Monday, August 29, 2022

Workers in Russia v. The Rest (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

It might be as well to ensure that readers are not puzzled by the above title because although the Communists were always fond of boasting that Russia covered one-sixth of the earth’s surface, it seems that the name Russia has almost disappeared from the map and we must now deal with a place called the USSR which stands for the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics; or it could be that the middle two words should read the other way round. No matter. Whichever way round, the term “Socialism” in the title is an outrageous piece of trickery.

This little outburst was occasioned by a report on that most wonderful of all unnatural phenomena, a general election in Russia, which took place (if a non-event can be said to take place) in mid-June. Of course, it is by no means the first time that we have read about these charades where the workers are generously permitted to choose between one person. And that one person is put up by the ruling gangsters who call themselves the Communist Party (instead of their correct title — Red Fascists), who are thus saying to their two hundred million political prisoners: 

“Look, comrades (it should really be ‘comrades’ but I don’t think they go in for inverted commas in Pravda), we know that we have ruled you with a rod of iron ever since Lenin’s Red Army thugs kicked out the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, and we intend to keep on your backs for the remainder of this century and next century too, if you let us.

“This may not be what Marx and Engels meant by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat but it’s what we mean. It really means that you, the proletariat, the alleged dictators, are treated worse than the wage slaves of England, America, etc., where they at least have reasonably free trade unions and elections. But it would be wrong if we did not insult you from time to time — sorry (Freudian slip, comrades), that should read ‘consult you’.

“And so, every so often, we have an election according to the democratic procedure laid down in the Stalin Constitution. Well, not quite. We don’t have a period of five years, whatever the constitution says. We hold one when the time is good — for us. Just as they do in Mao’s China and similar proletarian paradises. And it’s a slanderous lie if you are told by people like the SPGB that you are being insulted by being given no choice.

“It’s true you are given no choice of candidates. SPGB types — if there are any — are not allowed to open their mouths let alone put up at elections. We don’t permit opposition. We are not such fools as to give you the chance of kicking us out of our gloriously privileged positions. But you do have a choice. If you don’t like the CP candidate — who is damn well going to represent you whether you like him or hate him — you can vote NO. And you can then place your vote in the special urn provided for scum like you. And you can at the same time place your ashes in the next urn.”

Of course, none of the above is hot news. These circuses have taken place at intervals and many’s the time readers in the west have gawped to see such magnificent results in 99 per cent. majorities coming in. If the Gallup Poll was allowed to operate in Russia, they would be able to make a fortune — and none of those unfortunate boobs. But there was something in the Guardian account of this year’s charade which made the matter worthy of note in the Socialist Standard. The article was by their Eastern Europe expert (god help us) Jonathan Steele. Towards the end of his piece he gave us certain figures which quite clearly had no significance to this “expert” but which were of blinding importance to a Socialist — or even to a non-Socialist who is not brainwashed.

He gave us the figures for the composition of the outgoing Supreme Soviet (ostensibly the ruling parliament of the land, although in reality they are themselves just stooges and the power remains in the hands of the Politbureau which is in turn dominated by the likes of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Capone, etc.) It is important to note that the figures were given to Steele by the Russians themselves — there is nobody else who could have supplied them. The ruling body of the Workers’ Paradise consists of some 1200 “MPs” and it was stated (round figures only) that 200 are Collective Farm workers and 50 other workers.

It did not occur to Steele to work out that nearly 1,000 of the rulers of the Workers’ Paradise are — well, what? The answer can only be — non-workers. So here we have the admission, by the rulers of the land themselves, that Russia is a Soviet Socialist Republic divided into two classes. Workers and others. Workers and non-workers. Just like a Soviet Capitalist Republic. Just like England, in fact. But how can you expect a Steele to spot this devastating admission when clearly the Politbureau themselves couldn’t see it? And what can non-workers be doing there?

The only answer possible is what non-workers do everywhere else; they live high off the hog, as the Yanks say, on the proceeds of the surplus-value squeezed out of the workers. No other source of wealth is possible anywhere on earth. And there is something else these people do, besides non-working. They Rule. They do so in the Supreme Soviet as we have seen. They are the ruling class as in all capitalist societies even though a small clique sits on top of the pile in Moscow. The SPGB has been saying this since 1917. It is nice to see it confirmed in the columns of the leftist press, and above all out of the horses’ mouths in Moscow.

Finally, the matter of the privileges briefly mentioned earlier. These gangsters don’t rule for fun or for the sake of some twisted Marxist ideology although no doubt they enjoy the use of power like rulers everywhere. On the morning I write these lines, I heard on the radio about one member of the Russian ruling class, Mme. Furtseva, the Minister of Culture (ugh!), who has occupied such a position since the days of Stalin, being criticized for spending £75,000 on building herself a country home. The point to note is that the argument, such as it is, is over whether she had filched the money, not over whether it would be right for her to build such a mansion for herself at a time when living space for the mass of the people is measured out like gold dust. After all, she could not build her mansion surreptitiously and live in it in secret.

