Friday, May 6, 2022

Letters: Psychic Science. (1927)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

44, Maryland Road, W.9.

Dear Comrade,

Regarding your reply to my letter in the January number of your paper, I would say that it seems to me that Materialists neglect one branch of science, namely psychic science, taking no account of phenomena, which are really well-established, seeing that they are vouched for by large numbers of well-known people, some of whom were formerly materialists themselves.

Yours fraternally,
F. Baldwin.

95 Northview Road, N.8.

I am at a loss to understand your attitude to psychic research and spiritism when, having investigated the phenomena, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett, Professor Flammarion, and many other eminent scientific men, do not say that the claims of spiritualists are baseless, but rather the contrary. It is illogical to argue that, because spiritualism is a stumbling block in the way of working-class economic enlightenment, therefore spiritualism is untrue. It does not follow at all.

Geo. T. Foster.

Our Reply to Above Letters:
Both Florence Baldwin and Mr. Foster raise the same point in their letters, what one may call the “Great Man” point. Florence Baldwin talks of “psychic” science, but instead of telling where this “science” can be found, or the facts upon which it is based, she merely says the phenomena “are really well-established, seeing that they are vouched for by large numbers of well-known people.” But the facts of a science only need demonstrating, not “vouching for” by well-known people It is the merest truism to point out that “well-known people” have vouched for and defended fraud, superstition, crime and cruelty throughout the ages. Chattel slavery, feudal serfdom, the horrors of the Inquisition, the foul cruelties of the early days of Capitalism, particularly to women and children, and the terrible treatment meted out to native races today, have all been defended and supported and vouched for as the “proper way” by well-known people from Royalty to parsons. The case that has only this for support must be in a specially bad way, and it reflects little credit upon the intellectual abilities of those who can find nothing else for their argument.

Mr. Foster, in addition to the above rotten creed, misquotes our reply. We did not say that because spiritism is a stumbling-block—therefore it is untrue. If Mr. Foster will take the trouble to read our reply he will see that we said exactly the reverse—namely—that because the claim of spiritists were proved to be untrue, it should be cleared out of the way. We may also correct Mr. Foster when he suggests that Professor Flammarion supports the claims of spiritists. He does not. The most he will grant is that some mediums possess abnormal, but quite human, powers. No one disputes this as a general proposition. Several “well-known people” possess abnormal power. Cinquevalli possessed extraordinarily abnormal powers, far greater than any medium ever displayed in that line. Houdini was another instance. So—till quite lately, at any rate—did Jack Dempsey. But none of these persons claimed that their powers were due to spirits.” And, as pointed out in the answer to Isabel Kingsley, the “evidence” that men like Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir William Crookes consider convincing would not impose on a child. The medium that “convinced” Sir William Crookes was twice exposed as a fraud in his presence, but he had not the honesty, or moral courage, to admit his mistake.
Jack Fitzgerald

Agriculture and the workers. (1927)

Book Review from the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Agriculture,” by H. B. Pointing and Emile Burns. Labour Research Department, 162, Buckingham Palace Road. Price 6d. 64 pages.

This booklet in the L.R.D. Labour and Capital series, is a really valuable contribution to the discussion of the so-called agricultural problem from the workers’ viewpoint. It is noteworthy because the writers have seen that the agricultural industry in this country is a Capitalist industry, existing in and dominated by the Capitalist system in general. This ought to be obvious to every observer, but one could read the bulk of the book and pamphlet literature on the subject, including that written by professed Socialists, without ever discovering that essential fact. One has only to consider the numerous back-to-the-land schemes which hover round the labour movement to realise the harm done by the persistence of the belief that agriculture is in a marked way different from other Capitalist industries. Almost every day we hear of some Labour “thinker” suggesting that the unemployment problem can be solved by promoting the growth of more food in this country instead of importing it, and thus increasing the number of workers employed on the land. Why does no one ever suggest putting the unemployed into the mines or the engineering shops? Why do we hear perpetual moans because some less fertile land is going out of cultivation. Yet no one ever protests because inefficient mines cease to be worked. At bottom, it is due, as we have stated, not to any fundamental difference between the economic laws governing agriculture and mining—there is no difference.

The confusion arises from the habit of sentimentalising about mother earth instead of applying the Marxian analysis and the test of working-class interests. This booklet should be a useful corrective to these old bad habits of thought.

It analyses agricultural production and the distribution of profits, with ample and up-to-date figures from the 1921 population census and the 1925 Agricultural Census (published in March, 1927).

Chapter II., dealing with productivity, shows that between 1871 and 1901, although the number of persons engaged in agriculture declined by 30 per cent., production fell at most 10 per cent., and probably not at all. In other words, the output per worker has been and is increasing. On page 14 it is bluntly stated that before the war the productivity of world agriculture “was rising less rapidly than that of world trade.” The phrasing is bad, but presumably it is intended to mean that agricultural productivity was falling behind industrial productivity. If so, it is a statement which calls for evidence. Its importance lies in the backing it gives for the Neo-Malthusian fallacy that food supplies are declining relatively to population. If it were true, we would expect to find agricultural prices rising in relation to industrial prices, and as was clearly demonstrated by Sir W. Beveridge in his address to the British Association in 1923 and in his subsequent controversy with Mr. Keynes, this is not the fact.

Chapter IV. deals with wages, and Chapter V. with trade unions in agriculture.

Chapter VI. on “The Future of Agriculture” effectively disposes of the smallholdings myth. A table on page 54 shows how much greater is the output per man on large farms than on small. It is gratifying to know that although all three parties favour small-holdings they are not holding their own.

There is one somewhat serious criticism of the book, but it probably touches the L.R.D. rather than the writers. The agricultural programmes of the three parties are given, but the fact is not honestly faced that not one of the three proposes any fundamental change in the position of the working-class employed in agriculture. The workers are exploited because, being propertyless, they must seek employment as wage-earners. The Labour Party urges Nationalisation of the land, and a “living wage” (whatever that may be), but it does not propose the common ownership of the means of production, either industrial or agricultural. As the writers themselves point out (page 52),
“Security of tenure for the farmer, compensation for improvements, reduced taxation, co-operative marketing, stability of prices, cheap State credit, and all the other medicines offered to the capitalist groups in agriculture—all of these are advantages for one or other of the capitalist groups, but may mean little to the workers. . . In fact, these proposed measures, if successfully applied, would strengthen the position of the farmers, and give them greater advantages in their struggle against the workers.”
They go on to show that Nationalisation will not improve and may actually worsen the position of the land-workers, but they avoid applying to the Labour Party programme the condemnation it deserves. This happens, no doubt, because the L.R.D. dare not risk offending its non-Socialist Labour Party supporters. The L.R.D.’s discretion in this matter is understandable, but the usefulness of their publications is greatly diminished by the subordination of independent criticism to the propaganda needs of the Labour Party or the Co-operative Society, or any other propagandist body.

However, we can confidently urge every student of Socialism to get this booklet if he wants (as he should) to understand the structure and tendencies of British agriculture.

