Sunday, July 3, 2022

Capitalism and the State (1957)

From the July 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Fabian myth shared by Mr. Strachey is that increasing state activity, especially on its economic side, is an important factor in changing capitalism into something which is not really capitalism. Like Communists, although for other reasons many Labourites have proclaimed that the system is on its last legs. Unfortunately for such a view, capitalism seems to be a centipede.

State Economic Activity and Capitalism
It may be pointed out that state economic intervention has been a feature of modern capitalism right from the start in the form of state funds for capital projects, subsidies, technical research, tariffs, etc. So far from state intervention being a symptom of the system’s old age. it has. on the contrary, been a means whereby the various capitalist nationals have attained a more vigorous economic life.

That there has been a great increase in state activity in the history of modern capitalism is undeniable. This is due to the fact that the state is bound up with and inseparable from the general activities of capitalism. With the vast expansion of capitalism there has gone a corresponding increase in the activities and functions of the state. Just as the development of capitalism, nationally and internationally, has led to an increase in the antagonisms and tensions not only within the national economies, but between them, this in turn has greatly added to the growth of the weight and complexity of their problems. The state thus comes increasingly to the fore as the one social institution able to cope with these problems at any adequate level.

Origin of the State
Marxists do not regard the state as part of some eternal dispensation. It can be shown that the state is an historical product and, like all other social institutions, it has an origin and growth. Marxists point out that there have been societies without states, hence society is both logically and historically prior to the state institution. The state as an organised coercive agency does not in fact emerge until the break up of early tribalism, with its primitive egalitarianism, which was brought about by the development of private property relations and its concomitant privileged and unprivileged social classes.

With the division of the community into owners and non-owners of the sources of wealth production, the state as a social power becomes the means of ensuring the continuance of this division against disruption from within, as the result of social conflicts engendered by antagonistic class relations of production and enemies from without. The state thus serves to guarantee the legal titles of those who own the means of production and gives them the right to appropriate the labour of others, be they slaves, serfs or wage workers. In the ultimate instance these legal relations can receive a physical sanction by the control of the state over the armed forces. Thus any class which is the dominant class in a given set of private property relations of production must have direct or indirect access to the state apparatus.

The Struggle for State Power
If since the passing of primitive society history has been the history of class struggles, then these struggles have centred around the attempt to preserve or win state power. Thus an established ruling class will seek to maintain its control over the state machinery in order to perpetuate a social arrangement favourable to themselves. On the other hand, a rising class which aspires to become a new ruling class, will seek to obtain control of the state in order to mould it along the lines of their own interests. This was the position in which the bourgeoisie found itself in its struggle against the old feudal order, although economic development, by placing them in the key positions of the productive process, had given them an advantage over the old class, they found the old social organisation based on an older mode of production, inadequate for a new expanding form of production of which they would be the prime beneficiaries. The need for the control of state power became essential to bring about a social arrangement more accommodating for the extension and widening of the divergent economic powers.

It can be seen then that a particular form of state organisation is the product of a social class or classes which benefit from a particular set of property relations which it is the state's obligation to enforce.

The Meaning of Private Property Relations
When Marxists say that the state is the protector of private property, they mean that it guarantees the class interests of a given set of property relations. But the significance of these property relations do not consist in the mere ownership of things like the possession of a pair of trousers or the tools of an independent craftsman. Capitalist private property relations means a social relation between men, a relation between owners of the means of production and non-owners.

The social relations of production of capitalism are linked then with a definite class interest which confers upon those who own the wealth resources the right over the disposal of the labour of others. And it is to maintain and enforce these social relations of production that constitutes the primary function of the state.

Reformist View of the State
Marxists point out that class social systems, with their corresponding state structure, are the outcome of social development. They have come and gone, and there are good historical reasons for stating that capitalism, which is the latest of such systems, will also be the last and in turn will give way to a classless and hence stateless social organisation.

While Labour and Fabian theorists accept the fact of the class structure of capitalist society, they do so on different grounds to Marxists. For them social classes and state organisation have always existed and always will. That is why Labour propaganda, although it at times makes veiled references to the injustices of a class society, never advocate the abolition of classes. For them capitalism is part of an eternal dispensation. Their theory is then unhistorical and uncritical.

If, according to such a view, there must always be a class differentation in the social structure, what purpose does the state serve? Their answer is that the function of the state is to minimise the conflict between the classes to the greatest possible extent, in order to maximise social harmony. On such an assumption the state is not a class organ but a classless agency which exists to reconcile divergent economic interests for the greatest common good. Translated into actual political practice, it is the class collaboration theory of the old political parties, whereby the state serves as a means of seeking to blunt class antagonisms.

Such a view of the state provided an opportunistic springboard for the initial high dive of the Labour Party into politics. Its case against the Tories and Liberate was that it had subverted the true function of the state to act in the interests of the whole of society by taking sides in the use of state power. The side of the rich against the poor; thus using the state for a class purpose. It did not say the rich should not be rich, but that they should not be too rich. It did not say that the poor should not be poor, but that they should not be too poor. Social reforms and taxation were to be the instruments for redressing the abuses of Tory and Liberal rule and so bring about a greater equalisation of what they considered as part of the natural order of things to be a socially unequal situation. Nevertheless, their claim that by redressing social abuses they would restore the proper social balance between the classes, compelled them to pose as champions of the under-dog, and even gave the illusion if not the reality of their being a class party, which in spite of their most strenuous denials to the contrary, they have only recently lived down.

