Thursday, May 5, 2022

Voice From The Back: The limits of reform (2004)

The Voice From The Back Column from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The limits of reform

“The minimum wage was hailed as one of the great achievements of New Labour. But five years after it was introduced more than 200,000 people in Britain are still on illegally low rates of pay . . . Unions and low-pay campaigners say hundreds of companies are still flouting the law, and not one has been prosecuted by the Inland Revenue since the minimum wage was introduced. Since 1997, the IR has identified £15m in arrears of minimum wages which should have been paid to workers” Independent (3 April).

Humanity and hypocrisy

Amidst all the controversy about the President Bush’s  National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and her role in the Iraq invasion one interesting fact emerged. “And although she insists that the Presidential hopeful she agreed to tutor in foreign affairs has brought as much, if not more, to their partnership, the foreign policies of the Bush presidency throughout its international crises have all borne the stamp of the Rice credo. It is a world view that emerged from her Stanford Cold War studies, which she articulated most clearly in an essay on foreign affairs in 2000. Then Rice insisted the guiding principle of America in the world should be the balance of power and the national interest, not humanitarian interventions – a somewhat cold-hearted formulation to which Bush added that the use of that power should have a moral dimension that would encourage the spread of American-style democracy” Observer (4 April). We can safely ignore that piece of political flannel by Bush. He, like every statesman carries out the policies that he thinks will be most beneficial to his national capitalist class. Whatever else she may be, in her 2000 essay she was being a lot more honest than the president. 

Charity boom

There is one industry that continues to grow in Britain today – the Charity Industry. In 1991 there were 98,000 charities registered in Britain, today there are 153,000. The number of paid charity workers is now 569,000. Figures from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, quoted in the Observer Magazine (4 April). When one considers the legion of unpaid charity workers that pursue you from door-to-door to shopping centres it can be seen that this is truly a major industry. But if workers are supposed to be getting better off, why does capitalism need more charities?

Conspicuous consumption

Here is a tale to anger all those workers who are homeless or inadequately housed. “One of the richest foreign tycoons living in Britain has lavished £70m on a central London home – a world record for a house purchase. Lakshmi Mittal, whose links with Tony Blair sparked a cash-for-favours row, exchanged contracts earlier this month. He plans to move his family into the mansion, which has 12 bedrooms but is 55 times bigger than the average house and has garage space for 20 cars” Sunday Times (11 April).  This is the reality of capitalism – they own everything and we own next to nothing.  

Mother’s little helpers

The quiet desperation that is the lot of many working class women is summed up in the following report. “More than half of British women have taken some form of anti-depressant, according to a survey by Prima magazine. It showed 56 percent had taken prescribed anti-depressants or homeopathic alternatives. Many women were stressed, overstretched and generally unhappy. Half of the women questioned cited problems at work. The same proportion wanted to live somewhere else. Money appeared to be more important than physical appearance, with 86 percent saying they would rather win the lottery than be a size 10 for the rest of their lives. One in four said money was their biggest worry” Guardian (15 April). Money and working for wages seems to be bugging everyone – let’s get rid of the social system that makes this misery.

Live now, pay later

According to Datamonitor, a financial information company, credit card debt has reached a new high in Britain. “Its report charts an increase of 59 percent in average balances outstanding in the UK, from an average of £719 per adult in 1999 to £1,140 in 2003. Credit card balances in the UK amounted to £53.5bn at the end of 2003 – up from £33.1bn at the end of 1999, an increase of 62 percent” Herald (15 April). Datamonitor forecasts that this debt will continue to grow and look upon this growth as just a modern way of buying things. “However, Citizen’s Advice Scotland said that credit card debt was as much a debt of poverty as a tool of financial management.“ ‘This research suggests that some people will never be able to repay the substantial sums they owe, due to the sheer scale of debt, their age, and the unlikelihood of any change in their financial circumstances,’ said Kaliani Lyle, CAS chief executive.” So whatever happened to all those defenders of capitalism who had ideas about the working class getting steadily less poor? Perhaps they are now employed by credit companies Capitalism is an adaptable system.

Editorial: May Day in Europe (2004)

Editorial from the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

The First of May is the day when the workers’ movement celebrates its internationalism, and affirms the unity of their class across all boundaries. It is striking, then, that this year it also happens to be the day on which the ten ‘Accession States’ become members of the European Union. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will all become part of the same continuous political and economic zone, with a population of some 450 million people.

The workers’ movement that initiated Mayday as Labour Day used to look forward to a United States of Europe as its prize. Yet, the venalities of the property system defy the attempts at unity between humans. The enlargement of Europe, and all the rights of movement of Labour it brings managed to bring down a government Minister – Beverley Hughes – because the Tories saw fit to prey on the insecurities of workers in the UK, making out we would be ‘swamped’ by migrants coming to make them unemployed.

That workers are afraid is an effect of the systemic threat of poverty through unemployment capitalism needs in order to function. That the Tories did it is because they saw an opportunity to build electoral support based on that fear reflects the existing culture and institutions built up already in the UK. They did it because British capitalists do not want to invest tax money on welfare for workers who may not produce any profit for them.

