Party News from the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sunday, February 27, 2022
A Labour M.P.’s rejoinder and our reply.
The Editor, Socialist Standard.
Sir,—I am obliged for your interesting reply to my letter. Perhaps you are able to find room for the following further observations.
You state that the whole of the idealistic school attempts to explain society in terms of ideals. In the absolute sense this is true, and I am convicted of using a careless phrase. But the unconscious dualism of the materialist is revealed clearly in the sentence, “from Plato to Hegel man’s being is explained by his consciousness rather than his consciousness by his being” Except as a doctrine of supernatural implications, I do not understand what can be meant by “consciousness” and “being” considered as separate entities. I certainly do not attempt to explain either by the other, for both are part of the same evolutionary fact.
You ask, “How can the qualities of human beings be more fundamental than the environment to which they are related and in which they are inextricably involved?” Agreed. But when you speak of environment you speak of something bigger than economics and something which is not exclusively external. Strictly speaking, embryological facts are as much environmental as any other. I am aware of the ambiguity of the word “fundamental,” and I use the word only in the sense that a larger category of events may include smaller ones. Heredity cannot be ruled out. And you cannot rule out the intellectual history of the race in accounting for the culture of a period.
“The only hope of improvement for a wage-slave is in Socialism.” That depends upon the wage-slave. He may have ability, courage and no conscience. He may then become a capitalist jackal, a scab, or a “labour leader,” and would do so in strict, conformity with a philosophy which makes man’s “being” his belly. And it would be, to say the least, foolish to call him names if there is no ethical standard by which to judge conduct and only the stomach to explain it. The unfortunate feature of the whole situation is that the process leaves you with the incompetents on your hands.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am putting a case and offering you an explanation of a fact to which you so frequently draw attention—the existence of a whole tribe of working-class misleaders. These, if they are as venal as you say they are, seem to have absorbed non-moralism exceedingly well.
You have not answered my question, “What becomes of ‘class’ if you discount idealism?” Material interests are first of all personal interests; they only become class interests when combination offers a reasonable prospective of collective advantage. The prospect of Socialism is some what uncertain—not to put top fine a point on it. I don’t fancy the odds at present, and I am not prepared to invest in the apathy and folly of my class. Any one of us is a hopeless dud if he could not have made his personal circumstances more secure, to say the least, had he never touched Socialism. The Socialist movement as yet calls for considerable sacrifice, and to put it in order you offer a post-dated cheque — or rather, an undated one, on the bank of revolution !
No wonder you say you have no concern with my personal motives, which, in the main, are much like other people’s. If you had concern with motives you would understand the psychology of class better. All that comes out of purely material motives even our way (if it is in any sense your way or mine) is “never mind what, but get it quick—we can’t wait.” Which is perfectly natural, if you “discount idealism.” Why should anyone ignore any old fleshpots that might be knocking about for the sake of “this day, next day, some time, never,” in the light of the progress of the S.P.G.B. or even the S.D.F? Come, sir, you must all be high-souled philanthropists without knowing it.
In practical fact, “class-consciousness” is only “brotherhood of man,” minus the exploiting classes. There is as much cant about one as the other. As for capitalists exploiting “war-cries,” they would prostitute anything and do nearly everything. All the more reason why we should insist upon the validity of certain “abstractions.”
I am asked to explain the origin and development of monogamy and prostitution if love does not play a part essentially sub-ordinate to private property. Monogamy is a social custom hardly collateral with capitalist society or of capitalist origin, and it can be only very doubtfully described as a property reflex. It has nothing to do, in any case, with the subordination or otherwise of love, which is an impulse that ante dates primitive communism and is shared by man with all sentient life and perhaps with the mineral kingdom. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and a social phenomenon that runs through epochs of economic variations cannot, without gross misuse of language, be said to be “subordinate” to anything but its own passion. Strange you should have placed the two things together. Doesn’t prostitution cancel out monogamy, any way ?
In conclusion, if my “friends” had to be exclusively those who think exactly as I think, I should have few “friends.” Why should I object to Sir Henry Slesser airing views that are not mine in the paper I edit? And why the unction of “these be your friends”? Do you not share the “economic man” theory with all the Liberal gradgrinds and Tory buccaneers whatever?
It is a trifle difficult to take Mr. Montague seriously. He appears to be bent on the time-honoured pastime of setting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down again. The original article which he attempted to criticise commenced with a reference to a plea by one of his political colleagues for “a new society based upon Christianity.” We sought to show that society is based upon economic development and not upon religious beliefs. Unable to show us wrong in this respect, Mr. Montague accuses us of all manner of philosophical errors which he equally fails to prove.
