Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Labour Party’s New Programme: A Bid for Liberal Support. (1928)

From the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Committee appointed by the Labour Party to draft a new programme for the next General Election has made its report. The Committee was mostly composed of members of the I.L.P., and the draft programme drawn up by them had been carefully worded to appeal to all Liberals and supporters of Capitalism generally.

The main plank of the Programme is this :
“The land, the production and distribution of the coal and power which are the life-blood of modern industry, the network of communications and transport which form its veins and arteries—these fundamental necessities are too vital to the welfare of the nation to be organised and exploited merely for private profit. Without haste, but without rest, with careful preparation, with the use of the best technical knowledge and managerial skill, and with due compensation to the persons affected, the Labour Party will vest their ownership in the nation and their administration in authorities acting on the nation’s behalf.”
How carefully guarded and appealing is the phrase “merely for private profit.” Private profit they want to keep in existence, but controlled by public bodies—that is the Capitalist State, with bondholders actually owning Government Securities floated to buy out the “public necessities.” “With due compensation to the persons affected” means that the owners will receive (with more security than competitive commerce affords) annual tribute from the unpaid labour of the working class. In other words, the Labour Party preserves the existence of an owning class living upon the non-owning class.

The Programme gives illustrations from modern State-owned services to show how similar are their proposals to the concerns run for profit to-day. One illustration they give us is the National Electricity Board established by the Conservative Government ! The policy of public or State-ownership of “public utilities” can be found in the Conservative programme, and it is one of the “advanced” objects advocated in the Liberal Industrial Report. No wonder the Manchester Guardian says of the new Labour Programme.
“The broad definition of objects will be found as acceptable, to most people outside the party as to those within it. Even when it comes to closer detail the draft contains very little which might not have been written by, say, the Liberal Industrial Committee.”
How thin is the veneer of Nationalisation in the Labour Programme can be seen from this clause :
“Even those industries which remain in the hands of private capitalists exist for the service of the community.

British industry, to-day, can secure the well-being for the mass of the population only if it consolidates its forces, eliminates waste, and calls in the resources of science and organisation.”
The State regulation of private industry is all that this means. And the reorganisation of industry along more efficient and less wasteful lines results, actually, in industry requiring less men to produce more wealth. A larger unemployed army is the magnificent result, and greater insecurity for those employed, who are continually being threatened by new machinery and “speeding up” methods. America, surely, is the ideal example of efficient industry—so efficient that, with greater output each year, fewer and fewer workers are required to run the machines, and a greater difficulty to sell the increasing output of rationalised industry.

Against this programme of private ownership and public control the Socialist advocates abolishing the cause of the slavery and poverty of the working class. The Socialist Party stands for abolishing State and private ownership, and replacing them by common ownership by the whole working community in the interest of the community of workers.

But that is not good election propaganda and vote-snaring material. Hence the Labour Party will have none of it ! They appeal to “all classes” with pills to suit all classes of reformers. Unlike the Communists, we do not offer an alternative programme of scores of reforms. Our Platform is simply Socialism—which makes all reforms of Capitalism fade into insignificance and uselessness.
Adolph Kohn

Comic Confessions of a Capitalist. (1928)

From the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

One would have thought that with unemployed everywhere, because more wealth exists than can find markets, more production would not be advanced as a “cure for poverty.” Sir Ernest Benn, who claims to be an individualist, whatever that is, seems to think that he makes some wonderful discoveries. He informs us, in all seriousness (Daily Telegraph, March 17th, 1928), that :—
“The wealth of nations consists of things. Poverty is the absence of a sufficient number of things.”
Marvellous! What things? Whose things? And why, and by whom, are they wanted? Does mere want bring possession of these things? Have the Workers, who undeniably suffer a shortage of the most desirable things, failed to produce sufficient of these things for other people who are non-workers? Are their productive powers greater or less than their needs? In an age when millions of the population are employed uselessly from a wealth-producing point of view, when machinery and other means of production lie idle, this “individualist” talks as if we were living in the stone age. Note this simple stuff :—
“Let us try to discover what it is that people want and how far it is possible to supply these needs.”
A boy or girl from a village school could tell Sir Ernest what it is people want, while even a superficial acquaintance with the achievements of the Industrial Revolution and the mechanical marvels of manufacture to-day will show that these needs could be met easily, even anticipating the most extravagant demands of the future generations. What has this great business mind to offer in the way of constructive proposals? Arithmetic and the wildest of suppositions. He says :—
“Let us get straight down to our arithmetic. Suppose we set the problem like this: Let us give to some railway porter of our acquaintance another £5 a week. Let us suppose for the sake of the argument that the adult male population of the nation is composed of railway porters whose income it is proposed to increase by £5 a week” (ibid.)
Having supposed in this farcical manner, everything is now straight sailing into Utopia. Our nation of supposed railway porters, we are told, will want :—
“Ten million houses, 10 million baths and hot-water systems, 135 million clothing outfits, 15 million umbrellas, etc.”
It hardly seems credible that in a daily paper, supposed to be read by educated people, that one who claims superior capabilities could pen the following in his conclusion of a two-column article :—
“All these facts emphasise the truth of the theory that the problem of poverty is not a problem of money but of things, and that if we make the things the problem disappears.”
IF ! Then will Sir Ernest Benn tell us why we do not make them? Will he, or anyone, show where the Socialist is wrong when we claim that these things will not be produced unless such production serves the profit of the idle few who own the means of producing these things? This insane system can be ended when a politically enlightened Working Class break the fetters of ownership by the Capitalist few in order to establish common ownership, by which means that class can at once win emancipation and abolish poverty by the ease with which they can now produce wealth.
W. E. MacHaffie

What is Capital? (1928)

From the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

We do not evade discussions regarding words or terms and their definite meanings. Such discussion is not, as we are told, mere hair-splitting. A term frequently misused by our opponents is the one, Capital, and there are very good reasons why those intent on spreading confusion should make special efforts to prevent the Workers obtaining correct views regarding its nature and function. To understand this form of wealth it is first necessary to realise that similar methods of production have not prevailed from all time. Those claiming that “Capital is wealth used to produce further wealth” draw such inference.

All previous social systems may be said to have used part of their wealth for future production, but no previous system has existed in which the mass of the wealth producers were property-less wage workers, hiring themselves out by the day, week or month to a non-working property-owning class as the Capitalists of to-day. In no previous system was profit the primary motive of production, a profit derived from the unpaid labours of the Working Class, as we shall show. These are features distinctive of Capitalism. If the slaves of antiquity, kept directly by their masters, and producing wealth with crude methods, could sustain such Empires as that of Greece or Rome, it is obvious that wage workers to-day, with colossal steam-and electricity-driven machinery, can produce an enormous surplus above the value of their keep given them in money (wages). As in previous slave systems, the wealth produced becomes the property of the Masters, its great proportionate increase explains the orgies of luxury enjoyed by the Capitalists and their hangers-on to-day.

Exploitation gives the key to an under standing of Capital. To-day the Workers as a class are born, and remain, propertyless; they therefore do not own Capital, which is a form of wealth. Capital is the accumulated wealth of the Capitalist Class. It is used for further production, but with only one object—that it may absorb the further unpaid labour of the Workers, and thus produce the surplus value mentioned— the source of Rent, Interest and Profit. Not the means of wealth production in themselves, but the class relations under which they are used to obtain surplus value, realised through sale in the world market— make them Capital.

Bodies like the Labour Party and the I.L.P. do not stand as we do for common ownership, which would mean the abolition of such class relations. The I.L.P. (Forward, May 12th, 1928) asks :—
“When and where any Socialist ever pretended or suggested that we could dispense with Capital. Socialists propose that Capital should be publicly owned.”
Socialists do nothing of the kind. By Public Ownership the I.L.P. means Nationalisation or Government Ownership, a condition under which the Capitalists would still collectively own their property as Bond Holders, while the Workers would still be exploited by receiving wages which presuppose unpaid labour. That explains their enthusiasm for a Living Wage and their desire to retain Capital. Even when they call Government Ownership Socialism, as in their pamphlet “Socialism at Work in Queensland,” we find the wages system in full working Capitalist “order.”

