Monday, May 30, 2022

After Darwin (1998)

Theatre Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

After Darwin by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Hampstead Theatre.

Timberlake Wertenbaker, perhaps best known for her inspirational play about the transportation of prisoners to Australia, Our Country’s Good, now offers After Darwin, another drama set mainly in the 19th century. I say “mainly” because Wertenbaker both follows Darwin’s famous voyage on the Beagle—noting the cataclysmic effects of his discoveries on the ship’s captain, FitzRoy, a man of absolute religious conviction—and she also offers these insights as scenes from a play which we see in rehearsal in contemporary Britain.

The play abounds in irony and paradox. FitzRoy is scrupulous in his precise, scientific observations, but cannot accept the validity of Darwin’s observations and inferences, because they undermine the basis of his belief in God. Later, however, he was to become one of the founding fathers of the modern science of meteorology. And he it was who named those familiar weather zones around Britain: Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, etc. By comparison Darwin’s own observations are often short on facts and full of value judgments. Moreover, when faced with evidence pointing to the evolution of species he is careful not to place himself in an exposed, heretical position. Rather he uses the discoveries of other scientists as props and supports. FitzRoy, who is clear that the nature of human kind has been fixed immutably by God, nevertheless believes that the “poor wretches” he finds in distant parts of South America, are capable of infinite adaptability. The Beagle carries sets of exotic cutlery, embroidered antimacassars, copies of novels of Jane Austen, etc, which will be used in an attempt to resocialise the natives. Darwin is hot on the fight against slavery, but indifferent to the native people he confronts seeing them as “abject, filthy and ugly”. When reminded by FitzRoy that they are human beings, Darwin retorts, “I feel closer to these beetles.”

The actor we see playing Darwin turns out to be a disingenuous, feckless rogue, whose behaviour nicely demonstrates the absurdity, not to mention the dangers, of social behaviour which is underpinned by the idea of “the survival of the fittest”. He wishes to abandon the play in favour of appearing in a film of stupendous crassness. He claims he is thus “adapting to his environment” the better to survive. On the other hand the actor playing FitzRoy chooses to be principled, loyal and dependable.

Does Timberlake wish us to take any lessons from this? It is difficult to know. But whatever her intentions by setting the drama as a contemporary play in rehearsal, she leaves the audience wondering about the consequences of applying ideas which seem to have considerable power when explaining the origin of species, as providing a relevant model for social behaviour.

I enjoyed the evening. It is rarely that a play entertains and informs, stimulates and amuses, and leaves its audience with so much to think and talk about later. But I have a cavil, and it is a substantial one.

I can see the attraction of Wertenbaker’s format, especially to a dramatist. Using a rehearsal room performance to inspect both the subject of a drama and the actors’ reaction to it, is an imaginative idea. But if the intention is to look seriously at the world “after Darwin”, perhaps more time needs to be spent looking at the impact of the theory of evolution. What about social engineering, eugenics, the tendency to see human society as a biological system, and to use imperatives derived from the natural sciences to explain social behaviour? Habermas and Marcuse have been keen to point out the dangers of using “scientism” to bolster the ideological basis of capitalism; to reduce matters which properly lie in the province of values, to the merely technical. I would argue that such things are much more central to the world “after Darwin” that those which Wertenbaker seeks to discuss. Wertenbaker’s analysis, enjoyable though it is, is sadly both insufficient and incomplete.
Michael Gill

Letter: Media Manipulation (1998)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Media Manipulation

Dear Editors,

I want this letter published because I believe my voice is not being heard. I want my voice heard because there is nothing so frustrating as not being given a chance to speak.

My subject is this: Princess Diana. Old hat? Maybe. At the time of writing, it has been a year since she died, and by the time you get round to this, it will probably be long gone, but I need to speak.

I was inspired to speak by a radio phone-in on Radio One about Princess Diana and death in general-asking opinions, that kind of thing. I tried to call with my opinions but my efforts proved fruitless. I listened to the calls that were aired. They were all grieving citizens, shocked and saddened by her death, feeling they had lost someone special to them.

All I wanted to say was this: I was surprised when I heard the news, as it is not the kind of thing one expects to happen. But Princess Diana was such a tiny, incidental part of my life—a mere face in the background—that in (literally) a matter of minutes (I can’t really remember how many), I had consigned Diana to the same mental file that held such people as Kurt Cobain—dead people who have had virtually no impact on my life. In other words, my life went on as per usual—in my mind and in what I did.

Then they called off the Top 40 out of respect. It may sound cruel, but this made me angry. Are my interests not as important as the media’s? Someone who I don’t know, never have known and have never been connected to in any way is dead so I have to put my little bit of Sunday pleasure on hold?

Loads of people who I don’t know die all the time. While I write this, while you read this, while you do anything. Millions of people die in their mid-thirties. Millions of people die in agonisingly gory road accidents. So? Would you, or I, or anyone give a flying one about these people if we only barely knew them from a few pictures and stuff someone else has told you. Yeah, you might think “Oh, dear, what an awful shame”, but you wouldn’t cry and send thousands of presents-it’s none of your business. So why does it matter if this person’s rich or royal?

The socialist follow-on from this argument was inevitable. The first socialist point is the money/royal thing of course. The implication from the outpouring of grief is that royal, rich, famous people are all far more worthy of mass mourning than people who are “normal”—if such a thing exists. The logical conclusion is that royal, rich, famous people deserve better treatment in all aspects of life than other people, people who are moderate in money and quiet of life.

I think this media hype about the royals is getting ordinary Joes to view the royal family as demi-gods because of their status. They are the ruling class and if the working class is brainwashed by the media into hero worshipping the rich and famous, they will believe that with them in charge everything’s great and so no need for any kind of change.

The second socialist point is that all the callers to the aforementioned phone-in were Di fans. One man likened her death to losing a sister. Several of them said it had changed the world for the better-since people had become more socially aware and eager for Diana’s charity work to be continued. (The world getting better? The word “bollocks” springs to mind.)

My point is that there were no indifferent people. There were no anti-royals. Where are they? Surely some must exist. I saw “Diana-the mourning after” on Channel 4 and there I saw people who thought how I did. Where were those people?

The first possibility is that people were put off from phoning with those kind of views because they thought they wouldn’t be listened to. This is an example of how people can be forced to give up through the use (by others) of the powerful capitalist weapon of “not taking any notice”. They try, try, try and fail, fail, fail. Not everyone is strong enough to continue.

The second idea is that people got through to a researcher, said what they intended to say on air and were “refused access”. The calls were screened. They don’t want those kinds of nasty views dirtying up the airwaves. This is censorship, which only promotes one image of Britain. The world as we know it. Thus, the media can convince people they are alone in feeling like this. No-one wants to be alone, so they conform because they are scared of being noticed or hated or whatever may happen if you stand out. People will be convinced also that it is wrong to be different. This is probably because lone people and titchy other radical groups cannot be controlled with the great mass and so present a terrible inconvenience. Being different and alone is therefore wrong. People must conform. This worry about if you are weird stops you from worrying if the system is weird. Plus they can make you buy things to make you look less weird! Profits up!
Celia Gardner , 
St. Austell, Cornwall

We hope you like the article “Digging up the dead” in our September issue.

Electronic democracy (1998)

Pamphlet Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Autonarchy, the Ultimate Democracy. By Akiva Orr. Pamphlet can be downloaded from: http://www/

Autonarchy, a word coined by Orr himself, means literally “self-rule” which in his view can be achieved by instituting what he calls “Magnetic Card Direct Democracy”. Every citizen would have a magnetic card and their own PIN number and all telephones, public as well as private, would be equipped with a device to read these cards. This would enable people to register their votes, which could be counted almost instanteously, on any policy issue put before them (Orr in fact argues that all policy decisions should be made in this way). Questions requiring a policy decision would be drawn up as a range of options by experts in the particular field concerned or proposed by a minimum number of citizens. A special TV channel would be devoted to discussing the pros and cons of the various proposals for policy decision which citizens could look at before deciding which way to vote.

Orr adds some other refinements but the basic idea is clear. Modern communications technology has opened up the possibility for mass participation in decision-making:
“The revolutionary changes in communications technology make it possible, for the first time in history, to sum up millions of decisions taken far apart into a single total in seconds and to display this continuously on millions of TV screens. Political decision-making by millions of people is now possible”.
This is undoubtedly true and some socialists have suggested that it could be used extensively in socialism. Certainly, socialism would be the best framework for such an “electronic democracy” and no doubt this will be incorporated into the democratic decision-making procedures which will be a feature of socialism. Whether people will want to go as far as Orr appears to and have “magnetic card direct democracy” as the only such procedure appears more doubtful as “indirect” elected delegate democracy also has its advantages. Not all decisions can be reduced to a simple “yes-or-no” question, nor can people spend all their time voting.

