Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Aspects of Marxism – Some Critics Criticised (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critics of Marx rarely agree as to actually what they disagree about in respect of his doctrines. Take for example two recent critics J. Plamenatz, Fellow of Nuffield College and R. N. Carew Hunt. J. Plamenatz in his book German Marxism and Russian Communism, does not even grant historical materialism the status of an hypothesis let alone a theory of social development, (pp 172/3.) Although unmindful of this he tells us later, “historical materialism is an hypothesis much better forgotten while those who support it have nothing more to say in its favour than what the Marxists have said.”

On the other hand R. N. Carew Hunt in his work The Theory and Practise of Communism says (p. 42), “The economic factor for all social institutions and particularly for their historical development has exercised a profound influence and all modern writers are indebted to him (Marx) even if they do not know it.” He adds, “any return to pre-Marxist social theory is impossible.”

There is also a difference of emphasis in their respective evaluation of Marxian economics. Thus J. Plamenatz (p.113), same book, says “Marx’s analysis of Capitalism, though seldom free from obscurity sometimes illogical and often mistaken is nevertheless impressive,” on the other hand, R. N. Carew Hunt in The Theory and Practise of Communism (p. 61), quotes with apparent approval Keynes’s dictum, “Capital is an obsolete text book . . . not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world.”

So among critics of Marx, “yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice,” a choice so wide and varied as to constitute an embarrassment rather than an exercise of the critical faculties. Thus for the price of one book you may gather that Marx was a mental, even if mistaken, giant. Another book may present him as a sort of intellectual pigmy—on stilts. You can also learn that he was a kind of humanitarian watchdog or from an opposite angle that he is the “big bad wolf” of the class struggle concept. He has even been called the father of sociology, a title which R. N. Carew Hunt says he well deserves. On the other hand he has been regarded by many acid critics, of whom J. Plamenatz might be included, as a victim of Hegelian dyspepsia which kept repeating all through his writings. If the reader has perused a number of books criticising Marx and is a little confused and dissatisfied then he can try asking the publishers for his money back or take to reading Marx himself. What a pity Marx could not, in reply to “What did Marx really mean, by the critics” have penned “What do the critics really mean by Marx.”

After this, one might be faintly surprised to learn that R. N. Carew Hunt regards Capital as a very great book and one of the most important ever written (p. 62). As to why it is a great book the author is vagueness itself. Mr. Carew Hunt cannot, however, praise without faint damns. Marx, it seemed, on his intellectual voyage did not quite know where he was going, consequently he lost his bearings and by accident discovered something. Just like Columbus who, having lost his route to India, chanced upon the New World. Mr. Carew Hunt also offers a curious clue as to why he thinks Capital is a very great book. He quotes Mr. Edmund Wilson to the effect that the principles of “capital” “are derived solely from the laws of human selfishness which are as unfailing as the laws of gravitation.”

This is nonsense. How could Marx hold that man in changing the world change themselves and yet believe at the same time in a fixed pattern of human behaviour based on laws of human selfishness expressed as self interest? Indeed for Marx individual motives whether selfish or otherwise, are too complex and obscure even for the individual himself to adequately understand; too fluctuating and tending to cancel each other out, to offer a reliable index to social change. Only the resultant effect of the behaviour of individuals under given objective conditions can be studied and correlated with key factors of the social environment in order to reveal the historical significance of human activity. Even to say that individuals have an interest in self-preservation does not mean a biological adaption to “Nature red in tooth and claw” or a series of sudden impulses and desires actuated by urgent immediacy. Like other interests, self-preservation operates through a complex, socially mediated environment. While it may serve to make individuals highly responsive to social pressures and changes it cannot explain the historically specific activities and interests of men. The key to understanding such activities and interests is not to be located in fixations like self-preservation or self interest but in the social structure and class character of the society in which men live.

The concept of self interest as a social dynamic belongs not to Marx but Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism which sought to give a corporate expression for private interests and pleasure in the maxim of “The greatest happiness of the greatest number.” Such a view served, however, as an apology for Capitalist society because it disregarded the fact that Capitalism was a system based on exploitation and chose to believe that there was some common utility to which all human interests and welfare could be equated and that the existing social relations are the most advantageous and commonly useful to all.

