Thursday, July 7, 2022

World View: Should there be a state religion? (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The other day a comrade who had just completed a short visit to Nigeria sent me an e-mail. The content was about one of the states in Nigeria being bent on declaring an Islamic state, come January 2000. For those familiar with Nigeria’s turbulent political past, the repercussions and implications will be obvious. Apart from the dozens of Islamic states around the world, only one declared Christian state in Africa currently comes to mind, Zambia.

In answering the question “should there be a state religion?” most people here will readily reply “yes”, indicating thereby their ability to defend their faith.

The question of state religion is frequently before the public mind, and it seems that the majority who have any view on the subject incline to one of two camps.

In camp one are the secularists who feel that, as the harm done by religion throughout history outweighs the good, the best thing will be for the state to wash its hands of it completely and by leaving its citizens entirely without religious dictates leave them free either to live untouched by religion or to evolve a faith for themselves.

In the other camp are those who believe that their primary duty in life is to proselytise for the faith to which they happen to belong, and who consequently make the most of every opportunity to convert non-believers. They believe that the absence of a state religion is one of the root causes of the materialism, selfishness, and restlessness which prevail throughout the world.

Let us look a little more closely at both of these camps. The secularist argument is plausible and cogent. It is difficult to deny that religion has been either the cause or the pretext of many black chapters in human history and will continue to be a very dangerous rallying-cry so long as the masses remain ignorant and superstitious or bigoted and fanatical. Therefore, say the secularists, let us be rid of it once and for all. Such a theory rests on the assumption that religion is in a class by itself and differs radically from all other activities of the human mind and should be singled out for special opposition.

The people in the other camp, on the contrary, believing that religion is the most important thing in life, leave no stone unturned in their endeavour to persuade or compel everyone to join their particular organisation and unquestioningly profess their creed. In religion what matters is the acceptance of truths miraculously revealed in a book which under no circumstances is to be subjected to rational criticism but is to be venerated blindly as revealing the whole truth.

In approaching the question of state religion, certain basic principles should therefore be kept in mind.

Firstly, that the capacity for clear, honest thinking is one of our greatest and rarest capacities and that, no matter what the subject of their study, people should be encouraged to develop this capacity to the utmost and to be as honest in their doubts and questionings as in their beliefs and acceptances. Such honesty will not lead them astray but will help them sift the gold from the dross, and to distinguish between superstition and facts. Since religion whether state or otherwise, is a drug derived from mythology it should not be too difficult to discredit it, with such clear thinking.

Secondly, when a state upholds a particular faith, it not only makes a mockery of free thought, but also exposes the weakness of its leaders who have to cower behind the veil of religion to perpetuate their tenure.

What, then, is the answer to our question, “should there be a state religion?”

Religions, like a tree, must be judged by their fruits—how else could they be judged? Since not one of the world’s faiths can truly claim to have produced good fruits, our efforts should be used more wisely in pondering pertinent scientific questions. By so doing, humanity can redeem itself from the burden of the superstitious complex that webs its mind. So long as what is taught remains in the hands of leaders whose chief concern is to proselytise religious faith, just so long will their subjects continue to grow up with narrow exclusive notions about the world.
Daniel Wah

Greasy Pole: Poverty – Blair Speaks (2000)

Moore is less.
The Greasy Pole column from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Does anyone now remember John Moore, the cabinet minister who was once encouraged to see himself as the next Conservative Prime Minister? He started out as one of those people who enriched themselves by doing things like selling pounds for deutchsmarks for dollars back to pounds again. Having made his pile it seemed the natural thing to do, to find a nice safe Tory seat so that he could participate in arranging the system to ensure that people like him could get even richer.

It worked like a dream and after he got into Parliament his rise was meteoric (an appropriate word because he later burnt out and fell like a meteorite). With some cunningly obsequious interventions he locked himself into position as Thatcher’s favourite. He got to be a minister and then, when the two departments of Health and Social Security became merged into the huge, hugely spending, dreaded DHSS he was put in charge. There he introduced the Social Fund, a method of drastically reducing the money available for Special Needs grants. To emphasise how fit and dynamic he was we were regularly treated to repulsive photographs of him on his exercise bicycle or at work in his shirt sleeves. But this rich, energetic, ambitious man was really not tough enough. The stress of running the DHSS while scheming to take over the top job cracked him up so that at one cabinet meeting, to the open contempt of Thatcher and the discreet glee of his rivals, Moore practically collapsed. It was not long before he returned to the back benches. No one was sorry to see him go.

He would have been wise to leave it at that, to accept the cruel reality of politics and devote the rest of his life to his roses or his currency note collection. But he decided to have one last effort at climbing the greasy pole. He would make a controversial speech which, on the basis a bit of pre-determined research, would claim to challenge some accepted ideas about a social problem. It was natural that the problem should be poverty, about which he should have learned a little when he gave up playing the markets and took over the DHSS. He might have spoken about alleviating poverty but that would not have been controversial enough to attract attention. Instead he set out to prove that poverty virtually did not exist, that it was really not much more than the angle from which you viewed the statistics about slums, malnutrition, poverty-related diseases or whatever.

It was not a very clever speech and the attention it attracted was not the kind Moore had reckoned on. It was savaged by the poverty lobby and by his erstwhile rivals in the Tory Party. Deservedly, it sank into a swamp of contempt—like Moore himself, who was packed off to the House of Lords.

That nasty piece of history came to mind when Tony Blair, on a trip up north, used a recent government “analysis” of levels of poverty to cast doubt on the generally accepted notion that the problem is wider, sharper and more punishing in the north than in the south:
“I am determined to make all parts of Britain share in rising prosperity and that in all parts of Britain we tackle poverty.”
Of course we are accustomed to that phrase “rising prosperity”; we hear it a lot when ministers are doing their best to lower working-class living standards. It is intended to disguise the fact that millions of people are unfamiliar with any kind of prosperity and spend their lives trying to survive through various degrees of deprivation. The burden of Blair’s speech was that while there may be deep poverty in the north it also exists in the south; in both parts of the country there are patches where workers are relatively better off. The object, apart from asking us to accept an index which is self-evidently nonsense, was to persuade us that this government is, by some miracle, successfully grappling with the effects of the long term decline in heavy industries such as steel manufacture, mining, shipbuilding . . .

