Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Science, Capitalism and the New Order (1941)

From the November 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British Association recently organised a meeting to “discuss plans for a new order in which science will play a leading part.”

Early in the conference Mr. Eden told the scientists that science had brought about inequalities, selfishness, and unfair division.

Here we have another instance of a professional champion of Capitalism selecting a scapegoat to bear the blame for the evils that Capitalism itself actully produces.

Unfortuntely, the view that science is wholly responsible for some of the grim and sordid features of modern life is held by many members of the working class.

How many workers, for instance, believe that science’s inventiveness has, without pressure from behind the scenes, created the ingenious machinery that has thrown many workers on the scrap heap ? How many believe that the inventing of planes and bombs, and the discovery of poison gases, are the things that actually create war ?

Let us see whether examination will throw light upon the question.

We live in a society wherein a comparatively small section, by virtue of its ownership of the mines, mills, factories, railways, warehouses, etc., is able to acquire a mass of commodities by exploiting the larger non-possessing section of society—i.e., the working class.

But unless each competing section of the Capitalist class can ensure a large and ready sale of their commodities by keeping down, and even lowering, their commodity prices, they will find themselves ousted by other competitors.

Capitalists, therefore, to keep up the sales that will ensure large profits, must undercut their rivals.

This can be done in two ways—by lowering wages, or by reducing the amount of labour spent on the production of their commodities.

The lowering of wages, however, has, from the Capitalist viewpoint, this disadvantage—wages cannot profitably be lowered below the level that will maintain a standard of satisfactory working fitness.

Therefore, in order to reduce the prices of their commodities, Capitalists find themselves mainly reliant upon reducing the amount of labour embodied in commodity production.

The only means of doing this is by displacing human labour by machinery.

Thus we find sections of the Capitalist class competing keenly against each other in the introduction of machinery, by which means alone they can appreciably lower their commodity prices and thus capture the trade of their rivals.

Only the introduction of such machinery will assist in retaining that essential in Capitalist competition—a rate of profit that will prevent being ousted from the competitive field.

Only such machinery, therefore, will be in great demand by the Capitalist class, and the competition to secure this machinery will send up its price and bring a rich reward to the owner of the invention. On the other hand, machinery that will bring benefits to mankind will not be in great demand unless it also aids the raising or maintaining of profits.

Inventors and scientists, therefore, faced by the fact that only the ideas that will fill a Capitalist need will bring ample payment, are, in the main, compelled to concentrate on such ideas. When the competition for trade, fields of exploitation, etc., can be divided by the border-lines of the competing countries, you will find the Capitalists of each country uniting against the menace of being ousted by a Capitalism from outside.

Diplomacy may for a time maintain a tolerating relationship between each country, but so urgent is the need for Capitalist countries to expand their markets, and secure new fields for trade that the strings of diplomacy are overstrained, and finally break, throwing the people of the opposing nations into the blood-drenched arenas of modern war.

When this happens the most urgent need of sectional Capitalism is for its own nationalistic entity to survive against the nations that threaten it. Thus the individualistic competition within the opposing countries is, temporarily, almost abandoned, and every muscle is strained to achieve a greater task for national Capitalism—i.e., winning the war.

In this manner the demand for labour-saving machinery is almost entirely displaced by the demand for machinery most effective in the prosecution of the war; machinery, in short, that would be most destructive against the opposing country.

Once more the demand for certain machinery sends up its price, and makes it the only mechanisation that will bring adequate recompence to its originators

Thus, although certain machinery will certainly throw many men out of work, or bring new horror into warfare, scientists, in order to live, are compelled by Capitalism to create such machinery. Not until Capitalism is ended and replaced by Socialism will there be a welcome for all mechanisation beneficial to society. Only then will inventors and scientists be unrestricted by the question, “Will it be profitable to the Capitalist class?”
Frank Hawkins

Notes by the Way: We Live in Strange Times (1941)

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

We Live in Strange Times

War is notoriously disrespectful to ancient prejudices and the present war seems to have produced more startling reverses of position than any. Who would have thought, a few years ago, that the time would come when M. Maisky, Bolshevist Ambassador, would be touring British factories urging the workers to work harder, while Lord Beaverbrook, on a visit to Moscow, promises that every tank produced in the week should go straight to the aid of the Russian army ?