The right of the rulers to lord it over the ruled and wallow in luxury in the midst of proletarian squalor is as well-defined in Russia as it is in Animal Farm. So for those who may be still in doubt, let us make it clear that in a Socialist world we will not be divided into pigs and others, into non-workers and workers. In a classless society, there will, by definition, be no working class. We will just be human beings living in harmony because the welfare of each will be the welfare of all. A state of things which manifestly does not obtain in the land of spurious socialism called Russia.
L. E. Weidberg

"I was only doing my job" (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The academic world has been “shocked” and “appalled” by the results of ten years’ extensive research tests carried out by the psychiatrists at New York University. A book has appeared, and they have received full coverage on radio.

Briefly, the ingenious idea was this; just to see how far normal, ordinary, conventional people would go carrying out “horrific” instructions, which would torture and even kill the victim, usually by electric shock. At what point would the subject say “No! I can’t and won’t do it”?

Not merely did they not disobey, but showed the most callous indifference, and even when told that they had killed somebody, said “I only did my job” or some such. What they did not know was that the agonized screams of torture were by paid professional actors.

Why the psychiatrists are making such a hullabaloo about all this it is difficult to see. We do not need ten years’ extensive (and expensive) research in New York to tell us that ordinary, conventional, simple, naturally sociable, kindly people can behave otherwise in special circumstances.

In fact it is precisely the “normal” ordinary, unquestioning, unthinking people who accept authority and orders so blindly. So long as some fanny is trotted out to “justify” the foul deeds. (Usually, “If we don’t do it to them, they will do it to us.”) The appalling massacres of innocent defenceless women and children at My Lai, the Portugese atrocities in Africa, the systematic extermination of the Red Man in the States, are just isolated incidents in a long list. This writer is personally acquainted with numbers of affable likeable chaps, teachers, who as Air Force pilots took part in the saturation bombing of Germany.

Just what does it prove? That human nature is the most changeable thing under the sun, that homo sapiens is easily the most adaptable animal on this planet, leaving chameleons and hawk-eyed moths far behind. Not only this, but he is a most social-communal animal. So long as he has the social approbation that it is a necessary “job”, he will shoot, torture and murder without compunction, like the KGB in Russia as Arthur Koestler and Solzhenitsyn have shown. This writer attended sessions of the famous (or infamous) trial of the Auschwitz concentration camp staff in Frankfurt. The German press was amazed to find that the one-time torturers, gas-chamber operators, and murderers, had become highly respectable insurance managers, bank clerks, business representatives and family men. In fact this was urged in their defence as expiation.

So far from “not being able to change human nature”, it is impossible to stop it changing. Not merely do we see this by our own personal experience in everyday life, but it is also confirmed by modern genetics: the study of differences between individuals. The whole modern knowledge of genetics shows that though all animals (including homo sapiens) are born with a certain “nature” or physiological apparatus acquired from both parents, their behaviour in various social situations depends entirely on circumstances. This is the authentic view of modern genetics. The idea that features or characteristics acquired by parents are automatically passed on is fallacious. Jewish baby boys’ foreskins have been docked for a thousand years, they inevitably reappear; so have fox-terriers’ tails. The genes make a boy tall or short, brown-eyed or frizzy-haired. What he then does is his affair.

As Professor Anthony Barnett writes in his book on The Human Species:
These changes in social organisation involve drastic changes in human behaviour, and they in turn depend on the fact that human behaviour is plastic and not genetically fixed. We see once again the absurdity of the notion that ‘human nature cannot change’.

This commonly made assertion always implies that human ‘behaviour’ is essentially fixed, it is therefore the exact opposite of the truth.
It is the behaviour of the working class to band together in its own interest. What makes this common interest is not genetical inheritance, but social position. Eventually, black workers, yellow workers, “the long, and the short, and the tall” will join up to establish Socialism. If workers inevitably inherited their parents’ wage-slave characteristics they could never become Socialists. Of course docile ignorant wage-slaves in New York willingly obeyed the most vile orders; they were not Socialists! Let them try their daft experiments on us. We said NO ! during the war.

