Thursday, November 3, 2022

Is democracy evil? (2022)

Book Review from the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In 2018 a free-marketeer think-tank, the Henry Dearborn Institute, published a 90-page book entitled Socialism is Evil by a Justin T. Haskins. What is interesting is that, for once, an opponent gets the meaning of socialism more or less right. Basing himself largely on what we say on our website, from which he quotes extensively, and on some quotes from Marx, Haskins concludes that socialism (or communism, which he accepts means the same in this context) is a necessarily world-wide, democratically-organised society based on the common ownership of the means of production with distribution according to need:
‘I think it’s fair to say that Marx’s socialism should be defined as a classless, mostly stateless, democratic economic and political system under which all or nearly all private property ownership, especially the “means of production,” is abolished and replaced by a system in which property is owned collectively. Further, in Marx’s system, society embraces the general operating principle “from each according to ability, to each according to needs”’ (pp. 22-23).

‘In a world with few, if any, markets and perhaps no money, people would get the product and services they need from the collective (many socialists would reject that this group should be called a “government”) without having to “pay” for anything’ (p. 11).
This leads him to accept (at least for the purpose of his argument in this book) that Cambodia, China, the USSR, Venezuela, etc., are not socialist.

As a supporter of unregulated market capitalism, Haskins doesn’t think that socialism in the sense defined could work. For him, it is impossible because it is incompatible with human nature. He repeats the usual objections – What about the lazy man? Who will do the dirty work? Who will get to live in the best areas? – that have been dealt with time and again.

However, this is not enough for him. He wants to go further and demonstrate that, even if socialism was not impossible, it would still be ‘evil’. By which he means ‘highly immoral’ (what else could he mean without descending into mysticism?).

To call something ‘immoral’ is to imply some standard of morality. In Haskins’s case,
‘ …it’s immoral to force – using the threat of violence or imprisonment – peaceful people to participate in activities they are morally opposed to. Or, put another way, it’s highly immoral to force people to engage in actions they believe are immoral’ (p. 43).
He claims that this is what socialism would have to involve:
‘Collective property ownership… necessitates that the majority have total power over the minority to make all important moral decisions’ (p. 80).
What total power? Democratic decision-making where ‘the majority has its way and the minority has its say’ does mean on paper that the majority could vote for anything, but that does not give it ‘total power’ to impose what it has voted through. In fact, unless the majority has at its disposal a coercive political machine it has no power to enforce it at all. Socialism will have not have the means to threaten ‘violence or imprisonment’, as Haskins himself accepted when he wrote that socialism would be ‘almost stateless’.

What this means is that in socialism the carrying-out of a majority decision will depend on the acceptance of that decision by the outvoted minority. This assumes not just formal democratic procedures but also a democratic consciousness amongst the participants, which includes allowing majority decisions to be implemented in the common interest. It also encourages decision-making based on seeking and finding a certain degree of consensus; in fact, majority voting is not the only way of reaching a decision democratically. Why in these circumstances would a majority even consider trying to impose a uniform system of morals? Would a majority even be found to vote for this?

But Haskins persists and argues that, in socialism, not only would a majority vote to allow some activity that might offend or discomfort some people – which is possible – but that it would force those people to participate in such activity. Socialism, he claims,
‘either requires all people to abandon their personal morals in favour of some universal standard of morality … or some people must participate in social programs or activities that violate their beliefs.’
Where does that come from? Why would everyone have to agree on ethical issues? And who says that, if the majority votes to allow rearing animals to eat, this means that those opposed to this ‘must participate’ in rearing and killing animals and eating them? Who says that, if the majority votes to allow contraception and abortion, those opposed to these must practice contraception or take part in abortion procedures? A decision to allow something is not the same as a decision to make it compulsory.

Haskins is not arguing here against socialism as such but against democracy and only indirectly against socialism because it would be democratic. His arguments amount to a rehash of the old individualist anarchist objection to democracy as ‘the tyranny of the majority’. It is not clear if Haskins is himself an anarcho-capitalist. A footnote in which he says that he does not necessarily share the view of some free-marketeers that ‘taxation is immoral’ suggests that he might not be. In which case, he leaves himself open to the charge that he too is ‘evil’. Assuming that he regards taxation as moral to fund armed forces, this would be forcing pacifist taxpayers to pay for something against their moral principles.

So, while he gets what socialism means more or less right, his arguments against are weak and contradictory.
Adam Buick

Is socialism counter-intuitive? (2022)

From the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard 

There is a TV quiz called ‘QI’ which depends on the fact that correct answers to seemingly mundane and easy questions are almost always counter-intuitive. We live in a world that is not ‘what it seems’. There is nothing intuitive about the foundations of physics (quantum mechanics and special/general relativity) and any rational individual who was entirely ignorant of modern science would suspect the sanity of anyone who tried to explain and maintain these theories as an explanation of natural phenomena. From the time we open our eyes on the world we learn to question what we see and hear. Our senses provide us with basic tools for survival but the images, sound, smell and tactile qualities we perceive can be easily fooled. It would seem that intuition or ‘common sense’ can be very unreliable – and yet we cling to it! There are very few mistakes which we make that deserve a higher degree of self-criticism than those made as a result of going against our ‘instincts’. Social skills rely on our ability to detect deceit, insincerity and danger in others. What significance does this seeming contradiction have for political activity? Is socialism a result of common sense or of embracing the counter-intuitive?

As children we are told, despite all appearances, that the sun does not move across the sky but that we circle it; that we labour under the weight of air pressure and are pulled by gravity; that your immune system can kill you; that what tastes good is usually bad for us (in the long run); that a cannonball and a feather fall at an equal rate within a vacuum; that making some stimulants illegal does not eradicate them; that capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder and that life depends on death. To test your own ability to tell the difference between common sense and the counter-intuitive try answering the question: why is north always on top? Having thought about it you begin to realise that it is ‘merely’ a cultural convention and that the planet, solar system, galaxy and universe have no up or down. The poles of a magnet are not defined by the concepts of top and bottom or up and down but by the simple requirement of opposition. Even the concept of field lines emerging from the north pole of a magnet and re-entering at the south pole is a matter of ‘convention’. Education is an act of unlearning as well as learning.

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that many of those who seek to defend right-wing forms of capitalism rely on ‘common-sense’ answers whereas those on the left more often use intellectual and counter-intuitive arguments. Both of these attempts to defend the indefensible have resolved themselves into ideological cul-de-sacs that rely either on over simplification or over intellectualising. The belief that legitimate political answers are often obscured by the deliberate activities of the leftist intelligentsia is continually countered by the accusation that those on the right over simplify and overlook the nuances and complexities of political reality. To the left the right-wingers seem dull witted and stupid whilst their adversaries despise their seeming elitist intellectualism. Many on the left do seem to think that politics is an intellectual puzzle that can be solved by one pseudo-scientific theory or another. The political right see this merely as a series of high-brow excuses for the manifest failure of leftist policies. Of course, there are many other components of ideological belief systems including tribalism, prejudice, conformism, conditioning etc, but for the moment we are just considering the dialectical relationship between the intuitive and the counter-intuitive which always seems to be present in polemics and to which we return.

