Friday, September 2, 2022

Editorial: The Worker and his Work (1942)

Editorial from the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Because of a legendary incident in the Garden of Eden (for which Adam blamed Eve, who blamed the serpent), many Christians believe that work is a curse laid on sinful humanity : “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shall thou eat of it. … In the sweat of thy face shah thou eat bread.” But vast numbers of workers who care nothing for biblical stories have the same opinion. They judge by what they know and they judge that work is by nature evil : but all they know is what work is like under capitalism. They have not realised that the evil is not work itself but the conditions under which they carry it on when they leave the comparative democracy of their leisure hours for the dictatorship of the capitalist factory or workshop. Not the activity of producing useful articles but the drab surroundings, the discipline, the long hours, the bullying, the intense speed, and the knowledge that the work is carried on not for the good of the community but for the profit of the shareholders. These things need not be. Under Socialism they will not be. It is in the forefront of the Socialist purpose of real reconstruction that work shall take its proper place as a pleasurable activity worthy of free men and women, duly balanced against opportunities of enjoying leisure. The Socialist principle, “From each according to his ability : to each according to his needs,” does not envisage perpetuating work as a penance, work as the worker knows it under capitalism. The worker will not be a numbered unit in a stupid machine for turning out cheap and nasty articles of merchandise for the profit of the few.

Socialists know these elemental truths, but the social reformers, their judgment warped by concentration on the limited scope of improvement under capitalism, are in the main blind to the great possibilities of life and work under Socialism. Many years ago the S.P.G.B. rescued from undeserved oblivion William Morris’s “Art, Labour and Socialism,” in which the truth was proclaimed by a man who understood that subject in all its aspects. Morris had his limitations, but he was right in his insistence that capitalism, along with its economic exploitation of the working class, had committed the crime of compelling many workers to perform degrading tasks under conditions robbed of all pleasure and intelligence. He rejected the shallow view that all we can do, and want to do, is to take over capitalist industry as a going concern and put it under new management. He saw that with the abolition of capitalism Socialists will get rid of the profit seeking that has corrupted the production of wealth. “That system,” he wrote, “is after all nothing but a continuous implacable war; the war once ended and commerce, as we now understand the word, comes to an end, and the mountains of wares which are either useless in themselves or only useful to slaves and slave-owners, are no longer made, and once again art will be used to determine what things are useful and what useless to be made; since nothing should be made which does not give pleasure to the maker and the user.” He was not, as some of his admirers have supposed, aiming at putting back the clock and dispensing with machinery. He knew this could not be done, but he also saw that machinery which could have been used to minimise that necessary labour, not pleasant in itself, had not been so used under capitalism. He echoed J. S. Mill’s doubt whether all the machinery of modern times has lightened the daily work of one labourer. Instead, capitalism has imposed on its machine slaves “plenty of unnecessary labour which is merely painful.”

Elsewhere, in his pamphlet, “A Factory as it might be,” Morris dealt one by one with many of the problems to be faced. One of his shrewd observations was : —
“In a duly ordered society, in which people would work for a livelihood, and not for the profit of another, a factory might not only be pleasant as to its surroundings, and beautiful in its architecture, but even the rough and necessary work done in it might be so arranged as to be neither burdensome in itself nor of long duration for each worker; but, furthermore, the organisation of such a factory, that is to say, of a group of people working in harmonious co-operation towards a useful end, would of itself afford opportunities for increasing the pleasure of life.”
He knew these things would never be done under capitalism.

Now, half a century afterwards, when technical developments have made the problem still easier of solution, thousands of social reformers are busily engaged on post-war plans for reorganising our education, our work and our lives within the framework of capitalism and for the purpose of enabling that capitalist country in which they happen to live to be a more ferocious and formidable competitor in the continuous implacable war of international commerce. They are the enemies of Socialism and of the health and happiness of the human race.

Through ignorance, class interest, or the mistaken notion that compromise with capitalism is justified for the purpose of niggling ameliorations of the hardships of the workers they have rejected the prime and urgent necessity of destroying capitalism, root and branch. Within the limitations they have imposed upon themselves they cannot even conceive that work and the conditions of work could be fundamentally changed. It is for Socialists to bring the working class to recognise the truth of which their leaders and “thinkers” are unaware.

