Monday, February 28, 2022

“Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens”. (1940)

From the February 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a clever piece of duplicity used by the ruling class when they require an extra sacrifice from their victims—the working class.

It is usually phrased in some such terms as “let us pull together,” or “let us bear the burdens equally.” There is usually a strong flavour of brotherly love and Christianity about it. And the entry of this country into war brought forth a spate of such sweetness. But an examination of the facts show that such assurances are as hollow as a drum, and are only boomed out for the purpose of enchanting the simpletons who believe them.

Are the capitalists sharing the burdens ? If so, they are having the lion’s share of wealth while those who are conscripted are having the donkey’s share of risk, work and trouble.

Compare a soldier’s wage with the income of the leading lights of business, or of the Church and State, and see then if the, burdens are really being shared. Or compare the amount allotted to soldiers’ and workers’ children and put it against the sum spent on the children of royalty.

This disparity of “sharing” was brought out recently by a question asked in Parliament. Sir John Simon was asked if the old age pension could be increased, as large numbers of pensioners were on the verge of starvation. The reply was to the effect that the country cannot afford it. And yet Simon receives a salary as much as hundreds of pensioners put together. Now the pension is to be increased the increase is hedged about by restrictions and it only occurs after prices have substantially increased. Here we have a typical example of the cold-blooded hypocrisy of the capitalist way of thinking. What was meant was that the ruling class would not afford it. After all, of what use are aged and poverty-stricken workers to the capitalist ? They have already been sucked dry. Away with the nuisances. They shouldn’t have lived so long.

When the old age pension was introduced by a Liberal Government, in which Simon took an active part, it was hailed as a “crown of comfort for the aged.” And hordes of sentimental slobberers and snivelling humbugs of all sorts chanted hosannas in its praise.

The S.P.G.B. pointed out then that it was merely a dodge to save the capitalist the expense of keeping old workers in the workhouse. The few shillings a week given was less than the cost of erecting and maintaining large buildings and staffs. Besides, the old people in receipt of pensions could sponge on their grown-up family, and the burden of old age and poverty could be shared. That is what the capitalist really means by “sharing the burdens together.” It means putting a bit more on the workers.

Only when the means of life are comrnonly owned and controlled by the whole people will it be possible to speak of sharing and bearing one another’s burdens. But then the burdens will be only those imposed by nature. The real burden— a parasite capitalist class—will disappear.
R. Hart

Press Cuttings. (1940)

From the February 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Biblical Injunction.

From a letter to the Daily Telegraph (January 19th, 1940), criticising the Bishop of Birmingham, who had opposed the Blockade because of the Biblical injunction, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him” : —

“Is it permissible to bomb and shell the enemy, to inflict on him death and mutilation and destruction, but not permissible to interfere with his diet? Must the enemy, like the birds in a game preserve, be fattened only for the guns?”

* * *

A Knotty Problem for the Unemployed. 

“Can a man who has a few shillings to spend (having, we may add, taken up his full allowance of certificates and bonds) buy a bottle of champagne, or some other French product in the same category, without compromising the best national economic interests?”
(From a letter to The Times, January 23rd.)

* * *

“Sir, this is Monstrous!”

‘”Now, Sir, this is a monstrous state of affairs. This man is only one of a great multitude. He is being paid at least £8 a week more than he is worth.”

(From a letter to The Times, January 22nd, about an engineer fitter, formerly earning 65s., who, on piece-work, is said to have received £12 a week, not to mention “tea brought to him twice a day.”)

* * *

Where shall we send Tommy to School? !

” . . . It costs £300 a year to send your son to a good school.”
(From an article in the Daily Mail, January 22nd, 1940.)

* * *

She will Meditate on Democracy.

“Mlle. Marie-Louise Pusset, 57-year-old teacher at a girls’ school here, has been sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for attempting to defend Soviet Russia in her classroom.

“The judge declared that the teacher, a former member of the Communist Party, had shown activity favouring the Third International.—Exchange.”
(Evening Standard, January 11th, 1940.)

* * *

“Continual raiding of Germany would provoke retaliatory measures against this country which would use up still more material, as well as strengthen the determination of our people. Raids on Germany would shake the confidence of the people of Germany in Hitler.”
(From a speech of Mr. L. S. Amery, reported in The Times, January 24th, 1940.)

* * *

Unpatriotic Cats.

From an account of Germany by a neutral correspondent (Daily Telegraph, January 19th, 1940): —
“The nation that can eat the least can win the war.”

“German physicians privately express their conviction that the post-war generation will be physically unfit as the result of to-day’s feeding. Even cats refuse to drink the skimmed milk. . . .”

* * *

From The People, January 21st, 1940:—
” Germany’s miracle peasant girl has refused her ration cards because she has no need of food. . . . For the past 12 years she has taken neither food nor drink.”
* * *

Sensitive as Prima Donnas.

What the general said : —
“You’ll soon learn, like Repington did, that we generals are as sensitive as prima donnas!”
(Sunday Express, January 14th, 1940.)

* * *

Did they Listen to Keynes?

“November 14th, 1939: ‘Mr. Keynes, in The Times, urges the Government to introduce a scheme of compulsory savings, repayable after the war.

“January 12th, 1940: Copenhagen correspondent of Daily Telegraph reveals ‘astonishing new details of the desperate plan evolved by Field-Marshal Goenng and Dr. Funk.’

