Friday, July 15, 2022

Colonel Lancaster (1978)

From the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outdoor speakers of the Socialist Party are frequently requested to name capitalists and are deemed to have failed to prove their case on declining to do so. The validity of our case does not depend on the ability to compile a directory of the parasites of this society however. Capitalists are the products of social conditions where the means of living are privately owned and production is for profit; they are not the makers of these conditions. So it is essential to understand how capitalism works. Socialists only quote names to illustrate this.

A good example is provided for us by the item in the Daily Telegraph of 5 June titled “Tory MP leaves £2.8m fortune”. The point of interest for us, was not in the fact that a Tory MP died rich, there is nothing unusual about that. It was in the first paragraph which stated “Reinvestment of Government compensation from his substantial interest in coal mines in Nottinghamshire, as a result of nationalisation in 1947, has helped to provide the largest probate value so far this year — £3,145,452 gross, £2,807,920 net — for the estate of Col. Claude Lancaster, a Conservative MP for more than 30 years”. To put it crudely, the Colonel, a former mine owner, was the victim of Labour’s nationalisation policies and came out of the ordeal with his wealth intact.

The mining industry between the wars faced shrinking markets. The measures to combat this included wage cuts, deterioration in working conditions, and pit closures and the resulting resistance of the miners to these cuts put the industry at the centre of political controversy in those days. The Labour Party, with the support of the miners, claimed the fault lay with private ownership of the mines and the owners’ greed for profit. Nationalisation was to be the remedy by eliminating the owners. It was understood that the chaos of competition would be replaced by a sane and humane planning of production. The Socialist Party at the time argued that nationalisation was not the answer, as the result would be state capitalism with no important changes in the lot of the workers.

The nationalisation that the Labour Party and many mine workers wanted so badly has been implemented for over thirty years now. Mining has changed much over that period of time, yet the essentials remain the same. The profit motive determines the decisions of executives of the National Coal Board every bit as much as it did that of the managers of the old companies. Closures have continued and the industry has shrunk much since 1947. Mechanisation, which could have been a boon in lightening the toil of the miners, when allied to the profit motive brought stress and danger instead. Nationalisation did for a time bring a change that Colonel Lancaster and the former owners would have appreciated, the miners believed in nationalisation and went along with the streamlining of the industry they had resisted before.

Thirty years after the event that was claimed to be such a momentous change, workers still produce wealth for the benefit of the owning minority and the announcement of Colonel Lancaster’s will is a timely reminder of this.
Joe Carter

Your labour - their profits (1978)

From the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of the continuing world recession many companies are managing to maintain and even increase their profits. Statistics prepared by the Government Statistical Service show that the gross trading profits for industrial and commercial companies increased by 38 per cent. in 1977 compared with 1976. Over the same period payment of dividends on ordinary shares increased by 17 per cent.

But where do profits come from?

Let us first consider the explanation of profits that is provided by orthodox economics. Orthodox economic theory takes for granted a world of private property where some people mysteriously own capital and earn a revenue from that, and where the rest of the population own only their ability to labour and so are forced to work for a wage or a salary. It assumes private property and the existence of profit to start off with. Its theory, therefore, can in no way provide an explanation of profit, but is merely a description of the way that capital can secure an income for its owners.

The ideological implications of such a theory are clear (although not to the economists, who would deny them). By focussing on a description of the way payments to capital are made, rather than examining WHY such payments are made — which would necessitate an analysis of the foundations of property society — orthodox economics sweeps under the carpet the potentially revolutionary issues and makes profits seem normal, right and inevitable.

Orthodox Theory
Marx was highly critical of this aspect of orthodox theory and regarded it as a complete mystification of the real situation. For example in The 1844 Manuscripts Marx says,
Political economy starts with the fact of private property; it does not explain it to us . . . Political economy throws no light on the cause of the division between labour and capital, and between capital and land. When, for example, it defines the relationship of wages to profit, it takes the interest of the capitalists to be the ultimate cause, i.e., it takes for granted what it is supposed to explain.
Marx’s analysis of profit starts off by investigating the underlying property relations of society. As profit is a general characteristic of capitalist society only its explanation is to be found in its specific features. The features that Marx took to be specific to capitalism were the following:-
  1. The means of production take the form of capital. This means not only that the means of production are put into operation only if a profit can be expected from the sale of the commodities so produced, but that the function of these means of production is the production of profit for accumulation, and not the production of useful articles as such.
  2. These means of production are owned by a minority class who are forced by their position as capitalists to use these means of production as capital, to use them only for making profit.
  3. The non-owning class, the working class, are unable to undertake productive activity unless hired by an employer in return for a money wage with which the means of subsistence can be purchased.
  4. The economic relations between economic agents (including those between capitalists and workers) have the appearance of freely contracted relations.
  5. Money transactions are the norm.
Surplus Product 
Marx argued that it is a feature of all property societies that a surplus product is appropriated by a minority class. In his economic writings on capitalism, he explained how this appropriation takes place in capitalist society; in an economy where economic relations take the form of exchange relations, the appropriation of the surplus product is also effected on the basis of exchange.

