Friday, May 13, 2022

Is Britain over-populated? (1927)

Book Review from the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Britain over-populated? By R. B. Kerr, 97, North Sydenham Road, Croydon. 118 pages. 1s.

Mr. Kerr presents the familiar case for a reduction of the population by means of birth control. His argument is that the population per square mile in England is much greater than in a number of countries, and hence the prosperity of this country is less than it might be, and less than in America, Australia and other sparsely-populated areas. He is quite confident that “the reason and the only reason” why the U.S.A., Canada. New Zealand, etc., are “so much more prosperous than Great Britain ” is that they “are thinly-populated in proportion to their natural resourcres” (P. 33).

It is not only the familiar case put forward by the birth controllers, but it bristles with all of the familiar fallacies. Mr. Kerr is an industrious disher-up of unrelated trifles, but he has not succeeded in presenting a convincing or even coherent argument. He discusses “over-population” and “prosperity” without even attempting to define these very elusive terms. He does mention the optimum density (i.e., that density of population at which productivity is at a maximum), but whereas serious economists like Professor Cannan candidly confess that they have not the remotest idea what in fact that density is, Mr. Kerr tells us on his own unsupported authority that it would mean a population “so much thinner than the present that we shall probably never reach it” (p. 114). Then, having forgotten this bold assertion, he goes on to admit that the problem of determining “what is an optimum population ” has yet to be solved (p. 115).

Mr. Kerr does not offer one particle of proof that the optimum density is less than the present one. It might be greater.

Prosperity is, again, a term requiring a little attention. Mr. Kerr ignores the enormous inequality of wealth existing within every nation, whether thickly or thinly populated. The U.S.A., he says, is prosperous because of its relatively small population, Great Britain is less prosperous because of its big population. Are there then no millionaires, and is there no wealthy propertied class in this country ? And are there no destitute persons in the U.S.A.?

For Mr. Kerr there are no class divisions in society. He selects Great Britain as his unit, instead of the British Empire as a whole (this would have upset his theory), on the ground that the relations between the Dominions and Great Britain are purely commercial ones—not sentimental. He says, truly enough, “Out of his bursting bins the Canadian farmer will not give his Mother Country a single bushel of wheat, except for payment in cash” (p. 9). But since it is equally true that the English farmer does not open his “bursting bins” to the English factory owner or factory worker “except for payment in cash,” why not take as the unit London, or Lincolnshire, or compare all the English towns with the whole rural areas? It would be just as sound and just as useless as any other comparison of density of population as a guide to wealth.

Niggardly Nature
Mr. Kerr dismisses the contention that Nature is sufficiently bountiful for our needs by quoting Sir J. Stamp on the distribution of wealth. He does not deal with the admitted fact that nowadays, in almost every highly-organised industry, there is deliberate restriction of output in order to maintain prices and profits. Is nature niggardly in oil, or coal, or cotton, or wheat, or rubber?

The much-quoted figures presented by Sir J. Stamp also deserve attention. Stamp points out that, if all incomes over £250 were reduced to £250 and the surplus equally divided between all the families in the country, the gain per family would not exceed 5s. per week. In the first place, the great mass of the workers do not receive £250 a year, and an equal division of the national income would very materially raise their standard of living. As Stamp himself point out (Studies in Current Problems, 1924, page 98), to raise the standard of life in the great nations by 10 per cent, would be “for the great mass of the peoples of these nations the difference between grinding penury and a reasonable standard of comfort.”

Secondly, and more importantly, as is explained in detail in our pamphlet “Socialism,” about half of the population between 16 and 60 are not engaged in producing wealth at all, but are either idle or are carrying on purely wasteful services called into being by the capitalist system.

Mr. Kerr trots out the old bogey of the “unfavourable balance of trade.” He asks us to behold a column of trade figures and be suitably horrified, but he makes no effort to explain what it all means. That international trade is merely an extension of the ordinary division of labour, and is economically profitable to both parties, he has not grasped. Hence his forecast that in a ” ‘Birth-Controlled World’ each country will do the bulk of its own manufacturing, and will live in the main on the products of its own soil” (p. 110).

Population and War
Mr. Kerr quotes Shelley and Mussolini to prove that over-population is the cause of modern wars. According to the table of relative densities, it would appear from this that England—having a density nearly twice that of Germany—must have been responsible for the war. It is, of course, nonsense. The urge to find markets and sources of raw materials affects every capitalist country, irrespective of population. American exports of capital, and consequent deliberate war with Spain, her brutal suppression of the Philippines and present endeavours to create an Empire covering all Central and South America, are the outcome of capitalist organisations, and are not to be checked by birth control devices.