During a recent dispute in which 11,000 of Queensland’s State employees were suspended or dismissed for refusing to handle what they called “Black” traffic for the Lo. Johnstone sugar mill,
Mr. McCormack’s Labour Government fought the Railwayman’s leaders, as an employer, and won. (Report ”Daily Chronicle,” 12/9/27.)
All Socialists stand for the abolition of Capital. It is implied in the abolition of class society through the Workers’ emancipation. Common ownership must end exploitation because society’s means of livelihood would cease to be the private property of the Capitalist few—in their hands, Capital.
W. E. MacHaffie

Some Effects of Combination and Machinery. (1928)

From the July 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

This world of ours does change ! Or, rather, the evolution of Capitalism compels its apologists to perform astonishing somersaults in reasoning.

Not so many years ago one of the principal arguments against the Socialist was that he proposed to do away with competition and thus take away from industry its greatest means of progress. Since those days the war and post-war scramble for markets has so speeded up the introduction and improvement of machinery and commercial organisation, that amalgamations on a gigantic scale have been the general order of the day. Matters have reached a point now that it has become futile for Capitalists to attempt any longer to throw dust in the eyes of the majority of people with any hope of real success. However, these people do not eat their words; they do better, they forget what they have said in the past and now try to prove what advantages are coming from trustification in comparison with the old methods of cutthroat competition.

To the Worker who cares to think calmly over the situation, and looks at it entirely from his own point of view as a Worker, the position is simple. The needs of the whole inhabitants of the world are limited ; as machinery and organisation is improved it becomes more and more easy to meet these needs. Thus, relatively fewer and fewer people are required in production. The improvement in machinery and organisation, in contrast with the needs of the population, is practically unlimited, so that there must ultimately come a time when a comparatively small number of Workers will produce all that can be consumed. This is the dead wall up against which Capitalism dashes its head.

In ancient Rome, where a parallel situation arose, though, of course, only on a minute scale, the situation was met by the distribution of free food, etc., amongst the somewhat unruly unemployed. In modern times the rulers are more niggardly than Roman Patricians were, and they try to meet the situation by the distribution of carefully supervised doles that a dog could hardly live on, let alone a man with a family. But then, the Capitalist is up against a difficulty that did not exist in those old days. He must have a supply of labour, and if the dole is made enough to live on—well, who would want to work his energies out at the pace demanded by modern industry? Surely not anyone of intelligence ! Yet a “dole” that is insufficient breeds rebellious workers, and as the majority of workers are at one time in employment and at another time dole-takers, and as the future is going to bring a greater and greater tightness in employment, the Capitalist is finding his difficulties reaching a point when it will require a considerable amount of strategy to keep matters running smoothly—particularly as the Capitalists are by no means the most intelligent portion of the population.

I have been moved to make these remarks by two articles I read recently. One was by the New York correspondent of the Daily News (June 4th, 1928), who said, writing of conditions in America (where the breadline has recently appeared, to the astonishment of the Capitalist world) :
“American enterprise in the use of machinery is shown by the statement made at a recent meeting of manufacturers that in the motor trade one man can now do work which in 1914 required three.”
He goes on to point out that the average of the countries’ industries shows that only 71 men are now needed to do the work of 100 in 1914, which means a proportional reduction in employment of 29 per cent. He points out that American writers complain that still “better” results would have been obtained if out-of-date machinery was more rapidly scrapped, as is happening in the motor industry. He adds that
“American employers insist that machinery is creating a finer type of workman. It takes more brains to watch a machine than to handle a pick and shovel, they say.”
Speaking as one who has both handled a pick and shovel and has seen others “watching” a machine, I must seriously question the view. I discovered, to my cost, that it required, not only a good deal of intelligence, but a considerable amount of experience, to handle a pick and shovel properly. And as to pushing a loaded wheelbarrow along a narrow plank—well! ! !

But farther on comes the joke—unconscious humour is one of the principal characteristics of those who endeavour to bolster up the present system.
“The new problem is how to keep the worker awake and alert at his job. One method now being tried is to design machinery which signals the need for attention by sound and not by sight. . . .

Another suggestion seriously made is that a regular stimulus should be given to the worker, perhaps in the form of a regular vibration of the platform on which he stands.”
Now either machine minding is such an exhausting occupation that the worn-out worker falls to sleep from exhaustion, in which case that worker can be little more than a work-beast, like the little children of the early factory times in England in the last century, or is so dull and monotonous, and demands such little mental energy, that the workers are driven to sleep by it. They can have it which way they like, but surely, fellow worker, you would rather not have it either way ?

The other article to which I referred was written by Harold Cox in the Sunday Times (June 3rd, 1928). There are some interesting extracts from it :
“That there is an increasing tendency among leaders of industry to organise trade combinations is a matter of common knowledge. The movement takes two forms : in some cases firms which still maintain their separate identities are linked together in a federation or cartel, for purposes of common defence and common advantages; in other cases separate firms are completely amalgamated in a single unit or “combine.” Both forms of this modern industrial movement are far advanced in the United States and Germany. . . . Nor is this modern industrial movement confined to national areas. Already several international combinations have been established, and there are prospects of the creation of more in the near future. . . .

With the aid of modern machinery we can now produce goods at a pace that was hardly dreamt of a hundred years ago, and the result is that in many cases the power of production has overtaken the world’s capacity for consumption. In the earlier years of the nineteenth century, and, indeed, during the greater part of that century, there seemed, so far at any rate, as British trade was concerned, to be an almost insatiable demand for the goods that machinery was able to produce. . . . To-day, except in the case of new industries created to meet a new world demand, such as the motor industry and the artificial silk industry, the need for additional factories in Great Britain has practically ceased. Our trouble now is to find work for many of the factories already in being.”
There is the position in a nutshell. Production has outstripped consumption, and yet the children line up outside the baker shops in the morning for bread; more is produced than can be consumed, and yet thousands are unable to obtain sufficient for their bare needs. Industry promises you more unemployment, and harder work when you get employment, and yet wealth is produced with an ease and abundance undreamt of a century ago ! Are you satisfied that the present organisation of society is satisfactory? Can you think of anything worth while that you are likely to lose (except poverty and insecurity!) by abolishing private property in the means of production and substitution for it the common ownership of these means of production?

You hear a great deal of “tariff walls” and the like; set your mind at rest, the international combines are reducing tariffs to a joke. Treat tariffs and their expounders with the humour they deserve, and concentrate your mind upon the removal of the shackles of wage slavery. It is Capitalism that is your enemy—abolish it.

The Socialist Party versus the I.L.P. (1928)

From the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Our Debate with James Maxton, M.P.)

On Wednesday, May 23rd, a well-attended debate was held at the Memorial Hall between J. Maxton, M.P., representing the I.L.P., and J. Fitzgerald, representing the S.P.G.B. Mr. Chapman Cohen, Editor of Freethinker, took the chair. The subject was “Which Party Should the Working Class Support, the I.L.P. or the S P.G.B.?”

J. Fitzgerald spoke for the first half-hour. He began by defining terms. By working class is meant those who depend upon the sale of their services for their living. By the capitalist class is meant those persons who buy the services of the workers. Capital does not mean merely wealth used for the production of further wealth, but wealth invested for the purpose of obtaining a nett surplus, called interest. This is the view not only of a Socialist, Marx, but also of capitalist economists like Bohm-Bawerk. Wealth is the product of the application of human energies to Nature-given material. The capitalist purchases the mental and physical energies of the workers, and after the payment of all expenses, he retains the nett surplus. The workers may not use the machinery of production — land, railways, factories, etc. — without the permission of the capitalists who own these things. The lives of the workers are under the control the capitalists who own their means of living. The workers are a slave class — wage-slaves.