Blair’s speech was no better received than that made by Moore, all those years ago—which says something about the persistence of the problems of poverty whichever party is in power. Apart from the usual clutch of disappointed Labour MPs, whose concepts and principles are flexible enough to keep them in the party whatever their reservations about it, there were also other objectors who may be called more detached. Bill Midgley was one of them: this president of the North East Chamber of Commerce and one-time building society boss described the analysis used by Blair as a “whitewash” and accused ministers of being “highly selective . . . Anybody can play the selectivity game”.

Less selective is the material coming from places like Bristol University, where research undertaken before the last election showed that twice as many babies die before their first birthday in Glasgow and Manchester than in less impoverished areas. These are places where there are some four percent more children living below the official poverty line. One effect of this is that there are 1.5 percent more GCSE failures. A survey carried out jointly by the Office of National Statistics and the Institute of Psychiatry found that children from poorer families are three times more likely to suffer from some kind of mental disorder. And a little piece of what is sometimes dismissed as anecdotal evidence is that staff at a school in Sheffield have to keep a sharp watch on the weather because the building where they try to teach is so rotten that the roof could be ripped off by a strong breeze or collapsed by a heavy fall of snow.

These are symptoms of the poverty inseparable from the lives of all those who have to sell their working ability in order to live. In the scale of that social reality it does not matter whether poverty is more intense, more desolate, more degrading, in one part of the country than another. When Blair argues to the contrary he is simply trying to obscure a persistent fact of capitalist life. Wherever it exists, and to whatever degree, poverty is brutal and nasty; it wrecks peoples’ lives, it makes them ill, it drives them mad and it kills them. It was doing massive damage to working-class lives when John Moore was hoping to rebuild his career by concealing reality and it is the same now when Tony Blair is trying to strengthen his hold on power by the same cynical method.

Nationalisation (2000)

Book Review from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Realism, New Barbarism. By Boris Kagarlitsky, Pluto Press, 1999.

Socialism has never existed, anywhere. However, Boris believes that socialism did exist in Eastern Europe but has now been replaced by capitalism, so we now have global capitalism. He is a senior research fellow in the Institute for Comparative Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Boris is no government stooge, however. He was a political prisoner under Brezhnev and is currently an adviser to the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.

Following the collapse of the state capitalist dictatorships in Eastern Europe in 1989 and after, neo-liberal (Thatcherite) “New Realism” became global. The current global system, according to Boris, is a “New Barbarism” wherein the relatively few wealthy countries of the centre exploit the poorer countries of the periphery. Eastern Europe has now become part of the periphery, with debt dependency and declining living standards for many. In Russia the old nomenklatura (ruling class) has become the new capitalist class by converting its political power into money and property. However, the process of change has not been identical throughout Eastern Europe, ranging from civil war in Romania to a change of power witnessed by a largely passive population in Hungary. But the end result was more or less the same: an acceptance (even by the reformed Communist Parties) of market capitalism.

The technological revolution of the late twentieth century is developing according to the same logic as the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so Boris argues. The Internet in particular has important social consequences. The Internet is intrinsically socialist in that its success depends on the free flow of information and data within a non-hierarchical network. But its full development is fettered within global capitalist relations of production. The Internet can only really flourish when free and equal access is established.

Boris claims that unless a socialist alternative “challenges the system of global capital and its local political representatives, it has no chance to change anything.” But his “socialist” alternative turns out to be the failed and discredited policies of “nationalisation and redistribution.” This conclusion is just as mistaken as his belief that globalisation is a new phenomenon. Globalisation is just another word for capitalism.
Lew Higgins

Workers’ Solidarity (2000)

Book Review from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Unfinished Revolution: South Tyneside 1969-1976. Jack Grassby. TUPS Books, pp. 343, 1999.

The period around the mid-60s to mid-70s was seen by many then as a time of radical change. These were the days of “People Power”, of world-wide grassroots political action involving students, trade unionists, claimant groups and all manner of single-issue fanatics. The era was typified by such events as the student protests in the France of 1968, the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movement in the USA and the UK miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974.

Set against this backdrop, Jack Grassby’s book is an account of the intensity of grassroots political action from 1969 to 1976 on South Tyneside and in which the author played a key part. A cornucopia of reproduced pamphlets, documents and press reports from the region and period, the book is more a primary source for the political and social historian than any guessed-at academic account of a revolution that failed.

Chapter by chapter, the documents are carefully accompanied by a running commentary which gives a vivid detail of events and feel of the period.

Grassby makes no bold claim for his work and no remarkable political statement. As he states in the preface, the book has an “objective manner” in which the “political/social significance is left largely to the reader”.

Socialists have no objection to grassroots action—i.e. the struggles of claimant groups, students and trade unionists—so long as the struggle for socialism is not side-tracked by the campaigns for individual reforms, the futility of which this journal has been exposing for the best part of a century. And Grassby takes time out in an epilogue to remind us of the pitfall of reformism:
“Few of those involved in those events . . . would claim that their long-term objectives had been realised. Although some local campaigners can claim to have had a limited success—heating allowances for pensioners, social security benefits for students and strikers etc—their success was often transient and was overturned by subsequent government legislation. Even the miners’ success was to prove ephemeral.”
Grassby’s book presents as a fascinating testament of what workers are capable of achieving if enough are prepared to join together in common cause, whilst at the same time standing as a stark reminder of the philosophy of settling for crumbs in a world of abundance. As the title suggests, the revolution is very much “unfinished”.

The book is now on website: 
John Bissett

Time well spent (2000)

Theatre Review from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three Days of Rain. Donmar Warehouse, London.