Mr. Kerr quotes a Japanese newspaper in support of his contention that, in a conflict between natural law (e.g., pressure of population) and man-made law, the natural law will prevail. This is flagrantly untrue. Is it a “natural” or a “man-made” law which prevents millions of workers on the border-line of poverty from taking possession of the wealth which they create but do not possess? What natural law prevents the unemployed from enjoying superfluous food, clothing and housing of the propertied classes? Mr. Kerr says (p. 58) that “The amount each man produces determines the amount each man can consume.” In truth, the amount consumed by members of the capitalist class depends on their ownership of the means of production, which in turn depends on their control of the political machinery of society. There obviously are problems of population, but the problem of working-class poverty is not one of these. That problem cannot be solved by the workers until they have taken possession of the political machinery and re-organised society on a socialist basis.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Battle of the Isms. (1927)

A Short Story from the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Hyam Eezi was much younger, he used to wonder what all this talk of Liberalism and Conservatism and other ‘isms was about. He was puzzled. You would not have called him a deep thinker at all. He just wondered and pondered, and occasionally asked questions. “What is the difference, the real difference, between Liberalism and Conservatism?” he would ask. He was told that one believed in Chinese slavery and the other was opposed to it. The arguments both for and against Chinese slavery were then flung at him, and in the heat of discussion he was not at once aware that his original question remained unanswered. So that, like so many of us, he unconsciously shelved it until a more convenient season. A few years later, in one of his pondering moods he became dimly aware that he had never really got at the heart of this mystery, and he again pursued enquiries into the essential difference between the two creeds. He was surprised to learn that Chinese slavery was no longer a touchstone, but that now one was strongly advocating Tariff Reform; the other what they called Free Trade. He found himself in the midst of a deluge of technical jargon, in which imports, exports, taxation, revenue, invisible exports, and what not, battered him into mild bewilderment.“But what is Liberalism in itself,” he would ask? “What is the essential Conservatism?” he would enquire.

No one could tell him. Liberal newspapers or Liberal orators would say they stood for Land Reform, or Rating Reform, or House of Lords Reform, or something of the sort. They were reformers, anyway. And then he would read Conservative newspapers, or hear Tory speakers, and be assured that Conservatism stood for taxing the foreigner, for a big navy, for Imperial expansion, for Imperial preference, for restoring the Lords’ veto, and for a number of other higfh-sounding things. Hyam’s difficulty was that neither seemed to stand for the same thing long, and that when one tried to get behind their high-sounding slogans, one was soon lost in a bewildering maze of detail. When, he thought, a man is described as an electrician, or as a dentist, or as a navvy, I know what he will do, although I may not know how he does it. Furthermore, I know that, although methods alter, there is a certain measure of consistency between what a dentist, an electrician or a navvy did twenty years ago and what he is doing to-day and what he will do twenty years hence. But when I try to analyse what is meant by Liberalism or Conservatism, in the light of what they said or did forty years ago, twenty years ago, ten years ago, and to-day, I feel there is something missing.

Someone suggested to him that he was wrong in judging a political party as he would an individual or an occupation. But he reflected, Is it not as individuals they are presented to me? Does not the candidate at an election placard the constituency with photographs of himself and deliver shoals of leaflets telling of his outstanding personal qualities, his reputation, his residence in the constituency, his devotion to his leaders, and so on. And then his leaders ; is it not as persons they are presented to me ? How this one smokes a pipe and is fond of gazing at pigs; and that one covers one eye with a monocle and has a most dignified bearing; another wears strange hats; another fuzzy hair; or has a silvery, witty tongue. No ! I think I do right to judge them in the way they are presented to me ; for I seem as far off as ever from finding the essential difference between Liberalism and Conservatism.

And then, quite accidentally, he saw a definition of Conservatism quoted in a journal. It was attributed to a rich man named Lord Hugh Cecil, and ran as follows :
1) Distrust of the unknown and love of the familiar;
2) The defence of Church and King, the reverence for religion and authority.
3) A feeling for the greatness of the country and for that unity which makes for its greatness.
If the truth must be told, Hyam Eezi was not profoundly impressed by this definition. He felt that, if the first was true, he was a Conservative; the second seemed to apply equally to all the Liberals he knew; the third did not seem to fit in with his own conception of bodily comfort.

It was about this time he caught sight in a periodical of a cartoon portraying a Liberal omnibus labelled to go to a place called Westbury. The side of the ‘bus was placarded with a large notice : Peace, Retrenchment and Reform. One of his Liberal friends told him that was as good a definition of Liberalism as he would get; had done duty for years in fact. Peace, thought Hyam, yes, I’m in favour of Peace. One-third a Liberal. Retrenchment ! He had to look that word up in a dictionary, and found it meant either cutting down or part of a fortification. He gathered that a Peace party could hardly be in favour of fortifications, and deduced therefore the Liberal Party were for cutting things down. Involuntarily Hyam’s thoughts flew to wages, in his experience the thing’s most often in process of being cut down. In this he was nearer to fact than he knew, but let that pass. Reform ! Yes, he understood what that meant. Reform meant putting things right. And plenty of room for it too, thought Hyam. But then, in talking things over with his acquaintances, he found Conservatives in favour of Peace and Retrenchment and Reform. So he appeared to have discovered after all that, as the Irishman is alleged to have said, the only difference between them was that they were both alike, only one more so than the other.

