibility 20 years ago. What we do say is that our way is the best method of dealing with it. We are, however, not given to working out plans for the future based on the remote possibility of “red herrings” turning into “black whales.”

We meet Mr. Holdsworth’s challenge by asking how the N.U.C.F. can be other than anti-working class since it gives support to and allows members to belong to the political bodies he mentions?

We do, and, since our formation, always have, dubbed the S.D.F. anti-working class. Did it not support the war, and does it not still advocate the reform of the capitalist system? We want the abolition of that system.

We broke away from the S.D.F. because we thought them wrong, not because we thought them right.

It is interesting to note that the N.U.C.F. has never had a conference, and presumably, therefore, has no kind of democratic control by the members. (By the way, who authorised the alteration in the aims?) Mr. Holdsworth has still not told us that the N.U.C.F. is willing to open all its meetings freely to the public. If it were democratic, “simple and direct,” etc., it would have nothing to hide from us or from the Fascisti, and could then not complain that the latter were using our statements against the N.U.C.F.

Undemocratic and secret societies are dangerous only to the working class.—Ed. Com.

The men of science and their “religion”. (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The subject of the history of the conflict between science and religion, is one which provides its students with an interest from more than one point of view. Not only does it reveal how, with the advance of scentific knowledge, religion has been compelled to either abandon or modify its teachings, it also shows how accommodating some scientists can be when dealing with religion.

That the positive outcome of science spells death to religion is a fact which some scientists either attempt to conceal or avoid in their own peculiar way. Like certain of the leading lights of the Church, who pretend that the findings of modern science can be harmonised with religion, some “scientists” are not averse to trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Readers of Herbert Spencer will recall his celebrated attempt in this direction, as given in the first part of his work, “First Principles.” In that work, Spencer speaks of all things, including the universe, as having proceeded from “an infinite and Eternal Energy.” But, said Spencer, about this “Infinite and Eternal Energy” we neither know nor can know anything; it being “an inscrutable mystery.”

This “Unknowable,” Spencer declared, belongs to the sphere of religion, whilst all that is known or is knowable belongs to the domain of science. Therefore, to follow Spencer, since religion and science are totally independent of each other, the one concerned with “The Unknowable,” the other with the knowable, both should keep within their own province and be “reconciled.” In reality, this was Spencer’s way of performing a feat of mental gymnastics. For surely there could be no stranger reconciliation. Religion is made to give up to science all that is knowable, and to rest contented with absolutely nothing to live upon. The humour of the position is delightful, although, apparently, the humour was not intended by Spencer. His so-called reconciliation reminds one of the man who agreed to being with his mother-in-law on condition that she committed suicide.

However, there was little need for surprise when it was learned that Spencer himself found it necessary to state in his “Autobiography” that he regarded his work on “The Unknowable” as being “relatively unimportant.” In fact, he agreed that it had no direct bearing on his general scientific works. Nevertheless, “The Unknowable” has comforted many poor souls who must have an abstraction of some kind to worship.

The fatal mistake made by Spencer rested on his treating religion and science as though they are absolutely exclusive subjects. And the same thing is done by certain of the present day scientists. But while this position may be a very convenient one to those who desire to avoid an “awkward” situation, it is none the less unscientific and absurd. For, fundamentally, religion and science are not as the poles apart in the sense laid down by Spencer. Both are concerned with explaining the world around us. Religion claims to explain the universe in terms of the supernatural, everything, to the religionist, even when he claims to accept the doctrine of evolution, is the outcome of “God Almighty.” Science, on the other hand, explains everything, as far as actual knowledge goes, along lines of natural causation, and finds no need for the “hypothesis of God” to explain anything. Thus, since religion and science are seen to be fundamentally opposed in their explanations of natural phenomena, the conflict between them is inevitable and irreparable. Nevertheless, not all scientists are prepared to indicate the logical outcome of their own work in the field of science; some prefer to pander to the prejudices of the religionists. To give a case in point : In connection with the recent trial in America, where a teacher was charged with “breaking the law” by teaching evolution, Professor J. Arthur Thomson contributed an article to the Daily News on “Evolution and the Bible.”

