Thursday, April 7, 2022

Party Activities. (1927)

Party News from the February 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two splendid indoor meetings have recently been held in the Town Hall, Battersea. On December 5th Comrade Fitzgerald lectured on “Socialism and the Anti-Parliamentarians” to a very crowded audience. A large number of questions were answered and the opponents who took part in discussion completely showed the mental bankruptcy of the Anti-Parliamentarians.

On January 16th Comrade Kohn spoke on “The Socialist Case against Communist Policy.” The Hall was again crowded and many questions were answered. The position laid down by our speaker was carefully evaded by those taking part in discussion.

* * *

Manchester Branch.
A branch has been opened at Manchester. Members and sympathisers are invited to get in touch with W. Addison, 111, West Park Street, Salford.

Letter: Mussolini and Parliament. (1927)

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

W. H. Kett (Kilburn) sends us the following inquiry. Our reply follows :—

“Does Mussolini rule as a dictator? Again has all opposition in Italy been squashed? I have Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific before me and on page 38, paragraph 2, of the introduction he, speaking of the working class movement of England, France and Germany, says, “In both the latter countries (France and Germany) the working class movement is well ahead of England. In Germany it is even within measurable distance of success.” Was Engels right when he stated that? Even now I don’t think there are any Socialists in the German Parliament. At least as far as I know. If Engels’ statement was correct Germany by now should have a very strong Socialist Party, but it is not the case.

Answer to W. H. Kett.

Mussolini obtained power by being returned to Parliament with a majority of his supporters. This majority, with Mussolini at its head and as its leader, has ruled through Parliament by passing the various laws that have so severely repressed open opposition, and driven the more reckless of his foes into secret societies and intrigues.

But it is significant to note that, despite all his bluster and bounce, he is intensely uneasy about this majority continuing to support him. This is shown more particularly in his alterations of the constitution, designed to retain power in the hands of a minority. Such an act is a policy of despair. The fact that Italy is less developed industrially than the leading capitalist countries may enable Mussolini to hold office for a while, but the rise of any serious crisis will see the collapse of his present support and his overthrow. In certain respects his position is similar to that of Napoleon III. before the coup d’etat—a position splendidly analysed in Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire.”

The Statement in Engels’ book must be considered in relation to the circumstances of the time when it was written. Socialist propaganda was making more headway in Germany than in France or England, while the less stable political conditions in France allowed Socialist propaganda there to move ahead of England. “Revisionism” was of very small account, and the German movement had dealt sucessfully with its anarchists. It was not until after Engels’ death that the paralysing policy of capitalist reform, followed by the absurd colonial policy, side-tracked the German Social Democratic Party into what was mere Liberalism.

Unfortunately there is no country with a “strong Socialist Party” but the progress in England at the present stage compares favourably with any other nation.
Ed. Com.

How we civilise the ‘heathen.' (1927)

From the February 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent asks for authoritative evidence to refute the suggestion that the introduction of Christianity and western civilisation into “backward” countries provides the benefit of a higher moral code. Our correspondent realises with us that this aspect is relatively a minor one subordinate always to the dominating fact that the lust which took white traders and factory owners to the lands of the black and yellow races is the same as that which governs their relations with white workers at home—the lust to exploit. The results, though they may vary in certain respects, are much the same and include in both cases the use of the whip of poverty to compel working-class women to sell their bodies for the pleasure of their masters.

During 1924 a question was raised on many occasions in the House of Commons as to the system of maintaining officially registered brothels in Hong Kong. Thus in reply to Lady Astor the Colonial Secretary, Mr. J. H. Thomas, stated (Hansard, July 15th, 1924) “the total number of registered brothels in 1923 was 296, but I am not aware of the dates at which any of them were opened.”

Earlier in the year (Hansard, March 17th), Mr. Snell asked Mr. Thomas “whether he is aware that it is part of the duties of a Government official in Hong Kong to pass young girls into the various classes of brothels in that colony ; and whether he proposes taking any action in the matter?”