But his great discovery followed a casual meeting with a fellow in a workman’s train. Their conversation had drifted from the weather to work, from work to no work, or unemployment, from that to the Government, and then to politics generally. He confided the result of his ponderous thinking to his fellow traveller, who listened attentively, and then said : “Will you listen to me for a quarter-of-an-hour?” Hyam agreed; whereupon the stranger began :

” If you were a slave on a sugar plantation, what would for ever be uppermost in your mind? ”

” Getting free,” replied Hyam.
” But supposing you had been born a slave, the son and grandson of slaves; if your chains did not gall you too much ; if your slavery were explained to you as perfectly natural, quite normal ; the best system, in fact, that man had yet discovered; would your freedom be quite so insistent a question?”

On reflection, Hyam admitted it would not.

“Then I hope you can conceive of a time when, in order to obtain their willing’ consent to their slavery, the slaves are allowed to elect their own masters, and to agree on the conditions of their slavery.”

Hyam could see this.

“Now, not to push the analogy too far—for these things never took place under chattel slavery—if, before the desire for liberty had been stifled or lulled to sleep, the slaves were invited to vote for their masters on some such question as Taxation of Land Values or Reform of the Upper House, what would have been their probable reply?”

“To hell with your catch-phrases. Give us our liberty,” said Hyam.

“You are right,” said the stranger. “And it is only because our fellows nowadays are unconscious of their slavery that they are caught so easily with these tags. The difference between Liberalism and Conservatism is very slight, and may be compared to two friends have have different views on methods of gardening. The Liberals have one theory of taxation, the Conservatives another. The one believes in the desirability of reforms as much as the other; but they differ a little as to the most urgent reforms. The essential difference you have been looking for does not exist. They have one ‘ism in which they both believe—Capitalism. And it is in Capitalism you should interest yourself. You were telling me how at one time you found their differences to reside in varying views of Chinese slavery; at another in Free Trade versus Protection, and at another in the Lords’ Veto. May I call your attention to one thing that was constant—your own condition. You were a workman all the time. All through the many elections that you have seen in your lifetime, all through the terms of office of Liberal Governments, Conservative Governments or Labour Governments, you have remained a workman. These various questions that have been dangled before you only assumed any prominence in your eyes because you were not conscious of your slave condition. Not once throughout all these years have you demanded your liberty. Not that you would have got it; for those who want liberty will have to fight for it. But that you have not demanded it shows you are unconscious of your slave position. That is the first thing to realise then, that you are one of a vast class in society that is held in subjection by another and smaller class. How are you held in subjection? By one simple feature. You are a human being and must eat in order to live, clothe yourself in order to defy the elements, shelter yourself that you may not perish. Under capitalism you can obtain them in but one way apart from stealing. You must find a master who wishes to hire human labour-power, for you must remember human labour-power is the most wonderful thing you have heard of. Your master will bargain with you and hire your wonderful labour-power for such a sum as will enable you to buy food, clothes and shelter. With your labour-power you and your fellows will proceed to build him houses, ships, bridges, palaces, parks, railways, motor cars, hotels, roads, and a thousand things, all infinitely more valuable than the price of your labour-power. But you will not be permitted to touch them. You have been paid for the hire of your energy. And when you have filled the world so full of wealth that no more is needed, the price of your hire is discontinued, and you are given the sack. This process is believed to be the best possible by both Liberals and Conservatives. Anyone who dares to criticise it is ignored as long as possible, called unpleasant names and lied about when he can no longer be ignored; hunted and imprisoned if he appears to endanger the continuance of the system. Liberals and Conservatives would each have differing views on the best way to allay the miseries attending on the state of being- without a master, unemployment, as it is called. In this sense both are reformers. But neither would abolish it.

“So that, in brief, Hyam, Liberalism and Conservatism are slightly different viewpoints in the administration of Capitalism. In the defence of that system, Liberals are as conservative as the Conservatives. In dealing out reforms to keep the workers contented with things as they are, the Conservatives are as liberal as the Liberals. To judge of the value of reforms to the workers, you cannot do better than read the leading article in the Daily News of May 27. I’ll read the commencement of it to you.

” ‘The National Liberal Federation on its fiftieth anniversary can congratulate itself that, with the exception of land reform, every one of the reforms that year by year used to litter the agenda paper is now on the Statute Book. But the reformer is always in the position of a mountaineer. He reaches what he conceives to be the goal of his journey, only to find that there are more precipitous rocks ahead. The agenda of this year’s conference is just as packed with subjects requiring urgent legislation.’”

“There, Hyam, how’s that for half a century of progress? Perhaps in another half-century or so the reforms will come so thick and fast you will actually be conscious of improvement. But, again, as the perspicacious leader-writer says, the reformer’s life is one long surprise packet. Every rock he scales only gives him a view of more rocks. Do not follow this geological party, Hyam, or, as they plainly tell you, fifty years of that sort of progress only lands you on the rocks, and there is no finish.