Firstly, Marx considered whether the surplus could be appropriated by means of unfair exchanges amongst sellers where commodities are bought cheap and sold dear. If this were so then the surplus would actually be created within the sphere of exchange. This can be discounted as an explanation of the source of the surplus because as capitalists are both buyers and sellers, it would be impossible for them as a class to make profits by cheating themselves all the time, although some individual capitalists may sometimes make profits on this basis by defrauding others. Consequently Marx concluded that an explanation would have to be based on the assumption of ‘fair’ exchanges between buyers and sellers.

As Marx saw exchange itself to be a purely social act, he argued that when commodities are exchanged, what is really happening is that people’s labour is being exchanged. Exchange-value is determined by the value of the commodity, by the amount of socially-necessary labour-time that has been expended on it. By this he meant that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour needed on average, given the prevailing level of technical development and efficiency, to produce it, including the labour needed to produce the machinery and raw materials. If all commodities exchange according to their values, then what is the source of the surplus product, the surplus value? (We assume here for the sake of simplicity that exchange-values are determined solely and directly by values. In fact, Marx showed in Capital volume 3 that this is not generally the case. The analysis of the source of profit is, however, unaffected by this simplifying assumption).

Marx’s answer to this question is that surplus value is produced by the working class in the ordinary course of their working activity in that the value newly produced by a worker is invariably more than the value that he or she receives in the form of wages. But  how could this happen if all commodities are exchanged at their value? Surely the worker is exchanging labour for less than its value if the worker receives less value than his/her labour produces? Marx’s answer to this was that what the worker actually sells to the capitalist is not labour, but the ability to labour, labour-power. And the value of the labour-power is what it costs the worker on average to maintain himself/herself and dependants. By and large, the wages received by the working class are sufficient to maintain them from one generation to the next, but clearly this is a smaller value than is produced by the working class. The difference between the value newly produced by the working class and the wages received by them is the source of surplus value.

The capitalist class is able to appropriate this unpaid labour by virtue of its monopoly of the means of production which enables it to dictate the terms on which the working class are forced to exchange their labour for wages. This coercion may be softened a little by trade union activity, but essentially is unchanged by it.

Marx then went on to show how this surplus value is distributed among the different sections of the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest, and profit. Thus all unearned income ultimately flows from the unpaid labour of the working class, this being the direct result of the monopoly of the means of production by the capitalist class.

What does all this mean for the worker?

It means that although the world’s wealth is produced by the working class acting on nature-given raw materials, a certain proportion of this wealth is siphoned off for a small parasite class. That enables this class to enjoy a standard of living far in excess of that of the working class. It also provides the capitalist class with the funds for further accumulation on an extended scale which serves to reproduce the existing class relations of society.

It also means that the aim of production is not the satisfaction of people’s needs, but the amassing of surplus value and accumulation on an ever larger scale. Instead of useful articles — food, clothing, shelter, being produced for people, people are subordinated to the production of commodities; instead of people controlling the productive forces of society, people are controlled by them. Consequently, in a world which has a productive potential hitherto unknown, we are faced with mass poverty, mass starvation, mass pollution.

It means that the time is long overdue for the working class to take political action to put an end to a system that works against their interests.

It means therefore that the time is long overdue for the establishment of Socialism where all society’s productive forces are owned and democratically controlled by the entire community. In such a society the means of production will not function as capital but as aids to the production of the useful articles that we need to live. Production will not be for profit but will be directed towards satisfying our needs. Together with other relics of capitalism such as money, insurance policies and price tags, profits will have no rôle in Socialism.
V. W. Brown

The Chinese working class need profits too ! (1978)

From the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
“It is the glorious responsibility of socialist enterprises to work hard to increase accumulation for the State and make greater profits.

“All enterprises, except those which are allowed to run at a loss under the State policy, must have profits and no losses are allowed. We must strive to increase accumulation for socialism, resort to every means energetically to publicize the importance of increasing accumulation for the state, and commend those advanced units and individuals who have consistently increased production and practised economy and who have turned a losing unit into a profitable one. We must make everyone familiar with the slogan, 'It is glorious to accumulate funds for the State and shameful to lose money’, so that the masses will take concrete action to make greater profit greater accumulation and greater contributions for the State.

“Enterprises which fail to make profits for the State and enterprises which run at a loss cannot be selected as Taching-type enterprises. Profitable enterprises must continue to tap their potentials and strive to lower the production costs and make still greater profits”.