Utilitarianism may be said to be the official social theory of bourgeois society. Its content is essentially anti-social. Its view is an atomistic one. While individuals may jostle with each other in the mutually advantageous hurly-burly of every day life they nevertheless remain self-sufficient units, indivisible and impenetrable. As Marx pointed out, on this theory the egotistic individual is the abstract ideal of bourgeois society. It was John Stuart Mill who gave Utilitarianism an extra coat of humanitarian gloss. While the Fabians with one or two characteristic touches incorporated it into their political philosophy. It has also passed into current economic culture where, according to certain marginal productivity economists, a “natural law” tends to give capital what capital creates, and to labour what labour creates. So every unit of production, we are assured, exploits every other unit and à la Bentham a good time is had by all.

Such a theory of individualism fails to see the unbreakable social links which bind man to man. Just as it failed to see that it was the complex myriad interrelationships of the division of labour which gave individuals their status and privilege, and not their own unaided merit. Marx himself did not deny the role of the individual in society. What he denied was the alleged “rights of individuals” as expressed in a social philosophy. He revealed that Capitalism was a society which brought about a social alienation but. less than any other man, would he have attributed this to some inflexible behaviour, in the form of self-interest as universal and pervasive as the law of gravitation. Indeed, it was Marx’s peculiar contribution to our intellectual inheritance to reveal this alienation as the outcome of the separation of the vast majority from their instruments of production, and the conversion of their productive energies into a commodity. The anti-social consequences of Capitalist society, where the law of value constitutes the real planning authority, has its font, not in the hearts and minds of men, but in the character of the social organisation in which they live.

For Marx the future of man pointed, not to a mythical harmony established by the competitive free play of self interest, but to the social control of all those agencies necessary for man’s well being. Class divided society, Marx thought, impoverished the real content of individuality, only Socialised humanity, he believed, would change the form and enrich the nature of human personality and make it a social value accessible to all. Nor, as is alleged, do Marxists explain specific ideas as facile rationalisations of an underlying motive of self interest. It recognises ideas as powerful agencies through which men conduct their social struggles, and in which they often sincerely believe. Marxists do not underestimate the role of ideas in history. They refuse, however, to accept ideas at their face value. Ideas, they contend, can only be significantly understood by revealing their integral connection with men’s interests and needs. That is why historical ideas cannot be severed from material interests. Historical materialism thus explains, better than any other theory, why in the course of history some ideas have succeeded and others failed. Why some have been accepted and others rejected. For Marxists, ideas are not powers within themselves; they only become effective as instruments of social change when they are tied to powerful historic class needs. Behind the conflict of social ideals there is always a conflict of group economic interests.

Men have many interests, none of which can be isolated from each other, but if we want to know which interest has predominated in the course of history, then analysis shows it is class economic interests which have been crucial in modifying or revolutionising the social situation.

History, Marxists claim, is not the story of individuals with fixed pattern behaviours, but the record of the economic conflict of social classes and, with it, the rise of some and decline of others. Because an individual cannot think or act on his own behalf it is only in and through these social classes that his social outlook, traditions, and allegiances, are moulded. From this it follows that a dominant social group will systematise its ideas and attitudes in seeking to preserve the social situation which serves their needs. Just as other groups in accordance with their aims and interests will seek to modify, or radically alter, existing conditions. Each ruling group proclaims, however, that it speaks, not for itself but on behalf of the community.

Social classes have no reference to an abstract economic man pursuing the path of self interest, but grew out of the development of socially organised production If the investigation of history starts with men’s needs it can be shown that these needs are socially produced and therefore socially mediated. From these needs there develops the sub-division of labour which in turn brings about different and various vocational activities and productive functions. It is from this historical productive structure that individuals acquired status and privilege, which crystallised into social classes.

Because human history is social history the motives of the single “self” are never determining factors in social development. Since the passing of primitive society history has been class history and the behaviour of individuals, class conditioned. Moreover, men are born into a set of class relations independent of their individual wills, i.e., as master or slave, lord or serf, Capitalist or wage worker, which limit their scope and action. The scope and action of members of a class are even more significantly limited by the overall and constant pressure of their existing needs resulting from economic conditions, the outcome of which results in a common pi and activity. Because the common economic activity which members of a class engage in produces an aggregate effect, it does not follow that such activity is reducible to the individual behaviour of members of that class. The motives actuating an individual might not be primarily economic, but his consideration and conduct are moulded by the interests of the group to which he belongs, and without whose support little could be effected. Class interests and the opposition between class interests centre around the ownership of the productive resources.

Because variations in individual motives are compensated for in any large aggregate activity, it produces a net effect different from the anticipated end result of each individual action. By correlating this average behaviour with crucial factors in a given social environment we are able to give a significant account of the society in which we live.