What lessons can we draw from the past? At a time when some academics, shamefully unaware of their unwitting attachment to the ideological apparatus of capitalism, claim that history is dead, contemporary playwrights are much concerned with the conclusions we draw from events long ago. In the last year or so I have seen plays by Tom Stoppard (Arcadia), Michael Frayn (Copenhagen—see Socialist Standard, September 1998), Peter Barnes (DreamingSocialist Standard, August 1999) and Stephen Poliakoff (Remember ThisSocialist Standard, December 1999), all of which conclude that the past very much determines what takes place in the present. And now Richard Greenberg, a young American whose work has not previously been seen in Britain, offers us a splendid new play in which the past is ever present.

Three Days of Rain involves only three actors. In the first act we meet brother and sister, Walker and Nan, together with Pip, the son of their father’s business partner in an architects’ consultancy. In the second act the same actors play Walker and Nan’s father and mother, and Theo, their father’s business partner. And as the second act unfolds it becomes apparent why Walker, Nan and Pip are as they are. Not, I hasten to add, in any crude deterministic fashion, Greenberg’s imagination is far too subtle for that. Rather we are aware of the impact that one generation makes on the next: of the way in which behaviour is affected by the complex chemistry of both nature and nurture. Act 1 offers us a view of the past in which Walker, Ned and Pip strive to understand the behaviours of their parents trying to make sense of diaries and remembered anecdotes. And Act 2 shows, us with both drama and poignancy, that if you don’t have enough evidence and you don’t understand the context, you will reach the wrong conclusions.

The play is a warm, intelligent one, by turns touching, sensitive and funny, which is marvellously played in the small, 250-seater, Donmar Warehouse Theatre in Covent Garden. It is a play which points to the dangers of judging a person’s contribution on the basis of their family life, their relations with their children, and so on. If we are to understand people’s lives we need to have access to all the relevant evidence. The personal behaviour of the architect fathers of Walker, Nan and Pip cannot be inferred from their buildings, even though the latter command universal praise. Francis Wheen’s recent biography of Karl Marx makes much the same point. Marx’s contribution to the history of western though cannot be judged by his rather fey attempts to live a bourgeois life in mid-Victorian London.

The following three plays—all of which have been reviewed in this journal—are still playing in London. All can be seen for less than half the cost of a ticket to a Premier League football match. All have something to say to socialists. All are highly recommended at the turn of the century.

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn (Duchess Theatre) “Michael Frayn has written one of the best plays about science and society that it has been my pleasure to see.”

Summerfolk by Maxim Gorki (National Theatre. Reviewed October 1999). “Summerfolk is as relevant today as it has ever been. I hope to find an early opportunity to see the play again and to marvel at the skill of the actors and the wonder of its staging.”

The Weir by Conor McPherson (Royal Court Theatre. Reviewed April 1998). “Valerie’s revelation serves both to underscore the emptiness at the heart of their lives and to offer an alternative which might be reached through honest, open discourse, about matters of real concern, managed in an empathetic manner . . . This is theatre at its most sublime.”
Michael Gill

Twenty-twenty Vision (2000)

TV Review from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The turn of the millennium is a time for thinking of the future and starting anew, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the past and to learn from it. With the male propensity for compiling lists so prevalent among reviewers of late, why shouldn’t the Socialist Standard get in on the act? If any group of people have clear ideas why the past was unsatisfactory and how the future could be a whole load better it is socialists. So here we go with twenty TV nightmares of the past balanced by twenty TV wishes for the future:

We should have pulled the plug on . . .
  • News reports that refer to any given dictatorship across the globe as “Marxist”.
  • Programmes intent on uniting Tony Blair with a comfy chair and a pair of sycophantic interviewers before mealtime.
  • Channel Five’s sickeningly nationalistic coverage of England matches.
  • The Price is Right.
  • The aliens with overly-large foreheads constantly on Sky One.
  • Brookside, about three years ago, Neighbours at least ten years ago and EastEnders after the very first filming session.
  • Every US kids cartoon since the Hair Bear Bunch.
  • The exponential growth (in both width and coverage) of overly matey TV chefs.
  • Bellicose, belligerent and biased war reporting (all channels, every year).
  • Judith Chalmers.
  • Solemn and revered historians on BBC2 (solemnly received by us and greatly revered by themselves).
  • Kids TV presenters who invite us to “check it out” with our “posse” if we are “in the area”, the area in question being the King’s Road or Camden Lock, not Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side or Harlem.
  • Royal correspondents.
  • Gordon Brown’s sinister attempts at smiling to camera.
  • The incisive, penetrating and totally unscripted interviewing of Des O’Connor.
  • Anything involving Jeremy Clarkson and subliminal erotic fantasies about fast cars and motorbikes.
  • Songs of Praise.
  • The ‘devil-may-care’ and ever-so-wacky participants of Extreme Sports.
  • Interviews with Barbara Cartland (the contrast button on my TV set is worn down).
  • The Money Programme (natch).
The above choice is a personal one so please remember that any offence caused is purely intentional.

We should plug into . . .
  • The abolition of the TV license, “pay-per-view” and all monetary payments for TV subscriptions. Free access to the airwaves!
  • The Royal Family, the moving tale of a dysfunctional extended family getting to grips with life in a classless society without butlers, palaces or command performances.
  • Community-controlled television rather than multinational pap and brainwashing.
  • The Antiques Roadshow, without the blue-rinse money grabbers feigning interest in everything but the long-awaited valuation.
  • The disappearance of all Party Political Broadcasts in a society where there are no longer any political parties.
  • Men Behaving Badly, to remind ourselves of how desperate we were in capitalism to laugh at something – indeed, anything.
  • Direct democracy via television and the internet.
  • The accurate dissemination of information rather than the sustained idiocies of modern advertising.
  • Blue Peter without charitable endeavours and coke-head presenters.
  • Television for children which isn’t dominated by violence and gang warfare.
  • News broadcasting shorn of its class content, political bias and servitude to the market.
  • Re-runs of The Prisoner, so we can remember what life became like in capitalism.
  • Re-runs of the Queen’s Speech during Comedy Hour.
  • People playing sport for fun and entertainment, not money.
  • The Bill, without being able to comprehend any of it anymore.
  • The concluding episode of EastEnders.
  • What the Papers Say without the Daily Mail.
  • Casualty without a crisis (admittedly, this might be stretching it a bit).
  • The final edition of the Jerry Springer Show, where Jerry is outed as a transsexual bigamist who has been cheating on his sister’s pet Alsatian.
  • Wish You Were Here, and really think that for once we might be.
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: They all go the same way home (2000)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

After 14 years of Labour government in New Zealand and eight years in Australia, the general elections in November and December saw those Labour governments rejected by the voters who had earlier put them into power. Some of the political commentators in this country have been speculating about the effect those results may have on the forthcoming General Election.