“The Spoil of Europe” (1942)

Book Review from the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Spoil of Europe by Thomas Reveille. (Allen & Unwin. 10/6)

The author evidently, knows his German and his Germany, and from the point of interest of the Socialist, this is a book which relieves one of the task of ploughing through pages of the usual descriptions of the Nazis and the Nazi machine, in order to obtain some idea of the mechanism of the German administration, although the book sets out to prove how the Reich is plundering Europe.

Germany has taken over the whole of the banking system of Europe “to mobilise the surplus of capital in Western Europe for financing of Continental objectives.” Germany, in fact, has become Europe’s banker, but with a new principle. “That soil and labour rather than gold should be the basis of a currency is the recurring Nazi assertion.” (P. 22.)

That this should support the “banks create credits” cranks here is smashed by the chapter, “The Golden Haul,” where the author asserts that all the gold holdings of Europe’s banks have been seized by the authority of the Reichsbank and “gold certificates” given in its stead and so likewise the gold of private persons, together with the legal “sequestering” of gold held by banks in their name abroad so that the Reichsmark notes all over Europe have some sort of gold backing.

The comprehensive picture of the State administration of industry and agriculture, in which each industry has its own “Industrial Board,” together with the Labour Front—the organisation for the industrial workers—which is dominated by the political party of the Nazis in the shape of the “Nazi Party Factory Cell Organisation” (N.S.B.O.) leaves the Socialist with the impression that the whole outfit was copied straight from the Russian State system and adapted to German capitalist conditions.

The German worker is told that this is the German version of Socialism. “The worker need not consider himself the inferior of the employer, because all members of the German Volk are ‘equal.’ Strikes and lock-outs are forbidden, and the recalcitrant employer is tried before ‘Courts of honour,’ and is fined for offending against the social honour of work” (p. 22). Real wages are kept down and “thrift” encouraged by stringent taxation and savings, in order to divert the new income from consumers’ goods to armaments, with the reduction of interest on investments from the previous 6 per cent. to 3½ per cent. from January 1st, 1941. (P. 226.)

The full name of Germany’s set-up is the “National Socialist German Workingman’s Party,” a title that is all things to all men, and advantage has been taken of the slogans and aspirations of men ranging from Jew-haters to Communists, industrialists and monarchists.

The technique employed differs somewhat from the Communist method, as the author points out. “The Communists pursue methods known as boring from within, while they are out of power. As soon as the reins of state have been seized they unmask themselves and start a clean slate by destroying everything before them. The Nazis are much smarter. They continue boring-from-within methods well after they have assumed power, and never come out into the open until all opposition has been brought within their control, adopting any pose necessary to do this” (p. 27).

That the German ruling-class plan by all means to become the complete masters of Europe is labouring the obvious, but what is not obvious is their attitude to Britain and her Empire. According to Reveille, the Reich had no intention of invading or smashing Britain, or her Empire, but to keep her neutral with her navy here, not steaming away from a defeated Britain. And even when war was declared every effort in the way of offers of peace were made, with a scheme for recognising Germany’s hegemony of the Continent, and a free hand in her land policy, while the Reich would acquiesce in British overseas supremacy, and pledge her might as the guarantee of the British Empire.
“A model for the accord of world markets already exists; this is the agreement concluded at Dusseldorf in March, 1939, between Reichgruppe Industrie and the Federation of British Industries. Both were official bodies, and the agreement was sponsored by the Reich and Chamberlain Governments” (p. 308).
That Churchill ended this policy of “appeasement,” backed by the role of the United States of America becoming the arsenal for the democracies, while the Luftwaffe, plus the flying emissary Hess, attempted to “induce Britain to ‘voluntarily’ fulfil her assigned role in the Fuehrer’s grandiose plan,” is the burden of the last pages in the book.

Appended is the National Social Party Programme, declared by Hitler to be “immutable,” and no Socialist reading it could (except for the clauses dealing with Jews and non-Germans) say whether it was drawn up by Communists or any other reformist organisation. Take only a few.

“We demand the abolition of a professional army and the creation of a people’s army” (clause 22).