To this plain question Mr. J. H. Thomas returned the following evasive answer : “The object of the practice to which my Hon. Friend refers is purely protective,” and on March 24th when again asked if he would abolish the system Mr. Thomas replied “We have to deal with it in a commonsense way.” On that day he also disclosed the fact that our Government carried on the same State enterprise in Malaya.

It is an old story but perhaps in this connection it may not be out of place to refer to the activities in this direction of the late Lord Roberts of infamous memory.

In 1886 he sent out to every quartermaster in the Indian army a circular memorandum containing the following instructions :—
“In the regimental bazaars it is necessary to have a sufficient number of women, to take care they are sufficiently attractive, to provide them with proper houses, and above all to insist upon means of ablution being always available.

“If young soldiers are carefully advised in regard to the advantage of ablution and recognise that convenient arrangements exist in the regimental bazaar they may be expected to avoid the risks involved in association with women who are not recognised by the regimental authorities.”
(It may be remarked in passing that the results for the young soldiers were almost as deadly as for the unfortunate women.)

Full particulars of this practice in India are contained in The Queen’s Daughters in India, from which the above and the following quotations are taken :—
“The orders specified were faithfully carried out under the supervision of commanding officers, and were to this effect. The commanding officer gave orders to his quartermaster to arrange with the regimental official to take two policemen (without uniform) and go into the villages and take from the houses of these poor people their daughters from fourteen years upward, about 12 to 15 girls at a time. They were to select the best looking. Next morning they were all put in front of the colonel and quartermaster. The former made his selection of the number required. They were then presented with a pass or licence and then made over to the old woman in charge of this house of vice under the Government. The women already there who were found diseased had their passes taken away from them and were then removed by the police out of the cantonment and these fresh, innocent girls put in their places—to go the same way home.”
In conclusion it only needs to be pointed out that this particular expression of the higher Christian morality is not the monopoly of Great Britain.
Edgar Hardcastle

Why has CND failed? (1963)

From the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The way from Aldermaston is now a well trodden road. For some unilateralists, perhaps too well trodden; it is no secret that this year’s march may be the last.

CND have always made the most of the art of clever publicity; possibly this is what they will be remembered for before anything else. They have sat in the roadway, planted seeds on the other side of airfield wire, auctioned the Air Force’s nuclear bombers. This, said CND, was the way to attract support for the case for banning the bomb. Have they failed, or succeeded?

CND has failed. This country is now no nearer to abandoning its nuclear weapons than it was when CND came into existence. The present government, as well as any which is likely to take power in the foreseeable future, is firm on this. That affable, informative fellow the Average Man, when asked if he is in favour of getting rid of nuclear weapons, will reply that of course he is in favour—provided Russia and America and the rest of the world give up theirs as well. That is the answer he would have given before the first Aldermaston march. With him, in other words, we are back at Square One.

Whether they admit to it or not, CND implicity recognise their failure. They have still not tested the effect of their smart publicity at the polls. The few unilateralists who are in, or near to, Parliament are careful to stand first under the banner of one of the big capitalist parties, who are all committed to keep the bomb when they are in power. A pure CND candidate would win very few votes. In fact, the marches and demonstrations have not affected the enduring support which the mass of the British working class give to their masters’ interests. This is what CND have been up against and they have made no headway. But the weapons which they set out to abolish have made headway. They have got bigger and stronger and more terrifying and they can reach ever further across the world.

The Campaign is not the first reformist organisation to come roaring onto the scene, full of enthusiasm and good intentions, only to fail. There have been plenty of others before and they have always failed for the same basic reason. The Aldermaston marchers have been travelling in exactly the wrong direction, have been coming in at the wrong end. Their propaganda has taken no account of the reasons for the existence of nuclear weapons. This has not necessarily been through ignorance of those reasons; perhaps some members of CND know them well enough. But such organisations cannot, by their very nature, concentrate upon the cause of the evils they try to deal with.

Reformists always treat their problems in isolation from the rest of capitalism. Pacifists think of war as a problem on its own; charitable organisations consider poverty to be something like a personal accident. CND regards the Bomb as an evil which can be separated from its surroundings.