Mainstream political debate is directed by the mainstream media. Those who own and control the media are dedicated to ‘normalizing’ the capitalist systems of both right and left-wing regimes respectively. One of the most powerful ways of achieving this is to make production for profit and everything that goes with it like wealth and poverty, rampant consumerism and economic/political inequality seem inevitable and perfectly intuitive given the agreed concept of what constitutes ‘human nature’. The very construct of a political ‘human nature’ is one of the greatest triumphs of both types of capitalist ideologies. To deny its existence is to incur universal disbelief and derision. The existence of human nature is just ‘common sense’. But socialists do deny this (at least in the terms of which it is understood within reactionary ideology where humanity is reduced to an eternal state of acquisitive individualism and the selfish behaviour that this generates) and point to historical evidence which undermines such a malevolent future for our species. Is this just one example which exemplifies the counter-intuitive nature of the case for socialism as a whole?

Two elements are at play here and it is important to differentiate between them. One is the cultural manipulation and subversion of both intuition (common sense) and counter-intuition (reliance on nuance and complexity thus inhibiting action) and the other is the true nature of reality. To non-socialists just about every element of our case is counter-intuitive and seems to defy common sense – and to us the reverse is true. Can the concept of the counter-intuitive help us distinguish between ideology and knowledge? Certainly the practice of subjecting everything that you think you know to a continual critique (Marxism) helps to keep the seduction of certainty at bay. Many of the postmodernist persuasion will tell you that everything is ideological and that any attempt to reinstate materialism is na├»ve and even reactionary. But it is impossible to ignore the paradigmatic shift potential that accompanies the discovery of a truth that runs counter to our deepest intuition about reality and so subverts the possibility of an initial ideological commitment to it.

There was once a comedy sketch that took place in an imaginary post-revolutionary socialist context where an individual was trying to sell capitalism as an alternative. It was funny because of the intuitive absurdity of such an endeavour within socialism and served as a reminder that perhaps ‘common sense’ within a community of the future would represent the political truth. As ever it is history that, hopefully, will transform the two perspectives into an experience comfortably embracing both when stripped of their present sectarian ideological inertia.

Cooking the Books: Energy wars (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

In September the G7, the group of the world’s leading Western capitalist economies (US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain), agreed to try to impose a cap on the price of Russian oil. The level has not yet been fixed but is likely to be somewhere near to the cost of production plus a mark-up for profits. Russia would still have an incentive to export oil but would only make a ‘normal’ profit rather than the super-profits that they and others (such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) get because the cost of extracting oil there is less than the cost in the other parts of the world whose higher cost of production sets the world price.

What the West seems to want is to impose as the price of Russian oil is what Marx in Volume III of Capital called its ‘production price’, ie, its cost of production plus the average profit on the capital invested in its production. Over a fifth of Volume III is devoted to a discussion of this in relation to ground-rent, the money paid to a landlord for the use of their land to grow crops or raise livestock but also to extract materials.

David Ricardo is credited with being the first to explain why different areas of land yielded a different rent. The price of what it was used to produce was fixed by what Marx later called the production price on the least fertile land producing it. Those farming more fertile land, where the cost of production was correspondingly less, still sold their produce at the higher price and so made super-profits but which, unless they owned the land themselves, were taken by the landowner as ground-rent.

Marx accepted this theory. Ricardo explained how it applied to mines:
“[T]here are mines of various qualities, affording very different results, with equal quantities of labour. The metal produced from the poorest mine that is worked, must at least have an exchangeable value, not only sufficient to procure all the clothes, food, and other necessaries consumed by those employed in working it, and bringing the produce to market, but also to afford the common and ordinary profits to him who advances the stock necessary to carry on the undertaking. The return for capital from the poorest mine paying no rent, would regulate the rent of all the other more productive mines. This mine is supposed to yield the usual profits of stock. All that the other mines produce more than this, will necessarily be paid to the owners for rent” (Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, ch. 3).
This applies today to the extraction of oil, its price being fixed by the production price in the least productive oilfield in use.

What the G7 are trying to do is to prevent Russia from benefitting from having a lower cost of production than in the oilfields that set the price of oil and so reaping a super-profit. This is to be done by forcing Russia to sell its oil at a price nearer to its price of production. It’s a clever scheme – to be enforced by refusing to insure tankers carrying Russian oil bought above this price – but it may be too clever. Russia has already announced that it will refuse to sell oil to any country that goes along with the G7 plan. And it can’t be a coincidence that the day after the plan was announced Russia suspended the direct supply of gas to Germany.

While the capitalist West and capitalist Russia battle it out, economically and militarily, as to whose sphere of influence Ukraine should be in, workers everywhere are suffering the consequences in terms of higher and higher energy bills reducing their standard of living. But it’s a pain both sides have no qualms about inflicting.

FALC (2022)

From the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The term ’Fully Automated Luxury Communism’ was invented by Aaron Bastani. In his book he says he is using the word to ‘denote a society in which work is eliminated, scarcity replaced by abundance and where labour and leisure blend into one another’ (p. 50). He calls this communism after Marx’s ’higher phase of communist society’ when ‘all the springs of co-operative wealth spring more abundantly’ and society can ‘inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! ’

Bastani sees such a society having become possible as a result of what he calls the ’Third Disruption’, the two previous ’disruptions’ being the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. His Third Disruption is basically the application of information technology to production; which ’means machines will be capable of replicating ever more of what was, until now, uniquely human work’ (p. 37).

A large part of his book is devoted to describing the possibilities that his Third Disruption opens up, such as full automation, gene editing, asteroid mining, synthetic meat, and endless energy from natural forces. He sees this last as eventually leading to a situation where it will be so cheap to produce individual items of wealth that there will be no point in putting a price on them; they could simply be given away. Similarly, work for a wage would become redundant as people would no longer have to sell their working energy to access what they need.
’What stands in the way isn’t the inevitable scarcity of nature, but the artificial scarcity of market rationing and ensuring that everything, at all cost, is produced for profit’ (p. 156).
How does he think society will get there? Disappointingly, but all too common amongst authors who present an often trenchant criticism of capitalism, he advocates various measures that he sees as steps in the right direction; he rejects UBI in favour of UBS (universal free basic services) as being more compatible with the ultimate aim.

He also states that ’any attempt at communism within the limits of the Second Disruption’ was ‘impossible’ (p. 241); this, because before the coming of IT it would not have been possible to eliminate work. But is eliminating human work an aim of communism? Hasn’t it been rather to eliminate working for wages, reduce working hours and make work enjoyable? And would it not have been possible to produce plenty for all on the basis of the common ownership of productive resources even before the digitalisation of information? Maybe it wouldn’t have been FALC, but certainly highly-automated, enough-for-all communism.

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Why do people believe strange things? (2022)

Book Review from the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hope and Fear. Modern Myths, Conspiracy Theories and Pseudo-History. By Ronald H. Fritze. Reaktion Books. 2022. 271pp.

It is an idea frequently expressed that people need myth to make sense of their own lives and the world around them. Otherwise why would we have worship of non-existent gods, devotion to human leaders sometimes considered divine themselves, or the idea that one’s accidental country of birth somehow makes that place superior to others? In Hope and Fear Ronald Fritze investigates such myths, such ‘invented knowledge’, as he calls it, and does so in a way that manages to be both massively scholarly in its detailed and comprehensive analysis of the phenomena in question, exhilarating, and indeed often entertaining in the reflections and observations it throws off.

