Thursday, June 23, 2022

Editorial: The Future of Political Parties (1942)

Editorial from the June 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The late Lord Fisher, discussing a proposal to place the fleets of allied nations under one supreme commander, disposed of the matter with the remark, “the great objection to an allied fleet is that you cannot hang the allied Admiral.” The same kind of difficulty applies to political parties joined together in a coalition government. It starts off by pleasing all the members of all the parties concerned but ends by pleasing nobody. The leaders have to accept and defend a compromise programme and policy, and have to try to justify it to their own followers. They cannot take the usual course of blaming the leaders of the other parties. If the rank and file of the various parties develop strong views of their own their leaders cannot fall into line, for to do so would jeopardise the coalition. We can see this working out strongly at the present time. The entry of the Labour Party into the Churchill Government was overwhelmingly approved by a Labour Party conference but now—as is shown by bye-election results—local Labour Parties and the electors of all the parties in the government are kicking against the discipline imposed by the headquarters organisations.

The result of this strained feeling inside the large political parties is that independent candidates are getting elected in spite of the joint efforts of the party machines and there is much talk of new groups being formed such as the “People’s Movement,” formed by Mr. W. J. Brown, M.P., Mr. Edgar Granville, M.P., and Captain Cunningham Reid, M.P., with the aim of attaining “total efficiency in total war.” What is exercising the minds of party leaders is whether these events presage the decline of the old parties and the formation of new ones. The B.B.C. “Brains Trust” was recently asked if they agree that the party of the future will be formed out of a group from the Labour Party joining with the Communist Party? One member of the “Trust” gave the view that there would be no essential change, merely a shake-up of the old parties. Another thought that active spirits in the Conservative and Labour Parties would rally round the Liberal Party. Mr. Hannen Swaffer, a Labour Party supporter, has expressed himself as follows : —
“Conservatism, as we knew it in pre-war days, is dead except in the minds of the diehards who would still strangle us with the Old School Tie and who control the Party machine.

As for the masses of Labour people, while they remain loyal to their trade unions, without which they would be helpless, many of them feel that the Labour men in the Government are in the pockets of their Tory bosses.

As we are ruled by ‘joint Cabinet responsibility,’ we do not know what ameliorative schemes have been insisted upon by Attlee, Greenwood and Bevin in the past.

Nor do we know how much dragooning of the workers they have stopped. But, anyway it is obvious that the majority of the electorate are no longer going to be controlled by either Party machine.

Their new hero, whether they are justified in idolising him or not, is Stafford Cripps. And yet he belongs to neither party, and has no supporters except his own constituents in Bristol.

Were the Labour leaders well advised, they would make every possible endeavour to get Cripps to rejoin their ranks. He stands out as a national leader. The Tory machine may not like it. The Labour machine may not like it. But it is true.”—(“People,” May 3rd, 1942.)
It would be rash to be precise about the future of the political parties that bear the old names, though it seems most likely that after a period of depression the Conservative, Labour, Liberal and Co-operative Parties will regain much of their old position when they regain freedom of action in Parliament and the constituencies— even though the present leaders may give place to new ones. What is more important is not, however, the emergence of new names, but whether any new leaders or new parties will be essentially different. While capitalism remains there will be the same interests seeking to use political parties for the furtherance of their policies in Parliament. There are, for example, the interests represented in the Conservative M.P.s’ Committee known as the 1922 Committee. They were recently responsible for urging on the Food Minister the policy of making the multiple stores and the co-operative societies pay higher prices for their bacon, biscuits, butter, etc. In this they represent the interests of the smaller traders, who complained that the big stores bought direct from manufacturers or importers and thea sold at the same retail prices as the small traders who had to buy from wholesalers, at prices well above the manufacturers’ or importers’ prices. (Daily Express, May 16th, 1942.) The same Conservative Committee successfully opposed the proposed coupon fuel rationing scheme, this time in the interests of the fuel companies. The Manchester Guardian (14th May) says: —
“There were two strains of Conservative critics, and they met on the 1922 Committee. . . . One of these strains reflected very clearly the private interests concerned with fuel, the coalowners and the gas and electricity undertakings”
Similarly the trade unions use the Labour Party to look after day to day political questions affecting them as organised bodies, and the co-operative societies use the Co-operative Party. These are the forces that matter in capitalist politics, not the vague talk of new worlds after the war, or condemnation of the excessive rigidity of the old party machines, or the need for new blood and less old school tie. The latter are secondary matters, and there is little doubt that the politicians will find means of bringing themselves into line with discontented sections of the electorate who want capitalism to be reformed in slightly different ways or under different slogans.

In short, until the working class understand that their interest lies in achieving Socialism and not in reforming capitalism, capitalist politics in spite of such surface restlessness and re-grouping will go on in the same way as before.

The Labour Party and Socialism (1942)

From the June 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Trades Union Congress of 1899 a resolution was carried calling for the formation of a Labour Representation Committee. In 1900 a conference was held at which this latter body was formed. According to H. R. S. Phillpott, writing in the Daily Herald, February 27th, 1940, “the concrete thing that came out” of the conference was a declaration in favour of “establishing a distinct Labour Group in Parliament, who shall have their own Whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interest of Labour, and be equally ready to associate themselves with any party in opposing measures having an opposite tendency.” Arising from this the Labour Party was formed in 1906. In regard to this, Mr. C. R. Attlee, in his book, The Labour Party in Perspective(Labour Book Club Edition, 1937. p. 40), says : —
“The new Labour Party was formed on a very simple basis—that of the return of Labour members to Parliament. For all the years up to the end of the war this simple object sufficed. In 1917 as in 1906 its object is stated to be : ‘To organise and maintain in Parliament and the country a political Labour Party.’