The Daily Express (September 23rd, 1941) had the following two news items : —
“After M. Maisky had told workers at a tank factory yesterday, “We will go on fighting to the end until our enemy is crushed for ever,” the works manager mounted a tank and asked the men, “What is your answer?”

“More tanks,” they chorused. 

“Then go to it,” he replied, and they immediately swarmed back to their jobs.

An “Aid Russia” plea helped to settle a strike in Glasgow yesterday. Several hundred men at an engineering works, who came out on Saturday, listened to an appeal to return to work immediately to get aid-for-Russia production into full swing, and agreed to do so.”
The correspondent of the Daily Telegraph who visited the factory with M. Maisky reports that “in the factory he saw tanks chalked with slogans such as ‘Another for Joe,’ or with names like Marx, Lenin and Timoshenko,” while at the station when the official party arrived it inspected two tanks, “one flying the Union Jack and the other the Red Flag.”—(Daily Telegraph, September 23rd, 1941.)

Then a few months earlier there had been the little matter of playing the “Internationale” in B.B.C. broadcasts, neatly sidestepped by stopping all such broadcasts. While the argument was in progress the Times, in an editorial, committed itself and said “it was right and reasonable to expect that before long the appropriate addition would be made to the ceremonial array of national anthems.” —(Times, July 11th, 1941.)

* * * *

Religious Items from Moscow and elsewhere

Equally startling has been the news about religion from Moscow. Here are a few items:
A call to all Christians, Protestant and Catholic, to unite in a Holy Crusade against the anti-Christ, Hitler, was broadcast by Moscow last night.

Hitler has launched war against Christian civilisation, said the appeal. He has twisted the Holy Cross into an unholy crooked cross.

The call for a crusade was made particularly to the Christian peoples of Germany and the occupied territories.

“We appeal to all German Christians to fight the Godless regime of Nazism and Hitlerism,” said the announcer.

”That criminal Hitler is urging war against the hundreds of millions of Slav people, the people of those nations which have given the world great writers, thinkers, scientists, and religious martyrs.”-(Sunday Dispatch, August 17th, 1941.)

“The Moscow anti-religious paper, Besbozhnik, has ceased publication. A number of trade papers have been temporarily suspended owing to war conditions. —Reuter. (Manchester Guardian, September 11th, 1941.)

An appeal to the entire Islamic world to rise in the name of Islam “to defend the Moslems and the peoples of Russia, their peaceful life and religion, from the devastation of Fascism,” was made to-day by the head of the Central Mohammedan Administration, the Mufti Abdur Akhman Rasulev.—Associated Press. (Manchester Guardian, September 20th, 1941.)

Religious misgivings over the British-Soviet Alliance are misplaced, writes the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Canterbury Diocesan Gazette.

The Primate gives reasons why Christians should wish “every success to the valiant Russian armies and people.”

Our essential aim is to overthrow the tyranny of evil embodied in the rulers of Germany.

It may well be that Russia’s defence of its own land may lead to religious tolerance by the Soviet Government and a new resurgence of religion always deep-seated in the hearts of the Russians.—(Daily Express, July 24th, 1941.
But while the Bolshevists are able at a gulp to swallow Protestantism, Catholicism, and Moslemism, and the Archbishop is able to remove misgivings about the Bolshevists, the British non-conformists are made of sterner stuff, and still won’t mix with other brands of Christianity: —
“After the lapse of three years the Free Churches have decided against the outline of a scheme for reunion with the Church of England. . . . Episcopacy is still a serious stumbling block . . . and even should an episcopate be agreed to as one organ of a United Church, the Free Churches definitely reject the doctrine of apostolic succession.”—(News-Chronicle, September 23th, 1941.)

* * * *

Men and Women Air-Raid Victims

The Old Technique of “Divide and Rule”
On Saturday, September 20th, a demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square to protest against the Government’s refusal to pay women injured in air-raids the same amount as men. One young woman was there who had lost the sight of both eyes and suffered other serious permanent injuries. She receives 24s. 2d. a week. Had she been a man the amount would have been 34s. 2d.

