Saturday, February 4, 2023

A Study in Social Importance (1945)

From the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Daily Express, November 30th, we read of how Earl Poulett complained in the House of Lords about the time he and his missus were travelling by train from London to Scotland. Three persons in all occupied their compartment. It is possible to guess how many occupied the other compartments from the story. The train stopped at a station. A British officer approached with two prisoners, took over the compartment., and ejected the Earl and his missus.

After much pushing and squeezing the three were seated elsewhere. The Earl’s missus found it impossible. She couldn’t sit it out, so she stood it out in the corridor for the remaining five hours of the journey.

What an epic for Hollywood. The darkened train rushing through the wet, cold night. The still quiet figure in the corridor. A grim foreboding look on her face, making the gloomy shadows gloomier still. Is it surprising that her better half aired the grievance in the House of Lords?

My job as a worker takes me daily into many homes. Most of these homes are an insult to humanity. Overcrowded, inadequate sanitary arrangements, horrible hovels mis-called homes.

Let us make a call. I knock at the door. I speak as I do my business. “Good morning, Mrs. —, how is the baby?” She replies, “Not so good; his food won’t lie in his stomach and he has severe diarrhoea. I have sent for the doctor.” I express my wishes for a speedy recovery and depart. Next week I call again, put the same question. The reply is different: “Baby died in hospital.”

So I see many babies of the working class being destroyed before my eyes. Sometimes a few days’ illness; sometimes the babies struggle for weeks trying to survive.

Some quotations from the report of Sir Alexander M’Gregor, Medical Officer of Health for Glasgow, to a subcommittee of the corporation gives a clearer picture : —
“296 infants out of 522 cases died from gastroenteritis in Glasgow between the beginning of August and the middle of October.

The investigation has shown that no single specific factor can be distinguished as the cause, but two facts do emerge—that the incidence was highest where the housing conditions are the poorest, and the great majority of cases occurred in babies who were artificially fed.”— (Daily Express, November 4th—italics ours.)
296 tragedies occur in working-class homes—space dealing with it in the Daily Express, 3 inches of a column. An Earl’s wife stands 5 hours in a train—9½ inches of a column in the same paper.

Earl Poulett comments on how British soldiers after Dunkirk had to march and were squeezed into cattle trucks, and he is sure it was time our people were shown a little consideration. Exactly whom he means by our people, I leave the reader to guess. Nobody points out how the fathers of some of the unfortunate babies are busy killing the enemy while the babies are killed by the unknown specific factor at home. Sir Alexander can’t find this factor. The Daily Express is likewise mute.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not a medical authority. The Party is an authority on political economy. They know what the specific factor is. We can enlighten Sir Alexander, the Daily Express, and the working class— particularly the working class, for they alone can apply the cure.

Miserable housing, malnutrition, disease—in this case gastro-enteritis—are directly the result of poverty. To eliminate these evils, poverty must be abolished. Poverty is the specific factor.

Poverty is caused through a small minority class owning the means of wealth production and distribution; as a consequence, they also own the wealth produced by the sweat and toil of the working class. But the workers must exist, and they do—in poverty.

The cure for poverty is simple. Here are the directions on the label.

Let the working class organise for Socialism. Make use of their votes to gain control of Parliament and thus control of the armed forces. Eject the owners of the means of production from their ownership. Make the instruments of wealth production the common property of all, and the wealth produced by the community free of access to all.

Then a complete change in the economic basis of society will be achieved. Poverty and its ills, as well as war, will become for all times a thing of the past.