It is not, though, just the Tories capitalising on the fact that humans organise around units of property called nation states. Labourites too join in the sport. Arch-apologist for Blairism, Polly Toynbee, in her Guardian column, talks of how a modern ‘social democratic welfare state’ needs to control immigration in order to function. That is, her social democracy requires a nationalised workforce competing on a world market against other national capitals. She is as much against wasting state money as the acolytes of free-market capitalism.

The Home Office, under Blunkett, has begun to inform asylum seekers from the accession states that on May 1st their entitlement to benefits ends, and they must find work or leave the country; this is because they are not at the moment subject to European rules on welfare entitlement for European Union citizens. ID cards are being rushed through to brand the workers as Made in Britain.

The truth is, that the uneven distribution of capital and property within the EU, and the attempts by the defenders of that property to build political alliances and movements based upon national prejudice and fear, remain a stain on whatever will be celebrated this Mayday.

Many workers may well be misled by trade union barons squawking about needing to take action to defend British jobs, of Labour politicians bleating about defending Britain from being swamped by scroungers; but those workers will be no better off for siding with British capital against their fellow workers. As soon as the going gets tough, the capitalists will without hesitation pull up their money and send it elsewhere to make better profits without the slightest regards for the workers who would be swamped by the resulting unemployment.

The truth is that it is not fellow workers who cause poverty and unemployment, but capitalism and its unyielding drive for profits. Their investments are the stage upon which we must try and play our parts. We cannot be free or united so long as they are free to move about the scenery around us.

The task confronting us is to build up a union of the working class, organised to put an end to the property system that divides and oppresses us. In today’s capitalism, organised on a global scale, a united Europe would not be enough; to free ourselves from the depredations of capital we need the World Commonwealth of Humanity.

European capitalism or world socialism ? (2004)

From the May 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our manifesto for the European Parliament elections

In June millions of electors in 25 European countries are being called upon to elect the European Parliament. We will be faced with an apparently wide choice of candidates – conservatives, liberals, social democrats, centre right, centre left, nationalists, racists, fascists, ex-communists, trotskyists and other leftists claiming to be socialists – but in fact all of them stand for keeping, in one form or another, the capitalist system of private or state ownership and production for profit.

Such differences as may exist between them are about how to administer this system. Some want more state intervention, some want less; but none want to go beyond the wages-prices-profits system. All want to retain producing for the market, buying and selling, money and working for wages. None of them – not even those who describe themselves as “socialist” – stand for socialism in its original meaning of a society of common ownership and democratic control with production for use not profit and moneyless distribution in accordance with the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

What’s wrong with capitalism?

But, you may ask, what’s wrong with capitalism? What’s wrong with capitalism is that it is based on class privilege and exploitation. The means of wealth production – the means by which society survives – are monopolised by a tiny minority of the population, either directly or indirectly via the state, with the result that the rest of us have to sell our working skills to them for a wage for a salary which can never be equal to the value of what we produce – otherwise there would be no profit, the source of their privileged income and the overriding aim of production under capitalism.

What’s wrong with capitalism is that its competitive struggle for profits leads to speed-up, stress and insecurity at work, to damage to the environment, to wars and the waste of preparations for war that arms spending represents.

Capitalism can only work in the way that it does work – as a profit-making system putting profits before everything else – and cannot be reformed to work in any other way. This is why changing governments changes nothing. Governments, whatever their political colour, cannot alter the economic laws of capitalism. Just the opposite in fact. They have to apply these laws, as we have seen many times when governments elected on a promise to reform capitalism to make it work in the interest of all have ended up squeezing wages, state benefits and public services in order to protect profits. No doubt in some cases the members of these governments – like some of the candidates in this election – were perfectly sincere. But that’s not the point. It’s not a question of what they want to do, but of what they can do – or rather cannot do – within the framework of the profit system.

Capitalism simply cannot be reformed to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers. Which is why we in the World Socialist Movement say workers should organise to end it, not to try and reform it.

Socialism has not been tried

But hasn’t socialism been tried and failed? Certainly not. What was tried and what failed in Russia and Eastern Europe was not socialism, but state capitalism under the dictatorship of a single political party. What happened in these countries proved, not that socialism cannot work, but that not even the most ruthless political dictatorship can make capitalism work in the interest of the majority – since the economic system in Russia was always based on capitalist principles: goods and services were produced for sale and people had to sell their working skills for a wage in order to get money to buy the things they needed to live. True, there was essentially only one big employer, the state, but, as with private employers in the West, the aim was to make a profit, out of which the privileged nomenklatura that controlled the state maintained itself.

Real socialism, we repeat, is something quite different. It is a world without frontiers, without armed states, without privileged classes, where the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all the people of the world and are used for the mutual benefit of all. This is the only framework within which the problems facing humanity in general and working people in particular – stress at work, inadequate public services, war and the threat of war, ecological destruction, world hunger, and the rest – can be solved. Which is why working towards this goal is ultimately the only constructive and worthwhile political activity.

How to vote?

It is not up to us to tell you how to vote. If you see no alternative to capitalism no doubt you will vote for one or other of the capitalist politicians on offer. If you want socialism, as there are no socialist candidates in this election – hopefully, there will be on some future occasion – you can indicate this by writing “WORLD SOCIALISM” across your ballot paper. But, more important, we would urge you to get in touch with us at or at 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN, Great Britain, with a view to finding out more about the alternative to capitalism. You can also find out more about us at: .