They suggest that the British workers may be influenced to vote against the Labour Party because of what has happened in New Zealand and Australia. It is a fallacious view. If the Labour Government here had been able to make a success of its efforts to run capitalism in a manner pleasing to the workers they would not be influenced at all by what has happened on the other side of the globe. It may be that the British Labour Government will next year be returned to power for another five years, though the Labour Ministers are clearly resigned to suffering some loss of votes and seats. What we can say with complete confidence is that sometime or other, either at the 1950 elections or later on, the workers in Britain will turn out the Labour Government. The now lengthening history of Labour governments in many parts of the world shows that they are merely the alternative that the electors choose when they have become tired, sick or resentful of Liberal or Tory government. Just as 19th century Britain witnessed the game of political ins and outs, with never any fundamental change in the position of the working-class, so the 20th century gives us the same game but with the Labour Party in place of one of the older Parties.

(From front page article by ‘H’, Socialist Standard, January 1950)

Education System, or Wages System? (2000)

From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
  • We live in a society dominated by the labour market, by the wages system. We go to school, to college, to university, in order to prepare ourselves for entering that market; to gain skills and knowledge we can sell in order to live.
  • Students are workers in waiting.
  • The education system is a production line, vending skills for the jobs market; and like any production line, it must produce to follow demand.
  • If the labour market needs cheap unskilled workers, the education system provides. Academic achievement is not the main goal of the education system, providing for the jobs market is.
  • Low academic achievement is factored in, to supply the masses of jobs that don’t need brain work.
  • Only a few workers are needed to really think, thus the university system is set up to produce a small √©lite, to fill that niche market.
  • Their skills are valuable because they are rare: but, as in any other market, if the number of graduates available becomes too large—as it does as university education spreads—they are over-produced, and then their value drops.
  • Sending more people to university does not guarantee more people with higher wages and does not guarantee more skilled jobs.
  • Today people gain skills, and knowledge, only to be never able to use than when they find their McJob. There’s little chance of enjoying the intellectual fruits of society when you’re slaving for a living.
  • Fighting for a just education system under an unjust social system is liking trying to roll a boulder up hill, only to see it roll back down again.
  • Even if you win, future generations of students will have to fight all over again as soon as the education system comes into conflict with the wages system.
  • Justice can only be found through a just society, through social change: only a society where human needs and desires take over from the market, can an equitable enjoyment of the fruits of society’s learning be gained.
  • There is only one way to ensure free access to knowledge for all: the Abolition of the Wages System!

The Competition of Women. (1904)

From the December 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every little while a cry goes up that women are displacing men in some industry or another, and the terror-stricken males affected, rave wildly about the duties of women and the “rights” of men, while the dear old platitudes about the “proper sphere of women” are trotted out. On the other hand there are enthusiastic feminists who rave as wildly about woman’s “rights” and the utter selfishness of men, and who assert anarchistically that no restrictions whatever should be placed on female labour, and who virtually claim the right of woman to “blackleg” male labour if necessary. The advocates of each side, their intellectual vision bounded by the capitalist system, see nothing in the future but the gain of men at the expense of women, or the employment of women to the detriment of men. How superficial are such views and how utterly futile are the measures proposed, may be gathered from a brief review of this vexed question.

The fact that women are entering more and more into industrial pursuits is too patent to be disputed. In trade after trade the fact is noted. Here it is the clerks, there the textile workers, and here again it is the cycle machinists. During the half-century 1841 to 1891 the number of males engaged in the principal manufactures has increased by 53 per cent., whereas the number of females employed has increased by no less than 221 per cent. The influx of cheap labour into already overcrowded industries cannot fail to intensify the already acute distress due to the lack of employment.

The reasons for this increase of female labour are not far to seek. The precariousness of employment for males renders marriage less desirable, forces fathers to send their daughters, and husbands their wives, out to work to supplement the family earnings, while on the part of the women there is at the same time a growing necessity to find something other than marriage as a means of subsistence.

The steady increase of power-driven machinery renders strength less essential in industry, while the displacement of handicraft by the machine makes it possible to employ a lower grade of labour than formerly; therefore the employers, eager as ever to obtain the cheapest labour that is profitable, make use of the thrifty and industrious womanhood of the country for their purpose.

Here, as elsewhere, the law of wages is seen, and since women can live more cheaply than men, they get less in wages. Nay, since women and girls are in many cases partly kept by the males of the families, and are often only sent to work to obtain dress or pocket money until marriage, it requires a still smaller contribution from the employer towards their keep; and they, of course, usually get it. Women’s wages are thus depressed, and men give a portion of their wages to subsidise competitors on the labour market.

During the past few years the decline in average wages and increase in cost of living has been particularly noticeable, whilst the unemployed have grown more numerous than ever. The displacement of men by machines, the development of machine industries in countries which were once markets for the produce of this country, all tend to decrease the effective demand for products while productive powers increase at an ever faster rate. The foreign trade is going by the board, whilst the home market is severely stricken owing to the decreasing purchasing power of the masses and the competition of other centres of production. This must mean, it is clear, great “over-production,” bankruptcies, stagnation of trade and unemployment, even without the additional factor of a greater over-supply of labour by reason of the employment of men. Indeed, the future of capitalism is seen to be full of dark clouds by even the most optimistic of men.

