Monday, April 4, 2022

The failure of the Co-operative Movement. (1927)

From the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

In many minds the co-operative movement as it exists to-day is associated with Socialism and the struggle to overthrow the Capitalist system of society. In continental countries it is customary for the trade unions, the co-operatives, and the “Labour” parties to work in very close contact and it is vaguely understood that their joint aim is “Socialism.” In fact, their unity is only possible, because the so-called Labour Parties are actually concerned not with the abolition, but only with the reform of Capitalism.

When English co-operators speak in this strain they have some apparent justification in the fact that Robert Owen, whom they usually claim as the pioneer of co-operative principles, did during part of his life actively preach to the workers the necessity of finding means of escape from Capitalism. Owen lived in an age when machine production in factories was first making its brutal way in England. A new era was opening, an era of amazing profits for the fortunate few and of almost incredible suffering for the masses. He saw that the workers were helplessly enslaved to the owners of the land and the factories, and he thought that he had discovered a way out. If to labour in another man’s factory or on another man’s land meant hideous poverty for the labourer, then surely the remedy lay in securing land and machinery for the labourers to work themselves. So far it was sound enough, but Owen soon had to realise two things. The first was that the then ruling class had no need to solve the poverty problems of the workers, and certainly did not intend to give up freely their own right to own and to live by owning. The second was that at that time when the workers were uneducated, voteless and unorganised, it was unthinkable that they could hope to obtain possession of the wealth of the country against the opposition of their political rulers. In due course, therefore, Owen announced his solution.

He proposed that small groups of workers should aim at establishing self-supporting “villages of industry” in which there should be no employer, no master—little oases in the desert of Capitalism. They were to own the “land and means of production in common,” and it was anticipated that the idea would spread, until finally the workers would all have achieved their emancipation.

The initial difficulty, of obtaining the necessary capital, was to be overcome by the formation of “union shops” which would buy goods wholesale and sell them to the members at retail prices. A surplus would accumulate in the hands of the society which would otherwise have gone into the pockets of shopkeepers. Then, in due course the fund would be used for the setting up of “villages of industry.”

Between 1825 and 1834 some 400 or 500 of such shops were started, but the whole movement turned out a failure. They failed chiefly because enthusiasm waned with time, and there was no other attraction to secure the continued loyalty of the members once they lost faith in the ultimate end. In addition it was difficult, if not impossible, owing to the existing law for a body of workers to secure protection for their funds.

In 1826 one such store was formed in Brighton, and it is suggested in the cooperative “People’s Year Book” (1926, p. 13) that 1926 should on that account be celebrated as the centenary Year of the movement. The writer in the Year Book says of the Brighton cooperative store that in it “the co-operative movement had definitely started on the lines still followed more or less closely by every consumer’s co-operative society now existing in the world.” In his opinion, however, even so early as that, the pioneer co-operators at Brighton and elsewhere had already lost their interest in the more ambitious and far-reaching plans of Robert Owen : “The schemes of Owen were as much unlike the aims of the first co-operative societies as chalk is unlike cheese.”

But whatever may have been their intentions the shops founded by the early co-operators in England did not prosper, and it was a renewed effort in 1844 at Rochdale which contained the novel feature which was to lead to the modern developments.

The Rochdale innovation was the “dividend on purchases.” This provided a permanent inducement to members to remain loyal irrespective of their views on the desirability of reforming society. Great and growing numbers of workers have thus been drawn into the co-operative movement until to-day it is claimed that in Great Britain there are nearly 5,000,000 members, with £140,000,000 share and loan capital and an annual surplus of over £21,000,000.

In face of these imposing figures, and in view of the continued expansion of the movement, how can we seriously speak of co-operation as a failure?

It is a failure because it has not, will not, and cannot, solve the basic economic problems of the working-class. Owen saw, even if he failed to realise all its implications, that the dominance of capital was the root evil. He sought a means of escape, but although the modern co-operators praise him, they have long ago abandoned the intention of carrying on the work he planned.

“Union shops” were to be a means to an end. The co-operative movement has made “divi-hunting” an end in itself. The funds accumulated in the shops were to be used for the foundation of societies in which all the members would co-operate in working their own property held in common and share the proceeds on a footing of equality. The modern movement accumulates funds for the purpose of making further profit out of the employment of wage-workers.

The one, Utopian though it was, aimed at abolishing the wages systems, private ownership and profit-making. The other merely aims at redirecting the stream of profits from the private trader to the cooperative members. It has not and cannot solve the poverty problem either of its members or of its employees.

The basic fallacy in the co-operative idea is a wrong explanation of rent, interest and profit. Yet the position is simplicity itself to all who have missed or have won through the haze of mystery shed by the professional economists. Because the means of production—land, factories, steamships, etc.—are privately owned, the workers who wish to operate these instruments must first enter into a one-sided bargain; one-sided because the goad of semi-starvation forces their hand. They bargain to produce wealth for the owners of capital and receive as the price of the energies they sell wages or salaries which, over the whole field of Capitalism, are only a small proportion of the values they produce. What the Capitalists get is a property-income, something which arises from their monopoly and not from their services, and which varies according to the size of their capital. Rent, interest and profit, if the terms are cleared of some looseness which surrounds their common use, are merely names for this income which goes to the owners of property because they are owners.