Socialists will remember this as the aim of the old Bolsheviks and the substance of the “People’s War” nonsense to-day: “In view of the terrible sacrifice in money and blood which every war inflicts upon the people, we demand the integral confiscation of all wartime profits, the nationalisation of all existing trusts” (clause 12).

The Labour Party or the I.L.P. could not beat this clause as a war cry. In fact, the Labour Party recently evaded the issue of the nationalisation of the mines of Britain and fell in with a scheme propounded by the Tories, which left the owners in possession.

“The Spoil of Europe” leaves untouched any conclusions of a theoretical nature. But it can be said that the military needs of countries preparing, then waging war, are the driving forces, whereby because of the mechanical nature of modern war, all production of field or factory must be co-ordinated.

There are independent writers who argue that the anti-democratic features of State-capitalism arise out of the very machinery necessary to run it, that in so far as a whole country’s resources are integrated and brought under control of the State, that this can be pictured as being one productive unit, where, as in an up-to-date works, if one division of labour gets out of step, no time is lost in ending the stoppage. The State officials therefore become responsible for the dragooning of everything and everybody, to fit into the centralising plans issuing from the higher authorities. Propaganda, and this includes the arts, stage and literature, is controlled, with the motive of allowing nothing to interfere with the direction that the leaders have laid down.

Although substantially true, this dictatorship which can allow of no political opposition, cannot be regarded apart from the phenomenon of war, in which the fear of defeat, invasion, or worsened conditions, can be the lever, used by the dictators to move the masses to collaborate in plans which virtually deny them the right to organise independent of the State.

It must also be borne in mind that the totalitarian countries have performed a “forced march” of their economic systems in order to balance, and be prepared against, the slow, yet highly industrialised, states which they will clash with in war.

This war has given some cruel lessons to the workers of the power of the capitalist state, for the state is but the “executive committee” of the ruling class, and it is in being to promote the interests of the ruling class. Yet it exists solely because the working class is wedded to capitalism, and bound to the fortunes of its commercial rivalries, its wars and poverty.

State-craft has added stage-craft to its arts and the workers are induced to cheer the very caricatures and skits of their own aspirations. Capitalism robed as “communism” and “Socialism” in full German battle kit can make their bow before thunderous audiences.

Members of the S.P.G.B. propose that the working class take the state-power into their own hands, to establish Socialism, the class-less society. The workers will be convinced of this necessity by Socialist education, driven home, unfortunately, by bitter experience. Thereafter the State will “wither away.” the need for its existence ended, never to return.
Frank Dawe

Letter: Is Disunity Hindering Socialist Proaganda? (1942)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have been asked to comment on the following letter published in the “Locomotive Journal” (August) : —
Sir,—Why is it, despite the most glaring of Capitalism’s evils, i.e., poverty, unemployment, war and its entailing miseries, the emancipation of the worker is no nearer its achievement? Is it due to the fact that whilst members of the Anarchist and Communist, S.P.G.B., Labour (a small minority), etc., parties, recognise that our common enemy is capitalism, they are divided in their method of approach ? If so, capitalistic society has no fear of being overthrown while their opponents carry on a divide and rule policy for them. Incidentally the proprietary rights of the study of “Sociology” are as much the workers as anyone’s, and in my humble opinion would be beneficial in their fight for equality. In case I should be misunderstood I am in no way suggesting this as an alternative measure for achieving same.
—Yours faithfully, 
J. Hodgkin. 

The writer of the letter has a point of view that is held by a number of workers. It is not new. To go no further back than 1893 it was put in that year in the Manifesto of English Socialists,” issued by G. B. Shaw, Sidney Webb, and others, on behalf of the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation. Believing that “whatever differences may have arisen between them in the past, all who can fairly be called Socialists are agreed in their main principles of thought and action,” the signatories appealed “to all Socialists to sink their individual crochets in a business-like endeavour to realise in our own day that complete communisation of industry for which the economic forces are ready and the minds of the people are almost prepared.”