So They Say: 102 Years On (1974)

The So They Say Column from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

102 Years On

What has Helena Hardigan in common with Frederick Engels? The knowledge that the “solutions” to the housing problem are not solutions at all. On 29th June she wrote to The Guardian about a “Report on Merseyside” it had published. Instead of stuff about the “character” of Liverpudlians, she said, some decent living conditions would be welcome. And:
As far as I see it, Liverpool is just going to be one big motorway through to the docks and that will be its importance in the future. You talk about slum clearance—there has been none. The slums have been transferred to Kirkby, Skelmersdale and Runcorn where unemployment, vandalism, depression and desperation are rife.
Engels said exactly the same thing in The Housing Question written in 1872:
. . . owing to the demand for big centrally-situated business premises, or owing to traffic requirements, such as the laying down of railways, streets, etc. No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
Engels saw that from careful study. This Liverpool lady has seen it by just looking round her.

Always a Little Longer

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. It is likely that many people therefore assume that most women at work are now getting equal pay with men. On 5th July the Assistant Secretary of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff said in The Guardian that this is not so, and the position four years later “is one of general lack of progress towards equal pay”.
The extent of the ignorance on the part of some employers has to be witnessed to be believed. Publicity and propaganda on the part of the Department of Employment will not change this general situation—an all pervading ignorance and lack of interest on the part of many employers.
Those who believe “a law should be passed” is the solution to every problem should take note. The Act comes into “full force” in December 1975, after which cases may be brought to the Industrial Arbitration Board. It remains to be seen how employers will then get round it, and what “full force” means.

Pull up the Ladder, Jack

“Indexation” is an idea for dealing with inflation. Its principle was explained by the Tory MP Christopher Tugendhat in an article in The Observer on 7th July:
The principle of indexation is easy to grasp. It is that financial contracts should be set in real terms rather than money terms. So if incomes were index-linked, each 1 per cent increase in the retail price index would automatically increase the sum of money a person received in his pay packet by the same amount. . . . State benefits of every sort, including pensions, could be handled in the same way. So could such outgoings as rents and national insurance contributions.
Thus if you have £30 a week and prices increase 10 per cent., indexation will bring you an extra £3. If you have £300 it will bring you £30. But Tugendhat is not hiding anything. He says it would ensure that “whatever the rate of price increases, the relationship between the various groups in society remains constant”. Which means it is a scheme for ensuring that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.

Splash and Grab

In fact the rich have much simpler methods for beating rising prices. When money is depreciating they exchange it for goods which are not. A report in The Sun on 12th July, headed Hey, Big Spender ! described how they are “splashing out millions in a wild scramble to beat inflation”:
They are on a huge buying spree of diamonds, pearls, furs, yachts and Rolls-Royces.

. . .  At Garrards of Regent Street, the Queen’s jeweller, the gem business is booming—with emeralds, rubies and £10,000 diamonds selling like hot cakes.
Would this have been what Dr. Coggan, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, meant? He spoke to the General Synod of the Church of England about “the pursuit of personal gain” being promoted by competitiveness in schools:
“Thus from very early years ‘me first’ is instilled as the most desirable of all attitudes in life,” he said.
(Guardian, 6th July)
It sounds like a tasteless crack at those who appointed him, but of course it isn’t. If you enquired of Dr. Coggan, you would find it is the working class whose “pursuit of personal gain” he wants to stop.

Anyone's Guess

What is demanded in an economic crisis, by the public and economists alike, is the application of some theory which will stop it. Socialists have always pointed out that no such theory exists for capitalism. But even if there did there is a simple reason why it could not be fulfilled — the interests of the capitalist class lie in going on doing the things which bring about crises.

Hence, the answer which is sought is one which would allow the cause to continue but prevent the effects, and there is not one theory but many. This was demonstrated in The Guardian's “City Comment” on 26th June. Under the heading United They’re Not, various financiers’ views were given:
Some believe that any reflationary moves could spark a disastrous run on the pound. Others think this unlikely, provided there are also measures which act to reduce inflation. .Some—and they tend to be closest to the share market—believe that almost anything which would cushion the developing recession would be welcome. About the only thing which the City is united on is a desire for “a better Government attitude to the wealth producers —industry that is” in the words of one share dealer.

Clunk-Click to You

Are you worried about death on the roads? A full page in the 18th June’s Guardian showed something better than legislation. It’s a Mercedez-Benz:
Any valuable executives involved in a car crash in the ‘S’ class have a better chance of walking away from the wreckage than in any other luxury saloon in Europe today.
That gives a different view of the safety films in which the distressing results of not wearing seat-belts are shown. What is needed now is a film of a maimed person and the message pointed out. Fred was careless. He wasn’t a valuable executive and didn't drive a Mercedes-Benz. Fred has learned his lesson.

And haven’t we all?
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: The Class Struggle (1974)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The workers are in the class struggle, but are not conscious of their interests. Hence they fight, blindly and vainly to improve their condition. Inside the unions, in political parties and in their every-day actions they do things which work to the capitalists’ advantage. They continue to act on lines which perpetuate the system that enslaves them, and support men, measures and parties that work against the workers’ interests.