Co-operators want to eliminate the middleman and redirect the flow of profit—but what is profit? Profit is the child of private ownership and is obtained by the exploitation of the workers. Co-operative “divi.” is derived from the exploitation of the cooperative employees. The relation between the latter and the societies is precisely the same as that between other workers and their employers.

Owen wanted to eliminate capitalist ownership. The extent to which this could be done by the co-operative movement is illustrated not by the fact that it has five-million members, who with their families make up perhaps a third of the population, but by the contrast between the numbers it employs and the total number of wage-earners. It employed in 1924 about 200,000 persons out of about 16 million workers in Great Britain. Its employees were only 4.16 per cent. of the whole number of its members, and that percentage was actually less than the 1914 figure of 4.85 per cent. Its capital looks large, but against the great mass of capital in the hands of the Capitalist class it is insignificant.

The co-operative movement has all the trappings but none of the substance of success. Its members are still wage-earners, still exploited by the Capitalist class and still, therefore, poor; its employees are in the same condition. If the societies as at present constituted extend until they cover the whole working-class that will still be true.

It has made no inroads into the Capitalist system, and it could not if it would. As the Scottish Co-operator pointed out (23.8.23.) the movement was then weaker than it had been before the war, “weaker financially and weaker administratively.” It does not challenge the Capitalist class or the principles of Capitalism. As Mr. J. A. R. Marriott, M.P., said at the Jubilee celebrations of the Oxford Co-operative Society (Oxford Chronicle, Oct. 13th, 1922): “If he thought the co-operative movement a menace to the private trader he would certainly not be there. But there was plenty of room for both to live and flourish.” This is true inside Capitalism, but under Socialism there will be room neither for private, nor co-operative, nor municipal, nor State Capitalism to continue the exploitation of the workers.

Co-operation has solved no working-class problems and discovered no new principle. It does not abolish profits and interest: it only “defines the rights of capital” (Co-operative News, July 10th, 1926). “It says to the capital-owner . . . ‘ we pay you interest and our obligation to you ends with that.’ ” Sir Thomas Allen (C.W.S. Director) wants to see “those who had capital, those who had labour, and those who had intellect and organising power” to “work in a real co-operative way . . . ” (Co-operative News, July 3rd, 1926).

It has disputes with the employees, strikes and lockouts, sometimes pays less than its private Capitalist rivals (see Co-operative News, 18.8.23.), and has even been known to call in a Capitalist Labour minister in a Capitalist Government to settle its differences with its employees.

When trade is slack it sacks members of its staff, introduces all the familiar speeding-up and wage-reducing devices of its competitors, and in short, behaves like any other joint-stock Capitalist concern, that is, it behaves as it must, being a Capitalist organisation inside a Capitalist system of society.

Some there are within its ranks who look further, but these are learning by hard experience that they are, if anything, less able than Robert Owen to achieve the object which he set before him. “The Rochdale pioneers desired to solve the land and housing problems of their generation. . . . Co-operators now realise that these problems can only be solved by Parliament. They have entered politics to realise the ideals of the pioneers” (Daily Herald, April 24th, 1921). This is part of a speech by Mr. Barnes, Co-operative M.P., in which he explained why a Co-operative Party was formed and was necessary.

Co-operation has not and cannot emancipate the working-class. Only Socialism will do that. The workers cannot escape from the effects of Capitalism by joining cooperative societies. Neither can they escape Capitalism by retiring into Owen’s “villages of industry.” They must obtain for society as a whole the ownership of the means of production and distribution which are now the property of the Capitalist class. For this they must organise in the Socialist Party for the purpose of controlling the machinery of government. Once possessed of power they can then reorganise society on a Socialist basis of common ownership. Owen’s ultimate aims can only be achieved by Socialist methods.
Edgar Hardcastle

Another New Pamphlet. (1927)

Party News from the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are proposing to publish a new pamphlet, but we cannot do so until we have the money. If we print 20,000 copies the cost will be in the neighbourhood of £100. We ask, therefore, for donations. As soon as we get sufficient to justify giving the order to our printer we shall be pleased to proceed. Let us have this pamphlet for the beginning of the 1927 propaganda season.

The Monistic Conception of History by G. V. Plechanoff (part II) (1927)

From the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

[Plechanoff’s Famous Work now translated.]

Part II.
Thesis : Man and his opinion is the result of the environment; especially of social environment. This is the inevitable conclusion from Locke’s main principle : the non-existence of innate ideas.

Antithesis : The environment with all its attributes is the result of opinions. This is the inevitable conclusion from the historical philosophy of the French materialists : c’est l’opinion qui gouverne le monde.

From these fundamental contradictions others followed, as, for instance, these :

Thesis : Man holds to be good those social relations that are useful to him; he considers as bad those that are harmful for him. The opinions of men are then determined by their interests : “L’opinion chez un peuple est toujours determinés par un interêt dominant,” says Suard. This is not a logical inference from Locke, it is really a plain repetition of his words, “no innate practical principles . . . virtue generally approved not because innate, but because profitable . . . good and evil . . . are nothing but pleasure and pain to us.” [1]

Antithesis : Certain relations seem to men to be good or bad in relation to the general system of their opinions. In the words of Suard every person loves, supports and justifies only that which he thinks useful for him, (Ne veut n’aime n’approuve que ce qu’il croit être utile), consequently, everything depends upon opinions.