What, then, should be the policy of those who have the welfare of women truly at heart ? By some “woman’s righters” the abolition of all restrictions upon the employment of women is advocated as a solution of the question as far as women are concerned. It is obvious that this means neither more nor less than the right to “blackleg” male labour, since under existing conditions to become employed at all women must work cheaper than men. This must not only increase the unemployed by displacing men, but it will render it less possible for men to support families than hitherto, thus forcing more and more wives and daughters into competition with husbands, brothers, and each other. To flood the already overcrowded labour market in this way is to make employment more difficult to find even at wages that will barely suffice for one, not to speak of a family. This surely is no solution. Others, again, advocate the severe restriction of woman’s labour, or the prohibition of female employment except at wages equal to that obtained by male labour of similar quality. Even were it possible to bring this about under capitalist rule, it would be worse than useless, for the following reasons : Owing to custom and predudice, employers would in most instances rather employ a man than a woman, other things being equal, and women would hardly be employed at all, because they would be no cheaper than men. This would inflict great hardship on those numerous women who must earn their own living, while machinery and the competition of other centres would soon make the men worse off than ever. This again is no remedy.

What, then, is the solution ? To find this we must go a little deeper into the problem than we have yet gone. It should be evident that, within limits, the employment of women should vastly increase the national wealth owing to the great increase in labouring power that is made accessible to society. Yet at present, we know that it would mean greater misery to the wealth-producers. The same is true of all the improved methods of wealth production. The greater efficiency of labour, the improved organisation of industry, the increase of labour-saving machinery should, it would seem, vastly increase the wealth and decrease the toil of the people. At present, however, the contrary is true, and every year sees an intensification of competition, and every machine swells the ranks of the unemployed.

If the increase in the nation’s wealth does not at present benefit the wealth producers; if the increase of willing workers and labour-saving machinery serves only to make heavier the burden of the worker, we have to ask an explanation of such an anomalous state of things. The explanation is indeed easily grasped. When the producers own the means of production and raw material they will reap the benefit of every improvement: but if the means of producing wealth are the property of a handful of individuals who use them as a means of profit only, then the greater the skill and number of propertyless workers, the fiercer will competition be between them, and the greater the portion of their produce they will tacitly be compelled to bid to the owners of the machinery of production in return for permission to earn a living. Since men cannot obtain a livelihood without having access to land and machinery, the owners of these wield supreme power over the non-possessors: and the propertyless in competition are compelled to forego, under the forms of rent, interest, and profit, practically the whole of what remains after the cost of maintenance of the worker and his family has been deducted from his total product. This, then, is the broad fact, obscure to most people by reason of the complexity of modern society, but at the bottom undeniable. It engenders the antagonism of interests between, exploiter and exploited that is the basis of the modern war of classes.

If, therefore, the anomalous state of things which makes an increase in wealth-producing power spell a decrease in the well-being of the worker, is due to the divorce of the producers from the means of production, and the ownership of the latter by a parasitic class: the remedy is obviously not the reduction of society’s producing power, but evidently the ownership of the productive and distributive machinery by the producers of wealth, and an end of class parasitism. In short, the disease is inherent in Capitalism and can be cured only by Socialism. Quack “remedies” which touch symptoms only are useless, the root cause must be abolished or the disease will grow worse.

We now see the only way with women’s labour. Neither permission to women to “blackleg” nor their relegation to the harem is of the slightest use. So long as the system of capitalist production endures, so long must toil and trouble increase for the workers, both men and women. The only hope for both is in Socialism, for then only will wealth producers benefit by a plethora of wealth, and labour-saving devices mean a lightening of toil. It is now both impossible and undesirable to go back to, that dream of the poet, the middle ages, when each man owned his simple means of producing wealth. The mighty modern machine is a social instrument, ownership of which imparts almost absolute power. Too huge to be owned individually by the worker, the machine must be owned socially, and the workers can only throw off the yoke of wage-slavery and become their own masters by collectively assuming control of the machinery of industry and using it in the interests of the wealth producers.

The destinies of men and women are bound up together, and the emancipation of women can only come with the emancipation of men. Socialism is the only hope of the whole working-class irrespective of sex, and The Socialist Party of Great Britain is the only party that stands for undiluted Socialism.
F. C. Watts

The Survival of the Fittest. Is Socialism the Gospel of the Unfit? (1904)

From the December 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago the principles of Socialism were certainly most imperfectly understood by the mass of the people, but the recent article in the Daily Mail entitled “The Gospel of the Unfit,” shows also that a large number of educated men are still ignorant of its simplest elements. Mr. Perceval Gibbon, confused no doubt by the fact that every philanthropist and “labour leader” or any one else who expresses sympathy with the poor and oppressed, is dubbed a Socialist, has hardly grappled the “pure principle of Socialism” of which he writes. He is undoubtedly correct in his assumption that the Cause has attracted to its ranks many would-be politicians who find therein an outlet for their own personal ambitions, and who, obtaining a following, use the power thus obtained for their own ends. This is a parasitic growth common to all great movements ; and in all countries it has been recognised by the Socialist parties as unavoidable. Meanwhile the Revisionists and “labour leaders” are being vigourously attacked; the Liberal, who tries to conceal his identity under a cloak of Socialism, is like the ass in the lion’s skin, and betrays himself when he begins to bray.

The false idea of Socialism is still further increased by the action of that Press which sees Socialism in every measure touching the working-class. Even the late Labour Ministry in Australia was described as “Socialist,” despite the absence from the Senate and House of Reprsentatives of a single Socialist member.

It is admitted that these misleading statements have riveted the attention of the public on self-seeking individuals to the neglect of the “pure principles of Socialism.” This, too, Mr. Gibbon finds “noxious and hostile to the natural tendency of the human race to growth in all directions,” for, “by opposing the law of the survival of the fittest it rallies the unfit to its side.”

