Sunday, February 20, 2022

Socialism and the Humanitarians. (1926)

Editorial from the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since the recent International Blood Carnival, the word “Humanity” has seemed to have acquired a slight sarcastic flavour. It has certainly been demonstrated that the so-called beasts have much to learn from humanity in the way of beastliness. And the curious part of the whole business was, that those whose particular role was supposed to have been the preaching of Humanity, Love, Brotherhood and the rest of it, were the first to drop it when the butchery started. Doubtless you will be wondering why we are dragging this old tale out again. Everybody knows that when the call came to take up the bayonet, very few of its students experienced any difficulty in dropping the Bible. We only refer to it again as a sort of a prologue to another study of human psychology.

Just before the great Christian festival at Christmas, the Animal Defence Society thought to improve the shining hour by inserting a seasonable advertisement in the newspapers. “Christmas is approaching,” they said, “and the Spirit of Mercy is knocking at the heart of Everyman.” And so the Animal Defence Society suggest that in answer to the knock, why not send them a nice donation towards building a beautiful new slaughterhouse. A lurid, and possibly true, picture is drawn of reeking carcases, pools of blood, pole-axes and knives, pain-poisoned meat and other horrible details, calculated to draw the money from the pockets of revolted readers. To aid in this lofty work one is informed that donors of £1,000 will have their names inscribed upon a tablet as Founders; those of £500 as Builders; those of £250 as Masons; of £100 as Carpenters, and of £50 as Bricklayers. This, you will admit, is interesting. What a reflection for the proud Mason that he is considered worth five common Bricklayers or two and a half lordly Carpenters. It should provide some interesting dinner-hour discussions for the men who erect the building. It is rather a pity that few of them will have the forethought to provide themselves with a copy of the list of potential Masons, Carpenters, and Bricklayers, the advertisement mentioned. In these days of sex-equality it is cheerful to note that over two-thirds of them are women. But we digress. What is their precise grievance?

They object to the use of the pole-axe in killing large animals. They object to the use of the knife without preliminary stunning in killing pigs, calves and sheep. They object to the way animals are roped and dragged and driven to the point of slaughter. They object to animals being slaughtered in sight of each other and their standing awaiting their doom on floors covered with blood and amid the carcases of those slain. In short, they object to all avoidable cruelty in the killing of the animals upon which mankind feeds. The Foundation Stone of this model slaughter-house was laid on Dec. 14th, when a prayer of dedication (whatever that may be) was offered that the building might serve as an example of pity and kindly treatment of animals.

Now what is wrong with all this? Surely we also are in sympathy with any movement to lessen the amount of suffering in the world ! Surely we are not going to crab any attempt, however feeble, at abolishing avoidable cruelty ! Perish the thought. Then where does our grumble come in ? Just here. We do believe in first things first. We do insist upon a sense of proportion. We also have our objections. They relate primarily to human beings. Consider recent history. We objected to human beings being torn to pieces by shrapnel and splintered steel. We objected to our boys being taught the proper way to insert a bayonet into the intestines of a fellow human being, and to so twist it as to make the most ghastly wound. We objected to fathers, brothers and sons being blinded, gassed, poisoned, blown to fragments, driven insane, butchered, or tortured by every horrible device that perverted ingenuity could evolve. We objected to women and children being starved, exploited, maddened and massacred in the sacred name of Patriotism. We were the Human Defence Society. Where were the members of the Animal Defence Society then? Were they weeping over pole-axed cows and distressed sheep, or were they taking part in the great work of disembowelling their fellow-creatures. We fear the latter. It needs little more than the list of Lords, Dukes, Earls and Admirals who figure in the list of contributors to convince us of that.

And what did we do? For the ten years of our existence before the War we denounced the conditions that made the catastrophe inevitable. During the progress of the Horror itself, we protested against it as a crime against humanity; that is we protested so far as the friends of the Animal Defence Society would ignore our efforts, as not being weighty enough to hinder their great Blood-feast. And now that that War is over, we are engaged in the work of pointing out the inevitability of another, and yet another war so long as capitalism lasts. We are not oblivious of the claims of animals to consideration, but we think the claims of mankind are greater. What of the horrors of mines, slums and factories; the degradation that follows unemployment; the disease inherent in foul conditions, malnutrition and neglect? We think these are primary things. We say further, that the horrors of both peace and war have their origin in the capitalist basis of society. Time and again we have proved it. We get remarkably few bouquets thrown to us, neither do we expect them. But when we see people who are making a handsome living out of the cruelties of capitalism, distributing thousand pound cheques to ease the lot of pigs and sheep—well, we are mildly surprised, that’s all. They have a heart, we suppose, but the cry of suffering humanity has less effect, apparently, than the bleat of a sheep.