“The conception of the Labour Party at that date is well expressed by Mr. Wardle in his presidential address in 1911 : —

“‘From the very first, the ties which bound the Party together were of the loosest possible kind. It has steadily and, in my opinion, wisely always refused to be bound by any programme, to subscribe to any dogma, or to lay down any creed. Its strength has been its catholicity, its tolerance, its welcoming of all shades of political and even revolutionary thought, provided that its chief object, the unifying of the workers’ political power, was not damaged or hindered thereby.'”
According to Mr. Attlee (p. 45), in 1918 “the Party now adopted Socialism as its aim. No longer is the mere return of Labour members sufficient. In 1918 the objects of the Party were set out approximately as they stand to-day,”

Object No. 4, which gave expression to this newly adopted aim, was as follows : —
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” 
We shall return to the contents of this object later.

Mr. Attlee goes on to describe the “very lengthy and diffuse” manifesto issued by the Labour Party at that time, Labour and the New Social Order in which “all Labour adherents could find their own particular reforms,” as “an uncompromisingly Socialist document” which, amongst other things, “did not consider for a moment the re-establishment of pre-war capitalist industry. The war, it stated, saw the culmination and collapse of a distinctive industrial civilisation, which the workers will not seek to reconstruct.”

In 1928 this manifesto was replaced by “Labour and the Nation

Once again, even though Mr. Attlee states that it differed considerably from its predecessor it was “a very long document, and, though not so all-embracing as its predecessor, comprised a bewildering number of subjects. A four-page summary set out no less than seventy-two proposals that a Labour Government, if elected, intended to carry out. It was obvious that nothing short of a miracle could have enabled the Party, even with an overwhelming majority, to get all these measures passed into law within the life of one Parliament, yet there was no suggestion as to which of them was to be given priority. It was, indeed, designed to rally to the Party a great variety of supporters.” (Page 53. Italics ours.)

After his description of the earlier pamphlet Mr. Attlee makes the following statement: —
“Allowing, however, for the difference in the country’s position in 1918 and to-day, the programme shows that as far as general principles are concerned Labour stood then where it stands to-day.”
We have quoted at length in order to establish from the best possible sources the basis of Labour Party policy, both at its formation and at the present day. Let us now consider a very brief history of the Party in the political field, and the results obtained as a consequence of attempting to follow such a policy.

At the election following the 1914-18 War the Labour Party became the official Opposition, and in 1923 was elected into power as a minority Government. Regarding its activities whilst in power, Mr. Attlee says (p. 52) : “The greatest success was scored in foreign affairs. . . . On the home front there had been no real decision as to what should be done first. Useful work was done, but nothing very striking.” And this was after the publication of that “uncompromisingly Socialist document” and the adoption of Object referred to above ! We must suppose that “all Labour adherents” were busy sorting out “their own particular reforms.”

In 1929 the Labour Party again formed the Government, this time being the largest party in the House of Commons, 288 members; the Conservatives totalled 267, the Liberals 59.

In Mr. Attlee’s opinion there were “three possible courses open to the Labour Party: to refuse office, to accept office and invite defeat by putting forward a Socialist programme and place the onus of rejecting it on to the Liberal Party, or to come to some agreement with the Liberals on a programme which would secure joint action in the House.” After discussing the pros and cons of these courses of action, he says : “No one of these courses was followed.” (P. 54 et seq.)

Regarding the activities of this Government Attlee records how “MacDonald was right in thinking that in the sphere of foreign affairs a great lead for peace and disarmament could be given, but he had no clear idea as to what course to follow in domestic affairs.” As a consequence those members of the Labour Party who wished for a “vigorous lead in home affairs found themselves side stepped and frustrated at every turn.”

Further on in his book (p. 109) we find Mr. Attlee describing the democratic constitution of the Parliamentary Party. In regard to this he says : “Party action in the House is therefore decided by the whole body of the members. … In practice a considerable degree of latitude is given to members, and the Party shows much toleration of individual vagaries. It insists, however, on majority rule.”

Relating this democratic procedure to the activities of the 1929 Government it would appear that the majority did not desire a “vigorous lead in home affairs” but preferred to peddle League of Nations theories on the Continent. No doubt they spent their week-ends sorting out the “bewildering ” “four-page summary” of “seventy-two proposals” in Labour and the Nation, or studying the Bible to find out how miracles were performed.

It seems, however, that this democratic procedure failed to function in 1931, according to Mr. Attlee. He attributes the lack of success and ultimate collapse of the Labour Party almost entirely to the ineptitude of Ramsay MacDonald, culminating in his betrayal of “those who had given him their trust.” “Mr. MacDonald had led the Party into an acceptance of gradualness …” Earlier Attlee says that MacDonald had “got more and more out of touch with the rank and file.” We may well ask, what was the rank and file doing, through the medium of democratic procedure, to allow MacDonald (and others) to so drift away, and yet remain1 the official spokesman of Labour policy ? It seems as if the Parliamentary Party was somewhat analogous to a sheep farm, with the flocks being driven hither and thither by a few “trustworthy” shepherds.

What was happening, in fact, was that the Labour Party was reaping the harvest from seeds it had sown in its early days and had since carefully tended.

If the quotations at the beginning of this article are studied it is evident that at no time did the Labour Party ask for the support of the working class for the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist system of society. Throughout the whole of its history it has sought to gain the votes of the workers, not for Socialism, but for reforms within the existing system. It has sought to gain political power at well nigh any price. It has stood for a reformed capitalism, a State capitalism, a nationalised capitalism, but never for the establishment of a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution.

Even in the Party Object No. 4 quoted above, which is to some extent similar in wording to the object of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, we would draw attention to the very important point that it does not call for the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production, etc. With regard to the phrases, “to secure for the workers,” “the most equitable distribution,” and “the best obtainable system of popular administration,” when these are placed in relation to the rest of Labour Party ideology, which does not visualise the need for social revolution, they imply only one thing. The “most equitable” and the “best obtainable” under capitalism.