The authoritative statistics alone are worth the price. There is a bad misprint on the last line of page 52—”farmer” should obviously read “former.”
Edgar Hardcastle

The Anti-Socialist Union runs away again. (1927)

Party News from the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Years before the war the Anti-Socialist Union decided that it would not debate with the Socialist Party, although it was willing enough to meet the numerous bodies which misrepresented the Socialist case, because they were afraid to accept the full implications of Socialism. The excuse of the A.S.U. was that we had printed a scurrilous article on the occasion of the coronation of George V. They declared that such vile matter ought never to have seen the light of day and they would not countenance it even to the extent of opposing us in debate. Yet the declared object of the A.S.U. was precisely this work of opposing Socialist propaganda ! The Anti-Socialist Union promptly demonstrated its sincerity by circulating this same scurrilous article among potential givers of donations, in order to scare them into paying up. We pointed out then, that the A.S.U. was a fraud. It obtained money under false pretences, since it was unwilling to carry out its nominal purpose of fighting Socialism. It has now changed its name to “The Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union,” but it has not grown either more honest or more courageous.

On March 28th, a Mr. Norman, speaking on Tower Hill, expressed to one of our members his willingness to debate, and invited us to approach the Union to make the necessary arrangements. Their reply and our subsequent letter are printed on facing page. No further comment is needed.


The Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union,
58 and 60, Victoria Street,
Westminster, S.W.I.

April 5th, 1927.

Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 1st inst., I have to say that it will be impossible for us to arrange for Mr. Norman to take part in a debate with you, owing to the very large number of meetings which have been arranged for him in different parts of the country.

I may say, however, that Mr. Norman has debated on many occasions, during the past winter, with prominent Socialists, under the auspices of this organization.

Yours faithfully,
The Director, Public Speaking Class.


Socialist Party of Great Britain.

8th April, 1927.

The Director of Public Speaking Classes,
The Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union, 58, Victoria Street, S.W.I.

Dear Sir,

I learn with surprise that Mr. Norman will not be able to debate with the Socialist Party. It would seem reasonable to suppose that Mr. Norman was aware of the large number of meetings he is engaged to address at the time of accepting the offer to debate with us; why then did he accept it ?

The fact that Mr. Norman has already debated with representatives of other Parties hardly seems to have any bearing on his expressed willingness and your refusal to debate with a representative of the Socialist Party.

Yours fraternally,
Acting General Secretary.

Notice ! ! (1927)

Notice from the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The continuation of the Plechanoff articles on "The Monistic Conception of History" is still postponed owing to the translator's pressure of work. We expect to be able to continue the articles shortly.

Letter: Materialism v. Spiritism. (1927)

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

To the Editor, the Socialist Standard.

Dear Comrade,

It is only the great importance of the subject under discussion that induces me to continue a controversy in which my opponent, conscious of the weakness of his case, stoops to personal abuse. I will leave it to your readers to judge which of us, your reviewer or myself, has been guilty of “evasions, assumptions and misrepresentations.”

The Society for Psychical Research was NOT “founded by Spiritists,” and it has never hesitated to expose fraudulent mediumship when it met with it. If J. Fitzgerald were up-to-date in his knowledge of its methods, he would know that nowadays mediums never dictate the conditions of the séances arranged by the Society. It is simply laughable to read my opponent’s description of its publications as “chatter, drivel, and ramblings,” when we know that the Society number amongst its members scientists of the standing of Madame Curie, Dr. Hans Driesch and Professor Julian Huxley. So much for the first and second points raised by your reviewer.

I now come to points three and four. Years before Einstein the Theory of Relativity was anticipated in occult writings, which called in question the then accepted dogmas of Space and Time, and, moreover, regarded Matter itself as a “derived” instead of a fundamental concept. Occultism also declared that there had existed very early civilisations resembling our own (see Mrs. Besant’s Man—Whence, Whither?) and later, archaeologists laid bare the traces of the Minoan civilisation with its modern system of sanitation. Occult science has always taught the underlying unity of all created things—one spirit but many forms. Now orthodox biology surveys the entire zoological series, and sees the psyche increasing in powers and capabilities as we rise higher and higher in the scale. But the chief discovery of occultism is the supernormal powers of man, and modern science has by hundreds of recorded laboratory experiments by first-class men, incontrovertibly proved that the phenomena due to these powers are true occurrences in nature. I refer readers to the writings of Osty, Tischner, Richet, Geley, and Schrenk-Notzing, now obtainable at Boot’s Libraries. These things are not matters of opinion, but of hard fact. The objection that since they were known to primitive man they must be “cleared out of the way,” has no validity whatever. On the contrary, the antiquity and wide prevalence of the ideas constitute a claim on the attention of the unprejudiced. We are here in the presence of faculties or senses, more or less latent, but at the same time universally distributed, which form part of the general heritage of mankind.

In conclusion, I brand as a wicked lie your reviewer’s assertion that my pamphlet contains “pages of abuse of Marx.” I challenge him to quote ONE WORD of the kind from my pamphlet. Marx’s view of the universe was that generally held in his day. His true glory, obscured by his followers, is that his idea of society should be so much in line with the idealistic reactions of today against materialist science.
Yours fraternally,
Isabel Kingsley

After accusing Marx, among other things, of intellectual dishonesty, and myself of ignorance of the subject I was criticising, Isabel Kingsley now claims that her opponent, ”conscious of the weakness of his case, stoops to personal abuse ” !

The readers will certainly be able to judge of the “evasions, assumptions and misrepresentations” as the numerous quotations from her pamphlet given in the review published in the October, 1926, Socialist Standard, prove the truth of my charges. Isabel Kingsley has not made the slightest attempt in any of her letters to meet those charges. The only shadow of a reply is the hysterical shriek that it is “a wicked lie” to say that she abuses Marx, and her challenge to me to quote “ONE WORD” of the kind from her pamphlet. Why does she not read the instances given in the October, 1926 issue? There it was pointed out that on page 13 of her pamphlet she says :—
“Never was there a less scientific mind than Marx nor a less scientific book than Capital .”
Perhaps, with her peculiar mentality, Isabel Kingsley thinks it is praise. This point is further emphasised on the same page, when she says that Marx’s theory of value “is not a scientific deduction; it is an ideal of social ethics, a moral ideal” ; while it is extended on page 15, when we are told :— ” Marx’s method in Capital is the method of the moralist. He first postulates on absolute morality.” This is only one of the falsifications of Marx given in the pamphlet. Worse than these is the direct charge of dishonesty levelled against Marx on the same page where Isabel Kingsley says:—
“No doubt Marx realised that the law of determinism, if valid, would tend to paralyse all revolutionary action by making us condone the brutalities of capitalism on the ground that those responsible for them wire automata moved by some impersonal force called history.”
Thus, having first twisted Marx’s theory from the “Materialist Conception of History” into “Economic Determinism,” our authoress then suggests that Marx disbelieved his own theory ! But perhaps the greatest, if more subtle, instance of abuse, as pointed out in the review of the pamphlet, is Isabel Kingsley’s deliberate refusal to quote a single word from Marx on his theory, but to substitute a travesty from a Capitalist publication in its place. After perpetrating such a dirty trick, she does well to protest against a truthful description of her attitude as abuse.

On her defence of Spiritism, the reader will notice that although this is her third letter on the subject, she makes no attempt to bring forward any evidence to support her case. As in her pamphlet, all that is done is to make various assertions without a single fact to back them up. Her only reply to my statement that the Society for Psychical Research was founded by Spiritists is to say—in capital letters—that it was NOT so founded.