Editorial: What to do with the World’s Frontiers? (1945)

Editorial from the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not only the fighting men whose occupation ceases when a war ends; the same fate overtakes the armchair strategists, who can no longer recount each day where General X and Admiral Y were at fault the day before. But by an admirable principle of compensation the armchair strategists, notably those with which Labour’s “left wing” is graced, will at once be provided with another occupation for which their self-certified talent at placing and removing large masses of human beings without their knowledge and consent will specially qualify them. They will be able to unroll the maps of Europe—indeed, of the world—and tell the statesmen just how to redraw all the frontiers and solve all the problems of minorities. It will be the years of the last peace settlement all over again—but with a few differences. The same old schemes based on language, on religion, on history, and on the consent of the people concerned will be argued and criticised, statistics will be produced and disputed, and the claims of the big Powers for spheres of interest and special rights will be heard. Among the notable differences is, above all, the fact that Russia, weak and ignored in 1919, is now powerful and must be treated as such. So the Russian spokesmen no longer talk the language of Lenin, of “no annexations” and “self-determination.” Instead, we find Mr. W. P. Coates, of the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee, in a discussion about Poland’s frontiers, quite frankly proclaiming that what Russia has she holds :—
“The Soviet Union has already re-incorporated all the territories up to the Curzon Line. Soviet administration has been established in those territories, and no power under heaven can alter that fact, so that’s that.”— (Letter to Forward, November 11th, 1944.)
This is, of course, only the customary attitude of all capitalist governments when they believe themselves possessed of sufficient force to make their policy effective, and the gulf that lies between modern Russian policy and the early professions of the Bolshevists can be seen from another letter written by Mr. Coates, in which he actually threw in as a reason why Russia should have certain territory until recently held by Poland, the alleged fact that “it was originally Russian territory and was seized by Poland during the Tartar invasion of Russia in 1340.” (Times, December 22nd, 1944.) Yes, 1340 is the date mentioned !

We wait to learn that the Communist Party is going to claim back America for the British Empire, recall the descendants of Caesar to London, put back the Moors in Spain, and make a few other changes based on what happened 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

However, let us make our attitude clear. We have no scheme for drawing frontiers or solving minority problems. We recognise the fact that many people are much concerned with religious or language or other differences, but we do not believe that these are the cause of national friction and hatreds. If one Power wants oil or some other mineral that happens to be within the territory of a weaker Power, no doubt it is a very useful propaganda weapon to recall what happened in 1066, or to work up agitation on religious or language grounds, but these are the excuses; the cause is the capitalist lust for profit. The propaganda would rarely range more than a ripple but for the alleged economic interests that are woven into it. It is capitalism that causes the poverty of the mass of the population, on both sides of all frontiers, and it is capitalism that threatens the worker always with unemployment: but how convenient it is for the capitalist to hold up the foreigner as the cause of it all ! If the foreign worker stays at home we are told he is destroying “our” industry by his cheap labour. If the foreign worker happens to be a minority group inside the frontier, he is taking “our” job and is moreover helping some foreign Power. If a man who speaks our language is in a minority group in some other country, he is told he can only find prosperity and happiness by agitating to rejoin the land of his fathers.

The problem of making all countries fit for all people to live in will not be solved by shifting frontiers. The new attempt will be just as faulty as the much lauded attempt after the last war. When there is no longer a profit-seeking privileged class to bedevil relationships between peoples, and when there is no exploited class to suffer poverty and unemployment, the frontier problem will be solved, but that means Socialism and no frontiers.

By The Way: Canadians on Germany (1945)

The By The Way Column from the February 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Canadians on Germany

The Canadian Army newspaper, The Maple Leaf, has conducted a poll among Canadian troops now fighting, on post-war treatment of Germany.
“Less than ten per cent, suggested the partition of Germany, and less than ten per cent, the separation of Prussia from Germany”.—(Daily Herald, January 3rd, 1915.)
The Maple Leaf’s comment was: —
“The whole wipe-out-the-German-nation idea is knocked on the head by these men. Many even mentioned this idea and pointed out that they considered it absurd and impossible. . . . There is a general impression among these fighting men that any term of war debt in money or any partition of Germany is very likely to lead to another war !”
Everybody who does a job of work for a living knows how quickly one’s pre-conceived notions of a particular job vanish when you come up against the job itself.