Under Socialism there can be no question of the “most equitable” distribution, there will be only one distribution, and that will be in accordance with the needs of the individuals comprising society: and than that nothing can be more or less equitable. Under Socialism there will be no “best obtainable” system of administration; the system of administration will of necessity be fully democratic and consequently the best possible. Also, there can be no question of securing for the workers under Socialism the full fruits of their labour; everybody capable of working will work as a social duty and will receive in return as a social right a proportion of the fruits of the labour of society, in accordance with his or her needs. Lastly, let us point out that the use of the word “exchange” in relation to political economy can have only one meaning : that is the exchange of commodities. If exchange is retained, commodities are retained, buying and selling is retained, capitalism is retained.

Voice From The Back: The wasteland (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Wasteland

Derelict land in England now covers an area equivalent to a city twice the size of Birmingham, according to the country’s most detailed survey of vacant sites and buildings. The so-called national land use Data Base, due to be released shortly, finds that almost 130,000 acres are idle—in theory enough for 2.5 million medium-density homes. Guardian, 20 May.

How are the mighty?
The world’s biggest personal computer maker was thrown into crisis today as two of its top chiefs dramatically quit following a dire profits warning and plummeting share price . . . Compaq stunned Wall Street two weeks ago by announcing its first-quarter earnings would be half of what analysts expected, leading to a 23 percent tumble in its shares. Evening Mail, 19 April.

Russian capitalism 

Fifty-three percent of the Russian people are said to be living below the “official” poverty line; 2 percent own 57 percent of the country’s wealth (land, means of production, etc). the super-rich have, since 1991, managed, largely illegally, to transfer between 200 and 250 billion dollars out of the country. In 1997, 27 percent of the workers’ salaries had not been paid. The economy will contract by 6 percent this year. Source: The Centre of Studies for Living Standards, Moscow.

Capitalism is depressing

“There are more people suffering from depression in Britain today than asthma and diabetes combined. It is a major problem,” said Dr [Chris] Manning. One in four of the population suffered depression at some point in their lives. Four thousand people suffering depression committed suicide each year . . . According to the survey, money worries are the most likely trigger of depression, cited by 88 percent of people, followed closely by death and illness in the family, work worries and marriage or relationship problems. Guardian, 22 April.

Great expectations die again

Former freedom fighters and militant unionists who spent decades struggling to topple South African capitalism have become instant millionaires as the directors of new black-run companies or white-owned firms keen to get a few black faces on the board. Trade unions, the Communist Party and a slew of other organisations that once campaigned for the nationalisation of the gold mines and other “commanding heights” of the economy have joined the scramble to buy into private business. But critics say that black-owned firms treat workers little better than the white companies that financed apartheid . . . When a former Robben Island prisoner, Mzi Khumalo, took over a major company, JCI he was asked whether he would be sympathetic to the unions. “I have spoken to the unions at JCI and made it clear: we are here to run a business. I’m not for any of this brotherhood stuff.” Guardian, 22 April.

Winning the war

The world’s estimated 6m millionaires have shrugged off the effects of last year’s financial turmoil and are getting richer by the day. New research by Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, with Gemini Consulting, a management consultancy, found the wealth held by high net worth individuals with more than $1m of financial assets grew last year by 12 percent to $21,600bn. The World Wealth Report produced by the two firms projects a steady rise to $32,700bn by the end of 2003—a growth rate which is expected to attract more firms into the lucrative market for private banking and wealth management services. Financial Times, 17 May.

Class war casualties

More than 1m people are killed at work every year—including 12,000 children—and 250m suffer workplace injuries which force them to take time off, according to International Labour Organisation estimates. The worldwide annual workplace death tally of 1.1m outstrips the numbers killed in road accidents, war, violence and Aids and costs 4 percent of the world’s gross domestic product in terms of absence from work, treatment, disability and survivor benefits. Guardian, 28 April.

Losing the war 

Our Health Challenge:
  • Thirty percent more men [in the area] die from lung cancer than the national average.
  • Sixty-eight percent more people die from heart attacks.
  • Eleven percent more people die from strokes.
  • We are among the country’s ten worst places for deaths of babies at or just after birth.
  • We have one of the country’s highest teenage conception rates.
  • Thirty percent of households have someone with a long-term illness.

Our Social Challenge:
  • Thirty-five percent of households have no central heating.
  • Twenty-three percent of public housing and 17 percent of private housing are unfit for human habitation.
  • Four percent of privately rented accommodation have no exclusive use of bath/shower or inside toilet.
  • Ninety-five percent of Sandwell people have no qualifications beyond school.
  • Fifty percent more people are unemployed than the national average.
Better Health for Sandwell People.

Editorial: Voting and democracy (1999)

Editorial from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only about one in four people bothered to vote in last month’s election to the European Parliament, the lowest ever in a national election in Britain. Some are saying that this is a threat to democracy and an insult to our forefathers who struggled for the right to vote. Maybe, but only if you define “democracy” as the kind of representative system we have today where, every once in a while, we give the politicians a blank cheque to do what they want, or can get away with, in the meantime. Whether we can call this charade, in which rival leaders parade before us asking for our votes, a real democracy is another matter.

A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision; we vote according to our ideological inclinations to give them a “free hand” to make decisions.

Does that mean that in a real democracy all our time will be taken up with making decisions leaving no time to do anything else? Not at all. A person may not be particularly interested in, or significantly affected by, what happens in a neighbouring community, judging that this is something better left for them to decide. On the other hand they may well feel concerned by the problem of global warming but, within the framework of a “representative democracy”, the only recourse available to them is to join some environmental lobby group to petition governments who are under no obligation to comply with their wishes but who will in fact be more obliged to attend to the needs of Big Business whose very activities have directly contributed to this problem.