On the one hand, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the author asks questions like: ‘Is a secret and corrupt Illuminati conspiring to control world affairs and bring about a New World Order? Was Donald Trump a victim of massive voter fraud? Is Queen Elizabeth II a shape-shifting reptilian alien? Who is doing all this plotting?’ On the other hand, the depth of his knowledge and serious analysis of fringe ideas and conspiracies throughout history is little short of breathtaking in its detail and profundity. His study ranges from enduring earlier myths such as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the Knights Templar and the ‘Red Jews’ to later myths of race and nation such as the rise of ‘national sovereignty’ as ‘a source of pride and comfort’ for citizens of newly established states and the continuing belief among some in the anti-Semitic and entirely discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In the 20th century, he examines, among much else, the Nazis’ pseudo-science of Aryanism, and persistent fascination with the so-called alien landings at Roswell in New Mexico. And over most recent times he considers theories of 9/11 as an ‘inside job’, Obama’s supposed ‘foreign’ birth, the contortions of QAnon, ‘Covid hoax’ notions and Alex Jones’s outrageous fictions. He concludes that when such ‘junk knowledge’ spreads, ‘facts, reality and truth fall by the wayside’ and what people come to believe ‘bears little or no resemblance to scientific or historical reality’. So, for example, belief in anti-Trump voter fraud, though conclusively and incontrovertibly debunked, continues to survive against all the evidence via a process the author calls ‘belief perseverance’ which persists even in the face of solid contradictory information and facts.

What to make of all this? Clearly belief in myth, conspiracies and pseudo-history has a long record in human affairs and seems to occur especially at times of tumult and social upheaval, perhaps an expression of despair by people who feel impotent to influence events or their own lives. People engage in ‘confirmation bias’. They cherry-pick the evidence to support their beliefs in wonder, domination conspiracies or the supernatural, or they simply engage in wishful thinking, and fevered imagination takes precedence over any rational thought leading in some cases to what the author, in his chapter on the rise and ideology of Nazism, calls ‘a road to perdition’.

It is true, as history has shown and this book ably illustrates, that this can lead to whole societies going down such roads. And this may seem depressing. But perhaps a gleam of light is to be found in the fact that, in the most socially and economically advanced parts of the world, the kind of myths, conspiracy theories and pseudo-history portrayed here are rarely shared by whole populations as often as they were in the past. What happens now rather is that they tend to exist among a certain segment of the population, usually a particularly downtrodden one, who find their own existences particularly confusing, stressful and alienating and so seek consolation in conspiracy theories often coupled with retrograde political beliefs, which, as the author points out, tend to have an affinity for each other. So maybe we should see just a little progress here in terms of social development providing at least the ground for progress of the wholly different, non-conflictual and cooperative way of organising human affairs that socialists advocate and look forward to.
Howard Moss

Proper Gander: Profits and power (2022)

The Proper Gander column from the October 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

With gas and electricity bills rising, along with the cost of near-enough everything else, the most immediate concern for many of us is how and whether we can pay. A recent edition of BBC One’s Panorama featured households already finding it difficult to cope. A couple with a young son in Birmingham with a just-above-average income of £31,000pa were paying £100 a month for their energy a year ago, and now the amount is £250. Alongside all their other expenses, ‘it’s just getting tighter and tighter’. In Bournemouth, another couple care for their daughter with cerebral palsy. The machines which keep her alive all use electricity which they can’t afford if their bills increase further, having already trebled in a year. Her father says ‘I think it’s quite obscene for energy companies to be posting profits in the billions when we are struggling to actually pay our bills. And I think energy companies are isolated from the reality of a family like ours’.

Between April and June 2022, BP made nearly £7 billion in profit, while Shell raked in £9.4 billion. Over a year, BP has paid £10 billion and Shell £15 billion to their shareholders as dividends and share buybacks. Bland statements from both companies say they will provide financial support to those most vulnerable and are investing in low carbon energy production. At other times, though, their bosses have been more honest about their aims: BP’s Chief Executive has described the company as a cash machine for its shareholders.

In the edition of Panorama: The Energy Crisis: Who’s Cashing In?, reporter Bronagh Munro gives an introduction to the current context of sky-high fuel bills for us alongside astronomical profits for the energy companies. Gas prices increased as an effect of the pandemic, and then again due to the war in Ukraine. But, given that the UK hasn’t been dependent on Russia for gas imports while European countries have been, why has the UK been hit the hardest this side of the continent? Whether or not leaving the European Union has had an impact isn’t discussed. Instead, an explanation is found in how the energy market is shaped by policies such as the link between electricity and gas prices.

Munro explains how the wholesale price of electricity tracks the price of gas. The 40 percent of electricity which is generated from gas sets the price of all electricity, regardless of how it’s produced. Now that the price of gas has risen, so will the price of electricity produced by nuclear reactors (15 percent of that in the UK) and wind farms, for example, even though their own costs haven’t increased. EDF, the French company which owns nuclear reactors in the UK, won’t be able to benefit from this yet though, as they’re locked into contracts at a previous lower price. Supplier Centrica, on the other hand, has doubled its prices in the past year with its profits having grown fivefold. Also, producers of so-called ‘green’ energy receive subsidies through the government, adding £6 billion to our bills. These payments have further bolstered the coffers of companies such as Greencoat wind generators, which has quadrupled its profits in a year.

The wholesale price of gas and electricity has climbed enough to make previous price caps on our bills irrelevant. With wholesale costs so high, the price cap would make it difficult for suppliers to buy in energy and sell it on to us customers while also making a profit. The limit on how much we can be charged for gas and electricity is set by Ofgem, the non-ministerial government department whose stated aim is to protect the interests of ‘energy consumers’. So, the cap has been adjusted to higher amounts more in line with the wholesale amount. One of Ofgem’s previous directors and board members, Christine Farnish, is briefly interviewed for Panorama about her resignation from her roles because she disagreed with decisions about the price cap, saying that they benefited companies more than consumers. She says that the price cap is no longer fit for purpose and only the government can have the solution.

The programme was first broadcast only a few days before Prime Minister Liz Truss announced that a new ‘Energy Price Guarantee’ effective from 1 October 2022 would limit typical household energy bills to £2,500 per year. This doesn’t mean that the wholesale price will change though, so the difference will be funded through government to the tune of around £90 billion, with a further £60 billion to subsidise businesses’ bills. Those on the Left have criticised this policy, arguing that it will be funded by more government borrowing to be paid back through more taxation on the working class, rather than by a windfall tax on energy companies’ profits.

However the money is shunted around, and wherever the burden of taxation really falls, the structural problem remains. While the companies which produce and supply energy are owned by a minority to make profits, they will follow strategies which aim to maximise those profits. Although these strategies, policies, reforms can’t control the economy, as shown by the price cap not impacting on the wholesale gas price, they can help the capitalist class benefit, even through the economic turbulence from the pandemic and now war in Ukraine.