“When the Socialist Party gains sufficient adherents their contribution to the Statute Book will be brief, but you will notice it. It will enact that on and after a certain date private property in the means whereby we all live shall cease, and they will be taken over in the name of the people to be democratically owned and controlled for the benefit of the whole community. And that’s all for to-day, Hyam.”
W. T. Hopley

Birds of a feather. (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Forward (July 9th) has an article charging Havelock Wilson with carrying on “anti-working class propaganda.” This has, of course, long been our opinion also, but we cannot in our momentary agreement with Forward go beyond the point of condemning Havelock Wilson. The ground of condemnation used by Forward is Wilson’s association with Sir Arthur Wheeler, whose firm (Arthur Wheeler & Co.) has issued a circular supporting Wilson and inviting subscriptions for the Industrial Peace Union, of which he is the Director of Publicity. If this circular is evidence that Havelock Wilson is anti-working class, what are we to say of another effort of Sir Arthur Wheeler’s, issued this time in support of a cause to which Forward is devoted? Forward and the parties it supports, the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, are advocates of nationalisation—so is Sir Arthur Wheeler. In June, 1924, his company, a well-known firm of Leicester stockbrokers, issued to its clients a circular letter on nationalisation. Below is a passage extracted from it :—
“It is no exaggeration to say that, as a group, colliery shares have been neglected for some considerable time because of the fear caused by the thought of Nationalisation. But this attitude is based upon first thoughts rather than mature consideration. A thorough examination of the actual position soon reveals how little justification exists for these apprehensions.

A short time ago, in conversation, a number of influential colliery proprietors, brought up this question. It was to be expected that these men, who presumably had most to lose from nationalisation, should fear it greatly. Their conversation revealed just the opposite. They were agreed that supposing it became practically possible, it would be the best thing possible for themselves. They actually looked forward to its realisation.

Again and again, past experience proves that when a Government Department enters into a business agreement with private traders, the latter invariably get the best of the bargain. We, therefore, can assume the same would result if and when the Government took over the control of our mining industry.
Colliery shareholders would receive from the purchaser (i.e., the State), new stock in place of their original holdings. The industry would be guaranteed by the whole taxable capacity of the nation. Hence the new stock would be of the same nature as all gilt-edged stocks, with both capital and interest a Government obligation. The risks of labour troubles and foreign competition would be taken from the present shareholders and placed on the broad back of the State. This, in the main, is the reason why colliery proprietors do not fear nationalisation.”
Forward and the Labour Party and the I.L.P. and Sir Arthur Wheeler and his coal-owning friends are all supporters of nationalisation—the Socialist Party alone is opposed to it. Sir Arthur Wheeler supports it because it will be a very good thing for his class, we oppose it because it will be a very bad thing for our class. Why Forward supports it heaven only knows.
Edgar Hardcastle

Backward races. Lessons from South Africa. (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party speakers are continually being asked whether Socialism will have to wait until the black and yellow races have been converted. The questioner usually is very gloomy about the whole business. “What is the use,” he says, “of preaching Socialism here in England if all our work is going to be ruined by the backwardness of Japs and Chinese and negroes and other non-white races?” We have for our part never been much perturbed. Capitalism and the development of industry are the necessary and sufficient producers of Socialist thought and Socialist thinkers. The process is slow, but it is universal wherever the capitalist social system extends. We have no fear that any section of the working class in the industrialised nations will suddenly find itself isolated ahead of the main body of the Socialist forces. Most emphatically we do not expect this in England, despite the fact that the general level of political understanding is probably higher here than in any of the Great Powers. We know well enough what slow and painful work it is to build up a Socialist organisation. The vision which distresses our questioners, of a clear-headed, enthusiastic working class in Great Britain panting for Socialism and impatiently waiting for backward foreign persons to wake up and come into line, is hardly in keeping with the facts. If we get on with our job of propagating Socialism at home we can safely leave the workers in other countries to do likewise.

It is interesting to observe, therefore, what encouraging advances have been made by the black workers in South Africa. The white workers organised in the South African Industrial Federation deliberately and persistently refused membership to blacks, and placed barriers in the way of attempts to organise them. The whites, including the South African “Labour” Party, supported the Government policy of maintaining political, economic and geographical barriers against the black races. In Cape Town the Cape Federation of Labour Unions was a little more alive to working-class interests and admitted “coloured” workers (i.e., those of “mixed” race) to membership, although it still interested itself only in those who were classed as skilled workers. In January, 1919, some two dozen black workers, despairing of assistance from the whites, took on the huge task of forming a Union for all black workers and founded the Industrial and Commercial Union (I.C.U., now the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa). It has made great progress in spite of the difficulties placed in its way by the white organisations and by the Governments, and hopes are entertained of spreading eventually throughout the continent.

The position of the I.C.U. was greatly strengthened last year by the decision of the International Federation of Trade Unions to accept its affiliation in place of the white workers’ S.A. Industrial Federation, which was all but defunct. The condition laid down and accepted was that the I.C.U. must declare its readiness to link up with trade unions of white workers whenever the latter were ready to adopt that policy. The whites in the newly-formed South African Trades Union Congress were so much taken back by this recognition of the black trade unions that they have now declared their willingness to discuss with the I.C.U. the possibility of accepting all workers, without reference to race, into an enlarged Trades Union Congress. There is therefore a likelihood that at no distant date racial divisions among the organised workers in South Africa may be overcome. At least the white “last ditchers” who cannot tolerate association with black skins may be compelled to withdraw from the T.U.C. and conduct their (fortunately) hopeless fight in isolation. And this promising development will be the result not of white but of black common sense and clear thinking.