Extracts from an editorial in the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily, 27 August 1977 Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (Far East), no. 5602, 31 August 1977

Letters: Progress and Socialism (1978)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Progress and Socialism

In reply to my letter, “Technology and Socialism" (March SS), you give some evidence to support your contention of scientific progress making men happier in regards to medical science making the many diseases which were once rife to be things of the past, but you forget that this is a very fleeting sort of happiness in form and content, as it very quickly vanishes due to a host of other serious diseases which arise in society to cancel this ephemeral happiness out of men’s minds, and by doing so add to men’s miseries.

And even though the human lifespan is about twice as long on average as it was in Marx’s day this prolongation of life has not in the main added to man’s happiness on earth, nor has it in any manner or form motivated the workers develop Socialist ideas.

And if man has doubled his life-span since Marx’s day he certainly has not doubled his drive to attain Socialist ideas since Marx’s day. For even in 1848 Marx tells us that a spectre of communism is haunting Europe, but even today with the worker’s life-span being doubled the spectre of communism is virtually non-existent in Europe. It would be interesting to know what the historical materialists have to say about that, for this seems to be regress rather than progress, that is, of course assuming Marx’s Communist Manifesto was correct about the spectre of communism haunting Europe.

My letter never mentioned anything about the expense of technological inventions in regard to the workers, so I do not know where you got that idea from. And you certainly did not try to explain what you meant by progress, in regards to a change from hand mills to steam mills, for it is only too obvious that the steam mills did not motivate the working class to attain Socialist ideas, but rather on the contrary, dehumanised the workers by soul destroying work which turned them into robots, so where is the progress here? You disagree with this view of course, but 130 years of capitalistic technological dehumanisation is against you, plus the fact in our age of 1978 Socialism is a non-existent drive in working class politics. And also historical materialism which is supposed to operate independent of man’s will and consciousness has done virtually nothing from the steam mill in Marx’s day to the present atomic technological age to bring about any great progress towards Socialism, which, of course, you say is the only real progress, although no real evidence exists in society, to make this real progress a reality.

I would like so much to hear your comments on all that.
Ian Campbell
Dundee, Scotland

There are two conditions necessary for the establishment of Socialism; the development of the productive forces to the point where they can provide an abundance, and acceptance by the world’s working class of the case for Socialism. Technological and scientific progress has for some decades now ensured the attainment of the first condition. Under capitalism these developments and inventions are not utilised for the good of mankind. However, in a Socialist society the fruits of human ingenuity will be able to benefit everybody. Technological progress will mean social and individual advancement. The 'soul-destroying work’ you mention has not turned the workers into robots— that is, unthinking machines which simply respond to instructions. As we said in our reply to your first letter, “Society is too complex to be operated by robots; instead it is living, feeling and thinking workers who run society.’’ The very existence of the Socialist Party shows that Socialism is by no means “ a non-existent drive in working class politics". It is no good looking to historical materialism to bring about progress towards Socialism; it is people, not history, who will carry out the revolution. The second condition for the establishment of Socialism means a world-wide majority of convinced Socialists, and this is what Socialist propaganda aims at achieving. Rather than worrying about the meaning and nature of progress, you should take a step forward yourself and join the Socialist movement.

Facets of Trade Unionism

I recently attended the Civil and Public Services Association annual conference as a delegate for our local Branch. All facets of Trade Unionism were covered; pay, hours and leave. Conditions cf service (including superannuation), welfare, safety, "industrial democracy", racism, relations with other unions, etc., etc.

It became evident to me that what we were doing, basically was trying to get the best possible deal for our union members under capitalism.

I am familiar with the ideas of the SPGB. I read the Socialist Standard each month and I have on rare occasions attended meetings.

The ideology of the SPGB is difficult to oppose and I found myself thinking: there are no solutions under capitalism, Socialism is the answer. It is a pity, I thought, that the energy devoted by delegates in trying to improve the conditions of their members under capitalism is not harnessed to establishing Socialism. And there’s the rub! The majority of the wage-earning class either do not understand Socialism or clearly they do not want it. The SPGB has, I understand, been campaigning for over seventy years! I accept that the SPGB have been hindered by the Labour Party and various left-wing groups, all purporting to be fighting for Socialism, clouding the issues, disillusioning people and making it hard for the SPGB to spread the work and create the majority understanding necessary for the establishment of Socialism.

You may ask why, if I sympathise with your views, I do not apply for membership and help the cause? Well, we all consider our time important and I am no exception. When I occasionally state the Socialist case they think I’m living in a dream world. What about human nature? Greed? or ‘look what’s happened in Russia!’ are the usual responses. It seems that people generally do not believe in the possibility of changing society, or they do not want to.

The SPGB undoubtedly have experienced all this before and, hopefully, have the appropriate answers. Can you give me any heart to become more involved, and suggest ways of dealing with the prevailing attitudes of people?
K. Parkin
London, S.E.1

SPGB Lectures and Meetings (1978)

Party News from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Backwaters of History series

Whilst scanning in the last of the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard, I noticed that one of the earliest articles from that issue on the blog was from Bill Waters' Backwaters of History series of articles which appeared in the Socialist Standard over the course of 1953 and 1954. In eleven self-contained pieces, Waters' surveyed class struggle through via key historical events. From the Peasant Rebellion of 1381 through to Barcelona in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, and a lot more in-between..

