Friday, June 10, 2022

50 Years Ago: Reformers, not Socialists (1965)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the working-class student who has begun to free himself from the the mental bondage of capitalist teaching, the admissions of some of the agents of the master class often come as a surprise. This surprise sometimes has the effect of obscuring his view of the relative value of the other statements, made by these agents, and so leading to unsound or even false conclusions.

This is seen in the attitude adopted by the rank and file of the Labour Party. Clarion organisations, the so-called Independent Labour Party, etc., when some capitalist supporter happens to admit the existence of evils that stand out clear enough for any child to see. These supporters are at once hailed as “advanced”, or even as “Socialists”, when not the faintest real ground can be found for such a claim. The worker who has a firm grip of the essentials of Socialism, however, sees the matter from another standpoint. He knows that the development of capitalism forces forward certain changes (accompanied by new evils) that call for some regulation on the part of the masters. These admissions are, to him, evidences of the changes, signs of the development; but in no way do they mislead him into fancying the makers of these admissions are Socialists. He always applies the touchstone of Socialism to their views and actions on fundamental matters, and usually finds that these persons are the more acute and up-to-date of the capitalists' agents, and that their work is the more misleading on that account.

From a review of "Elementary Principles of Economics” by Ely A Wickers, Socialist Standard, June 1915.

The Passing Show: The Blame Game (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ignorant will blame anyone or anything for a problem, without any worthwhile evidence. He will blame the weather for his corns and the moon for his madness. and the “blacks” for just about every social evil afflicting us today. The "blacks” have taken the place of the Jews. Irish and Welsh as a focus of the bigot's vehemence and hatred when he tries to account for problems which one government after another has failed to solve. At sometime or another in the past few years I have heard coloured workers blamed for: unemployment, bad housing, low wages, sexual depravity and very recently for the worsening traffic problem. Yes, one workmate even chucked that one into the pot for good measure.

The other scapegoat minorities of former days must be sighing with relief that for a change it is not their backs that are being beaten, but if the racialist ever gets through with hating coloured workers, we may be sure that some other minority will be in for it. The fascist-minded worker — let us not mince our words — clings to these spurious ideas from a twofold purpose. First of all, he can dismiss any social evil with a wave of his mental hand, by blaming the selected scapegoat. To blame is easy; it avoids the tedious job of hard thinking. Then again, spleen and anger are handy ways of working off the frustration which life under capitalism causes him, but which he has no idea how to tackle. To rant, snarl and blame are his stock-in-trade, to scratch under the surface and try to explain — never.

But how many outwardly calm and reasonable people fall for this sort of stuff? A good many I should say, if Smethwick is anything to go by, although perhaps they would shy off supporting an avowedly fascist party. The man who blamed darkies for the traffic congestion was one such as this. A very even- tempered, quietly spoken, even reticent chap, likeable in a dull and uninteresting way, but harbouring the same sort of misconception about capitalism’s problems as any fanatical hot-gospeller of race hatred.

It is anyway the same basic attitude—see a problem—think up a theory—and then try and make the facts fit it. Such is the stuff on which fanaticism and bigotry thrive. All capitalist politicians use this method to some extent at some time or another. The tragedy is that it goes down so well with the average audience.

"Give generously . . . He did" — Churchill Memorial Fund Slogan.

“The Minister for Economic Affairs drove home his point — that Labour wanted to create a Britain for which non-Socialists could be persuaded to vote"
(Guardian report 3.5.65).

“I will never so long as I am Minister of Defence be a party to putting British. soldiers, sailors and airmen into action without the tools of their job.” (Denis Healey, 2.5.65.)

“An incomes policy is part of the price we ought to be willing to pay to ensure that men and women are kept at work." (James Callaghan—Chancellor of the Exchequer. 2.5.65.)
Eddie Critchfield

Letter: Workers' Control (1965)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article “Workers’ Control”, in the January 1965 Socialist Standard, you appear to me to use the term “society” rather as an abstraction. After some not unfamiliar arguments, you conclude, rather arrogantly, by asserting that the workers in industry would be incapable of running affairs. It is so ‘‘incredibly complicated” that only “society" can do the job.