A Task For 1941 (1941)

From the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the past year we have witnessed some of the mightiest events that the world has ever experienced. Half Europe conquered by the armed forces of German capitalism . . . concentrated mass aerial bombardments of European and Near Eastern cities . . . the naval blockade by Britain of Europe, and the counter blockade of Britain by the Axis submarines and warplanes. In the Western hemisphere, the U.S.A. launched a re-armament drive of colossal proportions designed to secure American interests from the menace of potential challengers from across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

Seizing the opportunity presented by the collapse of France, Japanese capitalism demanded and obtained bases in French Indo-China which are now being used to accelerate the subjugation of China, and which constitute a serious threat to British and American interests in the Southern Pacific.

In this tidal wave of strife and turmoil which is engulfing the whole world, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and its companion parties abroad, have no illusions as to where the international working class stand in relation to these events. The vast majority of workers in belligerent, “non-belligerent,” and neutral countries, support in the main the policy of their respective rulers. But whatever the policy happens to be, it does not, and cannot, represent the real interests of the workers. Be it a policy of war, it means death, or mutilation, for many, hardship and suffering for all. If a policy of neutrality, the fetters of capitalism on the workers remain, and in these days neutrality means armed neutrality with the consequent sacrifices demanded of the workers to produce “armaments to safeguard Peace.”

The Home Front
Here in Britain political parties clamour for “total war,” not the least vociferous among them being the Labour Party. Yapping at its heels is the Communist Party, which is backing, and applauding, the vague reform programme of a “People’s Convention.” One of the Convention’s aims is to end the war which the Communist Party so ardently supported at the outbreak, and which it will doubtless support again if and when their spiritual brethren of the Kremlin decide to throw in their lot against the Nazis.

The I.L.P. Regrets
Another “peace effort,” launched by the I.L.P., met with an overwhelming defeat at the hands of the Tories and their Labour allies in the House of Commons. This took the form of a naive amendment to the “King’s Speech,” and “humbly” regretted that the British Government (which is conducting the war for the very existence of British Imperialism) failed to call a conference at which the contending governments were to pledge themselves with all the resources at their disposal, to the creation of a “new social order” in which Imperialism, British or foreign, would have no place, and which would “provide a decent home and standard of life for each family in every country of the world.”

It would have been of some use to the working class, whose interests it professes to understand and serve, had the I.L.P. first learnt the precise nature of the present conflict, and passed on the knowledge to its supporters. Then it might have realised the utter futility of calling upon the ruling class (even as a propaganda gesture) to abandon its imperialism and disgorge its resources for the benefit of the working class. It is even conceivable that as a further consequence of understanding the nature of the conflict, the I.L.P. would have learnt that the only way in which a “new social order” (Socialism) can be brought about is when an international SOCIALIST working class undertakes the task itself.

The peculiar stress of war-time conditions reveal even more clearly the non-Socialist character of the I.L.P. and similar reformist parties.

The Record of the Socialist Party
This rough outline of the events of 1940 would be gloomy indeed, for the working class, if it was not relieved to some extent by the fine record of the Socialist Party and its companion parties abroad. Many of our readers will recall an article in the March (1940) issue of the “S.S.,” which recorded the extraordinarily successful mass meetings and the big literature sales which resulted from our activities during the first six months of the war. We have always claimed that the best way of influencing and encouraging the workers of other lands in the common struggle for Socialism is not by addressing pious resolutions to them (or even to our rulers) but by propagating Socialism in the land we live in. Striking confirmation of this was forthcoming in the editorial of a recent issue of the Western Socialist, which is the joint organ of the Socialist Party of Canada and the Workers’ Socialist Party of the U.S.A. In a glowing tribute to their comrades in Britain who are continuing the fight for Socialism despite the enormous difficulties confronting them, the American parties have resolved to intensify to the utmost their efforts to reach the common goal. News reaching us from Australia and New Zealand indicates the same resolve on the part of our comrades in those lands.

The ensuing months since March last have witnessed no diminution of our success. On May-Day, in Hyde Park, thousands of workers thronged our meetings, listening attentively to the Socialist message. Those meetings and the large number which followed in many parts of London and the provinces during the summer months, are at once an example and a challenge to workers everywhere. A significant feature of these meetings was the tangible evidence of the interest they aroused—collections to Party funds showed a large increase over the corresponding period of the previous year, and donations and literature sales reached new high levels.

The increased violence of the aerial bombardments has caused many difficulties for the Party. Most serious of these is the impossibility of holding indoor meetings during the evening hours of darkness. We can, however, look forward to the lighter evenings for a resumption. Meanwhile, our outdoor propaganda at week-ends and during the weekday luncheon hours continues with excellent results. Another temporary difficulty is the dispersal to many parts of the country of some of our members who have been obliged to follow their employment. We may be certain, however, that as a consequence of this forced migration, the Socialist Standard will be introduced to many new readers.

The Future
What of the future? Let you who read this resolve with the Socialist Party to make 1941 a. record year. There are many ways in which you can help to achieve this. Most important is to try and increase the circulation of the Socialist Standard and our pamphlets. Another way is to render as much financial aid as you can afford. Our efforts now are of tremendous importance: they might have a decisive effect on the rapidity of our progress at the end of the war.

Pull your weight for Socialism.
H. G. Holt

War: Methods of Offence and Defence (continued) (1941)

From the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from December issue.)