This statement is the portion of Mr. Gibbon’s article which needs serious consideration. Now, if this hostility to Nature be really present, the scientists—and there are many—who support Socialism must be in a somewhat difficult position, for it is on scientific grounds that the Socialist bases his principles, and it is from the Theory of Evolution that he draws his conclusions ; in fact the Theory of Evolution forms the bed-rock of his Economics and Philosophy. How then can his Socialism be in opposition to the natural tendencies of the human race ? The mistake, only too often made, is due to a narrow interpretation of the Darwinian theory.

The word “fittest” is made to apply always to the individual instead of to the community or species. The “fittest” then, in the modern state of “civilised society,” is the cunningest, even though physically and morally rotten ; that is to say, the big financier, the swindler, etc ! No doubt such folk are the fittest under the present conditions, but let the present conditions be altered, and the fittest to survive will be a totally different being. And the present conditions must alter, for modern competition between man and man is largely a hot-house product, forced on by artificial means, and unfitted to survive long in the open field of Nature.

Further, this suicidal struggle does not eliminate, but creates, the “unfit” and “unemployable.” Strenuous competition is apt to throw out the capable and fit as well as to increase the degradation and misery of the “unfit” by heredity. It must be remembered also that it is from the section of the “unfit” that Socialism draws none of its recruits, while it is from the loafer and parasite at both ends of the social scale that the Movement meets with most of its opposition. On the other hand, it is from the more intellectual and capable of the citizen class that Socialism receives its chief support.

What then is this “Gospel of the Unfit,” and at what system of Society does it aim ? It demands, broadly speaking, a Society in which social production shall be for social use. This involves the forming of the Co-operative Commonwealth. The questions to be considered are, therefore, whether co-operation on a large scale is in accordance with the Laws of Evolution, and whether it will tend to aid the advance, intellectual, physical, and moral, of the human race.

The Theory of Evolution as put forward by Darwin, still remains the clearest conception of the origin and development of the various organic kingdoms, but it must not be forgotten that his theories were largely influenced by two important forces, namely, the desire to prove that man had evolved, and the teaching of Malthus. These two considerations led him to ignore, for the most part, a factor of evolution into which he had not the time to fully enquire. This factor was the Law of Co-operation, which perhaps played a more important part in the development of species than any law of struggle or competition. Most of Darwin’s followers have, however, been too narrow-minded to follow out a train of thought often suggested in his works. In the third chapter of “The Origin of Species” he says, “I should premise that I use the term ‘Struggle for Existence’ in in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual but success in leaving progeny.”

We find too, in “The Descent of Man,” that “those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best,” and he points out further that co-operation leads to the highest development of the intellect and morality needful for the survival of the species.

If we examine carefully this “dependence of one being on another” and “the success in leaving progeny,” we find that the former results in the latter, and that co-operation regularly takes place during the breeding season for the sake of protection against a common enemy—the combination of several species of birds to attack a bird of prey is one of the commonest sights in nature. This same “dependence of one being on another ” results in the highest development of the individual, for we find that individual intelligence and activity are conspicuous wherever the members of the species co-operate.

Among insects none are of higher intellect than the bees, ants, and termites. Their great works—their roads, their storehouses, are all marvels of workmanship, and each member of the community is capable of performing any part of the necessary work. Nor is any greater or less than another: an ant that refuses to help with food a fellow ant in need of it is killed.

Among birds, none are of greater intelligence than the parrots and cranes, who always live in communities and practise mutual help.

Among mammals there are few that do not associate with their species. The happy lives of the members of the marmot communities, and the wonderful powers of the beaver are notable examples of the development attained through co-operation.

We find, too, that the monkeys, which show the highest development of all mammals, except man, live almost wholly in societies. Finally, among primitive men, savages, and barbarians, communism was the rule, and it is undoubtedly to this that we owe the high development of the human race.

So then, the “survival of the fittest” does not imply mutual competition, which leads to the destruction and weakening of the species, but rather mutual help. This, however, can only be properly practised in a Society where social production is for social use instead of for individual profit; and where the individual, freed from the degrading and destructive struggle for the means of existence, may have time and space to fully develope his own individuality without depriving the other members of his species of the necessaries of life. For Socialism by no means aims at reducing all men to the same dead level— a sheer impossibility—but rather seeks the development of a Society in which Nature, with her laws of natural selection, may have perfect freedom from all artificiality, and in which the mutual law shall be, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Sydney Chase

Karl Marx. (1904)

From the December 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been said by the cynic that each man considers himself, and each woman considers her husband, the greatest of men. Be that as it may, it is not to the man whose influence over a few is the greatest, but to him through whom has been exerted the most far-reaching influence for good over the greatest number of the world’s inhabitants and through whom the progress of man’s happiness has most largely been caused, that must be accorded the premier position in the estimation of mankind.

I am not a believer in the “great man” theory which attributes historical events and social changes to the genius, courage, and enterprise of this individual or that, but hold rather the view that the development of society in accordance with natural law through a never-ending cancatenation of cause and effect, action and reaction of forces, has always produced at the required juncture, instruments in the shape of men for further progress.

It is always difficult to apportion to any one man the share due to him of any great movement or thought or invention, inasmuch as he takes advantage of the work done by the many who have gone before. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to survey the proportions and gaze on the personality of the men with whose names have been associated movements and ideas which have to any appreciable extent influenced the thoughts and actions of any considerable section of the human race.

I think, however, it is not to the man of science in the laboratory, not to the man of letters in the library, not to the inventor in the workshop that we have to look so much as to the social investigator and teacher, the world teacher who, through the science of society and universal philosophy, has shown how best the laboratory and literature and invention can be applied for the advantage of the race. If we judge then by this standard and look among the philosophers we shall find but one teacher whose influence has been manifested in the founding of a school of social thought which is world-wide. That teacher is Karl Marx.