But in what does society consist but men and women, mostly the workers in industry, as asserted by the people you are criticising? And who runs “society” today but the “higher” echelons of the working class?

If they are considered incapable of assuming responsibility, who will do so?
John Adamson, 
Blackheath, S.E.3.

We have never said that the working class, in industry or elsewhere, are incapable of running affairs. In fact one of the central points in the Socialist case is that, under capitalism, the working class run the world from top to bottom—only they do it not in their own interests but in the interests of the class who own the means of wealth production and distribution.

Socialism is the expropriation, of this owning class and the transfer of the means of wealth production to society as a whole. In other words men and women (no longer a working class since classes will have disappeared) will run affairs in their own interests; they will produce to satisfy their needs.

Nor does the Socialist Party regard society as an abstraction. Society is made up of men and women organised in a particular way. Today, production is social; the means of wealth production are complicated in the sense that they consist of a world-wide network of mines, factories, railways and the like.

The article “Workers’ Control” said, among other things, that since production is social, and not a collection of self-sufficient units, then the administration of the means of production must also be social. We did not suggest— and we do not think—that the reason for this is that the people who operate a particular part of this social productive apparatus are incompetent. It was merely a plea to those who accept the confused idea of “workers’ control” to face the facts of social life.

After all, a mine or a factory is not self-sufficient. Finally, we should mention that the whole idea of "workers’ control" is coloured by the conditions of capitalism, that it suggests that the centre of peoples' lives under Socialism will be the place where they happen to work under capitalism.

It ignores the fact that under Socialism men and women will no longer have to be tied to a particular job and a particular place of work, but will be able to use their various abilities in many different ways. This is what “from each according to his abilities" means.
Editorial Committee.

The Dangers of Race Prejudice (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The root cause of modern race-prejudice is the capitalist system of Society, a society of competition and struggle; struggle between capitalist and worker, struggle between capitalist and capitalist; struggle between worker and worker. For the working-class, who constitute the overwhelming majority of its population, it is a society of poverty and insecurity; to most of them it offers not the slightest chance of escape from a lifetime of constant, heart-breaking effort to earn a living. For the working-class, it is a society which breeds war and strife, in which their masters, on whose behalf they fight, use every device to stimulate antagonism and hatred between them.

From the cradle to the grave, they are subjected to a mass of propaganda which deadens their minds, works on their prejudices, and endeavours by every means possible to turn their thoughts away from the real cause of their troubles. They are the tools of political leaders and demagogues who make them promises which they do not keep. Disappointed, they exchange one set of political leaders for another, whose promises are no more fulfilled than the promises of those before them. They become disillusioned, bitter, and cynical; fair game for dictators and “strong men" who promise to lead them to a "promised land ”, but instead lead them into greater disasters and misfortunes.

All the time they are experiencing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, competition for jobs, struggles to “rise up the ladder”. They seek to escape from the harsh world of reality in dreams and games of make-believe, in football pools and cinemas, but only for brief moments, for capitalism soon brings them back to things as they are, and not as they would wish them to be. They still have to contend with poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and war. For the working-class, Capitalism is a society of mental, social, and economic frustration; as such it breeds race-prejudice as a swamp breeds pestilence.

To the extent that Socialist ideas permeate the minds of the working-class, wherever they may be, to the extent that workers realise that their interests are in common, irrespective of race, and opposed to the interests of the capitalist class, irrespective of their race, to that extent win they become proof against race-prejudice and will work together for the establishment of Socialism which will end, once and for all, the problem of race-prejudice.

In the words of our Declaration of Principles: ". . . the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex ”.

From SPGB pamphlet “The Racial Problem —A Socialist Analysis" (1947).