This retort raises an interesting—and instructive—point. Does Isabel Kingsley know who founded the S.P.R? If she does not, and the extremely superficial character of her writings gives some support to such a view, then why wildly deny my statement? If she does know, then why did she not quote their names and so smash my argument? The answer to this is easy. Here are the names of the four men who founded the S.P.R. : Frederick W. H. Myers, Henry Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney and William Barrett—all well-known leading Spiritists.

When our authoress says “that nowadays mediums never dictate the conditions of the séances,” she is guilty of another deliberate mis-statement. Eusapia Palladino refused to allow a Committee of the S.P.R. to uncover her feet during a test séance (F. Podmore, Newer Spiritualism, page 117).

“Eva C.,” one of Conan Doyle’s “white angels,” insisted upon her clothing being left in a certain manner to suit herself. The Thomas brothers—other of Conan Doyle’s loudly advertised marvels from Wales—refused to allow Stuart Cumberland to be present at the séance they gave in London. Unfortunately for the mediums, the latter gentleman was allowed to assist in arranging the preliminaries with the result that nothing more wonderful happened than a pair of braces being thrown upon a sitter’s knees—a terrible disappointment to those who thought there “must be something in it,” because of Conan Doyle’s extravagant claims. But the over-riding fact that shows the falsity of Isabel Kingsley’s statement is that all séances are held in shaded or red light or else in total darkness. When it is remembered that conjuring tricks far more marvellous than anything ever performed at a séance, are given every week-night on music halls in brilliant light, and yet completely mystify the audiences, one may judge the value of the mediums’ tricks.

The only attempt at a reply to my description of the contents of the 40 volumes of proceedings is to give the names of three scientists who are members of the S.P.R. But what does Isabel Kingsley mean by this? Does she wish to suggest that these scientists are responsible for the contents of these volumes? If not, then why give their names? If she does suggest it, the only answer is that she is again guilty of deliberate falsification. The bulk of the contents of these volumes are descriptions of séances, and so-called supernormal occurrences. In many instances they read like conversations in Bedlam, or conferences among persons in an advanced state of intoxication. Has my opponent read these volumes herself? If so, what has she to say to the statement of one of the S.P.R.’s own committees, when they remark :—
” Further we would warn future readers that the details of the evidence are in many cases not only dull, but of a trivial and even ludicrous kind.” ‘ (Proceedings S.P.R., Vol. 1, page 118.)
One can certainly agree with this after reading the stuff. This trick of quoting names is, of course, an old one with defenders of Spiritism. When, however, one turns to “evidence” that is supposed to have convinced many of these scientists the reader is amazed at the credulity that can swallow such drivel. One example is the séance held by Sir Oliver Lodge with Mrs. Thompson at the former’s house in Birmingham. The conversation of the supposed F. W. H. Myers that Lodge says “was in fact as convincing as anything that could be imagined ” (Survival of Man, p. 290) was too stupid to impose upon a school-child in an inquiring frame of mind.

I asked for one scientific discovery that confirms occultism or Spiritism. In her third paragraph of about 250 words, she has to admit that she does not know of one, for the whole paragraph consists of vague assertions without a single fact or quotation to support them.

The history of Spiritism is one long record of fraud and swindling. Practically every prominent medium—whether paid or unpaid—has been proven a fraud, while not a single “miracle” has been produced when the conditions have been at all stringent. In other words, while fraud has been proven as rampant throughout the Spiritist movement, not a single claim of anything “supernatural” has ever been established.
Jack Fitzgerald

Letter: Mussolini and Parliament. (1927)

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

To Editorial Committee:

I read with interest your reply to Kett re “Mussolini and Parliament.”

You state that Mussolini was returned to Parliament with a majority of his supporters. Surely, comrades, you have made a grave mistake, as he gained power through the now well-known “March on Rome.” His majority came at an election after he had changed the election laws of Italy and crushed the organisations which opposed him. He cares little for majorities as he frankly states, as long as his own followers are well armed in support of the present system. However, it does prove the foolishness of supporting leaders, as at the time of the coup d’etat in Italy, his party was more republican, and its home policy different to the present one ; it has changed to suit him and the Capitalist interests.

Although I keenly support the need for a majority of Socialists in Parliament (if possible), yet I see the danger of such methods being used here in this country. The boss class may “close down” the House if it suits their purpose. This may come, as in Italy, through confusion in the working-class organisations.

Yours fraternally,
S. W.

The “grave mistake” lies with “S.W.” Had he read the description of the so-called “March on Rome” at the time it took place, he would know that the half-armed rabble that followed Mussolini on that occasion bore no comparison with the better-armed and more highly-drilled body Mussolini commands to-day. When this rabble reached Rome, they were not allowed to enter the city, as the regular soldiers denied them admittance. The commanding officer of these soldiers who offered to clear Mussolini’s crowd out of the place in an hour, found to his disagreeable surprise that not only was he not to drive them out, but received orders to let them in. It suited the Capitalist government to let Mussolini take charge of affairs owing to the strained conditions of the time. It still suits them to let him continue in charge.

When the Capitalists no longer need this opera-bouffe hero as a “smoke-screen” between themselves and the Italian workers, Mussolini will be kicked out like an office-boy.

“S.W.” is also wrong about the election laws. These were altered after Mussolini had been elected by a majority of those voting. Conditions here are different from those existing in Italy, and the “closing down” of the House of Parliament, apart from a special temporary crisis, a much more difficult matter.
Editorial Committee

The Cost of Living Index. (1927)

From the May 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent writes to point out that the cost of living index figure issued by the Ministry of Labour is inaccurate, “yet,” he says, “it is around that figure that Trade Union officials weave their settlements.” As he does not give details of his criticism of the accuracy of the figures, it is a little difficult to go into the question. It must, however, be conceded that the cost of living index figures can only be described as inaccurate if it can be shown that they fail to tell us what they claim to tell. No evidence has ever been brought to show that they are “faked,” and it is not the least bit likely that they are. The claim made for them is that they “are designed to measure the average increase in the cost of maintaining unchanged the pre-war standard of living of the working classes …. The effect is to obtain approximately the average percentage increase in the cost of maintaining the pre-war standard of living in working-class families” (Ministry of Labour Gazette, February, 1921). Now it is exceedingly difficult to discover how closely the figures approximate to the real position. The Labour Party some years ago set up a commission of enquiry which satisfied itself that the index understates the real average increase in the cost of living of a working-class family.

While many statisticians take the view that the error is in the direction of overstatement. One difficulty is that many items of the present working-class budget were absent from the pre-war budget, and vice-versa. Again, the relative position of different sections of the working-class has changed; so-called “unskilled” workers are somewhat better off, and many “skilled” workers considerably worse off than in 1914. Also, it must be remembered that the figure is an average figure. The figure is not invalidated by showing that in certain areas or for certain groups it is too high or too low. Since it is based upon the assumption that workers live in “controlled” houses, it will fail to give a true picture of those workers who have to pay higher “decontrolled” rents.