How the workers are enslaved.
The armed forces of society — the police, the army, the air force, the navy, etc. — are under the control of the capitalist class. These armed forces are provided for annually by Parliament. Those who control Parliament control the armed forces by which they retain control of the means of wealth production. The capitalists and their agents are voted into Parliament at each election by the workers, who form the bulk of the electors. The only way to secure the “emancipation of the workers” is, first, to obtain control of the political machinery. When the workers want Socialism they can, through the vote, secure this control.

Is there wealth enough?
It is not true that the means of wealth production are inadequate. In spite of a million or more unemployed and of the waste of capitalist production, markets are overstocked, and combines are compelled to limit production in almost every industry. Five firms are reported by an American Government report to control half of the food supply of the world. In face of this, little reforms of capitalism are futile. The social ownership of the means of wealth production is the only remedy and can be secured only by the workers taking control of the political machinery.

Where does the I.L.P. stand?
I.L.P. leaders, at times, deny the existence of the class struggle. Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald both did this.

Mr. Maxton's Case.

J. Maxton said that he was disappointed because he felt that he entirely agreed with the case put forward by his opponent. This statement of Socialist first principles was unassailable. The definitions were clear and correct. He accepted absolutely the diagnosis given. The workers accept capitalism and believe that the capitalists are a superior and necessary class. The only remedy is for the workers to awaken to the loss they suffer in being deprived of the necessities and luxuries of life. The problem before the Socialist is to awaken the worker to his subject position in society. The justification for this debate is that it may help towards this awakening and also that it may help towards achieving unity of working-class forces.

Points of Difference.
He had great difficulty in finding points of difference. Mr. J. Fitzgerald had quoted certain leaders of the I.L.P., but he, Mr. Maxton, held that he is the present leader of the I.L.P. and could speak on their behalf. It was not fair to quote against him statements made by someone else in 1902. He did not believe in those statements quoted. He fully accepted the theory of the class struggle and the necessity of basing Socialist tactics on that theory. He definitely repudiated the application of biological theories to politics and social questions.

The first necessity of an effective working-class organisation is the possession of a clear aim and policy. He and his opponent are equally doing the necessary propaganda. He denied that any Socialist organisation had done propaganda work equal in quality and quantity to the I.L.P.

I.L.P. Propaganda
Socialist propaganda must be delivered in a way understandable by the average worker. This the I.L.P. had done. It must be related to the circumstances of the ordinary worker’s life. The I.L.P. had pointed out to the workers the outstanding evils which are the effects of capitalism, but they did not believe that by these means they were abolishing capitalism. Psychologically that is the sounder method of approach to the workers, to awaken them to the realities of capitalism. But propaganda is not enough. The way to freedom is by the capture of political power. He and his opponent agreed on this also. He, however, thought there might be a point of difference. The I.L.P. said that it was necessary to start now capturing political power. It was needful to gather together into one great organisation – the Labour Party – all working-class organisations. To this end the I.L.P. fought elections challenging all capitalist candidates. Year by year they had increased in representation in the House of Commons. To-day there are far more representatives of the working class than ever before. He challenged contradiction on that. He agreed that a working-class party must have no other object than the establishment of Socialism. The I.L.P. seeks to induce the Labour Party to accept Socialism as its object. They wanted to give the Labour Party a clear majority in the House. All of this kind of work went on side by side in the: I.L.P.

The Labour Party and Socialism.
The I.L.P. has formed the Labour Party and got it to accept Socialism. It was now the task of the I.L.P. to lay down these steps to be taken to secure Socialism. This was the purpose of its “Socialism in Our Time” policy.

He cast no reflection on any working class organisation. He appreciated the Fabians, the S.P.G.B., and also the Communist Party.

Fitzgerald replies.

He pointed out that while Mr. MacDonald applied the theory of uninterrupted evolution to society, the son of Charles Darwin had shown that the Marxian view of social development by revolution is correct.

The debate was not between two individuals but between two parties. Mr. MacDonald only this year had written that poverty is largely the result of the pressure of population on the means of subsistence. This was untrue when Malthus said it in the eighteenth century, and is untrue to-day.

Right from its inception the I.L.P. urged the workers to put political power into the hands of the capitalist class.

In the New Leader for April 13th Mr. Maxton said that he wanted to narrow the gulf between rich and poor. The Socialist wanted to abolish the gulf, not narrow it. The I.L.P. wanted to abolish the conception of master and servant, so do the Liberals. Capital – admitted by Mr. Maxton to be the means of robbing the workers – cannot be “communally-owned,” as is the object of the I.L.P. For 35 years, in Mr. Maxton’s words, the I.L.P. had fought for the living wage – and had not secured it.

The I.L.P. Programme.
The I.L.P. had recently run a competition for a Labour programme in the columns of the New Leader. One part was a minimum wage low enough not to bring Press opposition. This programme did not even refer to Socialism. It proposed nationalisation with compensation.

The War.
The War in 1914 brought to a focus the difference between the I.L.P. and the Socialist Party. In August, 1914, the S.P.G.B. declared plainly that the War was a capitalist war, in no way involving interests of the working class.

In August, 1914, in the Labour Leader Keir Hardie spoke of “our interests as a nation” being at stake. We, the workers, had no interest. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in Parliament offered to support the War if the nation were in danger.

Mr. Maxton replies.

He could this time say that he faced points of difference, but he would repeat that he looked to the future, not the past. The statements quoted did not controvert the statement that the I.L.P. stood definitely against the War. He would challenge anyone to question his attitude or statements during the War. He was prepared to defend his own position. It must be common knowledge that Ramsay MacDonald is just as critical of the I.L.P. as Fitzgerald is, and the points he criticises are just the same. The I.L.P. wants Socialism, but what the workers want is a living wage. The fact that capitalism cannot provide this is the biggest propaganda point against capitalism.

The Gulf Between Rich and Poor. 
In speaking of the narrowing of the gulf between rich and poor, he said, “narrowing to vanishing point “ – this was not reported in the New Leader. He denied that the Liberal Report asked for the abolition of the status implied by the terms master and servant. In Socialism, as the I.L.P. understood it, there would be no exploitation. He admitted that the word capital was carelessly used in the declaration of the objects of the I.L.P., but the workers are not interested in the splitting of hairs. He, Mr. Maxton, had himself carelessly talked of the public ownership of capital when he should have said the public ownership of the means of wealth production. But it is of no importance in the real work of Socialist education.

Practical Work.
The I.L.P. devotes its time to the practical work of building up an effective machine for the establishment of Socialism. The S.P.G.B., in laying down its general principles, was only saying something which would be agreed with by every member of the Parliamentary Labour Party from MacDonald downwards. The difference only begins when it is a question of practical work. The S.P.G.B. refuses to face up to its responsibilities. Socialism is a question of human will and human organisation. Socialism can be attained by violence or by the “inevitability of gradualness.” All depends on human will and human intelligence. It depends not on any god or other power outside ourselves.

Fitzgerald concludes.

He was not responsible for incorrect passages of Mr. Maxton’s speech quoted in the New Leader. The S.P.G.B. expelled those of its members who supported the War. The I.L.P. did not deal with its leading members who supported the War. When the I.L.P. misuses the word “capital” it misleads the working class. Of the 154 Labour M.P.s, 106 are members of the I.L.P., and the I.L.P. cannot therefore condemn the Labour Party without at the same time condemning itself. Under Socialism there is no question of remuneration. Money is a feature of private property systems. With Socialism it will not be needed. Where there is plenty for all there is no question of remuneration, equal or otherwise.

The final point was that any Party which urges the workers to place power in the hands of the master class is betraying the interests of the workers.

Mr. Maxton winds up.

Mr. Maxton gave a blank denial to the charge that the I.L.P. has supported, or is supporting, the enemies of the working class. Never has the Party supported other than Labour and Socialist candidates. He gave that on his personal word of honour. He had heard that there had been friendly understandings between Labour and Liberal candidates, but he had also heard the denial of these statements.

But again he would urge that stirring up garbage was no work for Socialists. Since 1911, when he commenced his active work, there had never been any bargaining.