Work for Socialism—Now ! (1941)

From the December 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a question of historical development. That is to say, certain historic conditions must exist before Socialism is possible. It could not be brought about merely because people willed or desired it—in the absence of the economic and political circumstances which make it possible. It could not be brought about in the absence of the will and desire for it, even if the economic and political circumstances were favourable. The two things must go together: favourable economic conditions, and the desire, before Socialism can displace the existing social order.

Nothing is more certain than that to-day all the circumstances necessary for the establishment of Socialism do not exist. Those lacking are the desire, the will and the understanding. In a world in which the majority of the workers in one of the largest continents are organised behind their respective governments in a war which promises to provide the most wholesale example of suffering and self-sacrifice by any subject class since the beginning of civilisation cannot, by any strain of the imagination, be described as a world which is even remotely ready for Socialism. Millions are at death grips with each other in a war which, whatever the outcome, means the continuance of capitalism in one form or another.

And yet ideas concerning Socialism are more widely spread than ever. True that many are bastard ideas; true, tragically, also that few recognise their illegitimacy.

Let us therefore restate a few basic essentials of the Socialist case. We need not apologise for doing so. We regret it has been necessary for forty years. It is still necessary. Socialism involves the abolition of private and class ownership in the means and instruments of production, and the establishing of an order of things wherein they will be owned by society. For the first time in civilised history mankind will face the problem of organising production for society without an owning class. Things will be produced solely for use and because people need them. They will not be produced to sell and to provide profit for the owners of the means and instruments of production as they are under capitalism. There will be no profit. There will be no wages because men and women will not need to sell their energies in order to live. The function of money to circulate goods will disappear because it will not be needed. The function of wages to ensure that the worker receives only part of the wealth he produces will disappear because the worker in Socialist society will enjoy the full fruits of his production, after meeting the necessary replacements and enlargements of the means of production and distribution. Wages are an indication of working-class poverty and measure only its extent. The continuance of the wages system under any government or with whatever modifications is still capitalism.

The revolutionary change in the economic basis of society from private to common ownership will produce corresponding changes in the whole organisation of social life. Culture and leisure will be free to all instead of to a minority. Social, moral and family habits and customs which rest upon the private property basis of capitalism will adjust themselves to fit into the new order. Capitalist ideas will dissolve into history’s melting pot. Freed from the poverty and servitude of class-society men and women will face each and the other as free and equal social beings. All social values will undergo revolutionary changes. Reflection upon the potentialities of society organised on a Socialist basis humbles the imagination.

Anything short of this is not Socialism : it is capitalism by whatever name it is called.

Even most workers who desire some change would not accept Socialism as defined above. They would reject it because they are not ready for the revolutionary and profound changes which Socialism would involve. Socialism to them expresses no more than a drive for some particular adjustment in social conditions or some improvement in the conditions of life of the workers. Steeped in the prejudices of the capitalist system and all the ideas which go with it, most of them would reject Socialism as we expound it. The Socialist Party is opposed to them only on the grounds of logic and science. Simply, they are not Socialists.

We do not exaggerate the position. Take the I.L.P. as an organised political party, as an example—and, incidentally, since most other sections of the Labour movement have given up or suspended any claim to a role in the struggle for Socialism during the war the I.L.P. is perhaps the one organisation which to-day provides obvious examples of the misconceptions concerning the nature of Socialism. In the “New Leader” (November 15th) it announces that it has decided “to start a campaign for a Socialist Britain,” and accompanies the great news with bold headlines. And the programme? Just the old reformist trash : (1) “Social justice in Britain and National Liberation in the Empire”; (2) “To shorten the war by stimulating Socialist Revolution against Nazism in Europe”; (3) “To save Soviet Russia.” Plus the usual features in I.L.P. “programmes”—”the nation to take over the banks” . . .”the control of prices,” and “minimum standards of living,” etc. The disappointing thing about the “decision to start (our italics) a campaign for Socialist Britain now” was the realisation that the announcement did not preface a confession of the discovery, that until the “start now” the I.L.P. had concerned itself with anything but Socialism. Another striking thing was the uncertain interpretation as to whether it was in support of the war (“Save Soviet Russia”) or in favour of stopping it, as formerly.