The real point in the criticism centres round the use that is made of the Index Figure in wage agreements, and here, we think, our correspondent in ascribing to the Index Figure something which is, in fact, due to the political backwardness of the workers, and to the hard facts of the capitalist system. It is not the cost of living; figures which compel the engineer, or the miner, to accept wages which leave them poorer than in 1914. It is the ability of the employers to get all the labour they require without paying more for it than they do. If they needed considerably more miners or engineers, they would doubtless have to pay higher wages to get them, Index Figures notwithstanding. On the other hand, some groups of workers are getting a higher real wage than in 1914, due to changes in the demand for their particular kind of skill. In the long run these discrepancies tend to disappear, but, in the meantime, Index Figures are not the dominant factor in securing or preventing wage increases or decreases. It is true that most workers and their leaders, are saturated with capitalist economic theories, which teach them that they should be content to accept the existing or the prewar distribution of wealth without demur, and they accordingly come to look upon the cost of living Index as a kind of divine indication of what wages ought to be, but this is the fault not of the figures, but of the workers who use them so. If they accepted the Socialist view that receivers of unearned incomes are parasites, they would not allow innocent figures or ignorant Trade Union officials to stand between them and the overthrow of the capitalist system.
Editorial Committee

Editorial: Is the Living Wage sound? (1927)

Editorial from the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Living Wage” is a pamphlet written by H. N. Brailsford, J. A. Hobson, A. Creech Jones and E. F. Wise, and published by the I.L.P. It takes the form of a report submitted to the National Administrative Council of that party.

The opening chapter is entitled “The place of Wages in a Labour Strategy,” and is chiefly concerned with an attempt to strike a balance between the industrialists, on the one hand, and the political socialists, so-called, on the other. The latter, we are told, hope to tackle the problem of a living-wage, gradually, by nationalising, as occasion offers, the more essential industries one after the other.

The New Leader,” 21.1.1927, page 7, devotes a column to proving that nationalised industries are run on business lines equal to anything under private enterprise. Expenses are cut down to a minimum, both in the number of employees and the wages paid. It would appear, therefore, that the I.L.P. have sufficient evidence to prove that the workers under nationalised institutions are no better off than those under ordinary capitalist concerns. At any rate, the enquiry now going on into the question of wages and conditions of Post Office employees should cause them to hesitate before accepting nationalisation as a means to raise wages or improve conditions for the workers.

But the writers of this pamphlet do not base their ideas on facts. To them nationalisation stands for Socialism, and Socialism stands for State control of all industries. According to them the workers remain wage-workers, living by the sale of their labour-power, whatever changes may take place; consequently they say :
“That to nationalise important industries in conditions which resemble those which prevail to-day would be a disappointing and even perilous proceeding.” (p. 3.)
We can now see the necessity for “labour strategy,” industries must only be nationalised by a Labour Government, when the possibility of raising wages will gain for them additional political kudos. How futile, even, such a policy as this would be is shown by the writers themselves :
“The industry of coal-mining is overmanned, and is carrying to-day a burden of surplus labour of anything over 100,000 men. A national administration would have to make its choice. It might maintain the uneconomic pits, risk the consequences of over-production, and continue to carry the burden of this surplus labour. In that case, it would either pay low wages or require a subsidy. The other alternative before it would be to close down the uneconomic pits and turn a big body of men adrift.” (p. 4.)
Exactly ! A Labour administration, neither elected for, nor understanding Socialism, would have to face the same responsibilities as the present capitalist Government. They would have to ensure the normal working of the system, including the exploitation of the class they pretend to represent. They could not excuse themselves for extravagance in administration because they have always preached economy in this respect in the workers’ interests. To the industrialists the writers say :
“Labour when it sells itself as a commodity in the market must usually accept a price which varies according to its scarcity.” (p. 6.)
While this statement is incomplete and unscientific in itself it is, nevertheless, an admission that wages are not determined by “public opinion” or “ethical principles that have been generally accepted.” In the body of the pamphlet there is a good deal of absurdity along these lines. All that kind of sentimental nonsense vanishes before their grudging admission that :
“In the last resort it is on the organised refusal of men to work for less than a living wage that our hope of securing it lies.’ (p. 7.)
It will be seen from the quotation in reference to coal mines that the writers appear to be impressed with the idea that capitalists are confronted with grave difficulties in the business of making profits. Hence a large portion of the pamphlet is devoted to assisting them with advice on (1) the reorganisation of industry, and (2) how to create a market.

It is now generally accepted that the enormous increase of unemployment in recent years is due to the extended application of machinery and labour-saving devices and methods. Yet the writers specifically stipulate that reorganisation of industry and mass production is a necessary condition of higher wages. They ignore the fact that in order to pay higher wages numbers of workers must be dismissed. They admire American methods, especially Ford’s, and seriously advise British capitalists to follow suit. They use the following figures as evidence of American prosperity :
“Mr. Hoover, in the annual report of his department for 1925, has published an official analysis of American prices and wages. Taking 100 as the index of the year 1913, he shows that wholesale prices had risen in 1924 to 150, while wages had risen to 228.” (p. 48.)
To understand the significance of this quotation we must first of all recognise that the workers’ improvement does not commence until his wages have reached the 150 mark. Moreover, he must buy his necessaries at retail prices, which will be much higher. The difference in 1924 was, therefore, only 78 minus the difference between wholesale and retail prices. However, this difference applies to the average worker when lucky enough to be employed. No account whatever is taken of unemployment and its increase resulting from the reorganisation. When reckoning the workers’ share of the national income, the writers should have expressed it as a proportional fraction of the total and not as the average wage of those workers lucky enough to be fully employed.

The facts regarding the Ford methods and the relation of production to wages were dealt with in the S.S. for December, 1926, and need not be repeated here. These facts show conclusively that mass production everywhere returns far less in wages per unit of production, and that it depends upon progressively doing this for its success as a business concern.

The contention of the writers that the higher wages of mass production constitute a market, becomes a myth when we realise that the total wages bill is actually reduced by this method.

The writers, however, do not rely entirely on reorganisation to bring about their eldorado. They have two further reforms. First, “An enlightened credit policy,” and second, “family allowances.” The object of the first, we are told, is to stabilise prices and employment.
“At the first distant signs of a slump, it must be the duty of the bank slightly to expand the volume of credit and to lower its price; at the first distant signs of a boom, it will gently apply restrictive measures. Our assumption is that in this way the price level can be kept steady, and the general level of employment constant.”
Their object is clearly stated. It is to wipe out the fluctuations in trade ; to reduce trade and consequently production and employment to its mean level. But there is no more water in the sea when its surface is calm than when it is boisterous. Trade is not increased by restricting it when it is inclined to rise and encouraging it when it flags. The volume remains the same. It is only the fluctuations that have been wiped put.

The second reform is easily seen to be useless as a means to increase the purchasing power of the workers. Capitalists and capitalist governments understand business methods too well to be induced to pay for the same thing twice over. If they keep the children by increased taxation through the State machinery, wages can be reduced to the cost of keeping man and wife.

This is clearly shown in the pamphlet under review. A scheme drawn up by an Australian Federal Commission is instanced. The Commission estimated the weekly sum necessary for a family of 5 persons to be £5 16s. When it was shown by the Federal Statistician that such a sum would absorb all profits, the Commission reviewed their figures and suggested a wage of £4 for man and wife with an allowance of 12s. for each dependent child.

Here, then, is an actual case, quoted by the writers themselves, where a Commission evidently favourably inclined towards the workers, did exactly what the capitalist would be expected to do. Moreover, it is obvious that the writers have this result in mind all the time. They say :
“It is important to note that family allowances provide the only hopeful method of realising the ideal of ‘equal pay for equal work’ as between women and men. There would, for example, be no reasonable objection to equal salaries for men and women teachers if the children of married teachers were provided for in this way.” (p. 26.)
In other words, the salaries of men teachers could be reduced to the level of women if they were relieved of the responsibility of keeping their children.