Programmes like Panorama are useful to highlight issues and explain some of the economic context. But they stop short of considering the class divide central to any capitalist economy, or any kind of alternative. In a socialist society, energy production wouldn’t be measured in money and subject to the vagaries of either a profit-driven market or fraught relations between nation states. Instead, the only considerations would be the practicalities of generating sufficient power for people’s needs and wants in an environmentally sustainable way.
Mike Foster

Industry and the Banks: Wicked Bankers and Kind Captains of Industry. (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Owing to high interest rates in New York and Berlin, and the consequent transfers of balances from London to those centres, the Bank-rate on September 26th, was increased from 5½ per cent. to 6½ per cent. At once the Press and the platform became a fierce battle-ground between those who charged the wicked bankers with “throttling industry,” and the apologists who explained that this process, although painful, was in the best interests of the patient. The Times assured its readers on September 14th, when a rise was already being proposed, that failure to take this step would result in an increase in the cost of living. Lord Melchett (formerly Sir Alfred Mond) wrote in the Sunday Express on September 29th, under the title “Unemployed—by Order of the Bank,” pointing out that if the Times policy were carried out, industrial activity would be slowed down and unemployment would grow. What Lord Melchett said he wanted was that—
“some of the hundreds of thousands of workers to-day walking the streets, idle, searching for employment, should be placed into productive industry, to increase the national wealth.“
Mr. Philip Gee, speaking for the coal-owners, said (Daily News, 27th September) :—
“This rise is very unfortunate, coming at the present time, when many collieries are faced with the necessity of borrowing money for development, rationalisation, and mechanisation, and when many collieries already have large overdrafts at the bank. It will restrict development.“
Seventeen manufacturers’ associations and sixty individual company directors combined to send a memorandum to the Government demanding a fundamental change in financial policy “if Great Britain is to retain her industrial importance” (Daily Express, October 8th). They protested that an increase of 1 per cent. in the rate of interest meant an additional burden of £25 million. Among the signatories were the Master Cotton Spinners’ Associations, the British Wool Federation, and the National Union of Manufacturers.

Mr. E. G. Pretyman, President of the Land Union, added the protests of the farmers and landowners. He told the Daily Herald (October 8th) that “nearly all farmers and most landowners had bank overdrafts, and the usurious interest of 7½ per cent. had to be paid now on these overdrafts.”

Added to the clamour were the voices of the trade union officials, the Daily Herald, and the Independent Labour Party, all demanding prompt and drastic action against the villains of this piece—the financiers.

On the trade union side the oratorical laurels belong to Mr. Ben Tillett. He told an audience of trade unionists at Bristol on September 29th that “our financiers and usurers had contrived to put millions of the world’s population under their heel.” . . . “Our National Debt was an octopus, bleeding white the British nation.” …“The banks were squeezing the life-blood out of British industry.” (See Daily Herald, September 30th.)

According to the Manchester Guardian’s report of the same speech, Mr. Tillett denounced these wicked men as “dragons of usury” exhibiting the “sardonic malignity of the sordid dogs in the mangers of British commerce, banking and usury.”

A week later he became really angry. Then he said (Times, 4th October) :—-
“If Mr. Montagu Norman were tried by Court-Martial he would be shot for raising the bank rate to 6½%. He should thank God that we were more merciful. He (Mr. Tillett) would let him off with a caution—and sack him.“
Mr. James Maxton, M.P. and Chairman of the I.L.P., also had something to contribute to the discussion. He recalled
“the period of the war when banks and financiers had manipulated credit and gold to enrich themselves, heedless of the consequences to the workers.“ (Daily Herald, September 30.)
In face of this show of heat it is not surprising that many workers who know little of the ways of the banks should have concluded that here was a matter of very great concern to them. Let us then consider the whole question, and start at the beginning by asking ourselves what are the banks and what is industry.

The banks are companies, owned by their shareholders, which receive the money of people who have a surplus, pay them interest on it, and lend it out to industrial and commercial concerns which are willing to pay a higher rate of interest for the use of the money than the banks pay to the depositors. Industry, the mines, the railways, the cotton factories, etc., also consists of companies owned by private individuals or bodies of shareholders. In both cases the shareholders put their money into these concerns with a view to making a profit. The bank depositors, whose money is lent out by the banks, are in effect investing it in industry in a roundabout way. The chief difference is that the person who deposits money in a bank can, at any time or at short notice, resume possession of the amount which he originally deposited, whereas the shareholders in a company may possibly find it difficult to sell his shares at a given moment except at some loss. On the other hand, the latter stands the chance of selling his shares at a profit and of re­ceiving a much larger return than the banks find it necessary to pay their depositors. In brief, some investors desire a rela­tively higher degree of security and want to have their money easily accessible and therefore allow all or part of it to remain in the possession of a bank.

What it is important to notice is that the people who own and control industry and the people who own the money which the banks lend to the controllers of industry are similar in the important respect that they are in the main propertied people, members of the capitalist class, able, because of their ownership, to live without working. On the other hand, the people who do the work of industry and of the banks, from the coal miner and the bank clerk to the mine manager and bank manager, are in the great majority of cases members of the working class. They do not own sufficient property to be able to live without working and must therefore sell their power to labour to the property owners or their agents. The amount they get as wages or salary is roughly speaking the amount which is sufficient to keep them alive and efficient and to enable them to bring up their families. What that amount is will vary, of course, from place to place and from one occupation to another, and will necessarily change according as prices rise or fall. It also involves a number of other factors. It is, however, prevented from rising much above the actual cost of living by the constant pressure of the unemployed who are able and willing to take the place of the employed man.

Having purchased the mental and physical powers of the workers for a day, a week, or a month, the employers then set them to work producing articles for sale. In general the value of the articles, after making all necessary deductions for cost of materials, wear and tear of machinery and other incidental expenses, is far above the amount paid in wages and salaries. It is out of that difference, that surplus, that the whole capitalist class derives its income.

It is customary, in this country at least, for the capitalist who invests his money in a factory or a mine or other business to have to rent the land from a landlord. It is also usual for him to depend to some extent on loans from a bank or loans from other investors who are prepared to lend in the form of debentures at a fixed rate of interest. The industrial capitalist is compelled, therefore, to hand over some share of the surplus to other capitalists who have invested in land or who lend money direct or through a bank. Naturally these three types of capitalist are continually trying to increase their respective shares at the expense of the others. If rents go up, one or both of the other two parties has to suffer. If interest rates go up the industrial capi­talist or the landlord has to foot the bill.

The most obvious way in which these groups try to gain an advantage is by controlling or influencing the Government. The political party in power looks after the interests of its friends. The group whose friends are not in power just as naturally tries to force the ruling faction to make concessions, the final deciding factor being the possibility of gaining the support of the electorate. It would, of course, be fatal for the capitalists in an industry to ask the electors to support the introduction of a protective tariff, or a reduction of a tax on the article in which they were interested, and to put forward their real reason, i.e., that they were merely trying to get larger profits. What they do is to try to persuade the voters that these measures are desirable “for the good of the country,” or that they will “make work for the unemployed” or will “encourage trade.” Any excuse serves so long as a sufficient number of voters can be induced to believe it. As a matter of course other sections of the capitalist class will resist these demands because they know that if any section gets an advantage one or other of the various sections of the capitalist class will have to pay for it, directly or indirectly, through increased taxation or through higher prices leading to higher wages, or in some other way. This is the great game of politics as played by the capitalist parties.

An excellent illustration was seen in the Derating Act passed by the last Government. Lord Melchett stated at the 1929 annual meeting of the Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. that the company gained £200,000 a year relief from rates through that piece of legislation passed by the political friends of a group of industrial capitalists. (See report in The Times, 19th April, 1929.) Mr. Lloyd George, it may be remarked, estimated the figure at no less than £600,000, but Lord Melchett denied its accuracy.