We repeat, the fact that Socialism is assumed to denote no more than social reforms or government decrees shows that the worker is not yet ready for Socialism. Socialism is not round the corner. To pretend that it is or to ignore the immense tasks that yet lie before Socialists and the working class would be a disservice to Socialism, We scorn the easy road that might lead to large support and popularity. We have been in the business of making Socialists for nearly forty years for no other reason than that a majority wanting Socialism is the first condition for its establishment. For nearly forty years events have provided innumerable tests of the soundness of our Object and Declaration of Principles. Nothing has deflected us from our purpose and path, or diverted us to the pursuit of any secondary purpose or of any other object than Socialism. We have tenaciously ploughed our way unshaken by revolutions, civil wars and world wars. More than ever to-day we take our stand on the position that the economic and social problems of the world can be solved only by Socialism; that workers everywhere have a common interest with each other which overrides all other interests. When this second world war is over and the armed struggle for dominance is suspended pending recovery or regrouping, there will be a return to the problems which existed before the war. The workers will face basically the same problems as before. Unemployment and insecurity and the perpetual fear and threat of war.

There can be but one answer to these problems for the workers. There is no solution to any of them separately. The solution to any one of them is the solution which will sweep all of them away together. That solution is the one we have proffered at all times throughout our history as the remedy for the social and economic problems which confront the workers. That solution is not a new discovery. At all moments throughout our history it has been our answer. It still is and will continue to be:

Harry Waite

Editorial: Must Socialism Wait for the Last Hottentot? (1941)

Editorial from the December 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many people who—without being Socialists—have seen that the future of the human race lies in the direction of international organisation are worried and perplexed by the problem of the “backward races.” Forgetful of the processes by which their own opinions were changed and their knowledge enlarged, they look with dismay at the seeming hopelessness of converting the rest of the population. As one “young man in a hurry,” who later drifted into Fascism, used to ask, “Must we wait for Socialism until the last Hottentot has been converted ?” At present nobody worries about the Hottentots and other dark-skinned peoples, for the apprehension has taken a new twist. Now we are asked how the world can ever deal with the savage Germans and jackal Italians and other low-grade peoples who have fallen into the absurdities and brutalities of Fascism. For their part, of course, Germans and Italians who have swallowed the racial dogmas of their leaders despise the supposedly degenerate supporters of democracy and loathe the Jews. Taking a short view, the outlook for Internationalism and Socialism may look black, but actually the widespread character of these theories of racial inferiority, and the multiplicity of changes they undergo from time to time, are a good indication that the whole conception is false and will not endure. If history could show that the majority of the human race had been consistent in its belief that some one section was inherently inferior there would be a case to look into. Instead, history shows no agreement, no consistency. The sub-human races of one day are the esteemed brothers in arms of the next, and each new generation has disproved the judgments of the last. In our own century there have been wiseacres who have said that the Slav races (notably the Russians) are incapable of acquiring the mechanical knowledge and skill of the Latins and Teutonic peoples of Western Europe; just as, less than a century ago, it was confidently prophesied that the Germans were incapable of catching up the industrial development that had gone ahead in Britain and France. Latterly the view was that the yellow and black races were inferior to the white in this matter of mechanical and inventive skill. Japan and China and India have disposed of that view, and the present war has shown North American Indians, Maoris, Indians, East and West Africans, and many others acquiring all the knowledge and training required in the handling of the mechanical marvels of modern war.

Only a few months ago the following report appeared in the Times of the training of Abyssinians to operate telegraph systems :
“One of the most curious and impressive sights in Addis Ababa at present is that of 200 young Ethiopians, with hardly a word of English between them, who are being initiated into the arts and mysteries of telegraphy by half a dozen British n.c.o.s of the Royal Corps of Signals. These pupils are destined to form the nucleus of both the new Ethiopian Telegraph Service and a signal company in the Ethiopian Army.