Accepting as they did the contest between Capital and Labour as a social norm, they claimed that they would see it was fought under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. As a genuine third man in the ring, they would see the bigger opponent did not use his weight unfairly or maul in the clinches. They would on occasions even compel him to pull his punches. Nevertheless, they were only too anxious to point out that should the workers attempt to take advantage of the situation, unduly, by pressing their claims too far, it would be necessary in the general interest of society for the state to seek to restrain them. That various Labour Governments have used this pretext to employ the repressive machinery of the state to curb the demands of various sections of the working class is too well known to need recording here. In the real world of capitalism the state remains the guarantor of capitalist property relations.

The old apologists for capitalism used to explain away its class division as a division between brain and hand. Labourites refer to it as the division between intellectual and manual work. Like the old apologists, they also accept as a corollary of this that great differences in income are part of the natural order of things. Mr. Strachey in his book, Contemporary Capitalism, in spite of his pseudo Marxist language, endorses the Labour' Party’s views on all these matters.

One cannot help being struck by the identity of Labour and Tories social outlook. The Tories also accept class society as part of the eternal dispensation and the state as being the true representative of society as a whole. Thus Burke, Hegel, Comte, John Stuart Mill, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, find their synthesis in modern political theory.

Labour Party and Social Planning
When the Labour Party speak of social planning they do not imply the controlling and harmonising of the economic resources in the interest of the whole of society. What they mean is the adoption of certain state policies for the better regulation of the forces of capitalism. Indeed, in a system where profit is the ruling motive and anarchy of production an inevitable consequence, social planning in any real sense is impossible.

In the distant past Labourites saw the hope of a socially planned capitalism in the growth of monopolies. So far, however, from monopolies eliminating the anarchy of capitalist production, as was fondly imagined, they on the contrary tend to intensify it, because monopolies seek the pursuit of certain ends, regardless of the requirements of the economy as a whole.

Labour’s Changed Views on State Capitalism
Early Fabian and Labour theorists, often ex-civil servants, dreamt bureaucratic dreams of a state directed capitalism. Present day Labourites now see it as a nightmare. They have long learned that private appropriation, the interplay of the market and individual economic calculation are the indispensable norms of world capitalism and hence British capitalism. It knows that a Whitehall capitalism so far from solving present day problems, would only complicate and intensify them. In fact, the present anarchy of production would be the essence of economic rationalism compared with the organised chaos of a vast state controlled capitalism.

Now the Labour Party and, of course, Mr. Strachey along with them, have no “plans” for taking over capital accumulation. With proper safeguards Mr. Strachey blandly assures us capital investment and the profit motive must still be the unmutated mainspring of his “mutated economy.” As Mr. Morrison once observed, the Labour criticism of capitalism was not that the capitalist makes profit, but his inefficiency in failing to make continual profit sufficient enough to justify his existence. This also, it seems, is Mr. Strachey’s views.

State Investment
For many years it was fashionable for Labour “experts” to laud state capital investment as an alternative to private investment, and that a planned economy could be achieved by a major intervention in the economic affairs of capitalism via state investment. Such an assumption was utterly unrealistic. Not only would state investment have to compete with private investment, but capital accumulation and profit making would still constitute the mainspring of the system, and the problems of capitalism would remain essentially unaltered. In point of fact, any analysis of modern capitalist countries will show that the state has never assumed any obligation to direct and control capital accumulation, and Labour Governments have been no exception to the rule. What governments have done is to devise policies which seek to aid and maintain capital accumulation. Even social reform legislation, in so for as it succeeds in blunting class antagonisms, has for this reason a bearing on facilitating the smoother path for accumulation.

If capital accumulation, as it can be incontestably shown, is the norm of capitalist society, then it follows that state economic legislation must follow the pattern of that norm. Unless we assume that state policies are designed to undermine and finally destroy this most fundamental feature of capitalist behaviour—the self-expansion of capital. There is not the remotest evidence that the reformist parties contemplate such a project The state exists then to act on behalf of the aims and objectives of capitalist society. While state policies may modify capitalism, the state can never transform capitalist society, whose creature it is. And it is only transformation that can be equated with significant change.

Whatever changes the Labour Party envisages in capitalism, it always unchangingly assumes capital in eternal control. Something for which the capitalist class no doubt feel eternally grateful.
Ted Wilmott

Special Note to Canvassed Readers (1957)

From the July 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

We would very much like to know the reaction of you workers whose front doors our canvassers knock on. What you think of our ideas, and in particular our principles.

We know from experience that the first time a Socialist knocks on your door and introduces you to the Socialist Standard, it is usually the first time you knew that some party other than the usual ones exist, and we have a lifetime of prejudice to break down before you are prepared to consider seriously the case that we put.

Also, if you have just come home from work and our knock gets you up from your tea, we know the reception suffers accordingly. Add to this children going to bed and the fact we may call on a night when you are broke, we get some slight idea of what Socialist propaganda has to cope with. There is, of course, another reason which brings you to the door in a bad frame of mind, that is when you have been watching television. This is really a shame, because what it amounts to is that those workers are too busy trying to escape from Capitalism to find out how to get rid of it. In face of all the problems such as food prices, rents, clothing, holidays, strikes, war news, and so on, you find it easier after a day’s work to laugh at T.V. than to do a little serious investigation about the cause of it all—hence it just goes on.