” ‘A most amazing feature’ is that the worker ‘will only receive an official receipt for the confiscated money, which is not redeemable until the war is over.'”
(Daily Telegraph, January 12th.)

* * *

Good Health from H. G. Wells.

“This is war, and this is what it must come to. I would rather bomb the Germans than starve them. In the end it will be quicker, and it will leave the Germans, it may be, in a healthier state of mind.”
(Daily Mail, January 25th, 1940.)

* * *

Not Hitler but the Pacifists.

“‘It is my firm belief, based on good evidence,’ the bishop said, ‘that these people-pacifists is the name they go by—are more responsible than anybody else for the fact that we are once again involved in war.'”
(The Bishop of Grantham, Daily Telegraph,January 15th, 1940.)

* * *

Stalin, the Dancing Master.

“The old peasant woman Anfisa Taraseyeva recollects that ‘Joseph Vissiaronovitch loved to sing, and even more to dance. He was a great master of dancing and taught the young people to dance.

‘ When asked to dance he would enter the circle at jog-trot, halt for a moment, shake his head and shoulders, clap his hands and cry out, “Let go, like lightning,” dancing with such fervour that he raised a whirlwind of dust.

‘He was some master at dancing; and could not see enough of it!'”
(Daily Worker, December 23rd, 1939.)

* * *

War, the Liberator.

It is not too much to say that always every reform that has been introduced since the war is the result of discussions and preparations that started during the war and under its liberating impulse.”
(Manchester Guardian Editorial)

Answers to Correspondents. (1940)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Revolt Against Socialism.

A correspondent sends the following question :
What would happen if the army supported the capitalists in a revolt?
This seems a very great possibility fraught with danger.
The question concerning a possible revolt by capitalist sympathisers after Socialists have gained control of the machinery of government is one that has often been dealt with in these columns. Placed in proper perspective it will be seen to be a much less likely and less dangerous possibility than our correspondent considers it to be. If Socialists envisaged the possibility of winning a snatch election on some issue of a temporary and unimportant character (as is the case with elections fought by the reformist parties, such as the Labour Party) then the position would indeed be grave. Our correspondent will, however, see that the position is different when we are dealing with an electoral majority achieved on the straight issue: Socialism versus capitalism. Such a victory presupposes a majority of convinced Socialists among the electors and also it means that the parties supporting capitalism have been slowly and surely undermined, in years of Socialist propaganda and election contests.

It implies also that large numbers of the men in the armed forces themselves (recruited from working-class homes which are by then predominantly Socialist) would have Socialist sympathies.

In those circumstances any individuals contemplating rebellion against the majority would know that the population as a whole was, and the members of the armed forces were, predominantly against them. Moreover, they would be plainly and unmistakably trying to reverse an electoral decision arrived at democratically and constitutionally. Such a rising would be undisguisedly unconstitutional and opposed to the declared convictions of the population. It would be most unlikely, and would be a forlorn movement foredoomed to failure.
Editorial Committee

Socialism and Wages.

A correspondent (P. B., Ilford) asks the following questions: —
1. Do you propose the immediate abolition of the wage system upon gaining power?
2. Won’t we have to compromise at first until everyone has a complete knowledge of Socialism?
3. Does Marx support your view? If so, where ?
4. You say the capitalists will have to work like the rest. How are we to make them without wages of some description?
Many of the points raised above were discussed in the Socialist Standard, August, 1936 (“Socialists do Stand for Equality”).

As regards question 4, the position is as follows. In a system of society in which property incomes (incomes from investments, land ownership, etc.) have completely and instantly disappeared, the ex-capitalists will have to obtain food, clothing, shelter, etc., in just the same way as the rest of the community. Some will readily turn to and do their best to fit themselves into the new social arrangements. Assuming that some other individuals are awkward, the majority of the population will have to decide what is the best thing to do in the circumstances. The number of the awkward squad is small and they could probably best be left to their own devices till they realised the unpleasantness for themselves of incurring strong popular disapproval by going against the tide.

Anyway, the whole problem will be a minor matter and the payment of wages does not enter into it.
Editorial Committee

Party News. (1940)

Party News from the February 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Sixpenny Stunt.

Our “sixpenny stunt” is still in operation. All you have to do is to send a sixpenny postal order to the Literature Secretary, 42, Great Dover Street, together with the address of an interested sympathiser, and we will send him or her the Socialist Standard for three consecutive months. A brief note will accompany the first month’s copy. At the expiration of the three months we shall write again, inviting the new reader to become a subscriber and to read our other published literature.

Price of Pamphlets.

Owing to an alteration of the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar we are compelled to increase the price of the following pamphlets imported from U.S.A.

The new prices are: —

Bolshevism,” 1s. 6d. post free.
State and Socialist Revolution,” 1s. 7d. post free.
Reform or Revolution,” 1s. 7d. post free.

Appeal from Party Funds Organiser.

Under war-time conditions, with increased costs and difficulties in the way of normal activities, the Party is in need of funds. Members who are in arrear with dues are asked to pay up. Debts for literature should be cleared off, and members and sympathisers are invited to make donations to Party funds.
Party Funds Organiser.