A few of them have had some slight experience of the matter during the period before the Italians were evicted, but most are complete novices. Nevertheless, after eight weeks’ training, a handful are already sufficiently advanced to be employed as assistant wireless operators, while others are out reconstructing the telegraph lines destroyed during the war, under the supervision of British signallers.”—”Times,” August 27th, 1941.
It will be said truly enough that mechanical skill and capacity is only part of the problem. What about the other qualities, without which the smooth working of a world social system based on common ownership is unthinkable ? How can peoples co-operate who are given to aggression and filled with a desire to dominate those weaker than themselves ? To which the answer is that these are not inherent, racial characteristics. There are no peoples or groups which would not acquire them under appropriate conditions and were incapable of shedding them with changed conditions and greater knowledge. Take the Italians who have supported or condoned Fascist intolerance and imperialist brutality. By general agreement the Italians were regarded, to use the phrase of a recent book on Italy, as “one of the most kindly and tolerant peoples on earth.” It was stated in the Press only last month that Italian prisoners of war in a camp in England refused to draw their small pay on All Saints’ Day. They asked that it be given to the poor in a neighbouring village, “especially to any poor families who have lost men in the present war” (Times, November 21st, 1941). Will anyone who knows the Italian workers and their past record of loyalty to the earlier attempts to form international working-class movements believe them incapable of playing their part in the future, on the ground that they fell into the common error of trying to solve the problems of capitalism by the road of dictatorship and colonial conquest ?

The truth is that, no matter how much the conduct of human beings may deteriorate under bad conditions, nor what mistakes workers may make in their search for a way out of the chaos in which the world finds itself, there are no nations or races in which the suppressed class have been or can be permanently robbed of the desire to understand and to learn. What Mr. H. G. Wells wrote of young people in this country is true, at least in large measure, of adults here and everywhere else. “Most people want to learn,” he wrote. “Put the stuff attractively before your new generation and they will take it greedily, just as they will grow healthily if wholesome food is put within their reach” (Sunday Dispatch, November 23rd).

One nation learns from another, and one group of workers learns from another as well as from their own experience. If we who are Socialists look after the task of teaching Socialism, we shall not in the long run have to trouble overmuch about the so-called backward or degenerate races.

Blogger's Note:
Naturally, I was intrigued by the following passage in the editorial, 
As one “young man in a hurry,” who later drifted into Fascism, used to ask, “Must we wait for Socialism until the last Hottentot has been converted ?”
I believe this is in reference to a debate that the SPGB had with the British Union of Fascists in 1935 where the B.U.F. representative, Probyn, said the following during the debate:
Socialism asks us to wait until world conditions are ready for a change, but that will be over 500 years hence. We are not going to wait until every Hottentot has a bicycle. Fascism believes in getting down to earth and making the best of the material we have now  . . . 
(April/May 1935 Socialist Standard)
Earlier in his speech Probyn had 'confessed':
Mr. Probyn said that as usual he found nothing new in the Socialist case. He had been a Socialist for ten years and had even flirted with the S.P.G.B. However, he would leave the question of Socialism until his second speech and would first put the case for Fascism.

 Funnily enough that line "Socialism asks us to wait until world conditions are ready for a change, but that will be over 500 years hence . . . " sounds familiar. Didn't Lenin say something along the same lines?

The Problem of India (1941)

Book Review from the December 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is no Sleeping Beauty. The apostles of the “inevitability of gradualness” have been pulverised by the crashing blows of events during the last decades. War—crisis—then war again; the false complacency of “improvers” and social reformers is now revealed in all its inadequacy, for like a series of terrific earthquakes, capitalism administers periodical shocks.

The backward countries are particularly affected. Already it is clear that the battleground of the present conflict is moving east. Africa and particularly Asia will bear much of the brunt of the world-war.

Again, the productive powers of the warring countries will be strained to their limits, no source of supply will be left untapped; think of these factors and then think of India.

