Saturday, July 9, 2022

Letter: Some questions on Socialist policy. (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Correspondent Answered.

We give below a letter from “Student” and our replies to his four questions : —

Oct. 6th, 1927.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 
17, Mount Pleasant, 
London, W.C.1.

Dear Comrades,

I am in agreement and have been for a number of years with the Object and Principles of the S.P.G.B., and have been preaching same, yet I must say that I do not agree with actions, statements, and attitude of certain members of the S.P.G.B. which I, like many others, maintain are detrimental to progress to the object of Socialism as stated by the S.P.G.B. I write to ascertain from you your answer to the following questions :—
  1. If a person believe there to be a Supreme Being or Living God; or believe in the statements supposed to have been made by the supposed Christ, would such a person be allowed to join or remain a member of the S.P.G.B.?
  2. If a person be a member, an active member, of a local unemployed organisation, originated and supported by members of the Tory Party and Fascists, would such person be allowed to join or remain a member of the S.P.G.B.?
  3. Is there in your opinion an organisation which does function that is strictly Non-Political: whether it does state so or not?
  4. Would you say that nationalisation is, or is not, a step in the right direction toward Socialism?
Thanking you in anticipation for your reply through the ” Standard ” or otherwise.—Yours fraternally,
A Student.

(1) Applicants for membership of the Socialist Party are required to demonstrate only that they accept our Declaration of Principles and will adhere to our rules (except, of course, that they must show that they understand what they are signing). But acceptance of Socialism involves acceptance of certain views as to the evolution of society ; there is, therefore, no place in our ranks for those whose “beliefs” prevent them from working confidently for the establishment of Socialism. Belief in a “Supreme Being” possessing and using the power to mould men and things arbitrarily to a “Divine Will ” cuts across our scientific view of the necessity of moulding society ourselves in accordance with our definite views of working-class interests. To show that this is not an exaggerated precaution, we need only consider an amazing document which bears the signature of A. J. Cook, Ben Tillett, George Lansbury, R. Coppock and others. This is the Proclamation of the Industrial Christian Fellowship, issued on April 25th, 1926, for the celebration of ” Industrial Sunday.”

The signatories declare that:
“In attaching our names to this manifesto of the Industrial Christian Fellowship, we proclaim our belief in the Gospel of Christ as the final truth concerning the relationship of men one with another. It is our conviction that statesmanship will fail, and political programmes will prove futile as a solvent of social troubles, unless they embody the spirit and practice of Christ.”
There is much more of this kind of stuff, including an appeal “to our fellow-citizens of all classes” to remedy the evils of the modern world.

Now we offer membership to those who accept our solution of the economic problem of the working class; we cannot offer it to those who pin their faith to Christ, or the “Christian spirit,” or the works of a “Supreme Being,” and who by so doing explicitly or implicitly reject all “political programmes,” including our own. Neither we nor they would benefit from the encouragement such a course would give to the confusion of a double and conflicting allegiance.

(2) and (3) We cannot answer such a question without particulars of the organisation referred to. Members are frequently compelled, in order to work at their trade, to join trade unions founded and dominated by liberals, labourites, and other anti-socialists. We can only say in general that members may not belong to other political parties. Whether a particular organisation is political, or whether for other reasons we consider it undesirable for members to join it, must be decided on the merits of each case.

(4) Nationalisation, or State Capitalism, in this country is emphatically not a step in the right direction. In a backward country like Russia, faced with the need to go through Capitalism before Socialism is a practical possibility, State Capitalism may be a step in the right direction, in that it may hasten capitalist development and enable it to proceed without certain of the worst excesses which competitive capitalism exhibited in this country in the early days.
Editorial Committee.

Camberwell Branch. (1927)

Party News from the December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new Branch of the Party has been formed recently in the London district of Camberwell.

All sympathisers of the party living in the adjoining districts of Peckham and Brixton are invited to took in at the Branch meeting-room any Friday evening after 8 o’clock. The room is situated next to the main entrrance to the Camberwell Public Baths (main entrance Church Street, Camberwell).