From the 5th to the 15th century cavalry was supreme in warfare, and by 1300 the defensive in the form of the heavy armour of the knight and the moated and thickly-walled feudal castle had gained complete mastery over offensive weapons.

It may not be out of place here to point out that the advances in offensive and defensive armour in the past, just as to-day, depended upon the producer, and whatever the brilliancy of the leader or the expertness of the soldiery, in the last analysis the group that had access to the products of the best and most advanced craftsmen were the most successful in warfare. In different parts of Europe and the Near East there were famous workshops producing high grade weapons and armour, excellent examples of which are to be seen in the museums. The great skill that must have been employed in their production is an evidence of the technical capacity of the so-called “Dark Ages.” The product of these workshops, however, could only be purchased by the wealthy lords and nobles of the time, for the rigging out of a knight and his horse in the complete armour required was costly.

From the declining days of the Roman Empire onwards it became a race in armaments, in which the group possessing the heavier cavalry almost inevitably won. The mediaeval knight carried an enormous weight of metal, but it carried him to victory in his day.

There is not space available to explain in detail the changes and shifts of armoured infantry and lightly armoured horsemen that occurred in the development from the horse-bowmen and javelin throwers to the completely armoured knight, whose equipment was impervious to arrows or spears. It may be mentioned that it was the work of its armour makers that helped the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire centred in Constantinople) to hold out against the Barbarian and Saracenic invaders for centuries.

By the 9th century in Europe practically all fighting was done by horsemen. The feudal order grew out of the barbarian tribal organisation in which war was carried on under temporary war chiefs. Declining Rome bought the services of these chiefs in some instances by the grants of territory, in other instances territory was conquered and collectivist villages made subject to the conquerors. The fortification of bridgeheads, strongholds, and eventually the castle was the means that ultimately tied the wandering armed bands down to definite portions of land, and produced the hierarchy of service obligations that has gone by the name of feudalism.

In the hierarchy of feudalism the church was the largest owner of lands, and hence church dignitaries encased in armour were in the forefront of feudal wars, hacking, slaughtering and riding the defeated down with the best.

The knightly cavalry that ultimately developed had no real leaders; each noble was practically a law unto himself. This brought considerable confusion into the battles of the time, as the knight fought or declined to fight when and how he thought he would. Even when agreement had been reached as to the time a battle was to begin isolated groups often commenced the fight long before the main body had arrived on the spot.

In warfare there was little attempt at provisioning an army, dependence being placed upon plundering the country they entered. The principle of attack was the blind impetuous charge. Knights would charge anything; sometimes they landed into a wall or a swamp—hence Cervante’s satire of Don Quixote charging a windmill.

As infantry declined battles became rare, and were replaced by sieges of long duration. The heavily armed horsemen could not operate where there were natural obstructions. In fact, in one instance two armies were drawn up on opposite sides of a river and neither could cross in face of the other. One of the leaders thereupon courteously offered the opposing army an uninterrupted crossing in order that they might have a proper battle ! It was this very weight of armour that first brought the horsemen down when an offensive weapon was found that was able to pierce the best armour that could be produced.

Although war appears to have been the outstanding occupation of the Middle Ages, it must be remembered that no war could be carried on without production, and no wealth could be looted unless there were people regularly engaged in producing it. What the mediaeval lord fought for at bottom was power over increased quantities of the labour dues exacted from the feudal labourer. The feudal barons, developed from village head men and military chiefs installed by conquerors, once constituted, began to war on each other to increase territory. Thus petty barons were gradually wiped out and powerful dukes and lords developed in their places. The wars of the feudal barons were conducted as much against each other as against foreign powers, with the object of increasing power and possessions, much as the capitalists of our days enter into cut-throat competition with each other for a similar object, although they are also a privileged class with an identical interest as against the rest of the population.

By the end of the 9th century the equipment of men-at-arms consisted of a long lance made of ashwood, a steel sword and a long shield made of wood covered with leather. He wore a tunic covered with iron rings. In the course of time the iron rings on this tunic were improved and increased, until, by the end of the 11th century, it was replaced by a coat of mail, entirely composed or iron links, which extended from chin to knee, and which was called a hauberk. The head was protected by a helmet of steel, and the nose by a piece of steel.

This equipment was so heavy and complicated that long practice was necessary before the wearer could make use of it in warfare. Also a servant, who went by the name of squire or equerry, was required to carry the shield and lace the helmet and hauberk.

By the end of the 11th century these knights formed a hereditary privileged class, into which none could enter unless born into it. None could be armed as a knight unless he was the son of a knight. The craftsman and tiller of the soil, who paid in service for military protection, felt the iron heel of his protector grinding him down more and more heavily as the centuries passed, until he found in gunpowder the final means to overthrow this overpowering mass of iron at a time when its usefulness was also passing away.

Owing to the development of the crossbow, the bolt from which could penetrate the coat of mail, the latter gave place to plate armour in the 14th century, which saw the highest development of personal defensive armour. The rider was encased from head to foot in solid steel, the only openings being at the joint of the limbs and in the visor that protected the face. As this armour was so complete only a small oblong shield was carried, which gave the knight more freedom to handle his lance. The horse was also afflicted with quantities of plate armour.