A declaration setting forth the policy of the I.C.U. will serve to show that a partial understanding of the class position of the workers has been attained by the black if not by the white unions :—
“Whereas the interests of the workers and those of the employers are opposed to each other, the former living by selling their labour, receiving for it only part of the wealth they produce ; and the latter living by exploiting the labour of the workers, depriving the workers of a part of the product of their labour in the form of profit, no peace can be between the two classes—a struggle must always obtain about the division of the products of human labour, until the workers, through their industrial organisations take from the capitalist class the means of production, to be owned and controlled by the workers for the benefit of all, instead of a few.”
This declaration contains one very serious fallacy, but even so it will compare well with the majority of foggy aims contained in trade union rule books even in this country. It is a natural mistake for disfranchised black workers, legally barred from effective participation in most political activities in South Africa, to place their hopes in industrial action. We do not doubt, moreover, that experience of the uses and limits of economic organisation will soon induce the black workers of South Africa to see that control of the State is essential to the achievement of Socialism by the working class.
Edgar Hardcastle

Utopia—on easy terms. (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our masters, despite their cant about our improving conditions, well understand the remote possibilities of the workers being able to save from the meagre portion of their product returned in the form of wages. Inviting the workers to become shareholders on the instalment system is a grim joke. A scheme has been introduced by the Southern Railway with this objective :—
“For a workman to secure £10 worth of stock it is necessary for him to pay one instalment of 1/6 and then for 77 weeks 2/6 will be deducted from his pay” (“Daily Chronicle,” May 23, 1927).
Assuming “regular work,” after 15 years’ saving against the rainy day, he will have accumulated sufficient to bring him in at (say) 5 per cent. the sum of 2s. per week. It is to be hoped that, even if he and the job last, he does not encounter a heavy shower, otherwise his “rainy day” savings will be a “wash out.” Some may protest that large numbers of the workers do “get on.” If they do, then why do they not figure as income tax payers? Including the body of professional and other workers who pay income tax as an item in the cost of living :—
“The numbers of liable persons paying income tax in the years in question are estimated at 2,400,000 for 1924-25 and 2,300,000 for 1925-26” (Answer given by Mr. Churchill to a question in the House of Commons—Hansard, April 12, 1927).
Here is evidence of the capitalist myth that wealth is becoming more evenly distributed. It shows two extremes. Out of the ever-increasing wealth produced by the working class alone, the wages system means for them that they can never obtain, as a class, more than that which reproduces their slave condition. We have demonstrated it often enough ; a capitalist Chancellor of the Exchequer lends additional support to our claim.
W. E. MacHaffie

Editorial: The Soviet Government and the Combines. (1927)

Editorial from the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Mail has for months been conducting a campaign against the sale in this country of Russian petrol on the ground that the oil wells were stolen without compensation from the former British owners. Various oil companies have taken up the cry and we are asked to believe that British capitalists are prepared to forego profits in order to keep their consciences clear. Thus Lord Bearstead, Chairman of the Shell Transport Co. (Sunday Worker, June 26th) and the Chairman of the Blue Bird Oil Importers (Observer, July 3rd, 1927) have given an assurance that their companies will have nothing to do with “stolen goods.” The Chairman of the Blue Bird Oil Importers, Mr. Francis Lorang, told his shareholders : —”I should also like to emphasise strongly that your company is not importing or marketing Russian or the so-called Soviet oils, and has no intention of departing from this policy.” It is therefore amusing to notice that the Shell Company have since 1921 retailed 500,000 tons of Russian oil in this country Sunday Worker, June 26th) and that the Blue Bird Motor Company, of which Mr. Francis Lorang is also Secretary and Director, imported 3,794,000 gallons in nine months of 1925 (Petroleum Times, October 24th, 1925). Apparently their consciences have only recently been stirred to life, or else Mr. Lorang has two consciences, one for each of the Blue Bird Companies; and even if the companies mentioned are not at the moment handling Russian oils, it is evident that some other companies must be doing so, since the import of oils and oil products from Russia for the period October, 1926, to June 1st, 1927, was 245,928 tons, an increase of 184,561 tons over the imports during the corresponding period in the preceding years (Daily Mail, July 2nd).

The probable real reason for the change of attitude simply is that the Russian organisation in this country, Russian Oil Products, has itself been retailing oil as well as selling it wholesale, and at prices below those of the other companies. Their hostility, in fact, is dictated not by “honesty,” but by commercial rivalry and the desire to compel a competing company outside the ring to toe the line.

It is more than probable that the British wholesale oil firms and the Daily Mail would drop their campaign if the Russians would agree, as they have elsewhere, not to undersell in the British market. They are reported (Daily Telegraph, July 5th) to have made such an arrangement with Standard Oil, and at the World Wheat Pool, which held its conference in Kansas City on May 5th, 1927, representatives of the Russian wheat growers “pledged themselves to the aim of international co-operation in the production and marketing of wheat,” and Saul G. Bron, head of the Russian delegation, gave an assurance that it was not the intention of the Russians to “injure prices.” “Russia will sell at the world price and take her chances with the others” (Corn Trade News, May 19th, quoting from New York Times). That assurance having been given, no one at Kansas City was spurred on to object to having relations with Russian growers on the ground that the peasants stole the land from the landowners : and the profit-seeking Americans in the Standard Oil group have been able to swallow their distaste for “stolen” oil.