The Secretary’s address is : J. Goodfellow, 40, Solon New Road, Clapham, S.W., to whom all enquiries should be addressed.

Branch headquarters are very conveniently-situated and suitable for the discussions (open to the public) which will be a feature of these Friday evenings.
J. G.

SPGB Meetings and Lectures. (1927)

Party News from the December 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The “Economic Causes of War” pamphlet mentioned above was the Canadian pamphlet which had been advertised in the October 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Who are the capitalists? (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Every Man a Capitalist” is the title of an article written by Sir Sydney Low, and published in the “Sunday Pictorial” (2.10.27). The sub-title is “‘How Wealth is Spreading Amongst the Workers.”

Sir Sydney accuses Socialists of being “dealers in popular unrest,” and states that for years past we have been saying that “the rich are growing richer and the poor becoming poorer.” Also, we have said this so often and so persistently that many earnest persons who are not Socialists are inclined to believe there must be some truth in the indictment. In fact, there is none. So says Sir Sydney.

Of course, we are very pleased to hear that we are making an impression upon “many earnest persons who are not Socialists.”

To show that the rich are getting poorer, Low tells us “they are not spending extravagantly, their lives are simpler and less luxurious than they used to be.” These unfortunate people are parting with “their large, expensive houses, and offering their estates for sale. Many of them protest that they are living upon their capital in order to pay their way.”

This is all very sad, but it is not proof that the rich are getting poorer. They may not be spending extravagantly because they desire to invest more; they may be living less luxurious and more simple lives in the interests of their health. But the really important point, which Sir Sydney overlooks, is that large estates cannot be sold unless there exist purchasers. Unless, therefore, he believes that the large estates are being bought up by unemployed miners and others who have been compelled to relinquish their former occupation, there must still be rich people willing to be extravagant and able to afford it.

Another factor ignored by Sir Sydney Low is that many of these estates have been broken up merely because of the tempting opportunity of netting big gains, owing to the demand for building sites.

Then to show how every worker tends to become a capitalist, Sir Sydney refers to the increase in the number of privately-owned motor cars. He says : “By the end of this year there will be 700,000 self-propelled private vehicles in England. And who owns them ? For the most part people of moderate and even small means.”

Our opponent, evidently thinking this fad not sufficient to convince the sceptical, put forth further evidence to show that some day every worker will be a capitalist. This time it is houses. He tells us that “since 1923 600,000 new houses have been bought by middle class and working class tenants.” These houses have been built with State, or municipal, aid. And then “hundreds of thousands of others already in existence or erected by private builders have been sold to occupiers of the same kind.”

“House owning,” he goes on, “is not the only method whereby the man of limited income is turning himself into a capitalist. He tends more and more to become an investor.” As evidence, Sir Sydney informs us, “National Savings Certificates are now issued to the value of over £642,000,000. It may safely be asserted that almost the whole of that £642,000,000 represents capital belonging to the small investor.” But does it in fact?

In 1922, that is, before the workers’ savings had been drained by five years of trade depression, unemployment, short time and lowered wages, the Montague Committee were only able to express the opinion that “at least half” of the total sold up to the 31st March, 1922, represented the subscriptions of small investors (see Colwyn Committee Report, page 21).

Mr. W. T. Layton, the Liberal economist and statistician, estimates that small investors hold £455 million out of a total £6,592 million, which makes up the Internal National Debt, the magnificent proportion of 7 per cent. (“Economic Journal,” June, 1927, p. 204.)

However, enough! Is it the private ownership of a motor car, whether a Ford or a Rolls-Royce, that makes a person a capitalist? No. Is a man a capitalist because he owns the house in which he lives? No. Is it the possession of a few Savings Certificates that makes a man a capitalist? No.