The Problem of India,” a “Penguin Special,” is a book of some two hundred and fifty pages. The author, Doctor K. S. Shelvankar, an Indian student, presents his case exhaustively, efficiently and clearly. In his foreword he claims that it is not “pro-British and anti-Indian or vice-versa,” but that he is “pro the things that can bring food and freedom for the millions who are to-day deprived of them.” “Food and Freedom !” In his historical survey of pre-British India the author makes it quite clear that there was not much of the first and none of the other for the masses of peasants and handicraft workers. A multitude of oppressors and exploiters, princelings, landowners and middlemen, plus the inevitable crowd of religious parasites, the priesthood, had to be maintained according to their social status out of the products of the labouring masses. The system of agriculture was backward even when compared to the then feudal structure of Western Europe. This was due to a variety of reasons: Lower fertility owing to lack of irrigation, wasteful methods of tilling, little domestication of animals. It is not the purpose of this article to follow the author deeply into the historical development of India, for Socialists here the main question is the position of India under the rule of British capitalism.

However, Dr. Shelvankar’s investigation of India’s past is an impressive, though necessarily condensed, piece of work. Methodically he describes for us the whole structure of India as it was when the traders from the European continent came to barter and cheat the Indian population under the banner of Christianity. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch and the French and finally the British in the form of the East India Company. The British stayed.

At this time, during the 15th century, the country was under the rule of a Moslem dynasty, the Moguls, having been conquered by a series of attacks some four centuries previously. Victors and defeated were of different religion, the former were Mohammedans, the latter Hindus. The two faiths did not assimilate each other; both existed side by side and do so to the present.

The invasion made little or no difference to the economic life of the country; it merely deposed one ruling group and substituted another. Peasants toiled on the land, the craftsman worked on his job, but the surplus-value, politely called “tax,” went to the princes and priests of Islam instead of to the Brahmin caste.

The Indian feudal structure differed in important essentials from the system prevailing during the same period in Europe. This must be remembered in order to see why India did not develop into capitalism of its own accord, but had to have the capitalist virus injected into the body economic from without.

The Indian village community remained static. The handicraft worker stayed put, the victim of the peasant’s abysmal poverty; the towns remained the pleasure-grounds of the feudal rulers. Commerce was restricted to the needs of the thin upper crust, a mere by-product of an effete social system, as was the highly-skilled artisan labouring in the prince’s courtyards.

Into this paradise for capitalist exploitation came the British merchants and soldiers ready to assume the “white man’s burden” of gold. The Whig politician, Sheridan, described the East India Company as “wielding a truncheon with one hand and picking a pocket with the other.” The truncheon was soon replaced by the rifle and bloody battles throughout the country blazed the trail of British conquest. Then came the mutiny in 1857, the Company was wound up, and India came under the control of the Government, as the “brightest jewel in the British Crown.”

For more than eighty years India has been a Crown Colony. The British ruling class cannot therefore disown responsibility for the conditions now obtaining among the mass of the Indian people. It is not a pleasant thought. Out of a total population of 353 millions, and a working-mass totalling 154 millions, excluding children, about 66 per cent, are still employed on the land either as smallholders or labourers. Only 18 per cent. are employed in trade, transport and industry. There is a middle group composed of professional workers, officials, small business men, etc., numbering roughly 15 millions. Then comes the top layer of big landlords (princes, etc.), industrialists and others living on big private incomes.