Perhaps if Lord Vansittart and one or two others (Pollitt & Co., etc.) had a few weeks fighting at the front, it might alter their ideas.

* * *

More Belt Tightening

“Two of our large banks, Barclays and the District, report larger profits in 1944 than in 1943. Barclays’ net. figure has improved from £1,584,000 to £1,673.000, and the District Bank from £434,000 to £449,000. In each case the dividends remain unchanged. Barclays Bank are paying 10 per cent. on the ‘A’ and 14 per cent, on the ‘B’ and ‘C’ stocks, and the District Bank 18⅓ per cent. on the ‘A’ and ‘C’ shares and 10 per cent. on the ‘B’ shares.”(News-Chronicle, January 5th, 1945.)

“Midland Bank profits for 1944 have passed the Two million mark for the first time since 1939. The figure is £2,038,274, against £1,984,396 for 1943. Dividend is maintained at 10 per cent.

“Westminster Bank profits are up. Dividend remains 18 per cent. on the £4 shares, and 12½ per cent. on the stock.

“‘Big Five’ aggregate profits for the year are 4.1 per cent. higher—£8,004,602—a new war peak.”—(Herald, January 10th.)

“Lend to the End” (18 per cent.)

* * *

Can We (?) Afford It?

A spate of writings on this theme is now filling the columns of the public press.

The end of the European war is alleged to be in sight, though some of the optimists (as usual) seem to be equipped with conveniently powerful telescopes.

We are approaching the period when the rosy promises of the early days—”jobs, homes, security,” etc.—made to induce war-enthusiasm, are beginning to fall due.

It’s the “morning after the night before.” The first ominous grey shadows of a frigid winter’s morning to dispel the romantic illusions of Churchillian radio rhetoric.

Members of Parliament, professors and “experts” are vieing in the attempt to calm the people down. “Don’t expect too much !” The things we want have got to be paid for! “There isn’t the money!” “How can we do it? Can we afford it? ” is their monotonous refrain.

Imposing arrays of figures are cited showing how poor WE (?) really are.

“By a great act of faith, we have mortgaged our, as yet, non-existent national income with colossal charges for education and social services. . . . Two questions at once arise. Can we stand this staggering expenditure? Will we stand it?” asks Captain Gammans, Tory M.P. for Hornsey.— (Evening News, December 27th, 1944.)

The “staggering expenditure” referred to is Two thousand millions a year. The current expenditure for 1944, according to Capt. Gammans himself, is Three thousand millions.

The plain simple man might well ask, “If we can stand it in 1944, why not 1947 or 8?”

But, no! it’s not so simple. You see, war-time is “abnormal.’
“What are the things on which we have set our hearts? They are social security, a greatly improved medical service, an educational system which will enable a poor child to enjoy the same advantages as a rich one. family allowances, good houses for everyone at rents they can afford, and on top of all these, and other things I have not mentioned, we are to achieve a rising standard of living”.—(B. Seebohm Rowntree,  Evening Standard, November 30th.)

“Economists tell us that to pay for them we must increase our exports by 50 per cent, above the pre-war figure, but we can only do this if we can sell our goods in the world markets at competitive prices.”— (B. Seebohm Rowntree.)

“The first is that we succeed in restoring a sufficient volume of export trade to provide for the essential imports, without which we do not eat or remain an industrial power at all. The second is that our industry and agriculture are efficient”—(Capt. Gammans.)
Our readers will see at once that we have two bright new boys for the “Export or Bust” chorus, now being produced at colossal expense, in inglorious Technicolour, by the British capitalist class.

They are bright new boys—both of them—because they have thought up one or two new ghost stories to curdle the blood of the British working man.