Thus accoutred the knight cruised like a modern battleship. The unfortunate tenants of these lords, a proportion of whom were forced to follow the knight into battle, had practically no protection and were armed with the most primitive weapons—often only pitchforks and the like. They acted as the scouts and attendants and suffered the worst miseries of the prevailing type of warfare. Sometimes when these tenants were moving ahead, trying to make contact with the enemy, the knightly chivalry would become impatient and charge through and over them to get at the foe. Likewise, when the knights, in defeat, decided to abandon the battle, they would turn about and ride their lowly followers down in their indifferent haste to get away.

The heavy armour presented many difficulties. It was impossible for the knightly cavalry to operate effectively in rough or hilly country. There was also the problem of breeding powerful enough horses to carry the enormous weight. For example, England could not provide sufficient of these horses and had to import them from Normandy.

The first weapons to pierce the best plate armour produced were wielded by foemen drawn from sections of society outside and below the privileged knightly circles—the pike-men of Switzerland and the longbow-men of England.

In the 14th century pike-men of Switzerland met and defeated at Morgarten a large body of knights under Leopold of Austria who were attempting to invade Switzerland. This began the ascendancy of infantry over cavalry once again, and the formation used was reminiscent of the Greek and Roman phalanx. In a few years the Swiss pike-men became supreme on the Continent as a fighting force.

The pike-men formed into a phalanx of enormous depth and depended for success upon the tremendous force of their impact upon the enemy. They used ashen pikes, eighteen feet long, with a head of steel that extended another foot, which was held with both hands wide apart at the level of the shoulder. Before the line of pike-men there extended the points of the first, second, third and fourth line of pikes, thus making a bristling hedge of points, almost impossible to penetrate. The Swiss pike-men were strong and hardy mountaineers, kept formation, and rushed swiftly upon their opponents, delivering an impact which the knightly cavalry were unable to resist. When the knights, in their turn, attempted to charge the steel hedge, the point penetrated their armour or knocked them off their horses. Once the knight was unhorsed he was in a hopeless position, owing to his unwieldy equipment. The Swiss also possessed a fearsome weapon in the halberd, which had a blade like a hatchet, that could cleave through any armour. When the halberd men got among the dismounted knights they hewed them to pieces.

Thus the Swiss, by shock tactics and a new weapon, brought the horsemen down.

The other offensive weapon was the missile fired from the longbow of the English archer. The weakness of the crossbow was due to the length of time it took to wind up the arbalest. The English archers, however, with a six-foot bow could fire several arrows at charging horsemen and bring numbers of them down before they could get within striking distance. These bows were so powerful that the arrows would pierce armour at a considerable distance.

At Crecy and Poitiers, in the middle of the 14th century, the English archers scored their first successes, when they were mainly responsible for the victory of the English army over the French.

Thus mediaeval chivalry started upon its decline. The hitherto impregnable fortress was now also to meet a weapon that rendered it obsolete as a form of defence, and again the means—gunpowder—was to be used by infantrymen.

In the tenth century the castle was not of great strength. It consisted of a wooden tower built on an elevation and surrounded by a ditch and a stockade. A sloping plank led up to the door, which was several feet above the ground. In the course of time this stronghold was considerably improved and stone replaced wood in the buildings. By the fourteenth century the castle had become a fortress of considerable strength and almost impossible to capture by the best siege instrument before the use of gunpowder. Sometimes they were built on precipices, like Dunluce Castle in the North of Ireland. In the centre was the huge tower, the abode of the lord; this was surrounded by an enclosure to house cattle, granaries, stables and the lodgings of the servants and men-at-arms. Then came the castellated wall of enormous thickness—twenty to thirty feet. Outside this, again, was an encircling moat, only crossed by a drawbridge, which, when raised, prevented access to the gates. Beyond this, again, there were further obstructions.

When an enemy approached these powerful defences he was met by missiles of various descriptions fired or hurled through the openings at the top of the walls. At one time a platform ran around the top of the walls, from which boiling water and burning faggots descended upon the heads of attackers who attempted to ram or undermine the walls, but that platform was superseded by strong towers built out from the walls at the corners. Through loopholes in these towers the defenders were able to fire upon anyone who succeeded in reaching the foot of the walls.

The siege weapons employed in the Middle Ages are thus described by Duncalf and Kreg, in “Parallel Source Problems of European History” :
“The ram was a large beam or log, which was suspended by ropes or chains from solid perpendicular beams. When drawn back it was allowed to swing against the walls. It was necessary to cover the men who worked the ram with some kind of protection, as the defenders dropped stones from the top of the walls. By the use of the ram the wall was shaken down or a hole was made through it.

There were various kinds of engines for hurling stones or shooting javelins. Ropes or cords were so twisted that when suddenly released they hurled a stone or other missile. Other machines were like large crossbows, and-shot javelins and stones. The petrarea was a machine which hurled stones as missiles. The tormentum was an engine operated by the use of twisted cords, by torsion.” (P. 111.)

“Mantlets were used to shelter the men who were attacking. They were usually made of wickerwork or basketwork of twigs and rods so as to be light enough to carry easily. They were generally covered with hides as a protection from the firebrands hurled down from the walls. Such shields could be held over the men who were working close to the wall, or could be used by men when making an assault. These mantlets seem to have been of great service to the crusaders at Jerusalem.” (P. 125.)
The siege machines were also mounted in wooden towers covered with hides, that were built to a height level with the walls. These towers were pushed up to the walls so that the attackers could pass on to the walls and enter the castle or city.