Orr puts forward his proposal as a move “beyond capitalism, socialism, anarchism”. While he understands the drawbacks of capitalism and anarchism well enough, he misunderstands socialism as “state ownership and rule by a socialist party”. This is not what we would recognise as socialism but is rather state capitalism.
Adam Buick

All academic (1998)

Book Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Economic Cycles by Solomos Solomou, Manchester University Press, 1998. £10.99

What should be a fascinating book about capitalism’s enigmatic trade cycle is marred by the academic pretentiousness of the author. How could it be otherwise with a writer whose egocentricity extends to the point whereby the citations for his own works on economic cycles are greater in number than those for Marx, Keynes, Schumpeter, Kondratieff and Kuznets added together? That this book is part of Manchester University Press’s Insights From Economic History series makes this all the more remarkable and fantastic.

Solomou’s own particular insight into the boom-slump economy is that “the idea that business cycles can come to an end seems naive. Today we realise that economic fluctuations are part of economic life. Moreover, as we have a better understanding of concepts of equilibrium in economics, it is clear that the path of business cycles is not predictable”. Quite an “insight” indeed, only 150 years or so after Marx first said just about the same thing!

Students of the business cycle and of economic history would, frankly, be far better off reading some of the original texts of the various business cycle theorists, or, at the very least, some of the serious works written about them and their analyses. They would be better off too with a spread of the more intelligible contemporary accounts rendered by authors like Galbraith, Kindleberger and Beckman than with this scramble of convoluted academic-ese. They should also remember that while the precise course of the boom-slump cycle of capitalism is notoriously unpredictable, this does not mean that there are no observable tendencies about the development of capitalism at all, or for that matter, that the trade cycle and its devastating impact on human lives will be with us for evermore. The trade cycle can be abolished once and for all when the working class consciously organises to abolish trade, money, prices and profits altogether.
Dave Perrin

Buddhism—a big zero (1998)

Book Review from the October 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Compassionate Revolution: Radical Politics and Buddhism by David Edwards, Green Books, 228 pages, £9.99.

It is well worth reading this book, or at least around two-thirds of it. Much of Edwards’s work revolves around an incisive analysis of US foreign policy and the nature and operation of the media industry.

The sheer scale of what successive American governments have done to further the “national interest” (i.e. the creation of market-friendly world conditions overseen by effective client states) is exposed at some length. From the installation by military coups and coercion of murderous regimes throughout the South and Central Americas, to the subsequent official training and funding of the state death squads of those regimes, to the more indirect support given to other “friendly nations” (Algeria, Indonesia etc) who maintain conditions favourable to US capital through mass murder; the whole story of America’s fight for “democracy and freedom” is shown in all its bloody reality. Indeed, if you were so inclined, you could write a whole new chapter on it every month of every year. You could include the headings “Panama” and “Somalia”, two other parts of Planet Capitalism where the World’s Copper has recently been to restore Law and Order. In both, atrocious destruction and loss of civilian life was the result. However, for public consumption these onslaughts were labelled “removing dictatorship” (installed, incidentally, by the US) and “peace-keeping”—labelled and packaged for the proles by the media, that is.

Which brings us to Edwards’s analysis of the role of the media, which he credits largely to Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model. Essentially, hideous acts of state terrorism are generally presented as noble quests for justice, not because of some conspiracy or official state censorship, but because of the basic operation of capitalism. It’s all about money after all: the ruthless securing of markets, trade routes, raw materials to make the world safe for the profit system-and the media (as it is vaguely termed) is part of that system. Edwards puts it well:
“The modern mass media is not, as some . . . like to remark, controlled by corporations; it is corporations. Businesses do not control the car industry; the car industry is big business. Likewise, the media is made up of large corporations, all in the business of maximising profits . . . This immediately suggests that, at the very least, media corporations might have a tendency to be sympathetic to the status quo, to other corporations, and to the profit-maximising motive of the corporate system . . .” (p.62).
Far from some Orwellian vision of state control ITN, the Guardian, and pals are voluntarily “on message” because this is in the long-term interest of their product. Although the odd “exposé” of “scandals” is acceptable (the cleaning up of the system’s image can only make it more secure after all), an attack on the foundations of their system is unimaginable. As Edwards puts it, the media operates in such a way as to ensure that “something remains ‘missing in the middle'”. By their very nature media corporations could hardly provide their consumers with the missing analysis that links corporations and western governments with massacres in Guatemala and starving children.

Sad to say that after an approach such as this the final third of Edwards’s book is so infuriating. The contrast actually seems disconcertingly odd, but then this reviewer is a socialist. I will restrain myself from actual anger if only because Edwards informs us that the “real enemy . . . is anger itself”. Earlier he identifies problems, such as the rape of Latin America, and their cause: capitalism. His conclusion, though, is not the abolition of that system; and therefore the book’s title is misleading. Edwards counsels that we, as individuals, practice compassion and meditation in the Buddhist tradition. Rather than urging us to relieve the capitalist class of their power to oppress and destroy us he advises us to pity and nurture them, because then they will surely stop their anti-human activities.

To summarise, he argues that “rich and poor are united by suffering” and that if the rich became a bit kinder by way of the individual promotion of “compassion for . . . both rich and poor”, then our problems would just melt away.

So what has Buddhism got to do with revolution? Nothing at all apparently, as Edwards sees nothing wrong with the rule of a parasitic elite, just as long as they are nice about it, and the approach he suggests can only lead to the continuation of the abusive system he has previously bemoaned. Compassion for the bosses? This book itself contains enough reasons why we should give the lot of them the boot immediately.
Ben Malcolm

News in Review: The Budget (1967)

The News in Review column from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Budget

Callaghan's 1967 Budget, for the man in the street whose fortune is supposed to be involved in it, was nothing more than a bore. Very few people seemed to be aware that April 11 was Budget Day; even fewer seemed to care.

The reason for the apathy was that nobody expected any great changes in taxation; the financial pundits had almost unanimously forecast what is called a standstill Budget, although there were the usual pleas for some sections of the population (somebody seems to have suddenly discovered that there are actually people living in dire poverty) and for some regions of the country (it seems suddenly to have become obvious in certain quarters that unemployment is not a thing of the past).

Callaghan, apparently, agreed with the experts. "Steady as she goes" was his epithet for the Budget and that was the most newsworthy thing about it. (Although one banker called it the Puppet On A String Budget)

Budget day is always the time for the airing of two delusions. The first is that a Chancellor of the Exchequer, by using Bank Rate or any of the other financial measures at his disposal, can exert an exact and sensitive control over the economy.

In truth, capitalism is quite uncontrollable—as many Chancellors have found to their cost. Callaghan was not the first Labour leader to apply nautical terms to a financial situation; last July Wilson, admitting that things were out of control, said that the economy had been "blown off course."

The second delusion is that changes in taxation have some significant effect on working class conditions. The most that any Budget can do to a worker is for a time to alter his take home pay, up or down, by a few shillings.

In the long run a worker gets paid what it takes to keep him. That is a fact of capitalism and, like its economic anarchy, is something which no Chancellor can change.

Our Boys in Aden

What are British troops doing in Aden, apart from putting the boot in and expressing a willingness to accept a massive punch-up?

The newspapers tell us they are keeping the peace, which avoids the question of why the peace is threatened.

Aden was annexed (a diplomat's word for stolen) by Britain in 1839, and used as a base to guard the trade route to India. (It is still the only fortified point between Egypt and Bombay).

When the British left India in 1948 it could have been the end of their interest in Aden, had it not been for the rich oil fields which had been discovered in the Middle East

Aden now stands guard on the Persian Gulf, where two-thirds of the oil resources of Western capitalism lie. Britain gets more than half its oil from the countries around the Persian Gulf and British oil companies own about one third of the Gulf's production.

It is to protect these interests that Our Boys in Aden are being killed—and are themselves doing a bit of killing. Sir William Luce, who was Governor of Aden 1959-60, made it clear in an article in the Daily Telegraph on April 12 last:
We did not undertake the “policing” of the Gulf for some vague, altruistic purpose; we went there, and have remained there, because it has suited us to do so.”
By “we” and “us” Sir William is really talking about the East India Company in the old days and the oil companies today. These are the interests which need working class bodies to protect them, interests which are threatened today by claims from Persia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and by the opposing Aden nationalists.