Are we paid for it?
It is also probable that some of you think that our canvasser sells Socialist Standards for a living. This is not unreasonable, since all kinds of people are everlastingly knocking at your door trying to “sell you something." For our part we get two things out of going round with the Socialist Standard, one is tired feet, the other is a sense of satisfaction in doing something to help our class forward to an understanding of their position in the world as wage-workers, because we know it is only from this understanding that the system of work, want and wars will be removed. Yes, like you, our canvasser has done a day's work before he calls; he has the same problems as you, plus Socialist ideas, and he is always prepared to discuss these with you. It is not always possible to stop at one door for an hour, as much as we may like to, as there is more to be done, so please send us by post any questions, etc., which time on the doorstep does not permit a satisfactory answer to.

We must claim your attention
In the world of today where many millions read one or another of the daily comic papers, does it seem hopeless for you to make any effort, would it be any use if you did? The answer to this is it would make every difference—remember your neighbour is probably just waiting for you to do something, as well; if all leave it to each other, no one will do it. Socialism can only come when enough workers want it, and since it answers your problems as well as ours, you must do your part. Develop the habit of reading the Socialist Standard every month, introduce it at work, leave it on a bus; above all, do not resign yourself to the fate that the world as it is cannot be changed. It can be changed. You can most certainly play a part in changing it. First you must understand what needs changing and how to change it The problems we face all arise from the fact that the means of producing goods and services of all kinds are in the hands of the employers. Because of this profit is society's motive force instead of needs; because of this the struggle for oil and markets, etc., exists, which leads to wars. To send Socialists (not Labourites) to Parliament backed by understanding for the one object of making these means of living the common property of all (see our object) is the only answer. This means no wages, no money, no market, profits or wars, but world-wide cooperation to produce enough and happiness for everyone. Yes, it is worthwhile reading the Socialist Standard and getting your fellow-sufferers to do so.

We invite you to attend our Branch meetings, the address of your nearest branch is on the back of the S.S. If you are a member of a trade union, we would be glad to send a speaker to your branch should they be agreeable. You will also find in the S.S. a list of our pamphlets; these are the clearest Socialist statements on the subjects they deal with. We strongly urge workers everywhere to read our case, the result, when enough of you do, will justify the effort. Our canvasser will bring any pamphlets you ask for the next time he calls. We'll be seeing you.
Harry Baldwin

What they are saying (1957)

From the July 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

We Told You So

“We in the Labour movement feel it is time we had a look at what we have set up. When the coal industry was nationalised we felt that we were setting up Socialism in this industry, but we now discover that what we have introduced is simply state capitalism.”—Mr. G. Moir (Paisley) at the Co-operative Party conference, reported in the Manchester Guardian of 23/4/57.

A Child Communist's Guide to Democratic Centralism

“In this struggle has evolved the principle of democratic centralism, which combines democracy and centralism, both essential in our organisation.

“Democratic centralism is centralism on the basis of democracy, and democracy with centralised guidance.” —Mr. John Mahon, at the Communist Party Congress, reported in the Daily Worker of 22/4/57.

The People’s Flag is Deepest Red, White and Blue

“If we have been too uncritical of the Soviet Union in the past, it does not alter the fact that we are the most British Party in politics today.”—Mr. John Gollan, at the Communist Party Congress, reported in the Daily Worker of 22/4/57.

Capitalism and Human Needs—1957 
Food Shortages every year 
American help for India

“Every year there is a famine in India somewhere, and some people go without enough cereals to fill half a handful, and are reduced to digging the ground for tubers and scratching trees for bark . . ."

Too Much Wheat in Australia 
Cannot find market

“The Australian wheat industry faces the worst, marketing trouble since the depression of the 1930s, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sr John Teasdale, said today (April 24). .
[Beginning of two adjoining articles in the Manchester Guardian of 25/4/57.]

50 Years Ago: The Separation of Ownership from Management (1957)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

The logic of events has altered somewhat the character of the opposition that is made to the Socialist. He is now seldom told that the personal management of the capitalist is essential to the working of industry, for it is precisely those concerns in which the personal supervision of the capitalist is lacking that are driving the personally managed businesses to the wall . . .

It is only the small businesses that can, in any real sense of the word, be said to be personally directed, and the small concern is in a parlous way beside the great public company. The large firm is able to considerably reduce the proportion of management expenses by distributing them over a larger volume of work. It is also able to extend the division of labour and to introduce and suitably employ the most efficient machinery. It is, able to buy in large quantities and, therefore, more cheaply; to make consignments of goods in bulk and, therefore, at lower rates, and in many ways both in buying and in selling to overreach its smaller rival . . .

The sweating underground master-baker is out-competed by the eight hours day machine bakery. The struggling tobacconist, tea dealer, and the like, are being crushed by the branches of the great distributing trusts. The small cycle maker is losing ground before the great Coventry companies, and on all sides a similar process is going on . . .

The working class now runs industry to its own misery for the profit of its oppressors, but the day is near when it should take those industries that have been built up with its blood and sweat and transform them from means of profit for a handful of parasites into the means of its deliverance from slavery and degradation.

(From an article “ Industrial Democracy.” in the
 "Socialist Standard,” July, 1907.)

We Are World Changers (1942)

From the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Irish writer, Seán Ó Faoláin, in a book he wrote entitled “An Irish Journey,” made the following remark ; —
“When you go to war you do what you do in the movies, tear your ticket in half, and the half you leave outside is your critical faculties.” (p. 252.)
The statement has another meaning as well as the one the writer wished to convey.