It is instructive to compare Mr. Hodgkin’s letter with the 1893 Manifesto, for they contain the same mistaken assumption. To start with, the group represented by “the Anarchist and Communist, S.P.G.B., Labour (a small minority) etc., parties,” is so small and weak that it could no more revolutionise society than could the tiny Fabian-S.D.F. group in 1893. Success now, as then, would depend upon whether the merging of the separate groups would so increase the effectiveness of propaganda that the Socialist movement would rapidly grow. But the question is, propaganda for what ? It is true that the group named (as also the whole of the Labour Party) would subscribe in words to the proposition that capitalism is the enemy, but that would only be an illusory agreement. They do not mean the same thing by the term “capitalism,” and their objects are not the same but are fundamentally different and irreconcilable. Let us suppose that six groups separately voicing different objects are merged into one group speaking in six different voices, what gain is there? Anarchists, the S.P.G.B. and the bulk of the Labour Party are opposed to Communist dictatorship and to the regime in Russia. The Communists, if they had their way, would suppress all the others. The S.P.G.B. is fundamentally opposed to the State Capitalism that the Communists and the Labour Party aim to introduce under the name “Socialism.” The Anarchists and the Labour Party are not in favour of the object of the S.P.G.B., a system of society based upon common ownership and democratic control, and the Anarchists do not recognise the fact that the working class cannot achieve their emancipation except through democratically gaining control of the machinery of government.

Another question is the advocacy of reforms. The 1893 Manifesto proposed a programme of “immediate” measures within the scope of “practical politics.” This was on the ground that these reforms would give the workers more leisure and less anxiety so that they could turn their attention to Socialism. The Labour Party have the same view now. The S.P.G.B. rejects it, holding that parties which advocate reforms attract reformists, not Socialists; perpetuate the illusion that capitalism can be reformed satisfactorily; and end up by being swamped by reformist elements. Many of the reforms listed in the 1893 Manifesto have been wholly or partly achieved— an eight hours law, prohibition of child labour, payment of M.P.s, universal suffrage, suppression of sub-contracting and sweating, but so far from the propaganda for Socialism having been simplified, the workers’ increased leisure is being taken up with “immediate” demands for more and more reforms. Whereas in 1893 Shaw and others were content to name eight immediate demands, the Labour and Communist Party can now at any moment produce a list of almost as many dozen—though at the moment far from believing that “capitalism is the enemy” they believe that the paramount task is to protect democratic capitalism against Nazism, and have shelved all their reforms to that end.

In 1893 it was believed that the “minds of the people are almost prepared” for Socialism. Shaw and his colleagues were mistaken, and while progress has been made it is still true that the great majority of the population are not prepared for Socialism. One of the principal reasons is that instead of preaching Socialism most of those who (wrongly) regarded themselves as Socialists have been preaching reforms and everything else but Socialism. This is still true, and fictitious unity would not alter it.

Let it be remembered, too, that the 1893 attempt at unity failed and the S.D.F. and Fabian Society are still in separate existence. In the intervening years there have been dozens of attempts at such “unity.” All have either failed and have merely encouraged reformism at the expense of Socialist propaganda.

Incidentally, while we are on the subject of unity, we notice that after years of propaganda for amalgamation there are still three separate railway trade unions.
Editorial Committee.

“Austerity at the Kremin” : an explanation (1942)

From the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader points out that a quotation under the above heading in our September issue is wrongly dated. It should have been given as “Daily Telegraph 18th August,” not 8th August. He also calls attention to what he believes to be a serious error in the quotation. The passage quoted was taken from the “Daily Telegraph” and contained the words “Twenty-six courses were served. Mountains of vegetables and fruits crowded the tables”: but this passage was entirely omitted from other copies of the “Daily Telegraph” of the same date. Why it was cut out we do not know, but perhaps our readers may guess.
Editorial Committee

Letter: The Plight of the Merchant Seaman (1942)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard
Following the review of “Red Duster at War” in our June issue we received from the author a letter concerning the review. Mr. Bennett’s statement is given below, with our reviewer’s comments.
“It gave me a great deal of solid satisfaction yesterday to receive, unexpectedly, a copy of “The Socialist Standard” for June, 1942, and to read, pages 56-57, what “Ramo” has to say of my book, “The Red Duster at War.” But I want to qualify a few of his statements and criticisms, and I believe the Committee would be interested in what I have to say.

