Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Editorial: The real meaning of Revolution. (1925)

Editorial from the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

False ideas about Revolution are being spread by every agency of reaction and confusion. The open defenders of capitalism as well as the so-called Labour Parties are active in distorting the meaning of Revolution. Flaring headlines in the press speak of the advocacy of violence as Revolution, whereas in most cases the advocates as well as the users of violence are the defenders of property. In “respectable” Labour circles the “right honourables” talk of bloodshed and revolution as interchangeable terms, thus soothing their followers in the belief that revolution is something horrible and chaotic as opposed to the quiet and peaceful policy of capitalism and reform.

These votaries of brotherly love ignore the fact that force and butchery have always been a part of the reign of private property. In war and in so-called peace times the property-owning class have never hesitated to use force to gain their ends. In fact, violence has often been promoted in the workers’ ranks by agents of capital to make the butchery or defeat of the workers easier. Labour Governments, too, have been active the world over in threatening and using force against the workers. The record of Labour Governments in Germany and elsewhere is clear evidence of this.

Hence the talk about revolution meaning violence is pure hypocrisy amongst the supporters and reformers of capitalism.

While stupid anarchists and direct actionists have also talked about force, the fact remains that those who seek to replace Capitalism by Socialism do not play the capitalist game of advocating violence.

Force and violence are not Revolution. Revolution to a Socialist means the complete change from Capitalism to Socialism achieved by the control of political power by an organised and informed working class. Not a rebellion of a section of workers; not a general strike for higher wages ; not a seizure of government by a few intent on dictatorship, but an organised action on the part of the majority of the workers who see the necessity of becoming politically supreme in order to transform the economic system. The revolution is made necessary by economic development, and it can only be successful if the working class understands the Socialist position. Therefore the educational work of the S.P.G.B.

A dish of tripe. Selected from “Lansbury’s Weekly”. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although the dictionary does not mention it, there are two kinds of tripe. One is an article of food prepared from the stomachs of ruminant animals. Cooked in milk and seasoned to taste, it forms a light and nutritious meal—for those who like it. The other tripe is a euphemistic expression applied generally to soft and sloppy utterances, or expressions of unusually foolish opinions. Take Lansbury’s Labour Weekly, for instance. When we say ”take” it, we speak figuratively. Refrain from so doing if you doubt your ability to distinguish tripe from treacle. Only a particularly vindictive newsagent would deliver it in mistake for a newspaper. We have done him no harm that we remember. Fortunately he relented after the one deadly stroke and we have seen no more since the issue of September 26th.

The cover and get up are strongly suggestive of that other organ of culture, John Bull. The same buff cover, with a shockingly drawn carpenter holding a flag of some sort, instead of the tun-bellied, pugnacious dog-fancier who adorns the rival journal. Inside we find the same flamboyant headlines, the same “open letters” to selected public officials, many of the same advertisements, the same type, and the same printers. The reading is different, naturally, as a separate twopence is required for each journal. You may judge if the twopence would not be better spent on an ice-wafer after sampling the following spoonfuls. They are as typical as spoonfuls of such a dish can be.

Problems of Real Life are answered by “Martha.” They make one sigh for an “unreal” life, whatever that state might be. These are the problems that are racking the revolutionary readers of Lansbury’s Labour Weekly. Need an illegitimate child produce a detailed birth-certificate when obtaining a job? X.Y.Z. asks if she is still legally married after having given the wrong age. Answer : “Forget all about it and go and see your mother.” A Comrade writes that because he has not matriculated he cannot become a Sanitary Inspector. “Another example of Tory unfairness,” he says. “Not at all,” says “Martha,” “read Jack London’s books.” H.T.C., a miner, is horribly fed up with coal getting, writes poetry, and wonders if he will ever get out of the mine. “Yes,” says “Martha,” “you won’t stay in your mine. I think you will write some day. . . I have a suit in good condition that would fit a very big man. Send me a p.c. if you think you would fit it.” Another Comrade who has just married a man with four children, is appalled at the amount of food they eat. Answer: “Martha” knows that workers have more right to sirloins of the roast beef of old England than shirkers, but they simply can’t afford it. “Make good, nourishing stews,” says “Martha.” And suet pudding. It certainly has a “filling” effect. Lastly, we come to “Morning Sickness.” “Several husbands have written about this subject, saying how it distressed them.” Ye gods! Husbands with morning sickness. We have heard some in the Labour movement referred to as “old woman,” but never in our wildest dreams guessed it was so literally true. It is a painful subject, though, physiologically interesting. Let us hurry to Lansbury’s Editorial. He is pleased to inform his readers the number contains “two articles by myself. The second one you owe to the fact that on two Sunday evenings I sat at the feet of Dr. Annie Besant.” He does not say whether she stroked him or patted his head. The article itself is redolent of its origin. He should be old enough to know that no good writing is possible sitting at someone else’s feet. Seated, more rationally, at a table or desk, the blood gets a chance to flow to all parts of the body without hindrance, and may possibly even reach the brain. No one with a properly functioning cerebrum would pen such unqualified flatulence as “for me there is no better teaching than that we can all learn from the prophets and seers of all the ages” ; or, “Our great Movement . . . sometimes appears like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.” The other article, “Empire Trade” (in big letters on a background of soldiers, black men, colonists, and bales of goods), almost defies analysis. If we give it its true name we shall have to quote samples : and our space has some value, anyway.