Anyway, I thought it would be a good excuse to list them again on the blog in case people missed them first time round:

Holidays with Pay (1954)

From the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is indisputable that, since the war, an increasing number of people have annual holidays, but before we applaud this happy fact, let us examine the reasons. Twenty-five years ago few people enjoyed a regular break from their employment, except, of course, the idleness enforced by unemployment. To-day, however, an annual fortnight’s holiday is an accepted feature of their job. This is mainly due to recognition by the capitalist class that a refreshed working class makes for greater efficiency and higher productivity (e.g., contented cows yield more milk) and also organised working-class activity (i.e., shortage of labour-power giving the workers stronger bargaining powers).

Accompanying the development of capitalism we find machine production ever more complex, a higher division of labour and hence a growth of monotonous repetitive operations. The effect on employees of these factors is boredom, nervous strain and physical disorders, making a break from this drab existence imperative. Having tightened nuts, hammered rivets, checked invoices, and swept floors innumerable times, fifty weeks a year, the remaining two weeks must be spent forgetting nuts, rivets, invoices and floors. The working class, generally speaking, regard a holiday as a period in which to flee from the rut of normal existence. In other words, not to do those things one usually has to do, to do all those things one cannot normally do, and where either of these cannot be carried out, then to do them under more congenial surroundings and conditions.

Therefore, the manner in which various individuals spend their restricted release is determined largely by their particular job of work. Of course, the style of the holiday is conditioned by the financial resources, indeed, whether they have a holiday at all is dependent upon that factor.

Most workers will make as little physical exertion as possible, they will lie in bed until fully rested, a thing which is usually denied them. Frequent bouts of ice-cream, beer, sweets, fish and chips, and stomach powder are only too common. In fact, food and drink assume undue prominence as being luxuries which can only be fully indulged in after a year's self denial, after periods of overtime, and with the possible addition of a wife's wages. The worker will spend his limited cash on all manner of cheap, tawdry and very often useless things, his rate of spending being the measure of his enjoyment. He will saunter around amusement arcades to fire guns, shy at coconuts, visit haunted houses and ride in “dodg’ems" in an effort to exhilarate his normally uneventful existence.

Speculative members of the ruling class have not been slow in recognising the demand for this style of holiday. Hence the growth of holiday-camps, where instead of seeking these various amusements they are all laid out before you, to such an extent that you almost trip over them. Everything is organised, including the children, who are whisked away to allow the erstwhile harassed parents temporary relief from their offsprings* eternal cravings. The holiday-makers are even spared the tiresome process of thinking, and should they be caught in a contemplative mood a camp “scout” will quickly guide their thoughts into less serious veins.

For some members of the working-class, mainly the younger ones, whose jobs are of less manual character, holidays are spent in a more rigorous fashion. They discover for themselves the towns, villages and countryside by cycling, hiking, canoeing and mountaineering. For them the yardstick of their enjoyment is not the amount of money they have spent, but what they have seen and achieved.

Another section of the working-class go hop-picking and harvesting. This euphemistically termed holiday contains the same old facts behind a different facade, instead of the factory and foreman—the field and farmer.

Having summarised typical working-class holidays (where they can be afforded) let us now examine the vacations of the capitalist-class.

As the workers' concept of holidays arises from his employment and environment in everyday life, the capitalists' concept (since he is not employed, etc.) must be different. The dictionary defines a holiday as a period of leisure, in which one does what one likes when one likes, how one likes, but the life of the capitalist is almost continually within this definition. Since this life leaves little to be desired, a holiday for the capitalist usually means a change of location with attendant ostentation. Not for them the necessity of booking accommodation months in advance, nor the hazards of an English climate and certainly money presents no problems. He may indulge in his most capricious whims, be it winter sports or water spas, Palm Beach or Paris. This is the class that can scoff at the restricted foreign travel allowance. The playgrounds of the British Commonwealth (Bermuda, etc.) using pound sterling are open to him and other “sterling” ports are convenient places for him to revictual his yacht. On the other hand, in non-sterling areas he can stay with friends at their expense, which he reciprocates when they in turn holiday in Britain. Again, he may fancy a lengthy sea cruise, where, on a sun deck he may recline comfortably, attended by stewards, and gaze upon enchanting tropical islands beneath azure skies. For the more sober-minded captain of industry, he may simply motor about his homeland and tolerate the services offered by the first-class English hotels, but this of course lends little colour to his conversations when he returns to his club. For the more flamboyant, if the mood takes him, he may sit at the gaming tables of Monte Carlo with the gay abandon that wealth affords him. However, if wine, women and song is desired there is always the fashionable club of Paris, or better still an invitation to a swank soiree on the “ right ” side of the Seine. With the latter there is always the thrilling possibility of being mentioned in the gossip columns of sophisticated society magazines, advertising the elite company that one keeps.