For a like reason we have the industrialist capitalists demanding that the present Government take steps to compel the money-lending capitalists (the banks and their depositors) to lower the rate of interest. And it explains why industrialist capitalists like Lord Melchett’s fellow director, Mr. Szarvasy, and Sir J. P. Benn, the evangelist of “individualism,” are in favour of the nationalisation of the coal royalties, and the nationalisation of land respectively. (See Manchester Guardian, 18th September, 1928, and Times, 24th July, 1925.) In each case we see the industrial capitalist seeking to use political power for the purpose of helping himself at the expense of the capitalist who has put his money into coal-bearing or agricultural or building land.

In the present controversy the issues are just as plain. Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. and other branches of industry are busy introducing new and expensive plant and machinery in order to meet intensifying competition from their foreign rivals. This process is a long one (Lord Melchett at the meeting referred to above stated that in some branches of his concerns it will take two years), and while it goes on high rates of interest have to be paid on very large sums of money borrowed from the banks or raised in the form of debentures. That is what all the fuss is about. As Sir E. W. Fetter, of Fetters Ltd., explained in a letter to The Times (9th October), these in­creased charges “cannot be passed on to the customer” (foreign competition will prevent that) and “must be paid out of the manufacturer’s profits.”

That is why Lord Melchett is so solicitous about the troubles of the unemployed; and why the Times is so deeply concerned lest your cost of living be raised. Lord Melchett is trying to get working class voters to back him up in a policy which will help him against the money-lending capitalists ; and the Times, no more disinterested than he, tries to secure, by its reference to the cost of living, your support for a policy which is in the interests of the bankers, and against that of the industrial capitalists.

The whole question is one of the conflicting interests of sections of the capitalist class. It does not affect the workers’ interests. They are robbed by the whole capitalist class, and the way in which the capitalists divide the spoils between themselves makes no difference whatever to the workers. When Lord Melchett talks about his desire to see the unemployed placed in productive industry “to increase the national wealth,” and when Mr. Tillett laments that the bankers are upsetting “even the wonderful miracle of the mechanisation of industry (Manchester Guardian, September 30th), they are both misrepresenting the real line of industrial development. Lord Melchett and his associates are concerned primarily not with making work or with increasing the national wealth, but with securing the maximum profit. Lord Melchett is a keen supporter of what is called rationalisation, and he has himself defined it, not as a policy of increasing production, but as
“the adjustment of production to consumption in any commodity. Basically it is simply the rational control of industry to ensure that, as far as possible, you do not produce more than your market can absorb.“ (Daily Telegraph, Jan. 14th, 1929.)
Mr. Tillett’s “miracle of the mechanisation of industry” is the process which every worker knows and fears, the creation of more unemployment through the introduction of labour-saving machinery. Lord Melchett needs loans because his concerns are carrying out a costly reorganisation scheme to secure greater productivity per head of his workers; not more production, but cheaper production.

There is another factor which complicates this question of industry and the banks, but again a factor which does not concern the workers. The banks, being called upon to lend larger and larger sums of money to industrial and commercial concerns, are able more and more to insist that they or their nominees shall be given some share in the control of the borrowing companies. This they do partly to influence policy in order to safeguard their interests as lenders and to secure a greater share in the earnings of the company, and partly to use the connection as a means of securing new banking business at the expense of competing banks. But it is plain enough that this change in control, while naturally resented by the industrial capitalists, does not lead to any change in the position of the workers either for better or for worse. It will also be noticed that this struggle has no direct connection with the question of a high or low bank rate.

As against the policy of Mr. Tillett and Mr. Maxton and their respective parties which leads the workers to throw themselves into the fray on the side of the industrial capitalists, the Socialist Party points out that the whole question is of no concern except to the capitalists themselves. The Labour Research Department (Monthly Circular, July) estimates the 1928 profit of Lord Melchett’s “Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd.” as equal to £113 per head of the workers employed. But what does it matter to us whether that profit, totalling £6 million, goes wholly to the shareholders, or partly to the bank depositors? What does it matter to the workers whether their lives are controlled by Lord Melchett, “captain of industry,” or some new master, a “king of finance”?

When Mr. Maxton singles out the bankers as having enriched themselves during the war “heedless of the consequences to the workers” he forgets the cotton mill owners, the shipping owners, the coal-owners, the iron and steel interests, and all the other commercial and industrial capitalists who were striving with greater or less success to do the same. That is the object of all capitalists both during war and peace.

And who should know this better than Mr. Tillett? In 1929 he wants to shoot Mr. Montague Norman—banker. Many years ago he earned great hatred and great popularity by calling upon God to strike dead Lord Devonport, starver of dockers. Yet Lord Devonport was no banker, but head of a great trading firm.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Unemployment and the Printing Trades. (1929)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

We print below a letter from a correspondent, together with our reply :—

S. Hackney, E.9. 

To Editor Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,

Upon perusal of the Socialist Party’s pamphlet “Socialism,” I am prompted to write of an aspect regarding machine production and its effect on the economic relationship of the working-class. Firstly, I will draw attention to page 3, where will be found workers in practically every trade, profession, and so forth, addressing, as a body, to the working-class the object of Socialism. And amongst them is instanced printers (my italics).

On page 19 I find a reference to the linotype machine and its economic results upon the compositors. In brief, without giving the full quota­tion, this wonderful machine has displaced men; made them unemployed, but not, I will venture to say, unemployable.

Permit me to give the facts. In 1899, the Daily Mail was the first firm to instal these machines. They were then producing an 8-page news-sheet. The staff of compositors was some­ thing like fifty. Since then the paper has developed from an 8-page to a 16-page production. Remembering, too, that the linotype sets text matter only, who other than the displaced compositors does the advertisements which monopolises more of the paper than the material composed by the linotype. This position is representative of all firms who installed the machine.

Next, in 1899, when the linotype was introduced in England from America, the membership of the London Society of Compositors was 11,415, so, according to the line of thought given in “Socialism,” by now—1929—the membership should be numerically smaller. But the opposite is the case, and we find the membership of the Society stronger—14,690, to be precise, and the months of May, June and July found only an average of 16 members unemployed on the figures for those three months. How then can you reconcile these facts with that propounded in the pamphlet ?

The explanation is simple. Take another industry. Consequent on the development of the tooth-brush industry, we find the wage-standard is low. With the result of intensive machine production the markets, at periods, get over­ stocked. That is the cause, Stock ! Stock ! ! Stock ! ! ! But not so in Print. There is no stock in that industry. And that, in my opinion, is the farcical aspect or position I regard for the Socialist Party to take as an example the linotype machine. Other than that point, of course, I am in full agreement.
Yours fraternally, 

Our correspondent has read the Socialist Party’s pamphlet “Socialism,” and notes that in reference to the compo­sition of the organization, printers, amongst others, are enumerated (page 3). Printers, whether they be linotype or mono­type operators, or hand compositors, or machine managers, and so forth, are all members of the working class. Conse­quently there are in the ranks of the S.P.G.B. men and women of diverse occu­pations who have joined together in an endeavour to propagate the gospel of Socialism.