What, then, is a capitalist? A capitalist is one who owns enough property in the means of living such as land, factories, railways, steamships, raw materials, etc., to be able to live without needing to work. The income derived from this private ownership frees the capitalist from the necessity of working for his livelihood.

It may be asked, what, then, is a worker?

A worker is one who, not owning any or sufficient property, is forced to sell his labour-power to the capitalist class, in order that he may live.

Sir Sydney speaks of the “lower middle class and the “higher working class.” This is “confusion worse confounded” as there are only two classes in modern capitalism, those who live by working and those who live by owning. And, as shown above, it is the manner in which a person obtains his or her livelihood that places him or her in one of these two classes.

As to wealth spreading out amongst the workers, heaps of evidence could be put forth to show the contrary to be true. First of all the workers are painfully aware of the constant dwindling in their wages, and ever-present unemployment.

In the report of the Ministry of Health, 1926-27, it is stated : “Poor Law Relief has risen nearly 350 per cent. since 1914, but outdoor relief has risen by over 1,000 per cent. The number of persons receiving out-relief were, in 1914, 387,796; 1927, 1,722,084 ” (“Daily News,” 16.9.27).

Then Mr. Harold Cox, who is a defender of capitalism, writing in the “Sunday Times,” 31.7.27., says: “In round figures pauperism in 1914 represented 21 per 1,000 of the population, and in 1927, as stated above, just under 40 per 1.000. It is, therefore, not far from the truth to state that the proportion of paupers to self-dependant citizens has doubled since 1914.”

The above facts show the falsity of Sir Sydney Low’s argument. As capitalism develops, the major portion of the wealth produced ccncentrates still further into fewer and fewer hands. It is, therefore^ obvious that the poverty of the mass must increase relatively to the wealth of the propertied class.

And as bad as the lot of the workers may be at the moment, it will tend to become worse with the further development of capitalism.

The only solution to the poverty problem of the working class is not for individual workers to buy a motor car, a house, or a few Savings Certificates, but to organise in the Socialist Party in order to do away with capitalism, the cause of their poverty, and to bring into existence Socialism, the social system which will free them from poverty.

Doctrines, dogmas and Marx. (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Essay in Clear Thinking.
A Canadian correspondent sends us a cutting from “The Sporting News,” No. 32 (of Winnipeg), and asks us for our opinion on it. As the cutting is undated, we cannot supply our Canadian readers with any further means of identification except that the article appears to be an editorial, and is headed “Capitalism.”

The article has a good deal to say about “doctrines” and “dogmas,” and the workers’ “lack of understanding,” but is itself written in such an ambiguous style that the reader is not assisted in his efforts to get at what the article is intended to make clear—if there is any such intention !

Here is a quotation from the early part of the article :—
“The point to be noted is that, all that passed for knowledge in those days [early, or prehistoric times] has long since been forgotten, but the struggles of mind over matter were passed on, and to-day the man who seeks to read history will not seek to damn Capital or Capitalism, but rather seeks to understand it. How natural for the pioneer of thought to make mistakes ; he but glimpses the truth, and the pain and struggles of the mass often supply just that portion of his idea which he has perforce left ambiguous. This has been so in all the fields of scientific research. Sociology, or the science of life, is difficult to understand. The worker untrained in the process of mind, though exceedingly clever with tools, often becomes a victim of his own misunderstanding and becomes lost twixt the philosophical and the scientific, the theoretical and the practical.”
Now what exactly is the meaning of this nebulous collection of statements? To write that “all that passed for knowledge” in early times “has been forgotten” is to write rubbish. The knowledge, for instance, that it is dangerous to stand under a falling tree, is as true to-day as it was when man first grasped the fact. And what is the precise meaning of “the struggles of mind over matter”? Is this not of the nature of a dogma? After all, the mind seeks to grasp the ways of the world including itself, and if the article is intended as a contribution to clear thinking, it should avoid phrases that are ambiguous, and confuse. An illustration or two would have helped readers to grasp what is meant by the pain and struggles of the masses supplying just that portion of a pioneer’s idea which he is alleged to have perforce left ambiguous !