But why should a small section of society enjoy not only the very best of holidays, but almost all material things ? What special power does this minority possess that enables them to enjoy this privileged position? Their powers rest not upon their mental or physical superiority but upon their ownership of the means of wealth production.

Under the present-day system of society, where the tools of production are privately owned, a large majority, through their lack of ownership of these tools, are economically forced to seek employment. That means that these people are exploited and as such, never receive the full fruits of their labour. This causes much discontent and gives rise to a common feeling that work is nauseating and a “ necessary evil ” and therefore this sharp division between employment and play. To a Socialist, this is just another ugly feature of capitalism, which will remain till the machinery of wealth production is converted to common ownership. Then man will be released from his wage slavery, and work will become regarded in its correct perspective, that is, there will be joy in creation. Society will be producing wealth for use and not for sale and profit as it is to-day.
De Norm.

A Poet of the People (1954)

From the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard
How many people know that there really was a poem—and a mighty serious one, too—about Christmas Day in the workhouse ? Its author was George R. Sims. In the year when a king had the first appendix operation, when Phil May cashed his sketches for a fiver a time and Bernard Shaw was a St. Pancras Borough Councillor, he was the most popular Sunday journalist in England.
Sims had a page to himself every week in the Referee. Each of the Referee's contributors carried the name of a knight of the Round Table: the editor was “Pendragon,” and Sims was “Dagonet”—the name of King Arthur’s jester. His page was called “Mustard and Cress’’; his touch was sure and his influence tremendous.

Playwright, critic, gossip-writer, novelist, poet, business man and reformer—Sims was all of these. His life in the public eye began in 1874, when he was twenty-seven. He joined the Referee at its inception in 1877; he wrote to the Daily News about the housing of the London poor, and made a sensation with “How the Poor Live.” He could—and did popularize places, commodities and slogans. The first popular hair restorer, “Tatcho” (the word was Romany for “genuine”), owed its fame to him.

By 1900, Sim's name was a byword. He employed two secretaries and lived in a luxurious house facing Regents Park—his readers knew it as “Opposite-the-Ducks.” The house had an ‘“Arabian Nights” salon, a magnificent library where he wrote “Living London” and a “comic-opera” room where famous performers entertained Sims and his friends. He had a bulldog named Barney Barnato and a housekeeper whose malapropisms were—rather unkindly, one feels—recorded in “Mustard and Cress.”

The “Dagonet Ballads” first appeared in the Referee, and were quickly reprinted in book form. Sims was not a great poet, nor even a good one. He wrote with the unctuous matiness that is called “the common touch”—a sure winner, as Wilfred Pickles’ fans will tell you. Just as all rich people were blackhearted to some of the old radicals, all poor people were altruistic and good in the eyes of Sims the poet. He sentimentalized uninhibitedly over them—women and children first, of course; and what gave the Dagonet ballads their tremendous popularity was that Sims really meant it all.

He had a genuine and deep sympathy for the poor. His stubby, aggressive figure was well-known in Deptford and the Borough. When his successful play ‘“The Lights o’ London” was shown, a crowd of real costermongers and barrow boys brought the street scenes to life. He was on terms of friendship with them; their children were taken for wonderful outings by Sims and his wife. And his verse, with all its cliches and gaucheries and its horrible sentimentality, was illuminated by flashes of real understanding of what it meant to be poor.

In the Workhouse was Sims’s masterpiece. It is melodramatic and tear-jerking, but through it there runs a vein of knowing, trenchant irony:
“It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse 
  And the cold bare walls are bright 
With garlands of green and holly,
  And the place is a pleasant sight:
For with clean-washed hands and faces 
  In a long and hungry line 
The paupers sit at the tables 
  For this is the hour they dine.
And the guardians and their ladies.
  Although the wind is east.
Have come in their furs and wrappers 
  To watch their charges feast:
To smile and be condescending.
   Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet

  They’ve paid for—with the rates.”
And the incredulous indignation when a militant pauper “declines the vulture’s feast”:
 “The guardians gazed in horror.
   The master’s face went white:
Did a pauper refuse their pudding?
  Could their ears believe aright ?
Then the ladies clutched their husbands.
  Thinking the man would die.
Struck by a bolt, or something.
  From the outraged One on high.”
So shrewdly is charity characterized, in all its proverbial coldness, that one would assume Sims to have known too much to indulge in it himself. One would be wrong. He was the mainspring of his paper’s “Poor Children’s Winter Dinner Fund”; he, too,
“Put pudding on pauper plates.”
At the height of his popularity—all his life, in fact—Sims campaigned vigorously for reforms which would improve the living conditions of the poor. He was never poor himself; he came from a comfortable home and finished his schooling on the continent. Because of his influence he was offered several Parliamentary candidatures, but never accepted.