Thesis : It is a great mistake to think that religious morality, for instance, the commandment about loving one’s neighbour, has in any way helped the moral alleviation of men. Such commandments, as ideas in general, are powerless against men. Ideas depend entirely upon the social environment and social relations. [2]

Antithesis : Historical experience shows that “que l’opinions sacrées furent la source véritable des maux du genre humain,” and this seems true, because if opinions in general rule the world, then false opinions will rule in the manner of blood-thirsty tyrants.

It would be quite easy to prolong the list of such contradictions of the French materialists, which some of our moderns inherited from them, but this would be superfluous. Let us rather examine the general character of these contradictions.

There are contradictions and contradictions. When, for instance, Mr. V. V. [3] contradicts himself in every line. His logical sins can have no other value than that of a “human document.” The future historian of Russian literature, will, in showing these contradictions, ponder over the social-psychological problem—how is it that so many readers did not detect contradictions that are so evident? But there are contradictions of another kind; these are the kind that do not put to sleep human thought, do not detain its development, but stimulate it to progress. The impetus for further development that they give is often so strong, that in the last analysis they are often, in spite of their contradictions, of more value than the logically perfect theories. About such contradictions Hegel said: “Der Widerspruch ist das Fortleitende” (contradictions lead forward). Of this kind are the contradictions of eighteenth century French materialism.

Let us examine their main contradiction. Human opinions are determined by their environment; the environment is determined by opinions. We can say about this what Kant said about his antinomies, the thesis is just as true as the antithesis. There can really be no doubt that human opinions (convictions) are determined by their social environment. But, it is just as true that no people will subject itself to a social order that is in contradiction to all its opinions. The people will rebel against it, and rebuild it according to their convictions. We must admit then, that the antithesis is also true. The question then is how can two theses, both true, contradict each other? There is a very simple explanation of it. They contradict each other only because we look at them from the wrong angle, an angle which makes it appear that if one is true the other must be false. If we once find the true standpoint from which to look at them, the contradictions will disappear. Each of the propositions will take on a new form. We shall find that each one does not contradict the other, but adds to its completeness, or rather that each conditions the other; that if one is untrue, the other must also be untrue. How can we find such a standpoint?

Let us take one instance. It was often repeated, especially in the eighteenth century, that the form of government in each country is determined by the morals of the respective people. This is really true. When the old republican morality disappeared in Rome, the republic was changed into a monarchy. But on the other hand, it was not less often said, that the morality of a people is determined by their form of government. This is also true. And really, where could the Romans of the time of Heligobalus get their republican morals? Is it not clear that the morals of the people of the Roman Empire had to be just the opposite of the morals of the time of the Republic? If this is clear, we come to the general conclusion that the forms of government do determine the morals of the people, and the morals of the people do determine the forms of government. Surely we must have reached this conclusion through some mistake. What then is our mistake? Ponder as much as you will, you will not find any mistake in either of the two propositions. They are both above reproach. Usually in such cases people content themselves with the principle of mutualism : Morals influence the constitution, the constitution influences morals—everything is as clear as day, and people who are dissatisfied with this solution are, of course, “narrow-minded.” This is just how our intelligentzia look at this question. They look at social life from the standpoint of mutualism; each aspect of life influences all others, and is influenced by all others. Only such a view is considered worthy of a thinking “Sociologist,” and whoever, like the Marxists, looks for deeper causes of social development, does not see the complexity of social life. The French “Enlightener” were also inclined towards this standpoint. The most systematic intellects among them (we do not include in this Rousseau who had little in common with the “Enlighteners”) did not go further than this. Thus, for instance, it is to be found in the famous Grandeur et Décadence des Romains of Montesquieu and also in his De I’Esprit de Lois. This is, of course, in itself a right standpoint. Mutual influences undoubtedly exist between all sides of social life. Unfortunately this standpoint does not explain much, for the simple reason that it does not say anything about the origin of these mutually influencing forces. If the form of government pre-supposes those morals which it influences, it is clear that it cannot be their first cause. The same must be said about the morals. The political order which they influence cannot be their creators. We must, in order to find a way out of this tangle, find that historical factor that is responsible for both the morals of a certain people and their political system and thereby created the possibility of their mutual influence.

The French materialists were greatly mistaken, when in contradiction to their usual view of history, they affirmed that ideas have no significance whatever, because environment is everything; not less mistaken is their usual view that declares opinions to be the fundamental cause for the existence of a certain social environment. There can be no doubt that there is a process of mutual influences between ideas and environment. But scientific investigation cannot stop at the recognition of this mutual ism, because mutualism does not explain really the social facts. In order to under stand the history of humanity, i.e., on the one hand, the history of opinions, and, on the other, the history of social relations, it is necessary to rise above mutualism; we must find, if we can, that factor that determines both the development of the social environment and the development of ideas. The task of nineteenth century social science was to find this factor.