Marx never sought to make the individual the sole responsible agent for the society of which he is a part. This did not prevent him from protesting against the anti-social consequences of the class ownership of the productive resources and the anti-social nature of the class behaviour associated with it. While he never held the Rousseau belief which saw man as an essentially noble animal he never wavered from the view that the vast majority were capable of transforming the dehumanised character of extant society into something truly human. Far from believing in an invariant pattern of human behaviour, he proclaimed, “all history is a modification of human nature.” Mr. Carew Hunt’s attempt to foist on Marx the notion of an abstract economic man is laughable. He is typical of a long line of critics who have not read Marx so much as to have read what others have read into him.
Ted Wilmott

Letter: What holds us back? (1956)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Comrades,

Dare I venture as an ex-member to voice a point of view on the social question? Whilst it is understood that the Socialist movement in this country as represented by the S.P.G.B. deserves all the praise for all that voluntary work which the loyal members as writers and speakers have done for over 50 years with the idea of trying to enlighten the minds of the members of the “working class” towards an understanding of Socialism as a means to the solution of the social problems which affect the working class, may I suggest since it is common knowledge to the members of the S.P.G.B. that the time has come, which calls for a little mental stock-taking to ascertain or try to explain away to their own satisfaction why the Socialist message which has been put over to your London audiences over a period of years hasn't rung any bell in the minds of the workers. Since the Socialist movement doesn't make any headway in an increase in membership it is obvious some explanation is needed.

Should Socialists discuss the issue and give a united decision on it? Can I suggest some material phenomena for such discussion? “Does Capitalism in this developing period, which enables the working class as a whole to maintain a standard of living with the aid of its Trade Unions which they regard as satisfactory, operate as a factor in the workers contentment with Capitalism?” So long as Capitalism can give the workers their weekly pay packet isn’t that all the workers want? Do Socialists look on Socialism as a practical proposition, in the present developing Capitalism? or do they regard Socialism as a practical necessity only when Capitalism has produced the high productive social forces, which fetter production and which in turn puts millions of workers out of work? Is it under those material conditions which Socialists can expect the workers to become interested in the Socialist solution? If these points explain why the Socialist message, which is put over at present doesn’t ring any bell in the minds of the workers, what should be the Socialist policy under the present conditions?

Since the Socialist movement makes the sound and correct moral indictment against our present social system, and since the present social system is kept in existence because it is supported and upheld by the majority of the workers, cannot the same indictment be made against the workers for their mental stupid blind support?

Hasn't the time come when Socialists should cease to nurse the workers, since the ideas, motives, and general moral conduct is as much in question as the known Capitalists defenders? Has the Socialist movement in our present developing Capitalism anything to lose by dealing with the workers Capitalistic ideology, the sordid ideas, and motives and general conduct? Should the “ S.S." be used more to deal with Henry Dubb's sordid ideas, motives and conduct? Is it true such ideas and motives and conduct act as a stumbling block in the path to acquire social ideas and correct motives, and right moral conduct? Such a policy would have a tendency to attract the notice of the worker readers of the “S,S.” and would probably bring in correspondence. This is what the Editorial Committee want so it would give them the further chance to give Henry the mental bumping he deserves. At least that can be done in the “ S.S.” if not on the stump.

Haven't Socialists enough evidence to support their moral indictment against the workers sordid ideas, etc.? The present writer gives three cases as examples of such ideas and behaviour patterns. The following conversation between two workers as partners in a freight business, I overheard their conversation as I stood against their loaded fruit lorry in Covent Garden some few years ago. One said to the other, “give it the bloody juice never mind the fine, get there, well see to the fine afterwards." The second case. A workmate I worked with a few years ago told me with great glee on his face about the smartness of his own wife in her dealings with the Yanks during the war. Apparently she worked in a canteen which supplied whisky to the Yanks. The latter are known to be good natured re treating any one to a drink. Such was the case with the woman in question, but instead of drinking the whisky she put it in a jug or a bottle which was behind the bar and as time passed it accumulated and when the time came that they ran short of whisky, she brought it out and sold the Yanks their own whisky back to them at a handsome profit. My work pal got a great kick out of his moral story. Third case. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the support of the Socialist truth that all workers have material interests in common to defend, they allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder to wage war against other workers on behalf of their exploiters when war breaks out. The said workers political and economic ignorance shows up their wrong ideas, motives and conduct and calls for a moral indictment because of the anti-social nature. Is it a part of the Socialist case to have to try and defend such behaviour on the old fallacious Blatchfords grounds of defence of the bottom dog; the not guilty argument, because the workers are alleged to be victims of their Capitalist environment?