Many of the problems with which Sims was concerned are not so apparent nowadays. Less is heard about the workhouse, because it is called by another name and not so many people go to it (they draw outdoor relief instead). The exploitation of young children in industry has practically ceased. Drunkenness and street fights are no longer familiar parts of the social scene. And it is easy to overlook that fifty or sixty years ago some courage was required to agitate for the world to he changed even a little. While Sims was pressing for better sanitation and housing, a noble earl was pronouncing: " . . . Experience has unfortunately shown that with no class is sanitary reform so unpopular as with the wage class.” Another contributor to The Nineteenth Century observed: “Had people taken the trouble to learn what kind of persons they were going to better, it is possible that some of our largest institutions would not have been started, and certainly no one would have been surprised at the number of failures that sadden the heart of a conscientious committee.” A Socialist was a ruffian in a red tie to most people then.

One of Sims’s favourite themes was the upper-class marriage market. With the same hand that painted a heart-rending picture of the working-class “fallen woman,” he pointed accusingly at the society betrothal. Plenty has been written on that subject, but nothing more forthright than Dagonet’s “Two Women”:
“She is crowned with the world’s fresh roses.
   no tongue has a word of blame:
But the woman who falls from hunger is a thing too foul to name.
She is blessed who barters her honour just for a prince’s smile;
The vice of the Court is charming, and the vice of the alley vile.
So, world, shall it be for ever—this hunting the street girl down.
While you honour the titled Phryne, and hold her in great renown:
But when, at the great uprising, they meet for the Judgement Day.
I’d rather be that drowned harlot than the beautiful Countess May.”
Sims never wanted to lead working people, nor to teach them: he wanted and tried to make things better for them. He “meant well,” to use a well-thumbed phrase; he “did a lot of good,” to use another. Many good things have been done for the working class by reformers—and how little has the life of the working class changed, in spite of it all. Housing has improved, and is still bad; in the industrial areas people still live in brick hutches that were flung up over a century ago. Working hours are shorter, factory conditions are better, and there are a thousand and one new strains and anxieties. More material comforts and better amenities are everywhere, and there are more frustrated and unsatisfied people than ever before.

It is a pity that most reformers never realise the implications of their good intentions. The person who does something for the poor—children’s dinners, free boots and so on—has accepted that they shall go on being poor, and is merely trying to make it a little more tolerable to them. In all Sims’s righteous indignation there is no suggestion that he thought the poor could be abolished altogether, and it probably never occurred to him. His solution was benevolence, just as it was Dickens’s; if all the employers and the guardians and the landlords were transformed like Scrooge into jolly, open-handed philanthropists, the world would be a fine place.

It is not people who are reformed, however (unless one believes the Salvation Army); it is the social system. Each reform is a patch on the system’s fabric —and not, as some people suppose, a nail in its coffin. That is why the thousands of large and small reforms cannot really change things very much—they leave the system unimpaired and even refurbished a little. Benevolence is one thing, the abolition of poverty another. The best of social reforms does not, and cannot, overturn the factor that gives some people low wages and others high profits, any more than it is able to control or predict economic crises.

Real improvement in living means creating the right conditions—and before that, doing away with the wrong ones. The Socialist’s unvarying answer to Reformers sounds unpalatable and even hard-hearted, but it is true. Either capitalism is abolished or it remains; and while it remains, the perennial difficulties of working-class life will be there too.

Let us, then, raise our hats a little to Dagonet; he tried to know the lives of the people and to be their poet. And let us replace them with a sigh, for him and for all the other good-natured, good-meaning people who have thought, and think still, that pails can drain a river.
Robert Barltrop

The Hitler film (1954)

Film Review from the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard
The full title of the motion picture is The Eva Braun and Hitler Story. It is made up of actual photographs of people and events, and a large number of shots were taken in Hitler’s own domestic circle.
Why this picture was not brought out years ago is a trifle puzzling since all the filming took place up to 1945. Perhaps the answer is to be found in the warning tagged on the end of the title on the screen, “it must never happen again.”

One thing that stood out from start to finish of the film was that it was meant to spotlight the military aspects of Hitler Germany and to say as little as possible about working class conditions there. In the light of up-to-date events in Germany, the propaganda of the period of the picture shows the complete hypocrisy of capitalist propaganda. During the showing, when one had just got used to seeing German military uniforms, the scene suddenly switched to a conference of “Allied” war men, amongst them Eisenhower and Montgomery, and for a moment apart from knowing the faces, one could see no difference.

The scenes when Hitler drove through the streets lined on both sides with cheering, flag-waving workers, were quite similar to those witnessed when members of the Royal family and political leaders do the same thing here and elsewhere throughout the world. The spirit of nationalism and patriotism is built and fostered in all cases.