The point is that the very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of the social system we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the ambit of “ordinary people” as the system itself has become more and more globalised. It is this that has made the paper pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual as they attempt to grapple with the monster that holds them in its tightening thrall.

We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level. What we conspicuously lack is the will and the imagination to look beyond the crippling assumption that capitalism is here to stay. In the meanwhile we delude ourselves into thinking that the economic dictatorship imposed by this class ownership of the means of living can somehow be made compatible with democratic control within a system of political “representation” which is essentially adapted to that end. But we can have a real democracy—as soon as a majority of us are prepared to replace minority class ownership by common ownership.

Mary Gray and Eleanor Marx (1999)

Eleanor Marx
From the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
A number of papers of Mary Gray (1854-1941), an active member of the Social Democratic Federation before the First World War, have been donated to us. They contain some interesting material, including two previously unpublished letters from Marx’s daughter Eleanor.
The SDF had been founded in 1881, mainly on the initiative of H. M. Hyndman, as the Democratic Federation, a federation of London Radical (i.e. leftwing Liberal) clubs. In 1883 it proclaimed Socialism as its aim and changed its name to Social Democratic Federation. However, it kept its programme of “advanced” reforms to be achieved within capitalism, or what its 1892 Programme and Rules (which are amongst these papers) described as “measures called for to palliate the evils of our existing society”. In 1884, over this issue of retaining a reform programme as well as over the authoritarian behaviour of Hyndman, part of the membership (including William Morris) broke away to form the Socialist League. However, the SDF survived, and was always the bigger organisation.

After the demise of the Socialist League following its take-over by bomb-throwing anarchists, the SDF was the only organisation in Britain propagating the ideas of Marxian Socialism. Most of the early members of the SPGB had been members of the SDF, the Socialist Party being a breakaway from the SDF in 1904 for the same reasons that had led to the SL breakaway 20 years earlier.

Mary Gray joined the SDF in 1890. She had been born Mary Rogers near Wokingham in Berkshire, the daughter of a baker, in January 1854; in 1876 she married Willie Gray, a stonemason, and lived in Reading where their daughter, Florence, was born in 1879. Later the family moved to Battersea in London.

Mary Gray became a very active member of the SDF. In 1895 she stood as an SDF candidate, and was elected, as a member of the Battersea Board of Poor Law Guardians. She was a speaker and lecturer for them, and not just in London. Amongst the papers is a handbill advertising two meetings by her in Coventry in November 1896, one on “Socialism, The Only Hope of the Worker” and the other on “The Economic Position of Women”. There is also a press cutting from an Ilkeston paper of an outdoor meeting she addressed in the market square there in July 1897 on “Society As It Is”. For a time she was on the Executive Committee of the SDF.

As the title of the second lecture in Coventry shows, Mary Gray was interested in what was then called “The Woman Question”, not just votes for women but also the economic position of women generally under capitalism. She was on friendly terms with two other prominent women members of the SDF, Marx’s daughter Eleanor and Edith Lanchester.

Eleanor Marx lived with fellow Socialist Edward Aveling without getting formally married. This was a daring thing to do in the 1890s as Edith Lanchester found to her cost. A schoolteacher who at the time lodged with Mary Gray, she stood as SDF candidate in West Lambeth for the London School Board elections in 1894. The next year, when she decided to follow Eleanor Marx’s example and live with a man without getting married, her family found a doctor to certify her and she was locked up in a private mental asylum. As a result of the outcry and campaigning that followed she was released after three days. Various items in connection with this campaign are included in the papers.

The papers also contain two letters from Eleanor Marx, or Eleanor Marx Aveling as she called herself. Eleanor Marx was not simply Karl Marx’s daughter but an active Socialist in her own right. She had been amongst those who had left the SDF in 1884 to found the Socialist League but had resigned a few years later because she disagreed with the anti-parliamentary position it eventually took up. She rejoined the SDF in 1896 and was a frequent attender at the classes at the SDF offices at 337 The Strand, where Aveling lectured on economics.

Eleanor Marx’s letters to Mary Gray are not political but we reproduce them as they have not been published before. The first, dated 25 September 1896, is a short note which reads:
Dear Mrs Gray,

As you cant come Wedy you + Florrie must fix some other day. But try & come tomorrow night to 337. First because of classes, but also to fix up an evening to come here.
Eleanor Marx Aveling.
Florrie was Mary Gray’s daughter, who was then aged 17, and “here” was The Den, Jews Walk, Sydenham, London, where Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling lived.

The second letter, dated 24 January 1898, is longer:
My dear Mrs Gray,

I had a letter from Edith on Saturday — + if you have any news of her please let me know. I’ve written to Sullivan to ask if I cd see Edith. Is n’t her boy lovely? I am quite in love with this delightful little man.

I shd have been to see you — but as you know, Edward has been dangerously ill. He is now at Hastings, but though the lung trouble seems better, it seems certain that he must soon — in a week or so — undergo a most dangerous operation for the abcess he has so long suffered from. The operation is so serious that there is the utmost danger. But without operation there seems no hope at all.

So you will see, dear Mrs Gray, that I have very great trouble. Of course, I have not said anything to Edith in my letter of this — it wd be unwise for her, but I tell you, as I am so sure of your kindly sympathy.

Hearty greeting to Mr Gray + Florrie + you, + a big kiss to the sweet little man.
Eleanor Marx Aveling.
“Edith” is Edith Lanchester and “Sullivan” is James Sullivan, the man she lived with and the father of the baby boy mentioned in the letter. What is poignant about this letter is that within two months Eleanor Marx was dead. While he was on the South Coast, Aveling—who had never been highly regarded in the Socialist movement for his personal integrity—married an actress he knew. Eleanor felt she had no alternative but to commit suicide, at the age of 41. Those who believe in some form of immanent justice will be reinforced in their belief by the fact that Aveling did not survive the year.