But nuclear weapons have not come upon us haphazardly. They are, in fact, another stage in the development of weapons which has followed closely the economic and social growth of society. Ever since primitive man first fumbled with his crude missiles, weapons have been important to men. At first they were productive—they could bring man his food. But the development of class society brought men into conflict over wider issues than the possession of a carcass, and weapons were used in these conflicts. They were also used to suppress the under-classes in society. This was the situation which capitalism found waiting for it and which, like previous systems, it adapted to its interests.

Capitalism separated its workers from weapons in the same way as it separated them from the means of production. Its wealth is made in concentrated factories, from material which has been brought from all over the world. The people who make this wealth do not own the factories, the material nor the finished product; they only work, in fact, when it suits the capitalist to allow them to do so. Similarly, the people who use capitalism's weapons do not own them and are only brought into contact with them, in the Armed Forces, when capitalism’s interests demand that they should be. This social development has taken place at the same time as capitalism has expanded its weapons in the technical sense. Today, the dominant armaments are of such a nature that it is quite impossible for the people who operate them to own them.

The development of capitalism’s weapons has been a natural result of the expansion of its productive powers. It is a drab, familiar story. One of capitalism’s first modern wars—the American Civil War—gave birth to the Gatling gun, a forerunner of the machine guns which, with their pitiless killing, were a dominant weapon in the First World War. That war also saw the beginning of the answer to the machine gun—the tanks lumbering painfully across No Man’s Land. It also saw, more ominously, the first organised air-raids against a civilian population. We may wonder, now, at the terror which Breithaupt and Mathy and the other Zeppelin commanders struck into London, with their tiny, scattered bombs, for these weapons were the predecessors of those, smaller than a Zeppelin, which can now wipe out London in a few seconds.

Nuclear bombs were the child of the Second World War. It is grimly appropriate that the destruction of Hiroshima should have been watched by one of the successors of the Zeppelin commanders— Leonard Cheshire, who was awarded the V.C. for his part in the terror bombing of German cities. Since 1945 baby has grown up a lot and is now frightening the life out of us with his destructive potential. Baby has many names—Skybolt, Polaris and whatever the Russians call their mass killers.

Capitalism’s contribution to the development of man’s weapons has been that, more than any other social system, it has organised human skill and knowledge to make it possible for man to destroy himself. We might expect that there will be protests about this. CND protests; so do many other organisations. Some of them tell us how much better the world would be without war. The Guardian of March 11th last gave an account of a report by a study group of an organisation called the United World Trust:
It concludes by emphasising “ the enormous benefit ” that disarmament would bring to every section of the community. “It will provide a unique opportunity for the Government to promote a faster rate of economic growth and prosperity for all,” it claims.
This seems quite unexceptional, until we reflect that the same argument is used about all the other wasteful problems of capitalism. We all know that life would be very much better if they were all abolished. But that is where the reformists always fail; despite all their efforts, the problems remain and life is not so good. 

So what are we to do about it? Human knowledge and technical skill are bound to develop with the passing of time. There is nothing wrong in this; in a sensible world it could be of immense benefit to humanity. Certainly we cannot turn time backwards. Man cannot lose the knowledge he has gained—even the knowledge which is useless and harmful. He cannot forget how to fly, nor how to make explosives, nor can he lose the principles of nuclear power. Such knowledge could be an asset to society. If it is a curse, as it is at present, our job is to find the reason for this; rather than blame the knowledge, we should try to discover why it is put to such anti-social uses.

Modern war springs from the basis of capitalism. A social system which makes its wealth for sale has got to have an interest in its markets and in fields of cheap, accessible raw materials. But it will find that its markets, for one reason or another, are limited and so it will have to fight over them. It will find that it's impossible to agree over the right to the raw materials and so it will have to fight over that as well. Capitalism causes modern war and so it needs the best of modem weapons to fight them with. That is why it so readily adapts its techniques of social production to the making and the using of weapons and harnesses invaluable human knowledge and skill in the dreaming up of ever more horrific armaments.