The net result of the three reforms : reorganisation of industry, stabilisation, and family allowances, so far as the workers are concerned, is a balance on the wrong side. Reorganisation increases unemployment, stabilisation does nothing, one way or the other, while family allowances merely reduce the employers’ wages costs.

But the futility of the reforms is nothing compared to the harm done to the workers by the publication of the work. Apart from the confusion it engenders, the real relations of capitalists and workers, the class antagonism, is glossed over and smothered. It puts on one side the opposing interests of the two classes and holds out the bait of a prosperous industry that will enrich capitalists and keep the workers fully employed.

It is an attempt to persuade the workers that it is possible so to reform the capitalist system that there will be no occasion to work for its abolition. Under mass production, stabilisation, and family allowances, the workers would find their interests identical with their masters’. Yet the writers of this work call themselves “Socialists.” If they have not written it with the deliberate intention of confusing the workers, they should begin at once to try and understand what Socialism means.

Efficiency and its economic results. (1927)

From the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A problem ever present with the capitalist class is to find markets where they can profitably dispose of their commodities.

In this endeavour, they seize upon every opportunity that will enable them to undersell a competitor. Science is exploited in both industry and agriculture. Improved machinery is introduced, often before the old plant is worn out, and the workers are speeded up to keep time with the increasing pace of the new methods.

The geographical limits of the world, and the entrance of the one-time commercially backward customers as competitors in the world’s markets, makes this competition keener.

Trusts and combines are formed to secure control of raw materials and to remove competition between certain manufacturers, in order to compete more effectively with others.

The more intensive cultivation of the soil and the development of the gigantic powers of production necessary in order to produce cheaply, and by this means to secure markets, lands the capitalist class in a curious position. The markets they endeavour to extend by the aid of cheap products are contracted by the methods adopted to reduce the cost of these products.

For example, if a market will absorb the commodities produced in a year by a combine of manufacturers, and they, in competition with others, adopt new methods so that the goods which were produced in a year can now be produced in eight months then, if all other things remain the same as before, the demands of the market can now be met by eight months’ production which would mean four months’ unemployment for that group of manufacturers. Of course, the cheaper production may—though, not necessarily—be accompanied by lower prices. But unless the total of this fall in prices equal the total of the previous prices of four months’ production, it is clear that unemployment would be increased by approximately the difference between the two totals.

The growth in the applications of science and the general powers of production proceeds at a far faster rate than the growth in the capacity of the markets to absorb the products. Consequently an ever-growing army of unemployed has become a permanent feature of capitalist society.

But still the cry for greater efficiency goes on. Press and platform are used to deceive the worker into believing that this speeding-up is necessary in order that there should be sufficient produced, from which he can draw his miserable pittance. And they conceal the fact that production for profit is the cause of this mad scramble for speed, resulting in greater unemployment, misery and premature death of the wealth producers.

Well to the front of this lying mob, stand the leaders of the Labour Party, competing with each other to win applause from the social parasites with whom they glory to associate.

A recent example of this toadyism comes from J. R. Clynes. Speaking at the Textile Exhibition in Manchester, he said that:
“A sound doctrine for the worker, is to give honestly and fully a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

The best interests of the workers lie in the acceptance of the doctrine that unrestricted output with accepted humane terms of labour is unquestionably in the worker’s interest. Their chance of better conditions is greater under a state of abundance than it possibly could be under a state of scarcity. Scarcity is the intimate friend of the profiteer.”
By the use of the antiquated slogan of “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” Clynes gives a demonstration of the condition of his own mentality. Apparently he is not aware that the only condition upon which the workers can receive wages is by submitting to a process of exploitation, in which they are robbed of the greater portion of the wealth produced. To talk of “fair wages” is therefore absurd.

Equally misleading and absurd is the statement that unrestricted output is of benefit to the workers. The state of abundance this “unrestricted output” is supposed to create does not necessarily follow. Directly the demand for his commodities shows signs of falling off the employer slows up or stops production, which means short time or unemployment for the workers, and the more efficient the workers the more frequent and prolonged these periods become.

In Agriculture the control of supplies is not so easy. The individual farmer endeavours to get the most possible out of every acre he cultivates, and hopes that he alone win be cnrcessful. If an abundant crop is general the benefit that he would secure from a good harvest is lost owing to the resultant fall in prices.

The general success of the American cotton growers has landed them in difficulties.
“It is estimated that on cotton alone the loss on this season’s crop will be £80,000,000, and that thousands of farmers are practically in a state of bankruptcy, and are at the mercy of small banks.”—(Daily News, Oct. 9th, 1926.)
And in the same item of news we are told that :—
“The Government has arranged a loan of £6,000,000 to enable the cotton farmers to hold back cotton from the markets, and, by artificially reducing the supply, to increase prices.”
And further :—
“In addition to the plan for withholding the present crop and feeding it slowly into the market at inflated prices proposals are being made for limiting next year’s crop.

One proposal is that next year’s crop shall be cut 25 per cent. by limiting sowing.”
Such are the benefits that flow to the workers from a state of abundance. Supplies are held back to increase prices, and the prospect of 25 per cent. less ground cultivated, means that approximately 25 per cent. of the people employed in cotton growing will be thrown out of work.

The capitalists will allow the workers to starve sooner than sacrifice their profit. Fish has been thrown back into the sea, and fruit left to rot in the orchards, because it did not pay to market them.

Only by the workers establishing a system of society in which the means of wealth production will be owned in common, and wealth produced for use and not for profit, can this paradoxical position of starvation in the midst of plenty end, and abundance become a means to general happiness.

Plechanoff . . . and others (1927)

Notices from the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard


Plechanoff’s articles on "The Monistic Conception of History” are temporarily discontinued due to non-receipt of translation. A further statement will be made in next issue.

Notes to Correspondents.

F. Baldwin.—Reply next month.
W. Nichoils.—Too late for this issue. Questions will be answered in next issue.
F. L. Rimington (Leicester).—The point about local government has been already dealt with in previous answers to you in S.S., and unless you have any fresh questions on the subject it would serve no purpose to repeat our replies.

Received for Review.

R. Owen.—A New View of Society. Everyman Library. Dent. 2/- 
Barbusse.—Under Fire. Everyman Library. Dent. 2/-
Modern Communism. By_Rev. L. Watt, S. J. Catholic Truth Society. (No price stated).

New Publications Fund. (1927)

Party News from the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: Science v. Spiritism. (1927)

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

To The Editor

I really did not intend that last letter I sent you, for publication. However, as you did print it, it gave me an opportunity of reading your reply, and for this further communication on what you must admit is an important subject.

The difficulty about evidence on psychic matters is that it is so inaccessible to most people : Socialists, especially, are too busy to give time to investigation. Therefore I did not intend any disrespect to you when I said you were not well up in the subject. If you were you would not oppose science to psychical research, as you do when you write : ” Science is based upon knowledge and knowledge only. Observation, experiment, classification, generalisation, are its methods,” implying that these methods are not used in the demonstrations of spiritualism. There are over forty vols. of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research available for study, and the evidence there recorded is based on the scientific method.

Anthropology, archaeology, and ethnography, have moved since the days of the scientists you name, and all the latest views and discoveries confirm the knowledge given by the occultists !

Why object to discoveries because they appear to be archaic? Have you read the chapter on Communism in Hyndman’s book, The Evolution of Revolution?