This time it is “unconscious dualism” of which we are alleged to be guilty because, forsooth, we distinguish, in the abstract, between man’s “consciousness” and his “being.” Does not man’s being include his consciousness, as the greater includes the less, or is his consciousness all-embracing and exhaustive? Do we judge an individual simply by what he thinks of himself? Must we accept every ruling class at its own valuation ? These questions only need to be asked to illustrate the absurdity of the idealist position. But is Mr. Montague an idealist? In his first letter (June issue) he asserted “that certain human qualities are more fundamental than any shaping process, economic or otherwise.” Now he “agrees” that they are not ! No wonder he does “not attempt to explain either by the other !”
This does not prevent him, however, from persisting in regarding the individual and his “personal motives” as the all-important factor in social development. He may pay lip-service to what he calls “economic determinism” but he evidently does not understand it. For instance, he refers to a whole tribe of working-class misleaders and appears to attribute their position to their “ability,” “courage,” and lack of “conscience,” instead of to the economic pressure arising from the conditions of capitalist society.
According to Mr. Montague, the bulk of the working-class are “hopeless duds,” seeing that, although they have not “touched Socialism,” their “personal circumstances” become increasingly less secure ! “The Socialist movement as yet calls for consider able sacrifice !” Capitalism, of course, doesn’t, eh! Mr. Montague?
Our critic imagines that any unscrupulous scoundrel can get the best of modern society. He appears to be blind to the operation of the economic factors which care as little for personal motives as do the winds and tides.
“Material interests are first of all personal interests,” he says, but fails to explain how any person can exist apart from some class in a class-society.
“Class-consciousness” he regards as a moral term akin to the “brotherhood of man.” He ignores the fact that “minus the exploiting classes,” the term would be meaningless. Class-consciousness implies the conception, not merely of identity, but of antagonism in the economic realm. This antagonism cannot be explained by ethical abstractions, which only serve to confuse the workers’ minds and thus delay the hour of their triumph.
Mr. Montague’s handling of monogamy and prostitution indicates a very shallow knowledge of the subject. Monogamy is more than a social custom. It is a legal institution and, as such, bears the unmistakable impress of its origin in the private ownership of the means of life. There have been other forms of private property be sides that at present obtaining, and we did not suggest that capitalism alone was responsible for the origin and development of this form of sexual relationship. Modern marriage and prostitution in all its forms imply the economic dependence of the woman upon the man. This condition did not exist under the communal arrangements of primitive society, and sexual relations were, as a consequence, of a widely different character from those which at present prevail. We have not space here to describe them in detail, but Mr. Montague would be well-advised to study Morgan’s “Ancient Society,” and Engel’s “Origin of the Family” before indulging in more random generalisations about “love.” Women sell themselves, in marriage or out of it, because their economic circumstances so determine; and prostitution, so far from “cancelling out” monogamy, supplements it. The capitalist’s legal wife presents him with heirs to his invested wealth. His paramours help him to enjoy that which overflows from the field of investment.
In conclusion, we referred to Sir H. Slesser in order to illustrate our contention that, politically, Mr. Montague keeps strange company for an alleged Socialist, which does not exactly tend to remove our suspicions as to the utility of philosophy. As for the “economic man” theory, we should have credited even a member of the S.D.F. with knowing better!
Readers of that scintillating specimen of Liberal originality can hardly have failed to notice the recent propaganda of the "Westminster Gazette” in favour of co-partnership between Capital and Labour. The plea is advanced that, in order to meet "world competition,” masters and men must fraternise with a view to greater production, the incentive for the men being "a share in the profits.” Sir A. Mond, in fact, goes as far as to declare that the proposal is the only practicable alternative to Socialism. As such, let us examine it.
In the first place it is worth noticing that "world competition” appears to take two forms. There is that of America with its "high wages” and highly developed machinery on the one hand and that of the Continent with its longer hours and lower wages on the other. The Liberal organ appears to favour the Americanisation, rather than the Europeanisation, of British industry; but it sheds no light upon the rather ticklish problem of beating the Americans at their own game and avoiding an increase in the unemployed at the same time.
In Germany several years of "increased production” have resulted in raising an industrial reserve army of something like two millions and the reason is not far to seek. Under the existing social order, wealth is produced, neither for use nor for mere production’s sake, but for profit. Profit forms the sole motive for the investment of capital and when increased production is spoken of it is the increased production of profit that is implied. Consequently the practicability of any scheme for increasing production depends upon whether it will simultaneously add to the remuneration of capital. No capitalist concern is going deliberately to adopt a scheme which will involve the swallowing up of the increased product by higher wages. To do so would be to act in defiance of the reason for its own existence.