The preponderance of agriculture is evident. It is not agriculture as we know it in the Western world. Large-scale farming is practically unknown except in products designed for export such as cotton, jute, linseed, tea and coffee. The production of food grown for home consumption, cereals, pulses, sugar, and so on, has been left to stagnate under a system of primitive small-holdings, the owners of which are burdened down by government tax and money-lenders. The standard of living among these peasants as well as the urban proletariat is so low as to be incomprehensible to our minds. To quote the author:
“Excluding the cultivators, most of whom, clinging to dwindling plots of land, are on the brink of insolvency and steeped in debt, we have sixty or seventy million agricultural and industrial workers holding on to dear life by the skin of their teeth. Very few of them—a fraction of 1 per cent. at the most—earn as much as 1s. or 1s. 6d. per day (i.e., between £12 and £18 a year); all the rest toil and sweat for a few pennies a day.”
How do they exist? Dr. Shelvankar tells us.
“The average village dwelling is a low, flimsy, crooked structure with mud walls, a mud floor and a thatched roof. It is windowless, airless and has no sanitation.”
The urban proletariat vegetate in hovels “with no windows, chimneys or fireplaces. There is neither light nor water supply, and, of course, no sanitary arrangements.”

Their diet is reminiscent of kept animals, only much smaller in quantity. The daily food of an industrial worker in the towns of Bombay or Madras consists of l¼ lb. of cereals and little else. The average consumption of milk per head in working-class households in Bombay “is less than ½oz. supplemented by .05oz. of melted butter.” Many of the peasants exist on an even poorer diet.

Is it any wonder that during the first thirty years of this century “Cholera has claimed 10¾ million victims, influenza 14 millions, plague 12½ millions and malaria 30 millions ” ?

And yet pacifists can only see the horrors of war !

What remedies can be applied to alleviate such distress? As was to be expected, the author of this book argues strongly that first of all India must be freed from British domination before any comprehensive policy of progressive amelioration can be put into effect.

The core of his case is, that by a deliberate policy of imperialist exploitation the development of industry has been stifled, whilst a mortal blow has been dealt to the old village communal system, adding the burden of alien exploitation to the existing native incubus. As a consequence the demand for working recruits to industry is not large enough to relieve the economic pressure on the over-populated small-holdings. He contends that the country has in the main been allocated the role of supplying to British capitalism the natural products so vital for an empire of industry and commerce, plus the provision of countless well-paid sinecures to members of that exclusive ruling-class “freemasonry,” the old school tie.

During and since the last war, however, there has been a marked rise in industrial output, particularly in textiles. It is certain that this industrial impetus will be intensified as a result of the present war. Therefore, even if it were the wish of the British ruling class to retard the growth of capitalism in India, the evolutionary process is not a thing that can be held back for ever.

That is the Socialist view, and it should be taken into account when we are dealing with nationalism in a colonial country. Further, it has yet to be shown that “national liberation” would prove to be something worth the effort and sacrifice for the hungry millions.

For as the author himself notes:
“The outstanding feature of Indian industry to-day is the degree to which ownership and control are concentrated within a comparatively narrow circle. ‘The same set of individuals’—rich merchants with a sprinkling of the more prosperous professional people—‘hold the bulk of the shares in all the cotton, jute and other concerns.’” (Page 155.)
We have still to be convinced that in matters of economic welfare or on any other questions the Indian masses could expect a better deal from their native exploiters.

Dr. Shelvankar seems to recognise the truth of this. He agrees that the handing over of the country to a native bourgeoisie, or worse still, the princes, would not improve the situation. In his view the only hope for India lies in the introduction of a “planned Socialist economy” for which national liberation would provide a stepping stone, a period of brief “transition.”

It is a view which has no basis except in the optimistic imagination of the author, who assumes that “liberation” would give the nascent Indian bourgoisie only a short lease of life. Quite the contrary. Success in the struggle for national freedom may have the effect of eliminating for a long time to come whatever influence (and it is very small indeed) the ideas of independent working-class action, not to speak of Socialism, has in India to-day. The very status of national independence presupposes a powerful native ruling-class secure in the support of a nationalist-minded population.

The author several times quotes Ireland in dealing with the agrarian problem. It is a pity he did not allow himself, and his readers, a glimpse at the virtual stagnation of the working-class movement in the Irish Free State at the present time. It is certain that this standstill is partly the result of the struggle for national independence which completely occupied the energies of the Irish workers.