He agreed that the I.L.P. had not expelled dissentient minorities except in one or two very extreme cases. But there must be immense toleration if we are to succeed in organising the working class. There must be give and take. In view of the time it takes to make a Socialist, we must not fling a man out for his first mistake. It was the choice between being a narrow sect and being an effective organisation. When Mr. Maxton made mistakes he wanted to be treated tolerantly and he would give others the same toleration. Expulsion must be used only in the most extreme cases. The greatest problem is not to get a few men with a narrow view of Socialism, but to get millions with a great determination and as much knowledge as can be given in the time available. He believed that the time is short before the majority make up their minds to have Socialism. The work rendered by the I.L.P. in the past has been a good and valuable contribution to the building up of the Socialist movement. The I.L.P. will play an important part in achieving Socialism, a work not for the I.L.P. or the S.P.G.B., but for the workers of the world.

Letter: Ballot or Barricade Again: Mr. Chapman Tries Once More. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

East Street, S.E.17.

To the Editors of the “Socialist Standard.”

(1) I am writing again to the S.S., in the first place to admit that I made a mistake re Engels’ work, “Revolutionary Tactics.” I was quoting from memory, and in doing so I realise that I was “skating on very thin ice.” However, Engels does give the support I claim in another of his works, which I will quote.

(2) H. says (page 139 of May issue, S.S.) “That after 1848 neither Marx nor Engels then or thereafter drew such a conclusion as he (I) fastens on them” (Column 1, page 139). This is not true! Engels in his article “Con­cerning Authority,” written in 1873, and published in “Plebs,” Jan., 1923, writes as follows (page 27) :—”It (a revolution) is an act whereby a part of the population enforces its will upon the rest of the population—enforces its will by rifles, bayonets and big guns.” Also Engels says : “The party that gains the victory must maintain its dominion by virtue of the terror which its weapons inspire in the hearts of the reactionaries.”

(3) The phrase I claim to be in Marx’s Address to the Communist League, was slightly altered, but really means the same thing. I hope H. will not quibble over a word. Here is Marx’s phrase, verbatim, from “The Labour Monthly,” Sept., 1922 (page 142) : It is a matter of course that in the future sanguinary conflicts, as in all previous ones, the working men by their courage, resolution and self-sacri­fice will form the main force in the attainment of victory.” Further on (same page) Marx says : “Far from opposing so-called excesses and making examples of hated individuals, or public buildings to which hateful memories are attached, by sacrificing them to popular revenge, such deeds must not only be tolerated, but their direction must also be taken in hand.” It is obvious that Marx himself took “violence” to mean “revolution.” I now challenge H. to state if he has any knowledge of any revolution that involved the total transformation of property- relations, that has taken place without violence ?

(4) Re Marx and the Franchise. Marx says : “The universal suffrage had served its historic purpose. The majority of the people had passed through an instructive stage of development to which the suffrage, in a revolutionary epoch, had supplied the materials. It had to be ended either by revolution on reaction” (“Inquiry into Dictatorship,” Max Beer, “Labour Monthly,” August, 1922, page 118). Max Beer (same page, next paragraph) says : “Marx particularly points out that universal suffrage ‘weakened the energy of the French people by habituating them to legal triumphs instead of revolutionary ones. ‘ “

(5) Re the early dates of those works of both Marx and Engels, are they, together with their economic writings, out of date, or is this a non-sequitur? I should like to be enlightened on this point.

(6) As to the constitution: Does H. imagine it to be some mediaeval parchment like Magna Charta, hidden away in some museum or the Record Office, or is it only the “mode of government” in vogue to-day, which all “So­cialists” regard as a sham “democracy”? If H. means a tertium-quid by constitution, will he condescend to explain?

(7) Regarding the vagueness of my final ques­tion : In view of Marx’s declaration given above that “Universal suffrage has served its historic purpose,” then why waste time in opening election funds, and electing candidates into an utterly useless institution?

(8) According to the Logical Law of the Ex­cluded Middle, the S.P.G.B. is either Marxian or non-Marxian. Now ! (1) Marx advocated Violence. (2) The S.P.G.B. does not advocate violence, therefore (3) the S.P.G.B. is a non-Marxian party.

(9) Finally, to use an apologue, I am not like the man who lived in a garret, and whilst playing with an eighteenpenny box of chemicals, thought he had solved the “riddle of the universe.” I am ready to learn and study the “new Socialism” if the Socialism of Marx and Engels is out of date.

I now close, thanking H. of the S.S. for his answer to my first letter, and for keeping the discussion free from abuse.
I remain, Yours faithfully,

Robert Chapman.

(10) N.B.—As to the letter H. quotes from Marx to Kugleman of Jan. 15, 1866, it was published long after Marx’s death. Marx hated the “Social Democracy,” and in his “Criticism of the (Gotha) Socialist Programme” of 1875 (pub­lished in the “Neue Zeit,” No. 18, 1890-1), Engels in his introductory notes (pages 3 and 4 of “Socialist Programme”) admits that he has deleted several harsh and acrimonious phrases used by Marx. This criticism teems with Marx’s scorn for “Democracy,” and on page 12, he says : “May we not, from the mere fact that the representatives of our Party have been capable of so gross a departure from the view generally accepted by the Party, deduce with how much levity they have set to work upon drafting this compromise programme !” All this shows that Marx had a strong bias against the ballot.

Our Reply.
Mr. Chapman, abandoning several of his quotations, presents some more. Before dealing with them, it seems to be necessary to remind our correspondent that a policy is not proved to be sound because Marx or someone else said so. It is sound only if it is appropriate to the object in view, the obstacles to be overcome and the means available for overcoming them. Therefore, while it is necessary to correct Mr. Chapman’s misquotations “from memory,” it would be much more useful if discussion were confined to the important question of the proper policy to be applied by the workers here and now.

In paragraph 2 Mr. Chapman quotes passages from Engels’ writings showing that Engels advocated violence. These passages (he says, prove that what I wrote (in the May S.S.) “is not true.” Those who do not refer to what I did write will suppose that I denied that Engels advocated violence. Mr. Chapman takes half of a sentence of mine, puts a full-stop where I had a semi-colon and omits entirely my words indicating what was the conclusion that Marx and Engels “never drew.” The words Mr. Chapman omits follow directly on those he quotes, and were as follows : “They never omitted to stress the import­ance of gaining control of the machinery of government, as distinct from destroying it.” Mr. Chapman’s quotations about violence have nothing whatever to do with this policy of destroying the machinery of government as opposed to the policy advocated by Marx and Engels and ourselves of gaining control of it.

(3) Our correspondent blandly admits that he “slightly altered” the quotation from Marx. I can only say that quotations ought not to be “slightly altered.” Mr. Chapman completely ignores the fact, pointed out in my reply to his first letter, that the passage referred to is not Marx’s advice to the workers in the struggle for Socialism, but in the struggle alongside the capitalists to raise the capitalist class to power. Marx, writing about Germany in 1850, puts his statement under three headings :—
(i) “During the continuation of the present conditions in which the petty bourgeoise democracy is also oppressed ” ;
(ii) “In the ensuing revolutionary struggles which would give them momentary ascendancy.“; and
(iii) “After those struggles, during the time of their ascendancy over the defeated classes and the proletariat.”
In Germany in 1850, before the rise of the capitalists to power, there was no vote for workers or capitalists, and Marx, in common with many of the revolutionary capitalists themselves, advocated an armed rising. Mr. Chapman quotes from Section (i) without mentioning the heading under which the passage appears. In section (iii), which deals with the period after the capitalists have attained power and after the vote has been won, Marx does not mention an armed struggle. He deals instead with the necessity of fighting elections. Mr. Chapman does not quote from this section. Mr. Chapman ignores completely the fact that the capitalist class in England achieved their victory over their feudal aggressors long before 1850. A policy which was appropriate under those, conditions is not appropriate under fundamentally different conditions which exist here now. We are not fighting to raise the capitalist class to power, but to raise the working class to power. (The final part of this paragraph of Mr. Chapman’s letter is dealt with under paragraph 8.)