The workers are in the same environment as the Socialist and can get the correct ideas, motives and conduct, if they weren't too mentally lazy, to try to get them. The choice is there, but being mentally lazy, they prefer to get the wrong ideas. The Socialist movement hasn't anything to lose by telling the workers some home truths, and let them see what Dubb's you think they are. Charge the Henry Dubb's as political blacklegs or scabs, of being on the wrong side of the political fence and that they ought to be sent to Coventry.

The more they squirm, more is the success of the moral indictment.
I remain, yours truly,
(signed) Edward Littler.

Before coming to specific questions our correspondent gives his description of the situation that leads him to raise them. This situation, in his view, is that Socialist propaganda “hasn't rung any bell in the minds of the workers," and again, “The Socialist movement doesn't make any headway.” This is not a correct assessment. Though the Socialist movement is small and progress slow it is not correct that no progress is made. The membership of the S.P.G.B. is about three times what it was 30 years ago. The correct statement of the problem should therefore be, why is progress so slow?

It is partly answered by recalling that the founders of the S.P.G.B. were at the outset convinced that the work would be hard and progress slow; that it may have been even slower than some of them thought only indicates some under-estimation of the forces at work against us.

Our correspondent's next point is that under present conditions the workers are satisfied with their standard of living, and receiving their weekly pay packet is all they want. We do not agree with this statement and can see abundant evidence that it is not true. If it were true the workers would not, as in fact they do, repeatedly claim higher real wages and be met with refusals from the employers and appeals from the Government not to make and press such claims. Again, if it were true that that is all the workers want, they would not trouble themselves about the electoral programmes of the Tory, Labour, Liberal and other parties promising them something more. They would not trouble to vote. The fact that the great majority of them do vote and do put Governments in and out is evidence that they are not satisfied merely to receive their weekly pay packet

Then our correspondent asks if the attitude of the workers towards Socialism will not be different when the time comes that “Capitalism has produced the high productive social forces which fetter production, which in turn puts millions of workers out of work.” The question itself is in error, and the answer does not rest on speculation about what may happen in the future. It has all happened long ago and many times. Capitalism has long been a fetter on production and for a century and a half has periodically seen “normal” unemployment rocket up to depression levels. But during depression times the number of workers moved to become interested in Socialism was not materially different from the number who became interested in Socialism in “boom" times. The great majority of the millions of workers unemployed in the 19th century depressions or the depressions between the wars did not interest themselves in Socialism. They went instead into campaigns for unemployment doles, for Government-provided work schemes, for tariff reform, or free trade, or Nationalisation and the rest of the reformist illusions, or they went on hunger marches. Hunger without understanding makes rebels and reformists, not Socialists, and the membership of the S.P.G.B. in those depression times was smaller than it is now under “ full employment.”

Continuing his argument our correspondent suggests that Socialists should make the same indictment against the workers for their “stupid, blind support ” of Capitalism as they do against Capitalist; cease to “nurse” the workers and instead attack their Capitalist ideas and behaviour.

This criticism surprises us because in long years of propaganda the S.P.G.B. has so often been criticised for doing the very thing our correspondent says we do not do. We have often been taken to task by critics on the alleged ground that S.P.G.B. writers and speakers constantly allow their impatience to express itself in exasperated condemnation of the non-Socialist workers.

The important point, however, is that the aim of Socialist propaganda must always be to get non-Socialists to understand and agree with out point of view; harping on their “stupidity,” etc., is hardly likely to further that aim. It is also not true that the working class are stupid or, in the main, anti-social in their behaviour. Blind to their own interests, yes; lacking an understanding of and what will and what will not further their interest, but this is not stupidity. And in spite of those individuals whose reaction to Capitalism is to fight ruthlessly for their own hand without regard to others, the great majority of workers show a regard for their fellow workers, at least those with whom they are closely associated, and a sense of social responsibility that should rather surprise us in view of the pressure of the Capitalist, anti-social environment.

We repeat, therefore, that what the working class lacks is knowledge of the Socialist case and our correspondent has not shown that there is some easier and quicker way of providing it than the way followed by the S.P.G.B.