To be quite candid, we have little hope of their hearts at all. Should that sensitive organ ever be perturbed by the patent evils in the fabric of society, we may be sure there are learned economists among them who will provide a comfortable explanation. We have more hope of the working class itself. It is to them we address our message. We ask them to consider whether the present system of society gives them anything approaching what they expect of life. We suggest to them that the existing huge engines of wealth production are capable of providing ease and plenty for all, and that the reason they do not do so is because they are the private property of a few instead of the common possession of all. We therefore recommend them to seriously study our literature, gain a knowledge of how the present state of things has come about, and how it may be altered. Cruelty to animals will go the way of all forms of cruelty, when a real civilised existence becomes a possibility to everyone. So let us have first things first. If anyone has a thousand pound cheque they would like to devote to the abolition of cruelty to human beings, our address is on the back page.

Compulsory arbitration. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has been some talk recently about compulsory arbitration in the settlement of industrial disputes. Let us examine what is behind the idea.

It should be remembered that the general practice employed in the past has been the so-called “fight to a finish” method: we refer to the “strike” or “lock-out,” the armed forces being kept in readiness, as a government would say, “to maintain law and order” : this, so far as the national life is concerned.

In the international arena of world politics, it is to be noticed that the governments of most of the large States are beginning to realise that there lurk grave dangers in the use of force in the settlement of threir differences. Consequently the League of Nations made its modest bow to a war-weary world a few years ago. Behind the League of Nations is said to be the principle of “compulsory arbitration.” It is the first feeble flicker in the minds of the more astute capitalists of the need for an alternative to “blood and iron.”

Hot on the heels of the League of Nations comes the “Arbitrate First League,” the formation of which was recently reported by the “Daily Herald.”

Naturally enough J. Ramsay MacDonald, political tourist and odd-job man for the capitalist class, gives it his blessing. He hails it as the greatest discovery of the age —next to himself—and the “Red Letter.”

This development in the international relationships of the ruling class has its reflection in the domestic life of the nation. We refer to the recent coal-mining dispute in this country. It will be remembered that a stoppage was averted at the eleventh hour by the intervention of the Government by the granting of a subsidy.

While, therefore, the degree of economic development of the foremost nations of the world permitted, up to within recent years, “a fight to a finish” as between employers and employed (the former generally being the victors and necessarily so by virtue of the political power enjoyed, and ironically enough, bestowed upon them by the workers), the growing interdependence of what are known as “key industries,” raises objection to such methods to-day. Another important factor has also to be considered, i.e., competition for the world’s markets. This is now so keen (owing to the entry of the colonial dependencies, Canada, Australasia, India and again Japan, the most formidable rival in the East, to the age-long supremacy of the Western world) that time lost through “strikes” and “lock-outs” means loss or cancellation of orders and contracts.

Compulsory arbitration in consequence, therefore, may well become the new guiding star—for the ruling class—for the future safeguarding of their economic aspirations.

The sufferings endured in the past by the hungry strikers, the murder of their defenceless dependents, the horrors of infantile mortality, the wholesale butchery of countless millions, occasioned in the last great war, pale into insignificance compared with the one all-absorbing passion of the capitalists, i.e., to maintain their political supremacy and their position of affluence and idleness which this implies. For this all-important reason the workers are being called upon to forget the past, i.e., Germany’s “war guilt.” Therefore, Germany comes into the sacred circle of the League of Nations. The “horrible hun” we were called upon to hate and revile is now to be looked upon as a repentant sinner. The oscillations of world trade, influenced largely by the war, demand new undertakings and agreements between the capitalist highwaymen; or, to use the terminology of the professors, “maintain balance of power.” The League of Nations represents the machinery which they hope will achieve this desirable end.

THE WORKERS’ VIEW-POINT.

Although the majority of the States of the Western world depend upon a very wide and universal suffrage, nevertheless the freedom of any organised section of the workers to sell their services exists only in name. The workers may look forward with cold comfort, therefore, when they are informed by an all-wise and beneficent Arbitration Court, that as from such and such a date they will be permitted to suffer a reduction in their standard of living under the plea, perhaps, that the Empire’s future welfare demands such a sacrifice.