The tragedies and upheavals of war give fresh life to philosophical, religious and mystical views of various kinds, partly because mental strain disturbs the capacity for clear thinking in many people, partly because these views give the feeling of an escape from problems bound up with war, and also partly because these views serve the interests of the class of privileged people who wish to emerge from the war with their privileged position unshaken.

The more the brains of workers are tortured or lulled with mystical views the less clear is the thinking they can do about their fundamental problems. The worst of the matter is that people derive a temporary relief from putting these problems behind them as insoluble or accepting them as inevitable. In this they are like the early Christians who gave up hope of improvement in their earthly life and despairingly accepted their miseries without resistance, treating them as scourges on the path to paradise.

The problems of the workers, endless toil, poverty and insecurity, are neither inevitable nor insoluble. They are the product of the economic conditions of to-day just as the problems of the chattel slave and the serf were the product of the economic conditions of the times in which they lived. In fact, the fetters that bind the producer are a heritage from the dawn of civilisation, when a portion of mankind grabbed a privileged position and forced others to do the work.

Food and air provide what is called physical and mental energy—moving and thinking. The limbs move and the brain thinks. Thoughts are either pictures of the world around us or are based upon our surroundings. We can only understand what people may tell us by relating it to our own actual experiences. In the early days of the human race picture-writing gave place to the use of symbols in passing on messages and ideas. It is similar with the mental development of the child in our times; actual pictures are replaced by symbols but behind the symbol is the immediate world around the child.

Our thoughts are based upon our surroundings and our surroundings, our environment, is partly physical— mountains, rivers, plains, and so on—and partly social— our connections with our fellows. Our thoughts therefore are shaped partly by the physical and partly by the social environment. As our main concern is obtaining the necessities of life, which can only be accomplished by close connections with our fellows, the social environment is the dominating influence in shaping our thoughts. This social environment has undergone radical changes across the centuries and so have man’s thoughts.

Looking at the matter from another angle, the fundamental aim of human beings is to be happy, and happiness for the overwhelming mass of the world’s population is bound up with an adequate supply for each person of the physical necessities of life—food, clothing and shelter.

But the satisfaction of his bare material needs is not enough to make man happy. He also requires mental satisfaction. That is to say that as man has been helped onwards to his present civilised state through mental exertion it has become essential to him to engage in mental as well as physical activity. Thus, whatever form it may take, the opportunity must exist to exercise the intellect. In other words, man cannot be satisfied with a mere animal existence like a cow in a field—however much some may have cause to envy the cow !

Across the ages man has exercised his brain to enlarge the supply of necessities and also to explain the world around him. His endeavour to explain the world has been limited by the state of knowledge of his time, but, more important still, by the nature of the glasses through which he has looked at the world. Thus to the Greeks and Romans, in spite of their intellectual achievements, a world containing universal suffrage was unthinkable because chattel slavery was the basis of their social systems.

The bare, gloomy mountains and the fructifying river gave a colouring of savagery and voluptuousness to the religious outlook of the Egyptians. But under this colouring was a basis of thought that reflected the social conditions in the valley of the Nile; for instance, the threat aimed by the religious hierarchy at the ignorance of the well-to-do about what would happen after death. By playing upon this ignorance the priesthood was able to acquire vast wealth and influence. From that day to this the wealthy have paid for their ignorance but have also been assisted by the priesthood to hold on to their privileged positions.

Apart from the few mystics who, intentionally or unintentionally, blind themselves to the needs of the world around, the main preoccupations of people to-day is either adjusting present society to make it run more smoothly or building a new society out of the present one. Thus it is agreed that the present social order creaks badly. As the Socialist is bent upon building up a new society out of the old he examines the old to find out the nature and the cause of the creaks. This cause is the private ownership of the means of living.

The problem that should encase the attention of the workers, apart from the obtaining of the means to live, is therefore the problem of how to get rid of poverty and insecurity for ever so that they may live like men and women and not like beasts of burden. This problem is bound up with the present organisation of society into wealth owners and wealth producers—capitalists and workers. All the producing and distributing of wealth is done by workers—those who are compelled to sell their energies in order to live. All the fruits of production pass into the hands of the investors, the capitalists, who in the main do not, and need not, work, but who own the products of labour because, through their shareholding, they own the land, factories, ships and other means and instruments of production.

While this division of society into two classes, with interests that are fundamentally opposed, remains, there is no way of abolishing the poverty and insecurity problem. In other words, there is no way by which the workers can lose the characteristic of beasts of burden providing comfort and security for wealthy idlers. The solution of the problem makes necessary the abolition the basis of classes—the abolition of the private ownership of the means of living. This abolition can only be accomplished by building society upon another basis, the common ownership of the means of living—Socialism.

Thus the Socialist accepts the materialist conception of history which is one that is based upon the knowledge provided by history that changing economic conditions are the driving forces in social changes. It is the Socialist outlook upon the world, the glasses through which he looks, and necessarily so as the Socialist is out to change the world. Whatever views philosophers may hold is therefore, immaterial to the Socialist because he is a world changer and is only concerned with what works towards that end.

It is for this reason that the Socialist turns a cold eye upon the new philosophic, religious and mystical interpretations that bubble up from a tormented world, as attempts on the part of their authors to find a mental escape from evils that frighten them or to parry the blows that promise to sweep privilege out of the world.

Philosophical views of the world are numbered by hundreds but, in the long run, they have not influenced for the better the lot of the wealth-producing classes throughout history, though they have sometimes provided battle cries for new classes seeking privileged positions for themselves.