The workers must recognise that the class struggle exists. They must become aware of their slave position, and the way out, if they are to prosecute the struggle to a victorious conclusion for themselves. 

If the working class become conscious of their class interests and welfare, they will refuse to take actions which injure them. The guiding policy for class-conscious workers must be: Will a contemplated action assist the workers to triumph in the class struggle ?

(From an article "Politics and Tactics of Socialism" by Adolph Kohn, Socialist Standard August 1924.)

What is the State? (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are the State !” exclaimed an enthusiastic young supporter of the Labour Candidate at a recent by-election. Presumably he included in the “we,” the working class, to which he obviously belonged; and as the notion to which he gave utterance lies at the root of much that is mis-called “Socialism,” it demands some consideration.

The State is the political organisation of society under the control of one class for the ruling of other classes. It arose and developed along with the division of society into classes and the struggle between those classes of which written history is the record.

Lewis Henry Morgan, in “Ancient Society,” showed how the State took its departure from the old kinship form of society as a result of the development of private property and chattel slavery. Up till that time the military force of the social group had been directed outward against hostile groups also based upon kinship, or common descent.

The essential feature of the State, however, is that its forces are directed not only against hostile States but inwards, against a subject class.

Thus the ancient city-states of Greece, Rome, etc., existed to procure and subjugate a slave population for the economic benefit of the patricians and rich plebians who were slave-owners. The kingdoms of the Middle Ages preserved the social supremacy of the feudal lords over the serfs, etc., while the modern State, no matter whether it be nominally monarchial or republican, exists to protect the accumulated wealth of the capitalist class against the wage-slaves who produce it.

Here, however, the bourgeois “democrat” (whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour) protests that these wage-slaves, as we call them, have the vote.

“They elect their own rulers; therefore, in effect, they govern themselves.”

It is necessary here to keep our eyes on history. The wage-earning section of the population have only been enfranchised for the last half-century, and up to the present have not developed the political knowledge and organisation necessary for the control of the State power in their own interests. They have, on the contrary, placed this power repeatedly in the hands of their class enemies by voting for parties which uphold the legal rights of those enemies. Hence we find that even under so-called “Labour” Governments the armed forces are held in readiness to repress any attempt by dissatisfied sections of the workers to challenge those property rights.

These facts lead superficial folk to the conclusion that the workers cannot acquire political control; that there is some obstacle inherent in the very nature of the political machinery which prevents the wage-slaves doing what all previous insurgent classes have done. We are frequently told, for instance, that the vote is “only a piece of paper” and has no real power. We have only to push this sort of “logic” a little further to see its utter absurdity.

A £5 note is “only a piece of paper,” but even an anarchist would not throw one away. The so-called “economic power” of the property-owning class is also represented by pieces of paper, i.e., title deeds, bonds, share certificates, I.O.U.s, bank books, receipts, bills of exchange, agreements, etc., legal documents, in fact, of every description. The validity of these pieces of paper is recognised and upheld by the State, which at present is but the executive of the entire capitalist class, the specially appointed guardian of its collective interests.

The enfranchisement of the workers was the outcome of industrial development. So long as they were scattered in small towns and villages under handicraft and early manufacturing conditions it was easy enough for the property-owning class to rule by virtue of their own organisation; but the advance of machinery brought the wage-slaves together in masses of formidable size, animated, moreover, by an increasing discontent with the existing social order. The political expression of this discontent, the Chartist movement, was for the time being crushed; but it opened the eyes of the ruling class to the danger of ignoring the force behind it. How to utilise this force and divert it into channels consistent with the safety of capitalist society became the most pressing problem for this class. It was solved by degrees through the partial granting of the Chartists’ demands.

Henceforward the various sections of the master-class—Conservative, Liberal and Radical—made bids for working-class support, professing sympathy with their aspirations towards improved conditions, promising measures of reform and thus effectively dividing the workers into corresponding factions which cancelled one another out and nullified any attempt at independent organisation.

The enfranchisement of the workers has thus served as a safety-valve in delaying the inevitable social explosion and has more recently enabled the masters to utilise on a wide scale the knowledge and experience of members of the working class itself in leading that class up political blind alleys and in gaining its support for the more efficient and economical working of the machinery of government.

Is it therefore useless to the workers ? By no means ! Any machine, tool or instrument may be used for a variety of purposes or to no purpose at all in accordance with the knowledge of the operator.