A lot was made of the privilege and comfort enjoyed by Eva Braun and the children, whilst other Germans faced privation and hardship, particularly after D-day and the air-raids on German cities. We are presumably supposed to think that the allied rulers were different in this respect.

The film tries to convince us that it was merely the dreams of Hiller and his “love of power” that drove Germany to war, as if the need to expand and find markets and resources in a capitalist world had had nothing to do with it. Under capitalism each nation grabs what it can in territories, resources, markets and trade-routes and although these things are the concern of the capitalist class they are a ways prepared to “grab” or “defend” them with working-class lives. After Germany’s defeat in the 1914-18 blood bath for profits, the pickings of Europe were taken. The idea of keeping Germany out of the game lasted until French capitalism showed signs of having ambitions of its own. Then the “balance of power” policy was reverted to. When Hitler came along he adapted himself to the prevailing conditions by promising work to the unemployed and revival to the thwarted industrialists. The war-machine and the State dictatorship were to be the means to expand. The fact that from the earliest days Hitler’s Germany was building warships and going ahead with rearmament far in excess of what was permitted under the treaties, was very well known. The slogan “expand or bust,” applies to all capitalist nations. That is why there are always new rivals, new line-ups, and new wars being planned.

To expand is to develop industry and production, which means the creation of vast surpluses of goods for which markets must be found—or bust, which means slump, crisis and depression. Since the markets and resources of Europe were already being exploited, to “expand” for Germany meant arming and marching. The film under review was really nothing more than a record of the process whereby Germany shook off the restraints of defeat and reasserted herself as an industrial power. Who was it that said “history repeats itself?”

The commentator, during a conference between Hitler and Mussolini, referred to them as these “Fascist” leaders, but no comment was made on Churchill’s one-time admiration for these figures (particularly Mussolini) in pre-war days.

Our case as Socialists is that capitalism is rotten and ugly wherever it may be, in that it rests on the exploitation of the many by the few and all the pacts and alliances are nothing but manoeuvres for position amongst the thieves. We said in 1936: “No frontier is worth the life of a single worker” (P. 4 “War and the Working Class”). Years before this at the outbreak of the 1914-18 war we made similar statements, and to-day we say exactly the same.

In spite of the denunciations of one Power by another, opposing groups are prepared to line up together if it suits their purpose. Did not the British and American capitalists, while affecting to despise one dictatorship, line up with another—Russia? We know it is claimed that this was only done to “smash Fascism,” but now the ex-allies are planning to smash one-another with half the ex-Fascists on each side. Surely the complete farce of capitalism is self-evident.

No film of Hitler's Germany would be complete without some reference being made to the persecution of the Jews. Let it be recognised, however, that racial discrimination is not something of which Germany alone was guilty. Though, of course, not to be compared with the mass brutalities perpetrated in Germany in the name of race, race prejudice exists everywhere. Even at the time of writing certain states in the U.S.A., for example, are talking of forcibly resisting the High Courts order to end segregation in American schools.

The conclusion we come to is that if any propaganda film tells the truth in full it will expose the foul deeds of its own side as well as those of its opponents. Truth then can never be the stock-in-trade of capitalist propagandists; the stories are always told with the slant of whatever national capitalist group puts them over.

As Socialists we do not merely find fault with this or that capitalist country. We say that where there is capitalism, i.e. class ownership of the means of living, buying and selling, wage-labour and profits, there is poverty, misery and drudgery, and in no country do the working class own anything to die for. The fight of the world’s workers is the fight to get the capitalist class off their backs by introducing Socialism—i.e.. a world system with no wages, profits, buying or selling, where all the means of living are held in common and war and war propaganda are things of the past.
Harry Baldwin

Blogger's Note:
I'm not actually sure what film this is that is being reviewed. The title listed above does not throw anything up on the internet. It could be the French language documentary 'Autant en emporte l'histoire - La vie privée d'Hitler et d'Eva Braun' from 1949, but don't quote me on it.

About Books (1954)

Book Reviews from the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Trade Unions can be divided, briefly into three categories: unions that cater for workers in one trade only, like the United Society of Boilermakers; unions that embrace all the workers in an industry, like the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Railwaymen; and unions that enrol members from a wide variety of trades, jobs and industries, such as the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.

The tendency during the past few decades has been for federations and amalgamations to thin out the ranks of the smaller craft unions and to create, by a merging process, the large organisations that we know today.

This process has created problems of organisation. Unions with hundreds of thousands of members, many of them engaged in different trades and spread all over the country, have had to devise some complicated machinery for the management of their affairs, the formulating and carrying out of national policies. Most of them have constitutions that provide for control of policy by the membership, but in practice, this democratic control does not work out. The majority of trade unionists take no part in the formulation of their union’s policy. Of those that are active the larger number have little, if any, understanding of the society in which their organisation functions and, in consequence, have their ideas moulded by their trade union officials. Thus, the officials are able to impose a policy on the unions.