There is the usual advertisement in Labour journals recently of the Co-operative Investment Trust, a company in which Emil Davies, the New Statesman’s financial tipster, is the guiding light. Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills find the “comrades” fruitful soil, as likewise does Sister Smith with her Massagene. The mind of the eager reader is safeguarded from congestion consequent on the high informative tone of the paper, by two very diverting tales—illustrated. Each of the illustrations depicts that dignified and ennobling spectacle, one man smashing another on the jaw. This should attract readers in great numbers, especially from those high-brow centres of classic learning where jaw-smashing is a regular nightly entertainment. You will be glad to learn that the first jaw-smasher eventually got the other man’s job, whilst the second face-batterer participated in a purse of £2,410. As Annie Besant is quoted : “There can be no peace, no real content without religion.” It is uplifting stuff.

Then Mrs. Leonora Eyles lets herself go on that well-tried topic: the slums. She has made some astonishing discoveries in the Potteries. There, one learns, there are slum houses, but no slum people. “Their Nonconformist consciences have kept them rigidly respectable and God-fearing as far as their homes go. Yet at the same time the illegitimate birth-rate is well above the average.” . . . One notes that the Nonconformist conscience is much like the ordinary conscience, and does not extend below the equator. Wherever Mrs. Eyles goes to-day she finds the workers talking revolution, she says. Our experience is that most of them are talking of rheostats and megohms. She observes that if you herd people in miserable hovels, revolution follows as a natural corollary. This is only very partially true, but Mrs. Eyles draws a curious conclusion from it. She wishes she could shout it in the House of Commons and in comfortable people’s drawing-rooms. What for? They would only start a new Labour Weekly. Numbers of earnest people have contracted “clergyman’s throat” in the House of Commons and many more have induced dyspepsia by drinking tea in comfortable drawing-rooms, airing the agony of the workers. The rich will do anything for the workers, except get off their backs. Shouting won’t shift them. We propose shaking them off.

We do not propose to go through the remainder of the paper seriatim, but hope enough has been given to dissuade any member of the working class from wasting his time and his money. As we have said in this journal with tiresome iteration, the working class has but one problem, and but one solution. All else is fustian and illusion. All other questions melt and dissolve into it. The working class is a slave class. It must end its slavery. There is one way, and only one way, to do it. The workers must grip and conquer the political power that holds them down. There is no “step-at-a-time,” there is no “something-now,” there is no “half-loaf,” that will or can satisfy them. They cannot even remain as they are, be they never so craven. Capitalism moves inexorably on towards the day when its overwhelming plethora will spell universal over-production and economic chaos. The beginnings are here. Who would have thought, seven years ago, that a highly developed country like Great Britain would carry an unemployed surplus of over a million for a period of years? What will happen when all Europe and America and then the at present backward races start producing wealth in immense quantities? When their only markets will he each other, and each has battered its working class down to the lowest practicable limit? When labour-saving machinery and devices have thinned the essential workers to still slenderer limits? We suggest that the workers do not wait until that time. We suggest it is not only desirable, but immediately possible, for the workers in this and every other well-developed capitalist country to inaugurate a new and higher system of society. They must abandon their Micawber attitude of waiting for something to turn up, and organise, definitely and at once, to capture the political power of the State. The next General Election would do, if the workers but understood. Once in possession of political power, the workers can re-organise society upon the lines we have so often sketched out. To the producers, all they produce. He that will not work, neither shall he eat. To each according to his need; from each according to his ability.
W. T. Hopley

Socialism is not Christianity. (1925)

Book Review from the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Socialism is Christianity,” by John Shelburne. 2½d, post free, from the Author, at 6, Marlboro’ Hill, Harrow.