In conclusion we cannot omit to point out to our correspondent and to others who have allowed slow progress to dishearten them, that progress would be that much quicker if all who understand and want Socialism joined in the task of winning over the great army of the unconverted, instead of progressively becoming disheartened and falling out. If all those who have fallen out had remained in the movement what a strong movement for Socialism we would have now. The only way, and the certain one, to succeed, is to keep at it.
Editorial Committee.

The Passing Show: I hire 'em, I fire’em (1956)

The Passing Show Column from the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

I hire 'em, I fire’em

Under the 1948 treaty of “alliance” between Britain and Jordan, Britain is allowed to maintain air bases and troops in Jordan, and subsidises and trains the Arab Legion, which is the Jordan army and police force combined. The subsidy to the Arab Legion is paid not to the Jordan Government but direct to the Legion itself. Up to a short time ago the Arab Legion was commanded and controlled by Brigadier-General Glubb, who had the assistance of more than 70 British officers, some seconded from the British Army, but most on private contract with the Jordan Government. Under this set-up General Glubb “controlled a sum which amounted last year to two-thirds of Jordan’s total national budget” (The Observer, 4/ 3/56). When it was pointed out that this meant that Jordan, with her coercive forces controlled—through Glubb and the British subsidy—by Britain, was little more than a British colony, the answer always came pat that Glubb had nothing to do with Britain; he was simply a “soldier of fortune,” who was employed as a matter of private arrangement by King Hussein and the Jordan Government But when, on 1st March, King Hussein acted on this assumption, and gave Glubb the sack, what a roar of anger went up from the British ruling class! In fact, under the old arrangement, Jordan was a quasi-colony of Britain; and the dismissal of Glubb was part of an attempt by the Jordanian ruling class to free itself from the tutelage of the British ruling class.

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For better, for worse

But while the British ruling class was roaring with anger, our “progressives,” our left-wing Labourites and Communists, were roaring with approval. The sacking of Glubb was seen as a successful episode in an anti-colonial struggle for liberation by the Jordan people instead of indicating merely a change of masters. But how progressive is it to be a “progressive?” For while the Arab Legion was controlled by Britain, Glubb saw to it that it was kept ready to defend the interests, strategic and commercial, of the British ruling class in the Middle East, in any possible struggle with anti-British powers. It was therefore the policy of Britain to keep the Legion out of any war with Israel. But now that the restraining influence of General Glubb has been removed, the chances of a war between Israel and Jordan, with all the attendant devastation and misery, have been much increased. As usual, the “progressives” in their pursuit of “immediate” policies and “day-to-day” objectives, have found themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.

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The things that are sacred

The House of Commons has now voted twice within a month to end hanging. An interesting sidelight on the first debate in 'February was the attitude of The Times. It was against the complete abolition which Mr. Silverman and his associates called for; and although it prides itself that its news columns are impartial, it saw fit (taking the report of the debate and the summary on the main news page together) to give 90 inches of space to the speeches of the hangman’s supporters against only 30 inches to those of the abolitionists.

As for the second debate, in March, one cannot resist quoting part of the contribution made by Mr. Logan, the Labourite, who sits for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (The Times, 17/2/56).
“The Bill was the most fallacious and damnable thing affecting the liberty of the people that had been brought before the House of Commons. It gave a licence to kill without a penalty. It should not be allowed.... If members of the House valued their own lives, if they valued law and order, and if they wanted to protect the things that were sacred, in the name of God it was their duty to vote against the second reading.”
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Camel-swallowers, Inc.

But in spite of the impassioned arguments of Mr. Logan, the Bill was given a second reading. What is the Socialist attitude to it? It means that some 12 or 13 persons each year will, instead of bring hanged, be put into prison for a greater or lesser number of years. But in the meantime the system of Capitalism, with its big wars, “small” wars, colonial wars, and “emergencies,” continues to send thousands to their deaths every year. Mr. Silverman, the Labour M.P. for Nelson and Colne, said in the first debate (The Times, 17/2/56):
“Beyond all the arguments about deterrents and the state of the law, there must remain in their minds the fear that from time to time at eight or nine o’clock in the morning an innocent man would be taken out of his cell to have his neck broken.”
But Mr. Silverman, and the other Parliamentary supporters of the Bill. were also supporters of the last war, when not one or two innocent men, but hundreds of thousands of innocent men—and women and children too —were shot or bombed to pieces. If Mr. Silverman is really concerned with preventing innocent people losing their lives, he would be wise to devote himself to the inauguration of Socialism, instead of the patching-up of Capitalism.