Nor is the capitalist likely to enlarge the scope of production merely for the sake of an equal division of the increased product. It is evident that he can only oust his rivals by cheapening his product and this involves an alteration in the relationship between what Marx calls the constant and the variable elements in the composition of capital; in other words, it involves the progressive displacement of the worker by the machine. The machine makes it possible to pay those workers retained a higher wage than formerly, while making a still greater profit as a result of larger turnover with cheaper commodities. What do the workers gain from this? Relatively to the share of capital in the product of their labour, their share has fallen, while the higher standard of wages merely compensates (and that not completely) for the added strain of machine production plus the insecurity of their jobs.
These being the general conditions for increased production, what chance has co-partnership of removing the antagonism between capital and labour? As profit can only arise from the difference between what the workers produce and what is returned to them to consume, it is obvious that, however much in detail such schemes may differ, they all have this in common.
They consist simply in a more or less elaborate piece of camouflage. Part of the workers’ wages are labelled “share of profits.” The illusion is thus created that the workers have an interest in their own exploitation, i.e., in increasing profits as opposed to wages. In the eyes of workers so deceived, strikes become senseless and trades unions are justified only as means of preserving discipline and good feeling towards the loss.
Several employers, who have profited remarkably well from this method of bluffing their slaves, are loud in its praise and are not slow to proclaim it as the road to the New Jerusalem. A little reflection, however, will show that, even if the whole field of industry could be covered by such schemes, the antagonism of interests would by no means have been abolished. The expression of that antagonism would merely change its form. The complete suppression of strikes would amount to no more than the suppression of a symptom, the cause of which would find an outlet in some other symptom far more serious to capitalism. “Industrial peace” can be bought only with the swelling of the unemployed army to hitherto unheard of dimensions, only by the substitution of doles for wages.
There is little likelihood, however, of any widespread adoption of the co-partnership principle in its fully developed form. While it may be suitable in certain trades such as the production of soap and cocoa while the demand for labour-power is comparatively stable, it is obviously unsuitable in industries where the rapid and considerable alterations in market conditions render the lockout as indispensable to the masters as the strike is to the workers. The instability inseparable from competition upsets all schemes based upon the attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.
As long ago as the middle of last century Marx in the “Communist Manifesto" exposed the hollowness of bourgeois reforms. Said he (p. 27) “The bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best . . . and but requires in reality that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society but should cast aside all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie. ”
How admirably the above extract hits off the attitude of the capitalist advocates of co-partnership and kindred suggestions! According to the “Westminster Gazette” the initiative must remain with capital. In
other words capital must determine the conditions upon which the workers are to be admitted to “partnership.” All that is necessary for the workers to do is to shed their suspicions of the benevolent intentions of their masters. What a comfortable world it would be for those masters if only the workers would be content with slavery, if only they would accept capitalism as final. Slowly but surely, however, the class-war moves into its decisive phases. Mentally bankrupt, the master-class apprehend more clearly the coming social revolution.
Of course we shall scoff; that is expected of us. What else can one do with shams and hypocrisies? Besides, it is refreshing. It is a mistake to analyse laboriously and logically every exhibition of human folly. So we shall just scoff. Has it not been said that all enemies of the League of Nations will rejoice at its discomfiture. We are not among its enemies. One does not hate what amuses. But who could take seriously an aggregation of predatory rapacity calling itself a League of Nations? What a sight for the Gods ! What a spectacle for men ! Imagine these rulers of ours, with centuries of bloodshed and. massacre behind them, striding through, their latest hecatomb, trampling over the bones of their latest twenty-million victims, making for the quiet little town of Locarno. Why did they choose Locarno? Possibly because there, their ears were not deafened with the hammering in the shipyards, where the Labour Party’s six cruisers were nearing completion. Possibly to be out of earshot of the rumbling of tanks, the thunder of guns, and the clatter of troops engaged in the Autumn Manoeuvres, busily getting ready for the next difference of opinion. Possibly so that their deliberations would not be disturbed by the drone of aeroplanes practising the bombing of cities; or so that they would be free from the importunities of inventors, with the latest and most excruciating form of poisonous gas. Possibly because the other Continental holiday resorts were rather crowded, or perhaps with an eye to the appropriate, because Locarno reminded them of Fred Karno, England’s one-time prize comedian. But anyhow, they got there. There to do what? There presumably, to lay the foundations of a secure and permanent peace. How nice ! How laudable ! Yes ! and they were successful. Oh yes ! Mr. Austen Chamberlain ordered a new “bowler.” They told him he would be known as Sir Austen instead of Mr. Austen in future. Church bells were jangled, big drums were thumped, armament manufacturers shot themselves. Admirals jumped overboard and Generals went on the Labour Exchange. So you will see there is some sadness in all joy-making. As usual, the Admirals and Generals had been too precipitate. There was a further Conference to come. The Locarno spirit was to be supplemented by the Geneva spirit. The Locarno Conference had been marred by the absence of the dear friends with whom Sir Austen, when but a plain Mister, had drained a “loving-cup.” Geneva was to remedy that. The “loving-cup ” was to be furnished with additional handles, that all who would, might drink to everlasting peace and amity. So deeply did these delegates of free peoples realise their duty to their respective democracies, that it was thought advisable to hold their meetings in secret. We, with our narrow, restricted views on what constitutes democracy, look upon secrecy with suspicion, but there; are we not impossiblists?