British capitalism’s only hope is to stay in Aden until some sort of order has been imposed in this conflict. A withdrawal now could well plunge the place into a Congo-like war, with serious results for the oilmen of the Persian Gulf.

So it looks as if Our Boys in Aden will have to carry on keeping the peace for a while, even if they have to kill half the population to do it

The Bristol Affair

Bristol Siddeley Motors’ excess profits on aero-engine overhaul—they had to pay back the government £3.9m.—is but one example of what goes on in capitalism. Recent years have also seen the Ferranti affair and the collapse of various insurance companies. But what effect do such commercial malpractices have on the working class as a whole? Well-meaning political reformers see this as a moral issue in which the community is harmed by loop-holes in the law and by administrative shortcomings which a minority exploit to line their pockets. The fog of moral indignation raised serves to obscure some very important points as far as the profit-making of capitalism is concerned. In the long run profits are not made by charging excessive prices or by milking the funds of companies. These are exceptional cases and fail to explain the source of the profit gained by the bulk of industrial and commercial enterprises. To find the answer production itself must be examined.

The people who do the work of producing and distributing goods and services do so for a wage or salary. However many sources of cheating are blocked off, and however much money is recovered by the government, wages will not be affected. These are normally raised by workers organising in unions to press for more. Employers, of course, are organised to resist these demands and to press their own for greater productivity or pay cuts as conditions demand.

Workers’ pay is part of the capital invested in production and is not their share of the product (which belongs in whole to the employer). Wages amount on the average to the sum of the things required to maintain workers and their families as healthy and efficient workers. As a class workers produce more than is needed to keep them and it is from this surplus that the employing class get their incomes. This comes to them in various forms such as rent, interest and profit and also provides the source of the funds which are needed by the government to finance their collective requirements such as armaments and the education, health and welfare of their workers.

So when arms contractors make more than the accepted rate of profit, it is a hindrance to the whole of the capitalist class in any country. The Bristol affair is but one of the sectional quarrels of capitalism in which all are striving for the maximum advantage. The government may be quite competent to deal with Bristol Siddeley but cannot hope to touch the greater question of the exploitation of the working class which is the norm of capitalism, with or without the swindles.

Soviet Capitalism: Bonds (1967)

From the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

State bonds are a feature of capitalism which the Bolsheviks inherited from the Tsarist regime. A few details show to what an extent the Imperial government relied on this method for obtaining revenue. For example, in just five years (between 1909-1913) 4,100 million roubles were raised by issuing these stocks and, during the same period, 4,040 million roubles were needed for interest and redemption payments on loans which had been floated previously. When the Bolsheviks seized power they took advantage of the change in government and refused to recognise the pre-revolutionary foreign and internal loans. This was a logical step because by then many of the rich bond-holders were living abroad, exiled enemies of Russian state capitalism.

As soon as the chaotic conditions of the Civil War started to settle, the Bolsheviks set about floating new loans. Thus, between 1922-25 bonds were issued which brought 396 million roubles into the state budget — this being 7.5 per cent of all government revenue. This was followed, in the years of forced industrialisation under Stalin, by a succession of state loans. The bonds carried interest rates which the wealthy found it difficult to resist and Russia was dubbed, by the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain, the “land of high profits”.

By the time of the Third Five-Year Plan, the capital being invested in the loans was dwarfing the figures of Tsarist days. Thus, between 1938-41, four state loans were floated, bringing in a total of about 3,400 million roubles. In the war years revenue from the sale of state bonds was as follows:

Investment came from three principal sources. First, there were the state industries — the banks, insurance companies and so on —which made use of their vast reserves. Thus, figures in the government budgets for 1941-44 show that more than 580 million roubles were obtained from the insurance business, a large percentage in the form of subscriptions to state loans. Secondly, individuals from the ruling class were eager to sink their capital in state bonds, which guaranteed a steady return in interest payments. As a random example, we can mention Vladimir Stefanov — a priest of the Moscow Church of the Assumption — who, recognising that war is good business, invested 73,000 roubles in the Defence Fund during World War II. That this was no exceptional case was made clear by R. Bishop in his pamphlet Soviet Millionaires, issued by the Russia Today Society in 1943. He presented figures which showed that in one state of the USSR alone (Kazakstan) at least eighteen individuals had invested a million roubles or more. Bishop attempted to justify this with the incredibly weak comment that “in the Soviet Union the millionaire has acquired his roubles by his own toil and by service to the Soviet State and people.” A few years later T. Cliff was very neatly to smash that lame argument, as follows.
If we examine this statement we find that, as late as 1940, the average annual income of workers and employees being only 4.000 roubles, to collect a million roubles would have taken an average worker 250 years — provided he spent no money on himself at all. The Soviet millionaire gets, in interest alone, 50,000 roubles for every million, which is many times more than the income of any worker. (Russia: A Marxist Analysis—T. Cliff).
The third source was from the working class. There were mass-subscription loans, described as “semi-voluntary” — which meant that workers “bought” their bonds by means of compulsory stoppages from their wages. In the factories and offices, it was the branches of the state-controlled trade unions which were responsible for seeing that their members contributed. These loans were organised on a lottery basis — something like British premium bonds — and the prizes represented at first 4 per cent then 3 per cent and finally 2 per cent of the total sum subscribed. This compared unfavourably with the interest-bearing loans which at times carried rates of up to 11 per cent.

In the decade following the Second World War the issue of bonds went on unabated. During the Fourth Five-Year Plan the state loans brought in almost 11,700 million roubles and the comparable figure for the Fifth Five-Year Plan was 13,600 million roubles. As Khrushchev explained, at several public meetings in early 1957, the state debt had reached 26,000 million roubles, while interest and redemption payments were in the region of 2,900 million roubles annually. This situation led to a drastic reversal of government policy. The central committee of the Communist Party decided to discontinue, from 1958 onwards, the floating of further compulsory loans aimed at the working class. At the same time it suspended lottery-prize drawings on the already existing, mass-subscription bonds and, in addition,, repayment on these was postponed for a period of twenty years or more. It should be emphasized, however, that the sale of bonds to wealthy individuals on a voluntary basis was not discontinued; neither were the interest payments on these stocks defaulted on. (See The Soviet Economy— A. Nove. 1965. p. 107).

The latest figures available show that the issue of state bonds is still running at well over a thousand million roubles each year.

Investment today comes mainly from the banks — as before — and also from members of the ruling class, who can die with the comfortable assurance that their bonds are free from inheritance tax. On the other hand, the individual Russian worker, like wage-earners everywhere, is not in a position to invest. His wages are barely sufficient to keep him in working order from week to week, and from generation to generation. The most he can aspire to is buying a few premium bonds and then hoping against hope that he will land one of the big prizes. It is his function to produce the surplus value from which interest is derived, not to share its distribution.

It was Professor Allakhverdyan of the Moscow Financial Institute who was responsible for the pathetic remark that “the loans floated by socialist states express the new economic relationships . . " Any thinking worker can see that the very fact that interest-bearing bonds exist in Soviet Russia is plain evidence of capitalism in that country. They are one of the mechanisms by which the ruling class gets its hands on the surplus value extracted from working men and women.
John Crump

The Memoirs of a Dutiful Follower (1967)

Book Review from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

This book. Post-war Years; Vol VI of Men, Years—Life (MacGibbon and Kee, 45s.), has not been an easy one to review for a special reason. It is one of those rare autobiographies written by one who has spent his life under a dictatorship—where he still remains. The reviewer, reaching for the knife, must always in fairness keep asking himself the question: “How would I myself have acted if I had had to live my life under the heel of a Stalin?” And having answered that as best he may, he must then also wonder how free the author was to tell his story even under the milder tyranny of Stalin’s successors. The fact that only recently two Russian authors, Sinyavsky and Daniel, have been condemned to harsh sentences in labour camps for writings that would have been regarded as mild criticisms and certainly permissible in any country with the slightest pretensions to freedom or democracy, tells its own tale.

Equally, one must not fall into the trap of leaning over so far backwards that one can write anything as stupidly naive as the dear old Guardian whose reviewer (quoted on the dust jacket) says we should be “grateful to find such courage and moral purpose in so readable a form.” Whatever else one can accuse Ehrenburg of, courage and moral purpose must clearly be left out of the indictment. The whole book, interesting and even fascinating though it is in parts for its insight into some of the darker chapters of Russian history, is the opposite of courage; it is the apologia of one who has succeeded in living through decades of Red Terror when his friends and colleagues were being slaughtered. His only “defence” (like that of Sieyès after the Terror in the French Revolution) amounts to nothing more than “I survived”.