The privileged classes of antiquity were cultured, but the chief characteristics of the flower of mediaeval chivalry appear to have been armour, arrogance, ignorance and the pursuit of plunder. When the rough, uncultured knights of Europe set out on the first crusade at the end of the eleventh century the taking of the holy sepulchre out of the hands of the infidel was only a pretext behind which their real plundering aims were hidden. The ambitions and mercenary jealousies of the leaders made it doubtful whether the crusaders would ever reach Jerusalem. As they saw the wealth and splendour of the East they were so delighted and astonished that they wanted to settle on the rich territory they had invaded and forget the religious enthusiasm that they professed. It was only the pressure from the ranks that forced the leaders on.

(To be continued)

Notes of the Month: Two Blind Mice (1941)

From the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two Blind Mice

In a controversy about Russia, published in the Picture Post, father and son come to verbal blows in the persons of Professor Gilbert Murray and Mr. Stephen Murray (Councillor). We missed the professor’s contribution, but it is obvious from Mr. Stephen Murray’s reply that both were merely wrestling with words, not arguing about facts.

Thus, Mr. Murray, Junr., talks airily about the “land of Socialism,” a “state which has no exploiting class,” etc., etc.

Here are a few questions which these two protagonists would do well to ponder:

“Do the majority of Russians work for wages barely sufficient for subsistence?”

“Is there a small group of persons in Russia leading a comfortable and privileged life without the need of slaving in mines, factories, or on the land?”

“Are goods for sale at a price, and do industrial and agricultural undertakings issue a balance sheet to show whether they are being worked at a profit or loss?”

“Is there a police force, army, air force, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of repression for use at home and abroad ?”

If the answer to all these questions is “Yes,” then, gentlemen, you are looking at capitalism.

* * * * *

Hitler’s New Order. 

Some good points and interesting information are provided by Mr. Edward Hulton in the Picture Post (December 21st, 1940).

Nazism, which claims to be able to operate capitalism so much more efficiently and less wastefully than its older and more easy-going brothers, is, in fact, a maze of bureaucracies. Thus, in Dr. Funk’s Ministry of Economics alone, “1,200 propagandists are daily toiling,” whilst in the city of Prague “700 price controllers have just assumed office.”

When Hitler took power in 1933 he told the Germans: “Give me four years of power and then you can judge me on the results.”

Germans, so far from being in a position to do any judging, to-day are too busy enduring “trials.”

Their “voluntary contributions” for the new “people’s car” have brought them tanks instead, and the already low working-class standards are further threatened by the Deutscher Volkswirt, on October 4th, which says:
“In order to combat the flight from the land, the town population will have to decide to lower its standard of living.”
Under capitalism, the biggest part of the population will always be discontented, and this cannot be remedied by Hitler’s spate of words nor the showy effects of the Nazi military circus.

* * * * *

Who Calls The Tune? 

Unless we are very much mistaken, trouble is brewing for many trade union officials. These people, who live a not too uncomfortable life on the salaries paid to them out of working-class pockets, do not all appreciate that they are supposed to look after the working-class side in the argument about wages and working conditions. This is, in fact, what they are paid for, but many workers even seem to have forgotten it as well.

The following incident will give the point to this paragraph : —

A certain firm has not been paying the war bonus, as stipulated in the collective agreement between the employers and unions. The union official arrives at the factory, which is making great-coats for the Army, but fails to make contact with the employer. He then calls a meeting of the workers, and, instead of sympathising with the cheated workpeople, accuses them of deliberately slowing up work for revenge for the non-payment of the bonus.

And this, mind you, within the hearing of the manager!

The writer of these notes might have been moved when this union official turned from threats to pleading for more coats for soldiers who were shivering in the cold, were it not for an article in this union’s magazine describing how factories and workers were idle in this same trade for lack of orders.

* * * * *

Unequal Sacrifice

The propaganda, both here and elsewhere, designed to make workers believe that class differences matter little in war-time, that “we are all making sacrifices for the common cause,” is having an uphill fight against facts, and events that tear the argument to shreds. It is no exaggeration to state that the war, with all is black-out, is illuminating class-antagonisms more than ever. Standards of living, protection against air raids, evacuation—can anyone assert that these questions affect all members of the community alike? In the last instance, all these problems, like almost every major problem of our time, can be correctly appraised only with the gauge of class-consciousness.

As the war proceeds on its path of slaughter, these truths will become more and more apparent to the working-class the world over. What the result will be we cannot tell. At present a feature of working-class agitation for higher wages, better air-raid shelters, etc., is the pronounced part which Communists are taking in these movements.

For several reasons this is bad business from the workers’ point of view. In the first place, Communist subservience to the rulers of Russia will make it much easier for the demands to be refused.

For the same reasons, workers must be warned that, should the policy of the Kremlin change and they decide for a rapprochement with the British Government, Communists here and elsewhere will not hesitate to drop their present role as “guardians” of working-class interests, as they did in pre-war France.

Socialists are not merely concerned to further working-class interests, whatever their character, in war or peace, but above everything, to stimulate workers into thinking, learning and working for the ending of capitalism. Compared to this task all else is secondary.