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Fiddling the accounts

Figures are frequently published to demonstrate to the workers that the rate of surplus value is really very low. For this purpose various shady devices are employed —for example, allowing for directors’ fees, which are often a disguised form of surplus value, as part of the total expenditure along with wages and raw materials, before calculating the amount of profit which the workers have produced for their bosses. Another, and more important, dodge is to allow for payment of the various company taxes before reckoning up the surplus value. And it is true that if this is done, the amount of surplus value is brought down considerably. But this is simply a trick. To the worker, labouring part of the week to produce the equivalent of his wages' and for the rest of the week to produce surplus value for his boss, it is immaterial whether that part of the value of his work which is stolen from him goes to the individual Capitalist who happens to employ him or to the executive committee of the Capitalist class, which is the State. The Capitalist grumbles about his taxes, but he goes on paying them, because the burden of taxation can only be borne by a propertied class. The State must foot heavy bills for things like armaments. And for these the Capitalists must pay. But they pay for what they want themselves armaments are not bought in the interest of the working class; they are bought to enable the ruling class—that is the Capitalist class—to defend its property and its profits against the ruling class of other states. But though the Capitalists have to sacrifice part of their gains to preserve the rest, all of it—what they buy armaments with and what they keep—is surplus value, which the worker produces and is then deprived of.

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Boloney, Mr. Masefield

On February 17th the Queen returned from a tour of Nigeria. To mark the event Mr. John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, composed the following verse:
Lines for the Home-Coming of our Most

              Gracious Sovereign Lady

Chain upon chain, and prison within prison,
Man shuts his spirit into deeper night.
This Lady, home-returning, has brought light.
Upon a way long dark a star has risen.
Do you really think it has, Mr. Masefield?

It is sad to see a man of Mr. Masefield's talents reduced to writing rubbish because the upper class expects it of him.
Alwyn Edgar

Party News Briefs (1956)

Party News from the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day. In order that members are well acquainted with the arrangements made for Sunday, May 6th, here is a brief resume of the proposed activities in London, Glasgow, and Nottingham. In Hyde Park, the usual trolley will be set up by three o’clock, and speakers will take turns in running the propaganda. Members should note that it helps the meeting to start more promptly if it is well supported by members. The Trades Union processions will be taking place and it is being planned that our members sell literature along the route. The procession will lead to Trafalgar Square where other parties will be holding meetings. Therefore, apart from selling literature along the route, we need a good number of members to circulate among the crowds at Trafalgar Square with the literature. In view of the fact that Ealing Branch has circularised London Branches in an endeavour to greatly increase the Socialist Standard sales, for May, this is an additional appeal to help to achieve this aim. Will Comrades willing to assist, please contact (personally, or by letter), the Propaganda Committee at Head Office. The sooner we have a list of willing Comrades the sooner and better we can make arrangements.

Glasgow (City and Kelvingrove Branches) are holding their May Day Rally on the afternoon of May 6th at Queen's Park Recreation Ground and at St Andrew’s Halls, Berkeley Street from 7.30 pm. Several speakers will be on. the platform.

Nottingham Branch are holding a Mass Rally in the Market Square on the same day (May 6th) at 3 p.m. Speakers: J. Garnham, J. Keys and F. Warlow.

London. At Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, WlC.l, a Rally will be held after the propaganda meeting in Hyde Park. The meeting commences at 7.30 p.m., the title “ POLITICAL MATURITY AND THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIALISM.” Speakers: R. Coster and W. Read. Although every effort will be made to advertise this London meeting, as there arc restrictions at the moment regarding printing, it is essential that members and sympathisers pass on the details of this meeting as widely as possible, in order that we have a really good attendance. So please note the details and PASS THE WORD ALONG!

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A Meeting was held at Conway Hall on Monday, March 12th. Comrades Bryan and May spoke on "Departing Empires—the Socialist attitude.” Although the attendance at the meeting was small, mainly due, we feel sure to being unable to advertise as usual, the audience was very interested and good questions were put to the speakers.

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There is good news from Camberwell Branch again. Apart from having kept open-air meetings going throughout the winter at East Street, Walworth, the branch has vigorously extended canvassing the Socialist Standard. In the first two months of the year, as a result of one of the meeting stations being closed, the sales of the Socialist Standard usually fall to eight dozen. For the two months this year, however, 22 dozen were sold in the same period. The Branch would like to assure the Ealing Branch Comrades of their enthusiastic and practical support for their proposed May drive to really put the Socialist Standard into working-class hands on a large scale. The Branch is more than confident that in May they will more than double the average monthly sale of 10 dozen copies, and maintain it at the highest possible level. Meetings are held each Wednesday at Camberwell Green at 8 p.m.