Mary Gray is credited with founding the first Socialist Sunday School, in Battersea in 1892. Battersea happened to be one of the SDF branches which contained many of the founding members of the SPGB—the protest meeting which eventually led on the founding of the Socialist Party was held in Battersea Town Hall—and it is interesting to note that the Battersea branch of the SPGB continued the Socialist Sunday School tradition, a report from the branch in the Socialist Standard for November 1904 reading: “A Sunday School class for the children is held every Sunday afternoon, and is well attended, and after the school a communal tea is provided to which all comrades are most heartily invited”.

There existed a Socialist Sunday School Union, organised from Glasgow, though it seems to have been more of an ILP rather than an SDF movement, using progressive teaching methods and preaching a kind of “ethical socialism” but which was still recognisably socialist in general terms. For instance, a handbook published in 1923 which is amongst Mary Gray’s papers gave two definitions of socialism, one of which was:
Socialism is the co-operative ownership and control of the vital industries (connected with food, clothing, housing, transport, etc) and the means of education by all the adults of a national community, and it implies the abolition of rent, interest, profit and the wages system.
Also, a model lesson on “Money” ends as follows:
When the fields and factories, the trams and the houses, and all the material wealth of the world shall belong to all the people, and shall be used for the happiness and welfare of the people, no money will then be needed nor any millionaires.
At least this shows that socialism, as we have always defined it, is not our own invention but was once the more or less widely accepted definition.

Mary Gray was well-entrenched on the reformist wing of the SDF and wouldn’t have had any sympathy whatsoever for those who broke away from the SDF to set up the SPGB. The papers include a poem she wrote in 1903 on the first birthday of her grand-daughter which contains twelve excruciating lines describing an SDF meeting held to celebrate Hyndman’s recovery from an illness at which “the cheers that went up showed the love and reverence” of “his comrades and friends”.

The papers have nothing on her political views after 1903 but she remained in Battersea until at least 1935 before moving to Hampshire and then Wiltshire. She died in 1941.
Adam Buick

Letters: Censorship or conformity? (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Censorship or conformity?

Dear Editors,

1. Michael Gill’s experience (May Socialist Standard) in having his invitation to participate as a Socialist Party representative on Kilroy withdrawn on the researcher learning of his political views, will surprise only those who thought that audience participation involved no pressure from the production team.

Whilst dissent is acceptable with the framework of conventional left-right politics, that is, over which party can run capitalism better, pressure to conform exists at all levels of broadcasting. That this happens at the highest level is made quite clear by the original 1927 BBC Charter. This state “Government has the last word . . . an absolute power of veto over BBC programmes”, and it can also instruct the Corporation to withdraw programme material even before it is sent.

But censorship such as Michael Gill experienced may result not from government instruction, but from either the personal bias, conscious or otherwise, of the production staff, or, as probably in this case, the sheer pressure on staff themselves to keep within the bounds of political conformity. They too, are workers afraid to step out of line and dare not risk being accused of introducing either irrelevant or contentious material.

The sympathetic presentation of Kilroy tends to obscure the fact that many personal issues touched upon are trivialised by not relating them to a deeper social causation. But then, if it were to do this, every such programme would point the finger at the wider audience’s acceptance of capitalism as the cause, and the closing catchphrase, “Take care of yourselves” would take on a wider significance. The banal might even give way to the exciting and adventurous.

But does the Socialist Party really expect the government media to provide a free unbiased platform for their views? I am not optimistic. Despite a number of Broadcasting Reports recommending that broadcasting provide an outlet for minority political views, I feel that the Socialist Party must rely on its own slender material resources for this.

2. Stewart King’s letter (May Socialist Standard) on the anti-working class activities of the Labour government evoked many memories for me. As one of the conscripts he mentions, dragooned into the army by that government, I refused their order to help break a London dock strike—one of the eleven occasions that government had used troops in industrial disputes. I was of course punished. In a perverse way, the 1945 Labour government helped make me a socialist.

But the history of politics is shrouded in myth, especially where the “social welfare” legislation of the post-war government is concerned, and I hope I may correct the misconception in Stewart King’s letter ascribing child benefit to them. The principle of Family Allowances had received general cross-party support in the wartime coalition government, but the Family Allowance Act was, in fact, given Royal Assent on 16 June 1945, the operational date being set for August 1946, to be implemented by whichever party was then in power. The government on 16 June was a Conservative-led caretaker government and the legislation was put forward by Hore-Belisha, a Conservative minister.

The Family Allowance Bill was therefore enacted some six weeks before the General Election put Labour in power on 26 July 1945. For obvious reasons neither Labour nor Conservative parties are keen to publicise this fact.
W. Robertson, 
Hove, Sussex 

Free access

Dear Editors,

Regarding recent letters urging socialists to avoid using the S-word, the Socialist Party should take account of Tom Jones’s article about life being so “dull and hopeless that a lot of people hope for nothing more”. And how “psychological effects of many tiring, boring hours has a knock-on effect” in that “workers are unable to imagine a world free from the drudgery of wage slavery” (June Socialist Standard).

While agreeing with your February view that it’s wrong to “surrender the word”, I think most socialists accept Paul Azzario’s April letter point that “socialism” can evoke an immediate disapproving “Pavlovian reaction”. And this conditioned negative response (which a very influential media is still reinforcing today) combined with today’s widespread pessimistic indifference does require an apposite approach. Not a Basil Fawlty “Don’t mention the S-word”—just avoiding using it too soon.