The same railway engine which draws hundreds off passengers to their desired destination may stretch them lifeless on the track. A razor may be used for getting a shave or cutting one’s throat, while spades may be used indifferently either for digging potatoes or burying the dead. Socialists regard the State as an instrument of oppression so long as it is controlled by the political organisations which support capitalism, no matter what facile yarn these organisations may use to ensnare the workers. The same economic development, however, which has raised the master-class to wealth has also converted the majority of society into wage-slaves. This majority can assume the ascendancy in the State so soon as it understands its revolutionary mission as dictated, by its interests. The franchise is not a mere bribe to be offered or withdrawn by some imaginary free-will of the master-class. It has been wrung from them by the necessity of having working-class support just as wages are wrung from them by the necessity of feeding and clothing their slaves.

“But,” it is objected, “the masters do not rely exclusively upon the workers’ support. They finance the armed forces and can thus defy a Socialist majority.” The people, who raise this objection talk as though financing the armed forces was quite a simple matter. They ignore wholesale the complex conditions under which that financing is carried on.

Charles I. in this country and Louis XVI. in France came to untimely ends through making similar mistakes and imagining that it could be done quite easily without the assistance of Parliament.

The capitalist class in both countries went to a considerable amount of trouble in gaining and developing parliamentary control of the Army, simply because painful experience convinced them that this control could not be entrusted to irresponsible individuals without danger to the interests of the tax-paying class itself.

Financiers do not lend money either to governments, military adventurers, or any other concerns just for the fun of the thing; or from patriotic motives, a relish for excitement or sheer philanthropy. Hence one finds at the top of most financial columns in the newspapers quotations of numerous gilt-edged securites such as Consols, 2½ per cent. and 4 per cent. ; War Loan 5 per cent. ; Victory Bonds, 4 per cent. On these securities interest has to be paid, and as the gigantic investments in the machine for the maintenance of capitalism are secured upon the entire property of the capitalist class, its taxable capacity has to provide the interest.

Parliament, among other things, regulates taxation according to the varying interests of the exploiting class. Its seizure by a class-conscious majority of workers or its voluntary abandonment by its capitalist upholders spells death for capitalism.

Finance is a power only so long as there is no greater power to take its place. So long as the workers accept the wages system they will of necessity allow those who hold the money-bags to hold also the reins of government. Only an organisation of the workers based on the recognition of the need for common ownership and democratic control of the means of life will be able to dispense with money and consequently snap their fingers at those who hug it like some weird talisman whose charm is broken.

In the proletariat’s hour of triumph the financiers will endeavour in vain to feed and clothe their erstwhile defenders with coins and pieces of paper. The producers of wealth will consciously assume control of its distribution.

Their fellows in the armed forces will have no conceivable incentive to attempt to say them nay.

The Labourites who claim now that “we are the State” have to explain how it is that the State enslaves us and withholds from us the means of producing and distributing wealth. On the other hand, the so-called Communists, Anarchists, industrialists and the like who claim that we have not the means to obtain control of the State machinery, have to explain how we can be prevented from doing so, or, alternatively, what other way there is of achieving our emancipation.
Eric Boden

Letter: Questions on Socialism. (1928)

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

Sir,—(1) In your object the word “exchange” does not appear. May I ask: ”How and by what means shall we secure from other countries the commodities which we require and which are not grown here?”

(2) “The working class does not pay rates or taxes which are levied upon property—the workers are property-less, therefore they do not pay.” So said one of your propagandists in Hyde Park. Arising out of this, may I put another : “Do not the workers pay indirectly through higher rents, transport, food, clothing, etc? ”

I somehow feel that all these levies on property are passed on to the worker. I feel that my class pays all of it.

Can you please spare a few lines in one of your issues to put myself and others wise on this?

I am, yours, etc.,

Our Reply.
(1) “Interested” will readily see the solution of the problem he raises when we remind him that Socialism can only come into being by replacing capitalism internationally. When he asks “By what means shall we secure from other countries,” etc., he is thinking of England as a national political unit, but with Socialism the need for these national units claiming sovereign power over all internal affairs will have passed, just as city states and other kinds of full local autonomy were rendered obsolete by the formation of the modern nations.

Socialist society, through its central organisation, will arrange for the production of goods where natural and man-made conditions are favourable, and will secure their distribution to the localities where and in the quantity required.

“Exchange” does not refer to the transport of goods from place to place, but to their transfer from one private owner to another. At present it is not “England” which exchanges goods with, say, “America,” but one private owner in England (quite possibly an American citizen) with another private owner in America (possibly an Englishman).

The abolition of private ownership renders this process of exchange unnecessary, but leaves the process of distribution (or transport) as before. Already you can see illustrations of the distribution of commodities from country to country without any act of exchange. When Mr. Henry Ford sends motors or parts from Detroit to his works at Manchester, no act of exchange takes place. This is because the goods remain in the possession of the original owner. When society itself is the only owner, goods will move within the boundaries of that society without any act of exchange.