Capitalism debases human ability and diverts it from what is its most useful and sensible field. Capitalism makes clever scientists into destructive fiends. It searches out the cataclysmic secrets of the very substance of matter. It takes the boy next door and turns him into a paratrooper or a bomber pilot; it transforms gentle men into brutal killers.

CND, and some of the other reformists, see part of this and they do not like what they see. But they blame the government, or perhaps the soldiers, or the scientists. That is all futility and failure. The right place to start solving these problems is at the bottom—at the basis of capitalist society. Until Socialism is established, there will be many more Aldermastons and even bigger and worse bombs will be made there. The unilateralists have failed, but that is not to say that the energy and social conscience which some of them may have cannot be put to good use.

Why don't you come our way?

News in Review: Budget for Defence (1963)

The News in Review column from the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Budget for Defence

One of the big debates which British capitalism is currently having with itself is over what it likes to call Defence.

Independent, or American controlled, missiles? Airborne, or carried in submarines? Conventional, or nuclear forces? Big or small?

The latest government White Paper on these questions, the Statement on Defence, 1963 shows what capitalism in this country wants in the way of armed forces during the next twelve months.

The Royal Navy is to get some Polaris submarines, nuclear powered, to stay submerged for weeks on end and armed with deadly missiles which they can fire from under the water.

The Air Force is to get a new nuclear weapon to give its bombers more hitting power (although some correspondents doubted the existence of a really new weapon).

The guns of the army are to have greater fire power.

Fine. All the Forces, in other words, will be able to knock down more buildings, make bigger holes, and kill more people, in the future than they could in the past. Fine.

Perhaps this is value for money; £ 1,837,700,000 will be spent on the Armed Forces and their weapons during the nest year, which is £116,640,000 up on last year.

We can all think of things which, even under capitalism, could avoid some of their problems if they had a bit more money. Some charitable appeals, for example, often tell us of the surprisingly long time they can feed somebody like a hungry refugee child for a pitifully small sum.

But these arc only human beings— definitely not priority for capitalism’s expenditure.

Never mind. Aren't you glad they’re making so many big, busting weapons to defend you with? Aren’t you glad so much of society's wealth and brains and talent is being poured into things which can only harm society?

Don't you think it’s time you called a halt to this madness and organised a sane world, which will not have the conflicts which need armed forces to settle them?

Two things are needed for a “defence” budget—weapons and money. The world would be a better place without both of them.

Labour and Nationalisation

With the crown barely settled upon his head, Mr. Harold Wilson has found himself under heavy fire from the Conservative propaganda machine.

Tory M.P. Gerald Nabarro inveigled Wilson into confirming, with the House of Commons for an audience, that Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution — the bit about standing for ". . . the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange" is in fact still the policy of the entire Party.

Perhaps it was coincidence that at that very moment the Conservative Ccntral Office had just got ready a new pamphlet, Entitled to Know, which suggests on the flimsiest evidence that the Labour Party has its nationalising eye upon no fewer than 104 firms in this country. Naturally, Wilson's affirmation of Clause Four was rushed into the front page of the pamphlet.

No sane person can really believe that the Labour Party wants to nationalise firms like Boots and the Prudential. Some of the other companies in the Tory pamphlet—aircraft firms, for example—are already deep in the government's pocket anyway. Nationalisation, as an attempted solution for some of British capitalism's difficulties, was never designed to go as far as the Tories make out.

So Wilson could comfortably dismiss the charge as “childish” and, more bluntly, The Economist could accuse the Conservative Party of ". . . telling lies in its propaganda. . ." Altogether, the scare fell very flat, not like the 1959 campaign about the famous 600 firms.

But wait a minute. Why do the Labour Party agree on the one hand that they stand for wholesale nationalisation which is what Clause Four means—and yet deny it when their opponents bring them face to face with it?

Labour once told us that nationalisation was the answer to our problems, that it was the quick road to Socialism; they can hardly drop it entirely now. But the working class have become dubious enough about nationalisation to make it a vote loser. This is what forces the Labour Party into their double act, so that Wilson must actually be trapped into admitting that it might be his policy.