He is in difficulties about page 19, wherein the introduction of a linotype machine into a printing office is given as an illustra­tion of how hand-labour may be displaced by the machine. Let us quote the passage as it appears in the pamphlet:—
“This wonderful appliance, though a great labour-saver, is profitable only to a certain circle of printers—those who have a considerable amount of book or newspaper work. But many are considering the pros and cons of its adoption. A very little will decide. An extra monthly magazine—or, perhaps, putting in a machine, by saving two or three men’s room, will avoid an expensive removal to larger premises.

Now suppose wages rise, immediately the doubters are decided. They adopt the machine and each machine throws three or four composi­tors into the street.“
It is, indeed, difficult to understand the reasoning of our correspondent, for, while he writes to take exception to the passage quoted above, the significant admission of our correctness creeps in when he says, ” but not, I will venture to say, unemployable.” (Closing words of his second paragraph.) Again, later on, he asks, “who other than the displaced compositors does the advertisements ?”

Our critic then goes on to give what he considers to be the facts. He says :
“In 1899 the Daily Mail was the first firm to instal these machines. They were then producing an eight-page news-sheet. The staff of compositors was something like fifty. Since then the paper has developed from an eight-page to a sixteen-page production. Remembering, too, that the linotype sets text matter only, who, other than the displaced compositors does the advertisements, which monopolise more of the paper than the material composed by the linotype. This position is representative of all firms who installed the machine.”
We would suggest to our correspondent that before he starts “distributing” the “facts,” he should take the trouble to verify them. The Daily Mail was first published on May 1st, 1896. (See “Mystery of the Daily Mail,” page 100; or “Everyman Encyclopaedia.”) Also an agreement for machine composition was signed between representatives of the London Newspapers and Master Printers and the London Society of Compositors in July, 1896.

The facts would have been more informa­tive had they been more definite. For instance, “something like fifty” for the number of compositors employed when the production was an eight-page one, and no mention at all of those required for the sixteen-page edition does not help towards an intelligent understanding of the situation. Our critic goes on to ask, “who, other than the displaced compositor does the advertisements which monopolise more of the paper than the material composed by the linotype?” Of course, some of the displaced compositors may get a look in on the advertisements, seeing that the paper is now, on his own showing, twice its former size ; and the tendency has for a long time past been for newspapers to develop more and more into an advertising medium.

This is where our critic misunderstands our point. We do not deny that an industry can expand and even expand faster when labour is eliminated by machines. The essential point is that more work is done by relatively fewer workers. An instance of this may be taken from the Census of Production figures published in the Board of Trade Journal (21st April, 1927). Dealing with the “Printing and Publication of Newspapers and Periodicals,” it is stated :
Net output per head,      1907 … £190
        ''         ''                   1924 … £546
Persons employed,         1907 … 43,644
       ''         ''                    1924 … 56,837
Be it noted that this increase is much greater than the increase in prices between 1907 and 1924.

Because our correspondent fails to grasp these points he wants to know how we reconcile our statement with regard to the displacement of hand labour by machines when the membership of the London Society of Compositors in 1899 was 11,415 and is now 14,690?

The next statement in his letter, which says that “the months of May, June and July found only an average of sixteen members unemployed,” is incorrect. Let us take the figures as given in the London Typographical Journal:—
May 4   May 11   May 18   May 25
    25          55            92          118 
June 1   June 8     June 15    June 22   June 29
  155         151            171          147        147 
July 6    July 13    July 20     July 27 
   169         205          230         228
If our questioner will take the trouble to work these figures out, he will discover that the average for the thirteen weeks is 145 !
Again, notice should be taken that the compositors have extraordinarily good super­annuation benefits which, combined with the Contributory Pension Act, has a tendency to remove from the labour market a proportion of seekers after work. Dealing with the unemployment figures for the years 1921-1928, the Annual Report, 1928, of the L.S.C. states :—”Members do not need to be reminded that this substantial reduction has been brought about by the operation of the scheme of superannuation combined with the policy of restriction of membership.” Now this restriction of entrants and the limitation of apprentices all helps to swell the general army of unemployed.

We consider it unnecessary to follow our critic at length to the tooth-brush industry. Suffice it to say that here again he is in error in imagining that in the realm of print there is no stock. Evidently he has never heard or seen such things as receipt books, rent books, registers, to mention but a few that come to mind at once, that can be obtained for the asking.

Aspects of the “Woman Question.” (Part 5) (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Based on Notes of a series of Lectures on "The Sexes in Evolution.”)

Many have contended that the work of propaganda among women requires essentially different methods than are used among men. Woman is dependent upon man—yes, that is true, at least of the majority. But what is man dependent on? A wage, which in turn depends on a job. Who owns the job ? Not always the man who does it. So that woman’s dependence and man’s dependence are all of a piece— it is all part of the same problem. Where women have gone into industry they have shifted, to some extent, their economic dependence from husband or father, to that of an employer. But even so, it has only made her problem more identical with that of the working man.

I am unable at the moment to give the latest figures of the number of women employed, but this is relatively unimportant. Their actual industrial position is reflected by the amount of wages received by them. Here again actual figures are lacking, but the crucial point is this—the Capitalist system finds in the huge body of unemployed a source of strength in that they compete with each other in the labour market. Women further intensify this competition by the fact that they can be compelled to accept a lower wage than a man. The minimum wage of all labour being determined by the amount on which a man can live, it is taken for granted that this must be higher for a man than for a woman. Woman, whether true or not, is looked upon as having no dependents, and her known ability to live more cheaply than man is undoubtedly taken into account.

The same laws of competition, over-supply, etc., hold with the labourer, whether man or woman. There is no difference whatever in the way in which Capitalism exploits men and women. In the economic fight it has been the one who endeavoured to maintain life on the barest necessities, and who possessed at the same time the least power of resistance, who has been pushed to the wall—whether man or woman. As pointed out by J. A. Hobson —”It is not the difference of sex which is the chief factor in determining the industrial position of woman. Machinery knows neither age nor sex, but chooses the labour embodied in man, woman or child which is the cheapest in relation to the degree of its efficiency.”

Women, also, are badly organised—they are not good trade unionists. Possibly this is partly because she is by training domestic, and that such things as trade unions, politics, etc., have not come within her purview. Partly too, because she hopes that her entry into industry will not be permanent. . . .

As regards home and family life, even the most superficial observer will agree that the prevailing system exerts a harmful effect.

Take the case of marriage. It is a prevailing impression that marriages are based on the love and mutual respect of two persons for each other. So they are in many cases, but often with consequences of economic disaster. In a large number of cases, however, there is not the slightest doubt that girls enter into marriage for the express purpose of escaping from a life of toil in the office or factory. The marriages and social affairs of the idle rich we can leave out of account—their carryings-on would take volumes to describe. So that from this standpoint alone we can see that it is not remarkable that when economic trouble arises domestic life is directly affected. A good deal of the existing unhappiness in working-class homes is traceable to this source. We all know of the misery entailed through couples being unable either to furnish or buy a house. Either there is a shortage of houses to let or a shortage of money to buy one. After so influencing the structure of family life as to make it conform to its requirements, and then helping to undermine the very foundations of this structure by its degrading conditions, Capitalism goes yet further and displays complete indifference to the fact that for thousands there are no homes at all ! So cheaply is human life regarded. And yet if any lapse from the path of moral rectitude occurs, we are taught to look on it as a shame or a disgrace—that is unless one belongs to the upper ten. The more we look into it, the more do we see the necessity for the closer co-operation of men and women in the fight for the conquest of political power. Many advocates of women suffrage have only sought and worked for sex emancipation, quite failing to realise that its full significance lies in a full social and political education for both sexes before its value can be fully utilized.
Tom Sala

Socialist Standard: Back Numbers. (1929)

Party News from the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Owing to difficulties of storage, it has been decided to dispose of a large number of Socialist Standards issued between September, 1904, and August, 1914. All who want copies are therefore asked to apply to the Literature Secretary, at Head Office, at an early date. While it is impossible to supply complete sets for each year of issue during the period mentioned, particularly the earlier years, every effort will be made to supply series of copies for those who wish to complete their sets. Copies will be supplied at the price of 1d. each. A reduction will be made to members buying quantities.