There are not really any lessons to be gleamed from the book that were not, at least in substance, if not in detail, already known. But the detail can still be illuminating. For example, how often were we told in the Stalin era that one facet alone proved that Stalinism could never be as bad as Hitlerism, namely the respective attitudes to anti-semitism? Well, it is doubtless true that Hitler was unique in his “final solution” of the Jewish question—as six million corpses in the gas chambers will testify. But even apart from Stalin’s own exercises against whole peoples like the Crimean Tartars and the Volga Germans (there is no evidence in this book that Ehrenberg was at all concerned with such trivia), the sustained persecution against Jews which is given great prominence throughout the story shows that even this alleged mark of superiority of the Russian regime was spurious. All the talk about the Russian Constitutions guaranteeing freedom from persecution was, as was obvious at the time—just talk.

Ehrenburg goes out of his way to give prominence to the fate of a leading Jewish intellectual called Mikhoels who was apparently a close friend. This man was used by Stalin during the war to go on deputations of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to England and America where they raised huge sums of money from Jews and others for aid to Russia. After the war, he like so many others, was butchered in one of Stalin’s purges. The author found this all very sad. At the same time he tells us about his visit to (of all places) Sheffield for one of the endless series of so-called Peace Conferences about which he goes on at great length throughout the book. What he forgets to mention is that whilst there he was closely questioned by reporters from the English Jewish press about the fate of Mikhoels and other prominent Jews. Ehrenburg told them he knew nothing but would make enquiries when he got back to Russia and let them know. Of course he never did let them know. Nor did he make enquiries; it is clear from the book that he was lying in Sheffield; he knew quite well what was going on. Perhaps we should make excuses for him. He did not dare to say what he knew. But what about now, when Stalin has been dead for over a decade? The reticence on every page of this book makes it quite clear that he is still afraid to say what he knows. What a reflection of this alleged Socialist society, this workers’ paradise fifty years after the revolution! And why does Ehrenburg bother to write his memoirs at all if he is unable to tell the truth? Better silence than lies. But then, a regard for truth has never been a virtue of the Communists.

As mentioned above, the book is very largely taken up with accounts of the “Peace” Conference that the Communists were running in countries all over the world in the decade after the end of the war. They were of course a gigantic fraud having nothing whatever to do with peace and everything to do with acting as a propaganda front for the foreign policy of Russia in the worst days of the Cold War. It is just possible that people like Ehrenburg really imagined they were achieving something for peace in their constant travels around the globe (he seems to have visited practically every country you can think of); there is not the slightest sign that this so-called Communist intellectual ever stopped to think that perhaps the competitive jungle known as capitalism in the west, which was just as much capitalism in Russia, produced wars as surely as a hen lays eggs. So that no amount of peace conferences which left the social system unchanged could possibly have any effect.

Still, it at least enabled Ehrenburg to enjoy his globe trotting and meet “intellectuals” (ill-defined creatures, to be sure) of his own ilk. And the book is full of stories about these famous friends he made — Picasso, Matisse, Einstein, Casals, Joliot-Curie et al, ad nauseam. It was, of course, one of the “peace” movements aims to enrol these famous names whose influence in their respective countries would serve such a useful propaganda purpose for the policies of Russia. It is indeed pathetic to see how such gifted individuals would allow themselves to be used in this shameful way. The truth is, of course, that they have no more notion of the workings of capitalism and of what Socialism is really about than the mass of workers in England or Russia or anywhere else. Or than Ilya Ehrenburg, if the evidence of this book is anything to go by. But they are pretty vain creatures and were easy meat for Communist flattery and liked to be regarded as princes of peace as they sat on platforms in front of admiring audiences of thousands of working-class dupes. And of course this game goes on still and people still pay regard to the views of such as Bertrand Russell (who wanted to drop an atom bomb on Moscow in 1947) or (believe it or not) Vanessa Redgrave. And although a lot of these people are like children (Einstein, it seems, persuaded Roosevelt to make the atom bomb but never thought it would be used), some of them must (or at least should) have realised what was what. For example, we are told here that when Matisse was told that the Russian people were forbidden to see his paintings which were hidden away in cellars he just laughed. Perhaps it is funny that the regime you support, and which wants you for your works, regards those works as unfit for human consumption. It is less funny to know that artists like Matisse but, unlike him in living in the west in freedom and wealth, were hounded in Russia and even executed like Mikhoels and his friends.

But of course the real trouble with Ehrenburg, as with so many others both in Russia and the west, is that he never seems to question the basis of his creed. In 1918 the Socialist Standard made it clear that whatever else Lenin and his Bolsheviks might achieve Socialism (or Communism — they are synonymous terms) was out. A dictatorship of a so-called Communist Party was fastened on the necks of the Russian people so that the workers there have been exploited under a tyrannical system of state capitalism. Ehrenburg talks, with every appearance of sincerity, of “the Soviet people, whose concepts I cherish”. It never occurs to him to ask himself: what people? what concepts? '

All we have now is the rule of a minority group who exploit the Russian workers for their own benefit and that of their hangers-on like Ehrenburg. The time has still to come when the workers of Russia, like those of England or America or China, will show that they indeed have a concept of what the world could be like under a free system of society where the means of life will really be owned in common. The fact that the emancipation of the working class of the world is still to come is the fault of the workers themselves. But the Ehrenburgs of the world have a lot to answer for. It might be as well to conclude with a mention of a quotation from another work of this author taken from our companion paper the Western Socialist a year or two ago in which he urged the Russian soldiers to “kill, kill, kill, my brave Red Armyists” and “break the power of the German women” — a brutal incitement to slaughter of the civilian men of Berlin and the rape of their womenfolk. A not untypical contribution to international working-class solidarity from a self-styled Communist intellectual. Needless to say, none of the reviewers in the posh papers, A. J. P. Taylor and all, seem to have been aware of this side of the picture.
A. P.

London's Government (1967)

From the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1888 Parliament created the ‘new’ County of London out of the existing counties of Middlesex, Essex, Kent and Surrey. At the same time it also created administrative counties throughout the rest of the country. The old Board of Works which had been set up in 1855 was abolished and a new London County Council, with increased powers, took its place. This has been heralded as the beginning of effective London Government, but this is not so. London Government goes back to a time before the Roman invasion of Britain. The Romans used the Thames as their access route in their penetration of southern Britain; the geographical site of London was the farthest inland point at which the Thames was easily navigable by sea-going vessels. With their flair for organisation and engineering, the Romans developed the community they found on this site into a port, and made this the focal centre for their fine network of roads from the Kent coast into eastern and northern areas beyond. They were to occupy London for the next four centuries.

At the time the Romans evacuated, London had become a walled and fortified town—something the Romans did after the disastrous raids by the Iceni under the leadership of Queen Boadicea, during the latter part of the Roman occupation. The area of this walled community was to remain almost static down the years until the great Fire in 1666.

The Romans gave London its name and its status as a port and a centre of communications. The Anglo-Saxons provided many of London's present day governmental institutions, that were not to acquire their full importance until more than a thousand years had passed, and the 1888 Act became law.

London, in common with the other Roman communities, was not reoccupied immediately by the Germanic invaders who, being accustomed to building only with timber, were unable to repair the crumbling stone buildings that were left behind. But London’s geographical site was too attractive to lie idle for any significant period, so that during the latter Saxon era the small fortified town began once again to come alive and re-assert itself as the leading community in Southern Britain, in time enjoying a high degree of autonomy in the administration of two key aspects of local affairs—markets and money.
Threatened by continued raids by Danish invaders, the several Saxon 'kings' established a “burghal” system of fortified communities in an effort to continue an ordered life. London, by virtue of its position, became one of the key centres of fortification when Alfred the Great established his chain of protected towns throughout Southern England. London was further strengthened, during the Saxon period, by the creation and establishment of eight mints, as against six in Winchester (the capital of Wessex) and four in Canterbury.

The burghal system served to shape the development of English local government, setting into motion at this very early date the basis for the semi-autonomous boroughs and fusing into English political thought a strong "localist" tradition which served as a potent force throughout the feudalist period. The early Saxon precedents established the concept of the "Royal Charter" as the machinery to be used in conferring a degree of administrative autonomy upon local communities.