If nationalisation were the road to Socialism the Labour Party should be proud to stand up for it whatever the consequences. But in fact it is only another makeshift of capitalism.

The chances are that the Labour Party will fight off the latest Tory stunt. They may even win the next election and give us a bit more of their brand of state capitalism.

One thing, though, they will not be able to give us. That is Socialism.


One of the favourite tricks of Labour M.P.s is to get up in the House and ask, innocently, to be told the present purchasing power of the pound compared to what it was in October, 1951, when the Conservatives came back to power.

They get some illuminating replies.

The latest of these, from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, shows that the pound of 1951 is now, in the same terms, worth only 13s. 11d. Presumably these figures were carefully recorded by Labour members and have by now been used in countless speeches up and down the country.

To be sure, it was a big Tory promise in 1951 that they would stop prices rising and so maintain the buying power of the pound. At the time, because the working class had seen so many wage increases wither under the heat of rising prices, the whole thing was something of an election issue. The Tory boast went down well.

But like so many other issues, this one is a great illusion. Workers are too easily misled into thinking that their fortunes are permanently affected by things like price levels. They rarely take the trouble to remember the history of prices and wages, which teaches exactly the opposite. Whatever they may earn, and whatever the level of prices, workers always have the same old struggle to balance their budget.

Perhaps this is too much like hard thinking. Perhaps the workers find it easier to moan about the latest price rise or—in other times, maybe—the latest wage cut.

Prices are for the moment a dead issue as far as vote catching goes, but they could come to life again.

If they do, the working class will do well to remember that voting for the parly which promises to put wages up or bring prices down—or both—can bring them no benefits.

Russia and the Oil Business

Oil is one of the commodities which Russia is anxious to export. This has been an expanding business; according to a United States House of Representatives report, the Soviet Union was overall an importer of oil in 1950, but by 1951 was exporting the stuff at the rate of 40 million tons a year.

This has worried some of the established oil interests in the Western world; Russia has a surplus of oil and in the recent past has gone out to capture some of their cherished markets.

So the recent “oil for ships” offer which Moscow seemed to be making was bound to ripple the surface of international trade.

The Americans and the other international oil companies were worried because the Russians were likely to upset the market by selling their oil at about twelve per cent. below the current price. On the other side of the deal, Washington does not favour its allies exporting to the Eastern bloc things like ships, which they classify as being of strategic value.

These reactions we might have expected. One capitalist power will always squeal when another pinches one of its markets.

So might we have expected the British shipyards, hungry for orders, to press for the acceptance of the deal. No business willingly passes up the chance of selling its products, especially when it is as depressed as shipbuilding is at the moment. So three yards on the Clyde combined to put in a tender for six fish-meal factory ships for export to Russia.

Unusual allies for the shipyards were the shipbuilding unions. And a strange ally for the Americans was the National Union of Mineworkers, which took up its customary hostile attitude at the very mention of the word oil.

This muddle is typical of those which crop up when deals like this are in the air. Capitalism is a mass of different groups of investment, with intricately opposed interests. We should leave these interests to fight out their deals themselves.

Workers usually think that they have a stake in the outcome of such situations But experience says that they do not. Whoever gets the ships and the oil will make not enough difference to working class lives to worry about.

50 Years Ago: The Coal Strike (1963)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

A million miners are out on strike. From the ferment around us one might think they were asking for the mines. Every foul epithet and calumny is being hurled at them by the hireling Press. It is they who are unpatriotic; it is they who are ruining the trade of the country; it is they who are bringing the people to starvation. No one suggests that the mine-owners, who cling so tightly to the last atom of profit which they can screw out of those who go down into the pits, are culpable.

Of course not. Is it not only fair and just that capital should have its reward? And who can say that the mine-owners are any too well recompensed for his risk and his labour? Not the capitalist papers, certainly.

These drew many fancy pictures of the fabulous wages and astonishing luxury of the miners, and marvelled that there was anything left for the owners at all. Yet within a week of the men ceasing work the Press rang with the cries of the miners' starving wives and children, and Mr. Chiozza Money, M.P. showed from the Income Tax returns that in the last nine years the owners had made over 200 million pounds out of the unpaid labour of the workers!