One feature that can overcome disinterest, pessimism and any latter negative reaction to the S-word is the free access to food, goods and services that common ownership brings. Concentrating foremost on promoting shopping without paying; free homes, cars, overseas travel etc; and all public services being available without any cost is a promise that cuts through social despair and attracts interest, even if with disbelief more often than not. Supported by the basic explanation of collective asset-owning resulting in an equal right to everything produced, together with other significant benefits, means voters find socialism—far better than socialism trying to find voters with premature S-word use, and detailed meanings which, given Tom Jones’s accurate report of downbeat thought processes, inevitably turns people off. Getting major advantages across first and why they aren’t pie-in-the-sky, then gradually introducing the S-word no longer unintentionally puts backs up. As Aki Orr’s February letter said, “adapt language and tactics” to promote socialism. Capitalism’s hopelessness has necessitated spin doctors to conceal defects and lack of substance. But the Socialist Party must also spin socialism to break through with trumpeted benefits and supporting content—not raising an immediate S-word obstacle which does regrettably stop socialists from communicating and the exploited from listening.

Regarding the Socialist Party name, despite its fundamental truth and long existence, is it not credible that a title-change to Free Access Party (or whatever) could ironically help increase socialist awareness and party support considerably? I cannot see a changed title causing upset as socialists will only be concerned with completing the journey as soon as possible—not the vehicle’s name conveying them (and which is to be abandoned once socialism’s established). Is a membership vote on this possible to settle matters and avoid further doubts and distractions?
Max Hess, 
Folkestone, Kent

World of buying and selling (1999)

Book Review from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Manipulators by Jeffrey Robinson. Simon and Schuster, 1998, £17.99.

More than 40 years ago an American journalist, Vance Packard, wrote The Hidden Persuaders. In it he revealed how the advertising industry was mass producing customers the same way manufacturers were mass producing goods for the market. Now along comes Jeffrey Robinson to update us on the same theme. Short sentences. Racy style. The blurb is a fair summary of what buyers get for their money. Robinson unveils:

    * The new sciences that are being developed to turn the ads we see into magic bullets which can penetrate our defences.
    * How modern retailers are following hot on the advertisers’ heels with their own sleight-of-hand to snap off any lingering resistance to buy.
    * How we unwillingly contribute to our own commercial seduction.
    * How the worst is yet to come, as the internet and television combine to create a monster whose sole function will be to pick us off, one by one, and make us buy.

A truly scary scenario. One, you might think, that would provoke a call to oppose such a bleak future for homosapiens. Not a bit of it. Robinson’s tone and lack of critical comment amount to saying “Don’t worry about it—it’s the real world—just accept it”.

Most of the book is a series of sound bytes (or sound gnaws, as someone recently called them) about the tragi-comic world of advertising. They range from the disturbing to the tacky. Apparently people are employed to put tiny cameras inside frozen-food compartments in supermarkets to chart the eye movements of shoppers in the hope of determining better placement for high-margin items. My favourite quote is “In the ad biz, sincerity is a commodity bought and paid for like everything else”.

American authors are quite good at writing books about how badly the mass of people are treated and treat each other. Over the years Galbraith has excelled at being a “friendly” critic of capitalism. Don’t expect even that much from Robinson. He doesn’t mention capitalism, let alone say anything against it. The closest he comes to questioning the status quo is his sub-heading “It’s them against us, and the thems are winning”. Enigmatically, the last two sentences of his book are:

“It is not that Big Brother will have won. It is, rather, that we will have become Big Brother.”

To which socialists can only reply “Speak for yourself, brother!”
Stan Parker

Socialism has never been tried (1999)

From the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism is a simple idea but people don’t know what it is.
In our present-day selfish society, any talk of a society based on solidarity will usually be met by little more than a dismissive nod. “Don’t tell me–yet another collection for a few more poor devils! I’m sick to death of these collections–I’m getting very sceptical about them.” So when socialists try to explain that a society based on solidarity (traditionally called socialism) would have nothing in common with the present-day begging bandwagon, all they usually get is an incredulous groan. So what do socialists actually say? That we only have to want it and we can live in a moneyless world in which anyone can simply walk into a warehouse and take what they need, a world in which there are no armies, no police, no banks or stock exchanges, and no national borders. Clearly, anyone presenting such an argument must expect to be regarded as being mixed up or—an idealist. Such a reaction is understandable, as even the simplest of processes, the simplest of solutions must of course seem completely crazy to people like those depicted above, who have only a nebulous or completely distorted image of what a society based on solidarity means.

But socialists, on the strength of their knowledge and conviction, mean exactly what they say. More than that, they can prove not only that such a society is possible, but that it represents the only humane solution to present-day problems. Politics means something completely different to us than to the capitalist parties from far left to far right. We maintain that all current problems, such as wars, environmental pollution, racism, crimes of the worst kind, squandering of raw materials, housing speculation and not least unemployment, are not caused by governments or specific leaders, but are a product of the way in which society is organised worldwide.

The present-day system—we call it the capitalist system—is characterised by the fact that the basic essential resources for the production of goods, in other words the production plants, the entire transport network, the mines and other sources of raw materials, are in the hands of barely 5 percent of the world’s population. This minority includes both private companies and those here and there still in charge of state industries. Common to all of these is the fact that they supply goods and services only on condition that they can draw maximum profit from them. This is essentially how they are able force the other 90 to 95 percent of the world’s population to live and work under the conditions they do. It is the cause of all the serious problems in society.

Those who understand this basic premise, namely that the whole of society is subordinated to the profit motive, are already qualified to understand our case. They will understand that, notwithstanding the constant drivel spouted by professional politicians, in the present form of society profit is of necessity much more important than human interest. They will understand that any party which recognises the capitalist system can act only in the interests of that system. How often do we hear the old excuse that we are governed by circumstances?

The alternative to this—a society based on solidarity—has never seen the light of day in any country in the world. We socialists stand for the co-operation of all people worldwide on the basis of free decision-making and democratic control. We maintain—and anyone can check this claim—that the technical means have long since reached the stage at which we can use the world’s raw materials in the most economical manner so as to guarantee everyone a sufficient supply of the necessities of life, in every sense of the term. A minimum of effort—which is an obligation for all members of a community—will create a maximum of contentment, of joie de vivre.