Letter: Materialism v. Spiritism: A Further Rejoinder and Our Reply. (1927)

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

Dear Comrade,

If my mentality be, according to J. Fitzgerald, “peculiar,” his must surely be unique, at any rate in a civilised community, since he considers that to describe the Marxian Theory of Value as an ideal of social ethics, a moral ideal, is abuse of Marx! And one need not be a ”capitalist” to see the inconsistency of professing a belief in scientific materialism, and then sacrificing oneself for the benefit of posterity. Men can only be said to believe a thing when they act as if it were true.

I can see that no amount of evidence will make your reviewer believe what he does not want to believe; but I must repeat that the four founders of the S.P.R. were not Spiritists at the time they founded the society, but were converted by their researches. William James, no mean judge of character, says of Myers and his great work : ”Heart and head alike were wholly satisfied by his occupation. His character also grew stronger in every particular for his devotion to these inquiries. He became learned in science, circumspect, democratic in sympathy, endlessly patient, and, above all, happy.” A sufficient answer to the insinuation that dabbling in such phenomena disintegrates the critical faculties.
Yours fraternally,
Isabel Kingsley,
9, Maybury Mansions, W.I 
June 11th, 1927.

P. S.—Since writing the above I have seen the further letters on this subject in the June S.S. J. Fitzgerald has apparently forgotten what he has written. He said that certain evidence that was good enough for Sir O. Lodge “would not impose upon a school-child.”

The straits to which our critic is put is shown by his dragging in the conjurers. They have been challenged time and again to produce the physical phenomena of spiritualism under the same conditions as the mediums, and they have never done it. Their opinions on the subject are therefore worthless. It is not the objective but the subjective phenomena that have convinced such men as Lodge and Barratt and Myers, the evidence, that is, of the survival of memory and personality. Why is a conjurer better fitted to judge of that?
Isabel Kingsley.

Our Reply:
When in the October, 1926, issue of the Socialist Standard, we reviewed Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet on ” Materialism,” we stated :—
Throughout the pamphlet there are numerous totally unsupported assertions and claims of the authoress that would take a volume to refute in detail.
while further on in the article we pointed out that she :—
Pours out shoals of baseless assumptions, of unsupported assertions, besides indulging in deliberate misrepresentation,
and gave chapter and verse from the pamphlet to prove our case.

The above is the fourth letter we have received from Isabel Kingsley, but in no single instance has she attempted to meet our exposure of her false assertions and deliberate misrepresentations. Nay, more. We have refuted many of her assertions and claims by quotations from the very sources she refers her reader to for evidence, particularly the volumes of Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. An important point emerges from these facts. Either Isabel Kingsley has read these volumes, and is guilty of deliberate falsification, or she has not read them and is guilty of brazen bounce.

Her first paragraph is empty nonsense. The statement in her second paragraph : — ” I can see that no amount of evidence will make your reviewer believe what he does not want to believe,” coming from one who has failed to produce a single atom of evidence throughout the discussion, is just a sample of her brazen bounce.

Her remarks on the founders of the S.P.R. are interesting. We said in the March (1927) S.S. that the S.P.R. was founded by Spiritists. Isabel Kingsley, without giving any evidence for her statement, replied that the society was NOT so founded. We proved the falsity of this statement by giving the names of the founders in the May S.S. With all the boldness of ignorance she now repeats her lie in a slightly different form and says these four men ” were not Spiritists at the time they founded the society.” And her evidence? Absolutely none. Here again the falsity of her assertion can be proved from her beloved Proceedings of the S.P.R.

At the first conference of that society, the President—Mr. H. Sidgwick—stated in his address : —
I say it is a scandal that the dispute as to the reality of these phenomena should still be going on. . . . and yet that the educated world as a body should still be simply in the attitude of incredulity (Vol. I., page 8).
Here we have not merely an admission of belief in Spiritism by the founders, but a protest, to the extent of calling it a ”scandal,” that any dispute should exist as to the reality of the phenomena. But the President went further. He admitted quite plainly why the society was formed when he said :—
I think that even educated and scientific spiritualists were not quite prepared for the amount of fraud which has recently come to light, nor for the obstinacy with which mediums against whom fraud has been proved have been afterwards defended, and have in fact been able to go on with what I may, without offence, cal! their trade, after exposure no less than before (Ibid, p. 11).
The cat is out of the bag. Faced with the torrent of exposure of the fraud perpetrated by mediums, which torrent threatened to sweep away the remains of the Spiritist movement, these prominent Spiritists tried to save the situation by instituting a show of ”investigation” and ”research” into the claims made. They had to warn ”even educated and scientific Spiritualists ” against defending frauds who had been exposed over and over again, though this warning has not saved Conan Doyle and others from still following that course.