First, Ramo claims that I discuss “in a vague way” what ought to be done to improve conditions of seamen. I set myself up as a crusader, not as an authority on what lines should be followed after this war to make life at sea —and life ashore for seamen’s dependents—decent in contrast to the damnable conditions which exist even to this very day. But I have plenty of practical and 100 per cent. workable and authentic suggestions—based upon personal experience at sea and upon moves now taking place ashore behind the shipping scene—I could make. Point is, in what journal can I make those suggestions? Every newspaper and journal in Britain is scared to publicise truth, in this particular matter. Are you ?

Second, Ramo claims that I “betray no knowledge of the class divisions in society.” And how wrong he is! My God, if any unknown writer ever experienced the bitterness of class divisions, then, believe me, I have. Maybe neither the Committee nor “Ramo” is aware of what has already taken place—with Government blessing !—to affect seamen the moment the “Cease Fire” sounds? If you are in ignorance of this, and you will kindly advise me, I will tell you facts that I think will not only shock you but will convince you that my “indignation …” WILL “… find a different channel for its expression.”

Finally—although “Ramo” raises many another point I would here like to deal with, but will not—in the final sentence of the review, it is stated : ‘The only international agreement … is an agreement upon the necessity of doing away with the entire world-wide capitalist system.’ Agreed! AND IF YOU REQUIRE A PRACTICAL WRITER TO OUTLINE THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS DAMNABLE SYSTEM, SO FAR AS IT AFFECTS THE MERCHANT SEAMAN, I AM YOUR MAN. Whatever I may be invited to write for the Committee shall be written, sincerely, without any question of payment, for this is a subject very near and very dear to me.

Who am I that I should set myself up as a crusader? I am a descendant of a Dorset yeoman-farmer, who had eleven sons. One of those sons got into the habit of teaching farm-workers what was their right in life. For his pains he was arrested, tried on a charge of treason, and deported for life to Australia. Two years later there was staged the Tolpuddle affair.

I am, like the merchant seaman, neither a nitwit nor a near revolutionary. But I want to fight for Socialism. To the bitter end.
I am, Gentlemen, Sincerely,

The author of “The Red Duster at War” disputes the statement that he betrays no knowledge of the class division of society. In making this statement, he uses the words “class divisions” (plural). Without wishing to be too academic, it must be pointed out that if a body is divided into two parts, the operation is called a division. Only when it is divided into more than two parts is it necessary to have more than one division. Hence the use of the term “divisions” seems to imply a belief in the existence of more than two classes in society. But to deal with the matter more fundamentally, a knowledge of the class division of society (we mean, of course, as understood by Socialists) implies certain things. It implies that this class division is not only one which extends throughout the whole of the capitalist world; it implies that this division of society into two classes is fundamental, transcending such temporary and artificial structures as “nations”; it implies a knowledge of the fact that governments, under capitalism, are but the executive committee of the ruling caste (the employing class), and that such governments cannot therefore be expected to act otherwise than in the interest of the employing class; it implies that while capitalism exists, there can be no hope of any permanent improvement in the lot of the workers; it implies that the only solution is to abolish capitalism with its system of wages and profits and to replace it by a classless society.

The following further quotations can be adduced from Mr. Bennett’s book : —
“Cromwell had the right idea.” (Page 180.) (This refers to the maritime laws designed to prevent the transport of goods between Britain and British possessions other than in British ships.)

“As a nation, Britain can no more afford to lose her shipbuilding industry than she can allow her shipping to be driven from the Seven Seas !” (Page 172.)

“Lord Essendon . . . seemed to hit the vital mark when he said: ‘The only way to revive British shipping and to make it profitable … is to pay due attention to the tramp-ship, which is the very foundation of the modern Mercantile Marine.’” (Page 158.)