(2) Are rates and taxes a burden on the workers ?

The Socialist says that all the wealth of capitalist society is produced by the working class, but is the property of the capitalist class, who own the machinery of production (the factories, railways, etc.). The amount received back by the workers in the form of wages and salaries is only a part of the whole. The question we have then to consider is this : Do the expenses of administering capitalism (i.e., the rates and taxes) come ultimately out of the workers’ share, out of wages, or do they come out of the capitalists’ share, rent, interest and profit? The question is not answered by saying that the price of certain articles bought by the workers is higher than it would be if no tax were levied on them. What we have to discover is whether the workers would be better off if taxes were reduced or abolished.

The Socialist says No !

The workers on the average receive a wage sufficient to produce and reproduce that degree of energy and skill required by the employing class. If the cost of providing the necessary food, clothing, education, amusements, medical attention, etc., rises, then the employers must, in the long run, pay higher wages or see their employees deteriorate in efficiency (i.e., in profit-producing capacity).

When prices fall, wages follow.

The figures prepared by the Ministry of Labour for the Balfour Committee support our contention.

These figures, taking March in each year, give a rough approximation of the movement of prices and wages between 1920 and 1927. Both columns represent the percentage increase over the 1914 level :—

As will be seen from this, during the first year wages and prices were both about 130 per cent. above the 1914 level. In 1921 and 1922 wages were ahead; in 1923, 1924 and 1925 prices were ahead; and in the last two years wages were slightly above the price level again. On the whole, wages followed prices fairly closely. The purchasing power of the workers remained almost constant.

A reduction in the cost of living caused by the reduction or abolition of taxes merely enables the employers to purchase labour-power more cheaply. The position of the workers remains unchanged.

When “Interested” says that he feels that the working class “pays all of it,” he is somewhat off the track. The workers produce all of it, but all of it when produced belongs to the capitalist class. The amount paid to the workers as wages and salaries is roughly sufficient to reproduce their skill and energy. The capitalists are compelled to pay away this amount, and are equally compelled to pay away the amount required for administering Capitalism. Any reduction in the cost of maintaining the workers (e.g., by the introduction of prohibition) or in the cost of political administration, leading to a reduction in rates and taxes, is so much clear gain to them, but not to the workers.

If “Interested” is still not clear, we shall be pleased to answer further questions.
Edgar Hardcastle

Corrupt America and Pure England. (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is one thing for which we, as Britishers, can never be sufficiently grateful, and that is the white-souled purity of our political institutions. In this, of course, we are unique among nations. In the U.S.A. politics and graft have long been interchangeable terms. France, it is well known, is a seething hotch-potch of franc speculators, anti-clericals, Bourbonists and a score of others. Italy is in the grip of a tyranny worse than Nero’s, and Spain is making revolution a habit. Germany—bah, you can’t trust these Junkers ; and Russia (pause, for snarl and baring of teeth) has changed the knout and Siberia for the Cheka and sudden death. Only we, the fortunate dwellers in this little isle, set in a silver sea, remain as we have ever been, pure, unspotted, a pattern for the world. Was it not we who invented that institution now known as the Mother of Parliaments? Very well, then. Let us remain as we have endured down the ages— pure, unsullied, immaculate, above reproach ; the envy of a world filled with foreigners; a secret and holy joy to ourselves.

And what is this man Baker doing? Surely he must know all this ! Surely he will have weighed the wild and whirling words with which he besmirches the reputation of our Parliament House ! And yet the painful fact must be faced. Hansard, we cannot permit ourselves to doubt, else follows chaos and confusion. And that patient record of our rulers’ murmurings recounts that, on August 2nd of this present year, Mr. Walter Baker rose in his place in the House of Commons and delivered himself of the following scandals. He said the Government was proposing to transfer its Beam system of telegraphy to a private firm, and that the circumstances leading up to that decision were disgraceful and scandalous. He reminded them that he had previously stated that the merger between the cable companies and the Marconi Company was a calculated attempt to force the hands of the Government, and that it was accompanied by a treacherous threat to let the cables go derelict. He mentioned the enormous cash reserves, £14,000,000, which, with the aid of Government subsidies, the cable companies had built up; and then he turned to Marconi’s. After referring to continued serious charges made against the methods of the directors of that firm, he made the remarkable statement that the Marconi Company had been engaged in selling shares in the Spanish and General Corporation for about 1½d. each, shares which were now worth 38s. 6d. He asserted the latter firm had no assets of any value, and the tremendous jump in price was attributable to pure manipulation. What he wished to learn was why a certain newspaper persistently quoted these shares as “Spanish Marconi,” when the company had nothing to do with wireless; why the Marconi Company had found it necessary to sell them at l½d. each; and why the shares had experienced the tremendous rise to 38s. 6d. whilst the firm had no assets of any value. He further mentioned how uncomfortable he felt at finding an M.P. (the junior Member for Norwich) as one of the new directors of the Spanish and General Corporation. As for the Marconi Company, he recalled to the House the fact that this company had recently written down its capital by about 50 per cent. As a result of a powerful circular to the shareholders, the reduction was agreed to, and the shares had a sensational fall to 12s. The circular was signed by Sir William Plender, Sir Robert Kindersley, the Hon. Charles White, Dr. E. Ofenheim and the Earl of Leicester. It was not disclosed to the shareholders, he said, that Sir William Plender, in addition to being auditor for the cable companies, was the cable companies’ negotiator in the transactions between them and Marconi. Further, at the date on which Sir Robert Kindersley signed the circular, he was not the registered holder of a single share. But through the Cushion Trust, a subsidiary of Lazard Bros., he was acquiring thousands of shares at a low price during March and April, 1927. By October 25th, 1927, those shares were quoted at 38s., and on March 14th, 1928, they had reached 67s. 6d.