A book entitled Power in Trade Unions, A Study of their Organisation in Great Britain, by V. L. Allen, has recently been published by Longmans, Green and Co., at 25/-. Mr. Allen examines the constitutions of 127 unions and shows the policy-making process, the power of trade union executives and permanent officers and the disciplinary measures used to ensure obedience from the members.

A similar work was published, in 1952 by George Allen and Unwin, entitled The Government of British Trade Unions, by Joseph Goldstein. Mt. Goldstein limited his study almost exclusively to the Transport and General Workers’ Union and revealed how apathy destroys the application of democratic principles.

Both these authors have collected masses of figures and have compiled many charts to illustrate their revelations. For the student of Trade Unionism both books are worth reading, but if one had to be selected we would recommend Mr. Allen’s.

The History of Trade Unionism, by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, although it does not bring the picture right up to date, is still the classic history of the subject A useful little book that brings the subject right up to 1952, is British Trade Unionism, a Short History, by Allen Hutt, published by Lawrence and Wishart. for 12/6. Mr. Hutt’s political sentiments peep through in places, but his book is a good, interesting, short history.

A less useful, though very interesting book, is an illustrated volume in the Britain in Pictures series, published by William Collins. It is British Trade Unions, by Sir Walter Citrine.

Two books, useful to students, covering a wide study of Trade Unions in a limited number of pages are Trade Unions Today, by Henry Collins (Frederick Muller Ltd., 6/-), and British Trade Unions, by N. Barou. (Gollancz. Left Book Club).

This small collection of books should give a student a satisfactory grounding in the subject and should make him realise the limitations of trade union action in improving the lot of the working class. Capitalism sets the limits and the trade unions, products of that system cannot break outside it. Only by social revolution can the working class escape from the ills which they seek to palliate through trade union action.
W. Waters.

Editorial: No Freedom of the Air for S.P.G.B. (1954)

Editorial from the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the current argument between the Labour and Tory parties about the respective merits of commercial and non-commercial television both sides have something to say about the extent to which the one or other method will give a stranglehold to monopoly and crowd out small groups. The Labourites, in line with their general support for government control maintain that commercial T.V. would give a monopoly to large and wealthy commercial interests; to which their opponents retort that State monopoly has even less regard for weak independent views. The S.P.G.B., not being enamoured in the least of either private or State capitalism, can see no merit in either point of view. It is true that with commercial T.V. (or sound broadcasting) the capitalist rule prevails that the freedom of the air is for those who can afford to pay for it but it is also true that in all the 32 years of State controlled broadcasting in this country the S.P.G.B. case has never once been allowed to be heard.

This is not for want of trying. On numerous occasions application has been made but always some reason is found for refusing it. The latest application, made in August, 1953, has ended in the usual way. Not, of course, a blunt declaration that there is no intention to allow us to broadcast, merely polite reasons why it cannot be this time—but as these polite refusals extend over decades they add up to the same thing as a final no.

The first reason for refusal is that Party political broadcasts are reserved for parties represented in Parliament or putting forward a certain number of candidates at a general election. When we pointed out that this arrangement tests on an agreement of the large political parties and in effect gives them a monopoly to the exclusion of small organizations the B.B.C. replied saying that they resented this imputation. The exclusion of the small organizations from that series of political broadcasts did not, said the B.B.C. give a monopoly to the big organizations because there are other political broadcasts outside that series.

Fine, so we applied to come under one of them, as we have done before, and in order to fit in with the suggestion thrown out by the B.B.C. we related our proposed broadcast to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the S.P.G.B. To this we received the reply that our proposed statement does not offer a basis for a broadcast because there would not, in the opinion of the B.B.C. be sufficient public interest in the anniversary of the S.P.G.B.

So this latest attempt to get on the air meets the fate of the several earlier applications—a number of different ways of saying no.

We would add, for the information of Labour Party supporters who may think that things are different under Labour Government, that we received the same treatment under Labour Government as under the present and pre-war Conservative Governments

In the recent correspondence we reminded the B.B.C. that in 1949 the Broadcasting Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Beveridge, had recommended the B.B.C. to consider the possibility of a kind of “Hyde Park of the Air,” in order to give all minorities which had a message, “religious or otherwise," some time to broadcast. (Report Para. 257). They also expressed the view (Para 259) that the allocation of opportunities to ventilate controversial views “should not be guided either by simple calculations of the numbers who already hold such views or by fear of giving offence to particular groups of listeners."

Those recommendations evidently fell on deaf ears at Broadcasting House.

September Special Number (1954)

Party News from the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

We would again remind members and sympathisers that we urgently require donations to cover the extra cost of the September Special Number of the “Socialist Standard,” Unless sufficient money comes in quickly we will have to be more modest in our proposals. We urge those who are interested in seeing this Special Number a worthy commemoration of fifty years of our paper to do their best to see that we can accomplish this object. So far the response has not been what it should be and the time is getting short.