The world is governed by opinions. But opinions also have a history. What determines their history? “The spread of Education,” answered some as early as the seventeenth century. The “Enlighteners” of the eighteenth century held fast to this opinion. The more talented among them, however, were themselves dissatisfied with their own answer. Helvetius remarks that the development of knowledge is controlled by certain laws. He even writes a very important essay to explain the social and intellectual development of man as a result of his material wants. He has not succeeded in this; for many reasons he could not at that time succeed. It has remained for the thinkers of the next century to continue the work of the French materialists.

1 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Vol. I, Ch. 3; Vol. II, Ch. 20, 21, 28.
2 This proposition is more than once expressed in the Système de la Nature of Holbach. The same is also expressed by Helvetius.
3 V. V. was one of the theoreticians of Naradnichestvo, and affirmed that capitalism would not develop in Russia as it has developed in Western Europe.

New Year Resolution. (1927)

From the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the first of January each year, mankind is afflicted with an attack of a mild epidemic. It breaks out in a rash of New Year Resolutions. It views the soiled and speckled pages of the past and, stricken with remorse, resolves that the clean white page of the future shall incur no blots whatever. Usually some pet affliction is selected for treatment and the penitent resolves that henceforth in that respect he will be blameless. Alas ! Usually in less than a week, the strong chain of habit has settled down into its accustomed place, and the “victim” feels more comfortable. The result is not necessarily a dead loss. He will at least have had the satisfaction of making the resolution, and the added satisfaction of breaking it. There is just the further possibility that if the effort of retrospection is long enough, and intense enough, a train of thought is started that may profoundly modify one’s habits, especially of thought. Most of us are content to let the past sink as rapidly as may be into oblivion, and let that portion of the future that we daily call “the present” flow over us in the easy channels of habit. And yet, consciously or otherwise, we have continually to refer to the past, for it is the past that has made our habits, and it is only there we find experience. It is only by comparing the past with the present that we become aware of change. It is only by this comparison that we discern the lines of change and endeavour to use them to our advantage.

The farther we go back in the past, the greater is the contrast with the present, and the more we examine the interval the more are we made aware of the linked nature of the sequence of events we call history. The uninformed, unimaginative man, the mere creature of habit, is unaware of this process. He views the changes around him as mere waves that at one time seem to tower above him, the next to sink below him, the net result leaving him much at the same level. Events seem disconnected and unrelated. He is the sport of his fears and the slave of the power of suggestion. Change disturbs him and the unfamiliar has simply to be described to him as hurtful, and he flings judgment to the winds and gets panicky. Witness the present use of the words “Moscow” and “Bolshevism.” But had he information and imagination, together with the habit of thought we call judgment, he would not be afraid of foolishly used names. He would discern that events were not simply up and down movements of waves on a surface. He would discover they had direction, a current, a definite line. It is this progression, this linked emergence of the present out of the past, that we call Evolution.

It is not the purpose of this article to go over the events of history and shew their inter-connection. That, however sketchily done, would require a book. In its briefest form, it is doubtful if it has been better done than in our little pamphlet “Socialism,” a miracle of condensation. Here we would simply direct attention to a few events of the past year. It may not be altogether inapplicable to start with an occurrence at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in November, 1925, when A. Chamberlain drank from the “loving cup” with the German Ambassador. Though not in itself an “event,” it was an indication of the point we wish to emphasise—the speed with which contemporary history is moving. Only seven years previously the Germans were so abominably vile as to be outside the pale of all civilised intercourse. At that time the only good German was a dead one. A phrase like “never again” was the least adamant of the slogans for the future. And yet within seven short years Mr. Chamberlain and the “Huns” have their noses in the same trough. Then followed Locarno, a subject we dealt with in our May issue. Perhaps the most significant comment on Locarno from a Capitalist standpoint was contained in the Financial News of October 23rd. It said :
“But the ultimate aim of German producers has been to draw other European countries into international agreements to prevent ruinous competition for the reduced world demand. This aim blossomed out after the Locarno treaties had given the stamp of respectability to agreements between former enemies.”
Particularly note that last sentence. Locarno was the first time it was considered expedient the general public of Europe should know how intimate the relations of international capital had become.

Possibly the General Strike was the next in order of sequence, when the workers once more demonstrated the futility of fighting capitalism with the weapon of passive starvation. But next in order of significance was the formation of the European Steel Trust. This was followed by the meeting—the very secret meeting—of German and British capitalists at the house of Colonel Wilfrid Ashley. Or did the meeting precede the Steel Trust? However, it does not matter much, for the £65,000,000 chemical combine was the next thing to occupy attention, followed by the huge newspaper deals of Berry Bros, and the incorporation of the White Star Line in a huge Shipping Trust.

We submit that these huge agglomerations of capital, and especially those of international capital, are intensely significant. Their most significant feature is the speed at which they are being consummated. We suggest that it is a possible indication of the fact that capitalism is entering upon its last phase. Pursued far enough it can have but one effect upon the international working class. The same or a much greater quantity of goods can be produced with a less expenditure of labour-power. This will mean an intensification of the unemployed problem and, as was shewn in our article on “Mass Production” last month, a worsening of working class conditions generally.