Again, is sociology the science of life? Is it not rather the science which investigates the means and methods of human association? Surely Biology is the science of life ! The writer, or writers, having enlightened the readers with the above ambiguities and false phrases, then warms to the business in hand, and give to the world the following pearls of wisdom :—
“He formulated the three doctrines, viz., the materialist conception of history, the class struggle and the theory of surplus value. His work is the exposition of these doctrines. Does the world grasp them as doctrines to be used to influence understanding, “They do not” ; it is much easier to give them a dogmatic interpretation than to read and understand them. “Did Marx say the last thing in economic law?” He did not, in fact; history will ultimately show that he really said the first rather than the last. His three doctrines included all the knowledge known and all that was to be known, because the doctrines comprise the whole of existence. The workers have been left to understand Marx as best they may, and they seem to be making a sorry mess of the job. When dogma takes the place of doctrine, then imagination runs riot and reason is dethroned for the time being.”
We are told that Marx did not say the last thing in economic law, in fact, he said rather the first. Yet “his three doctrines included all the knowledge known [what is knowledge that is unknown?] and all that was to be known, because the doctrines comprise the whole of existence” ! Reason certainly seems to be a little bit off the throne here ! If Marx said the first thing in economic law, then what about Aristotle, Franklin, Adam Smith, Ricardo, and the rest?

May we suggest that it would have been a concession on the part of whoever is responsible for the article if they had hinted at the meanings of “dogmas” and “doctrines” so that readers would have had some small opportunity of piercing the veil of mystery surrounding the “points” in the article. A dogma is an opinion or doctrine accepted on trust or authority; a doctrine is a principle, view, or set of opinions taught. The principles put forward by Marx were arrived at after a lifetime’s examination of a veritable storehouse of facts; and the principles together with facts upon which they were based were set down for all to examine and criticise. The workers, where they have had the opportunity, and in spite of the intentionally pernicious effect of capitalist education, have succeeded in grasping the essence of Marx’s teaching, and this without the aid of a “higher education.”

To say that the workers are “making a sorry mess of the job” is either the empty words of an enemy or the cheap sneer of a cocksure blunderer.
“Leaving the materialist conception, and surplus value to one side for brevity, in this article, what interpretation do many of the workers put on the class struggle ? In the ordinary language of the day, it is “get ready for a fight, organize for a revolution,” and this dogma of the class struggle has sure brought much havoc among the workers. It was this dogma that organized the German Proletariat and got them ready to obey the Imperialism of Germany. It is the same “bunk” which inflamed Russia, who intend to inflame the rest of the world if they are allowed to have their way. The point in this connection between doctrine and dogma is that the three doctrines are a threefold conception, a theoretical conception from which lessons of understanding may be learnt. Where the three are understood, each in relation to the other, it presupposes an understanding which leads to the evolutionary rather than the revolutionary. If the revolution takes place in mind, it no longer is sought for in the national rough house tactics. It cannot lead to the destruction of wealth, war, and all it entails. It must lead to conservation of national life and the workers must needs fit themselves with understanding, so that those who direct the struggle shall be subdued by it. The class struggle is a doctrine, is theoretical, and will change with the process of changing industry, but as a dogma it, like many superstitious dogmas, will always remain the same till society outlives it. The worker may continue to damn capitalism, but it cannot be denied that it is the school-master of the iron and steel age, and materially shortens the distance towards emancipation in proportion as doctrine understood supersedes—Dogmas—the misunderctood too !”
The above is the last paragraph in the precious article. It may be noted in passing that the materialist conception and surplus value are put aside, at the beginning, for the sake of brevity, but brought in again a few lines later as inseparable from the class struggle theory. It may also be noted that nowhere is there an attempt to define any of them, beyond assuring us that they are “doctrine” ! It is asserted that many workers interpret the class struggle as a call to “get ready for a fight, organise for the revolution,” and then the assertion is made that this dogma was the cause of the downfall of the German Proletariat. This is a false interpretation of the situation, and is used for the purpose of bolstering up the ”Evolutionary” as opposed to the revolutionary view of social change. But first of all a word on the downfall of the German Social Democracy. This was the outcome of a long period of propaganda that had as its basis the view, still common among so-called leaders of democracy, that the main thing was to get a large body of workers organised, without bothering much whether they understood clearly for what they were organising. This had nothing at all to do with the class struggle theory.