The Branch holds its meetings on Thursday at the “Artichoke,” just past Camberwell Green,1, at 8 p.m. The room is comfortable. All are welcome.

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Swansea Group, though having lost members through transference to another branch have kept the Party before the reading public by constant letters to the Press on various topics. One Member's letter was given prominence on the billposters of the Swansea Voice, the public being shocked with glaring head lines, i.e., Swansea Man wants to do away with Money!

Challenges have been issued to various organisations and including a reverend gentleman who conducts a class on the "Art of Public Speaking.” This expert, needless to say, refused to test his skill against a Socialist speaker. The Llanelly branch of the Conservative Party has also refused to debate with us.

Swansea hope to be able to hold more open-air meetings during the coming summer, and are in contact from Comrades from London with this in view.

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Outdoor Meetings. With the arrival of spring, the number of outdoor meetings held will increase and details of the additional meetings, are given under the list of outdoor meetings advertised in this issue. Make a note please and attend as many as possible—good support for meetings stimulates speakers, helps to sell more literature and so helps along the work of the Party which is to propagate SOCIALISM.
Phyllis Howard

Property in Russia (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those readers who have not read “Soviet' Millionaires” the above pamphlet should be quite, enlightening. For those who have, it should be another gem to add to their collection on Capitalist Russia. Published by “Soviet News," 3, Rosary Gardens, S.W.7, in 1954, and priced 1d., it is obviously within the reach of all workers’ pockets.

A 20-page pamphlet, split up into 12 short paragraphs, it is easy to read. It deals with most aspects of property in Russia and leaves one in no doubt that the economy is a Capitalist one. The following extracts should suffice the reader:—Page 4: “The right to own property in Soviet Socialist society is ensured by the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. and is protected by Law.”

“The land, its mineral wealth, waters, forests, mills, factories, mines, rail, water and air transport, banks, communications, large State organised agricultural enterprises (State farms, and the like), and also municipal enterprises and the bulk of the dwelling houses in the cities and industrialised localities, are State property in the U.S.S.R.” Page 12: “Citizens are paid for their work either in the form of wages—at State enterprises and institutions; or in the form of a definite share of the income in kind and cash—in the collective farms and co-operatives.” Just like here!

“ In general, a Soviet citizen has the exclusive right to dispose of all property in the way he thinks fit. If he has a house of his own, he may live in it, rent it out to others, make a gift of it, sell it, mortgage it or use it for other transactions permitted by law ”

If any of our readers are still in any doubt about Russia being a Capitalist country, a little booklet written by J. Stalin, as a series of articles in 1906, entitled, Anarchism Or Socialism,” published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow. 1950 should clear up any illusions that our readers may have. It is well worth reading being from the horse’s mouth as it were! And tells us what Stalin thought Socialism would be like. Whilst not necessarily agreeing with everything in this quote, the general tenor of it is enough to prove that Socialism does not exist in Russia; apart from the fact that Socialism, being a world-wide system, it could not exist there while the rest of the world is Capitalist. The following is an extract from pages 57—59:
“There can be no doubt that future society will be built up on an entirety different basis. 
“Future society will be Socialist society. This means, primarily, that there will be no classes in that society; there will be neither capitalists, nor proletarians and. consequently, there will be no exploitation. In that society there will be only workers engaged in collective labour. 
"Future society will be Socialist society. This also means that with the abolition of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour power, for employers and employed—there will be only free workers. 
“Future society will be Socialist society. This means lastly, that in that society the abolition of wage labour will be accompanied by the complete abolition of the private ownership of the instruments and means of production; there will be neither poor proletarians nor rich capitalists—there will be only workers who collectively own all the land and minerals, all the forests, all the factories and mills, all the railways, etc. 
"As you see, the main object of production in the future will be directly to satisfy the needs of society and not to produce goods for sale in order to increase the profits of the capitalists. Here there will be no room for commodity production, struggle for profits, etc. 
“It is also clear that future production will be socialistically organised, highly developed production, which will take into account the needs of society and will produce as much as society needs. Here there will be no room either for disintegrated production, competition, crises, or unemployment. 
"Where there are no classes, where there arc neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, (here is no need also for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently in Socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power."
Jon Keys

50 Years Ago: What is Capital? (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Editor of the Clarion in replying to a correspondent, writes, “You evidently don’t understand the subject at all. No Socialist ever talks about ’doing away’ with capital.”