Capitalism is essentially based on scarcity of resources. Such scarcity is maintained in the interests of profit, among other means by the ruthless squandering of human life and raw materials.

Moderate abundance
A society based on solidarity has as its foundation a system characterised by moderate abundance. Under such circumstances, the whole process of buying and selling clearly becomes superfluous. Poverty, strikes, stock market crashes, economic crises and barbaric wars will only be found in the history books. Striving for the best possible production results with ever improving human conditions will form the basis of activity for all those working in production, science and research.

On this basis, a community can be constructed in which all branches of art and culture will flourish. The upbringing of the young will be flooded with new ideas, as will the education system as a whole. The entire health sector will be freed from the miserable constraints of monetary considerations and be devoted entirely to humanity, to the benefit of all members of the community.

Under such circumstances, men and women will be filled not with hate and envy but with contentment and pride when they look at the products of the human mind.

What we need is great people, not great leaders
Anyone striving for a society based on solidarity does not need leaders. You cannot have leaders without the led, and by that we mean people led up the garden path their whole life long. For us, democracy is not simply a method of swindling people and in the final analysis continually depriving them of the fruits of their labour. We do not seek personal power or power for a small clique. We do not want some minority living a life of luxury at the expense of others.

Our aim is a society based on solidarity, in other words socialism. This means that, with the elimination of the downtrodden status of the working class, class society as a whole will be abolished. And not 10, 20 or 100 years after men and women have freely decided to abolish the exploitation of human beings by other human beings, but immediately afterwards. Anything less would be dishonest.

We are convinced that neither praying to gods, symbols of any kind or dogmas, nor placing one’s trust without any justification whatsoever in enlightened leaders is of any benefit to humanity. Nor are we nationalists. Our philosophy can be summed up by the slogan: one world, one people, socialism! This commits us to allegiance to the 90 percent and more of the world’s population who, like us, are victims of domination and exploitation.

Socialists cannot deviate from these basic principles. They therefore oppose all groups which support the profit system in its various forms and stages of development.

We are part of the working class. If we wish to live, we must sell our mental and physical efforts like the majority of the world’s population. We know capitalism from the bitter experience of those at the bottom. We do not belong to those privileged by this system, those who generally see nothing more in other human beings than inevitable cost factors, to be hired or fired, as appropriate, in order to guarantee profits and thereby privileges.

Many of our fellow citizens regard us as utopians. This is not because our ideas are unsound but because the defenders of the inhumane profit system have at their disposal a massive propaganda machine which day and night clouds people’s clear vision of things.

Hear us out. Talk with us. By all means question what we and others are saying, but remember one thing: the decision lies with you and with you alone.

Socialism is the simplest thing in the world. It is based on the voluntary co-operation of all members of society and guarantees free access to the fruits of their labour. Clearly, such a system can function only if it is based on the consciously expressed will of the majority of the members of society. There is no better means of establishing this will than by secret ballot. It is therefore essential to put up as many candidates as possible as quickly as possible, and thereby enable an unambiguous decision to be made between capitalism and socialism.

Help us bring about the simplest thing in the world. It cannot be done without you.

(Translated by M.D. from the March 1997 issue of Internationales Freies Wort, quarterly publication of the Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, the World Socialist Movement party in Austria)

Foolish Totem of a Hapless World (1999)

Theatre Review from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. National Theatre.

The National continues to boast proudly in its programmes that “The National Theatre is for Everyone”, whilst its newish director, Trevor Nunn, seems increasingly to pander to safe bourgeois tastes.

Last month Noel Coward’s Private Lives joined the repertoire, and audiences were invited to identify with two spoilt members of the “upper set” whose egotism and selfishness leads to the break-up of not only their own marriage but also threatens the well-being of their subsequent partners. The critics in the broadsheets had a field day affecting to see “significance” in the puerile machinations of the two combatants, whereas arguably the real significance lies in the fact that by producing such witless tosh in favour of other fare, the theatre offers an experience of stunningly irrelevance to the lives of most of their audience: Mills and Boon for the chattering classes. And this month Money by Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian son of a rich aristocratic mother, one-time Liberal Member of Parliament, novelist and playwright, Conservative MP for Hertfordshire and briefly Colonial Secretary, and latterly Baron Lytton of Knebworth.

If Bulwer-Lytton’s biography is hardly encouraging, neither is his play Money. In what seems a long evening Bulwer-Lytton is at pains to make what he sees as a crucial point: that money conjugates with success; poverty with failure. When Evelyn, the play’s central character, is in the funds he has friends by the score; once seemingly bankrupt his friends desert him like rats from a sinking ship. Bulwer-Lytton takes nearly three hours to ram his message home. Three hours in which to expose hypocrisy, but not a minute to question the economic and social structure which lies at its base. Cosy sentimentality in lieu of analysis. A triumph of escapism.

The talented cast do wonders with a turgid script. Bulwer-Lytton may well have been a successful novelist but on the evidence of this play he is an indifferent dramatist. His characters don’t so much speak as give voice to lines of prose. Close your eyes and you might be listening to someone reading a book rather than speaking.

Writing in the programme Peter Ackroyd paints a warts-and-all picture of Victorian London, and I wondered what the audience made of this. In easy, uncomplicated language Ackroyd describes everyday life in mid-century London “in terms which Lytton’s contemporaries would have preferred not to recognise”. Here is a real picture of Victorian London—”the streets filled with teeming and struggling life; the city as a prison, with walls and buildings towering above the people”—not the fay, prissy fantasies of Bulwer-Lytton.
Michael Gill

Election Results (1999)

Party News from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the elections to the Scottish parliament on 6 May the Socialist Party lists obtained 388 votes in the Lothians Region and 309 in Glasgow.