As we have indicated, the present is the child of the past, and, as the Financial News says in the issue mentioned :
“The Cartel movement must be regarded as the economic expression of a tendency that is at work also in politics and social matters : the tendency towards international co-operation.”
Naturally the Financial News means capitalist co-operation. After mentioning that Great Britain is inextricably bound up with the Continent, it says :
“In any case, this country must hasten the centralisation of the organisation of her industries. This is essential, whether we co-operate or compete. Happily, there are signs that our industrial statesmen realise the necessity. In some cases British industries have taken the lead in forming agreements with the Continent; examples are the International Explosives agreement, brought about by Nobels, and the artificial silk agreements between Courtaulds and the Glanzstoff Fabriken. The British chemical combine may soon be included in a Continental agreement.”
Now, to the working class, the lesson of all this should be clear. Unless they organise to take and control these great social forces, they will soon be the hopeless serfs of gigantic monopolies embracing whole continents. The huge numbers of them that still find employment through the waste of competition will be slowly relegated to the more or less permanently unemployed.

What are the workers doing about it? Here are their masters swiftly but calmly organising into larger and still larger combines, nationally and internationally. They speak quite refreshingly of the growing hindrance of tariffs and frontiers. They pause in their task of unveiling war memorials to their slaughtered serfs, and have a friendly little chat with their late enemies as to sharing the loot. We are faced with the greatest aggregations of capital the world has ever seen. It is here, now, growing with a speed that yesterday was thought inconceivable. It is for the workers to decide, and at once. This New Year they must make a resolution that they will break at their peril. The peril will be there even if they do not make the resolution. They must resolve that Socialism is a live issue, to be decided now, in the immediate present. They must drift no longer. Those who are convinced of the truth of our position must realise that there is but one place for a logical Socialist—inside our ranks. Only the direct reasons should prevent him joining us. If Socialism is worth anything, it is worth the utmost we can give it. If we only acutely visualise the world this can be under Socialism, we shall count nothing we give, no service we render, too great a sacrifice, if it serves our glorious aim. We have but to imagine our present world, intensified by the events foreshadowed, to nerve ourselves for the task. Come, then, the cause is worthy. Who will help?
W. T. Hopley

Letter: What determines prices? (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some questions and our reply.

To the Socialist Standard.

The answer to A.W.S. on Currency in December Socialist Standard interests me, as I too am perplexed about prices, and will ask for instruction.

As I understand Marx, prices are governed by value. Now as coal, bread, boots, etc., embody no more labour since than before the war, and are of no more value, why is it that prices have at times doubled? I have read Socialist Standard for June, ’22, but can’t gather from it a reply to my difficulty. I’m putting the question thus tersely, so to avoid complications. If I could get this clear, perhaps my other perplexities would dissolve.

Some phrases in your answer to A.W.S. seem to fog me: e.g., (3) “It depends,” “a huge inflation of the paper currency, the rise in prices, due to this movement.”

And in last few lines of the answer, e.g., “When a movement of currency affects prices.”

Does currency affect prices?

I shall be obliged for instruction.
A. S.

P.S.—Your reference to “Pleb’s” discussion, I did not find in December, ’21, or May ’22, Socialist Standard.

Answer to A. S.
The general question of the relation between prices and value is so well worked out by Marx in “Value, Price and Profit” that our correspondent is referred to that volume for a full answer.

Briefly it may be said that while prices are based on value they may deviate within quite wide limits above or below value in certain circumstances. The most usual of these are supply and demand. If demand increases relative to the supply, prices will tend to rise, even though value has not altered. On the other hand if the demand falls relative to the supply, prices will tend to fall, and may fall below value.

The special conditions at the opening of the Great War enabled capitalists to raise prices enormously. Since the War ended they have kept up prices in many instances by combinations, cartels, and trade agreements. It must be remembered that a general rise in prices means a rise in the cost of commodities required to maintain and reproduce labour power. This means that either the price of labour-power—that is, wages—must rise, or the workers’ standard of living must fall. Even with some rise in wages the standard of living may fall if the rise in wages is not equal to the rise in the cost of living at the old standard.

As we tried to show in the answer to A.W.S., when a currency is inflated as a result of the fall of credit (see example in June, 1922, Socialist Standard), the purchasing power of each piece of currency falls. If the labour time necessary to produce the commodities remains unaltered, the fall in the purchasing power of the currency is necessarily followed by a rise in prices. In other words, if a currency falls in value —or credit—while other things remain the same, prices will rise. If a currency rises in value—or credit—and other things remain the same, prices will fall. This is what was meant when referring to a movement of currency affecting prices.

By a slip of the pen the dates were given wrongly in the answer to A.W.S. They should have been as follows :—Socialist Standard for June, 1922, December, 1922, and May, 1923.
Ed. Com.

Letter: Materialism v Spiritism Again. (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrade,

I have just seen your criticism of Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet in your October number.

I will leave Comrade Kingsley to deal with the main points at issue, and will only refer here to the paragraph regarding myself. All I meant by my expression “find ourselves on the wrong road” was, of course, that if a party insisted too dogmatically on a philosophy which modern thought might find to be mistaken, it might get left behind, and consequently have to undo a good deal of what it had insisted upon. I understand modern thought is changing very much in its ideas regarding the nature of matter, etc., and the fullest, freest discussion ought to be permitted.