Cooking the Books: The Poverty Line (2007)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back in the days when the Tories were openly and deliberately the nasty party John Moore, Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Social Security (so-called), declared that poverty no longer existed in Britain. That was in a speech in May 1988 (the same month that Thatcher declared that there was no such thing as society), published the following year as a pamphlet, The End of the Line for Poverty.

What he meant was that destitution (people without enough to buy food, shelter and other necessities to survive) had disappeared thanks to handouts from the state. He rejected any definition of poverty as relative as an invention of those who wanted to “call Western capitalism a failure”.

Now the Tory Party has abandoned this approach and has embraced the view that poverty is a relative concept, measured in relation “to prevailing social norms which change over time” (Dead Link).

Poverty in the EU, and so in Britain, is officially measured in relation, not to changing views as to what are “necessities”, but to the living standards of the general population. The median take-home income including state benefits for each type of household (single, couples, couples with children, etc) is calculated on the basis that this is the income level at which there are just as many below as above it (about £330 a week, according to Daniel Finkelstein in the Times of 22 November, or about £17,000 a year for the average household). The poverty line is defined as 60 percent of this.

This is just one definition, and a rather arbitrary one (it used to be defined as 50 percent), and other countries such as the US have a different one, but it’s an attempt to measure how many have significantly less income than the other members of society.

It does lay itself open to Moore’s criticism that it means that poverty will never be abolished or, to be absolutely precise, would only be in the highly unlikely event that there would be no households with an income of more than 40 percent above the (moving) median, i.e., today, no more than about £24,000 a year for the average household.

To prepare their U-turn, the Tories got one of their MPs, Greg Clark, to analyse the statistics on poverty in Britain. He made an interesting discovery: that a large number of those classified as poor fell just below the 60 percent level; which meant that “poverty” could be reduced by increasing their income just enough to move them from 59 percent to 61 percent. He claimed that this was all the Labour government had done since 1997.

Socialists are not committed to an EU-type definition of poverty. We don’t need this to show capitalism’s failure to meet human needs adequately. While accepting that what are “necessities” is historically and socially determined and so varies over time and between (and even within) different countries, we define poverty, not in relation to people’s consumption (how much food, clothing, shelter and the like they can buy) but in relation to the means of production (whether or not they own any means for producing wealth).

The vast majority of people in the developed capitalist parts of the world are propertyless in the sense of not owning any means of production. The only productive resource they possess is their own ability to work, their working skills, their labour-power. They are thus poor in terms of ownership of the means of production, irrespective of how much they are paid and of how many personal possessions they may have. The line that divides the capitalist class from the working class, that’s the real poverty line.

Cooking the Books: International non cooperation (2007)

The Cooking the Books Column from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the December Socialist Standard we dismissed as quite unrealistic the claim put forward by Sir Nicholas Stern in his report to the government on the economic impact of global warming that, despite measures to cut carbon emissions affecting the competitiveness of different countries differently, this “should not be overestimated and can be reduced or eliminated if countries or sectors act together”.

Perhaps, if countries and sectors could be got to act together. But that’s precisely the problem. Companies from different countries and within different sectors are in competition with each other for a share of world profits. It is not in their nature or interest to act together or let one of their rivals get a competitive advantage over them. If one country or company feels that the adoption of some measure would result in this they won’t agree to it and will try to sabotage its adoption.

Stern’s pet measure to try to reduce carbon emissions was not, as might be expected in view of how serious he says the problem is, coercive legislation to force companies to comply, but carbon trading, or the buying and selling of a decreasing number of permits to emit carbon dioxide. The EU has already established such a scheme which has been functioning, not too successfully, since 2005. It is due to be renewed, in theory in a beefed-up form, from 2008 for a further four years.

At the moment it is essentially only power stations that are covered but the EU Commission is now proposing to extend it to other sectors, including air transport. Under a draft proposal published on 20 December, as from 2010 airlines would be required to record their carbon dioxide emissions and from 2011 would either have to keep their emissions down below a set level or purchase permits to emit more. This would initially apply just to flights within Europe but from 2012 will be extended to all flights leaving or entering Europe.

The airlines are not happy (except with the rather generous levels of emissions permitted). British Airways says that applying the scheme to flights going outside Europe will undermine its competitiveness. A BA spokesman declared: “It would disadvantage all EU long-haul carriers against their competitors around the world. All our flights would be covered but, for a US carrier, it would only be a small proportion” (Times, 16 November).

The Association of European Airlines predicted it would lead to “trade wars” while the US Air Transport Association said it “violated international law”. The US association added that such a scheme was unnecessary anyway as airlines were already taking adequate steps to reduce emissions.

That’s more like capitalism. Trade wars. International disputes. Denials that there’s a problem. If Stern’s warning in his report about what will happen if nothing or too little is done is not just scare-mongering, capitalism offers a truly disturbing future: “Our actions over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression.

Radical London History (2007)

Book Reviews from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Keith Scholey: ‘The Communist Club’, (Past Tense (c/o 56a Info Shop, 56 Crampton St., London SE17 0AE), October 2006. £1. 
Stefan Szczelkun: Kennington Park, (Past Tense, June 2006. £1)

The Communist Club was the informal name under which German Workers Educational Association came to be known. Established in London in February 1840, as the name implies, the Association functioned mainly as an educational and social club for German workers in London. Usually meeting in rooms above pubs, the Association’s first venue was the Red Lion pub in Great Windmill Street.