In that article Professor Thomson quite easily disposed of those people who rely upon Bible teachings to refute the principle of evolution. He reminded his readers that the evolution doctrine is the only scientific account yet advanced to show how living things came to be as they are. He also pointed out that, while there is unanimity among scientists regarding the fact of evolution, there is a considerable difference of opinion among them regarding the “factors of evolution.” Further, the Professor well describes the doctrine of evolution as “a piece of naturalistic historical description.” But, as the old saying goes, after the Lord Mayor’s Show comes the dust cart—instead of showing how all this conflicted with religion, the Professor attempted to “square the circle” in the following manner :—
“It should be noted, however, that the fundamentalist reaction and obscurantism may be partly due to a lack of carefulness in the scientific presentation of evolutionism. Thus the evolution theory has often been presented as if it necessarily implied an acceptance of a mechanistic or materialistic philosophy; and man’s affiliation with mammals has often been stated in a manner so crude that it has obscured his apartness. There is no reason in the world, as far as we know, why a sound evolutionist should not have a religious philosophy. Rather there is, we think, every reason in the world for being both evolutionist and religious.”—Daily News, July 14th, 1925.
Now, it would have proved interesting had the Professor explained what he meant by “a materialistic philosophy,” and how an evolutionist could embrace religion. As they stand, these statements may mean anything and everything but the right thing. Anyhow, there is good ground for believing that Professor Thomson has a special reason for slighting materialism. Materialists have long been the butt of misrepresentation and abuse. As Engels once said of certain of the opponents of materialism, they represent it to mean “gluttony, drunkenness, carnal lust, and fraudulent speculation.” In fact, materialism has been charged with every conceivable vice. Hence the desire of certain “scientists” to repudiate materialism. Nevertheless, the fact is that the doctrine of evolution and science in general, does logically imply a materialistic philosophy, Professor Thomson and other scientists notwithstanding. For that philosophy is simply a view of nature founded upon the facts established by modern science. As Professor Sir Ray Lankester says :—
“The history of scientific discoveries is a history of materialistic successes : for no scientific discovery has ever been made that is not based upon materialism and mechanism.”
Some scientists may disown materialism, but, as another writer has observed, “it lies at the basis of all their efforts.” No matter in which department of science a scientist may be engaged, whether as Astronomer, Geologist, Biologist or Sociologist, his business consists of ascertaining positive knowledge of nature’s workings. And one of the outstanding facts of modern science is, that there is no break or gap in the continuity of natural phenomena. Where gaps exist, the scientist explains that they are only in our knowledge, and not in the “framework of things.” An isolated happening in nature is a myth, for cause and effect is seen to be the rule operating throughout. From this it follows then that the idea of supernatural interference is a figment of the imagination. Science has rendered “God” not only unemployed, but unemployable, without even the power to draw the “dole.” 

When Professor Thomson tells us that an evolutionist may have a religion, we are prompted to suspect that he associates a meaning with religion which it will not logically bear. Nowadays religion has come to mean all sorts of things, and thus we hear of “the religion of ethics,” “the religion of humanity,” and even “the religion of Socialism.” But this is all so much a matter of confusing the issue. Historically, religion has meant the belief in and worship of supernatural beings, and this is its essential meaning to-day; it cannot be separated from the god idea. As Engels has said : “If religion can exist without God, then alchemy can exist without its philosopher’s stone.”

Scientific investigation has revealed that religion first took form in primitive times through the ignorance of primitive men concerning the world around them. Fear and ignorance gave primitive man his gods, and Jehovah, the God of the Bible, is really no more than the gods of the savage transformed under the pressure of a continuous social development. Thus, “religious philosophy,” to use Professor Thomson’s phrase, necessarily implies a belief in this “God” and implies the acceptance of the story of creation.

The evolutionist who can harmonise the myth of “Divine creation” with the principle of evolution may be regarded as sincere, but only at the expense of his sanity. If the Professor, in his capacity of biologist, attempted to explain the differences between man and the anthropoids by saying, “God created them,” he knows he would be ridiculed by his brother biologists. And well deserved such ridicule would be.
Robert Reynolds