The demonstration was supported by Labour M.P.s, including Dr. Edith Summerskill, as well as by that persistent defender of capitalism, Lady Astor, M.P. According to the News-Chronicle, the latter said that the Minister of Pensions had expressed the hope that women would “not make this a sex war.” Lady Astor added: —
“We have not done that, but the trade unions and the employers’ organisations have, by giving us unequal compensation”.—(News-Chronicle, September 22nd.)
Mr. A. J. Cummings, writing in the News-Chronicle, backed up the demonstrators: —
“Widespread indignation has been aroused by this strange new injustice, by which the worth of a woman’s body is rated so much lower than that of a man’s.”—(News-Chronicle, September 19th, 1941.)
Before giving the matter any thought most people will allow their natural sympathy with the victims of air-raid injuries to sway them into approval of the sentiments expressed, but it is worth while looking more closely into it. It will be noticed that there was no protest against paying a disabled and blinded man the niggardly amount of 34s. 2d. a week. Common-sense would suggest that if the promoters of the demonstration really wanted to avoid a “sex war” they would have based their claim simply on the fact that the amounts in question are paltry either for a man or a woman and that no approach to a decent living is possible on them. Why was this not done ? Why did not the leading lights get together and decide what larger amount should be aimed at both for men and women ? Doubtless the answer would be that if they had they would have found a cold lack of interest on the part of some of the defenders of capitalism who were willing enough to lend themselves to a “sex war.”

Notice, too, how the wealthy Lady Astor associates herself with her working-class sisters when she condemns those alleged to be responsible for giving “us” unequal compensation. If she were to become a victim does anyone suppose that she would be expected to live on 24s. 2d. a week or 34s. 2d. a week? But then she sees no “injustice” in a system that enables a small number of men and women to have incomes hundreds of times as large as those of the great majority of both sexes.

Then Mr. Cummings is moved by the injustice which rates “the worth of a woman’s body” 10s. a week less than a man’s, but he too is more concerned with this than with the fact that a man’s is rated at only 34s. 2d.

Some of those who use this technique of setting one body of worker against another know exactly what they are doing. They know that capitalism will be safe enough while workers can be divided by nationality, colour, religion, sex, skill, craft or any other side-tracking characteristic. Others are the muddle-headed dupes who cannot see the use that is being made of them. They might start by asking themselves exactly what is the principle they think should underlie the claim they make. Is it the principle of equality for all? If so, they will find Lady Astor and others their bitter enemies. Or is it the principle that while it is most important to have equality between disabled men and disabled women, between men wage-earners and women wage-earners, between men surtax payers and women surtax payers, there is nothing wrong with a system which breeds vast inequality between the classes, between the wealthy property owners and the poverty-stricken workers !

* * * *

What is a Doctor?

Under a sanely ordered social system goods would be produced solely for use and transport and medical and other services would be organised to meet the needs of the population. Not so under capitalism. At least half the energies of those who work are demoted to financial and other activities, the purpose if which is to look after the interests of the propertied class. ‘Bus conductors are not employed primarily to help the passengers but in order to prevent them from travelling without paying fares. Postmen and sorters are largely engaged in preventing evasion of postage and in carrying bills, receipts, cheques, etc., instead of facilitating useful communication. So also with doctors, who are less and less engaged in a disinterested care for health. The following is taken from a report of a recent conference of the British Medical Association: —
“British doctors are to approach the Government with an urgent demand to “cut all the red tape and let us get on with the job.” They complain that they are being overwhelmed by the present system of industrial certification, and are being asked to give certificates outside the scope of their professional duties.

Complaints were fully aired at the British Medical Association Conference yesterday, when nine motions were tabled protesting against the system. The case made out by the doctors is as follows : —

1. Demands for certificates are growing every week. Certificates for munition workers saying that they are unfit for work; certificates entitling expectant mothers to obtain special food; certificates, as one doctor put it, “for everything under the sun, from corsets to oranges and lemons.”

2. Doctors spend so much time signing certificates that they have no time to attend to their ordinary practice.

3. Apart from recognised certificates, employers are inventing their own certificates for their work people “further to harry the overworked general practitioner.”—(Daily Mail, September 13th, 1941.)

* * * *

Have we seen the last Millionaire?