Civil servants will be glad to hear of a process which will render them independent of wage cuts based on fluctuations in the cost of living. Railwaymen will gather new hope when they discover how to more than compensate themselves for relinquishing 2½ per cent, of their earnings. Listen to this.

Mr. Baker next recounted that on December 31st, 1925, the Marconi Company held 1,238,658 shares in the Canadian Marconi Company. The Marconi directors wrote down the value of those shares to 2s. 1d. a share, and then sold the shares to Sir Robert Kindersley, that is, to the Cushion Trust, at 4s. 2d. a share. To-day they are quoted at about 30s. The Cushion Trust, the nominee company of Lazard Bros., who held 5,485 shares in the Marconi Company at the end of November, 1927, had increased their holding at the beginning of 1928 to 51,800 shares.

Mr. Baker then dealt with a few of the personalities involved and their associations. There was the hon. and gallant member for Ripon (Major Hills), who on a previous occasion had expressed his concern at the danger of the Government losing the taxpayer’s money by continuing its control of Beam wireless. Besides “other interests,” he was discovered to be a director of the group which controls the most important financial papers in the City of London. There was Viscount Wolmer, who, after three years as Assistant Postmaster-General, made an attack on the Post Office as a State enterprise. This attack curiously enough coincided with this campaign, and, equally curiously, with the publication of the Hardman Lever Report, a report which went beyond the terms of reference of the Committee and attacked State management of the telegraph services. The Chairman of this Committee is a director of the Daily Mail Trust, and the Daily Mail has hopes of becoming the greatest newspaper in the world, through the medium of wireless. The father of Viscount Wolmer, Lord Selborne, is Chairman of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, More than a third of the shares of this Company are owned by the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company and the Globe Telegraph and Trust Company, both members of the merger. Lord Selborne is a director of Lloyds Bank, which shares a director with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, besides being a director of the Peninsular and Oriental Banking Corporation, another director of which sits on the board of the African Direct Telegraph Company and the Eastern Telegraph Company. Sir Robert Kindersley was formerly a director of the Eastern Telegraph Company. He is now one of the directors of the Bank of England and managing director of Lazard Bros., who purchased the shares of the Canadian Marconi Company.

With which interesting information we propose to close down just here and publish a further contribution next month. After all, the long winter evenings are approaching, and we hope we are performing a public service by providing something to fill the blank hour on Sundays when the sky pilots are groaning from 2LO. Perhaps some worker may be stirred into thinking that the forces of capital are by no means asleep; that they will not be fought by grudged shillings in a trade union box and occasional pence to a political party. Socialism, the alternative to Capitalism, will not ”come of itself.” Its achievement will require effort, hard unremitting effort. Sympathy is not enough. It is work that counts ; planned, disciplined work. Come in.
W. T. Hopley

The Secret of No Wages. (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Business Organisation (August) a writer comments on the American instalment system, and offers what he appears to think is expert advice. He says :
“It is time that the whole British business world should get to grips with the subject in order to set a similar ball of prosperity rolling in our own land. . . . The theory is : If the people buy the goods, workers will be wanted to make them, and presently shirt-sleeved employers will be rushing into the street shouting, ‘We want workers, we must have workers.’ ”
Note the IF. If they cannot buy the goods—what then ? For years we have shown that American industry must travel the way of all capitalist industry. That way is by “boom” and “slump,” with ever-shortening periods between them until, with regulated and curtailed production, comes continued depression, as in this country to-day. The greater the competition for markets the greater the problem of over-production or restricting production. The value represented by wages never allows the workers to purchase all the enormous wealth they produce. The instalment trading system could not save America from the effects of Capitalism any more than it has done here. Such methods show that numbers of workers can no longer purchase for cash, and in America it might defer the crisis, but it would only aggravate it when it came. According to to the Daily Telegraph (3/4/28), the crisis in due course arrived. The “shout for workers” will evidently now become one for markets and buyers :—
“Labour agencies report that unemployment throughout the country has increased from four million to almost six million. . . . The American Federation of Labour finds that 18 per cent. of union members are unemployed, at any rate, it is represented that the total unemployed based upon 40,000,000 workers would be 7,200,000.”
No wonder we have not heard so much lately of American prosperity, and what a warning to those workers whose hope for the future lies in the day when they might again have “more work.”