Dr. Shelvankar wants his working-class compatriots to make the same mistake, but expects them almost immediately after to turn on the movement for which they have suffered and bled, throw over the nationalist illusions with which they have so long been nurtured, and proclaim their conversion to socialist ideas.

However desirable Mr. Shelvankar’s hopes may be, they are totally unrelated to the problems he is attempting to solve. Under present conditions in India, and with the standard of political consciousness prevailing among the majority of its inhabitants, the platform of national liberation can at best only lead to some form of native capitalism. This is clearly seen from the nature of the mass-movements India has so far produced. The Congress Party, though some of its leading spokesmen such as Nehru claim to the Socialists, is in fact no more than a movement of national liberation. This is implicitly recognised by the author himself when he deals with the growth of Indian industrialism during the last war. On page 176 he says: “These developments marked a critical transition in the nature of Indian capitalism. From being predominantly commercial in character, it was launching out into industrial production. But its real strength lay not so much in the economic resources at its command as in its affiliation with a political movement (the Congress Party) which was becoming a menace to imperialism.”

Later, in dealing with the record of Congress in office, in 1937, he has to admit that so far from justifying hopes of a working-class character, it showed even amity to British rule. As for the peasants, they received a rude shock when, in the province of Bihar, their champions entered into a pact with the landlords, whilst “the entire labour movement . . . denounced a Trades Disputes Bill designed to interfere with the right to strike,” which was the act of the Congress Government of Bombay (page 231).

But the chief force in India is still wielded by Ghandi. He is the real spokesman of the peasants, the bulk of the Indian people. For him the future of India lies in the past, a return to the primitive agricultural community; he is the idol of the masses, the illiterate, half-starving millions, who have not yet been pulled out of the primitive slough of religious fanaticism, and are left to the mercies of money-lenders and their agents. Not content with their “legal” whack, they take advantage of that illiteracy to double-cheat their prey.

The author’s sympathy for Ghandism is evident by the approval with which he quotes the policy of the peasant leagues, “which is nothing less than the abolition of landlordism and the cancellation of peasant debts and reorganisation on such a basis that exploitation in every form would be ended and ownership vested in the cultivator himself” (page 221).

This raises the question: What does Dr. Shelvankar mean by Socialism ? What kind of India does he visualise that would justify the term “planned Socialist economy”? For Socialists private ownership of land, as well as any other form of ownership in the means of life, is not compatible with Socialism at all. On the contrary, the small land-owner is a particularly reactionary obstacle to the achievement of Socialism. Dr. Shelvankar reveals his misconception of Socialism when he refers to Russia as a Socialist country, and gives the Soviet state-capitalist order as the example which India must follow.

In fact, the author, like many other left-wing Indian nationalists, completely disguises, perhaps even from himself, the real issues of the Indian problem. The vexed questions of religious and caste differences are fobbed off under the theory of the British policy of “divide and rule.” This may or may not be true. But that they are able to do so depends primarily on the low level of understanding, and particularly class-consciousness, which inevitably exists among the Indian masses to-day.

An important omission from the book is the total absence of any appraisal of the international issues of which the Indian problem is only a part. The wars in Spain and China have apparently taught Dr. Shelvankar nothing, but their lessons have not been lost on Socialists. Backward and smaller countries cannot assume a ”national independence” that does not exist in fact. Even Russia has had to face the bitter tragedy and humiliation consequent upon a balancing of capitalist world-power. The chances of an independent India are nil.

Socialists have, of course, to aim to break down all barriers, whether of nation, race or religion, which to-day divide the workers of the world according to the convenience and benefit of their exploiters. And let it be noted by cynics, pessimists and opponents of Socialism alike: The world to-day is more interdependent than ever before. The conflict raging at present will leave its mark in every corner of the globe. In India it will have far-reaching effects.

Socialists everywhere feel the deepest sympathy for the Indian masses in their struggles to raise their heads from under the yoke of poverty, of domination, alien and native. The problem of India is part of a world-problem; a world-wide movement for the achievement of Socialism is the only solution.
Sid Rubin