Certainly religious advocates dogmatise, as you say, but is that any reason why Communists and Socialists should do the same?
Yours  fraternally,
Florence Baldwin

Reply to Florence Baldwin.
The only point requiring notice in Florence Baldwin’s letter is the statement that she “understands modern thought is changing very much in its ideas regarding the nature of matter, etc.” In what way is this supposed change taking place? Many wild claims are made by Spiritists, even to the contradiction in terms, that “we are dematerialising matter” !

Scientists, however, are continuing along the lines, that have proved so fruitful in the past, of observation, experimentation, and classification of the facts of phenomena around us. In the case of matter, fresh properties have been discovered and new facts of structure have been demonstrated. But these are all properties and facts of MATTER. In the words of one scientist, they have been “exploring the atom”— but they have not been abolishing it. The more modern chemist still uses the atomic weights in building up his combinations, though he now knows more of what is inside the atom than his father did. Every step in the new knowledge has been made along rigid materialist lines, and along no other.

To hold firmly to the scientific method—the only one that has brought us any results—may be “dogmatic” (though we deny that), but it is the only sensible position.
Jack Fitzgerald

A Socialist Survey. (1927)

From the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Effects of Re-Organisation.

Labour Leaders, Miners’ Leaders, Liberal and Tory Leaders have all been talking on the need for reorganisation in the working of the mining industry. In fact, the miners’ leaders have insisted upon immediate reorganisation as a method by which the industry could be put “upon its feet.” Now we have the I.L.P. journal, Forward, admitting the effects of reorganisation under capitalism is to worsen the workers’ lot. This is true whether the reorganisation takes place by Trusts or under Nationalisation.

This is Forward’s confession taken from their front page, signed by Thos. Johnston, M.P. (Dec. 11th, 1926) :
“Every proposal we make for the reorganisation of industry means more unemployment.

The Daily Mail justifies the reorganisation of our electrical supplies, on the ground that it will save the labours of 300,000 colliers.

Reorganisation of the coal industry means the discharge of 100,000 colliers.

And we have already a permanent standing army—the coal stoppage apart—of well over 1,000,000 fellow-citizens who can find no employer.”

Unemployment Insurance as a Narcotic.

After commenting on the decline of unemployment agitation compared with pre-war days, Forward (same issue) says : “Unemployment insurance of course is responsible for dulling the edge of the agitation.” Mr. Johnston, M.P., who writes this, forgets to state that the Labour Party was one of the parties to the passing of the Unemployment Insurance Act. He complains of the effect of their work, but his “remedy” is to set up a Select Committee of the House of Commons to examine unemployment relief proposals ! Such is the Capitalist policy of the advanced Clyde !

The Rich Labourites !

Commander Kenworthy has won Hull for Capitalism under a Labour label. He has boasted of the support of big business men locally who saw “no change” in his “Labour” programme from his Liberal policy. Now the wealthy Oswald Mosley has won Smethwick with a policy to suit the moderate Liberal. To show the “proletarian” character of the Labour Party let us quote Philip Snowden, their “Chancellor” (Forward, December 11th, 1926):
“A few cases have happened lately where a candidate has been put up to auction by the local Labour Party and sold to the highest bidder.

New recruits to the party, who happened to be wealthy, have bought favourable constituencies. They have no record of service in the movement, and they know little or nothing about its principles. Men with long years of service in the party have been put aside because they were poor. Such incidents demoralise the local party, and put it on a level with the capitalist parties.”
The article is headed, “Who Pays, Rules.” Snowden says “Those who pay the piper call the tune.”

Is the Marxian Theory of Value out of Date ?

A writer (John Smith) in the Canadian One Big Union Bulletin (November 18th, 1926), writing on “Marx and Super-Capitalism,” says that Marx’s theory of value is not true under large scale production in America.

The essence of his statement is in the following extracts :
“Most of the European capitalistic countries are still producing on the basis of nineteenth century social machinery, whereas America is sailing under the flag of super-capitalism. Principles of Economics that still hold true on the European Continent and in England are no longer applicable to the economic conditions of North America.

Super-capitalism has changed some of these “economic truths,” considerably. With the elimination of competition, cartels for price-fixing and control of production and distribution have effectively done away with the principle of “socially necessary labour power” as the basic unit of commodity prices. Industries controlled by such cartels and falling within the “mass production” class are regulated at the will of the industrial magnates whose wish is the law in the economic field as well as in the political.”
The Will Power of the Capitalists.
Like most critics of Marx who allege that Marx is out of date, this Winnipeg writer does not attempt to show what has taken the place of Marx’s labour theory of value. His only claim is that the will of the Capitalist determines prices. Marx has already dealt with the alleged free will of the Capitalist in “Value, Price, and Profit.” Like all so-called wills and decisions, the Capitalists’ will is conditioned by circumstances. We might ask with Marx how is the power of the Capitalists’ will determined? What are its limits? This writer, who says “economic laws are conveniently thrust aside” by these super-Capitalists, might tell us why these magnates whose “wish is law” don’t charge twice as much as they do for their goods. Is it modesty? Or self-denial?