After their conquest in 1066, the Norman French were reluctant to permit the newly conquered English communities to continue to exercise any great degree of local self-government. Instead the new rulers, fearful of potential revolt by a restive population, set about the creation of a strong centralised system of government under the direct control of the crown. But the Norman rulers needed money to administer the affairs of their newly conquered island, so they accepted the practice of selling off Royal Charters to the wealthier cities, and London took full advantage of William’s offer. Sometime between 1068-1075 London received its full charter which, while not conferring any new powers, did ratify the citizens' rights and privileges already in existence, which they had enjoyed under Saxon rule. By a long succession of Charters, purchased and renewed, London maintained its importance, so much so that at the time of Magna Carta, a clause was inserted which assured the City of all its ancient rights, privileges and free customs and granted the practice of the annual election of a Mayor and other local officials.

As the population of London grew, so also did its economic importance. During the Middle Ages societies and guilds began to grow up, organised at first on a friendly basis, to assist the aged, sick and needy. But these organisations soon were to take on a greater importance, as they became amalgamated with various craft and merchant groups. In time they became the powerful City guilds, controlling not only their particular interests in trade, but controlling the City's administration. The guilds had learnt the lesson of the City, the power that could be attained with the purchase of Royal Charters of incorporation, which gave them the right to elect their own Wardens and their members onto the Common Council of the City, which in turn elected the Mayor—plus the Members of Parliament for London. The guilds continued to exercise a complete stranglehold over London Government right up to the passage of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Today remnants of the original London guilds remain in the form of 82 livery companies.

The exodus from the City into the surrounding countryside had begun in the Elizabethan period, when groups of tradesmen and workers in several crafts sought to escape the stranglehold of the guilds. But the great exodus took place in the mid-seventeenth century, as a direct result of two tragic events which followed each other —the Plague and the Fire.

Upwards of eighty thousand people fled from the fire, and six years later fewer than one in four were to return. The significance of this was not immediately noticed, because large numbers of workers came into the City and its surrounding areas, attracted by the developing industrial communities springing up along the line of the Thames. This growth and urban sprawl continued for the next two hundred years, determining which people moved in which direction. Eastwards the drift continued with the settlement of vast armies of labouring poor, attracted to the growing port extensions that were now under construction. Thousands of rows of humble dwellings were hastily run up by speculative builders to house the growing numbers that were now settling in what was to become the East End and later to develop into terrible slums, heavily overcrowded. Westward from the City drifted the wealthier. Vast ornate estates of fine houses and villas were provided at great cost and skill, so that today, in Belgravia and adjacent areas, we can see and admire the skill and taste which the wealthy enjoyed and still enjoy. In east, south and parts of north London, there still remain areas of slum property run up to house the poor.

The development of railways, tubes, tramways and other forms of transportation throughout the Victorian period extended the further sprawl of urban communities. The slums of the East now extended onto the South bank and continued to spread.

During the whole of this growth, the City still continued its dominance over its one square mile, and attempted to control some of the administrative functions of its neighbours. But the City Corporation had no interest in extending its historic boundaries. So instead, within the several and varied communities outside the City's control, there grew up a patchwork system of local administration, which was neither powerful enough nor comprehensive in its geographical scale to provide order in the government of the growing suburbia.

As the nineteenth century dawned, a greater degree of restlessness began to manifest itself; the chaos and confusion at attempts to localise and control administration became legion. Strong movements began to organise for local political, economic and electoral reform, ugly riots broke out and for a time London came under the control of the mobs. This all goaded Parliament into facing the vast problem of municipal reform. As a result of the mob riots, they passed in 1829 the London Police Act, which represented the first coherent attempt to deal with Greater London as a geographical unity, by establishing a Metropolitan Police district extending in a 15 mile radius from Charing Cross. But the City received special treatment, being allowed to establish and administer its own police force, which is still in existence.

By 1834-35, Parliament began to tackle some of the broader issues of local reform, commencing with the Poor Law Amendment Act, designed to break the power of privileged property classes over local government control by substituting elected local Boards of Guardians to administer relief for the poor. The Municipal Reform Act in 1835 went a step further by creating conditions for elective councils to govern the affairs of all boroughs in England. But the City was again singled out, and excluded entirely from the provisions of the 1835 Act. It was not until 1855 that Greater London's needs were finally considered with the setting up by Parliament of a special body to be known as the Metropolitan Board of Works, thus abolishing all the little local bodies and creating instead larger bodies under the title of "administrative vestry” elected by local inhabitants. The smaller parishes were grouped into districts and given an elected District Board. In all 41 vestries and boards were set up under the control of the Board of Works.

The Metropolitan Board of Works set into motion the construction of 82 miles of sewers, it controlled the construction of the Victoria and Albert embankments, created several parks and open spaces, constructed several major road improvements and developed a centralised London Fire Brigade. But it was not careful with its accounts, and much scandal became attached to its handling of its funds. Moreover its members were appointed by each other—which put the Board outside the control of any administrative authority.

After the passing of the 1888 Act and the creation of the London County Council the Board became defunct. In 1889 the London parishes and districts were re-grouped and formed into 28 Metropolitan Boroughs. They continued like this until with the passing of the London Government Act in 1963 they were re-grouped and the administrative areas enlarged, this time encompassing the whole of the County of Middlesex, large sections of metropolitan Essex, Kent and Surrey. This re-organisation made 32 larger boroughs with control vested in the Greater London Council, which replaced the L.C.C.

Some disagreement exists over the question of when the national political parties made their first inroads into local governments, and who was responsible for this development. The Labour Party claim that the Conservatives and the Liberals bear the responsibility, and point to the history of the Whigs and Tories during the reform era to back up this assertion. Certainly the London County Council was intensely political from its inception in 1888, with two opposing groups calling themselves ‘Progressives’ and ‘Moderates’. In 1907 it became a clear battle between the Liberals (Progressives) and the Conservatives then calling themselves Municipal Reformers, who retained political control for 27 years, until in 1934 the long reign of the Labour Party began, ending last month with the election of the Conservatives.
V. W. Phillips

50 Years Ago: We have heard it all before (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fifty years ago The Times published articles urging the adoption of a five point "New Industrial Charter“ as a means of securing industrial peace, increased production and increased profit.
“Prevention of Unemployment”
“The government shall undertake to prevent the occurrence of unemployment in the same sense that it prevents the occurrence of cholera”.

“This can be done, as soon as the government chooses, by nothing more recondite than a systematic rearrangement of the necessary works and orders of the government departments and local authorities over each decade as will maintain approximately level from year to year ... the aggregate wage-total of the kingdom”.

“The Maintenance of Standard Rates” 
“The standard rate, it must be remembered is never anything but a minimum. No employer is prevented from paying more and. in fact, there are always some who do pay more, whilst no workmen is prevented from asking for more”.

“A Constitution for Factory and Industry”
“The third clause of the Charter . . . suggests details of a Constitution ranging from the appointment of a Shop Steward, to a National Council for the whole Industry, the latter body to consider . . . such matters as Technical Training and Apprenticeship and Publicity”.

“No Limitation of Output”
“What is most vital to National efficiency, as it is to the employers' hope of profit, is to get rid fully and permanently, of the workmen’s tendency silently to restrict his output . . ”

“Freedom for Every Worker”
“Once unemployment is prevented, and an effective guarantee for the maintenance of the standard rate is conceded . . . The government may fairly ask from the trade unions complete freedom for the employer for engaging any person whatever, for any sort of work; complete freedom for any person to do any task or carry out any process; and complete freedom for the introduction of any machinery or process”. 
From the Socialist Standard, May 1917.

Finance and Industry: Even more Superfluous (1967)

The Finance and Industry column from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even more Superfluous 

A common defence of capitalism is that now-a-days millions of people are investors, directly or indirectly, in industry. Pension funds, insurance policies and unit trusts are cited as examples. The suggestion is that wealth is more evenly distributed. Harold Wincott, in the Financial Times of 7 March, in discussing a survey on how big business gets its hands on our savings, puts it this way: 
And, finally, a word on the alleged enormous discrepancies of wealth in this country we are always being told about How does one reconcile the recurring calculations that x (a tiny) per cent of the population owns y (a vast) per cent of our wealth with Dr. Richebacher’s figures of the massive and continuing movement away from private hands into the hands of institutions which hold them in trust for the people?
If Wincott thinks that the calculations showing “enormous discrepancies of wealth” are wrong it’s up to him to show where. In fact these calculations do take into account pension schemes, insurance policies and unit trusts. Wincott asked a question and got his answer from a correspondent who made the simple point:
The short answer may be to ask why one should attempt it. Surely the types of assets owned can vary without affecting x and y.
In fact the whole argument bears all the marks of a public relations trick to gain popular support for Big Business and the Stock Exchange against any measures they feel might harm their interests.