In local elections held the same day in England, the result in Primrose ward of South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council was: Perry (Lab) 1169, Armstrong (Con) 314, Bissett (Soc) 138. In the Deneside ward of Eastington District Council (three councillors) the result was: Peadon (Lab) 569, Lee (Lab) 558¸ Crowley (Lab) 534, Colborn (Soc) 163.

The election to the European Parliament in the North East Electoral Region on 10 June, where we put forward a 4-person list, was easily won by the abstentionists, the option chosen by over 80 percent of the electorate. The result, amongst the 19.6 percent who voted was: Labour 162,573, Conservative 105,573, LibDem 52,070 UKIP 34,063, Green Party 18,184, SLP 4,511, BNP 3505, ProEuro Conservative Party 2926, Socialist Party 1510, NLP 826.

TV Review: Our Masters’ Voice (1999)

Tyndall (top left) in his younger days.
TV Review from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month’s Euro election campaign is probably best forgotten—just as well, as most of the electorate appeared to have forgotten about it even before polling day. It was not that the political parties made no effort to influence the electorate, it just seemed as if they were going through the motions, well aware that wherever real political power lies in Europe it is certainly not with the European Parliament. The Party Election Broadcasts screened during the campaign must have been among the most hopeless and insipid on record.

The Conservative Party ran with a two-part playlet featuring a young, upwardly-mobile couple whose prose turned with the trivial to overtly political with all the subtlety and finesse of Yasser Arafat gatecrashing a barmitzvah. Labour’s best effort was another risible attempt at the canonisation of Tony Blair, the saintly führer.

The real British führer, of course, achieved a Party Election Broadcast of his own this time thanks to the BNP running a full list across most of the UK. Standing resplendent in front of the Cenotaph in Whitehall was the man who poses as the saviour of the white race, Mr John Tyndall, professional bigot, race hater and petty criminal. If ever there was a case to be made for lengthier prison sentences of the type advocated by the BNP, then this man must feature prominently. Even he, however, looked good next to the “vox pop” type interviews which followed, where stilted fascists posing as “ordinary” members of the public read from cue cards, turning a few minutes of nationalist rhetoric into what seemed like a lifetime of televisual embarrassment. Unusually for the BNP, their broadcast this time around did not feature Tyndall railing against all those impure elements who have taken the Great out of Britain—communists, Jews, blacks, homosexuals, liberals, teachers, Guardian-readers, social workers, feminists, etc. Rather like the Daily Mail, Tyndall now has a greater, more all-encompassing target than these minority groups: Europe itself. Britain must Get Out Of Europe he bellowed, NOW!

For those whose familiarity with the BNP extends beyond a PEB every few years, this is odd. If it is the case that opposition to all things European and support for everything home-grown and British is what now really defines the BNP’s politics then why is it that they have been happy to spend so much time in the company of European terrorists from Italy and elsewhere this last 15 years or so? Why is it that the BNP attends international gatherings in Europe where—bizarrely—other foreigner-haters from all the different nations of Europe are in attendance? And, while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how much of the money to finance the BNP’s election candidates (and hence its PEB) actually came from Johnny Foreigner? Questions, there are many, but answers no doubt there will be none.

Left, right
Also in evidence during the Euro-election campaign was that other authoritarian comedy act, Arthur Scargill and his ever-decreasing and increasingly amazing SLP. Like Tyndall, Scargill made sure the SLP put up nearly a full list of candidates so that it would be eligible for a Party Political Broadcast, and like the BNP, the SLP’s broadcast was a homily to the Little Englander political mentality, this time with a bizarre Stalinist twist. Despite their national exposure, it would appear that the SLP now presents no challenge whatsoever to Labour anywhere in the country, despite the massive display of apathy on election day from Labour’s core support. The SLP, shorn of many of the Trotskyist activists which paradoxically both gave it presence and rent it asunder, is now little more than a Stalinist sect with small followings in the faction-ridden Asian working class movement in London. Just like the BNP, it its vote was desultory for a party with national political exposure and a lowest-common denominator political appeal. Like his great political enemy David Owen, Scargill truly has the negative Midas touch: everything he touches turns to shit.

Political mind control of the type manifested in Party Political and Party Election Broadcasts is a difficult and inexact science, though when it works it can infect the minds of generations of the working class. Those who doubt this should take a look at Party Political Broadcasts: The Greatest Hits, a video collection of PPBs since their inception at the end of the Second World War. As you watch it, the carefully planted myths of a capitalist political lifetime unfold before your very eyes. Here are MacMillan, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair, bamboozling the working class with nationalist rhetoric and reformist promises as if their very life depended on it. It is in fact, a monument to political trickery and flummery throughout the ages. Perhaps, one day, Arthur Scargill and John Tyndall will find their way on to the sequel, bearing in mind, of course, that sequels are usually a pale imitation of the original.
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: The Nemesis of Labour Government (1999)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The dilemma facing this Labour government is one that must face every Labour government. It is one to which there is no solution and it must result eventually in the collapse of the experiment; for there is nothing a Labour government can do to end the workers’ discontent with capitalism. There are, of course, some Labour Party supporters who give what they think is the answer. They will admit that the workers can never secure lasting satisfaction within the capitalist system but will reply that the solution is the abolition of capitalism. Socialists agree with the latter but the dilemma still remains for the Labour government, because it is not in their power to introduce Socialism. Socialism is at present not a possibility because the mass of the electorate do not understand or want it. Anyone who considers the matter knows that this is so. The electors who vote Labour want all kinds of things but they expect them to be obtained within the framework of capitalism, through the efforts of the Labour government. (. . .)

The Socialist aims of abolishing the wages system, production for profit, buying and selling, property incomes, etc., in short the abolition of capitalism, is something quite outside the conceptions of the Labour Party.

(From the Socialist Standard, July 1949)