A scientist of the standing of Charles Richet said, in Nature lately; “Our intelligence is reached by forces that disclose facts which neither sight, hearing, nor touch, could reveal.”

If Socialists object to taking the plunge straight away into survival and spirit communication, let them begin by studying the question of the supernormal powers of man. Is there anything unreasonable in asking them to do this?
Yours fraternally,
Isabel Kingsley.

By the way, you wouldn’t send anyone to Sir Ernest Benn for arguments for Socialism, and Joseph McCabe and Edward Clodd are in the same category with regard to psychism.

Reply to Isabel Kingsley.

After carefully evading our exposures and criticisms of her pamphlet and letter, Isabel Kingsley gaily sets off on a fresh path of assumptions and misrepresentations. We might demand, in fairness to our readers, that she should attempt to deal with our previous replies before introducing fresh matter. As, however, she has shown no inclination to follow such a course, it may be as well to point out the fallacies in the above letter.

First. As every reader of the December, 1926 Socialist Standard knows, I not only do not admit that Spiritism is an “important” subject, but stated distinctly that it was only a “stumbling block to be cleared out of the way.”

Second. Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet was not written in defence of “psychical research,” but of Spiritism—a wholly different thing—and it was Spiritism we attacked. Even then her case is rotten. The Society for Psychical Research was founded by Spiritists to back up the claims of Spiritists by a show of investigation. And, as their greatest investigator said, when dealing with the report of a Committee who, on one occasion, examined the infamous Eusapia Palladino :—
“It is to be understood, of course, that in investigating phenomena of this kind …. the investigators impose their own conditions at their own risk. …. If the Committee had begun by putting the medium into an iron cage they might have ended with nothing for their money.” (F. Podmore, Newer Spiritualism, p. 115.)
In practically every case the medium dictates the conditions of the séance. This is not “scientific method,” it is just barefaced fraud. Where the investigators insist upon elaborate precautions, the watchers get “nothing for their money.”

The forty volumes referred to by Isabel Kingsley contain an enormous amount of dreary drivel, childish chatter, and imbecile ramblings, but precious little “evidence.”

Occasionally a page is brightened, as on P. 133 of Volume VII., where the great God of the Spiritists, F. W. H. Myers, reports the result of an examination of Eusapia Palladino, held at Cambridge.
”I cannot doubt that we observed much conscious and deliberate fraud which must have needed long practice to bring to its present level of skill …. I do not think there is adequate reason to suppose that any of the phenomena at Cambridge were genuine.”
Third. It is quite true that science has moved since the Victorian days, but I challenge Isabel Kingsley to name one scientific discovery that confirms Occultism or Spiritism.

This challenge was given, in a slightly different form, in our original review of the pamphlet (October, 1926, S.S.), and it is significant to note that challenge has been ignored.

Fourth. I made no objection to any” discoveries,” archaic or other. All that I did was to point out that what Isabel Kingsley, in her ignorance and mental limitations, thought was new, was really borrowed from primitive man.

Richet’s opinion is not scientific evidence and—assuming the quotation is correct, for no date is given—it is for Richet to show how he knows these wonderful facts. Moreover, it will be time enough for Socialists to consider studying the “supernormal powers” of man when any evidence is brought forward that any such “powers” exist.

The postscript is a further illustration of the poverty of Isabel Kingsley’s case, for I never mentioned Edward Clodd’s name at all, and Joseph McCabe’s only in connection with a debate. Here, however, she has laid herself open to a crushing retort. When reviewing her pamphlet in the October (1926) Socialist Standard I showed that, although there were pages of abuse of Marx and the Materialist Conception of History, not a single quotation, or even word, was given from Marx on this subject !

My answer, therefore, is : “No ! I should not send anyone to Ernest Benn or Isabel Kingsley for arguments on Socialism, but would send them to Marx.”
Jack Fitzgerald

Socialism or Chinese nationalism? (1927)

From the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although our attitude towards Chinese Nationalism has been stated several times, there are still readers who do not understand it or cannot reconcile it with what they supposed to be the socialist point of view.

Let us first separate two quite distinct questions which have unfortunately been confused in the agitation carried on by various wings of the Labour Party : First, ought the workers to support wars waged by capitalist States, including a possible war in China? Secondly, should the workers support nationalist movements, aimed at securing national independence, including the struggle to rid China of foreign control?

The only socialist answer in both cases is an unambiguous no ! We support no capitalist war and we support no nationalist movement.

Where the capitalist economic system exists (whether the government is Conservative, Liberal or Labour) armed forces are maintained for the protection of capitalist private property and capitalist interests generally. Foreign trade is one of the forces constantly creating friction with other capitalist competing countries and with “backward” races which are unfortunate enough to dwell in parts of the earth endowed with rich natural resources. When the governing sections of the capitalist class think their interests seriously menaced they set the armed forces in motion either at home or abroad. Those armed forces are organised and controlled by these governing sections and THEY ARE NEVER USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE THAN THE PROTECTION OF CAPITALIST INTERESTS. Wars waged by capitalist State involves, therefore, no working-class issue, and on no account would socialists support them. The Socialist Party alone in this country consistently opposed the last war on socialist grounds, and opposes any and every capitalist war. The particular circumstances are to us a matter of supreme indifference. The German invasion of Belgium, the French occupation of the Saar, the Chinese threat to Shanghai, the Russian attempts to damage the British Empire, Irish or Indian or Egyptian demands for independence, Mexican threats to the property of oil companies, each and every one leaves us cold. In every instance the driving motive is the desire to seize or to protect captalist private property. Capitalist States fight only over the division of the loot obtained by the exploitation of wage workers. We are wage workers and are only concerned with the abolition of exploitation.

But to come to the second question, if we will not fight to prevent the German capitalist class from plundering the Belgian and British capitalist class, we most emphatically will not assist Irish, Indian, German or Chinese captalists against British capitalists. We are interested in one kind of struggle only, class struggle, and primarily in that phase which consists in the endeavour by wage earners to overthrow capitalist private property and all forms of the wages system. The national movements blazing away in different parts of the world are not working-class, but capitalist, in their aim. We therefore oppose them. Patriotism has the effect of binding together the classes in each geographical area. Socialists desire that conflicting class interests shall be recognised, not obscured.

Socialism and patriotism are irreconcilably antagonistic. Patriotism is anti-working class and Chinese nationalism is no less so than is British. The one encourages the other. We wish to strangle both.

The Labour Party leads the workers to believe that hostility to a war with China implies the necessity of supporting Chinese nationalism. This is an anti-socialist attitude. Nationalism is merely an aspect of the rise of capitalism. Its history is a tragic record of working-class lives lost, working-class energies wasted and self-sacrifice betrayed. It has no relieving feature; it has brought no material gain to the workers. Nationalism has ever in the long run proved a treacherous basis for working-class organisation. In the capitalist French Revolution the great majority of the victims of the guillotine were not aristocrats but workers. The French commercial class did not hesitate to slaughter the misguided wage-earners who interpreted Liberty as meaning the Liberty of themselves.