This is a pitiful pamphlet. It contains more confused thought and more misunderstanding of Socialism, of history and of the economics of capitalism than one would have thought possible in 16 pages. The author’s contentions are simple ones :— “Socialism is Christianity”—”Christianity is love”—and “By love, we can achieve all.” Mr. Shelburne is in ecstasy over his discovery of this solvent for all problems, but, sadly enough, after he has yearned and dithered soulfully about Love, for 15 pages, he has to confess that there is one thing he cannot achieve. To his question, “What is Love?” he can only answer enigmatically with another question, “Who can define it?” Not Mr. Shelburne, at any rate.

But we can leave this stuff and get down to the real purpose of the pamphlet—the defence of exploitation and a plea for its continuance. We are asked to look upon the question of the ownership of wealth as a “secondary purpose” (page 13), not to let ourselves be confused by such “subsiduary issues,” but to “Look with visionary eyes into the far distances” (page 16).

Rewards for following this course of action will duly be distributed :—for the workers the “Peace which passeth understanding,” and for the capitalist class “the current rate of interest” on their investments.

He is a Labour man, writing for Labour Party branches, and naturally, therefore, he is an advocate of that form of capitalism known as nationalisation. At present the capitalists live on the dividends resulting from investments. Mr. Shelburne will allow them to go on living without working, that is, living at the expense of the wealth producers, provided only that they submit to the epoch-making innovation of calling their profits “interest” instead of “dividends.” He proposes that the Government shall “use their capital . . . paying the shareholders interest according to the state of the money market” (page 10). Capitalists will invest their money in “Government and Municipal stocks and bonds,” which “is justified as it receives the current rate of interest ” (page 9).

Mr. Shelburne is enthusiastic about the late “Labour” Government, but omits to complete the picture of this party of “simple,” “innocent,” “pure,” “true,” and “beautiful” walkers on “the heights of love.”

He does not mention Mr. C. G. Ammon, Christian and pacifist, defending the flogging of boys in the Navy, or the Labour Cabinet permitting repeated shooting at strikers in India, or ordering bombing expeditions on Irak tribesmen.

But when a man has one “visionary eye” fixed on the “far distances” and the other on the “state of the money market” and the “current rate of interest,” he cannot be expected to see everything.
Edgar Hardcastle

Candid confession. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir William Joynson-Hicks is a politician who frequently embarrasses his own party and class by making indiscreet disclosures of things which a ruling class finds it better to act upon than to talk about. The following extract from a speech on Empire is quoted by A. G. Gardiner in the Daily News (October 17th, 1925) :—
“We did not conquer India for the benefit of the Indians. I know it is said at missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the level of the Indians. That is cant. We conquered India as the outlet for the goods of Great Britain. We conquered India by the sword and by the sword we should hold it. (“Shame.”) Call it shame if you like. I am stating facts. I am interested in missionary work in India, and have done much work of that kind, but I am not such a hypocrite as to say that we hold India for the Indians. We hold it as the finest outlet for British goods in general, and for Lancashire cotton goods in particular.”

Policy and Tactics of Socialism. (1925)

From the November 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Suggested Lessons for Study Classes in Socialism.

Lesson No. 3.

The Socialist attitude toward Trade Unions.

35. Origin of Trade Unions.

Trade unions are the outcome of capitalist conditions. The craft guilds nourished when petty enterprise and handicraft was the rule in the cities and the land workers owned their farms in the villages. The guilds died out with the change from feudalism to capitalism. Guilds were composed of men who quickly evolved from workers to masters and their association was a mutual defence body to advance their craft and regulate industry.

The enclosure of their lands and the use of machinery and steam brought men and women together in factories. They were wage workers for life. The chance for them to become masters was gone—they had to make the best of their position as employees. The crowding of the towns with men seeking work brought down wages to a starvation level. Women and children were enticed into the factory hells as the introduction of machinery rendered the skill of the craftsman unnecessary.