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To Be Or Not To Be.
“It is no longer possible to pretend that the existing depression is a transient phenomenon. Clearly its causes are deep-rooted, and it has come to stay unless resolute measures are taken to abate or remove the causes” (“Morning Post,” 11/8/28).
What an admission from these staunch defenders of Capitalism, and how significant, though not in the Socialist sense, is their “unless.” Obviously the remedy is not in capitalist hands, or they would not confess to utter failure and inability to remove evils that must more and more compel the workers to ask the eternal Why? Why depressing conditions for themselves, while they produce for others who take no part in such production a once unthought-of degree of wealth and luxury? There is only one answer, and one that only the Socialist dare give—wealth belongs to those who own the means of producing it. No amount of reform or adjustment within the present system can alter that fundamental fact. While the wealth produced increases by leaps and bounds, our masters are at their wits’ end to sell, waste or spend it. The producers, separated from their means of life, cannot command more than that which only secures on the average an existence. To our masters that arrangement is the best and only possible one, hence the wish is father to the thought : “It has come to stay.” Out of the mountain of depression comes forth the mouse; for we are told :—
“It is incontestable that we are living beyond our means. . . . What can we afford?” (Ibid).
We ! Wage workers ! Surely a joke. Relative poverty and pauperism grow apace. In Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927 there were 562 millionaires —and over (Daily Express (18/2/28). The estates of the ten millionaires who died in 1927 paid nearly ten million in death duties alone (17th Report, Inland Revenue Commissioners).
“There were more millions lost and won this year at Deauville than ever before in its history. It is estimated that 40 million changed hands. . . One noted motor car manufacturer lost about £8,000 in ten essays one night “(“Daily Herald,” 7/9/28).
True, the cause of these contrasts is deep-rooted, nor are your depressing conditions merely transitionary. But whether they have “come to stay” depends on whether you intend to continue allowing an idle few to enjoy the results of your efforts. Capitalism cannot work out to your benefit. The capitalists do not need Socialism, nor will they desire it because your suffering becomes more acute. Socialism goes to the root cause of working-class poverty. It lies in Capitalism or the private ownership of the means of wealth production. By the substitution of common ownership you will ensure the leisurely enjoyment of the plenitude you now provide for others.

* * *

The Peace Pact Farce.
Peace, perfect peace, until the next war ! Some tell us we are cynical, distrustful, and do not want peace. We do—but can Capitalism ever give it ? We remember the peace tale in the days of yore. Did not Lloyd George tell us that he “saw distinct signs of peace” almost on the eve of the “war to end war”? Did not the Labourites demonstrate in favour of peace; and who could out-jingo them when war came? Does not the pacifist I.L.P. stand for reduction of armaments when out of office and vote for cruisers when in office? The signing of the Kellogg Peace Pact is yet another piece of hypocrisy on a par with the League of Nations. It is merely to allay suspicion while our masters prepare. In referring to the Pact, Sir Wm. Joynson-Hicks said :—
“I would warn you not to expect too much of this pact. . . . The whole of the nations of the world are still aimed to the teeth, and this new pact is but one more expression of the opinion that war is wrong, hateful and undesirable” (“Times,” 10/9/28).
One more pious expression, with the world still armed to the teeth ! Will that prevent war? We do not single out a special hatred for capitalist war any more than we do for its other abominations— unemployment, poverty and needless overwork. We stand as Socialists for the ending of Capitalism and with it the noxious maladies it begets. Those who support Capitalism through political ignorance are ever likely to be led into both voting and fighting for it while they remain in that mental state. Capitalism requires armed force, apart from military war. It is the final word in their political control over the working class. The further need for armed force as a means to defend and extend trade facilities is stated in terms of brutal frankness in the same speech :
“. . . There is one fundamental question we have to consider more than any other. That is the safety of Nation, Empire, and our trade routes.”
We, the workers, are not the “Nation,” we are the slave class within the nation. The “Empire” and the trade routes are the private property of our masters; they form channels through which they dispose of the wealth of which you have been robbed and over which wars are fought and working-class lives sacrificed.
W. E. MacHaffie