Marx and the Franchise.
(4) Mr. Chapman here quotes two passages about the struggles in France between 1848 and 1850, but he does not even mention that the passages refer to those particular struggles. He fails to see that a statement made in 1850 about certain conditions which existed in France at that time, even if they correctly interpreted those conditions, cannot be lifted out of their context and applied to a quite different set of circumstances such as exist here to-day. In order to back up his misuse of the first passage, Mr. Chapman resorts to his apparently usual practice of “slightly altering” the words. Marx, referring to France in 1850, wrote, “The universal suffrage had served its historic purpose.” Mr. Chapman wants to give this particular statement a general application and repeats the quotation in paragraph (7) of his letter, but calmly altered ‘had’ into ‘has,’ in order to give the impression that Marx was writing about the suffrage in general. Mr. Chapman’s view that Marx in 1850 considered it impossible to be revolutionary and yet make use of Parliament is shown to be incorrect by the Address to the Communist League which was written at the same time as the passage Mr. Chapman misquotes. Marx wrote in the “Address” as follows : “Even in constituencies where there is no prospect of our candidate being elected, the workers must nevertheless put up candidates in order to maintain their independence, to steel their forces and to bring their revolutionary attitude and party views before the public. “

Is Marx out of date?
(5) I did not say that Marx and Engels were out of date. It is not a question of date but of widely differing conditions. As I point out above, a policy which was correct in the struggle by capitalists and workers to crush feudalism and introduce representative government, is not correct in the struggle to establish Socialism. Where Marx dealt with the policy for the latter struggle his views were extraordinarily sound, considering the relatively undeveloped conditions of capitalism on which his observations were based.

(6) The constitution is, as Mr. Chapman remarks, the mode of government in vogue. Its strength and importance do not rest on any written document, but on the needs of the existing system of society. The capitalists cannot with impunity ignore the needs of their own economic system. Mr. Chapman does not explain what he means by “sham” democracy. The fact of importance is that the voters, at least 85 per cent. of whom are members of the working-class, vote overwhelmingly and voluntarily for capitalism at each election. They do this because they still believe that capitalism is the only possible system.

(7) I have already pointed out, in dealing with paragraph (4) of Mr. Chapman’s letter, that this alleged quotation is not as Marx wrote it, but as it appears after Mr. Chapman has “slightly altered” it.

(8) Mr. Chapman tries to present a simple argument in logical form, and by omitting two essential points, “proves” that the S.P.G.B. is a non-Marxian Party. He says : “Marx advocated violence” and “The S.P.G.B. does not advocate violence.” These are two half-truths. Marx advocated an armed struggle to help the capitalist movement of 1850, but he also advocated a Parliamentary struggle for the period after the capitalists had come to power. (See Address to Communist League.) The S.P.G.B. advocates capturing the machinery of government by means of the vote in order, among other things, to control “the armed forces.” We wish to gain control of the forces which alone will make our “violence” effective should capitalist rebels use violent methods against the Socialist majority. Control of the machinery of government is the deciding factor. The violence is incidental. The lesson to be learned from the Fascist episode in Italy is not in the use of violence, but in the circumstance so often overlooked— that the Fascists became the rulers of Italy only because governments which had been democratically elected deliberately used their control of the political machinery and the regular armed forces to place Mussolini in power.

Mr. Chapman tells us that the workers must appeal to “force of arms” against the organised forces of the State while these are still controlled by the capitalist class. He ignores my question as to how he proposes to gather, train and equip his armed forces. That doctrine is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense.

(9) It is curious that Mr. Chapman, who finds it necessary to improve upon Marx and Engels by “slightly altering” their words, should accuse us of regarding them as out of date.

(10) If our correspondent questions the accuracy of the quoted text of the letters from Marx to Kugelman, it is up to him to give what he regards as the correct text and some evidence that his version is correct. Does he deny that Marx took an active part in the campaign for universal suffrage ?

Mr. Chapman says that Marx’s comment on the Gotha Programme “teems” with his “scorn for Democracy,” but instead of quoting one of these “teeming” passages in which Marx “showed his scorn for Democracy,” Mr. Chapman quotes a passage in which Marx denounces the programme as a “compromise.” “All this,” says Mr. Chapman with delicious lack of logic, “shows that Marx had a strong bias against the ballot.”

So that if I say that the programme of the I.L.P. is a compromising programme, this, according to Mr. Chapman, would prove that I “scorn Democracy” and that I “have a strong bias against the ballot.” Really, Mr. Chapman !
Edgar Hardcastle

[EDITORIAL NOTE. —Correspondents must keep their letters short in view of the many questions continually needing reply in our limited space.]

Answers to Correspondents. (1928)

From the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

 J. Cohen (Manchester).—Your question, “Would it be right to claim that there are individuals in society who could be called “intellectuals,” is too indefinite for useful reply. The term “intellectual” is used variously by different persons. Will you explain what meaning you attach to it?

H. W. R. Keeble (Catford).— Your letter received too late for this issue. Reply next month.

Letter: Socialism and Reform. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. F. L. Rimington (Leicester), in the course of a long letter asks several questions. (1) Would the S.P.G.B., with only a minority of M.P.s in the House of Commons, adopt any “meantime proposals” while working for the return of a majority? The answer is that Socialist candidates would fight elections as candidates of the S.P.G.B. on our programme of Socialism, not on a programme of reforms or “meantime proposals.” They would be elected by the votes of Socialists wanting Socialism, not by reformists still imbued with the idea that capitalism can be “reformed” out of existence. If they or the Party adopted “meantime proposals” the Socialist electors would seek to further their object—Socialism—and thrust us and our meantime proposals aside. Possibly Mr. Rimington or other readers may be interested in the further point as to whether Socialist M.P.s would vote on particular questions arising out of capitalist administration. That would depend on the nature of the question. A situation might, for instance, arise when capitalist parties were divided for and against war. Should such a question arise, Socialist M.P.s would naturally be required to cast their votes against a course which would lead to the destruction of working-class life and health. That is a matter not for the M.P.s to decide but for the Socialist Party to decide on the merits of each case as it arose. The Socialist Party would, of course, make it clear that such action was in line with working-class interest and not based on the reasons which underlie the action of the capitalist parties.

Party News. (1928)

Party News from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

To Cyclist Members. 
All cyclists in the Party are asked to communicate with Com. lies at Head Office, with a view to the formation of a Cycling Section for propaganda purposes.

Economics Class.
The above class is held at Head Office, 17, Mount Pleasant, W.C., every Saturday, at 8 p.m. All welcome.

Southwark and Lambeth
All sympathisers agreeing with the Party are invited to communicate with the General Secretary at Head Office with a view to formation of a branch.

Readers and sympathisers in Derby and district are asked to write to Gen. Secretary in order to further the activities of the Party there, and to form a branch.

SPGB Parliamentary Fund. (1928)

Party News from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: The Treachery of the Leaders. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent sends the following questions :—
Albert Road, Hornsey, N.
21st May, 1928.

Dear Comrade,

Having read this month’s S.S. and noticed reproduced therein a letter criticising your Party, I take an opportunity of placing before you one or two points concerning the S.P.G.B. on which there is much controversial matter.

It is a tenet of your policy that Parliament is the means through which the working-class will achieve Socialism. Once returned why should your members be any more true to the workers than say labour representatives? Would not a growing Socialist Party provide plenty of scope for parliamentary position hunters who, if necessary, would emasculate your policy as has happened of late with that of the Labour Party.

When, if it should happen, the Socialist Party develops to the second party of the State all the forces at the disposal of the Capitalist class, yet in power, will be brought to bear for the suppression of Socialist teaching. At that stage the workers who have been lulled into an “all will be well in the future" feeling will find themselves faced with the alternative of engaging in a revolution for which the parliamentarism of the S.P.G.B. has left them unprepared, or of submitting to a still more stringent and harsh suppression which the Capitalist class would find necessary to use to smash the possible resistance of the workers.

Yet again, it is likely that, following the hypothesis of a growing Socialist Party, the workers at a period may be prepared in the majority to overthrow Capitalism only the fact of a Capitalist Government being in power, having been elected prior to the swelling of the Socialist Party, forces them to withhold themselves until a new general election (2, 3, 4 or more number of years may be the waiting time —Socialism by permission of Capitalists).