“Or will some bright spark in some future Government suggest a plan that the Government itself makes an appearance on the oceans as shipowner? Already there has, I believe, been rather more than a hint of an official plan for a brand-new fleet of merchantmen, to be leased to shipowners for normal trading to all parts of the world on condition that the firms leasing the new, faster, more economic ships would lay up their own older vessels. Why? Why lay up any ship, so long as it can earn its salt ? I have served in antiques which provided the most pleasant returns—and surprises—for shareholders. And nobody ever runs a ship, a shop or a slop-chest merely for the fun of the thing. Or do they?” (Page 158.)
We can make no other deduction from these quotations than that the author is concerned with the increasing of British capitalistically-owned tonnage and with profits. That he may be concerned with improving the lot of the merchant seaman (which we do not dispute) is incidental. But this is not Socialism. It is typical Labourism.

It is quite possible to feel the hard knocks caused by a class division of society, without appreciating their theoretical significance or the action which should follow that appreciation, i.e., a determination to spread the knowledge which alone, when sufficiently widely diffused, will enable the workers to take the essential step of overthrowing the capitalist system in its entirety and replacing it by its logical and evolutionary successor—Socialism —a society where the whole of the means of production and distribution (including shipping) are the property of the whole of the people and operated democratically for the benefit of the whole of the people.

Nevertheless we sympathise with Mr. Bennett’s endeavours to improve the lot of the merchant seaman, and it is possible that with the greater industrialisation and combination of the shipping industry and more frequent social intercourse forced upon the merchant seamen, there will be a greater realisation of the necessity for organisation and action by the seamen to obtain better conditions. But it is still true that organisation and better conditions cannot do away with the booms and slumps which are inseparable from capitalist society, so that eventually seamen, as well as other workers, will finally reach the point of understanding that it is the system of society itself which is at fault.

Another Idol Gone (1942)

From the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another nasty jolt has been given to the fiction that the workers have not the capacity to understand the fundamental problems of life and should seek guidance from experts.

Not only do philosophers merely view the world differently but individual philosophers, after insisting for the best part of a lifetime that their view is the only true one, will suddenly recant and put forward an opposite view with equal conviction. They recognise their past errors with the ease, impudence and dogmatism of the Communist Party. It is just a further illustration of the utter futility of relying upon philosophy as an assistant in the struggle for working-class emancipation.

A recent example of the recanter is Dr. C. E. M. Joad, who, for some peculiar reason, is credited by reformers with a reputation for brilliance as a thinker. He also figured as the backbone of the B.B.C. Brains Trust, and is a teacher of philosophy at one of the Universities.

Before the outbreak of war Dr. Joad wrote a book supporting the pacifist attitude on war, but shortly after the war commenced he recanted this view. Recently he has written an article recanting his fundamental views on philosophy. This article is entitled “From Sunlight to Shadow” (Evening Standard, 25/8/42) and the Evening Standard have printed in thick letters above this title : “After 30 years of agnosticism, Dr. C. E. M. Joad has become a believer in God.”

Dr. Joad is fond of presenting different points of view (most of which only appeal to people on account of the language in which they are embedded), and in the process he has either got his own points of view mixed up or else he never had any. May we add that to be logical and honest Dr. Joad should have all his writings on philosophy to date withdrawn, and added to the waste paper collection, along with other rubbish, as he is now starting once again from scratch. We wonder if he will still have the face to carry on his job as teacher of philosophy, though, of course, capitalist economic experts still hold down their jobs in spite of their admitted bankruptcy on such questions as crisis and unemployment, and the most ghastly mistakes in forecasting the future. If an ordinary worker exhibited similar incapacity in the job he was paid to do he would soon find himself walking the streets. However, there is a reason why the “experts” keep their jobs, but we cannot go into it at the moment.

Let us now consider Dr. Joad’s article, and see what message, if any, he has for the workers in his new-found philosophy.

He opens with a discussion of the reasons that led him to agnosticism thirty years ago. His criticism of Christianity, including the question of whether earwigs had souls, he finally sums up with the following statement : “Seeing no answers to these questions, I consigned the whole religious bag of tricks to the shelf, where they have mouldered in cold storage ever since.”