Some of the same members were also involved with the Communist League, the organisation which commissioned Karl Marx to write the Communist Manifesto in 1847. The reading and adoption of the Manifesto probably happened at the Club’s new premises in Drury Lane.

The Club went on to play important roles in the Chartist movement, the First International, anarchism and socialism in Britain. In 1903 the Association now at Charlotte Street played host, in part, to the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. The main outcome of this Congress was the emergence of Lenin’s Bolshevik faction within the RSDLP.

The Socialist Party had its first headquarters at the Communist Club (June 1904 to September 1905) and often held its Annual Conferences and Quarterly Delegate Meetings there up to 1919. The Club was closed a few years later and the building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. In view of its importance in the history of the British working class and the Socialist Party, it is to be hoped that a more detailed version of this short pamphlet will be forthcoming.

The subtitle of Szczelkun’s pamphlet, “The Birthplace of People’s Democracy,” is something of an misnomer. The allusion is to Chartism. But the Chartist rally of April 1848, held at Kennington Park, marked the end of working class agitation for democracy in nineteenth century Britain. And this pamphlet contains other contentious statements. We are told, for example, that “History is not objective truth.” Undoubtedly much history is written from a ruling class point of view, but this does not mean that an objectively true account of the past is unattainable.

Presumably Stefan Szczelkun intends this work to be more than merely his point of view, particularly if he wants to persuade others about what really happened in the past. We are also told that “Socialist parties” (apparently including us) either considered working class culture to be a distraction or were active in encouraging our members to follow “middle class” forms of recreation (p. 14). Of course, the author provides no evidence for this preposterous assertion insofar as it refers to the Socialist Party. Apart from that, this work tells you all you could reasonably want to know about the history of London’s Kennington Park. There is much that is valuable in this short pamphlet and works like it.

Both publications are produced in conjunction with the South London Radical History Group. It is part of the process of rediscovering the truth about what happened in the past in our localities, and forms an indispensable part of the struggle for our socialist future. Where is your equivalent?
Lew Higgins

50 Years Ago: Macmillan must go! (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

If we were Labour or Communist vote-catchers we would be campaigning for “Macmillan Must Go!” and telling anyone silly enough to believe it, how successful we had been with our last campaign for “Eden Must Go!”

Since the S.P.G.B. was formed in 1904 there have been ten such campaigns for getting rid of a no-good Prime Minister.  There have been rather more than ten governments because some of them, after being pushed, pulled or squeezed out have managed to get back again. When we survey the list we marvel at the rich variety. Scots, English, Welsh, and half-American (Churchill); spellbinders like Lloyd-George, and others who didn’t know how to gild the lilies of oratory; philosophical types like Balfour and Asquith and “plain, blunt men” like Baldwin; semi-Pacifists and war-mongers; business men and professional politicians; the relatively poor and the passing rich; religionists and agnostics; aristocrats and commoners; Tory, Liberal, and Labour.

There are the differences: what of the similarities? They have all had a strange belief that the country was very lucky to have them at the helm. They have all come in generously promising how much better they will make life for the people and have all gone out little lamented. And what difference has it made in the one thing that ought to be of paramount concern to the workers, the question of establishing Socialism in place of Capitalism? Just no difference at all. That job has yet to be done and it won’t matter in the least whether the next Prime Minister who tries to administer Capitalism is Mr. G., or Mr. B., Mr. X or Mr. Y.

(“Notes by the Way” by H, Socialist Standard, February 1957)

Greasy Pole: The Trouble With Kelly (2007)

The Greasy Pole column from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
“During the 1997 election she was heavily pregnant, which must have been worth not a few votes to her”
There was a time when the Labour benches in the Commons were thickly strewn with men whose leathery skin and calloused hands told of a past as coal miners, dockers or shipyard workers. Let these men pin you in a conversational headlock and you were likely to be anaesthetised by reminiscences of picket-line battles, wage bargaining carried relentlessly into the small hours and parliamentary struggles over some unmemorable reform.

All this flavoured with the defiant pride of someone describing themselves as self-educated, of drowsing over heavy tomes of history and economics while outside the dawn broke over the back-to-backs. If you were allowed a word in edgeways you might have been able to ask why such a background had failed to sensitise them to the waste of supporting the Labour Party style of trying to control capitalism in preference to that of the Tories. Such questions were unlikely to stem the flow of self-deception, or indeed to have been heard.

Well things have changed since then and those same benches are now peopled by a more furtive generation of Labour Members, although the divergence between their professed ambitions for a different society and their everyday support for their party of capitalism is as wide as ever.

For example there is Ruth Kelly, one time Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Education and Skills and now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Kelly’s skin is not roughened (unless it be through changing nappies among of her four children) and she was not self-educated for she went to exclusive private schools. A scaringly responsive pupil, she graduated in Philosophy Politics and Economics at Oxford, then took an MSc in economics at the London School of Economics.

A spell as an economics reporter for the Guardian was followed by another as deputy editor of the Bank of England quarterly inflation report. These excursions into the jungle of deluded “experts” did not deflate her ambitions and in 1997 she won Bolton West from the Tories – which of course meant that had to prove her demotic credentials by supporting Bolton Wanderers, just as Blair supports Newcastle and Mandelson used to support Hartlepool.

When she was promoted to Education, after the sacking of Charles Clarke, Kelly was, at 36, the youngest ever member of the Cabinet by ten years. In fact she has a record of filling the shoes of fallen ministers. She was promoted at the Treasury into the job of the embarrassing Paul Boateng after patience with him ran out and he was shipped off to be High Commissioner for South Africa; her present job is a new ministry, created when John Prescott’s standing descended into farce – not all of it due to his affair with his diary secretary – and he was relieved of responsibility for communities and local government.

It seems that Kelly has been seen as a rare, highly prized, safe pair of hands. In more ways than one; during the 1997 election she was heavily pregnant with her first child, which must have been worth not a few votes to her. She has shown some ability to balance the demands of her job with the needs of her family, trying to restrict her working hours and when she was at the Treasury she refused to take home her red box. Tory MP Boris Johnson has declared the he admires “…the way she has managed to be a real person as well as succeeding in politics. She must be identical twins”. It remains to be seen how much damage this endorsement from Johnson – who does not strive to be a real person – does to Kelly’s career.

Opus Dei
While still in her thirties, Kelly conforms to some of the most desirable stereotypes in politics: female, well educated, experienced in journalism, banking and ministerial power. A busy, devoted mother. Not much else would be needed to make her eventually a strong candidate for Number Ten. Except that as she got into her stride as a minister the “not much else” began to look like a great deal by way of obstacles to her ascent of the greasy pole.

Her time at Education was marked by trouble, over disputes such as replacing GCSEs and A levels and the plans to introduce trust schools. In one clash with the NUT she was written down as the worst ever Education Secretary. An additional problem has been her possible membership of Opus Dei, a catholic pressure group the membership of which is by invitation only and which aims to promote catholicism on matters such as abortion.

Kelly has always refused to discuss whether she is a member but she has conveniently avoided parliamentary votes on matters such as gay equality, she refused to work at the Department of Health because of her opposition to abortion and at the Department of International Development because of its encouragement of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and Aids.

And what of other issues on which Kelly, as a bright, heavily educated political leader, has expressed her views? She was a firm supporter if Identity Cards, in spite of all that that implies about a further assault by a growingly intrusive state on what are called civil liberties. She was a strong supporter of foundation hospitals, at a time when the “reconfiguration” of the NHS has provoked even the most robotic of New Labour acolytes – such as Hazel Blears and John Reid – into a rebellion, even if a modest one, against the closure of hospitals.

Kelly was in favour of student top-up fees, although when she was Minister of State for the Cabinet Office she was involved in drafting Labour’s 2005 election manifesto, when she may have noticed that the 2001 promise “We will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them” had been re-written as “The new proposals for higher education will…restore grants, and abolish upfront fees”.

Her support for the Iraq war was definite, although she would have known that it would be a struggle in which tens of thousands would be killed in the cause of protecting the interests of western capitalism in that oil-rich region and she could not have been so stupid and naïve as to believe that a stable, happy Iraq would quickly emerge from the wreckage there.

All of these votes were motivated, not by any religious convictions but by what Kelly sees as her duty as a politician to stand for the interests of the British ruling class and so to assist in the continuation of the system of capitalism, with all the devastation it inflicts on the human race.

Any doubts about Kelly’s capacity for duplicity should have been stilled by the revelation of her choice of school for her eldest child, her only son, who is classified as having special needs because he is dyslexic. This lad has been attending the English Martyrs Roman Catholic School in Tower Hamlets, which is widely regarded as one of the strongest educational authorities in the country. Kelly has removed her son from that school on the grounds that it is unable to cater for his “particular and substantial learning difficulties”. Instead he will be a boarder at the Bruern Abbey school, where the fees are £15,000 a year.

The local authority does not agree with this move, saying that “We have a strong record in helping  children with a wide range of learning needs to succeed”. An OFSTED report on the English Martyrs in 2002 stated that “Pupils…with special educational needs make particularly good progress…The needs of these pupils are identified clearly. They are given work that is well matched to their needs and effective support in lessons so they make good, often very good, progress…The result of good teaching is that, by the end of Year 6, many pupils with special educational needs …reach the nationally expected standard in English and mathematics”.

Of course Kelly is not the only Labour leader to place their children at expensive private school. It may be that such schools do achieve to higher standards with their pupils but that is beside the point. For the vast majority of the working class – the people who are deceived by Labour promises about education, health, employment and so on – simply can’t afford to place their children anywhere other than the state sector schools. The lesson of Ruth Kelly, her career and her son, is that capitalism sets different standards. The better, higher, standard is to be enjoyed by those able to afford it. The worse, lower, standard is for the rest, to be endured by them.

Shall we emigrate? (1926)

From the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

A World Migration Congress met in London on June 22nd, having been convened by the International Federation of Trades Unions, and the Labour and Socialist International, in order to discuss the problem of migration from the standpoint of the workers. As the problem is full of pitfalls, is the cause of much racial hostility between workers of different nationalities, and can easily lead to a dangerous waste of working-class energies, it is worth while considering the arguments of those who organised the Congress.

The lengthy report submitted to the Congress (“World Migration of Labour”) is a useful collection of interesting information concerning movements of population in every part of the world, but it fails completely to grasp the essentials of the problem, its attitude is throughout anti-Socialist, and despite the no doubt good intentions of those responsible, the effects of the policies advocated would be almost wholly pernicious from the workers’ standpoint.

The initial error—common enough with rash enthusiasts too hasty to digest their material—is the innocent acceptance without preliminary definition of terms which bristle with obscurities. We need only consider one of these because on its meaning depends the greater part of the arguments used. What, for instance, does “overpopulation” mean? It is not a simple question of arithmetic. It would be absurd to suggest that the uninhabitable arctic regions are under-populated as compared with, say, the U.S.A.; obviously natural factors must be taken into account. It is equally obvious that the same natural resources in succeeding ages with improved means of wealth production can support larger populations. Again, it is true that, as industry is organised to-day, it will be found generally that dense populations can more conveniently be maintained in manufacturing and mining areas than in agricultural areas. These simple qualifications are seen by the author of the report, but what he fails to see are the additional and even more important reservations necessary to justify the definition he finally accepts, without examination, from the economists. Over-population exists, he says, when the number of people in a given area exceeds a so-called optimum density. The optimum, in the sense used by the economists, is that number which gives a maximum productivity of wealth per head of the population. Any addition to or subtraction from that number will lead to a decrease in productivity. Now we can admit that the idea, although abstract and incapable of wide application, has its uses within certain well-defined limits; it does help to introduce some kind of order into chaos. But the writer of the report has forgotten to observe those well-defined limits and has never realised that the conception is useless for the solution here and now of the economic problems of the workers.

Why is it inapplicable? The definition in question relates to productivity per head of the population in a given area; but it does not concern itself with asking whose productivity, or how the product is distributed among the population. Adam Smith, 170 years ago, made a very true and simple statement, so true and so simple that it is beneath the notice of our instructors to-day. He pointed out that the amount of wealth produced over a given population depended on two factors—the productivity of the producers and the proportion which the producers bore to the whole population. Again, while it is true, of what use is it to be told merely that the wealth produced in this country or that, is so many pounds or dollars per head, unless we know who consumes that wealth ? The average wealth of any millionaire and any pauper is £500,000, but this, while statistically correct, does not help us to understand the real relations of the two individuals. In fact, in every capitalist nation we have a property-owning, non-producing class which nevertheless enjoys a very large share of the wealth which it has not helped to produce. The report goes into stupid raptures about American prosperity “unexampled in the history of the world” (279), and informs us that “skilled workers can demand—and obtain—wages that sound fabulous in the ears of the European” (p. 17). It does not mention the various factors which make a simple comparison of money wages in U.S.A. with money wages elsewhere invalid, and what is of more importance, it does not point out, as does the recent U.S.A. Federal Trade Commission Report, “that 13 per cent. of the population own 90 per cent. of the wealth.” It overlooks the fact that the proportion of the wealth they produce actually consumed by the American workers is probably lower than in any European country and that the proportion is not increasing. The 1925 United States census of manufacturers discloses the fact that in the motor industry, one of the most prosperous of all industries, in 1925, “only 32.4 per cent. of the value created in the industry went to wages, compared with 40 per cent. in 1923 and 38.6 per cent. in 1919” (American Appeal, June 5th).

The above shows the objection to applying this definition of over-population to working-class problems inside capitalist society, because it assumes that high productivity benefits the workers by increasing their income, whereas, in fact, no such result need follow. Another fatal objection is that it entirely ignores the cost of production in terms of human labour. From the point of view of the slave-owner, the horse-owner or the exploiter of wage-workers, the production of wealth by others than himself is an end in itself—the more produced the more for him without any cost. But what of the slave, the horse, or the worker? If they get no more, their interest is plainly to have increased leisure and ignore increasing the production of wealth. But it is also against the workers’ real interests to increase wealth production, even when they do get an increased income, if—as in America—that increased income largely represents a mere increase in the supply of fuel to maintain a human machine which is being worked at a greater speed. In this connection it may, too, be as well to point out that opinions are not quite unanimous on the question of American prosperity.

Sir Leo Chiozza Money (Daily Chronicle, March 24th, 1926) raises some pertinent objections. He points out that, among American miners, although mining is technically much easier owing to natural advantages, the death rate is much higher—which may not matter to those who live on mining profits, and which does not appear in statistics of wealth production, but is surely a point of interest to the miners. He says, “It is clear that, at least in some cases, they enjoy less than the standard of life which obtains in Britain,” and quotes the report of the U.S.A. Coal Commission, 1925, to the effect that “Too many of the American mining camps and towns are dreary and depressing places in which to live . . . heaps of manure within a few feet of the dwelling, garbage and other refuse awaiting collection for days, showers of flies and clouds of dust.” It is also curious, in view of the worker’s “fabulous prosperity” that, in the words of this official report, “sullen hostility prevails to an astonishing extent among the American mine workers.”

To return to our general criticism of the method of approach to the problem, we can say that every generalisation applied to such abstractions as “the industry,” and “the nation,” etc., has the defect that it ignores the separate and usually conflicting interests of employers and employed. To accept such generalisations leads to the unconscious advocacy of capitalist as opposed to working-class interests.

When we examine some of the detailed suggestions we see the danger and the absurd contradictions such loose thinking produces.

Stress is laid on the alleged danger of the worker’s standard of life being undermined by immigrant workers. The writer just glimpses for one moment and immediately forgets the fact that it is not the immigrant worker who actually does or can cause this undermining. The only person who can and does is the home employer, to whom the immigrant merely serves as an additional weapon. It ought also to be obvious by now that if the low-standard Chinaman is a danger to the white man in, say, British Columbia, because he can produce more cheaply, he is just as much a danger whether he comes to British Columbia or whether he stays at home— hence the futility of trying to keep him out. Cheap labour is cheap labour everywhere, and if capital is looking for cheap labour and cannot get it at home it will simply go where the cheap labour is to be found, and the goods produced in China will compete just as strongly in the Canadian market as they would if made there.

Many of the Labour apologists for capitalism, having now discovered this, are busy advocating protectionist capitalism instead of free trade capitalism, which, again, does not solve the worker’s problems.

The report contradicts its own argument when it informs us (p. 9) that foreign competition is caused by the emigration of skilled workers to other countries, where they get a higher standard of living. By the time it is recognised that low-wage and high-wage production under capitalism have precisely the same effect, it is time surely to realise that capitalism is the enemy. But advocating the abolition of capitalism is just the one thing these Labourites will not do. We are told (279) that universal free trade will not solve the present economic evils because “the present economic evils of Europe are more deep-seated. Moreover, they are chiefly confined to Europe; the United States has no reason to complain ; it has entered upon a cycle of economic prosperity unexampled in the history of the world.”

The facts are distorted, but especially we must notice the extraordinary assertion that the evils of Europe are “chiefly confined (italics theirs) to Europe.” If America, the land of the most brutal capitalism, with the most violent contrasts of wealth and poverty, is exempt from these evils, plainly, in view of those who think on these lines, capitalism cannot be the cause of the evils. Logically, therefore, they do not advocate its abolition.

They see three alternative solutions (p. 986) for the less industrialised countries of Europe : (a) industrialisation, (b) emigration, (c) restriction of population—not a word about Socialism.

Throughout the report there is much insistence on the so-called principle that migration policy should be based on “solely economic” factors. What on earth is an economic factor? If a government with tropical possessions uses taxation as a means of driving natives off their land, they are then driven by “economic” pressure to seek other means of livelihood elsewhere. In short, they are compelled to “migrate.”

But the attempt to limit consideration to the so-called economic aspect is absurd. Political control enables the ruling class to achieve their purpose by imposing this taxation, and the removal of that ruling class is a political problem. This is the essence of the whole migration question as it affects the workers, and it is the essence of all the workers’ “economic” problems.

The statement is made, quite truly for what it is worth, that “the natural result of over-population is the lowering of the standard of living” (289). It is true simply because over-population has already been defined as that condition in which wealth production declines. Our muddled migrationists then convert this useless truism into the utterly unwarranted assertion that the existence of poverty and unemployment proves that over-population exists. If it were true that England has millions of poor people and of unemployed because of overpopulation, we should expect to find all the people of England poor, and particularly all the unemployed poor. Actually, only workers are poor, and only some of the unemployed. Those of the unemployed who are property owners and have never had to work, are not poor. In face of the fact that in every part of the capitalist world there are property owners, non-producers living at the expense of the workers, and in face of the admitted colossal waste of existing powers of production, to urge the workers to neglect the one essential problem in order to go cap-in-hand begging concessions for emigrants from the capitalist ruling class is disgusting, and, from the worker’s point of view, a suicidal policy.

The workers are not poor because of over-population, or low-wage immigrants, or foreign competition from high or low wage countries, or because America bars further immigrants, or because of protection or free trade, or because they don’t work hard enough, or because they work too hard, or because raw materials are monopolised by certain capitalist groups, the workers are poor because they are workers. They live in a capitalist world, where property in the means of life means wealth, and propertylessness means the necessity of working and its accompaniment economic subjection and poverty. There are no purely economic problems. The conditions of production and of the worker’s standard of living are set by the capitalist system. Ending exploitation, utilising existing powers of production to the full, eliminating waste, are all dependent on the solution of the political problem of the conquest of political power. Through Parliament, the workers, when they wish, can eliminate all obstacles which now prevent the solution of any of these problems except on lines approved by and in the interests of the capitalist class. The work our Labour migrationists are doing is the work of the capitalist class, whether they realise this or not.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Can we do without capital? (1926)

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

A correspondent asks :—
“How can the workers do without capital? I quite agree that they do not get a fair wage in many cases ; but if capital were abolished, as you suggest, where would the money come from to pay any wages at all ? Would it not be far more practicable to limit profits by law and compel the employers to give the balance to the workers in the shape of increased wages?”
Our correspondent, like a good many people, seizes upon a half-truth and loses sight of other facts which would enable him to understand it. It is, of course, quite true that wages form part of capital, and that the abolition of capital involves the abolition of wages; but only a person ignorant of history and economics imagines that the workers have always depended upon wages and must continue to do so.

Capitalism has not always existed. In the modern sense it dates in England from the sixteenth century. Previous to that time the workers were either peasants or handicraftsmen. The peasants, whether bond or free, held at least sufficient land on which to grow their own foodstuffs, etc., while the craftsmen in the towns owned their own tools and sold the products of their hands on their own account. All of them rendered tribute to their feudal lords either in labour, kind, money or military service, but in few cases did they depend upon wages. In fact, the bulk of the wealth then produced was for the direct use, either of the producers, or of their superiors in the social scale. Only a comparatively small surplus was for sale, and, consequently, money played a correspondingly small part in the affairs of mankind.

The merchants and moneylenders of those days occupied a subordinate and despised position in society, little dreaming of the future which lay before their successors, the modern capitalists.

If we enquire still further back into social development, we discover yet other conditions of labour, such as the chattel-slavery of Greece and Rome and the primitive communism of the barbaric races. Under these conditions, wages and capital in all its forms were as yet undeveloped.

The barbaric tribesmen hunted, fished, pastured cattle or rudely tilled the soil without waiting for any enterprising capitalist to come along to provide them with work.

On the other hand, the slave-owners of the ancient empires had no need to disguise the fact that they lived by exploiting their slaves. They possessed the persons of the workers and consequently had to feed, clothe, and house them. They no more thought of paying them wages than a farmer thinks of paying wages to his cattle.

If our correspondent has followed the argument thus far, he will see that the dependence of the workers upon masters arises out of the control by the latter of the means of living. Where the workers possessed their own means of producing wealth (as in the case of the barbarian or the mediaeval craftsmen) they were able also to appropriate the fruits of their labour without asking the permission of masters. It is only where n class has appropriated either the persons of the workers, the land on which they live, or the instruments by which they produce wealth that the workers become the exploited chattels, serfs or wage-slaves.

Further, it is only when the powers of production have reached their present scale, when most of the wealth is produced for sale, that the bulk of the population become dependent upon wages ; but why have goods to be sold, and whence arises the need for money ? The answer lies in the fact that the different instruments of labour, the mines, factories, farms, etc., are all the private property of different individuals or groups and that the products of labour become the private property of these groups likewise. Wealth to-day, therefore, can only be distributed by a process of exchange between the respective owners of commodities.

The workers, however, only possess their own energy. They lack the means whereby to apply it to nature in order to maintain themselves. All the accumulated fruits of the labour of their ancestors have been appropriated by a small class who have no need to labour ; for the workers are compelled to offer their power to produce, in exchange for the means of subsistence. Seeing that nearly everything is produced for sale, these means take the form of money-wages—by which the capitalists become the possessors of the force which wins wealth from nature. The workers produce a much greater value than is represented by their wages, however, and this value, when realised by the sale of the goods produced, thus yields a surplus from which the capitalist class derive their income.

The Socialist, approaching the matter scientifically, rather than sentimentally, is not concerned to argue about the “fairness” or “justice” of this order of things. From the workers’ point of view such argument is mere waste of time, seeing that the only standard of “justice” admissible under the present system is based upon the exchange of commodities, on the average, at their value. Thus, without doubt, the workers, on the average, obtain their dues according to capitalist canons. They obtain the value of their commodity, that is to say, they receive enough to enable them to replace the energy they expend in the production of wealth. This, however, does not alter the fact that the process involves their exploitation and is, therefore, contrary to their interests.

It is, then, from the conflict between the interests of the workers and the masters that the Socialist develops his proposition for the overthrow of capitalism. This conflict, which manifests itself on the industrial field in an endless series of strikes and lockouts, must find expression on the political field also. Here it can only have one conclusion ; that is, the organised capture of the machinery of government by the working-class who constitute the ever-increasing majority of the population.

Let us now consider our correspondent’s proposition, i.e., the legal limitation of profits. What party is going to introduce such a measure he does not tell us. It is difficult to conceive any such measure being seriously adopted except as a last resort, a sop with which to buy off a steadily growing revolutionary class. Admitting its possibility, however, our correspondent has not indicated what he considers a fair profit or a fair wage, nor how such an arbitrary standard of fairness could be enforced. The experience of centuries shows that Acts of Parliament cannot alter the trend of economic development unless they uproot entirely the property conditions.

Thus we find that legal efforts to keep wages down after the Black Death, failed because the number of labourers remained so small. Not until the great enclosures of land commenced, with the resulting dispossession of the peasantry, did the price of labour-power become subject to a steady fall.

To-day, any attempt to keep up the level of wages, much less increase it, has to contend with the rapid and constant improvement in labour-saving machinery, which increases the number of the unemployed, intensifying the competition for jobs, and thereby weakening the resistance of the workers to wage-reductions.

Thus, there is already at work a force tending to increase profits more rapidly than a legal enactment could limit them ; and the workers are left with the only remedy for their poverty-stricken, enslaved condition, that is, the conversion of the instruments of labour into the common property of all.

When that has been accomplished by means of their political control, they will no longer need wages. The products of labour, like the means of production, will be common property, accessible to all without money and without price. In the place of competitive exchange there will be established a system of co-operative distribution. Our correspondent’s question is, therefore, answered.

The workers can do without capital just so soon as they exercise their collective knowledge and organise democratically to obtain possession and control of the means of living; for the term “capital” simply expresses the fact that the means of social labour, and consequently the products of that labour are private property. In the same way, the terms “wages” expresses the fact that the power to labour is a mere commodity, exploited for the profit of those who purchase it.

When the workers act as we foresee, these terms will simply become as meaningless and obsolete as the terms of the feudal law (“villeinage” and “suzerainty”) or those of ancient Rome with its “patrons” and “clients,” its “bond” and “free.” In the place of class-society we shall have humanity.
Eric Boden