The Truth of the Labour Law of Value.
The real fact is that the super-Capitalists and trusts are aware of the truth of the labour law of value. Every worker in the Ford Plant at River Rouge, or even in the assembling plant at Winnipeg, can tell our Winnipeg writer that continual and unceasing efforts are made to reduce the time taken to produce the articles. The same truth applies to all large scale production, especially in the country named by our writer—the United States of America. The continual reduction of prices of Ford cars, for example, took place after (as Ford admitted) the time taken to produce cars had been greatly lessened.

It is not the will to charge higher prices that we see at work specially in the trust. It is the scheming and planning to so increase output per man that less labour is embodied in each article, thus enabling them to outsell their rivals and increase their profits. The secret of Ford’s and all similar firms is that with tremendous capital laid out in modern machines the work can be so divided up and simplified that more goods can be produced in the same time. Every modern manufacturer knows the truth of Marx, and hence the employment of the latest devices and systems. The firms who cannot invest enough capital to lay down the most up-to-date plant cannot compete with the efficiency and labour-saving methods of the Trust. If it was simply a matter of will to charge higher prices there would be nothing new or modern about the super-Capitalists. All sellers have the will to get the highest price the market will bear, but to-day, as well as a century ago, the seller’s will depends upon suitable conditions for its gratification.

The Power of the Trust.
The rings, trusts and huge firms find the way to wipe out their rivals is to produce cheaply. The way to produce cheaply is to reduce the amount of labour involved in producing each article. Hence the trust erects modern large plants and installs the latest machines and speeds up their workers to the last pitch. As an illustration of the truth that trusts can sell cheaper, take Canada and U.S.A. Most articles produced in Canada are higher in price than in U.S.A. Canada has smaller workshops and fewer self-contained industrial plants than U.S.A. and more time on the average is taken to produce Canadian goods. Does our critic explain the continuous decline in price of Ford’s Cars since 1910 as a constant change in Mr. Ford’s will?

The combines’ power to charge higher prices is limited by—
  1. the purchasing power of its customers ;
  2. the similar goods to be obtained from rival firms ;
  3. the use of substitutes when price is too high;
  4. the decline in amount sold of these commodities if price is higher than market will bear.
Even mighty Ford finds himself faced with the rivalry of the greater combine backed by Morgan and Wall Street Bankers—the General Motors Co. This firm in its turn adopts the same methods of reduction in time taken to produce each car, with the result that a number of cars are offered in competition with Ford’s price.

To-day, as when Marx wrote his address on Free Trade—cheapness is the battering ram that breaks down the barriers of competition.

Where the Workers are Robbed.
The worst use of articles like that we have criticised is that attacks on “monopoly prices” lead the workers to look at things from the point of view of consumers of commodities.

Actually the workers are the smallest consumers of the total national production. Their purchasing power is limited to the amount of their wages. The Capitalists are able to buy the largest quantity because their “share” of the total output is largest in the shape of rent, interest and profit.

The workers must view matters as producers, being the only class engaged in production. It is where they produce that they are exploited. The demand then must not be “Lower Prices,” but the “abolition of exploitation.”

The Fool Programme of the Communists.

The alleged revolutionary Communist Party offers another Red Programme for its vote catchers to work on.

The following is what they demand as a “full Socialist Programme” ! (“Communism is Commonsense,” p. 18.) :
  1. Nationalisation of mines, railways and large-scale industries without compensation and with workers’ control.
  2. Nationalisation of the land and the banks in the same way.
  3. State control of foreign trade.
  4. Capital levy on all fortunes over £5,000, and no interest to be paid on National Debt holdings over that figure.
  5. A steeply graduated income tax on all incomes over £250.
  6. National minimum of £4 per week for all who work, and a minimum 44-hour working week.
  7. Maintenance of the unemployed at trade union rates by the State, under control of the Trade unions.
  8. Repeal of all anti-Labour laws (E.P.A., etc.)
  9. Wiping out of all Reparations and War Debts.
  10. Declaration of independence of the Colonies and withdrawal of British troops.
  11. Credits to and friendly relations with the workers’ government of the Union of Soviet Republics.”
None of these demands, from Nationalisation to 44-hour weeks, touch the cause of working class slavery, nor do they offer any solution to the “social evils” of to-day. They are Communist idiocy.

The ”Savings” of the Workers !

Once again we are treated to the story of huge savings of the workers ! A writer in the Burton Daily Mail for December 15th complains of the Socialist statement of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and gives the usual figures of the savings, “mostly of the working classes.” He quotes the Chairman of the National Savings Committee on October 20th stating the following increase from 1916 to 1926 :

Even accepting these figures as correct and ignoring the obvious duplication of funds in different kinds of institutions—what evidence do they offer of being working class savings? We challenge the writer to show that they are mainly workers’ investments. It is well known that small business people, shopkeepers and others of similar position, use these institutions very largely. The writer also forgets to state the number of different persons holding these apparently huge sums. If these figures offer evidence of increasing luxury of the workers—what striking evidence on the other side is shown by the mounting cost of poor law relief and unemployment “relief”? If we are so well off why the united cry of decline in prosperity? In reality bank returns clearly show the prosperity of the employers in a world of working class poverty.
Adolph Kohn

The lesson of the coal dispute. (1927)

From the January 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Mr. Cook has failed to learn. 