Notice the phrase he uses, “mouldered in cold storage.” Now things don’t moulder in cold storage, and this is true of Dr. Joad’s putting “on the shelf.” What in fact, he did was to put the problem on the shelf because he was unable to solve it, and yet he has presumed to stand as an authority and guide on the subject ever since ! Now, appalled by the spectacle of the world at war and a debauch of unbridled savagery, Dr. Joad, the philosopher, savant, and guide, finds himself out of his depth. His superficial understanding will not guide him through the morass, so, like the primitive savage, he throws up his hands and appeals for supernatural aid. It hardly seems credible that a man with his opportunities should not have reached sufficient understanding years ago to realise that war was inevitable and that he would therefore have adjusted his ideas accordingly. But perhaps this is too much to expect from an “expert” who lives in a cloud of words and thrives upon clever and empty repartee.

He tells us in the article that he never held the view that matter was the only reality but believed that there were “certain absolute values of beauty, of truth, perhaps of goodness, perhaps even of God, who revealed Himself in the values”; that there was something else that accounted for beautiful music and Shakespeare’s sonnets. The fathead ! Darwin considered a worm far more beautiful than any music, and mathematicians are enthralled with the beauty of figures. What about the “Back Room Boys,” who produce designs for “beautiful bombs” and beautiful bombers with the object of decimating beautiful cities and beautiful bodies ? Is the present writer expected to believe that a principle of evil or a principle of good is responsible for the production of the wonderful caterpillars that are eating up his cabbages ? And what about the weather that simply won’t do its stuff—has the principle of evil got hold of this too ? or does Dr. Joad now believe that earwigs have rather shabby souls ?

Stumped for an adequate explanation of the latest catastrophe of war he can only see in it a proof that there is another absolute value—evil. What he completely fails to grasp is that as our physical and mental faculties evolve over hundreds of years so also do our ideas of what is pleasing and our capacity to produce what is pleasing. Thus there are no such things in his sense as absolute values. All values are relative and change with social evolution. To kill is evil in peace times but in war it becomes good, and Christianity, to which Dr. Joad is appealing, supports it.

Dr. Joad writes that he had been trained to regard evil as a by-product circumstance, economic and psychological, and that by removing the circumstance the evil would be abolished. Now observe the meaning the learned professor applies to these terms in the following extract:—
“I can believe this no more. The evil in the world to-day is too widespread and obtrusive, our noses are being rubbed too firmly into it, to enable us to take any longer so easy a view of its nature and origin. Is all the torturing and murdering and persecuting and raping that disgraces contemporary Europe to be dismissed as a by-product of the poverty and/or psychological maladjustment of young men born in Germany 20 or 30 years ago ? It seems unlikely ! Evil, then—there seems no escape from the conclusion—is endemic in the heart of man. But to believe in the reality of evil and to have no recourse against it save such as lies in the sporadic efforts of one’s own will and the slender integrity of one’s own judgment, that is, for me, a frankly intolerable position.

There must, one feels, be some outside source from which assistance can be invoked. ‘So there is,’ says religion, ‘there is God, and if, believing, you pray to Him, grace will be vouchsafed whereby evil may be resisted.’ Hence arises the paradox, that one is driven to believe in the existence of a benevolent and participating God, precisely because of the fact of evil.”
What a pity he doesn’t do a bit more knowing and less believing and feeling. The present writer knows that if he abolishes the caterpillars he will save the cabbage and therefore he is picking them off, and, given adequate assistance, would be completely successful.

The quotations from Dr. Joad’s statement provide a glaring example of what little knowledge he possesses of the subject he is discussing. Who claims that the evils of war are a by-product of poverty or the psychological maladjustment of young men ? Only ignoramuses like Dr. Joad ! Was the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Boer War, or the last Great War due to these causes ? Of course not. Was any war in history due to them ? Again of course not. Was even the Peloponessian War in Greece two thousands odd years ago, with which Dr. Joad should be very familiar, due to these causes ? The suggestion is absurd and could only come from an idle and disillusioned dreamer. One fact alone should banish from the mind any such ideas, and that fact is that for hundreds of years it has been the wealthy, property-owning class who have decided whether or not war should be declared. For the mass of the people the position has been—their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do and die.

The main fact is that wars are a product of the clashing economic interest of various property owners in different parts of the world who struggle for markets, trade routes, sources of supply of raw materials, and so forth. While private property with its clashing sectional interest remains war in all its barbarity will always cast a shadow over the social picture and no help can come from a mythical outside force.