Thus whatever kind of philosophical or mystical views may be put forward at different times to explain the world as it is, it has no fundamental bearing on the practical question of changing the world because the latter depends upon the economic interest of sections of the population. The Socialist appeals to the workers on the ground of their economic interests which is what counts in the struggle to obtain a secure basis for happiness for all.

All people are born alike in this, they pursue what they believe is their best interest. It is therefore the duty of the Socialist to convince the workers that the movement for Socialism is a movement that is in harmony with their fundamental interests, which of course it is.

While the poverty problem remains the workers need not bother and bemuse themselves about the views of philosophers and their like. The point is to change the world by establishing Socialism and then they will have time and opportunity to dream in comfort about whatever systems of thought give them interest, amusement or satisfaction.

Editorial: Human Nature, the Black Market and Socialism (1942)

Editorial from the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many who are vaguely sympathetic towards Socialism complain that they cannot see what basic difference there is between the S.P.G.B. and the organisations which seek to reform the capitalist system. They think we are exaggerating when we say that there is a fundamental similarity between the admirers of capitalism and the reformists which separates both from the Marxist. A glance at a topical problem, the “black market,” will show that there is no exaggeration in our claim, for both the admirers of capitalism and the reformists believe that it is possible to retain the basis of the capitalist social system and yet to change its operations and the conduct of the human beings who live under it, by means of Acts of Parliament and appeals to goodwill.

When the war began we were told by those who claimed to know that there would be no “profiteering” in this war. Socialists smiled and were disbelieving, knowing that a system built on a foundation of private ownership and profit-making will go on producing its evil results whether in peace or war. We smiled again when the News-Chronicle, nearly two years after the war began, said “the days of, the profiteers in clothing and other necessities of life are numbered” (News-Chronicle, July 25th, 1941). We were not impressed with the story that the capitalist thistle would suddenly produce a crop of social figs because of the appointment of “34 Board of Trade inspectors” who were going to track down the “profiteers.” Nor were we mistaken. Here are some brief items from the Press in June, 1942 : —
“The retail price of salmon was controlled. At once salmon disappeared from the shops. Now the salmon is a case in point of a great public evil. The Black Market must be destroyed or it will destroy us”. (“Sunday Express,” June 7fH, 1942.)
The News-Chronicle (June 18th, 1942) reported that when a “slight accident” occurred to a railway van containing furniture
“The backs of half the wardrobes were missing. On the floor lay a litter of asbestos chips. Superficially got up with a lacquer sprayed ‘oak’ graining, the wardrobes were intended for sale in a big industrial town. . .”
Again the reporter says : —
“I saw wardrobes, chests and dressing tables made of cardboard, and was told of others made of linoleum. They will be sold wholesale at £30 a suite. When they get to the shop windows they will be ticketed from 50 to 60 guineas—pegged prices authorised by the Board of Trade’s recent control order.”
Then there are motor cars. An investigation is being made into the prices of second-hand cars.
“In the last 18 months car prices have soared to a fantastic level. A car which cost £265 at the beginning of 1939 would have realised only about £160 a few months after the start of the war, but shortly afterwards prices rocketed so that it could be sold for £365, and even to-day such cars are being sold in the region of £300” (“Evening Standard,” June 18th, 1942.)
And food ! After the start of the Order fixing 5/- a head as the maximum charge for food in a restaurant the Daily Express (June 16th, 1942) reported the following; at a small fashionable restaurant . –
“Two luncheons 10s., two house charges 4s., six Martinis 22s. 6d., one bottle of Burgundy 27s. 6d., four cups of coffee, 6s.—Total £3 10s. 0d.”
It was all quite legal, “the prices of drinks are controlled only in the case of whisky, gin and beer.”

The following extracts are from articles in the Sunday Express (June 14th, 1942) : —
“The racketeers are using the existing shortage of supplies as a suitable occasion to corner stocks of many commodities and re-sell them for big profits. . . . One of the biggest profiteering ramps to-day is the whisky racket. . . . The furniture profiteering ramp to defeat both income tax and maximum controlled prices is worked in this way: A small manufacturing firm sells to the “boss” for absurdly low prices. The furniture is installed in a luxury apartment and resold at prices often 300 per cent. above those paid, and the profits are shared out. Jewellery, furs, silk stockings and underclothing are sold for cash in £1 notes in the West End by racketeers, who do not ask for coupons. Cosmetics and beauty preparations, too, can be bought in any quantity for cash.”
Lastly, there is the Judge sentencing some men charged with frauds in connection with corporation contracts who said : —
“This corruption will either be cut out of commercial life or it will destroy the State.” (“Daily Mail,” June 20th, 1942)
A pretty black picture. But, retorts the reformer, make the penalties more severe, copy Russia and Germany and introduce the death penalty, then it will cease. How little they know of that “human nature” they so often talk about. The history of capitalism has demonstrated beyond refutation that given the opportunity (the ownership of goods for sale and a ready market) and given the motive (big and quick profits) nothing will stop illicit deals in one form or another, from robbery and smuggling to black marketeering, and to the numerous operations that can be conducted just on the borderline of legality. The severity of the penalty may to a degree restrict, but it will never stamp out such deals, for operators will always be found who will discount the risk. Even within the limited sphere of keeping the number of such transactions to a comparatively moderate total, experience has proved that it is not the severity of the penalty but the small chance of escaping detection that is alone effective. Otherwise the intending law breaker always hopes that he will not be caught. This was the lesson of the Factory Acts, of the legal minimum wage of agricultural workers, and of income tax evasion. What alone made any impression was not the size of the penalty imposed on law breakers who were caught but the appointment of sufficient inspectors and the use of other means of convincing the offenders that their chances of escaping discovery were small. Even so, most legislation of such a nature is largely a dead letter. The capitalist basis which provides opportunity and motive still prevails against the puny efforts by law or pious resolution to make a competitive system work for the social good.