However, the Harmony Kings disappeared behind their curtain, and the world hoped for the best. Alas ! Alack the day ! Sounds utterly unlike peace came through the veil. Groans and maledictions rent the dove-cot within, and the plain work-a-day world outside was grieved to hear unmistakable sounds of strife proceeding 'from the Temple of Peace. What was wrong? Nobody knows. The Press has released a farrago of jargon upon us, on the Scandal of Geneva; the Fiasco of Geneva; the Menace of Geneva, and so on, all about as useful as the Gin of Geneva. Questions of permanent and semi-permanent seats, Germany’s entry and Brazil’s veto, Spain’s claims and Sweden’s attitude, have been so bandied about that it is to be feared the average person has turned to the football results with a certain feeling of relief.
We will say it as modestly as we can—we thought as much. It is always a safe remark—after the event. Do not misunderstand us; we are not cynical. The horrors of another war like the last, are such as would justify almost any attempt to prevent it. It is the workers who have to suffer; we know that well enough. But to expect capitalism to abolish war, is like hoping for tigers to turn vegetarian. “It is their nature to” conquer and prey.
How profoundly pathetic it is to contemplate the thousands of well-meaning, earnest people pinning their hopes upon this phantasm, this illusion, this dream of the muddle-headed, the League of Nations. These are hard words. Many will read them with pain. We hope they will add to that, patience. For listen :
Here we have a system based upon robbery. You don’t agree ! You don’t like the word “robbery” ! That is simply because custom has blinded you to realities. Robbery is taking something from another without an equivalent. Even when the robbed is willing but is the victim of a trick, it is called robbery, even by capitalist law. The land was taken from the people by simple robbery. The wealth is taken from them to-day by a little more intricate robbery, but it is robbery just the same. They may tacitly agree with the robbery, but that is because they are unaware of the process. They are the victims of a trick. They are made to believe they are paid for what they do. They believe their wages are an equivalent to their work. It is not so. In simple language, we say that the whole working class produce each week a huge cake of wealth. Out of this cake, a slice is cut sufficient to keep the workers going for a further week. The difference between the slice and the cake is the extent of their robbery. Now in any given country, the size of this cake is becoming a source of embarrassment to its owners. Time was when they could exchange what they did not want at home, for some different kind of cake from other countries. But latterly the other countries have established capitalist bakeries of their own, and having exchanged portions amongst themselves until they are full up and running over, they each find they have large portions left. Here is a quandary. If they wait until ordinary usage has consumed the cake, two or three weeks may elapse. It is useless making cake with so much on hand, the masters say, so the working class must cease working until there is again a demand for cake. But the working class can only live by making cake. What is to be done? Experience has brought many expedients. First there is the device of colonies, and then that of trading with undeveloped races. These serve for a time, but obviously, when both the colonies and the backward countries proceed to produce cake for themselves, and later experience the same embarrassment in disposing of the surplus, the process becomes an urgent problem. Stoppages of the working class become more frequent and more prolonged. Portions of cake are crumbled off and grudgingly distributed under the various names of charity, Poor Law, insurance benefit, etc. It is easy to see that without such doles, the working class would not starve quietly in the midst of an abundance, kept under lock and key.