If Dr. Joad had faced up to this position thirty years ago he would have realised that wars are always barbarous, no more so now than centuries ago. Greece in the age of Pericles, one of the brightest periods of all time, was disfigured in its warfare by just the same torturing, murdering, persecuting, and raping as has disfigured every war from that day to this.

Dr. Joad has put the wrong title to his article. He should have called it “From the Shadows to Despair.” This mental collapse is not an isolated instance, and it just reinforces our contention that to understand what is happening to-day it is essential to grasp the real basis of the social system, the capitalist private ownership of the means of production, which is beneath the hunt for profit and the consequent class division, economic conflicts, and wars. Given the conditions that lead to war then war will always produce the barbarities that have upset Dr. Joad’s mental apparatus. The solution is the building up of a new system of society in which private ownership will have no place.

In conclusion, we would call attention once again to the fact that philosophers only view the world differently; the point is to change it.

Letter: The Death Penalty in Soviet Russia (1942)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received from a reader the following letter about the paragraph in our August issue : —


Dear Sirs,

In the August issue of the Socialist Standard it is stated that a reader, on enquiring by telephone at the Soviet Embassy as to the truth or otherwise of Boris Souverine’s statement that children in the U.S.S.R. are liable to the death penalty for theft from the age of 12 years upwards, was informed that this statement is false, and that the death penalty applies only to people of 18 years of age and more.

Boris Souverine (formerly leader of the Communist Party of France, and a man with considerable experience of Soviet life) makes the charge on page 612 of his biography entitled “Stalin,” but unfortunately does not give the reference.

The reference, however, can be found by anyone who is interested, in “Stalin’s Russia,” by Max Eastman, friend of Lenin and Trotsky, and formerly editor of the “Liberator,” the only American magazine to support the Bolsheviks from the day they came to power.

On pages 28 and 29 of that work Max Eastman says :
“In the spring of 1935 Stalin’s government issued a decree which made the death penalty for theft—adopted for adults three years before—applicable to minors from the age of twelve. When this fact was announced at a congress of the French Teachers’ Federation in August of the same year, the Stalinists in the Federation indignantly denied it. Being shown a copy of Isvestia (April 8, 1935) containing the decree, they lapsed into silence, but they were ready next day with the information that ‘under Socialism children are so precocious and well educated that they are fully responsible for their acts’ ! It is but a reflection of the manner in which this ideology is being stretched to cover every saddest thing in Russia.”
The law is referred to in many other works on Soviet conditions and I should imagine it is too late in the day for the matter to be disposed of by an anonymous telephone message from the Soviet’s Embassy. The Soviet Government denied the reality of the famine of 1932-33 (in which upwards of 4,000,000 peasants died of hunger), but the facts are now admitted by every prominent newspaper correspondent who was in Russia at the time, many of them (such as Eugene Lyons and W. H. Chamberlin) Communists or Communist sympathisers. The Stalin Constitution to-day guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press to the Russian workers, but no one dares to raise his voice against the prevailing administration nor can anyone mention the name of a single newspaper published in opposition to the Government.

As many are puzzled by what is taking place in Russia to-day and at a loss to understand what conditions in Russia really are, I would ask your permission to append a list of several of the most informative works on the subject for the benefit of those who wish to investigate the matter further : —
“I was a Soviet Worker ” : Andrew Smith.
“The Russian Enigma ” : Anton Ciliga.
“Stalin ” : Boris Souverine.
“Stalin’s Russia ” : Max Eastman.
“The Destiny of a Revolution ” : Victor Serge.
“Assignment in Utopia ” : Eugene Lyons.
“A Fake Utopia ” : W. H. Chamberlin.
“I Speak for the Silent ” : Professor Tchernavin.
“Russia Under Soviet Rule ” : N. A. De Basily.
“Russia in Chains ” : Ivan Solonevich.
The first six of these works were written by former Communists, but all are informative, and give a picture of Soviet life and conditions that is as different from the “facts” of Communist propaganda as night is different from day. They should be obtainable at any public library.
—Yours faithfully,
H. W. Henderson