So much for those who hope to change by Act of Parliament the conduct of people living under capitalism as its exists to-day. But almost equally foolish are the Labour Party and I.L.P. reformists who believe that they can retain the capitalist or State-capitalist basis, with its rich and poor (but with the degree of inequality lessened), with its production of goods for sale, its property incomes and profit-making, and its whole paraphernalia of money, bonds and banks, and can yet persuade or compel capitalists and workers to desist from conduct which flows naturally from a two-class, private property social system, and go over to conduct appropriate to a social system based on human needs alone.

The present spectacle of the “profiteers” and racketeers and the comparative futility of the efforts to stamp them out should be a warning to all who believe that capitalism can be reformed. Socialists take their stand on the very different principle that only by a fundamental change in the basis of society, from private ownership to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution will human conduct likewise change. It is to the economic foundation, not to the legal and ethical superstructure of society, that attention needs to be directed.

More new leaders for old (1942)

From the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article, entitled “Politicians, Bureaucrats and the New World,” in the Evening News of May 19th, Sir Ernest Benn, criticising the vagueness of the post-war proposals made by our by our present politicians, says the following :—
“When . . . this war is at last brought to a victorious conclusion, there will be a lot to do. Whether it is going to be a new-fangled world or the same old natural world with a new coat of paint is beside my present point. There is quite obviously a great big job of work to be done, and the nation—that is the British public, all the little John Citizens—will have to decide to whom that job is to be entrusted.

“There will be many applicants, and we shall have to go through the normal, usual processes of ‘taking up’ and making inquiries into character and qualification.”
It is obvious that this procedure of selecting applicants and “taking up” references is taken quite for granted by Sir Ernest Benn. That the majority of his readers would likewise regard this practice as the usual thing is also probable. It does, however, seem remarkable that the full significance of the above quotation has not yet been appreciated by our fellow-workers.

May we therefore remind them that for the last sixty years or more they have been doing nothing else but selecting applicants and “taking up” references; that for the last sixty years or more they have been incessantly cajoled, flattered and persuaded into electing “trustees,” whom they hoped would rid them of the many evils to which they are constantly subject; that, in spite of these years of promises and pledges relief from their problems has not been achieved.

Might we then suggest to them that it is high time they realised that the remedy for the problems confronting them cannot be achieved by the promises of leaders and professional politicians (of whatever stamp) but can only be accomplished through the independent, political action of the workers themselves, the basis for that action being a sound understanding of the fundamental objects and principles of Socialism.

Lastly may we say that this Socialist understanding is not beyond the mental capabilities of the working-class. They require no great intellect to grasp that the evils of poverty and insecurity with which they are afflicted arise from a certain system of wealth ownership and production, capitalism, nor do they need the intelligence of supermen to perceive that the system and its evils can only be eradicated once and for all by their organising consciously at a class and gaining political power for the establishment of Socialism.

The advice of Sir Ernest Benn is of no value to workers in their struggle. For them to put their trust in leaders and the like is to put their fate into the hands of men who will lead them but deeper into the quagmires of Capitalism.

As Engels so truly said in his “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” :—
“To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific Socialism.”
Possessed of this “thorough comprehension,” the working-class will not require advice or directions from leaders. They themselves will know the way to go.
Stan Hampson

If We Are To Survive (1942)

From the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Reprinted from The Western Socialist, Boston, U.S.A., January-February, 1942)

If ever there was a term whose constant use is rivalled only by an equally constant misuse, that term is Human Nature. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, and politician—all consider themselves qualified, if not expert, to discuss the whys and wherefores of human behaviour. And yet, in spite of its widespread popularity, no other subject, no other field of study is beset by so much ignorance and superstition.

In no other endeavour does man make less progress than in the study of himself and his activity. He has given his life to fathom the mystery of things from murders to the movements of the constellations. With the utmost in perseverance he has solved many of the unknown in physics, chemistry and other sciences. He has solved many of the phenomena relating to his own physical structure. But when it comes to the thinking and behaviour of a human being, he is content to get nowhere fast. In fact, it appears that he enjoys standing still.

The quest for knowledge in any field has always run a gauntlet of persecution against tradition and superstation. However, in what is commonly referred to as the exact or physical branches of science, proofs have become so obvious that the opposition has been forced to retreat. In the study of sociology and human behaviour, organised superstition has yet to be defeated. The inner-man, his “soul,” his responses are considered something intangible and under the influence of a supernatural power. His actions are looked upon as a product of his own independent and free will. The argument is frequently proposed that human nature cannot be analysed and tabulated in a laboratory as are other subjects of study.

It is a current conception and a constant charge that man’s inhumanity to man, his inate qualities of selfishness and greed are the core of all social ills from poverty to wars, from thefts to depressions. The pious are devout in their claim that man’s difficulties are due to his lack of faith and his ungodliness. The intellectuals are equally consistent in maintaining that the masses are not only incapable but also unwilling to lead a better life. The “practical” men insist that a rigid and authoritative leadership is necessary to control the ignorance and stupidity of the mob.