It is said that the granting of the minimum wage would only cost £50,000 a year, which is less than 1 per cent of the profit the masters take, and a very minute fraction of their capital. It is a pregnant demonstration of what the meaning of the word “Patriotism" is on the masters' lips when they plunge the country into such misery for the sake of so insignificant a morsel of dividend.

From the Socialist Standard, April 1913.

Without Comment (1963)

From the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
"200 Lose Jobs—More than 200 workers at the High Wycombe factory of Desborough Engineering will lose their jobs because work they were doing is going to Northern depressed areas."
(Daily Telegraph, February 7, 1963)

Promised Land: Arrival Postponed — Indefinitely (1963)

From the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Mormons who trekked across America to settle in what is now the State of Utah were driven and inspired by the visions of their leader, Brigham Young. Whatever setbacks they encountered, whatever hardships they endured, Young could always turn up the answer in a session with the Almighty. These were always enough to still the Mormons’ doubts so that the weary journey to the Promised Land could continue.

In some ways, this is what happens in capitalism. For as long as any of us can remember the leaders of the system have said that they are conducting us on a glorious pilgrimage to a Promised Land. Sometimes they tell us that we have almost come to the end of the road and that the lush, temperate valleys are only just over the next hill. Sometimes they tell us that we have run into trouble—hostile natives are about, or the undergrowth is too thick for penetration, or the weather is unco-operative. At such times they are not above trying to dream up a few visions themselves and although these are not usually like those of Brigham Young, it is true that capitalism’s leaders like us to think that God looks upon them with a kindly eye. Whatever the difficulties of our journey, though, they assure us that we must not despair. The Promised Land is never far away. Everybody is so busy listening to these soothing assurances that they do not seem to notice that we sometimes travel in the opposite direction to what was supposed to be, only a short time before, the quickest way to the Promised Land. They never notice that all the leaders’ visions turn out to be false. And most of all they never notice that, no matter how hard and how fast we travel, we never arrive.

All the capitalist political parties are in on this. The Tories try to comfort us with the promise that they alone know the way and have provided for every need of the trek. The Labour Party try to take over the head of the column and to tempt us with visions which they say are better and brighter than their opponents. The Liberals murmur that their way is the smoothest and safest of all. At election time this propaganda is particularly loud. But it goes on all the time, because the more noise the leaders kick up, the more officiously they shuffle their maps and peer into the horizon, the less chance there is of the rest of the travellers asking questions about the direction and length of the journey. Capitalism, in other words, can never be what its leaders promise for it. but it must always pretend to be doing something about its own shortcomings.

Recently, for example, Lord Hailsham had a vision about the Promised Land. This aristocrat, as we all know, is stuck with the task of explaining to hundreds of thousands of workers why their trek has come to a halt until they have settled the little difficulty of finding a job. Hailsham has had to visit one of the areas of high unemployment in this country; yet he can still radiate as much confidence as anyone about the Promised Land. But he has had to admit that the journey might be running a little behind schedule. Speaking in February last to a rally of Tory women, he said:
The recession has given us the power, possibly for the first time since the war, and the breakdown in the Common Market talks has given us the spur, of beginning the construction of the Britain we want to see in thirty years' time—the Britain we must see if in the twenty-first century, to which we must begin to look, we are to see Britain as a national community holding her head appropriately high among the peoples of the earth.
This is a rather strange vision, even from one of the Tories’ favourite visionaries. For if it only needed a recession to give us the spur to build a better world —postponed now, of course, for thirty years—why do governments always try to resist slumps? And if a slump is now the way to prosperity, what way was envisaged in the other, earlier, promises? What, for example, inspired Mr. Butler’s vision of a few years ago of doubling our standard of living in twenty-five years? And has this vision faded, now, in the glare of Hailsham’s revelations of the twenty-first century?