Marx is known less in this country than he is on the Continent, but even here are to be found a goodly number of people clear in the perception of the truths unveiled by Marx, and more than that, the philosophy, the religion and the political ideas of those who are opposed to him are leavened by his views. In England as in America, in Australasia as in Japan, in South America as in South Africa, and everywhere in Europe do we find men with common aims, common hopes, and common ideals, building on the doctrines formulated by Marx a practical constructive policy for the banishment of the social ills from which men suffer, for the laying of a satisfactory basis of human life in the establishment of a society which shall provide adequately for man’s material needs,and through his material well-being secure a healthier intellectual and moral character for the race.

What, then, was the teaching of Marx ? His main position is to be found in his Das Kapital in which he discusses the economy of capitalist society, tracing its origin and development and foretelling its ultimate end. His main theses were that all rent, interest and profit find their source in the unpaid labour of the working-class ; that from free competition monopoly must necessarily arise, large capitals being able to crush small capitals and absorb them, while these large capitals grew larger in the hands of individual owner, limited liability company, combine, trust; that through the introduction of machinery and the consequent production of machinery by machinery, human labour is displaced and an industrial reserve of unemployed is necessarily established; that this same machinery more and more specialises man’s effort till man becomes a routine worker carrying on monotonous detail operations; and that arising from the industrial anarchy in society as regards both production and distribution is the poverty and consequent misery of the wage-working population.

Far more wide-reaching than all these however, is his materialistic conception of history, and his claim that all history has been a history of class struggles which will last until the lowest class, the class of the workers, gains political control and uses the power its members thereby gain to abolish all classes by abolishing the basis of class society, i.e., private property in the means of living. The materialist conception of history, as understood by Marx, is not necessarily associated with a belief in scientific or physiological materialism—that all phenomena can be explained in terms of molecules or atoms or any lower form of matter into which molecules or atoms can be resolved. Marx’s theory is that the economic modes of production and of distribution in any society are, in the main, the governing factors upon which the social structure, religion, political and juridical relations of that society depend. If this theory be sound then it follows that any change in any of the existing relations of man to man must be preceded by a change in industrial methods, and that any change in industrial methods is reflected in the social phenomena of society.

That Marx was not only a great thinker but a great leader of men can be disputed by no one who has examined the political strength of Socialism. A man who, in indicating the mainspring of social development, has laid the foundation stone of that mighty international movement with its millions of adherents, must have been equipped with more than ordinary vision. And to those who believe that the future of society must follow the lines laid down by him, it reasonably appears that the name of Karl Marx will for all time be associated with the most momentous social transformation heretofore witnessed in history. He who in the midst of a poverty-stricken exile laid down the principles guiding a world-wide movement destined to shape the society of the future must be hailed by friend and foe as one of the world’s greatest, and by Socialists as the greatest, measured by his influence for the betterment of the lives of men and the regeneration of society.
R. Elrick

A Look Round. (1904)

From the December 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those nose-poking busybodies who constitute the Charity Organisation Society have recently employed themselves enquiring into the question of other people’s unemployment and have issued an exhaustive report on the matter. They have discovered that pauperism and vagrancy are increasing continuously and that there is a large, unskilled, unorganised mass, many of whom are unemployable, if that word can be taken to mean that they have come to dislike long periods of continuous labour, and are often, in bodily strength and temperament, unfit for it.

* * *

At first sight this looked as if the C.O.S. were indulging in the prevailing fashion and attacking the “smart set,” but as probably some of the Society belong to that set they would hardly cry “stinking fish.” The report contains a number of recommendations which may be summed up in more committees, more classification, better organisation of charity and a further enquiry and report. And if all these recommendations are adopted the unemployed problem will be untouched because the cause of the unemployment lies deeper than these people have ever poked. When it is solved by the only way, a reorganisation of our industrial system, well-fed unemployed like the members of the C.O.S. will find circumstances somewhat altered.

* * *

Charity, whether organised or unorganised, exists because some folk have more than they need and others need more than they have. In a country where labour applied to natural objects can produce more than sufficient for everybody, such a state is unnecessary as well as unjust. In the Socialist Society, where industry is organised for the benefit of all, where all perform their share of the necessary labour and where all enjoy without stint the results of the organised effort of the whole community, neither want nor charity need to exist. But the perpetuation of the capitalist system and not the establishment of the Socialist Society is the object of the charity-mongers.

* * *

In a note appended to the report George Lansbury, who was a member of the Committee of Enquiry, dissents from it, mainly on questions of principle, such as the reasons which have led to increased pauperism in places like Poplar and West Ham. He agrees with what is said as a statement of reasons which have operated to accentuate the evil, but does not agree that we have created the evil. He is of opinion that this lies far deeper in our individual life than any question of Poor-Law administration. This is veering round with a vengeance, for a man who has been a Socialist Parliamentary candidate and thus has publicly associated himself with the materialist philosophy.

* * *

Much attention is being given just now to the Poplar Labour Colony at Laindon, Essex, which is claimed by its promoters to most nearly approach to a solution of the unemployed problem. The colony consists of some hundred acres of land which were presented to the Poplar Guardians at a peppercorn rent for an experimental period of three years by Mr. Fels, with the option of buying it at the price he paid, viz., £2,125. Work has been going on for three months, during which time two reservoirs have been constructed and are almost ready for use, living quarters have been erected, and nearly the whole of the farm colony prepared for cultivation. When it is added that the colonist, of course, is not supposed to make a resting place of the farm, but will, when sufficiently trained in agricultural duties, be passed on to some other employer, where he will be able to make a fresh start in life, it will easily be recognised how far from the solution the experiment is.

* * *

From the point of view of those of the submerged who are taken from the gutter and taught to become competent agricultural workers some good is done, but as soon as they become such they enter into competition with other workers, and if they are to secure employment it can only be by driving others, less competent perhaps, into the gutter to require treatment by the Guardians in the same manner. Obviously such a scheme provides no solution of the problem—it merely raises one section of the community at the expense of another.

* * *

In dealing with this problem last month, attention was drawn to the effect of the introduction of machinery, involving a greater and greater output with the aid of fewer men. Machines are introduced to effect a saving, usually in the wages bill. Last month’s number of the “Decorator” published a description of the paint-dipping plant recently installed at Woolwich Arsenal. Ammunition and other waggons are dipped bodily into tanks containing paint, which is kept agitated by means of revolving screws, and may be given three coats in one day, as the paint dries very quickly. The saving effected is very great and is likely to be extended to other industries.