* * * * *

“A Great Man”
“That he is a great man I do not deny, but that, after 18 years of unbridled power, he has led your country to the horrid verge of ruin, can be denied by none.” (Daily Herald, 24th December, 1940).
Mr. Winston Churchill, on Mussolini, in the recent B.B.C. broadcast to the Italians.

What a peculiar idea of “greatness,” Mr. Churchill, and indeed, the whole of his class must have ! To keep working-people chained to their miserable lives, to deny them the opportunity of thinking and speaking for themselves, and then to drive them to kill and be killed ! If these tasks can only be performed by “great” men, then the sooner the world is run by the “little” men the better it will be for the welfare of humanity.

The really useful things in this world are done by the working-class. The provision of food and clothes, the work of cleaning and healing, and the thousand-and-one different services without which life would be impossible, are simply taken as a matter of course by our ruling gentry. But creatures of bombast, of abnormal ego and the gift of the gab, whom circumstances, plus the intrigue of propertied interests, and a backward population elevate to positions of power, are admired and feted, even in the midst of the slaughter they helped to bring about.

* * * * *

Press-Gangs For Democracy ! 

As to Mussolini’s personal qualities, an illuminating story is told by Mr. Beverley Baxter, M.P., in the South Wales Echo, (December 17th, 1940).

Mr. Baxter was dealing with Mussolini’s early history, when, after activities in the pacifist and labour movements of Italy, he turned into a recruiting agent for the Allied cause. This is what Mr. Baxter says: —
“When the disaster of Caporetto overcame the Italians, Mussolini had been invalided out of the Army and was running a violent newspaper of his own in Milan. In addition to that, he was feeling his way politically, and had organised gangs in the city who had their own methods of persuasion.

“The Italian army was in almost complete disruption, and thousands of deserters streamed back to the towns. The British General Staff were in a desperate predicament. Somehow, the Italians must be made to go back and fight.

“I shall now reveal what has never been published before. A certain English officer of high rank, acting with a shrewdness that is wholly commendable, saw Signor Mussolini. When the talk was ended the Englishman owned the newspaper and Mussolini had agreed to do everything with his pen, and his gangs to get the deserters back into the war.

“How much did it cost?—I forget …”

* * * * *

The Vision of the Press

Problems arising out of air raids have revealed the capitalist class at their most inhuman. Their Press, also, has shown a callous disregard for the intelligence and feelings of their working-class readers.

Here are two particularly glaring examples of this : —

When the night raids first began in a comparatively mild form, and people stayed up all night as a consequence, the News Chronicle came out with a number of articles “proving” by “experts” that sleep was not essential, or that people could get sleep standing up in buses and trains on their way to work. To make their readers feel really happy about the lack of sleep, they enumerated all the famous people, like Napoleon and Julius Caesar, who, it was claimed, never slept more than an hour or two.

The inference being, perhaps, that with similar lack of sleep, you, too, could become like these historic personages.

A similar gratuitous insult was proffered to its readers by the Daily Express.

To divert people’s attention from the lack of 100 per cent. protection against air raids (and, of course, war itself), this paper was running a campaign to “turn the young men out of the tubes.”

Fortunately, this incitement to the working-class to turn in on itself and eject working-class males between the ages of fifteen and fifty on to the bombed streets failed miserably.

Socialists recognise that the capitalist Press have their own axe to grind, the point is, that it usually descends on workers’ heads.
Sid Rubin

Greatness and Crime (1941)

From the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

A significant passage in Mr. Churchill’s Italian message has been uniformly ignored. Denouncing Mussolini as a “criminal,” he nevertheless conceded that he “is a great man.” A more illuminating exhibition of the outlook of public men could hardly have been recorded in so few words.

Look through Carlyle’s gallery of “heroes”—Mahomet, Frederick “the Great,” and, in a minor order of “greatness,” Governor Eyre, of Jamaica: “Women were stripped and scourged with all the delight which a savage village population might have felt in torturing witches. . . .” (“History of Our Own Times,” by Justin McCarthy. Vol. 3, p. 273.)

Holland Rose, preceptor of ‘Varsity youth and Newnham beauty, wrote a “Life of Napoleon.” On page 204 (single volume edition) we read : “Considered from the military point of view, the massacre at Jaffa is perhaps defensible.” Murderer (of D’Enghien), petty cheat, repulsive amorist, all are duly recorded by Holland Rose; but the “true man” (read “great man” in light of general tone of the Life) is revealed when his hero points to the stars, and stuns his doubting servants with the priceless irrelevance (“Who Made All That?” (p. 186).

One of the most amazingly brazen associations of greatness and crime is made by Mary Bell (“A Short History of the Papacy”). The reference is to the Borgian Pope, Alexander VI, who probably vies with an earlier John XXII, in the commission of gaudy and unnameable crimes. “If we exonerate him from the deepest guilt, he must also forfeit the admiration which we cannot withhold from daring criminality” (p. 297). Mary’s hero falls a wee bit short, however. “His Vatican orgies lacked the inspired touch of splendid sin.”

From Mary to George Lansbury. “I think history will record Herr Hitler as one of the great men of our time” (“My Quest for Peace”), quoted by Daily Herald, April 26th, 1938. But then Lansbury was among the “Labour” crowd who stated that they derived their caricature of “Socialism” from the Bible.