A study by the London Stock Exchange, How Does Britain Save?, was published last May. It shows 33.5 million out of the 36 million adults in Britain save in one way or another. These savings are broken down:

The two-and-a-half million share owners (only 7 per cent of the adult population) are further broken down (some have more than one type):

There has been a shift from individual to institutional investors on the stock exchanges though not all these institutions hold shares “in trust for the people.’’ The insurance companies and banks are profit-making bodies whose own shares are traded on the stock exchange. In any event, the wealth of institutions can be traced back to individuals in the end and this is done to get estimates of the concentration of the ownership of wealth.

It is difficult to see how the growth of institutional investors is a justification of capitalism. In fact it makes the basic absurdity of capitalism—social production yet sectional ownership—even more obvious. When the joint-stock company appeared a hundred or so years ago, Marx wrote that in separating management from ownership it meant that “the capitalist disappears as superflous from the productive process." Engels was less polite. He spoke of “parasites”.

Now the last in the long list of social functions the capitalists imagined they had has gone: as individuals they can no longer claim to be the main source of finance for industry. Even this function, only necessary under capitalism, is now carried out by anonymous institutions. The individual capitalist — one-time alleged abstainer, organiser and risk-taker —is shown to be superfluous even in the realm of finance.

The savings of wage and salary workers, such as they are, are mainly funds to use when not employed. Having a few hundred or even a few thousand pounds worth of savings doesn’t turn anybody into a capitalist. Even the slaves in Ancient Rome had a fund called a peculium, collected from tips, which they could use to buy their freedom when old. A capitalist is someone who has enough wealth to live without having to sell his mental and physical energies.

Accepting that shareowners are now
functionless, Labour theorists argue that ordinary shares should be abolished and all investors receive just a fixed rate of return. Callaghan, the present Chancellor, told the 1952 Party Conference:
Instead of making the Ordinary shareholders residuary legatees of all profits that are made, let us make the workers the residuary legatees. Let the shareholders be content with a fixed dividend. Let us abolish Ordinary shares.
The government has brought in a new Companies Bill but, needless to say, even Callaghan’s suggestion is now too radical. Not that converting equities into fixed interest stocks will end the exploitation of man by man or abolish the right of property-owners to a property income.

The real solution should be obvious: convert the already socially-operated means of wealth-production into the property of the whole community. Then production can be organised for use without the restrictions of profit-making, finance and commerce.
Adam Buick

Gaspers (1967)

From the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

“We are confident we will be able to convince the Ministry of Labour that the productivity will be far in excess of anything we are likely to get from railway management” (N.U.R. Secretary, Sidney Greene, on a bonus agreement with British Rail. 4.4.67).

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“Her Majesty is quite safe with the Labour Party.” (Emanuel Shinwell, Daily Telegraph report 10.4.67).

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“Just as in the Stage of Leninism one could not be a Marxist if he were not a Leninist, so today one cannot be called a Marxist-Leninist if he does not master the thought of Mao-Tse-Tung." (Italian Journal — quoted in The Marxist).

#    #    #    #

“We have suggested £5 might be a reasonable figure. We know that when elderly people have to go into homes or hospitals it costs a great deal more than £5 a week to keep them”. (Labour M.P. Hamling, on payment to single women with dependent relatives, 13.3.67).

#    #    #    #

“The Government's decision to pay high salaries to the managers of the nationalised steel industry is sensible, and was probably inevitable too”. (Guardian editorial 16.3.67).

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“There is no way to my mind of identifying the lowest paid” (£15,000 a year P.I.B. Chairman, Aubrey Jones, 16.3.67).

Letter: Working together (1967)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard


I think two or three points in your reply to my letter (Socialist Standard, February 1967) are unworthy of you.

The minor point about East Germany is only of consequence as it is the feeling of one member of the Socialist Medical Association. Our Editorial Committee gives space to articles on Socialism and Health. It does not censor within that context. Your reply suggests that every SPGB member has exactly the same thoughts and ideas as the next. Do you never vote on anything? Does every member agree with every phrase in the Socialist Standard?

The fact is that the SPGB and the SMA would achieve more if they worked together. If you discuss health matters today the SMA has discussed them since 1936. So why not accept the fact that a specialist health organisation is likely to know its own subject better than yourselves.

If you wish to have ideas on Health Centres, Occupational Health, Bronchitis, Health Education and other ideas linking Socialist thought and Health you could not better the wealth of experience the SMA has.

Your statement about the state giving out “charity” to the workers to keep them fit enough is much too cynical. We know this is a “truth” of the State. But the Socialist state that did not have some sort of law and order and therefore some sort of control of its population is pure Anarchist and although I accept it as the final solution can you really see this as a possibility with the level of political, emotional, educational and individualistic greed that pervades our planet today.

It is the “exclusiveness” of the SPGB as much as its “aloofness” that worries me. There is no fault to find in the Declaration of Principles. But you who have had more experience than I of the slowness of change and the compromise that have to be made in politics must know that the choice is either slow Parliamentary type method or bloody revolution.

Revolution is useless unless there is a high chance of winning. Only the religious fanatic would wish to commit suicide—it may take him to his “maker” more quickly.

We Socialists and humanists know better.

M.S. is worried about “the level of political, emotional, educational and individualistic greed that pervades our planet today”. But greed is not a characteristic of working men and women. In fact, the working class is the most charitable body of men ever known to history. Inadequately housed, shabbily dressed, underpaid and overworked, the workers make do with only a tiny portion of the wealth they produce so that the capitalist class can live in idle luxury.

When the working class throughout the world has grasped that there is a socialist alternative to. the capitalist system it will use its immense numbers to capture political power. It will make use of the parliamentary machinery to achieve the revolutionary transformation of society. There is, however, unlikely to be very much blood about at the time. The workers, who make up the overwhelming majority of the world's population, will be able to smother any attempt at resistance by a dissident minority.

The alternatives facing the working class are socialism or capitalism. There is no middle path nor, as M.S. suggests, is any compromise with capital possible.

Finally, a few more words on the 'Socialist' Medical Association. M.S. is now recommending that the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain should work with the SMA because it is “a specialist health organisation”, full of “ideas on Health Centres, Occupational Health, Bronchitis, Health Education” etc. We do not deny that many members of the SMA have a thorough medical knowledge and no doubt some of them are brilliant in their own fields. But, politically, the SMA is crippled from the start, because it sets out to operate within the framework of capitalism.

We gave the example of the supporter of East Germany because he typifies the confusion within the ranks of the SMA. We could have chosen numerous others, including M.S. himself. Of course, there is plenty of discussion in the Socialist Party but none of our members would think of referring it to the State as though it were some sort of benevolent society looking after working class interests. Socialists realise that the State is the executive committee of the ruling class and that it only has a basis in a class-divided social system. As M.S. would put it, we socialists know better.
Editorial Committee

Help Wanted ! (1967)

Party News from the May 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Party of Ireland is contesting the Duncain Ward, Belfast in the municipal elections being held on May 17 th.

The candidate is E. McCann. We are appealing on their behalf for help and financial aid. A small group of socialists are working extremely hard and appreciate assistance, both physical and financial. Please respond to the Election Agent at 53, High Street, Belfast.

Post-War Reconstruction (1941)

From the August 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard


The dislocation caused in people’s lives by this war has set many of them devising plans for making the world a better place to live in when hostilities have ended. Ideas thus generated find expression in schemes for remedying the outstanding evils of which the majority of people are victims—unemployment, insecurity, poverty, war.

The Socialist claims, and proves, that these evils cannot be remedied within the framework of the existing social order. Nothing less than social revolution offers a sound basis for post-war social reconstruction. The abolition of private ownership of the means and instruments of production and distribution, the end of the wages system, the production of wealth solely for use instead of for profit—this, and nothing else, will provide the foundation for the construction of the social system that we so urgently desire. Any planning for “a brave new world” that does not include these fundamental changes is doomed to bring disappointment to those who hope to experience substantial improvements.

Unemployment presents a problem that has occupied the attention of social reformers for years. A multitude of schemes have been applied—and failed to check the tendency for unemployment figures to rise. There is no cure for unemployment short of its abolition, and this can be achieved by abolishing employers, employed, and unemployed alike.

Ownership of land, machinery, factories, mines, railways, road transport, sea transport, etc., places some men in the privileged position of employing others. Non-ownership and, in consequence, the necessity to live by selling their physical and mental energies, makes other men seek employment. Socialism, by placing the means of wealth production under the democratic ownership and control of the whole of the community will ensure that everyone contributes to the common effort without entering into contract with his fellows on the basis of economic privilege.