In a broadcast talk on September 7th, 1941, Professor T. Jones spoke of the high rate of taxation now imposed on large incomes and prophesied that “we are almost in sight of the last millionaire.” The professor is being unduly optimistic and perhaps he has not very clear ideas of the way in which millionaires are made. The big fish devour the little ones and each other, and always there is fresh accumulation from the exploitation of the workers. Even if under war conditions large incomes are heavily reduced, war, and the post-war ups and downs of industry lay the foundations for new fortunes and for the increase of old ones. While during the war the prices of shares on the Stock Exchange have generally fallen this has been accompanied by a big rise in the wealth of landowners. According to the agricultural reporter of the Daily Express (September 1st) since the war started there has been a 25 per cent. increase in prices of land. He mentioned a public auction in South Lincs, at which agricultural land was sold at £140 an acre and quoted an estate agent who said that he had a long list of people anxious to buy land “even if the places do not show a profit on the investment.” “All they want to do is to safeguard their capital, and they believe there is less risk attached to land than to any other form of investment.”

As soon as investors believe that the end of the war is in sight with a defeat of Germany the prices of shares on the Stock Exchange will leap ahead and new millionaires will be in process of creation. Already it only needs reports of moderate Russian successes to send up prices. Marshal Budenny’s successful withdrawal of his armies from Kiev was sufficient to send prices “sharply ahead.” (Daily Express, September 24th.)

It is only necessary to recall how vast fortunes were made in shipping, textiles and other industries after the last war. Yet then, too, there were people like Professor Jones who looked only at a high wartime taxation and consequently missed what was happening. Below, for example, is an extract from a speech by Lord Emmott on July 7th, 1920: —
“I will take next the large capitalist who, in many cases, is a benefactor and not an enemy of the nation. Mr. Chamberlain has stated during the course of the Budget debates that putting excess profits duty, income tax, sugar tax, and provision for death duties all together, the wealthy man to-day is taxed at the rate of 16s. for every £ which he receives in income. Taxation at that level is dangerous to the community at large, and again I say, particularly to the working classes. . . .”—(Liberal Magazine, August, 1920.)
But Lord Emmott’s fears for the workers were groundless, and there were, ten years later, 540 millionaires in the country.—(Daily Mail Year Book, 1933.)

* * * *

” War-time Socialism ” that is not Socialism

A writer who signs himself “Landor,” writing in the London News, organ of the London Labour Party, discusses those of his colleagues who think that war-time Government control is Socialistic. He himself thinks they can properly be described as “steps towards Socialism” (which they cannot), but he has learned something from the last war: —
“But history is full of steps towards goals which were never reached. We had a lot of Government control in the last war, followed by books explaining that this was a step towards Socialism, but we never got the socialism. What we did get was a lot of trade associations, and quite a number of commercial combines and one or two monopolies. That is where the steps and the tendencies led us.

The slow application of state control over industrial activity in the last war, and its more rapid application, on the whole, in this war merely proves that it is generally accepted by the country at large that some measure of collectivism is necessary at a time when there is simultaneously scarcity and danger. It is nonsense to think that because people want more state control now they will want state control when the happy days of peace are here again. Most people associate Government regulation and rationing with danger and scarcity, and in consequence they associate derationing and decontrol with plenty and safety.”

* * * *

Money for Nothing

A writer in the Daily Mail (September 13th, 1941) was shocked to discover some workers in a West of England factory who demanded pay for the time they had to spend travelling forty miles between their homes and the new site to which their factory had been moved on Government instructions. He worked it out and found that “the skilled man travelling two hours every day between the two factories would be paid a guinea a week for producing nothing.”

He did not make a comparison between these workers and their well-to-do betters who in peace time can afford to go on world tours and other lengthy pleasure-seeking journeys, but the injustice is glaring. Why should workers be paid for the pleasure of travelling when the rich have to pay for their own ?

Another case nearly as bad was reported in the Daily Express (September 25th). “Boys of 15,” it said, “are earning £3 a week for making tea.” But in the adjoining City column is another report that the discovery of oil in Venezuela had sent up the 10s. shares of an oil company from 18s., which was the price a fortnight earlier, to 24s., and then, in one day, to 27s. This latter news item is published without comment or criticism. It will, however, be noticed that an investor who had, say, 20,000 of those 10s. shares, would have been enriched by £9,000 in 14 days. This is at the highly satisfactory rate of £4,500 a week. Making whoopee on the Stock Exchange can often be more profitable than making tea on a building job. If the Express and Mail object to money without work they might turn their attention to the whole capitalist system which is based on incomes from rent, interest and profit for the privileged few; including the many thousands of people with incomes of over £200 a week, all for nothing.
Edgar Hardcastle