First, Mr. Rowntree (we’re glad his cocoa is a bit more nourishing than his arguments) : —
“Let us make no mistake. We cannot get these things merely by a redistribution of existing wealth; a little may be possibly got that way, but by far the greater part of the cost involved, which may run into hundreds of millions of pounds a year, can only be met bv increasing the total amount of wealth produced.”
Now Capt. Gammans : —
“If we were to confiscate every income of over £1,000 a year and distribute it among the rest of the community, each person in this country would benefit to the extent of only about 3s. 9d. a week.”
This is a perfectly simple straightforward proposition as old as the hills. It will be found in “Value, Price and Profit,” by Marx, published seventy years ago. It was the argument of Citizen Weston. He said, as Marx graphically put it, that “what prevented working men getting more out of the bowl (of soup) was its smallness.” Marx called this argument “rather spoony.” Interestingly enough, F. A. Ridley in the New Leader and Michael Foot in the Daily Herald say the same thing.

Ridley is supposed to be writing about Socialism and Equality. He actually writes: “Under Socialism everyone would get exactly the same.” (New Leader, September 2nd, 1944.) This is nonsense. Ridley goes on : —
“The extreme left—anarchists, S.P.G.B., etc.—will demand the application of the classic formula, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ . . . ‘To each according to his needs’ is an Utopian formula … it outstrips the present capacity of society.”
In other words, workers go short because there’s not enough. By the way, the S.P.G.B. is not the “left,” extreme or otherwise, but THE Socialist Party.

Lastly, Michael Foot (Daily Herald, January 9, 1945) :
“Now the subtle point about all this propaganda is that part of it is true. It is true that many British industries are hopelessly inefficient. It is true that an increase in production per man hour could, under certain other conditions, greatly increase the wealth of the community.”
So, according to Ridley, industry has not the “capacity”; to Foot, it is “inefficient.”

The bowl is too small. Seventy years ago Marx said that it was not the “narrowness of the bowl nor the scantiness of its contents” (“Value, Price and Profit,” Chap. II.), but the smallness of their spoons which prevented working men getting a larger portion.

The Government has now published figures of war-time production. The increase in production of wealth, despite war difficulties, is simply staggering. Despite the fact that some things (aeroplanes, e.g.) are produced in quantities for which no pre-war criterion exists—it is not unfair to say that, generally speaking, production has more than doubled, while workers’ consumption has been more than halved. (“Statistics relating to the War Effort of the United Kingdom,” Stationery Office.) It has never been the Socialist case that a redistribution of existing wealth would solve the poverty problem under capitalism.

Reference to our pamphlet “Socialism” (page 9) shows that:—
“Even with the present wasteful use of the productive forces there is enough wealth produced to raise the standard of living of the great mass of the population. Mr. Colin Clark, M.A., in his recent book, “The National Income, 1924-31,” estimates that if the total national income were equally distributed, every family mould have received about £349 during 1929, £311 during 1930, and £298 during 1931. These amounts are equal to about £6 14s. a week, £6 11s. a week, and £5 13s. a week for the years in question. In point of fact, they got about half this sum.”
Now, with production more than doubled, despite the absence’ of millions of the most fit, we’re told we are not producing enough to go round.
“The great inequality of income is, moreover, only one aspect of the poverty problem. Capitalism not only bestows on the rich a large share of the wealth produced, but—even more important—it keeps the total amount of wealth produced far below the possible total.”— (“Socialism,” page 10.)
This is the answer to Capt. Gammans (Tory), Seebohm Rowntree (Liberal), Michael Foot (Labour), F. A. Ridley (I.L.P.).

The abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of wealth production will remove the “chocks” from under the landing wheels of the productive system.

What has happened during this war, where the amazing capacity of a modern working class has been demonstrated, due to temporary, insatiable military demand, is a slight indication of what that working class can do, relieved of exploitation, and with the end of futile occupations like advertising, and fighting for and waiting on parasites.

We Socialists are not to be frightened by horror stories about whether WE can afford it.

We shall not be led up the garden path of renewed fierce competition and rivalry to export more than our American and German brothers, leading to a new war.

To-day we can make our bowl of soup as large as we like—once we’ve knocked the shovels out of the capitalists’ hands by intelligent political action—and issued everybody with a spoon.