The dispute in the coal industry has prompted many writers to indulge in their favourite practice of pointing a lesson. Mr. A. J. Cook, as the chief representative of the miners, tells us in the New Leader, 26.11.1926, what is “The real lesson of the coal war,” “The lesson which the working class must, and will, draw from the greatest industrial upheaval in our history.”

Mr. Cook emphasises again and again the bitter hostility that exists between the Capitalist-class and the working-class. His first reference is to arbitration and conciliation.
“It seems to me that anyone who can suppose that the workers can to-day obtain either a living wage or tolerable conditions in industry by these means must be quite ignorant of the national and international facts of present-day capitalist industry.”
A realization of this fact during the dispute might have saved much time wasted, and dignity lost, searching for a basis of agreement. It should, moreover, be apparent that every attempt to reason concessions out of employers must, in the face of this antagonism be futile. Nothing has ever been won for the workers by conferences between employers and Labour leaders. The deciding factor is always power. If the workers are unable to damage Capitalist interests by withholding their labour-power, the oratory of their leaders cannot save them from defeat. What that defeat means for the working-class Mr. Cook informs us next:
“The growing intensity of our industrial disputes, waged now not to gain new privileges for the workers, but in desperate attempts to preserve old gains, proves conclusively what we, as Socialists, have long been saying. Keir Hardie himself summed up the lesson in his famous phrase, “You must either end capitalism or capitalism will end you.” We are now face to face with the fact that we can only end capitalism by creating and constructing a new social order. That is the historic mission of the working-class movement.”
Mr. Cook then outlines certain facts connected with Capitalist methods and development which he finds only lead him to the same conclusion : the clash of interests between the Capitalist-class and the working-class. He says :
“If this analysis of the present condition of capitalism is sound, then clearly there can be no identity of interest in present circumstances between the owners of capital and the workers.”
Mr. Cook arrives at this conclusion by means of a quite unnecessary recital of recent Capitalist developments, “overcapitalization, the return to the gold standard, the burden of war debts, the scarcity of markets and etc.” He fails to see that it is not in the development but in the nature of Capitalism that the source of class antagonism lies. Ownership of the means of wealth production by the Capitalist-class, and the merchandise character of human labour-power; the basic principles of Capitalist society, make harmonious relations between the two classes impossible.

A further process of reasoning brings Mr. Cook to the conclusion “that Capitalism can only exist with a permanent unemployed system connected with every industry,” and the further conclusion contained in the following :
“At the same time, every attempt to introduce new methods of production which increase output means that yet another consignment of workers is thrown on the industrial scrap heap. Next, as a result of facing economic facts,”
Mr. Cook says :
“Surely no one can now doubt that the object of the Government and the Capitalist Press— those twin brothers of oppression—is to smash the whole Trade Union and Labour Movement, and that they will be satisfied with nothing less.”
From these facts and conclusions we are asked to learn that :
“The lesson of this struggle is that Socialism is the only hope of the worker, his wife and his child; that we must equip ourselves for the control of industry; that, if we would accomplish our great purpose in our own day, we must start now.”
It will not be out of place here to summarise Mr. Cook’s most important conclusions :
  1. The futility of arbitration and conciliation.
  2. That there is no identity of interests between Capitalists and workers.
  3. That new methods which increase output mean increased unemployment.
  4. That the Capitalist Government is determined to smash the workers’ organisations.
  5. That Socialism is the only hope of the workers.
These conclusions are now in a convenient form for reference. Mr. Cook in his subsequent remarks forgets that he has written them. We shall see how he throws them overboard in a few sentences.

Nos. 1, 2 and 4 go by the board in a single sentence :
“I appeal not only to workers but to every thinking man and woman in the country, no matter their class, to realise the gravity of the choice that lies before us.”
How is it possible for Mr. Cook to think, at one and the same time, that the Capitalists are determined to smash the workers’ organizations, and yet are capable of being influenced by a statement of the consequences?

If the interests of the two classes are opposed, how can the Capitalists be expected to respond to appeals for unity of thought with the workers?

No. 3 is next discarded in the most shameless manner. Still connecting the two classes as thinking men and women, he says :
“Cannot they realise what the I.L.P. has grasped—that a living wage and reorganised industry must go together, and that these two are the only hope of our country.
The italics are not ours. Throughout the pages of “The Living Wage” the I.L.P. insists that new machinery, better organization, standardization and mass production are necessary to the “living wage.” Mr. Cook gives them his blessing in the same column in which he declares that such methods mean yet another consignment of workers thrown on the industrial scrap-heap. ”These two—a living wage and reorganised industry—are the only hope of our country,” he says, yet only a few lines above he had written, “Socialism is the only hope of the worker.” In that contradiction No. 5 went by the board; yet so eager was Mr. Cook “to start now” that he ruled Socialism out in the next paragraph to which he asserted its paramount importance :
“We must make every city, town and village ring with our first and most urgent demand—the nationalisation of the mines.”
Nationalisation of the mines is a question for those Capitalists who are dependent on the mineowners for supplies of coal. Neither the miners nor the working-class as a whole would be any nearer Socialism as a consequence, either of its achievement or its advocacy. The first step in that direction is one of knowledge. Not with nationalisation, but with the knowledge of Socialism must “every city, town and village be made to ring” before we can truthfully say we are well on the road to Socialism.
F. Foan