Hailsham was, of course, dishing out the purest eyewash. A recession does not provide the economic power for a new leap forward; it is not a sort of purifying fire. Not only old, inefficient companies go under in a slump; the new, smart outfits also die. Capitalism goes up and down as its markets dictate; there is no depth of a slump at which anyone can say that the economy has got its second wind and that things have got bad enough for them to start getting better. In previous slumps, no end of experts have had their forecasts of impending recovery upset by the depression inexorably getting worse. Does Hailsham realise this? He probably does. But to have said so would have spoiled the vision, so not a word was breathed of it. Ladies and gentlemen, the journey to the Promised Land drags on—at least for the next thirty years.

Not only the Tories have their visions. Mr. Harold Wilson is having one or two himself lately, as he tries to elbow his way to the front of the column. Mr. Wilson complains that the trek is being hindered by the lack of scientists in this country and that if only we could keep them all here it would not be long before we were standing on the brow of the last hill, with the fertile plains spread out at our feet. This is how The Guardian reported part of Mr. Wilson’s first political broadcast as leader of the Labour Party:
The steady drain of some of Britain's best scientists to jobs overseas, said Mr. Wilson, was something the country could not afford and was going on because Britain did not make enough use of scientists here. “Far too many of our scientists are frustrated. They don’t have the equipment they need. They are trying to do research on a shoestring. Private industry spends getting on for three times as much on advertising as it does on scientific research. Perhaps if the ratio were the other way round we would be forging ahead in the world.
He said that on February 27th last. But he ignored the fact that some of the eminent scientists now working in Britain originally came from abroad. He did not say whether his desire to keep British scientists in Britain also meant, for example, sending Sir Solly Zuckerman back to South Africa or Sir Howard Florey back to Australia, so that those countries could also do their bit of “forging ahead.’’ Inconvenient facts are no part of glorious visions of mythical capitalist prosperity.

They never were. The Promised Land has always been the sop with which working class unrest has been stifled, this is the Morning Post of April 5th, 1929, reporting a speech on unemployment by Mr. Baldwin:
If we have not conquered unemployment, we are in process of conquering it, and if there is no great disturbance shall complete its conquest. . . .
And this is the report of the Daily Mail of May 15th, 1929, of what Cabinet Minister Sir William Joynson Hicks had to say on the same subject:
There are now unmistakable signs of returning prosperity. Four years of wise and prudent administration are at last bringing their reward, and we are now definitely climbing out of the trough of industrial depression. . . .
We all know what these speeches were worth. We know that despite the fine words the unemployment figures kept climbing and the extreme hardship of the working class got deeper and harsher. We know that the vision of the Promised Land duped the workers in the ’Thirties and then faded in the flames of the 1939 War. The war was itseif an excuse for yet another vision of peace and prosperity which was to come out of the hardships endured in the defeating of German capitalism. Now the wartime visions have disappeared, to be replaced by others. And the working class are still being duped.

Perhaps one of the things which helps in this is the fact that many workers today have the things which, before the last war, were essential scenery in the Promised Land. Of all the households in this country, about 33 per cent. run a car; 46 per cent. have a washing machine; 82 per cent. have a television set. Only rich people had these things before the war; now they are wider spread. Does this mean, as the politicians claim, that the working class are prosperous? It is true that working class conditions change— they could hardly stand still — as productive techniques develop. But this is not to say that these conditions improve. The conditions and standards of the unemployed workers in the Thirties were different, and technically higher, than those of the Regency aristocrats; but who were the better off?

It is in this perspective that we must look at working class conditions today. The radio industry was bound to make a lot of television sets after the war and was equally bound to want to sell them as widely as possible. This means that the workers who once queued up to see poor films at their local cinema can now enjoy the same sort of drivel without leaving their own armchairs. People who once kept hiking and cycling clubs in a healthy condition can now jump into their cheap cars and drive straight to the nearest traffic jam, to pass the time breathing in the exhaust fumes of other cheap cars. Working class wives often need a washing machine because they have so little time to do the job the old way; a lot of their day is spent at work, earning the money to pay for the washing machine. If this is the Promised Land, was it worth the journey?