A bare majority of Socialists in the House of Commons would necessarily have to resort to force in order to break the resistance of the Capitalists who they are dispossessing (unless by this time the S.P.G.B. policy of "revolutionary” action has dwindled to the gradualness and legislative tinkering of the reformist Labour Party). This would entail the use of the army. The generals, officers, bureaucrats, etc., from whom the soldiers take their direct commands are drawn from the ranks of the Capitalist class and its lackeys—would they be prepared to translate a Socialist Government's decrees into action? I rather think that they would use the obedience of the soldiers, sheltered from Socialist teaching, in supporting the refractory Capitalist class.

It appears to me that the Socialism of the Socialist Party of Great Britain leads inevitably to an open and unashamed dictatorship of the Capitalist class with a further and acuter exploitation of the masses.

I trust that you can answer these points!
Yours fraternally,
R. M. Phillips.

Our Reply.
(1) Mr. Phillips has read the last month's issue of the “S.S.,” but appears to be quite unfamiliar with the principles of the Socialist Party. He asks what guarantee there is that Socialists would “be any more true to the workers than, say, Labour representatives,” and is evidently unaware that the Socialist Party does not offer itself to the workers as alternative leaders, willing to replace the Labour Party and promising to conduct the working class to Socialism. Socialists, like other beings, cannot escape the pressure of the forces surrounding them, and there is no reason to believe that Socialists would be more trustworthy than other people, except that they at least understand the social forces and may be expected to avoid gross blunders of ignorance. If Socialism depended upon finding trustworthy leaders, in or out of Parliament, then Socialism would never come into being. The S.P.G.B. tells the working class that they alone can replace capitalism by Socialism, putting their trust in no leaders at all. The only guarantee against the evil effects of betrayal by leaders is to have no leaders. The capitalist class do not buy leaders for their brains or their ability, but because they have a sheep-like following. Socialists know what they want and how to get it, and are not followers. A Socialist membership will make their own policy, and M.P.s will not be able to “emasculate" that policy. The policy of the Labour Party has never been Socialist because its members have never been Socialist. Its past and its present policy accurately reflect the views of the majority of its members. A Socialist membership would not formulate a non-Socialist policy, and if an M.P. elected by Socialists advocated a non-Socialist policy he would lose his seat.

(2) Mr. Phillips claims that he knows what the capitalist class will do at some particular point in the future development of Socialism. We are not quite so confident of our powers of prophecy, but we can at least point to some improbabilities in his forecast. How does he know that the capitalist class, who do not suppress Socialist teaching when Socialists are few in number, will decide that it is a wise policy for them at some future date when Socialists form a large part of the population and suppression will be difficult, if not impossible?

It is plainly absurd to suppose that the Socialist workers will lull themselves into an "all will be well in the future ” feeling, if the circumstances around them are incompatible with such a feeling. Mr. Phillips does not trouble to explain why the use by a revolutionary working class of the franchise to obtain control of Parliament should unfit them to face whatever situation may arise. Conversely, whatever may be the state of "feeling” of a minority, if they are too small and powerless to resist those who control the machinery of government and have the majority behind them, then the minority has to submit to superior force and continue their work in whatever manner they consider best until they have become strong enough to take some other action. Does Mr. Phillips know of any alternative?

(3) Mr. Phillips wants us to consider the hypothesis of a working class suddenly converted in great numbers to Socialism in the short space of two, three or four years between elections. If Mr. Phillips looks round him and observes how desperately hard and slow is the work of making Socialists he would perceive that his hypothesis is absurd, even allowing for a considerable speeding up in the progress of Socialist propaganda with the development of capitalism.

But even if it should happen, would Mr. Phillips consider it sound policy to pursue a difficult and dangerous course of action only in order to save a year or two’s delay?

(4) Mr. Phillips bases his argument here on two confident assumptions—both of which happen to be false. He says the "Generals, officers, bureaucrats,” etc., "are drawn from the ranks of the capitalist class and its lackeys.” The truth is, of course, that the great majority of "generals, officers, bureaucrats, etc.,” are people dependent on their pay for their living, members of the working class like the rest of the so-called professional sections of the working class. At worst these officers, etc., would be divided.

The second assumption is that soldiers are, or could be, "sheltered from Socialist teaching.” Soldiers come from working-class homes, and when those homes are pre-dominantly Socialist these soldiers cannot possibly remain unimpressed by Socialist teaching.

And Mr. Phillips has overlooked the fact that soldiers schooled in the necessity of obedience to orders from above will not be likely to follow blindly and unthinkingly orders given to them by a section of their officers who are themselves flouting the lawful orders of their superiors, as well as defying their fellow-officers.
Editorial Committee.

Unemployment: We Do Not Shirk the Issue. (1928)

From the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

”Unemployment.” ”Shirking the issue.” These are the striking headlines of an editorial in the “Daily Chronicle” of February 10th, commenting on the debate in the House of Commons the previous day.

This article, after criticising the present Government for evading its responsibility for the relief of those affected, and having told us that Protection is no remedy, draws our attention to the “remedy” proposed by the Labour Party.

Mr. Arthur Henderson asked what the Labour Party’s remedy was, “Gave one comprehensive answer—the abolition of the system of private ownership—Socialism.”

This, we are informed, is not an answer to the question as to how work is to be found for the unemployed.

Then our very Liberal Editor treats us to the following: “That the question at issue is not one of ownership, but of work, production, business.”

Now, short of having a copy handy of that day’s Parliamentary debates, we cannot, of course, say whether Mr. Henderson used the word Socialism or not, while, assuming that he did, his use of the word is misleading. His conception of Socialism is nationalisation and has been exposed in these columns.

One becomes suspicious that the Editor of the “Daily Chronicle” knows that the Nationalisation of Industry, the object of the Labour Party, is not Socialism when he asks, “How the State is going to create employment” when the change of ownership is made?

Quite so, Mr. Editor. The State being but the executive machinery of the employing class, private ownership of the means of wealth production would still exist in the sense of class ownership.

It follows therefore that the other conditions of capitalist production would still apply, i.e., production for profit of goods that must be sold on a market before such profit is realised.

When the market ceases to absorb these goods, or does so only on a restricted scale, profits either cease or are greatly reduced. Production is accordingly restricted or stopped altogether. When this happens unemployment, partial or general, follows for the very people, the workers, who have, by their productive diligence, produced more than the market requires.

Just when thousands, nay, possibly millions, of people are prevented from receiving wages, and consequently from being able to buy things, there are more things for sale than there are people to buy.

The reason for this being that as pointed out earlier—production to-day is for profit, not for use.

Then, with all the brazen impudence of the capitalist apologist, we are told that “The question is not one of ownership but of work, production, business.”

With the development of modern productive methods and intensified machine production, along with existing class ownership in, say, the newspaper world, a surplus of workers exists that meet with disappointment continually at such places as the United Newspapers because employment at all times for all workers is not profitable.

After all these facts in our everyday experience, it is sheer nonsense for the Liberal Editor to tell us it is not a question of ownership.

Given Free Trade Liberalism, Protectionist Toryism or Free Trade Labourism, unemployment cannot be abolished or remedied while private ownership remains.

Whether the victims are relieved by relief works, benefits, or both, is the business of those who are involved, consciously or otherwise, in the defence of the private ownership of the means of wealth production.

While for workers who can see their class position through all the surrounding confusion, the remedy is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life.

It will then be seen that this is not to be attained by supporting Liberal, Tory or Labour political parties, including any others that may be hanging on to one or the other.

The attainment of such a remedy, involving their emancipation as a class, must then be reached by political organisation and action on the basis of their class interests for the overthrow of the capitalist system.

The Party that fulfils all these requirements that is in fact the Party of the workers, the Socialist Party will, with the support of the workers arising from their understanding, carry on to the political field for the first time the class struggle, now so blindly fought industrially over wages and conditions.
J. B.