In the revolutions which swept over Europe in 1848 under the twin capitalist cries of Democracy and Nationalism, the workers who fought under capitalist leadership were invariably betrayed and their hopes disappointed whenever the demands of the capitalists against their Feudal enemies were wholly or partly conceded. What have Italian or Balkan workers gained by the blood they poured out winning “freedom” from Austria and Turkey? In our own day, what have Irish workers benefited by the years of assassination and guerilla warfare against the armed forces of the British capitalist state? Does any intelligent observer believe for one moment that Irish, or Polish, or Indian, or Egyptian, or Chinese capitalists are one whit less brutal in their exploitation of their workers than are British, or German, or American, or any other Imperialist capitalist class?

The Chinese workers will be no better off when they have exchanged British and Japanese for Chinese masters. The Chinese workers are few in comparison with the enormous mass of peasants; they are not, or at best only weakly, organised. They cannot impose their will on the Nationalist Movement and, if they cannot do so now, much less will they be able to do so when Chinese Capitalism, flushed with victory over its foreign enemies, turns its attention to the paramount home problem of keeping the, workers in subjection. After generations of struggle and experience, the British and other European trade union movements are impotent to control their own sections of the capitalist class, yet their leaders do not hesitate to assume that the Chinese workers have done this or will succeed in doing so in a year or two.

We have already in these pages given the evidence of unprejudiced observers as to the essentially capitalist origin and aims of the Cantonese movement. To reply, as some of their apologists do, that the organised Chinese workers support this movement, is evidence only of the political inexperience of the Chinese workers. We have hardly had time to forget that in 1914 the organised workers in Europe rushed madly into the slaughter under their respective national flags. Will anyone now suggest that this is proof of the non-capitalist origins and objects of that war? And, further, can anyone assert that the working class gained anything whatever by their support? Many of those who were preaching hatred then in the name of Nationalism and in the service of the capitalist class, are now parading the same anti-socialist principles on behalf of China. Ben Tillett “hailing the new spirit in China” on the platform of the Albert Hall (Daily Herald 7th February), and being rapturously cheered by workers, is as pitiful a spectacle as was shown during the war, when similar unthinking people were misled by the same Ben Tillett, while he was earning an honest penny on the music halls, devoting his oratorical gifts to inflaming bestial passions with filthy lies about German atrocities.

Merely to assume that the enemies of British capitalists are necessarily the friends of socialism is too shallow to need refutation, but another cause of confusion about China is the fact that the Russian Government is actively supporting the Kuomintang Party. What must be remembered is that the Russian Government has other reasons for its activity besides its direct working-class sympathies. Russian foreign policy, for instance, led to some kind of tacit understanding with Fascist Italy, because, for a time, both Russia and Italy happened to be at loggerheads with Rumania. And, in China, while the Bolshevists have no illusions about the Nationalist Movement, they do urgently want a strong independent China, able to resist European and particularly British influences in the East.

Lewis S. Gannett, writing on his visit to China in the New Masses (New York, February, 1927, an “unofficial” Communist journal), has the following :—
“The Russians …. want to see in China a strong National State which will resist the encroachments of those Western States which Russia perforce regards as enemies; and they know full well that a semi-bourgeois Nationalist China, if strong, will mean far more help to Soviet Russia than a struggling little Communist nucleus, pure but ineffective,”
and again
“They [the Russians] know perfectly well that there is no more chance of a Communist revolution in China to-day than there was in America in 1776.”

According to Gannett there are only some 3,000 Communists in China.
A recent Thesis of the Communist International on the Chinese question, states that no less than five out of six of the Commissars of the Kuomintang Party belong to the right wing, i.e., represent purely capitalist interests, recognising, however, that at present they cannot dispense with working-class support.

(For extracts from Thesis, see Manchester Guardian, 14th February.)

Further, leaders of the daily press will have noticed that various religious organisations are supporting the Nationalist Movement. The Executive of the National Christian Council, “which represents the vast majority of Protestant Churches in: China and the great majority of Missionary Societies, British, American and Continental,” has issued a manifesto declaring that they “share in the Nationalist aspirations . . . They are prepared to accept risks and even to face persecution rather than: oppose the most hopeful movement in modern China.” (Manchester Guardian, 14th February). A working-class movement, whether in China or England, would not move organised religious movements to such enthusiasm.

There is a last and fairly powerful argument in favour of supporting Nationalist Movements. It is true that the existence of foreign control enables capitalist politicians to blame the evils of their system on to the “foreigner.” Thus it was not until Ireland became “free” that Irish workers fully learned what Irish capitalists are capable of. Against this, however, must be placed the great harm wrought by the exaggeration of national feeling, and hatred of foreigners. This breeds a state of mind quite unsuited to working-class organisation: and saps the solidarity of members of the working-class to each other. It cannot be doubted that the virtual suspension of organised trade union activities in Ireland during the Civil War and in England during the “Great” War, enormously weakened the strength of the organisations concerned, and buried their avowed objects under masses of the vilest war propaganda.

True, it is not easy to oppose mass patriotic movements, whether in Ireland, or England, or China, but that difficulty is not removed by closing one’s eyes to it, nor is it lessened by postponing it until “after the war.” If those who wish to organise and educate the Chinese workers lend themselves to Nationalist propaganda now, they will find it immeasurably more difficult to return to working-class principles after they have won for their masters the reality and for themselves the illusion of Chinese independence. Our advice to the Chinese workers is to build up organisations to fight their own capitalist class—they will need them soon enough. Our advice to British workers is to acquaint themselves with their own class interests and get rid of the two illusions that organisations which have suffered for five or six years an almost unbroken series of defeats at home at the hands of the powerful British ruling class, is able, by passing resolutions, to dictate foreign policy to its masters, or wise to urge young movements like the Chinese, to follow the disastrous British policies, which have wrought such tragic results.

Blogger's Note:
This article was unsigned but it was the case that other substantive articles that were written on China in the Socialist Standard during the 1920s were usually written by Edgar Hardcastle. There's a strong case that Hardcastle also wrote this article.

The People’s Food. (1927)

From the March 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The evil effects of capitalism may be divided into two categories—those which at all times glaringly obtrude themselves before our notice and those whose more insidious nature is revealed only occasionally in Blue Books, or in reports of Commissions or of judicial proceedings. In the latter category can be placed the practice of adulterating food and other articles.

It may safely be assumed that, despite periodical exposures, the alarming prevalence of adulteration is not generally realised. The average person is familiar, of course, with certain scandals arising from the employment of girls to make pips for “raspberry” jam, or from the additional fragrance imparted to tobacco by the admixture of an equine product which is eminently suitable for accelerating the growth of vegetable marrows. The extent of the danger may be more accurately gauged, however, by the perusal of the recently published report on the administration of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act during 1925. This report furnishes indisputable evidence that adulteration, in spite of all “safeguards” and heavy penalties following conviction, has not diminished, and is widespread in all cases where it is both practicable and profitable.

Let us examine the report referred to. We are told that during 1925 30 fresh appointments of Public Analysts have been approved. This item would suggest that the authorities are sceptical of their ability to eradicate the evil. (The Public Analyst, like the coercive forces, has become, it would seem, a permanent, indispensable, and growing feature of capitalism.) Following upon this information, is a summary of the results achieved by the analysis of the 118,930 samples submitted. Out of this mere “drop in the ocean” of commodities, no less than 7,714 samples, or 6.5 per cent., were found to have been tampered with, as compared with 5.9 per cent. for the previous year. Now when we consider (1) that samples required for analysis must be purchased in the ordinary way; (2) that the purveyor of contaminated articles is fully aware of the consequences of detection (and would, therefore, take precautions to “get the wire” before a visit from an inspector), and (3) that only a fool would sell adulterated produce to a stranger except in error, we are justified in assuming that the percentage of adulteration over the whole range of commodities is at least as high as that revealed by the samples analysed. The percentage of adulteration in London and the 40 largest provincial towns was 5.5, and in the remainder of the country 7.7.