Editorial: Affluence in the U.S.A. (1929)

Editorial from the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comfort ! that’s what we want. And prosperity also, peace and prosperity. And what, about affluence? Ah! affluence; that is the stuff. Give us affluence, and all else follows. And to think that the problem has been solved. Yes, solved. The Daily Telegraph—a respectable and reputable organ, surely—has said so. As recently as September 18th, too. The dull business of reporting has its compensations after all, for what nominally could be duller than the reporting of luncheon and dinner speeches? There was the luncheon the other day, for instance, of the American Chamber of Commerce, at which a Mr. Thomas J. Watson let himself go. The Daily Telegraph thought it worth half a column, and headed it, attractively enough :
Then followed the tale told by Mr. Thomas Watson :—

“Our experience of the application of machinery in industry,” he said, “is that it makes men dear and their products cheap.” From this he developed the usual bilge of the introduction of machinery ultimately reducing prices, resulting in wider distribution, and so on. Following which he gave a few figures. Now figures are not attractive things, and most people simply hear them or see them and rapidly glance at something more arresting. But these, in view of the headlines, are really interesting. In 1914, he said, the average annual wage was $590, roughly, we will say, £2 8s. per week.
” Adjusting the average wage for changes in the buying power of money, the worker in 1925 received at least 35 per cent. more than in 1914.”
And that is affluence. That is the Comfort Age. The equivalent of a 16s. rise on a weekly wage of £2 8s. is affluence. Save the mark !

True, Mr. Thompson did not permit himself the words comfort, prosperity and affluence. But one course we can recommend him. He should get into touch with Mr. G. De Vere, who has recently returned from a tour of U.S.A. He was telling us all about it over the radio about a fortnight ago, and just as the spectator sees most of the game, so the visitor apparently often sees more than the native. One of his first ports of call was a camp of the Y.W.C.A. in the Hudson Valley, where a delegate meeting of industrial women was in progress. Here he gathered that normal unemployment was very serious, although no reliable figures existed, and that the previous winter’s unemployment had been more serious than usual. Groups of women workers were beginning to push for better social conditions.

At a big factory near Boston he saw the conveyor-belt system in operation, and later he found few factories where the system was not in use. The workers stand or sit on either side of a moving belt, and each contributes some small operation to the article on the belt, until the finished product is delivered at the end. One can imagine joy-in-work reaching its apex in the belt system. Experiments were being conducted in changing the speed of the belt at different times of the day, and in what is called psychological study. Several foremen he interviewed regretted the early scrapping of men in the prime of life by the introduction of machinery, and also the rapid wearing out of those who were retained. In Mr. De Vere’s own words, “from twenty to twenty-five years was the average period of efficiency at fast work, after that it was generally a question of lighter or slower work, or the scrap-heap. In fast Detroit shops the period would be shorter.” Craftsmen do not earn so much as fast repetitive workers. Some Britishers he asked for a comparison of the conditions in the two countries, said the U.S.A. was a better country to earn money in, but not so good to live in. Social life as we understand it, does not exist in the U.S.A. factory towns.

In Hartford, Connecticut, he heard of some amazing increases in workers’ production by means of motion study with micro-motion pictures taken on the job. Trade-unionism generally is at a discount, the company-union being almost universal. Of course, in a land of comfort, prosperity and workers’ affluence, such social safety-valves as unemployment insurance and sickness provision would be anomalies. One worker he asked what men did when out-of-a-job, replied, “it is a case root hog or die.” Doubtless they would die rather than falsify the Telegraph’s headlines.

In a summing-up at the end of his address, De Vere said, “for the mass of the workers, I doubt whether the standard of life is much, if at all, higher than in England. Life is expensive, especially with regard to such things as rent and clothing.”

So there you have it. Either the Daily Telegraph uses its own private dictionary for everyday words, or else comfort, prosperity and affluence have aspects with which we are not acquainted. We cannot fit any of the three words to a life spent alongside a conveyor-belt, with every physical movement so studied as to eliminate every jerk of the muscles that does not spell profit. Big wages may mean anything, but it is of the nature of wages inevitably to be a reflex of social standards. Where big wages equal big rent, food and clothing bills, and little wages equal little dittoes, the words big and little cease to distinguish anything real. And when, in addition, the journey to the scrap-heap has become abbreviated to a twenty or twenty-five year period, one again wonders whether the editor of the Daily Telegraph contemplates changing his occupation for one of comfort, prosperity and affluence. Doubtless his fatal weakness for self-sacrifice will assert itself, and we shall find him denying himself the temptations of American affluence for many years yet.

“Work for All.” (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sunday Pictorial, October 6th, 1929, gives prominence to an article by Mr. G. Ward Price, who, according to the headlines, “shows that industry is suffering from several definite ailments. If it were “rationalised and brought up to date, we should not have a capable worker unemployed.”

“There is no mystery about what is wrong with the great British export trades,” says Mr. Price. “Their costs of production are too high.”

Further, he says, “There are only two “remedies for unemployment. . . . One is the compulsory rationalisation of our big industries on lines of which America and Germany furnish the example, and the other is the reduction of Trade Union restriction.”

See how great minds work ! The problem of unemployment has baffled each succeeding Government since Governments realised there was unemployment; yet Mr. Price—in his spare time—has placed the whole question—ailment, cause and cure— within the understanding of the least intelligent.

The ailment : cost of production too high. The cause : failure to adopt up-to-date methods, and Trade Union restrictions on output. The cure : limit the latter and rationalise industry.

Mr. Price may be guilty of some slight exaggeration when he says the result will be jobs for every capable worker. That fulness of employment has not yet been reached by America or Germany, although, he says, they furnish examples of rationalisation we might copy.

Every capitalist knows—even if he doesn’t know what his capital is invested in—that reduced cost of production is necessary if markets are to be extended. Every modern concern is run on that basis, even the most backward concerns believe in forcing the biggest return for every penny spent in wages. There is no question with the capitalist about reducing unemployment. So far as he is concerned he desires to increase it. If he rationalises his concern he reduces the number of workers employed while increasing the amount of the product. He may not, it is true, reduce the number of workers in his own factory, but workers must be displaced somewhere if he succeeds in capturing markets previously held by his competitors. For, despite all the bunkum talked and written about new markets, no-one has yet discovered how to unload commodities on some planet across the ether.