Letter: Should We Use the Terms “Faith” and “Belief”? (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

“C.C.” (who does not give his address) comments on the fact that Socialists avoid the use of such abstract terms as “faith” and “belief” in reference to Socialism. He suggests that this attitude is not helpful in the matter of making members, and, secondly, that these words represent real things: We “have to believe in one another to have faith in one another, to confide in one another.” “Is it, then, correct or incorrect to make use of these words? “

“C.C.’s” difficulty appears to arise from his having failed to notice that these words as loosely used in popular speech have widely different meanings. If a Christian says “I believe in God,” he means that he is confident that there exists a supernatural being. But if he also says ‘”I believe in Lloyd George,” he is not affirming the existence of Lloyd George. He simply means that he trusts Lloyd George and considers his political principles to be sound. The first is based not on verifiable evidence, but on what is sometimes called “faith,” and as there are people who hold unverifiable “belief ” and “faiths,” then there is need of words to describe those attributes.

Socialism is not a “faith,” like Christianity, and it would therefore be incorrect to describe it as such. Moreover, although sympathy with one’s fellow human beings is a deeply-rooted instinct, past experience has shown that personal attraction is not the foundation upon which can be built the organised movement for the abolition of capitalism. “C.C.” writes: “We have to believe in one another, to have faith in one another,” but is it entirely true? Does he “have to believe” in Mussolini or “have faith” in Winston Churchill? His recognition of his class position inside capitalism prevents this. Socialists do not base their policy and actions on “belief”‘ or “faith” in the religious sense, but on their knowledge of their class interests. The justification for Socialist principles is that they are in accordance with observed facts, and we subscribe to those principles because they show us the means of escape from the evils of capitalism from which we as workers suffer. We avoid the use of these terms because they would obscure the nature of Socialist principles and Socialist organisation.

“C. C.” will perhaps have noticed that it is the practice of the Socialist Party to seek to make Socialists, not merely to make members.
Editorial Committee.

Life and Times: Two Eco-Reformists (2022)

The Life and Times column from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

A friend of mine who’s a keen vegan recently sent me an email with a Channel 4 podcast link to an interview with someone she greatly admires. That person was Dale Vince, a vegan himself who has become a wealthy entrepreneur through his setting up of the ‘green’ energy company Ecotricity, even if he’s probably best known for his ownership of Forest Green Rovers, a small football club recently promoted from non-league football to the Football League. The other thing about FGR, as they’re known, is that, in Vince’s image, the club itself is entirely vegan, so that everything sold, eaten and drunk in the ground is plant and not animal based. My friend described Vince as ‘an amazing person’ and ‘a genius’ for his espousal of environmental causes and efforts to bring about change in that area. Her view was that ‘his involvement in the business world has nothing at all to do with making money’.

The ‘Green New Deal’
As all this piqued my curiosity, I couldn’t not give the 40-minute podcast a go. It was definitely worthwhile. I found Vince quite a fascinating character, with a ‘rebel’ past (from the age of 15 he became a traveller for 10 years living from hand to mouth) who hated being constrained and was resistant to living the kind of life dictated by money-based society. He came across as likeable too, not deterred by adverse reactions and of course very clever for the way in which he had personally conceived and set up a highly successful energy business.

So far so good, but, as the interview progressed, what became clear was that Vince, despite his obvious good intentions, was , like so many others, falling into the trap of thinking you could solve the problems thrown up by the system we live in by making certain adjustments to certain aspects of it. The proposed innovation he was especially enthusiastic about was the use of biofuel, in the form of grass, as a way of creating abundant cheap energy. The lines along which he was talking were clearly compatible with what has come to be known as the ‘Green New Deal’. This involves, among other things, boosting renewable energy sources and lowering reliance on fossil fuels, using energy-saving appliances, constructing buildings with lower negative environmental impact and, in Vince’s case, campaigning against over-fishing (he funded the Seaspiracy documentary) and encouraging veganism.

All this is in a sense to be applauded, yet it is hard to see how this ‘greening’ of economic activity will not simply be integrated into the global system (capitalism) whose bottom line is always profit rather than human need. Even veganism, on which Vince is so keen and which is definitely on the rise, can only be – and is in the process of being – sucked into the system of profit-making with the problems it produces – and cannot solve – of poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. What was traditionally seen as a subversive and anti-establishment form of resistance to the global food industry and its horrific abuse of animals has itself increasingly become a ‘cash cow’.

The friend who expressed admiration for Vince also drew my attention to a pair of articles from the Guardian written by another environmental campaigner, George Monbiot. One of these lamented the government’s policy of continuing to subsidise farmers despite their anti-environmental practices, while the other, entitled ‘Why are we feeding crops to our cars when people are starving?’ attacks the widespread and increasing use of crops, grasses, marshes and trees for fuel purposes, so-called ‘biofuels’, the very thing that Dale Vince advocates and claims to be a form of cheap, sustainable and non-destructive green energy. Monbiot takes aim at Vince by calling Ecotricity’s plan to turn huge land areas into feedstock for biogas plant as ‘the worst land proposal I’ve ever seen in the UK’. He goes on ‘But we can’t use such fixes to solve our climate crisis. To leave fossil fuels in the ground, we should change our energy system: our need to travel, our modes of transport, the fuel economy of our homes and the means by which we heat them. Modern biofuels, used at scale, are no more sustainable than an older variety: whale oil. And burning food is the definition of decadence’ (

Is there a side to be taken here? As socialists we wouldn’t want to do that, since it would involve supporting one plan or another for managing capitalism, even if both campaigners refer to it as ‘ecosocialism’. And what we explicitly want is for capitalism to be replaced by a completely different kind of society organised on the basis of human need not profit. So, though during his interview Vince calls himself a ‘socialist’, his arguments, well-meaning as they may be, show his ideas about social change to be a million miles away from what we mean by ‘socialism’. And he confirms this by ending with the admission that he would like to have a future role in the Labour Party. It’s doubtful that Monbiot would want that for himself, but he too shows he is still thoroughly into policies to reform capitalism when, in his article on government policy on farming, he states: ‘I want to see Defra diversified and clear lines drawn between private and public interests. I want to see the lobbying power of the NFU curtailed’ (

Global socialism
In her message to me, my friend, in support of Vince and his plan for producing energy from potential food sources, drew attention to the fact that more food than needed is already produced on a world scale. The only problem, she stated, was distribution ‘due to economic and political factors’. And that’s exactly right, but the trouble is that those ‘economic and political factors’ will always exist as long as we have a society with such things as money, banks, governments and states.

So we need more than a vegan football club à la Vince and more than changed government policies à la Monbiot. We need something quite different – a world of planned cooperation which takes advantage of technology in a sustainable way and in which everyone can develop their interests and abilities with full social support and live without the ever-present threat of pervasive material insecurity. That, and not just the tinkering at the edges of capitalism that both campaigners advocate, would be the true ‘ecosocialism’.
Howard Moss

Blogger's Note:
The Seaspiracy documentary was reviewed in the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Pathfinders: If you really want peace . . . (2022)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

You may not know what a 9 mm Parabellum firearm round looks like, but you’ll certainly have seen one in the movies or on TV, a snubby, often brass-jacketed shell used in ammunition belts or stacked in automatic magazine cartridges. It was designed by Georg Luger in 1901 and is the standard military round for US and Nato forces, because it’s cheap, easy to load, has moderate recoil, doesn’t excessively wear out the gun, and is readily available just about anywhere. There are heavier calibres, including hollow points – invented by the colonial British at their Dum Dum arsenal in Kolkata – which explode on entering the body, but for general-purpose killing at ranges of 160 feet or more, the 9 mm Parabellum cartridge is considered highly effective by ‘the modern science of wound ballistics’ ( The name comes from an old Latin proverb, since adopted as the Royal Navy’s motto: Si vis pacem, para bellum – If you want peace, prepare for war.