Economic insecurity is bred of capitalism. Men are related to one another in a capitalist world, not as individuals, but as commodity owners. The buying and selling of commodities, including the workers’ energies, is the essence of this system. Buying and selling gives rise to competition, competition breeds struggle, and in the struggle no man can claim to be absolutely secure; any adverse turn of the struggle may reduce him to the ranks of the most poverty stricken.

Given common ownership of the means of production and distribution, the wealth produced by the common effort will be accessible to all. Modern scientific methods of production ensure that there shall be plenty and none need be short of the essentials and comforts of life. With the social store available to everyone according to their needs, the dependence of wives on their husbands, of children on their fathers, of the sick and aged on charity, of men on their ability to hold down a job, will vanish. Each will enjoy the security afforded by all.

Poverty is the lot of the working class in present-day society. From poverty spring the many subsidiary evils to which a lot of the would-be post-war-re-constructors direct their main attention. Poor housing and unemployment are only problems for the poor. Ill-health and crime are largely the result of poverty. The most glaring contradiction of capitalism is the abject poverty that exists beside the super-abundance of wealth. In any effort to reconstruct society after the war it will not be sufficient to attempt to alleviate poverty, it must end. Socialism alone shows the way.

If the wages system is retained after the war, then poverty will be retained, for the two are inseparable.

Man’s ability to work we call his “labour-power,” and wages are the price he gets when he sells it to an employer. This labour-power is a commodity, produced to be sold, and the orice it fetches is determined, as is the price of all commodities, by agencies outside the individual owner’s control. Price is the monetary reflection of value, and value is determined by the amount of social effort necessary to replace the commodity. So wages fluctuate around a certain point, the cost of reproducing man’s power to labour. No amount of legislation within capitalism, no philanthropic effort can alter this fundamental economic law. All attempts to remove poverty by price control, minimum wage rates, family allowances, or any form of currency juggling fall to pieces against this “law of wages.”

The end of the wages system will ensure an end of all poverty. Capitalism has shown us the enormous powers of production that man can wield. All such powers have not yet been unleashed. Capitalism has arrived at a stage where it must limit expansion of productive powers in the interest of profit. Socialism will release all pent up forces and enable men to produce wealth in such abundance that a condition of poverty, as we know it to-day, will not be conceivable.

War, that most colossal of all tragedies, must be ended for all time. All post-war reconstructors are agreed upon this. Only Socialism offers a guarantee of a permanently peaceful future.

To-day, wealth is produced for profit; workers receive wages for producing it, and it then passes into the hands of the owners of the means of production. The total value that the workers produce is greater than the amount they receive in wages. The surplus accrues to the owners and becomes divided among all sections of the owning-class, landlords, industrialists and investors. But in the process, in order that the owning-class may enjoy the privilege that ownership implies, the wealth must be sold; it must be converted into money. So out goes the product of the workers’ toil, out into a world-market to compete with similar products produced by similar workers in other countries. And from the ensuing competition follows the struggle for trade routes, for spheres of influence, for control of sources of raw materials, for empires. From this source, also, comes international diplomacy, tariffs, State subsidies, trade agreements, political pacts, military alliances and war.

No amount of tinkering with the effects of a system of production for profit will eliminate this competition. It can be raised from a local plane to a national one by State control, it can be raised from a national plane to a continental one by federal union, but it cannot be eliminated without at the same time eliminating the private property basis of present-day society. To guarantee against further and more disastrous wars Socialism alone offers a way.

Unless the Socialist proposition for the revolutionising of society is accepted, and struggled for, by the majority of the workers after the war, then capitalism will present us with some problems that will have tragic results.

This war is unleashing forces that will sharpen the class conflicts of the future, that will present the administrators of capitalism, no matter who they may be, with a task of such magnitude that they will not be able to trifle with half measures. It is quite possible that, in order to avoid the worst effects of post-war chaos, the State, in this and other countries, will assume control of industry and transport. “Private enterprise” capitalism may give place to “State capitalism,” and support for its measures gained on the claim that it is “Socialism in practice.” The danger lies in the fact that capital, entrenched behind the State, can be even more repressive and more vicious than in its present “democratic” form.

The one way to insure against this is to establish Socialism. For that purpose it is necessary to organise consciously, politically and democratically for the conquest of the machinery of Government in order that this machinery may be converted from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation.

The possibilities of “a brave new world” after the war depend upon the degree of class consciousness that the effects of the war engender in the minds of the workers and their understanding of the role they must play to build such a world. The reformation of capitalism will avail them nought. It is their historic task to abolish the last of the class societies and to establish a classless one. To this end alone they should bend their present and their post-war effort. Their unswervable object must be to establish a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. Anything other than that will not be a reconstruction but merely a reshuffle.
W. Waters

(This article was written for the Post Office workers’ journal, London Post, and appeared in the July issue.)

Notes by the Way: The Hunt is Up—Profiteers on the Run (1941)

The Notes by the Way Column from the August 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Hunt is Up—Profiteers on the Run

Someday, someone who has the time and the interest will make a study of the way capitalism has corrupted thought and expression and debased language to such an extent that millions of people are incapable of making plain statements of fact and words rarely mean what they should mean. Most people know, in a general way, that the claims made for advertised goods are mostly false and irrelevant, yet always thousands of people will be taken in by the extravagant claims made for some new product or by a newly-phrased puff for an old one. Look at the description employers are allowed to give to the pay and conditions of their employees, the “high wages and bonuses,” the welfare services and the “good promotion prospects” and promise of security for the “right man”; yet, still under the Servants Characters Act of 1792, workers who use false references to get one of these falsely advertised jobs may be proceeded against. Read the tricky, deceitful language used by professional politicians, whose skill lies in gaining confidence and votes not in a truthful statement of the nature of the problems before the electorate. Notice the traditionally evasive and obscuring habits of expression of the majority of religious preachers and writers. They are probably the worst offenders, because they are so utterly dependent on the favour of the rich and powerful in their church, and even lack the robustness of the politician and journalist who, though similarly dependent, have the confidence that comes from the knowledge that they have behind them the backing of their own party or paper within well understood limits.

The hall-mark of expression under capitalism is that everything is twisted and blunted. The golden rule is that, all plain, unqualified statements of condemnation of anti-social conduct are sure to hit some individual or group among the propertied and influential and must therefore be avoided, or toned down, or clearly directed only against some sub-division of the evil doers. Thus all politicians declare themselves in favour of the abolition of “undeserved” poverty, but not, of course, of poverty itself—as if “deserts” had anything to do with the poverty of the working class. All denounce the “profiteer,” but not the profit-maker, though nobody knows what “profiteering” means if it does not mean the lauded capitalist aim of making as much profit as possible. All parsons and guardians of morality are agreed that lying and deceit are to be condemned; except, of course, for purposes of waging war or diplomacy, or to attract buyers for goods, or induce workers to vote for capitalism at elections; in short, except for nearly all the normal activities of capitalist life.

At the moment the hunt is up again for “profiteers,” and the News Chronicle blandly announces (July 25th, 1941) that “the days of the profiteers in clothing and other necessities of life are numbered.”

The News Chronicle does not care to recall that the profiteer was killed times without number, finally and forever, in the last war and in each and every year since 1918 up to 1939, and that when this war broke out it was universally agreed by the newspapers that there would not be, and could not be, any such person in this war.

The latest, and really the last, antidote for profiteers, according to the News Chronicle, lies in “thirty-four Board of Trade inspectors,” who are going “to track them down.”

They must forgive us if we smile at the spectacle of the 34 Board of Trade rabbits out hunting down the capitalist stoats. The advice of Socialists to the working class is to forget these whimsical side-shows and get on with the real work of ending capitalism.

A “Socialist” Councillor Hates Working-Class Ingratitude

According to the Evening News (July 24th, 1941) the Erith Council have decided to serve notices to quit on 20 tenants of Council houses in arrears with their rent. The report continues : —
“Councillor T. C. Pannell, leader of the Socialist Party, said these houses were not let at economic rents. Some of them were the cheapest in the town. Some people thought that because the Socialist Party was in power they could do what they liked.

Councillor T. Mantle, chairman of the Housing Committee, said:—”I am amazed at the unscrupulous and unprincipled way in which some of these tenants have dealt with us. Tenants have lied to me and taken advantage of me. Some are in good work, and get high wages. If they will not pay in these circumstances, they will not pay at all.”
It is hardly necessary to have to explain that it is not the Socialist Party in control at Erith, but the Labour Party, and probably the two Councillors mentioned are guiltless of having claimed to be Socialists, but they certainly must share responsibility with the rest of the Labour Party for the common misconception which regards Labourism as Socialism.