It must be emphasised here that the workers get what they vote for, that is all. The simple economics of the wages system clearly reveal that the workers can only hope, at the best, to receive in wages what it costs to maintain them in a condition to continue working and replace their type. Carrots and labour power are commodities ; the price at which they are sold is determined by the same economic law, i.e., the cost of production, which, of course, fluctuates with the operation of supply and demand.

CAPITALISTS ON THE DEFENSIVE.

Compulsory arbitration, then, if and when it becomes the rule for regulating national and international differences, will simply stand revealed as the great gun of the ruling class.

“But why do we give the arbitrators political power?” asks one, a little less dull-witted than the rest.

The answer is, that the working class fail, as yet, to recognise that their interests, as a class, are diametrically opposed to those who govern or arbitrate for them. That in a class-divided society, Arbitration Courts will be influenced, ultimately, by the economic necessities of the ruling class.

The Socialist seeks to abolish class-divided society. To achieve this, the revolutionary object of the workers must be Socialism.
O. C. I.

Letter: Taxation and the workers. (1926)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reply to a correspondent.

An article under the above heading in our issue of June last has called forth a letter from Mr. A. Mortmain, of Sydney, N.S.W.

The gist of the article was that taxation, is a part of the machinery of government, exists only to provide means for maintaining the privileges of the property-owning class; that the workers’ wages leave them no margin out of which to pay taxes and that consequently it is a matter of indifference to their interest how or what taxes are levied. As Socialists, we are concerned with Socialism and not with any scheme of taxation. Hence we oppose all other parties which endeavour to maintain in the workers’ minds the illusion that taxes are a political issue for them.

Mr. Mortmain’s contention is that while this is correct in the main “insufficient taxation . . . does prejudice labour” and concludes that “taxation alone is sufficient to socialise Great Britain.”

Our correspondent appears to consider that the “rentier class” forms the chief burden upon the backs of the workers and suggests that we should concentrate upon “the abolition of the socialised debt, the pooling of rent,” and State loans “at a low rate of interest.” It is evident from these suggestions that he does not look upon the matter from the standpoint of the wage-slave but of the small proprietor and his “Socialism” is not a system based upon common ownership and democratic control of the means of life but a petty bourgeois Utopia in which, as he puts it, “the individuals are each in pawn to society as a whole.”

In any well-developed capitalist country interest is only one of the means by which certain capitalists appropriate part of the surplus produced by the labour of the workers. Mr. Mortmain ignores the exploitation which proceeds in the factory and makes no effort to show how the workers therein would benefit from his proposals, even if they were sufficiently practicable to get adopted by any political party with a chance of success. On this last point he appears doubtful himself for he says, “the Labour party are not likely to suggest this except vaguely in the form of a capital levy.” May we point out that where, as in France, the “rentier class” is possessed of relatively great power and the small proprietors exist in considerable numbers, it is the latter rather than the former who will be hit by a capital levy.

When the working-class have become conscious of their position as disinherited slaves and have determined to end capitalism and substitute Socialism—when they have organised as a class and become politically supreme, they are hardly likely to waste their time in piecemeal measures of the nature suggested by our correspondent. Instead of indulging in financial tricks in order to enable their wages to “buy back the whole of the wealth” they produce, they will organise a system of production and distribution in which wages and interest, along with the whole financial camouflage, will find no place. They will cease to produce commodities and will commence to produce use-values only. Money therefore will cease to have any function to perform and the problems connected with money will cease to trouble them.
Eric Boden

Publications Funds Acknowledgments. (1926)

Party News from the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard



Signs of the Times. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the Capitalists control political power the Workers will receive the quantity and quality of education that it suits their Masters for their own purposes to give them. To them the Workers’ Children are no more than potential wealth-producing units and in educating them their sole consideration is “Does it Pay?” Sir Austen Chamberlain truly speaks his Masters’ voice when he says we must have more “if our commerce and our education are to hold their own against a host of active rivals” (“Daily Chronicle,” 19-12-25). and that in brief is the reason for our “education.”