In self-defence the workmen were forced to form associations for protection against the greedy and powerful employers. Working side by side, the workers found themselves drawn instinctively together, as experience quickly taught them that the individual workman stood no chance against the powerful factory owner.

36. Early Struggles.

The early unions, composed of skilled craftsmen, were necessarily craft in form and local in scope. Their chief weapon was petitions to Parliament.

For a time Parliament made some pretext of enforcing the old laws, but as industry came more and more under the influence of the larger capitalists the Government came out openly against combinations. Unable to obtain redress along constitutional lines, the workers turned to strikes and violence.

Alarmed at the threatening attitude of the men, Parliament rushed through the Combination Acts of 1799-1800. Contrary to expectations, these Acts did not destroy unions, but drove them “underground.”

The terrible suffering and misery of men and women employed in the machine-invaded industries caused secret societies, accompanied by riots, machine breaking, and incendiarism, to spring up on all sides.

In 1824, under pressure from the reform element of the capitalists, the Combination Acts were repealed and unions legalised. Immediately unions began to grow and flourish and numerous strikes for higher wages occurred. The next year the crisis, of 1825 broke. Industry was brought to a standstill and wages fell on all sides. During this period trade unionism fared disastrously. Most of them were destroyed in the attempt to stem the fall of wages.

The disasters of the past appeared to the most active unionists as the consequence of localised efforts. They now turned to general unions embracing all workers. The greatest of these, The Grand National Consolidated, was formed in 1834 and rapidly increased its membership to over 500,000. It advocated the general strike and some of Robert Owen’s communistic schemes. After a short period of activity it fell to pieces under the strain of strikes, boycotts, lock-outs, and the forces of the law. A fundamental source of weakness was the lack of knowledge of its members.

37. Their Necessity Under Capitalism. 

As shown in Lesson No. 1, the basis of the present system is the class ownership of the means of life. The working class can only exist by selling its labour power on the market. Over the price and conditions of this sale there is a never-ceasing conflict. Possessed of all the economic resources and backed up by the political State, the capitalists use every effort to reduce wages to the minimum—at the same time trying by every available means to lengthen the working day and increase the rate of exploitation. By means of labour-saving devices, greater division of labour, more scientific managements, and the introduction of women and children into industry, an increasing body of unemployed is created. As the system develops it does away with the necessity of the skilled craftsmen and tends to reduce all to the same dead level. The general tendency of the capitalist system is to reduce the working class to the position of the Chinese coolie.

Against the conditions pictured above the individual worker is helpless. In order to protect themselves, the workers are forced to combine together into unions. Acting together, they are able to exert more pressure on the capitalist class and influence to some degree the conditions under which they live and labour. In actual practice unions can do little more than resist the downward pressure of the system. Instead of improving conditions, their whole energies are required to resist the encroachments of capital.

However much the Socialist may deplore the ignorance of the rank and file, or the treachery of the leaders, however much we might understand the limitations of unions, he must admit that unions are inevitable and necessary under the present system. As someone said, it is the arm that the working class instinctively raises to defend itself.

38. The So Called "Commodity Struggle." 

The struggle over hours and wages arises from the economic position of the working class. It is a struggle by members of one class (workers) against members of another class (employers). Labour-power is unlike any other commodity—it is sold only by one class and bought only by another. The efforts to sell labour power at the highest price and the opposition by the employers is a manifestation of the class struggle.

The idea is sometimes preached that the struggle over hours and wages is a purely “commodity struggle,” like haggling over the price of fish or meat between buyers and sellers. But the struggle over wage conditions is a direct result of class distinctions produced by the system of privat ownership. It is, therefore, not merely a struggle by commodity owners over the price of a commodity. It is a struggle bv the working class to secure as much as possible of the wealth produced, against the efforts of owners to retain all they can in the form of “profit.” It is, therefore, a part of the class struggle. It is quite true that this fight about hours and wages is not carried on by class-conscious workers.

The class struggle, however, is not caused by class-consciousness. It is caused by economic conditions, and when the workers recognise intelligently the class struggle that is going on, they will consciously organise, not to raise wages and shorten hours of slavery, but to abolish the entire system of wage slavery.
Adolph Kohn

(To be continued.)