But see what happens ? Possibly some tenants have absorbed a vague idea that under Socialism, while they could not expect to do just what they liked if that meant looking after themselves regardless of others, they could expect that under Socialism they would have no rent to pay. Further, they may have heard the Labour Party propaganda, which represents Labourism as an approach to Socialism by degrees. What could be more natural than that they should interpret this as paying less and less rent until it reached zero.

Altogether it seems that Labourism in trying to administer capitalism at Erith has got in a bit of a mess. Socialists will not be surprised.

The Archbishop Speaks and Heaven Alone Knows What he Means

The following report is from The Times (July 3rd, 1941): —
“The Archbishop of York, Dr. Temple, in a broadcast last night, gave this four-point definition of Christian social principles :—

Property is necessary to fullness of personal life, and this is its justification.

The life of every individual is within the fellowship of the community, and property divorced from all social function or service forfeits that justification.

The mere lending of money should not be a means of acquiring control over another man or his activities, and the interest payable, if any, should be proportioned to the service rendered, not to the relative strength and weakness of the parties to the transaction.

Commerce should be an exchange at fair prices for the benefit of both parties and of the community generally—not a rivalry in which each seeks to buy cheap and to sell dear.”
The Archbishop’s admirers will say that this is an admirable statement of Christian social policy, bold but not Utopian, sympathetic without being sentimental, progressive, but statesmanlike. They will all interpret it to mean what suits their interests and outlook. None of them will be able to say what exactly it means in practice. Property, says Dr. Temple, is necessary to fullness of personal life; but what property and whose property? Socialists are all in favour of everybody having possessions in personal articles needed for comfort and convenience, but this cannot be until the capitalist class are deprived of their ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. The Archbishop is silent on this point, except that the third point (about the payment of interest) makes it clear that he does not see the necessity to abolish investment. As for fullness of personal life, how is the ownership of shares in dozens of companies necessary to the fullness of life of the capitalist investor ? How does Dr. Temple square it with the workers’ objection to being exploited ?

He denounces the “mere lending of money” (what is “mere” lending as distinct from lending?) if it means acquiring control over another man or his activities. But how can there be investment without such control over the activities of the workers ?

He also wants commerce on the basis of “an exchange at fair prices,” but what are fair prices? Prices which do not allow for any payment of rent, interest and profit as a property income to property owners? But the capitalists (and the administrators of Church funds) will soon tell him that they are not at all interested in commerce except for the purpose of such reaping where they have not sown.

In short, why does not Dr. Temple tell us plainly where he stands. Is he for capitalism or against it? Or just sitting on the fence making friendly (and empty) gestures to the workers on one side of it?

Helping Russia !

The Prime Minister has said that everyone in this country is anxious to help Russia. Roosevelt has said the same of U.S.A. It appears from the report below that a number of people are more concerned about helping themselves.
“Entry of Russia into the war is causing excitement in the London tin market, where prices bounded up £2 7s. 6d. yesterday, making a gain of £4 12s. 6d. a ton in two days.

Arrangements are being made, I understand, for Russia to buy considerable quantities of tin in the East.

At the end of 1938 she had built up substantial stocks, but it is believed that her purchases since then have been small.

Prospect that Russia will buy metals and other materials in the United States, is also accelerating the price rise in that country.”—(Daily Express, July 5th, 1941.)

The Ignorant, Selfish Workers

A Dr. Leslie Housden, of the National Association of Maternity and Child Welfare Centres, told the Evening Standard (July 4th, 1941) that she “would like an assurance to be given that parents will be taught how to spend family allowances for the benefit of their children.”
“The standard of living in poorer families depends greatly upon the ability of the mother to shop and housekeep properly,” she said.

In a recent address Dr. Housden remarked:—”You cannot turn ignorant, lazy, selfish men and women into cherishers of childhood by giving them money.”
This arose out of an announcement that a Treasury Committee are investigating how much family allowances will cost the Government.

The whole thing is an illustration of the typical condescension of the ruling class towards the workers. As the Bible does not exactly say: “To him that hath shall be given, and to him and her that hath not shall come a spate of impertinent advice from well-meaning busybodies.”

Are the workers ignorant ? They learned what they know at capitalist provided schools. Are they lazy and selfish ? If so, who robbed them of initiative and incentive and taught them that the way of life is to look after number one ? And what right have the rich and well-to-do to argue that the receipt of an income sufficient to buy the bare necessities of life should be dependent on the possession of all the social virtues : What about the ignorant, lazy, selfish property owners ?

In passing, we are expectantly awaiting the appointment of another Treasury Committee to find out what, in poverty, blood and tears, the capitalist system has cost to the human race.

In and Out the Barrack Window

We all know how the Communists have been in the war and out again, and are now in full support once more. The former Editor of the Daily Worker, Mr. William Rust, in a letter to the News Chronicle (July 7th) has said that he and Professor Haldane “are quite prepared to give personal assurances to the Government …. that the Daily Worker, if allowed to reappear, will vigorously campaign in the factories in order to achieve the maximum production for victory and to bring about the widest possible unity in the fight to defeat and crush the Nazis.”

It seems that the Communists have their opposite numbers, men who are also in and out, but contrariwise. A Catholic, Fascist, conscientious objector recently told the Tribunal that he was at first opposed to the war (that will presumably have been in the early days when the Communists supported it). Then he became a supporter of the war when France collapsed and invasion of this country seemed to be imminent (that will have been when the Communists were opposing the war). Now, he says, he is a conscientious objector, and quoted from a Papal Encyclical that a Catholic could not collaborate with Communism (at this stage, Russia being invaded, the Communists are in again.).

It all comes of trying to wage war in accordance with ideologies.

Mothers’ Sons who became World Conquerors

When the Kaiser died the newspapers dug out the old story that he had a withered arm and was disliked by his mother and this embittered him and led him to dream dreams of world conquest. We seem to have read that Hitler was his mother’s darling, and this spoiled him and made him dream dreams of world conquest. It is all very puzzling. The only sure conclusion appears to be that the result will be the same however mothers treat their sons. Perhaps, after all, this explanation of war is a trifle inadequate.

Why they did not hang the Kaiser

Two versions : —
“Wilhelm II. ruled Germany for 30 years, and he fled to Holland with all Europe crying, “Hang the Kaiser.” But the Dutch would not hand him over for trial.”—(Evening Standard, June 4th, 1941.)
The Sunday Dispatch (June 8th, 1941) reproduced from Mr. Winston Churchill’s works his account of the matter, and in it he delicately hints, without, however, committing himself one way or the other, that “the subterranean intrigues of old-world secret diplomacy” may have conveyed to the Dutch Government that nobody proposed to do anything to the Dutch Government to compel them to hand him over.

You draw your own conclusions, bearing in mind that at the time there were rumours that before the Allied Governments asked Holland to hand over the Kaiser they had informed the Dutch that the request was not intended to be taken seriously.

Have what you like ; if you can pay for it

In the Sunday Dispatch (June 8th, 1941), Mr. F. C. Hooper, “one of the biggest business men in the Midlands and North,” wrote a strongly worded denunciation of “the cranks who want to change Britain.” His main argument was that things were not at all bad in this country before the war. “Generally speaking,” he wrote, “life in this country was on a higher standard of material enjoyment and well-being than in any other country in the world.”

The first of his reasons for his belief was: —
“We were free and unfettered. We could go where we liked, live where we liked, and, within our means, do what we liked.”
It all depends, of course, on those three little words, “within our means.” Paupers may dine at the Ritz, spend half the year holidaying abroad, or live like biggest noises in the Midlands, if it is within their means, but, although Mr. Hooper goes on to say that “most people did do what they liked,” he does not go so far as to say that these things of anything like them were within the means of the great majority. He does not express an opinion on the point whether the under-nourished third of the whole population liked their enforced condition.

We will not argue about his claim that generally speaking things were even worse in other parts of the capitalist world. We doubt if Mr. Hooper would happily accept a suggestion that he give up his wealth and become a labourer merely because some other labourers in Timbuctoo would still be worse off.

The following, from the Sunday Express of the same day, throws more light on the claim made by Mr. Hooper.
“There is more money in the West End than ever before,” said a man who knows the inside story of the ration racket. “Everything is got from some ramp or another.”

“You can have what you like, if you are ready to pay the right price. It may be a cask of butter, a side of bacon, or a chest of tea. Whatever it is, the ‘boys’ can get it.

“The goods are either stolen (gangs are operating around the docks) or got through bribery. I know one hotel under manager who was offered a fat sum if he could hand over £500 worth of butter. He turned it down flat; others are not always so honest.”
Edgar Hardcastle