Markets are the chief concern of capitalists. Melchett, Ford, and all the rest of the self-advertising industrial magnates are constantly proclaiming industrial warfare against competitors in every country. They carry on the fight by reducing the cost of production ; by reducing the number of workers employed. The huge modern concerns, linked together—often across national boundaries—with the set purpose of achieving world monopoly, organise, train and eliminate until they have the pick of the labour market working at top speed ; with the aid of the latest machinery. An army of workers, trained like athletes to smash, by the cheapness of their products, those concerns opposed to their masters. According to their degree of success the unemployed millions increase. There is no escape from this reasoning. The world’s markets are limited. As a rule what is gained by one concern is lost by others. The markets that are won by England, if we can speak of nations when capital is international, are lost by Germany, France, or some other country.

Mr. Price’s cure for unemployment is, therefore, merely a statement of capitalist method for the benefit of capitalists. It means for the working-class not less unemployment, but more. It means division of the workers into groups and industrial armies straining every nerve to capture world markets for their masters by cheapening their products. Each worker in mad competition with his neighbour to keep his job, and organised on a grand scale to throw men out of work across the seas or the national boundaries.

Trade Union restrictions on output are mere pills for an earthquake, in this collossal industrial struggle. Canute commanding the tides was scarcely more ludicrous than Trade Unionists who imagine they can slow the march of capitalism by going slow themselves.

The working-class forms the great bulk of society. They produce all wealth. Instead of owning the wealth themselves they allow the capitalist class to own and market it. Born and educated in a capitalist world, it is hard for them to conceive of any method of distributing wealth other than by exchange.

The capitalist method is ownership of the means of wealth production by the capitalist class ; enslavement of the working-class by compelling them to sell their energy for wages, and setting them to the production of commodities to be sold on the world’s markets. It is this method, this system, that causes unemployment and poverty, not the high cost of production and Trade Union restrictions, and the only cure is the removal of the cause; the abolition of capitalism.

All workers organised in the mad competitive struggle for markets, as well as the millions of unemployed should learn the truth about capitalism. They should organise with the Socialist Party for its overthrow, and for the establishment of a system where production and distribution will be carried on for the people by the people themselves.

Class ownership of the means of life is the cause of working-class misery. Substitute ownership by the people, production and distribution by the people—leaving out the cash basis—and unemployment will no longer be the name with which we shall designate the long periods when our labour is not required. Modern methods of production can satisfy all our needs and leave us with ample leisure for enjoyment.
F. Foan

Lewis Henry Morgan. (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Morgan was undoubtedly the greatest sociologist of the past century, and in his monumental work (1871) laid a solid foundation for the study of the family and kinship systems; he formulated a scheme of the evolution of the family, based on a study of the classificatory system of relationships, of which he was the discoverer.” 
A. C. Haddon, “History of Anthropology.”

To Our Readers in Reading. (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Toilers and moilers who live in Reading you have every reason for getting thoroughly infuriated. It is unfortunate that one of your shopkeepers should have been so mysteriously murdered. It has made your town notorious for a while.

For this notoriety you are primarily indebted to the stunt press, ever ready to seize upon tragedy as a means to increase the profits of their shareholders.

What have you to say, however, to the way in which that respectable sheet, the Times, describes your behaviour when the news came out that Mr. Drew, the actor and suspect, was acquitted? Let us quote their comment : —
“An unbalanced rabble has also treated him as a hero. To observers at a distance, as no doubt to the more judicious citizens of Reading, this exhibition of popular hysteria on so serious an occasion as an inquest on a murder must be thoroughly repugnant.” (Times, Oct. 11th, 1929.)
We regret that it is difficult for us to influence your behaviour—the subscribers to our official organ, the Socialist Standard, being relatively small. In this respect the Times will probably share our complaint, comparing its sales with those of the penny papers. We can call to mind, however, that in August, 1914, a Serbian prince was murdered. The whole of the organised rabble on this occasion tumbled over themselves in their attempts to make heroes and corpses of every mother’s son throughout the world. Several, no doubt, came from Reading.

You were not even consulted about the honour which was then thrust upon you.

The history of that colossal tragedy may well be brought to mind.

That the joyless nature of existence which the working class are forced to lead under Capitalism should make them so regardless of murdering one another in Capitalist wars, is also to be regretted. Such conduct, however, is explained by the conditions of Capitalist society, with its permanent unemployment, its poverty, its monotonous drudgery and insecurity of life. To many workers in 1914 war appeared almost as a relief. It could not, they thought, be much worse than the ills they knew. The part which the Capitalist Press plays in time of war is too well known.

For them—the Times among the number —no act was too low in vile cunning; no scheme too diabolical and murderous to secure the approbation of those whose business it is to send “dumb heroes up the line to death.”

We Socialists in 1914 did not join the Times in its support of that mad, murderous slaughter. We did not ask that the world should be made a graveyard to satisfy the money lusts of the class which the Times champions.

Then as now, we appeal to you to try and catch the inspiration of our message. At present men and women are hardened and embittered by the needless competition for employment which is an essential feature of Capitalism. They are, moreover, when Capitalist interests demand it, perfected in the arts of mass murder. Then, finally, they are denounced by their masters’ Press because they exhibit in 1929 some of the qualities which the Times found so laudable fifteen years ago.

In contrast with the preaching of the Times, consistent only in the respect that it always serves Capitalism, we offer the message that you should organise with us for Socialism, a system of society in which production would be carried on co-operatively in the interests of the whole of society, not for the profit of a few, as it is to-day.
Billy Iles

Politics International, National or Local? (1929)

From the November 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

On which of these three fronts should the revolutionary party of the workers concentrate their efforts ? This question is a common one at Socialist meetings.

Our reply is, that conditions must always determine policy. The Socialist Party can go no faster than the desires and understanding of the workers. Our mission is to extend that understanding along all three fronts. But which should be given preference? comes the follow-up question. The answer is that our activities will be guided by the resources at our disposal. At present these resources are small. There are hardly any districts in London, for example, where Socialists are in sufficient numbers to make possible at present the election of Socialists at Local Council elections.

Certainly if it were now the case that any district or locality displayed a sufficient desire for Socialism and candidates were elected, our propaganda would be broadcasted from a “louder sounding-board.”

This in itself is of considerable value in making more widely known the general principles of Socialism. It is to propaganda on a wide and scattered front—here and abroad, wherever our word penetrates, that our energies are devoted.

Unlike the Communist Party, dominated by the rulers of Russia, we do not think that the workers will rally to our side merely because we call upon then to do so. If in the future history of Socialist Politics one geographical area becomes stronger than another in its desire for Socialism, unlike the Bolshevik policy in Russia, the Socialist policy would depend upon the forces of the Socialist Party in other countries.

The revolutionary workers’ party will not try to go faster than its abilities to travel —those abilities being dependent on understanding of our class and their organisation.

Therefore, at the November Council Elections we shall indulge in no wild outbursts of activity on the fields of local politics. Our policy will be, as in the past, to continue to proclaim the principles of Socialism.

Our ability to do this is determined by the support we receive from those who want Socialism.

Should these lines meet the eye of any of those many friends that we are continually meeting, who tell us, “I have been a Socialist for — years,” whilst still remaining outside the ranks of the Socialist Party—may we once again ask them to consider the desirability of enjoying the unique pleasure—in these days when docile placidity appears to reign supreme—of exercising the courage of their convictions. Activity in a Socialist organisation gives such an opportunity.
Billy Iles