One of the more open and visible signs of the capitalist system is gangsterdom, and its “great men” within the prescribed limits of criminality the system legalises cannot escape the fundamental Al Capone mark. A system based upon varying degrees of exploitation of men, women, and children breeds its own system of values. True, there have always been poets and dreamers, Isaiahs and Shelleys, who have genuinely, passionately urged an ethic transcending the system, beating ineffectual angelic wings in an unresponsive void.

Socialism alone can create an entirely new outlook. Complete social freedom alone can create an unaffacted, indissoluble brotherhood. Shelley’s noble aspiration, expressed in “I wish no living thing to suffer pain,” will be implemented, as far as the cessation of “Man’s inhumanity to man” is concerned.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, despised and neglected to-day, knows that its message is even now helping to speed the day. It has no use for great men, it has no “leaders,” its simple philosophy, based upon the impregnable facts of history and its economic causation, looks to the day when genial kindliness will govern social relations.
Peter Gog.

Straws: “And now to tighten our belts again . . . ” (1941)

The Straws Column from the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

“And now to tighten our belts again,” and don’t forget “Oatmeal will be cheaper.” (Evening Standard, December 26th, 1940.)

* * * *

That’s the stuff to give ’em. Who said “Skilly”? Silence in the ranks. Order of the day. “Gala Dinner, 21s. Book your tables now. Air Raid Lunch, 8s. 6d.” (Same paper, same day’s advertisement.) Tight belts and tighter bellies.

* * * *

The New Statesman (January 1st, 1941) is moved to remark: “Think of the passages in the King’s Christmas speech about common perils and common sufferings willingly shared; ask whether these sentiments correspond to what is going on around us.”

* * * *

“The mistake we made in 1919 was that we thought we could abolish war altogether—an impracticable ideal, because, as one writer has said: ‘To put an end to conflict is impossible; life is a conflict.’ Had we possessed the wisdom of the mediaeval church, instead, we should have set out to limit it; then this was done by the Truce of God, which definitely restricted its duration and horrors.”

* * * *

The foregoing is from an article in the Evening Standard of January 4th, by Major-General J. C. Fuller. Our largest circulation evening paper must rate its average reader’s mental alertness pretty low, its knowledge of history lower. Consider, for a moment, the statement approved by the gallant Major: “To put an end to conflict is impossible; life is a conflict.” Two major errors here; first, “life” is not by any means all “conflict,” and even if it were, the factors conditioning “conflict” do not remain static. They move on.

* * * *

We hope that the virtual substitution of “war” for “conflict” is a mental, not a moral slip of the Major’s. However that may be, the author of the not uninteresting “The Generalship of Ulysses Grant” really should consult some moderately good mediaeval history. The talk about the beneficent influence of the “Truce of God” is sheer guff. The “Treuga Dei” was as big a washout as Locarno, in spite of Papal sponsoring.

* * * *

The Major refers to Henry the Fifth’s “Articles of War” as “evidence that mankind still believed in the sanctity of human life.” Elementary primers will inform the Major that the Battle of Agincourt was marked by a brutal massacre of French prisoners. As Shakespeare’s Gower remarked: “The King most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat. O, ’tis a gallant King.”

* * * *

Ernest Bevin is freely tipped, in Labour circles as a future Prime Minister. Wary, lacking the “side,” and never indulging in the pompous claptrap of “Go To It,” he will probably easily outstrip his possible Labour rival.

* * * *

Notwithstanding, Bevin slipped up on May 13th, this year; he should study some recent modern history; some of the members of the Union he so completely bossed do so. “I will try to follow the work of George Barnes.” Even Reynold’s (March 3rd, 1916), was fain to protest when, in the last war, the Minister for Pensions set his face against pensioning men who, by reason of inadequate medical examination by overworked medicos, promptly collapsed under Army conditions. His words are worth recalling again: “They will not get it while I am in office.”

* * * *

Mr. Latham (Labour Leader of the London County Council) has refused to back the nursing staff of the Council in a request to bring up wages to arbitration level. “It would create an injustice to other Council employees.” This statement seems to be an attempted exploitation of an only too prevalent state of mind among most wage-workers; schoolkeeper grumbles at the meagre dole, calculated to the tenth of a penny by “Accounting-Officer” ; Head Teacher, who belongs to an association sternly determined to keep a respectable difference ‘between minimum “Head’s” ladleful and maximum “Assistant’s” ditto. All of which is very helpful to the Bumble Lathams and their kind.
Jack Straw.

Blogger's Note:
There was a Straws Column in the Socialist Standard in the mid-1930s, which was penned by Augustus Snellgrove. The writing style of this column suggests that 'Jack Straw' is a pen name for Augustus Snellgrove. Read some of his other articles already on the blog and you will see what I mean.

Appeal for the "Socialist Standard" (1941)

Party News from the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers will be aware that during recent months we have been losing heavily on The Socialist Standard. Sales have fallen owing to the difficulties of holding meetings and of distribution. On the other side, costs have risen. One method of reducing the loss is to cut down the number of pages. This will have to be done unless other methods are found. We therefore ask all those who can afford to do so to send donations to enable us to keep the “ S.S.” at its present size. The need is urgent. Send donations to the Treasurer, 42, Great Dover Street, S.E.1. Postal Orders and cheques should be crossed.