The postscript follows the now familiar lines. I have “apparently forgotten what I had written.” Then why did not Isabel Kingsley enlighten us on the point?

Her remarks on the conjurers is not only a sample of her usual audacity; it is also an illustration of her massive ignorance. Where are these courageous mediums who have so gallantly issued these challenges? And echo—as Isabel Kingsley fails—answers ”Where?” As every student of Spiritism knows, it is just the contrary that is true. It is the mediums who have been challenged and failed to appear. Scores of instances could be given, but a few well-known cases must suffice.

Years ago Maskelyne and Cooke reproduced at the Egyptian Hall the “phenomena” of the “Davenport Brothers” with ropes and cabinet. Readers of Reynolds Newspaper will remember that for many years the then editor, Mr. W. M. Thompson, in conjunction with Mr. Maskelyne, had a standing challenge to reproduce the phenomena of any ”medium,” but the challenge was never taken up. Mr. Labouchere, editor of Truth, placed a £1,000 note inside an envelope, sealed it, and offered the contents to any medium or clairvoyant who could read the number on the note. No one ever read it. Some of our readers will remember a notorious case in 1901, one of the filthiest that ever disgusted a judge and jury, where one of the leading defendants was known in her ”Theocratic” circle as “The Swami.” This angelic creature, who received seven years’ penal servitude for ”aiding and abetting the commission of rape,” had previously been a Spiritist medium in America, where she had been convicted of attempting to defraud a Mr. Marsh out of certain property by means of messages from the ”Spirits.” Mr. Marsh believed in it, but some of his relatives—no doubt ”gross materialists“—brought Ann Diss Debar (as she was then known) into court. She was not the only one they brought. They created a sensation by suddenly bringing into court the celebrated conjurer, the late Carl Hertz, who, in broad daylight and not two feet away from Mr. Marsh, produced messages just as the medium had done. Miss Debar, when she saw what was coming, snatched the tablet away from Hertz in the middle of the performance, but, to her amazement, Hertz got the message through in spite of her trick. Then he showed the court ” how it was done.” The full details will be found in Houdini’s interesting volume, A Magician Among the Spirits (pages 74-75, etc.).

A wealthy Spiritist named Leybert left a sum of money to Pennsylvania University for the purpose, among other things, of investigating the claims of mediums. The notorious Slade, who had previously been exposed in London by Sir E. Ray Lankester and Sir Bryan Donkin, gave a séance of spirit writing on slates. Mr. Kellars, the conjurer, duplicated every trick of Slade’s, and then showed how it was done.

In London in 1919 a séance was held under the auspices of the Sunday Express, where a “Masked Lady” gave a performance that Conan Doyle described as “most successful and convincing,” and as a “clear proof of clairvoyance.” Yet the whole thing was a conjuring trick, as was admitted almost immediately after by the man who arranged the show, Mr. Selbit. Mr. Stuart Cumberland, who was present, has given a full description in Chapter VII. of his Spiritualism. The Inside Truth.

But what in many ways is perhaps the most interesting case of all is to be found where Isabel Kingsley never looks—the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. The “great” medium Eglinton had been giving spirit messages on slates similar to Slade. Dr. Hodgson arranged with a young conjurer named S. J. Davey to give a set of séances duplicating Eglinton’s “phenomena.” Certain Spiritists who had seen Eglinton were invited to attend and give a written record of what they saw. They all agreed that the séances were duplicates of Eglinton’s, and all genuine. When the trick was announced the Spiritists claimed that Davey was really a medium who would not admit the fact !

Isabel Kingsley’s last remark on Oliver Lodge being convinced by “subjective” phenomena, while, as usual, contrary to the facts, shows the danger people run who use terms they do not understand. Used in this connection her statement is idiotic nonsense.
Jack Fitzgerald.

In view of Miss Isabel Kingsley’s failure to give evidence and authority for her assertions and claims, we do not feel that any useful purpose would be served by allowing more space for the repetition of these assertions.Editorial Committee.

It pays to subsidize. (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Playing fields for the nation’s children. Pardon—the workers’ children. Now that’s sensible and benevolent, and costly, too—a million pounds, think of it. Surely our hard-faced masters must have repented, surely the land of Hope and Glory is about to materialise. It has been said of the Socialists that they are very distrustful men and women. They seem to have cultivated the method of the eternal why and wherefore. Yes, it does invariably happen that when highest hopes are raised, that here at last is “somebody that will do something,” that they search and supply the why and wherefore from their opponents’ own statement. How annoying. Hope deferred again. We are to have playing fields because :—
“No surer antidote to Bolshevism and discontent could be prescribed than a proper provision of playing fields for the Nation. . . . Games are cheaper than ill-health ; money spent on sport means money saved in hospitals. It may also mean money saved in the elimination of industrial disputes, and the hundred and one distractions which beset a C3 nation” (“Saturday Review,” June 4, 1927).
In vulgar parlance, it is money for jam. We do not object, of course, to the capitalists giving the workers’ children part of “our” country for open spaces for healthy recreation, it becomes to them a necessity owing to the growth of industrial centres, it is as necessary, as was at one time, giving the workers education, or the vote. On their own showing it is the cheapest method for them, and even that at the eighth of the cost of a single day’s war. There’s benevolence for you ! Despite all the reforms and the boasted benefits of civilisation, they cannot prevent the spread of conscious restlessness. Sanitation, trams, electricity, sports, cinemas, all fail to avert seething discontent. Wants and desires of the workers will continue to grow as a result of their increasing knowledge that they prepare for others a sumptuous feast, at which they are the locked out social outcasts.
W. E. MacHaffie