Let us spell it out simply. There are two types of people living under capitalism. One type owns land, factories, steamships, and so on, and gets enough-- and often very much more than enough- from these to live. The other type— there are a lot of people like this—do not own any of these things and to live they have to find somebody to employ them. This second type is the working class and it is they who take all the knocks which capitalism dishes out. They are the people who in the best of times must struggle to balance their budget and who in a slump can descend to a dreadfully low level. They are the people who suffer the strain of an insecure existence. So they are the people who may get impatient with capitalism; they are the people who must be distracted with the politicians’ visions of the Promised Land.

We all know the famous saying that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. But for the working class there is no arrival, because there is no end to their journey in capitalism, so they must travel without hope. Until, that is, they see through the whole shabby ruse and do something about it.

Lord Hailsham, J. H. Thomas and King Canute (1963)

From the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

What connecting link is there between these three worthies, two dead and one living? The two first-named are easily bracketed. Lord Hailsham, Minister in a Tory Government is dealing with unemployment problems, thus re-enacting the role that J. H. Thomas took on for the Labour Government under Ramsay MacDonald in June, 1929. As Lord Privy Seal and Minister of Unemployment he was aided by Sir Oswald Mosley, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and George Lansbury, First Commissioner of Works: both of whom seem to have held the opinion that J. H. Thomas and other members of the Government were problems as difficult as unemployment.

The story is told in the biography, The Right Honourable, by H. R. S. Phillpot, published in 1932, in a chapter suitably called “Beaten by Unemployment.”

Unemployment was already a serious problem before the Labour Government was formed. Thomas and other Labour Party leaders had been campaigning up and down the country denouncing the apathy and callousness of Prime Minister Baldwin and promising to put things right if returned at the election. Thomas concentrated on unemployment, “made it his speciality, worked at it, talked of it and helped to devise plans to arrest its dreadful progress”

He argued that it would be a good idea to pay 10s. or 15s. a week to workers over 65 to get them to retire and make room for younger workers. He attacked armaments. Europe, he said, was like an armed camp. The nations were spending millions on armaments which, if they spent on production, would help to solve the problem of unemployment.”

Can he really not have noticed that this would simultaneously create unemployment among armament workers and soldiers? There are plenty of people as muddled today, so perhaps it was beyond him.

He favoured building the Channel Tunnel, and raising the school-leaving age to get 400,000 teenagers off the labour market, and when he became Minister he went travelling in Canada to pick up markets for British exports—in Canada he can hardly have failed to notice that there were other gentlemen trying to solve their own unemployment problem. He discussed the problem with spokesmen of the employers and the trade unions.

Some of his oratorial efforts read remarkably like statements made today: "Curing unemployment, he argued, would cost money, but no cost could be too great if by incurring it the progress of demoralisation could be stopped.”

But two years later as a member of the National Government he was supporting government economy measures to cut down the spending of money.

He and the Labour Government rejected the rival schemes for curing unemployment put forward by Lloyd George and the Liberals. Lloyd George (advised by Keynes, among others) favoured the idea of the Government raising big loans and spending the money on the schemes which would create jobs.

Thomas argued that this could only be a temporary measure, whereas what was wanted was something lasting: a complete overhaul and modernisation of the depressed industries to make them competitive.

But he didn’t get any results either short-term or long-term.

His biographer wrote: “The special duty entrusted to Mr. Thomas was that of curing unemployment. It was, of course, an impossible duty. Whether he realised how impossible it was nobody knows, but he undertook the task which eventually proved too much for him.”

When Thomas took on the job of wiping out unemployment it stood at 1,164,000. Six months later it had jumped to 1,344,000 and in 12 months, to 1,911,000. Two years from the start it exceeded 2,700,000.

Which brings us to King Canute. The legend credits him with the modest desire to convince his courtiers that even a crowned head could not command the tide to recede. If he had been a modern politician he would have ordered things differently. He need only have taken up position at high tide, just before the turn, and he could have got away with it.

The story is that that is just what J. H. Thomas thought he was doing. He is said to have consulted a well-known economic expert before taking on the job. and only took it on being assured that the economic tide was about to turn and unemployment would fall.

Perhaps Lord Hailsham will he luckier in his timing.
Edgar Hardcastle