“Evolutionary,” scientifically understood, signifies an unfolding, a movement from a relatively lower to a relatively higher state, and this, as applied to society, includes in the movement “revolution” as the expression of a complete change of basis. The people, however, who urge “evolutionary” as opposed to “revolutionary” views of social change interpret “evolution” to mean a gradual change of the social basis from private ownership of the means of production to common ownership, taking place step by step, a little at a time, on the quiet without anybody being the wiser until, hey presto ! the deed is done. Socialism is here, whoever would have thought it? And this is apparently the culminating idea in the article with which we are dealing. Lo, the mountain bringeth forth not even a mouse, but only the hair off the leg of a gnat !

The nationalisation fraud. (1927)

From the November 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the workers are separated from their means of life, dependant upon the masters for work in order to live, all economies in doing that work mean fewer required. Nationalisation is one of those capitalist economies, and wherever it operates, as on certain railways, or over whole industries as in Australia, its effects have been detrimental to the workers. The capitalist class in control of political power will decide when and where privately run industries will serve their class better as State capitalist concerns, such as the Post Office. Despite empty phrases of Communist and Labour reformers, the workers will have no control what the masters own. “Forward” (13/8/-27), the Scottish organ of the I.L.P., says: “The whole of the Labour programme for the reconstruction of our two basic industries is based on the practicability of Nationalisation.” True, the Labour Party, with its lords, viscounts, parsons and capitalist financial support, require a programme that will win the votes of those who are tired of the orthodox parties, but it must appear to be one different from those parties. It must contain issues over which they appear to fight the capitalists, issues over which the workers can win a “great victory,” but which will still leave them workers as of yore. At the moment the Trade Union Bill and Nationalisation serve the purpose, as Home Rule, Free Trade, Votes for Women, etc., have done in the past—served to divert your attention from your slavery. But a problem confronts the Labour Party. With office and power looming in the distance, to make Nationalisation an issue would, with power conferred upon them, imply the necessity of introducing legislation to make it a fact : What would be the result? They would first lose a vote-catching stunt that has served them well when power seemed remote, but more important, its worsening’ effects upon the workers’ conditions would eventually disillusion those members of the working class who support capitalism masquerading as Labourism. J. H. Thomas, ambassador of class docility, sees this. Addressing an international gathering of school teachers on the subject of the practicability of Nationalisation, he told them plainly that as a Labour Party measure it is not practical now.

Forward” (Ibid) quotes his statement from the “Manchester Guardian” (9/8/27), and appears to express astonishment. Say they : ”In the light of this, Mr. Thomas is surely entitled to give us an explanation of his statements at the Teachers’ Conference.” But stay! There is a gentleman whose photo appears on the same page as this request, from whom “surely” an explanation is due also. He is the Great God (capitals, please) of the I.L.P., Ramsay MacDonald. He saw the light sooner than J. H. Thomas, so is entitled to the first explanation. He has said : “I should not be doing justice to you or to myself if I told you that Nationalisation was going to get you out of your present difficulties; you know that I should be lying if I tried to spoof you in that way.” “Times,” (27 7/25). Here is a dilemma. According to this idol of the I.L.P., both they and the Labour Party, whose programme is based on the “practicability of Nationalisation” are lying and spoofing to you. Shall we be told it is not true because “we are only a small party,” or is it true because these more far-seeing leaders realise that things are only practical to them while they serve as vote-catching expedients.
W. E. MacHaffie