A man of God and his “Economics.” (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism must be getting in a bad way when the bogey man from the cloud department has to lend a hand in the political dope business. Between saving souls and saving capitalism, first things must be first. After the professional politician the “Fool for the Family”.

In the Evening Standard (June 22nd, 1927), the Very Reverend Dean Inge, of St. Paul’s, asks, “What is Socialism?” Under this heading he splutters about as much nonsense as will condense into two columns. In order to “mug” himself up a bit upon the “thing,” he goes to the anti-Socialists, Dr. Shadwell, Ramsay MacDonald, and F. R. Salter, for information. He learns that Plato and Jack Jones, Sir Thomas More and Tom Mann, were Socialists. In order also that he may show how Marx’s theories have been “ludicrously falsified,” he solemnly informs you that Marx “was a fierce looking man with glittering eyes and a bushy beard.” Whether he ate food or walked upright we are not told. According to the Dean, one of the falsified theories is that of the concentration of capital, with the consequently growing antagonism between workers and capitalists as distinct classes. Proof number one is that ”no more large private houses are built.” How that helps the case after the workers have built the drab and monotonous streets and tenements for themselves, as well as the “large private houses” for their masters, heaven only knows ! Proof number two is that “We can no longer distinguish classes by their clothes.” No longer ! As Socialists we never did, any more than by their faces or their feet. We do, and so can anyone, distinguish classes by the manner in which they live, as buyers or sellers of wealth producing energy. That method gives us the only two classes, the capitalists and the workers. Then we have the well-worn story of the increase of small capitalists. That this is disproved from even the masters’ own business publications we showed in the July Socialist Standard. The Very Reverend Dean being somewhat of an amateur in the game of politics, neatly floors himself in one sentence, thus :— “There has been concentration of management, but this is a very different thing from concentration of capital.” Is it? Will he or anyone tell us how, say, twenty competing concerns can concentrate management without unifying their capitals? Are drapery, tobacco, soap, and other trusts, formed for social intercourse, or more economical working? Does not more economical working mean fewer workers required ? Did not the amalgamation of the railways mean more traffic carried with 50,000 fewer railwaymen? (See Socialist Standard, December 1923.)

This applies to every large industry. Marx wrote years ago that “Capitalism begets monopoly.” Was he correct, or is the Dean? Substituting Hegel’s Idealism by Historical Materialism, as Marx did, is considered by this would-be scholar a “trifling” change. Such profound learning can dismiss the corner stone of Socialist economic theory in seventeen words and not one piece of argument. This is how it is done :—”Nothing is now left of the Marxian theory of value. Political economy has finally disposed of it.” That’s all. “It is greatly to his credit, for he himself hath said it.” We ask what other theory explains the value of the mass of commodities that are all sold before they are used? What economist, past or present, has shown a flaw in “Value, Price and Profit”? We defy the Dean to show one. All we get in the way of argument is that “Marx was a poor economist, he was a poor philosopher …. he is the apostle of class hatred, the founder of a satanic anti-religion.” Could a poor village idiot without opportunities of learning make a weaker defence of the system that pampers this capitalist divine? According to his reasoning there would have been no circulation of the blood if Harvey had died a boy, no war if the Kaiser had not lived, no bitter class struggle between the masters and the modern slaves, the workers, if Marx had never analysed capitalist society and shown its cause. Every criticism ever levelled against Marx’s theories was met in the work “Capital,” where he expounded them. There even the mental decadents of a tottering system are placed in their intellectual category.

Let the Gloomy Dean take his place with capital’s great men, the alkali sweaters, the soap boilers, and the Rothschilds. His criticism appears that of a mental pigmy against the work of a scientific thinker who so well rated the puny efforts of their type to stem the tide of revolution when he wrote :—
“On the level, plain simple mounds look like hills; and the imbecile flatness of the present bourgeoisie is to be measured by the altitude of its great intellects” (“Capital,” Vol. I, p. 527)
W. E. MacHaffie

I.L.P. (1927)

From the August 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
“The I.L.P. programme does not enthuse me. It is neither Socialism, nor even a colourable imitation of it.” (Philip Snowden, Reynolds, 24/4/27.)
Philip, who for 6 years was Chairman of the I.L.P., ought to know. We have said similar things of both the I.L.P. and their Parliamentary Body, the Labour Party, for years. Perhaps for those who are unable at present to reason from evidence the advent of the Labour Party to office with power, will bring practical proof that both they and the I.L.P. are anti-Working-Class Parties. Workers who care to study the matter now need not wait wearily for disillusionment.
W. E. MacHaffie