A few details from the report of the various substances examined may help better to indicate the extent of the practice.

In respect of milk, the number of samples found to be adulterated or below standard, was 5,163 out of 61,909 analysed or 8.3 per cent., the percentage for the previous year being 7.7—a gratifying increase ! Dirt, preservatives, formaldehyde, colouring matter (chiefly annatto), deficiency of fat to the extent of 30, 40, and 50 per cent., and in one case 85 per cent., and added water in quantities varying from 4.5 to 30 per cent., were discovered amongst the unwanted contributions to baby’s dietary. No wonder patent foods are sometimes preferred to milk as a means for rearing bonny (not bony) babies ! Some workers occasionally taste butter—or at least, imagine they do ! These favoured ones will doubtless be interested to know that samples of butter were found to contain water above the legal limit of 16 per cent., excessive preservative, and in some instances were almost wholly margarine. The huge army of margarine devourers may console themselves by these revelations, but they will find cold comfort in the fact that samples of “marge” were found to be improved by the addition of water in excess of 16 per cent., preservatives in abundance, mineral oil of the nature of paraffin, and butter fat above the legal maximum (10 per cent.).

After these disclosures some may evince a desire to “have jam on it.” If so, they should seek to develop a taste for such substances as glucose syrup, salicylic acid, apple pulp, or dyes, and in time we have no doubt a positive craving could be acquired for pieces of glass, glaze, enamel, or “silicious particles “—all of which delectable tit-bits were discovered in abundance in samples of that delicacy which, to the worker, typifies extravagance and opulence, namely, jam ! Up to now we have cherished the illusion that a capitalist environment is the cause of the “iron entering into” so many of the workers, but the report throws some light upon a possible alternative reason for this phenomenon— anchovy paste. The analysis of one sample of this fastidious dainty revealed the presence of 14 per cent. of ash consisting almost entirely of iron oxide ! Some anonymous wiseacre has coined the brilliant epigram, “There’s cheese and cheese.” Unfortunately the evidence advanced in support of this assertion has not been transmitted to us, but the report we are commenting upon enables us to accept this dictum, and further to classify cheese as (1) The wholesome and highly nutritious article of food we hear of in books on dietetics, and (2) The substance known to the workers as cheese. “Dutch Cheshire Cheese” made from skimmed milk, “Cream Cheshire Cheese” containing 32 per cent. instead of 70 per cent. of fat, “Bondon Cheese” (or wholemilk cheese), containing 73 per cent. of water and “practically devoid of fat,” are quoted in the report as typical instances of adulteration. Really, is it not time for the workers to say “cheese it !” Even samples of dripping were found to be contaminated—by water, colouring matter, and excess of free fatty acids (to disguise rancidity) ; and a miniature chemical laboratory was unearthed in samples of bun flour, which contained “a complex mixture of rice flour, mineral matter, sodium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, and reverted calcium phosphate” ! Judging from the report, chocolate and sweets, too, are calculated to put one “on his metal,” for analysis showed the presence of foreign starch and fats, French chalk, sulphur dioxide, quartz, zinc, copper, and sawdust ! What a feast for an ostrich—or a goat ! We find also that the sweetening properties of sugar may apparently be augmented by the inclusion of coal-tar dye, sawdust, and ground rice ! I will conclude the illustrations from the report by citing two examples, each of which is proclaimed at various times to be the “national beverage.” I allude to tea and beer. A sample of the former seems really to have been a blacksmith’s outfit masquerading as tea, for it was discovered to contain iron filings, pieces of wire, and nails. Such an exhilarating tonic, such a veritable spa-water for the workers, should surely help greatly in the building of an iron constitution, and a physique pre-eminently wiry and as hard as nails ! The analysis of samples of beer revealed the presence of lead, boric acid,, and excess of salt. Observe how the emetic qualities of the salt are scientifically counteracted by the lead ! This unique mixture would no doubt lie very comfortably like an alp on the chest of the living ! But the boric acid is an improvement! Ah ! he was some poet who wrote “Beer ’twas that brought him to his bier.”

I have stated above the facts as derived from capitalist sources, and leave the reader to draw what inferences he chooses as to the utility, or desirability of a system which has failed to eradicate a practice so dangerous to human well being. Whilst refraining from exaggerating the magnitude of the evil, the writer would point out that it is one among many evils endured by the workers which react one upon the other. Thus cheek by jowl with adulteration we find underfeeding, overcrowding, physical degeneration, ill-health, premature decay, and a host of other ills attendant upon poverty. The abolition of the cause of the one evil will abolish, therefore, the entire body of these evils. What, then, is the cause of the prevalence of adulteration ? We see how capitalism has accentuated the dangers of the practice, and one Commission of Inquiry after another has failed to do more than to suggest the imposition of stringent penalties. This latter course does not grapple with the cause, and virtually attributes the practice to human imperfections or to the malevolence of individuals. But however malevolent a capitalist might be, he is possessed of sufficient intelligence to know that the pursuit of malevolence in adulterating his products bears hardly upon his pocket when he foots the bill for hospitals, disease, and the impaired efficiency of his own and other workers. A deeper cause must be sought for. The present “social” system is based upon the private ownership of the means of living. A necessary feature of such a system is the production for sale of articles made by workers, who are compelled by their propertyless condition to sell for wages their one valuable possession, their labour-power, to these owners of the means of living. As the workers produce far more than the value of their wages they are deprived of the wealth they produce in proportion to the quantity of goods that are produced for sale. The resultant competition between these exploiters of the workers (that is, the capitalists) for the markets in which to dispose of their commodities, impels certain of them to seek an advantage over their rivals by adulterating some of their produce with shoddy imitations, increasing bulk and weight by the addition of rubbish, “deodorising” or “preserving,” and other harmful shifts. Production for profit is, therefore, the root cause of adulteration.

It has been contended that even under a system of society where production is for use and not for profit, there will still be adulteration. For instance, will not “preservatives” be necessary at all times to prevent putrefaction or rancidity of “perishable” articles? Under a sane system production will be regulated by the ascertained needs of society—chaos will give place to scientific organisation of production, distribution, and apportionment. Society with its tremendous powers (many now latent) of production, transport, etc., could assure purity of food, and the necessity for adding poisonous ingredients to food will therefore not arise.

Regarding the plea that purchasers are often to blame for insisting upon having articles a certain colour, etc., that is not consistent to their nature, its speciousness is apparent when we consider the fact that purchasers are not informed of the deleterous nature of the substances that are used to obtain the desired colour, etc. When the whole people have the management of affairs in their own hands they will be rational enough and place purity before prettiness as a criterion of utility.

The Socialist remedy is the only one we prescribe.

Perchance in the course of centuries of capitalism (if such is conceivable) nature will adapt the digestive organs of workers to meet the perils that are inseparable from the rotten dietary compulsory to members of the working class. But Socialism is a more certain cure, and can be put into operation whenever the workers understand the necessity for it, and have organised themselves to take control of the political machinery, prior to effecting the change from capitalism to Socialism’.
W. J.