And then there are the foreign markets. What a scramble there has been for these ! Here the robbery has been open, crude, and undisguised. The so-called backward races have been invaded, their lands stolen, themselves massacred, the remnants enslaved. To what end? Primarily that their lands might furnish cheap ingredients for the cake, and next that they might become customers for the finished cake. It is in this struggle for markets, as it is called, that we find the genesis of modern capitalist wars. The first nation to reach the colonising, market hunting stage, of capitalist development was England. Each nation that has reached the stage where colonies and foreign markets were a necessity of further expansion, has found England first and later competitors blocking the way. Hence jealousy, competition, friction, warfare, bloodshed. Every struggle, even the last so-called war for democracy, has been followed by a re-apportionment of the earth’s surface. Now, without being by any means exhaustive, sufficient has been said to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that war is the logical outcome of capitalism. But capitalism is being compelled to realise that warfare is subject to the same laws of growth as all human institutions. Beyond a certain point its further expansion is at the expense of the rest of the organism. Modern powers of destruction tend ever more and more to involve victors and vanquished in a common doom. The day is quite near when one solitary aeroplane will be able to wipe out a town. Capitalism has endowed a giant with enormous strength, but like Samson in the Temple, the same act that destroys his enemies destroys himself. So capitalism pauses. Capitalists are human, like the rest of us; death is death whether one wears a silk hat or a cloth cap. So capitalism pauses. It confers. It recognises that expansion is the law of its being. But it recognises that expansion means war; and that war means destruction ; and that destruction may be universal. Here is a dilemma. The League of Nations is an attempt to find a solution. We wish them luck. Our great hope is that the form of their disillusionment may not take the shape of another war, but that they will realise that the cause of war is capitalism, and that the way to abolish war is to abolish the cause. We sadly fear that as so many supporters of the League are also ardent supporters of capitalism, they will take the bloodier road. The true League of Nations will be an International Socialist Party. Its aim will be to make the whole earth a common human possession, not a congeries of railed off portions, defended one from the other by bayonets and poison gas. Its beginning is here, here in Great Britain. The Socialist Party simply awaits your help and membership before joining with similar parties in all parts of the world, to achieve the release of mankind from the curse of toil, slavery, poverty, massacre and war. Is not the object a worthy one? Is riot that worth a little sacrifice and effort? Then why wait, why drift, why let the years go by? Socialism is possible now, to-day. Make it a certainty by joining the Socialist Party to-day.
From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
We hope you read “Newsman.” Oh! he’s delightful. Under the heading “London Calling” you will find each day in the “Daily News” a column of the most brilliant banality known to us. So genteel ! So awfully nice ! In the best of taste, always. And he knows all the best people, knows them intimately. Not a day passes but quite casual mention is made of “my friend Lord Mugsborough,” or “I met my old friend Sir Simon Slush at the Blitz,” or some similar happening. Undoubtedly he is— how do you term it?—well-connected. He has views, too. Oh yes ! In spite of close association with the azure blooded, and the monied people, he is a pure democrat, an out and out Liberal. He—well, here is a sample from the “Daily News” of March 20th. The title is his, too :—
A FIGHTING FAITH.At the luncheon which followed the laying of the commemoration stones at the new “Daily News” and “Star” building more than one reference was made to the famous phrase about “the charwoman’s sugar” in Mr. O’Connor’s confession of faith, which was the leading article in the first issue of the “Star” in 1888.
The actual phrase—often misquoted—is as follows :—
‘The policy will appear to us worthy of everlasting thanks, and of ineffaceable glory, that does no more than enable the charwoman to put two pieces of sugar in her cup of tea instead of one; and that adds one farthing a day to the wage of the seamstress or the labourer.’
That could not be bettered as an expression of fighting Radicalism, and it has remained as an inspiration to Radicals for 38 years.
Lord Oxford, by the way, sent Mr. O’Connor his congratulations on his “marvellous and supremely delightful speech” at this luncheon.”
How’s that? A fighting faith ! How apt. How profoundly stirring. We agree, as an expression of fighting Radicalism, that could not be bettered. It has the advantage of being equally suitable as a battle cry for white mice. We rejoice to learn that Radicals have derived 38 years of inspiration from it. What grandeur in that thought. And the dear old charwoman. Was she at the luncheon, and did she have two lumps of sugar in her tea? Alas, we are not told. But how her old heart must throb, when she looks back 38 years to that bleak time when her cup of tea only boasted one lump of sugar. How her eyes must dim with tears of gratitude when after 38 years of Radical fighting, she drops a second lump into her cup. Really, it makes a lump come in one’s throat merely to imagine this affecting scene. And doubtless, the dear old lady after 38 years of Radical progress will be turning her thoughts to another of their gifts—the Lump.
From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard