Saturday, April 2, 2022

Notes by the Way: More Russian Trials: The Seven-Year-Old Conspirator (1939)

The Notes by the Way Column from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

More Russian Trials: The Seven-Year-Old Conspirator

The Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (March 2nd, 1939) reports the latest fantastic story of conspiracy in Russia. Three former officials of the political police and the State Prosecutor at a small town in Western Siberia were sentenced on March 1st to imprisonment ranging from five to ten years. Their offence was that they had concocted charges of plotting and terrorism against more than sixty children, some of whom they held in prison for eight months and forced to make confessions. The children, naturally, confessed to everything, from counter-revolutionary Fascist terrorism to having concealed weapons (penknives). The Daily Telegraph's Moscow correspondent (March 1st and 2nd, 1939) adds other staggering details. The children's ages were ten to twelve years. One of them, a small boy aged ten, had confessed that already, in 1935, he was "active in recruiting members for our counter-revolutionary group." As he was then only seven years of age, and was already an active ringleader, it appears that he must have begun his criminal career at about four or five.

The official responsible for the arrest of the children made a naive confession: —
I knew only one statute of the criminal code—58 (which defines counter-revolutionary political crimes)—and formulated all the charges to fit that statute. (Manchester Guardian, March 2nd, 1939.)

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Stalin on British Foreign Policy

In his speech to the Eighteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party on March 10th, 1939, Stalin explained what he thinks is the guiding line in the foreign policy of Britain and France, i.e., the desire to see Germany and Russia involved in war, so that British and French capitalists could score against both later on.
Through the policy of non-intervention there runs the eagerness and desire not to prevent the aggressors from perpetrating their black deeds, not to prevent, say Japan, from becoming involved in a war with China—or still better, with the Soviet Union; not to prevent say, Germany, from becoming enmeshed in European affairs, from becoming involved in a war with the Soviet Union: to allow all belligerents to sink deep into the mire of war, stealthily to encourage them to follow this line, to allow them to weaken and exhaust one another, and then when they become sufficiently weakened, to appear on the scene with fresh forces to come out, of course, “in the interests of peace,” and to dictate their terms to weakened belligerent nations. It is cheap, and it serves its purpose! (Daily Worker, March 13th, 1939.)
But Stalin thinks the Germans have no intention of getting involved in war with Russia, but have, instead, “turned to the west, if you please, and demand colonies."

Afterwards Stalin defined the attitude of the Communist Party in the sphere of foreign policy: —
Firstly, to pursue also in future a policy of peace and of strengthening the businesslike relations with all countries;

Secondly, to be careful and not to allow our country to be involved in conflicts by instigators of war, who are used to get other people to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them;

Thirdly, to strengthen the fighting power of our Red Army and Red Navy to the utmost;

Fourthly, to strengthen our international bonds of friendship with the working people of all countries who are interested in peace and friendship between nations.
This was supplemented a few days later by a statement made by the Russian Ambassador in London, M. Maisky, speaking at the annual dinner of the Machine Tool Trades Association. He said: —
You will find that in the last resort the fate of peace or war in our time depends on the kind of relations which exist between London and Moscow. Therefore every improvement to this end is an important contribution to the cause of general peace. (Times, March 16, 1939.)

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The Rich Minority Who Own Britain. Labour Writer Admits Failure of Labourism

Mr. Ramsay Muir stated on March 2nd, at a lunch of the Industrial Co-partnership Association, that, so long as “gross maldistribution of prorperty” continued, “we could not have a genuinely democratic society; and, indeed, it had been said that the property distribution was worse in Britain than in any other country."

To support his case, Mr. Muir gave some figures about property left at death. In a recent year, he said, 560,000 people died. Those who left less than £100 numbered 425,000. More than half of the property left by the whole 560,000 was left by three per cent. of them. (Manchester Guardian, March 3rd, 1939.)

Mr. Ramsay Muir is a Liberal, and it is for him to explain why Liberal governments never did anything about this. He is, however, fully entitled to make the charge against the Labour Party that it, too, does, not possess a solution. Mr. Muir, speaking of Labourism, but wrongly calling it Socialism, said: —
He did not think that . . . the purchase by the State of private property was any solution at all; the only effect of that would be to turn the ex-property-owners into an irresponsible rentier class and to widen the differences between them and the rest of the population.
Very true, Mr. Muir, and a few days later, Mr. Douglas Jay, City Editor of the Daily Herald, was risking his job by making a similar remark. Reviewing a book which describes the, London Passenger Transport Board (formed by the Labour Party) as “public property," Mr. Jay says that neither the Board, nor the B.B.C., nor the Central Electricity Board, should be so described, “since private persons hold stock" in them. (Daily Herald, March 13th, 1939.)

Mr. Jay also made another damaging admission about the programme of his Party, in saying in the same article that, as regards the inequality of wealth, “there has been only a very slight redistribution since before the War, despite death duties and direct taxation."

The book being reviewed by Mr. Jay is “Public and Private Property in Great Britain" (H. Campion. Pub. Oxford University Press). It shows that five per cent. of the population owned in 1936 between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the total private property. Two-thirds of the population still own less than £100.

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Cripps Answers Cripps

A correspondent in the Daily Herald (March 2nd, 1939) recalls that only a few years ago Sir Stafford Cripps, in a pamphlet called “The Choice for Britain,” gave Very good answers to the Popular Front propaganda he is now carrying on. This is what he wrote: —
It will be fatal if we do as the Social Democrats did in Germany; that is, combine with any anti-Fascist forces for the sake of saving democracy. That way lies disaster.

The very compromise that is intended to bring together all the forces in favour of democracy, destroys democracy, because it renders it incapable of achieving the economic change which is essential to its survival.

Nothing, in my view, is more dangerous than the idea that some temporary alliance of pro-democratic forces should be brought about not based on the achievement of Socialism,

Such an alliance, like the Labour Government of 1929-91, would find itself incapable of doing anything except deepening the crisis of capitalism, with the inevitable conscience of the bankruptcy of democracy and its elimination in favour of some sort of dictatorship which would come from the right and not the left.

We must, then, firmly and definitely abandon any ideal of working in association with any other political group or party that defies the absolute necessity of Socialism.
The argument is sound, but it will be noticed that it helps the Labour Party no more than it helps the Popular Front.

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Shaw Has His Say

In an article on Foreign Policy published by the Daily Herald on March 3rd, Mr. G. B. Shaw laid about him in his usual agile way, distributing cuffs to all parties. He annoyed official Labour Party circles by complimenting Cripps and condemning his expulsion by the Executive Committee. He promises that Cripps, “whether right or wrong, will presently wipe the floor with it for being so silly."

Crippsites are exultant, but they do not appear to have noticed that. Shaw condemns Cripps' foreign policy just as whole-heartedly as he condemns the Labour Party's. This is what he says: —
We on the Labour side have nothing in the way of foreign policy that will wash.

We praise peace and collective security, and in the same breath revile the Conservatives because they did not make war on Japan over Manchuria, on Italy over Abyssinia, and on Germany over Austria and Czechoslovakia.

This is patent nonsense. Suppose the Labour Party had been in power with a ninety-nine per cent, majority, could they have led the Nation to war for the sake of the Chinese, the Danaikils, or the entirely imaginary race called the Czecho-Slovaks ?

Could they, when the Italians were bombing the Abyssinian tribes into submission and smithereens, have stopped our troops from doing exactly the same thing on the North-West Indian frontier ?

That the answers to these questions are in the negative is obvious to everybody who is out for facts and realities and not for virtuous indignation on party lines.

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The Old Pope and the New One

When the new Pope was elected by the Cardinals, the British Lib.-Lab. Press welcomed the choice on the ground that the new man is anti-Fascist and leans towards democracy. If that is so, it would appear that he is also a believer in continuity, for one of his first acts as Pope was to send the following message to General Franco in reply to the latter's telegram of congratulation : —
Praying for new success in conformity with your glorious Catholic traditions and blessing our cordially beloved Spain, we thank you for your devout message and invoke for your Excellency divine assistance. (Times, March 11th.)
To the ordinary looker-on, Franco's successes appear to be in the glorious propertied-class tradition of using every fiendish method of mass slaughter to prevent the workers and peasants from improving their position.
Edgar Hardcastle

Is Democracy Foundering? (1939)

From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days when the intense rivalries between the capitalists of the world appear to represent a struggle between democratic and autocratic forms of government, in which one or the other is at stake, the question, “What is Democracy?" requires examination from more than one angle. 

Definitions of democracy and uses of the word are varied. Many have to be approached with qualifications. The Abraham Lincoln peroration, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people," when posed as a definition, leaves out of account the fact that democracy was the basic method of administering social affairs long before the instruments of class government came into existence. Similarly, the conception that democracy is only possible under Socialism, where the cross-currents of class interest are absent, expresses the fact that democratic practice will then have reached a more perfect form, but does not assist an understanding of the historic nature of democracy if anything short of it is rejected as not being democracy.

As a workable proposition, democracy can be defined broadly and simply as majority decisions; that is to say, the acceptance of the basic principle that the affairs of social administration or of government are carried out in conformity with the decisions or the will of the majority. This definition is broad and covers democratic practice as it was in early classless society, as it is in the more advanced capitalist countries to-day, and as it will be in the classless society of the future. Primitive Communism shows democracy in its most simple form. Practically everybody took part in tribal discussions, framed codes, rules and obligations of social conduct. There was no independent executive body, nothing which was the parallel of a separate law-making institution; there were few elected functionaries, whose conduct, in any case, was easily observed by the whole tribe. Democracy, as it was practised under Primitive Communism, is held up by some historians as an example of simplicity and perfection. It is a long stretch from the practice of those early days to the practice of the more advanced capitalist countries to-day. Social and political life to-day is far too complex to permit the intimate and direct control over the machinery of government such as was exercised by communistic tribes in their social and administrative affairs. But this does not affect the fact that government in advanced capitalist countries rests upon the basic principle of majority decisions. English social and political institutions probably illustrate this better than those of other countries.

In England, assuming a politically educated electorate, the machinery of government can be used to carry out the wishes of the majority. Adults possess the vote. The vote returns members of their choice to Parliament. Parliament is a law-making institution; no law can be passed without its consent, no government could continue without its support; it controls finance, approves appointments to the various administrative departments, the army, the judiciary, the civil service— and even the church; in all except very minor domestic matters, it prescribes the power of the titular head of the state, the king. The composition of the House of Commons, and, ultimately, the existence of the government rests upon the votes of a majority of the people. The government, therefore, depends upon the will of the people, which on major issues it could not defy for any length of time. The will of the people might be a negative, anaemic tiling, apathetic or unenlightened, and in that proportion any government might treat democratic practice with indifference. This, however, is evidence of the immaturity of the electorate, not of democratic institutions. An enlightened electorate would have the effect of making Parliament ever willing to placate the wishes and interests of those who can take away their power.

Democracy as it is practised to-day is adapted to the needs of modern conditions. It is the basis of parliamentary government in the advanced capitalist countries. It has reached, broadly speaking, perhaps the highest point possible in a society where class conflict is dominant. Certainly it has reached the stage where the workers, who are a majority of the population, can through their elected delegates gain complete control of the state machine. In this country democracy has reached this point through centuries of development and struggle, and has passed through many phases. Parliamentary government in many of the less advanced capitalist countries represents, broadly, stages through which in this country it has passed and through which they are passing. In many cases all the appearances of democratic government exist without the reality. In Germany, for example, before the War, millions possessed the vote and returned their representatives to parliament, including a large group of Social-Democrats. Yet the Parliament had not full control of finance, the army, legislation, or the administrative positions. Ministers of the Government could be appointed without reference to the wishes of Parliament. The English Parliament, through a series of conflicts over centuries, had struggled for each of these rights and had gained them. The German Parliament won them after the Great War. In England the struggle for the reality of power has resulted in the complete victory of democratic Parliamentary government over autocracy. It has reached a point where Parliament is no longer the mere tool of autocrats and cliques, but the highly developed instrument through which the majority can impose its will if it wishes. Fundamentally, it can be stated that each stage in struggle for the expansion of the democratic basis of Parliamentary government has been won by different sections of the people through their ability to exert sufficient pressure upon the governing class of the day. With succeeding sections of the capitalist class, the pressure was exerted through their possession of wealth and of their ability to pay taxes. Money governments must have. With the working class the pressure was exerted through its ability to discipline and organise itself ort the industrial field. This is the more possible where capitalism is the more highly developed and the workers are brought more into contact with each other through the massive nature of the capitalist productive forces.

Democracy is not the outcome of an idea. It is the inevitable outcome of the class struggle. Its degree of maturity or immaturity in different parts of the world is a measure of the political stage which the class struggle has reached in different countries. Where economic development lags behind the more advanced capitalist countries, there, too, within general limits and with certain exceptions, does political development and the maturity of democratic government lag behind. So there, in many cases, the conditions are less favourable for the workers to obtain immediate democratic rights. The latter is an important factor to take into account when workers struggling for democratic privileges have to decide on the form that the struggle should take in any particular set of circumstances.

To sum up: Democracy is not foundering, it is in a process of growth and expansion. Here and there it is subject to temporary throw-backs. In those countries where democratic government has been merely a question of an artificial experiment it has been suspended with little effort from any to retain it. This has not been due to failure of democratic government as such, but to the fact that it had no real roots, no real support in social and democratic development on which it could be sustained. In other countries, Parliamentary government has been suspended with the support of the workers. Events will drive home their lessons. The present set-backs to the growth of democratic government will later result in a reaction in favour of it and an added determination to strive for it. Socialists understand the historic nature of democratic government and its relationship to the goal to which human society is moving: There can be no Socialism without Democracy. Socialist support for Democracy, therefore, arises out of an understanding of the nature of capitalist society. The more that understanding is spread the less danger there is to Democracy.
Harry Waite

Blessings of British Imperialism (1939)

From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two interesting letters appeared in the Manchester Guardian Weekly (January 20th, 1939). Both of them dealt with the same subject: the suppression of native political rights in the British Empire, but while one referred to Cyprus, the other was concerned with Kenya.

In his letter, “Cypriot" wrote: “No one acquainted with Cyprus affairs is unaware that the present autocratic rule favours a small number of people. I remember when in the summer of 1936 there was a strike by the Skouriotissa miners everything was done by the police and other officials to suppress the strike. The committee of the strikers were arrested, and after considerable time in gaol they were charged with organising a meeting without the permission of the district commissioner. . . . An official committee set not long ago to investigate the living conditions of the villagers, recommended that the heavy municipal taxes on rural products should be reduced. Up to the present nothing has been done to this effect, and the Press can make no comment on the delay."

“Cypriot" makes the further charge that in the past two years censorship has existed from time to time in various forms. The Press has been censored; also “two years ago there was the postal censorship. Even invitations to a wedding, a funeral or any other social event had to be censored. No meetings of any nature (even athletic) are allowed without the previous permission of the District Commissioners. The police in Cyprus can obtain an order from the Court for the banishment to a remote village of any individual whose activities are suspected not to be in favour of the Government. Nearly all the provisions of the Defence Order (which amounts to martial law) have been incorporated into statutes similar to those in force in the totalitarian states."

The letter on the subject of “Native Rights in Kenya" tells the same tale of suppression. The writer, after quoting laws in force in Kenya, sums up the effect they have in these words:—
“These, in practice, mean that meetings may not be held without the permission of the district commissioner or headman."
He refers to a case when several natives, returning home from church, were arrested and punished, on the ground that, being more than five in number, they constituted a meeting. "In his summing-up, the judge concluded that a meeting had been held because more than five persons were present, and though he expressly stated that the objects of the meeting did not appear to be dangerous, the meeting itself constituted an offence."

Believers in the British Empire and the liberty it bestows on natives need not, however, despair entirely; Africans are not discouraged from attending either football matches or Salvation Army meetings.

The snag is, unfortunately, that the natives are not altogether satisfied with those concessions, because, the writer states, “they are not regarded as acceptable substitutes for the right to form trade unions, co-operative societies, and other organisations to protect African political, economic and cultural rights."

Since it is chiefly to the British worker that we address our message, we would urge him to ask himself why such suppression is necessary. Is it because the British worker, himself, wishes it? Or is it because capitalism requires such suppression, so that the exploitation of natives can go on uninterrupted?

If he decides for the second reason, it is his duty to join with us in the work of abolishing a system of society which causes such brutality, and of establishing Socialism which will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or colour.
Clifford Allen

Science and You (1939)

Book Review from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Science and You," by Prof. J. B. S. Haldane. Fore Publications, Ltd., 35, Gt. James Street, W.C.l. 64 pp. 2d.

This book, by a well-known scientist, whose speciality is biology, is one which all workers can usefully read.

The book, very well written, in simple English, presents some of the latest scientific discoveries in an easily assimilable form, but what makes the book specially interesting is the uncompromising way in which the bearing of scientific facts on social conditions is brought out.

Concluding an article on bees, for example, he writes: "And although the worker is worn out after five or six weeks' work in summer, it has had a varied life, including many different kinds of work, and a good deal of leisure." Wage and salary workers who toil monotonously at the same task, year after year, with no prospect of changing the nature of their work, will readily appreciate the comparison.

Another article on population decrease shows that he clearly recognises that a system of “family allowances" is likely to cause a fall in the general wage level, for he says : "And if some system of family allowances is recommended" (i.e., by the Government) "it will be for the Labour movement to see that it is not used to depress the wage of childless workers and to break the unity of the workers." Readers of the Socialist Standard will be aware that we have always maintained that any system of family allowances is likely to depress the general wage level. Haldane quotes the director of a French family allowance fund to the effect that ; “From the social point of view, the allowances have prevented the subversive trade: unions from using for their revolutionary purpose workers who are fathers of families. The great majority of these have remained outside the class struggle." In other words, their economic conditions have been more bearable, whereas the conditions of those not receiving family allowances have been less bearable.

—The reason for the interest of governments in the size of the population is explained thus: —
“Until recently, reactionary writers deplored the increase of population and thought that it caused unemployment; though it obviously could not account for unemployment in Canada or Australia. As lately as 1936, Professor Macbride said that the unemployed should be punished by sterilisation for producing unwanted children.

“Now their tone has suddenly changed. It is realised that soldiers may be needed for new wars, and that increasing population offers a good excuse for wars of conquest. In fact, as the experience of Abyssinia has shown, conquests do not afford an outlet for 'surplus' population. But they do supply labour power at starvation rates for predatory capitalists." 
Haldane makes a number of references to Russia, but one gathers that he has no first-hand experience of conditions in that country. He states that: "In the Soviet Union, where women enjoy a greater equality with men than anywhere else, the birth rate is not falling." Apparently he has not seen the reports published a few years ago, to the effect that abortion in Russia, previously legal, is now illegal, and a punishable offence. The reason here is that Russia, like other modern powers, needs soldiers to protect her frontiers. We would recommend Haldane to read the books, by Yvon and Gide.

There is a chapter showing how scientific research is impeded under present conditions, and other chapters on sanitation and vitamins, making the whole book a good twopennyworth. 
R. M.

The Legend of Litter (1939)

A Short Story from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the story found in a manuscript of ancient days: —

Now, it came to pass in the land of Verminy that the people were poor and sorely pressed. They toiled and spun, but enjoyed not the fruits of their labour, for they dwelt in that which was called CAPITALISM, being a strange land in which the multitude made all good things, yet their lords and masters kept them in bondage to do their bidding. Now it came to pass that the multitude knew not the CAUSE of their hunger and want, and they cried: “Wherefore are we oppressed for our hearts are heavy within us and the skin is tight upon our bones.” And the lords and masters (known in those days as Capitalists) became afraid, for it is not wise that such questions be asked. Now there arose a man who said: “I have the gift of tongues, I will speak false words unto them that ask,” and his name was Litter. So the Capitalists said: “We have heard of thee and we know thou wilt serve us well, but there are a few among the multitude who are known as Socialists; these ye must destroy lest they speak the truth to the poor,” and Litter made answer to the poor: “You are oppressed because ye have no colonies, nor have ye raw materials,” and the poor, not knowing otherwise, hearkened and spake, saying, let us arm and get colonies lest we die, and when they armed they marched forth and vanquished the Astians, saying, 'tis well that others be oppressed that we may flourish, and they destroyed the Seers and the Healers, and Litter spake, saying, 'tis well for so shall perish all who are not of the true faith.

Now, in this day, the Capitalists of Verminy took unto themselves the name of Litterites, to hide their aims of evil. Then the Litterites coveted the land of the Zeks, which abounded with iron, coal, and such things beloved in those days, and they cried: "Wherefore do these Zeks oppress our brethren, they are few, we are many, give unto us their land, for they worship faiths which are an abomination, and we shall force upon them the true faith, which is called Fascism. The gods of small nations are not powerful, and they may turn to the faith which is called Socialism.”

Now it came to pass in these days that the fair lands of the earth were in one mighty Empire, which, like unto the land of Verminy and the land of Zeks, was a Capitalist Empire, and was ruled over by the land of the Briths, whose Capitalists were clever and learned in the ways of the serpent. Now among the great ones who ruled over the land of the Briths, was he who spake the thoughts of the Capitalists, and his name was Lamberane. Now it was not to the liking of the rulers of Brith that the Litterites should become rich and mighty, and they made great orations, and there was much coming and going from land to land, but the rulers of Brith knew not the strength and might of the Litterites and feared lest the lands of their Empire be taken from them. So the rulers of Brith spake unto Lamberane, saying: “Go ye swiftly unto him that is called Litter and speak soft words, lest he smite us before we are ready.” And Lamberane sped across the waters and spake secret words, which are not known unto this day. And it was called Crisis, and Litter blessed him, saying: “Verily thou art one of us.” Now it came to pass that the multitude in all lands trembled at the fear of war; they dug themselves deep homes in the ground, they hoarded unto themselves food, and sent out their young, saying: “Go forth, lest ye be destroyed.” Now it came to pass that in all the lands there arose a few, who cried: “Wherefore do ye weep? Know ye that this war is not of your seeking; 'tis but a war of greed and avarice, a war of the lords and rulers of all lands. Ye have not wealth, ye have not riches, wherefore do ye heed the voice of the Capitalist. Hearken ye then unto the voice of him that is called a Socialist, learn ye of his faith which calleth unto the poor of all lands, saying—UNITE.” Now it came to pass that they who were called Socialist were few in the land, and—here endeth the legend.

SPGB May Day Rally (1939)

Party News from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Answers to Correspondents (1939)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Wages of Agricultural Workers

A correspondent writes as follows: —


Dear Comrade,

In the January issue of the Socialist Standard you state that it has been estimated that as many as twenty-five per cent. of agricultural workers are being paid less than the minimum wage legally applicable to them. Will you please explain how this information was obtained and why it has not been used to enforce the law?
Yours fraternally,
T. R. V. Andrews.

Minimum rates of wages are fixed in the various districts, and it is an offence under the Agricultural Wages Act to pay less than the minimum. But there is a great gap between specifying a wage and enforcing its payment. In 1937 the Minister of Agriculture instituted 83 prosecutions of farmers for non-payment of the minimum. The Courts imposed £314 10s. 0d, in fines and awarded. £2,020 as arrears of . wages to the workers concerned (see Reply by Minister of Agriculture, Hansard, February 21st, 1938). These few cases are, however, only those which came to light. The difficulty faced by the Ministry’s inspectors, and by the National Union of Agricultural Workers, always is that when agricultural workers are faced with the risk of losing their job, and perhaps being turned out of their cottage as well, they are most reluctant to disclose the fact that they are underpaid. Any estimate of the extent of underpayment is necessarily based on inadequate information. The figure 25 per cent. was given some years ago by a writer on agriculture, but the source of the information has for the moment been mislaid. The general problem, however, of workers who are underpaid; but will not risk taking action is well known to trade union organisers.
Ed. Comm.

Is the S.P.G B. afraid to criticise Trade Unionism

A correspondent, who gives no address because he is “on tramp,” asks an unusual question. His letter and our reply are given below : —

Dear Sir,

I have become a reader of the Socialist Standard, but I am told by a great many people that the S.P.G.B. are afraid to criticise Trade Unionism, because the Party would become unpopular., I do not know the S.P. view concerning this. I maintain that if Trade Unionism were universally adopted it could only result in failure because of the fact that wages are adjusted to the cost of living and vice-versa, therefore wages, however high, would not raise the standard of living. I fully admit that the Trade .Unions as they stand at present do benefit their members, but only at the expense of the community, as increased costs raise the cost of living. These facts prove the fallacy of Trade Unionism. If there is any truth in the statements made by some people as regards S.P.G.B. members all being staunch Trade Unionists, then the Party will have a hard job in trying to explain these facts away.
Yours truly,
J. B. Marshall.

Our correspondent’s question is unusual, because a very frequent complaint made by critics of the S.P.G.B. has been that we are unduly critical of trade unionism if not actually hostile.

The truth is that the S.P.G.B. recognises the value of trade unionism in resisting the constant pressure of the capitalists on the workers’ standard of living, but. recognises, too, that trade unions are in the main concerned with the day-to-day struggle within capitalism and not with the task of overthrowing capitalism. This is necessarily the case because a trade union has to accept to its ranks all workers who are willing to join for its limited purposes. A trade union which restricted its membership to those who seek the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism would—in present circumstances—be a very ineffective body, because it would be excluding a majority of the workers.

While supporting trade unionism, the S.P.G.B. need not, and does not, support or defend those speeches and actions of trade unions and their officials which are contrary to working class interests and Socialism.

Our correspondent is advised to read the Socialist Standard regularly. He will see the Socialist attitude to trade unions frequently explained and elaborated.

Our correspondent argues that trade unions are to be condemned because higher wages mean higher prices and are at the expense of the “community.” This is an error which has on occasion been used by the capitalists to dissuade workers from joining trade unions or taking part in strikes. The attitude of the employers is sufficient to show that they at least are under no such illusion. If employers thought that higher wages can simply be passed on in the form of higher prices they would not resist trade union demands. The employers know better. They know that higher wages are a direct cut into profits—hence their resistance to such demands.

Although wages are affected by changes in the cost of living, the relationship is not an automatic one. Workers have to struggle to raise wages when prices rise and have to struggle to prevent wages from falling when prices are stable or falling.

For an illuminating discussion of the economies of the problem our correspondent should read two pamphlets by Karl Marx, “Wage-Labour and Capital” and “Value, Price and Profit."
Ed. Comm.

Mr. Edgar Paul (Northiam).—We have your inquiry about class-consciousness, but are not quite sure what is your point. The more class-conscious the workers are the more inclined they are to reject open and disguised propaganda for capitalism and the more ready they are to put up intelligent resistance to capitalist pressure. It is quite true that workers with little understanding of Socialism will often put up a spirited defence against capitalist exploitation, but a defiant attitude alone will not suffice to get rid of capitalism.

Perhaps you will elaborate the point.
Ed. Comm.

Replies to many correspondents are unavoidably held over, owing to pressure on space.
Ed. Comm.

Working Class (1939)

From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

Working Class! Capitalist Class! Middle Class! A plague on all your classes. I do not like to think of men and women in society as belonging to different classes.

I like to think of these people as individuals all doing their best to meet life’s joys and anxieties with enthusiasm and determination.

A one-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, whose benevolent face and rotund figure are often the background for a pipe, became a little disturbed at such descriptive class titles and consoled himself and his hearers with sentiments similar to the above. How he abhors such marking off into sections of certain members of the human family! Nevertheless, I am sure that he knows to which class he belongs. Probably some evidence will be found on his railway ticket; on his particular suite in a luxury cruise; on his standing under his own pergola or chandelier; on the power of his effective demand upon the mass of commodities within society.

Now there are many who, like our one-time Prime Minister, give more evidence of sentimentality than sense when discussing society, when faced with the logical terminology which is forced upon them by the economic system which we know as Capitalism.

However, the march of events takes but little notice of a person’s particular dislikes, and we are compelled to take notice of facts, not fancies. In society, as at present constituted, there are two distinct classes with interests diametrically opposed—Capitalist Class; Working Class. Each has its own characteristic. Taking them in order of importance, we name first the Working Class; because from its productive efforts proceed the entire wealth of society.

Taking them in order of power, we call the Capitalist Class, because it owns and controls the means and instruments for producing wealth and the property rights over the mass of commodities resulting from the aggregate efforts of the workers.

Our one-time Prime Minister is a well-fed philosopher. He enjoys that characteristic of his class—a surfeit of the world’s good things; a well-stocked larder; a neatly documented rent-book; a well-furnished wardrobe. His privilege is a hold upon wealth, such as he, however industrious, could never have produced. He enjoys the benefits of exploitation. He has a store of other men’s labours. Exploitation of whom ? Of a class ? Yes! And that class the working class. It is a wage-slave class. Unlike the leisure of the class to which the man with the meerschaum belongs, the leisure of the working class is a forced leisure. It is a poverty enduring class. Although unemployment makes the living conditions much worse for millions of the members of the working class, the cause of its poverty is capitalism, and not unemployment.

Nevertheless, this poverty-stricken class is, by virtue of its position in capitalist society and the exigencies of the economic system, the class which maintains an idle parasite crowd by its surplus labour. The entire capitalist state and its hosts of flunkeys and hangers-on, from kings downwards, are fed and clothed and entertained solely from the vast stream of wealth which flows from the industry of the toiling millions called the working class.

The Socialist did not coin the phrases Working Class; Capitalist Class; Wage slavery; Class hate; Class warfare. These words are not the projections of a disordered mentality peculiar to men who preach revolution. They correctly mark conditions which obtain under capitalism and will only disappear when that system falls.

The Socialist can readily understand that our country-loving, honest-to-goodness, one-time Prime Minister eschews looking at society as it really is. It might spoil his contented smoke. Nevertheless, it sometimes amazes the Socialist when he finds his fellow wage-slaves envisaging capitalist society as a happy human brotherhood, and taking their cue from Cabinet Ministers and the Labour Opposition.

In the part of the city where it has pleased my heavenly Pop to place me, there are many indications of the class sections in society—working men’s dining rooms; working men’s hotels; working class clothiers. A working class neighbourhood. At times the King comes along to look at some of the working class amenities, accompanied by his Ministers. Then they go away—and thank God that they are not as other men. It never appears to strike these "high and mighty” personages, when they say “Give us this day our daily bread," that the Almighty has left too many loaves in their porch and too few in the doorway of the worker, or is it that they know that it is none of His doing ?

The Socialist asks his fellow worker to study his position in capitalist society. A book has just been published by Lawrence & Wishart, 2, Parton Street, London, W.C.l, entitled “Hunger and Work" by Jurgen Kuczynski. 2s. 6d. The author concludes that 10,000,000 workers live below the poverty line. He takes Rowntree’s minimum as the standard. It is well to notice that this scanty existence is the full heritage of a class, namely, the industrial working class of this country.

This statement is nothing new to the Socialist, and maybe our proud-of-England one-time Prime Minister had his tongue in his cheek when decrying the class labels which are everywhere evident.

As I am writing this a miner is broadcasting from Manchester regarding the benefits arising from the “Holidays with pay" movement. He described it as one of the greatest blessings which had come to the worker. He earned 8s. 9d. per day, and until this year had not been able to take a week's holiday for himself or his wife or children. Again I would draw your attention, and the attention of Earl Baldwin, to the fact that this sort of experience is the experience of a definite class. If he is really seeking a classless society, let him read and understand our “Declaration of Principles," and help us to bring about Socialism, and with it the end of class distinctions.
B. F. Lee

A Burning Question (1939)

From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is pretty generally admitted that the relatively considerable personal liberty, particularly in freedom of expression in the political field, prevalent in this country, should be strenuously conserved. Political careerists of all colours “ Right " or “ Left " notwithstanding, who would be prepared to compromise to a point not easily distinguishable from Hitlerism or Stalinism, the rank and file are sound on this momentous issue.

Where does the Socialist Party of Great Britain stand on this issue? Alone among political parties, it faces the position fairly and squarely; it has an answer to the questions: “What would your party do in case of overwhelming evidence that any ‘democracy' attaching to the present constitution would go by the board in case of a smashing ‘Fascist' victory? Would it not be the duty of your party to definitely assist in averting such a catastrophe?"—the implication being a greater or less adhesion to a “Popular" Front.

The answer is implicit in the policy which the party has consistently adopted towards war generally, and exemplified specifically by word and deed during the Great War.

Applied to the specific question under consideration (for argument's sake alone, admit possibility of an overwhelming “Fascist  victory), the answer may be stated in fairly precise terms:

(a) The contingent and certain consequences of war to the working-class (war horrors of all kinds, including shooting of frightened boys acquiesced in by “Labour" ministers), and immediate deprivation of civil liberties (D.O.R.A. a lustier and thrice-brazen wench than in 1914), these considerations alone would weigh against the party receding one inch from its clearly expressed principle that no conceivable group of non-Socialists fighting one another are worthy of support of any kind from the Socialists.

It may be noted, incidentally, that history (ancient and modern) is pretty emphatic in its verdict that a dominant conquering power will always find willing tools to impose its regime among the conquered governing clique; history can afford more ironical instances than a fire-eating Labour “leader" doing the dirty work of a Hitler or Stalin—native “Hospodars" of the old Balkan States were frequently more oppressive than the Turk (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th edition).

War is but one of the curses arising from the capitalist system; peace is ardently desired by the Socialist Party of Great Britain; the Party, while deprecating a “Pacifism" based ultimately upon disputed utterances of a problematical “youth with patient looks nailed to a crucifix," appreciates the kindly sentiment and decent outlook of the young men and women of the “Peace Pledge Union," for instance; it welcomes the recent I.L.P. approach to the same question, but “joining hands" on that particular issue, the Party would find itself out of step on fundamental issues.

One way only to conserve the “Democracy" of to-day and to attain Socialist Democracy eventually. Irritating, perhaps, to ardent but misguided souls who think the capitalist Jericho can fall by shouting, who pin their faith to “slogans" and fussy demonstrations. The immediate task is: make Socialists, and that is the work of the S.P.G.B.
Peter Gog.

The Party's Position: A Statement in French (1939)

From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

A statement in French has been prepared containing a translation of the Declaration of Principles and Chapters on—
  1. Socialism;
  2. The Economic Situation and the Political Parties in Great Britain;
  3. The Russian Revolution of 1917.
Copies may be obtained at the price of 3d. (3½d. post paid) from the Literature Secretary, 42 Great Dover Street, S.E.l.

Parliamentary Activity (1939)

Party News from the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the arrival of the spring and better weather, plans are being made for systematic work to be done in connection with the Party's electioneering campaign

Will all comrades who have canvassed for the Parliamentary Committee, or who are willing to do so, get in touch with the Committee immediately. Other comrades are needed for literature distribution.

Further, all comrades should realise that now is the time for urgent and essential work to be done. Come along and help. Don’t delay. It is your duty to come forward without us having to run after you.
Parliamentary Committee.

Blogger's Note:
With the outbreak of war later that year there wasn't a General Election for another six years. And the SPGB? By 1945, it was a different parliamentary constituency and a different parliamentary candidate.

Ruthless (2022)

Pamphlet Review from the April 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Truth About Trotsky. Anarchist Communist Group. ACG/Stormy Petrel, 2021. 81pp.

In 1937 Leon Trotsky, from his exile in Central America, wrote an account of the murderous rule of Stalin in Bolshevik Russia. He entitled it The Crimes of Stalin. This new ACG pamphlet also deals with the brutal acts of Bolshevism but those carried out not by Stalin but, ironical as it may seem, by Trotsky. Trotsky’s activities pre-date the coming to monolithic power of Stalin in 1924 but are shown to be hardly less savage and ruthless.

In a series of short chapters the pamphlet analyses in significant detail the actions of Trotsky in ordering and directing the elimination, sometimes on a mass scale, of those he considered in any sense obstacles to the consolidation of Bolshevik power in the period of ‘war communism’ after 1917. Chapter titles such as ‘Trotsky as an Advocate of Concentration Camps’, ‘Shootings for Deserters’, ‘Shooting for Drunkenness’ and ‘Trotsky and Poison Gas’ tell their own tale of cruelty and brutality and in their narrative illustrate the utter and perhaps pathological ruthlessness of Trotsky as commander-in-chief of the Red Army. A prime example is the much-documented mass slaughter of the sailors of Kronstadt in 1921. The sailors, who had been staunch supporters of the revolution in 1917 but were now disgruntled over their worsening living conditions and seen to be challenging the new Russian (state capitalist) state. As the pamphlet puts it: ‘The revolt was drowned in blood, with thousands shot and many sent to the Solovki camps.’ The event is re-examined here and Trotsky’s later excuse that the sailors were ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and not the same ones as in 1917 is dismissed as false. And in earlier episodes we read how ‘the Bolsheviks reacted to the strike at the Putilov plant in Petrograd by shooting 200 workers. Then ‘in Astrakhan, the Bolsheviks fired on an assembly of 10,000 metalworkers, injuring 2,000 of them’ and ‘this was followed by 400 executions by the Cheka, with Trotsky, as War Commissar, sending his approval’.

Yet Trotsky still has many followers on the political left. One book recently talked about his ‘extraordinary vision’ and he is often counterposed to Stalin, who is seen as ‘bad’ for the misdeeds he perpetrated in the name of communism or socialism, while Trotsky, banished by Stalin and then murdered on his orders is seen as ‘good’. Soviet Russia, we are sometimes told, would have had a different trajectory if Trotsky and not Stalin had succeeded Lenin as its leader. Yet nothing we know and which is recapitulated here about Trotsky’s ‘crimes’ suggests that he would have been any less capable than Stalin of tyrannous dictatorial rule over a country far too backward at the time for the development of anything other than centralised state capitalism. So his influence today among many who would consider their ideas about social and political change as being progressive is nothing if not misplaced, both in view of his activities when alive, the theories (such as ‘permanent revolution’) that he left behind and the view he shared with Lenin of the need for a Party to ‘lead’ workers to revolution. In the event he ended up a victim of the system he had been one of the prime architects of, ‘consumed’, as this pamphlet has it ‘by a murderous reaction that he had helped to create’.
Howard Moss