* * *

The Liberals have every reason to be satisfied with the good work which W. Crooks is doing for them, and they must laugh in their sleeves when they recollect that he is paid £200 a year by the L.R.C. to represent “Independent” Labour. Last month he presided at a bazaar organised by the Boro’ of Woolwich Labour Representation Association, and in his opening address declared that Earl Carrington was one of the best friends of Labour, and a democratic member of the House of Lords. The workers of Woolwich were under more than an ordinary obligation to his lordship. If every lord who possessed land as Lord Carrington did were as good and kindly as he it would be an excellent thing for the country.

* * *

So that apparently, in Crooks’ view, landlordism is all right if the landlords are good and kindly, and no objection may be raised to the House of Lords provided the members are “democrats” and will condescend to place the workers under more than an ordinary obligation by opening bazaars for them !

* * *

Of course his lordship was smart enough to rise to the occasion and to play the game. He returned his most grateful thanks for having been allowed to open the bazaar, which he believed was entirely run and entirely stocked by the free gifts of that great industrial class which it was his pride and his privilege to remember his own family originally sprung from. It is rumoured that he added “and have lived on ever since and will continue to do as long as you will allow us” but the loud and prolonged applause, ably led by Mr. Crooks, prevented this from being heard by the assembled sturdy sons of Labour.

* * *

Since the bazaar Crooks has been the chief speaker at a Free Trade meeting at Stratford Town Hall, where the chair was taken by C. F. G. Masterman, who was such a persona grata with some S.D.F. members when he recently contested Dulwich that they canvassed for him. He is at present the Liberal candidate for North West Ham. The Liberal wirepullers, with their usual astuteness, are trotting him round the constituency in a “non-political” capacity. A few days previous to this meeting he took part in an Education conference and lectured to the members of Grove Congregational Church Literary Society. Doubtless he will shortly be present at the annual distribution of the Coal and Clothing Club, send his best wishes to the annual sale of work of the Dorcas Society, and look in for a few moments at the concert of the amalgamated athletic clubs of the district, for thus are elections fought and won.

* * *

At the Free Trade meeting Councillor Anarchist Leggatt occupied a seat on the platform, together with A. E. Jacobs (I.L.P.), and letters were read from W. Thorne (Labour Candidate for South West Ham) and C. Boardman (Liberal and Passive Resister), regretting their inability to take part in the meeting. Truly a strange gathering ! After the speeches Crooks proposed a resolution pledging those present at the meeting to oppose any candidate at the next election who does not guarantee to maintain the policy of Free Trade. Now, if such candidates are to be opposed, their opponents, provided that they pledge themselves to maintain the policy of Free Trade, must be supported. Thus the Liberals adroitly lead Labour members and candidates to admit that there is a difference between capitalist candidates—a difference in favour of Free Traders as against Protectionists, a difference in favour of the kites as against the crows. It is regrettable that members of the S.D.F. and the I.L.P. fall so easily into this trap.

* * *

In the September quarter’s report of the Gas-workers’ and General Labourers’ Union, W. Thorne hopes that when the general election takes place Union members in all parts of he country will recognise the absolute necessity of working for and voting in favour of men of their own class. That way lies disaster! From a Socialist point of view the fact that a candidate is or has been a member of the working-class is not of itself sufficient. Nothing is to be gained by voting for a candidate, whatever his class, who does not understand the principles of Socialism, and who is not prepared to go to the House of Commons as a rebel, determined, by every means in his power, to seek the overthrow of the capitalist-class. The average labour leader who attaches himself to a section of the capitalist political party serves the interests of that party and not those of the working-class.

* * *

Socialists well understand the motives that prompt benevolent plutocrats to build model villages, erect sanitary and even palatial factories and workshops, admit their employees to a share of the profits, and other little dodges of a similar character. It is because they are sufficiently far-sighted to recognise that it pays. The latest is the introduction by Messrs. J. Lyons & Co., of the gramophone. This is now kept going whilst the workers grind coffee, pack tea, etc. A representative of the firm thinks that instead of detracting the girls from their work it gives them a fillip. Soldiers, he says, march better to music, so why should not workers work better ?

* * *

There is every reason why the necessary labour should be performed under healthy and enjoyable conditions, but such are at present adopted only to enable the capitalist class to obtain greater results in a given time out of the workers.

* * *

W. C. Steadman, who is advertised in the “Finsbury Free Press” as the “adopted Liberal, Radical and Labour Candidate for Central Finsbury,” pursues the even tenor of his way and plays his part exceedingly well as a decoy-duck for the Liberals. Last month he presided at a meeting held at Stepney Meeting House to hear an address from Mr. Durham Stokes, the Liberal Candidate. On the platform were Earl Beauchamp, B. S. Strauss, Liberal candidate for Mile End, and J. W. Benn, Liberal candidate for St. Georges. We would ask our friends who urge the workers to vote for men of their own class, without insisting that they shall be Socialists, whether they consider that Steadman is acting as a friend of his class whilst he is playing the game of the capitalists in this manner ?

* * *

An arbitration case has just been concluded between the Liverpool Corporation and Sunlight Soap Lever. Some years ago Mr. Lever purchased 2,200 acres of land at Horwich, adjacent to the Rivington Watershed, the property of the Liverpool Corporation, for £60,000. Mr. Lever gave 400 acres of the land to Bolton, his native place, for a public park, and for the remainder, which the Liverpool Corporation require for public works, he demanded £400,000. The Corporation offered to pay £40,000. Mr. Lever displayed his “public spirit” by refusing and putting Liverpool Ratepayers to the expense of an arbitration, as the result of which the price fixed to be paid to him is £138,449. In this manner our “model employer” builds up his reputation for good works, and by his own hard work (?) becomes enriched. For of such is the kingdom of capitalism.
Jack Kent