In almost all social codes and doctrines human nature has become the universal scapegoat, the object of contempt of men everywhere. But instead of natural resentment and righteous indignation arising as a result of this, we seem to take delight in the wickedness and frailties of human nature. Indeed we boast of it as a hopeless affliction. The more optimistic and humanitarian of our fellow men insist that, although a better world is possible, human behaviour must necessarily be improved before that glorious status can be achieved.

Human Nature actually represents the last entrenchment of the anti-socialist. Being no longer able to justify or explain the basic contradictions of capitalism, such as poverty in the midst of plenty, overproduction and war and being unable or unwilling to recognise the bankruptcy of present day society, the defenders of the status quo must invariably become apologetic. What better basis for their position than man’s inhumanity to man ? For, looking narrowly at the world about us, what is more glaring than the abundant evidences of selfishness, greed, persecution and cruelty ?

But here is where the socialist is at a tremendous advantage over the most erudite of capitalist theoreticians. Not only is the Marxist a materialist, that is, not only does he look for a material and physical explanation of all phenomena, but he is also a dialectician. In other words, he does not look at people or society, or at anything for that matter, with a static or stationary viewpoint. Rather, because he is scientific, he conducts his investigation with a view to the processes and developments which all things undergo. Nothing in our environment is static. All things from mice to men are in a constant process of flux and change.

Men are not born with patterns of behaviour. They do not inherit vices or virtues. These qualities are a gift from their environment. Ideas, beliefs, characteristics do not originate in the germ plasm. The new-born babe possesses no knack for mechanics and shares no views on world affairs. He is completely ignorant and indifferent to the state of the nation. He is neither Jew nor Christian, Moslem nor Atheist. He is merely a human being equipped with brain, nervous system, sense organs, digestive tract, and a lusty pair of lungs. Above all—he is open-minded.

Once he is subjected to the influences of his environment, he begins to acquire habits, notions, prejudices, and opinions. He is limited by the scope of his experiences. His training in school and church, his home and associations, his reading, his daily adventures are all contributing factors poured into the mould from which a particular personality will be produced. Like all living organism he will be motivated by the basic impulses of the preservation of himself and his species. The manner and means he will employ in this struggle for existence will be determined by the customs and institutions of society.

Those who wish to impose on human behaviour a pattern of constancy are completely ignorant of man’s history. . For the hundreds of thousands of years of Primitive Tribal Society men lived in small but cooperative communities. All things were owned in common. There were no rich and no poor. Women and the aged or infirm were allotted the tasks close to the community, the making of clothes and the preparing of meals. The young and sturdy among the males were devoted to the hunt and the procurement of food. The wisdom of the elders (of both sexes) found their expression in the tribal councils. Privileged classes were non-existant. In times of plenty, all prospered; in times of famine, all suffered. The prizes of the chase were divided according to the needs of the tribesmen. Even to-day, among eskimos who have been able to resist the white man’s bible and whisky, “mine” and “thine” are words foreign to their language.

Without the existence of private property there was no stealing, for who would steal from himself. Crimes against the tribe usually resulted in ostracism, a punishment worse than death to the gregarious tribesmen. Murders by individuals were, according to historians, rare occurrence and almost invariably involved the obtaining of a mate. Of course, human offerings and religious sacrifices are not to be denied. But they were part of the mores and customs of the tribes. Certainly they are no more reproachful than the commercial offerings of the twentieth century. On rare occasions wars were waged when hunting grounds and fertile valleys essential to the tribe’s well-being were involved. But withal, within each primitive tribal entity was a democratic, harmonious communal life that puts to shame the much-vaunted societies of civilisation.

It does not follow, however, that primitive man was imbued with finer qualities than the humans of later years. Nor is the reader to deduce the inference that we should return to tribal life. But the history of primitive people is indisputable proof that man is capable of living a peaceful and harmonious life.

Man’s social nature is no supernatural or mysterious virtue. In order to live men have had to come together and associate in all types and sizes of communities. A child must of necessity be in the company of parents and adults to survive the early stages of living. In the same way people cannot live alone, isolated from their fellow men. Primitive man was in a constant struggle against wind, rain, storm, fire, and wild animals. In order to successfully combat nature he was forced to come together with his fellow beings. In unity there is strength. In strength there is safety and to the tribesman the survival of the individual was part of the safety and well-being of the tribe.
Eric Hanson

The Labour Party and Socialism - Part 2 (1942)

From the July 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is by means of these catch phrases, which pay lip-service to Socialism, and its variety of importunate reforms, that the Labour Party was able to draw under its wing all sorts and shades of political opinion. The strength of a Party lies in the rank and file. An eclectic statement of policy gains a very versatile support, and when the Party endeavours to implement its policy it finds there are wide divergences in the rank and file as to how and when it should be done. We might say in the case of the Labour Party that it has gained support for everything but the abolition of capitalism, and as a consequence has achieved nothing except the retention of capitalism.

The means shape the ends : means are ends.

A policy based on the idea that the position of servitude of the working class can be gradually abolished by reforming the relation of wage-labour and capital cannot produce the abolition of wage labour and capital. A policy which allows for co-operation with avowed anti-Socialist parties cannot lead to the establishment of Socialism.

With the above points in mind it is easy to understand the reason for the splits inside, and the secessions from, the Labour Party just prior to, and following, its “betrayal” by MacDonald.

It must be remembered that the Labour Party was in power as a Capitalist Government, not as a Socialist Government. Supporters of the Labour Party may differ from this statement, but it is an undeniable fact. The nature of a government is not determined by the name which it takes or which it may be given. In so far as we are discussing the question of Capitalism and Socialism the nature of the government is determined by the mode of production and distribution in being during its time of administration. The Labour Party attempted to continue to run the country’s affairs on the basis of capitalism.