Modern methods of wealth production have made a higher education necessary in all directions, and as is usual among the lower grades of workers, a supply much in excess of any demand now affects the once better educated and privileged workers in their efforts to obtain a livelihood. The parent of a University graduate writes complaining to the “Times Educational Supplement” (12-11-25) as follows:
“Boys and girls who are kept at secondary schools until they are 16 or 18 years of age find on leaving that there is no vacant job of the nature for which they have been trained and either they are compelled to undertake work which they could have done equally well—possibly better—without secondary and University education or join the army of the unemployed.”
So much for the security in life of the educated. Neither does that other very respectable section of the Working Class known as the Professional, escape the vicissitudes of a Worker’s life to-day. Writing of Architects in the “Journal of Careers” (Dec.) this magazine says : “At least as many men are entering the profession as the profession can at the present time absorb,” and of women who qualify it states further that “they are not meeting a dearth or supplying a long felt want.” Further comment says : “There are more pharmacists seeking situations than there are situations available; more students are entering pharmacy each year than ever before and it is not easy to visualise how these students will be absorbed.” It is the same story in other professions, Actors, Doctors, Journalists, etc., all struggling to live. Despite the snobbery and conceit of such people the development of Capitalism will disillusion them and compel them to realise their common servitude with the rest of the Working Class.

The Capitalists have not educated the Workers’ children from philanthropic motives, but such education will enable them to interest themselves in our propaganda in growing numbers as they reach the Working age. To extend the intelligence displayed and exercised in the production of wealth to that which will see the need for social change, requires the patient and persistent application of Socialist teachings. The growing difficulty of our Masters and their agents to prove the Capitalist system a beneficent one for the Workers enables us to be assured with no false optimism that time and truth are on our side.
W. E. MacHaffie

Marx on Free Trade. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from previous issues)

Mr. Bowring’s speech is the more remarkable because the facts quoted by him are correct, and the phrases with which he seeks to palliate them are characterized by the hypocrisy common to all Free Trade discourses. He represents the workers as means of production which must be.superseded by less expensive means of production, pretends to see in the labour of which he speaks a wholly exceptional kind of labour, and in the machine which has crushed out the weavers an equally exceptional kind of machine. He forgets that there is no kind of manual labour which may not any day share the fate of the hand-loom weavers.
“The constant aim and tendency of every improvement of mechanism is indeed to do entirely without the labour of men, or to reduce its price, by superseding the labour of the adult males by that of women and children, or the work of the skilled by that of the unskilled workman. In most of the throstle mills, spinning is now entirely done by girls of sixteen years and less. The introduction of the self-acting mule has caused the discharge of most of the (adult male) spinners, while the children and young persons have been kept on.”
The above words of the most enthusiastic of Free Traders, Dr. Ure, are calculated to complete the confessions of Dr. Bowring. Mr. Bowring speaks of certain individual evils, and, at the same time, says that these individual evils destroy whole classes; he speaks of the temporary sufferings during a transition period, and does not deny that these temporary evils have implied for the majority the transition from life to death, and for the rest a transition from a better to a worse condition. When he asserts, farther on, that the sufferings of the working class are inseparable from the progress of industry, and are necessary to the prosperity of the nation, he simply says that the prosperity of the bourgeois class presupposes as necessary the suffering of the labouring class.

All the comfort which Mr. Bowring offers the workers who perish, and, indeed, the whole doctrine of compensation which the Free Traders propound, amounts to this—

You thousands of workers who are perishing, do not despair ! You can die with an easy conscience. Your class will not perish. It will always be numerous enough for the capitalist class to decimate it without fear of annihilating it. Besides, how could capital be usefully applied if it did not take care to keep up its exploitable material, i.e., the workingmen, to be exploited over and over again?

But, then, why propound as a problem still to be solved the question: What influence will the adoption of the Free Trade have on the condition of the working class? All the laws formulated by the political economists from Quesnay to Ricardo, have been based upon the hypothesis that the trammels which still interfere with commercial freedom have disappeared. These laws are confirmed in proportion as Free Trade is adopted. The first of these laws is that competition reduces the price of every commodity to the minimum cost of production. Thus the minimum of wages is the natural price of labour. And what is the minimum of wages? Just so much as is required for production of the articles absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the worker, for the continuation, by hook or by crook, of his own existence and that of his class.

But do not imagine that the worker receives only this minimum wage, and still less that he always receives it. No, according to this law, the working class will sometimes be more fortunate, will sometimes receive something above the minimum, but this surplus will merely make up for the deficit which they will have received below the minimum in times of industrial depression. That is to say that within a given time which recurs periodically, in other words, in the cycle which commerce and industry describe while passing through the successive phases of prosperity, overproduction, stagnation, and crisis, when reckoning all that the working class has had above and below mere necessaries, we shall see that, after all, they have received neither more nor less than the minimum; i.e., the working class will have maintained itself as a class after enduring any amount of misery and misfortune, and after leaving many corpses upon the industrial battle-field.

(To be continued)