A socialist would of course say, if you want peace, prepare for socialism, because you won’t get peace any other way. Capitalist rulers constantly prepare for war but they don’t like to admit this too baldly, so they call it ‘defence’ and engage in worthy and much-publicised conferences about what is and what is not a civilised way of killing someone. Thus, in the history of firearms ammunition, we find that there is by implication such a thing as an ethical bullet. The 19th-century Hague Convention swiftly pronounced itself shocked by the British invention of the hollow point, and moved to outlaw such exploding bullets for military use on the grounds that they caused an unacceptable (ie, horrific) level of injury. This ban did not apply to civilian use however, and what’s possibly even more horrific is the accepted argument made by police forces that, because such bullets fragment inside the body, they don’t pass right through and kill some innocent bystander. Believe it or not, this is why police forces to this day are allowed to use these vicious rounds, at least in certain circumstances.

The question, what is the ‘ethical’ way to kill someone, reappears every time weapons technology gets an upgrade, or when the opposite side is found to be using some weapon you haven’t got (or do not admit to having). Much was made, in the early days of the Ukraine war, about Russian forces using cluster bombs, which are banned under the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions. These are indeed nasty because they throw out little bomblets which explode all over the place, and worse, often fail to go off immediately but explode later when picked up by children who think they’re bright orange toys. But media talk of Russian ‘war crimes’ obscured the fact that Ukraine forces were also using cluster bombs, and that neither side in the conflict had actually signed up to the ban. As it turns out, the ban is most heavily supported by countries either having suffered directly from their use or not having any such munitions anyway, and least by countries who have stockpiled them, this latter category including the USA, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil and Finland. The ugly truth is, cluster bombs are highly effective, and unlikely to blow back unexpectedly on the user, unlike unpredictable chemical and biological weapons, which may explain why the ban on these is more universally adhered to.

Now the debate is moving onto the question of regulating autonomous weapons, so-called killer robots, that can make their own battlefield decisions without any human agency at all. As the Tofflers pointed out years ago (War and Anti-War in 21st Century, 1995), weapons development since the Bronze Age has been all about the separation of combatants to ever greater distances, from primitive hand-to-hand stab and slash to modern remote push-button drones, with a consequent desensitisation to the effects of the weapons and, it is supposed, an increasing readiness to use them. Now humans are on the point of being removed from the picture entirely, as machines decide who to kill and when, or where both sides are equally equipped, what other machines to destroy and when.

The argument for battlefield autonomy follows inexorably from the logic of drone warfare. Drone communications can be hacked or jammed, cutting off the human controller. In such circumstances it’s either lose the battle, or allow the drone to make its own decisions. Both sides in Ukraine are already using ‘loitering munitions’, which can lurk in a vicinity waiting for a suitable target to appear, and then destroy it ( These munitions can easily be made autonomous, though the accuracy of their target recognition remains a work in progress. Here is where the call for regulation becomes loudest, not so much in moral outrage at the idea of being killed by a machine instead of a human, but at the prospect of autonomous drones mistaking a school bus for a tank or a hospital for a missile bunker. What’s not up for debate though is that as soon as one country ups the ante with killer drones, the rest will surely follow. Wars are about winning a fight to the death, not storming the moral high ground and hoisting pretty flags.

Where technology is concerned, science fiction can often have profound things to say. In a 1967 Star Trek episode called A Taste of Armageddon, two planets are locked in perpetual war, but they’ve agreed to keep it clean and environmentally destruction-free by computerising the whole business. Thus, citizens are randomly selected as virtual casualties and must then report to termination booths to be killed in reality. This simulation is regarded as affordable and acceptable to both planets and is the reason why the war never ends. As the show pithily observes, attempts to take the horror and destruction out of war are really attempts to perpetuate it.

In socialism, where wealth is commonly owned and thus not something to be fought over, autonomous drones could be used as weather gauges, for crop monitoring, or as solar-powered swarms in large-scale search and rescue missions, criss-crossing thousands of square miles of ocean to look for crash debris. And if society wills it, they could explore other worlds in our solar system, whose distance in light-minutes would make Earth-based decision making impractical. Autonomous drones could be part of a fantastic future for humans, just not as weapons.
Paddy Shannon

Material World: Sri Lanka – the limits of workers’ forbearance (2022)

The Material World column from the August 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sri Lanka long had a stable economy but the Material World column in March drew attention to the economic chaos taking place there.

Since March the situation has spiralled even more out of control. Sri Lanka’s rupee has lost more than 80 percent of its value and is still falling. Its foreign exchange reserves for all practical purposes have been depleted. Without US dollars the country cannot afford to pay for imports. Petrol has run out for non-essential users and is rationed in favour of the emergency services. Without fuel for cars and public transport via buses and tuk-tuks not running people cannot go to work or operate their businesses. LPG gas for cooking is in short supply. Fishing boats can’t go to sea, because they don’t have diesel.

All attempts to find solutions have failed which has now culminated in political turmoil with the prime minister’s home being set alight by angry demonstrators and the president forced from office as protesters occupied the presidential palace.

The financial crisis is also a health crisis. Sri Lanka imports more than 80 percent of its medical supplies. Now medicines are in short supply, including essential, life-saving drugs. Only the most critical patients are being operated upon. Doctors who once could say that the country possessed very fine healthcare, now tell of people dying due to lack of resources. Sri Lanka’s hospitals now rely on what charity other nations can offer.

In May a $1.5 million donation came from Japan so that UNICEF could procure medicines for over 1.2 million people, among them 53,000 expectant mothers and nearly 122,000 children with immediate medical needs. Australia sent food plus essential medicines for women’s health, the equivalent of nearly $5 million.

In June the UN appealed to international donors for more than $47 million in ‘life-saving assistance’. To put it in perspective, the government at the time said $5 billion was required for the island’s economic survival primarily to pay for food, fuel and fertiliser.

Ordinary Sri Lankans continue to bear the brunt of the financial and food crises. Sri Lankans under normal conditions did not lack for food, but the UN World Food Programme reports nearly nine of 10 families are skipping and skimping on meals, with 3 million requiring emergency humanitarian aid. Inflation of food prices was 22 percent in December 2021, 30 percent in March, and 57 percent in June resulting in people unable to put enough food on the table for their families. Now inflation is expected to go higher to 70 percent in coming months. A kilo of rice now costs 500 Sri Lankan rupees when it previously cost less than 100 rupees. The price of essentials means they are beyond reach for many people. Once unthinkable, Sri Lanka may now be facing food insecurity, if not outright famine, in a few months’ time.

Fuel shortages mean electricity cuts, with transport and supply chains being disrupted. Factory closures and unreliable shipment of exports have led many global brands to turn to alternative suppliers, such as Bangladesh and India, leaving Sri Lankan workers without jobs and pay.

Discontent and unrest had been widespread for months across Sri Lanka but the magnitude of the protests that forced out the government, once more demonstrated the latent power of working people. What we witness in Sri Lanka arose to a degree from mismanagement and malfeasance yet it is not unique and similar situations will most likely occur in more and more countries. Global price rises have inflicted similar pain elsewhere.

Lebanon’s GDP halved, from $52 billion in 2019 to $21.8 billion in 2021. Foreign exchange reserves dropped from $30 billion in 2019 to $11 billion today. The Lebanese lira has lost much of its purchasing power with salaries no longer sufficient for employees to support their families. Workers are barely able to buy basic necessities. Lebanon’s poverty rate is now over 74 percent and nearly 2.2 million of the population are lacking food security. One third of the population in the country is unemployed and according to the International Labour Organization nearly all public sector employees are engaged in various levels of industrial action.

The UN warned that food scarcity and malnutrition in the country would intensify further in the coming months and its representative in Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, expressed concern that the grain and fuel shortages arising from the Ukraine conflict were already affecting the country.

Sri Lanka and Lebanon are not isolated examples of capitalism’s failures to maintain stable social safety nets. Global inflation is inflicting economic pain across all continents and we can expect similar civil strife to occur in many more countries, and more governments to topple.

Politicians and the capitalist class in other countries received a warning sign in Sri Lanka that there is always a limit to workers’ forbearance. Desperation can so easily turn into rage and revolt. If a country’s economy sinks, its working class will not willingly go down with it.