It is in this fact that the explanation lies of the failure and collapse of the Labour Party in 1931. The economic crisis of the time arose, as usual, from the mode of capitalist production and distribution, not through the mismanagement of political affairs. It was common to the whole world : it was not particular to Britain. Try as they might the Labour Party could not combat the laws of the capitalist system, which over-rode its reformist theories and forced its actions to conform with them.

The causes of the splits in, and secessions from, the Labour Party are not to be found in mere ideological variations but in the differing theories of its supporters, leaders and rank and file, as to what should be done in the face of changing economic conditions.

Although Attlee accuses MacDonald of “betraying” the Labour movement by uniting with the Conservatives and Liberals in the National Government, was this action to be unexpected in view of the resolution of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, of which MacDonald was the secretary ? Since the retention of capitalism is implicit in Labour Party policy, when things got in a mess to whom was it best to turn for advice ? The avowedly capitalist politicians and economic theorists, of course ! It is the sole purpose of the capitalist class to maintain the present economic system. It has a century and a half of theory and practice behind it. It has the knowledge and the control of the organs of propaganda by means of which it can seduce the working class to come to heel in times of emergency. When MacDonald turned to them for advice it was a case of walking into the spider’s parlour. Homo sapiens works differently from the insect world, however, and instead of being gobbled up he changed his fly’s wings for spider’s legs and his new brothers invited him to assist in the nefarious work of spinning the deceptive web !

Thus it was that during 1929-31 we saw the paradoxical phenomenon of a party arising from a workers’ ideology, built and paid for by the working class, founded on an eclectic policy of reforms and co-operation, achieve considerable power; and when in power we saw that it could take no other course than to continue to run the capitalist system. It would be a contradiction in terms to say that this can be done in the interests of the working class. The nature of the mode of production and distribution absolutely precludes this course of events. We saw, therefore, an alleged working class party controlling the political machine and the economic affairs of the country on behalf of the master class and against the interests of the class it purported to represent.

It is now eleven years since MacDonald and some others “betrayed” the Labour movement and entered the National Government in coalition with the Tories and Liberals. Where do the Labour leaders stand to-day ? We find Attlee, Greenwood, Morrison, Bevin, Cripps, etc., in the present National Government actively assisting the master-class. What is it that has led them to coalesce with the capitalists? Mr. Attlee, addressing the Annual Conference of the T.U.C., reported in the Daily Telegraph, October 9th, 1940, 
“emphasised the reasons why Labour is taking a part in the Government. The reasons were three : "To secure the defeat of the enemy,

"To maintain the unity of the nation,
"To preserve the freedom of the people‘.
"It was a difficult matter, he said, to maintain the principles of freedom at a time when the country had to be organised to keep the right balance between authority and liberty. . . . The Government was composed of different parties with different outlook, but there was enough measure of agreement for them all to work together.” (italics ours.)
This statement may sound very sweet to Labour supporters to-day, but what did Attlee have to say regarding Fascism, coalition with avowedly capitalist parties and national unity in 1937.

Turn to the pages of The Labour Party in Perspective. After discussing the divergent trends of opinions within the Party on foreign policy, he says (p. 219) : —
“The alternative policy is not the support by Labour of a Capitalist Government, but constitutional opposition.” (italics ours.)
He discusses the trend this opposition should take, and then says (p. 220) : —
“There is yet one other tendency among Labour supporters. There are those who, realising the danger of menace of the Fascist Powers, tend to take up an attitude of supporting a Capitalist Government at home as the least of two evils. They tend to under-estimate the reality of the struggle between Capitalism and Socialism and to magnify the differences between democratic Capitalist States and Fascist States. The danger of this attitude is that in fighting foreign Fascism they may encourage the subtle introduction of Fascism at home. The Fascist danger in this country does not come from the crude activities of Sir Oswald Mosley, but from the clever propaganda which has been actively disseminated ever since the formation of the National Government in favour of what is called national unity. There has been a deliberate attempt made to suggest that after all there are no real political differences in this country, and that everybody is in reality in agreement. The increasing danger of the international situation affords an opportunity for pressing this point. The speeches of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald are full of Fascist ideas and even Fascist phraseology. The essentials of the Corporate State without any coloured shirts might be introduced in this country in a period of international tension.”
We have read in Mr. Attlee’s own words that the policy of co-operation with capitalist parties and governments is anti-Socialist and anti-working class. Yet it is explicit in Labour Party policy, and Mr. Attlee and other Labour leaders follow it out when their turn comes round.

After thirty-six years of political life where has this sort of thing led the Labour Party, and with it the Trade Union movement, in its struggle for the improvement of working class conditions ?

All the Labour movement can now offer the workers is “blood and tears, toil and sweat,” and as has been pointed out often in these columns, the statements of post-war prospects point to nothing but the elimination of the first item.

After this sad tale of thirty-six years of misplaced thought and action by a large proportion of the British working class let us finish up on a note of hope for the future.

That hope lies in Socialism. The S.P.G.B. has had two years of life longer than the Labour Party, and although we cannot show the same spectacular electoral success we can claim one thing, at least. That is, that in thirty-eight years, because of its insistence on the fundamental Socialist objective, the S.P.G.B. has done more for progress towards Socialism than any other party or combination of parties.

The only solution to working class troubles is to be found in the establishment of a Socialist system of society.
N. S.