An instance this, truly, of “the blind leading the blind!” To be consistent the Clarion should also maintain that no Socialist ever talks of abolishing Capitalism—for Capitalism obviously cannot end if capital does not cease to exist.

The Socialists of all countries are, however, decidedly agreed that capital must be abolished; and the only explanation of the Clarion editor’s strange statement is that he lacks a knowledge of the economics of Socialism.

The matter turns upon the definition of capital itself, and apparently the Clarion holds the archaic view that capital is simply wealth which aids in the production of further wealth. This is no definition at all, for, as even Professor Marshall is compelled to admit it is an inclined plane upon which no stable resting place is found until all accumulated wealth is included as capital.

Socialist economics gives a definite meaning to capital as that part of wealth which is used as a means of obtaining an income from the labour of others; in short, as wealth used to obtain “profit.” Modern economists have been compelled, in practice to accept this definition under one form or other of words, in order to give any value at all to the term.

The object of the Socialist movement, therefore, is decidedly to abolish capital; to end the use of wealth as a means of extorting surplus-value from the working class. The absurdity of the Clarion position is obvious from the fact that any other than the Socialist definition of capital makes every navvy who owns a pickaxe, a capitalist!

The “doing away” with capital, however, no more means the abolition of the instruments of production than the abolition of Capitalism implies the doing away with mankind. Socialism ends the system of production for profit, and inaugurates production for social use; it necessarily does away with the use of the means of wealth production as capital, and turns them into social instruments for the good of the community.

Economics, however, was never the Clarion’s strong point.

(From the “Socialist Standard," April, 1906)

Lord Mancroft's Errors (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following was reported in the "Manchester Guardian" (February 6, 1956.)
"Lord Mancroft, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Home Office, said in London on Saturday: "The Socialists seem to be celebrating their fiftieth anniversary by pulling up the planks of their original platform one by one and hoping that nobody will notice. Mr. Gaitskell has just told us that nationalisation is no longer a panacea and the means test no longer anathema. At this rate there will soon be no platform left. A party is entitled to change its programme to suit the needs of the day, but to change principles is a different matter Does anyone know what Socialism, as a political philosophy, really means?”
If we did not know how little most professional politicians understand about the Socialist movement we would be astonished that so many errors could be packed into so little space. But we can easily put Lord Mancroft right. It is not the Socialist Party that is celebrating its 50th anniversary but the Labour Party (The Socialist Party celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1954). Socialists never supported Nationalisation and therefore could not abandon it. The Socialist Party has not changed its principles and its only platform is what it has always been, the achievement of Socialism.

What is Race? (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

“ It. is important to emphasize the fact that ethnologists do not always us the word ‘race' in a strictly genetic sense."

It is undoubtedly true that people who live in some geographical regions have common heriditable peculiarities which distinguish them from other people.

When Anthropologists use the word race in this sense they follow the same practice as biologists. It is also a fact that some genotypes which do not form compact communities are more frequent in some regions than others. For instance, tall, long-headed people with fair hair and blue eyes are more common in Northern Europe than in other parts of the world. There is no evidence that there has ever been any time in the world’s history when all the inhabitants of a particular locality had these characteristics. Though we are entitled to speak of a Nordic type, the Nordic race is a myth.” (“Principles of Animal Biology,” Prof. Lancelot Hogben.) 

The Jewish race is also a misnomer. Human beings who are so classified include immigrants from Palestine or other parts of Asia Minor and their Proselytes among Slav and Tartar peoples of Eastern Europe. Though there is a high concentration of some hereditable characteristics among members of the Jewish religion and their descendants because of the taboo which forbids interbreeding with those who do not share their peculiar dietetic preferences, no physical characteristics distinguish all Jews as such from any other people.

Their common cultural characteristics are largely, if not exclusively, the product of a common tradition reinforced by persecution and restriction of civil privileges for many centuries. (“ Principles of Animal Biology,” Prof. Lancelot Hogben).

Machines in Office. A Call to Clerical Workers. (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Office staffs in all branches of commerce and industry are now finding themselves faced with reductions in pay. In nearly every instance the employers, when “informing” the staff of salary revisions (as the General Manager of the Midland Bank told the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, the Bank Board does not discuss wages with the staff, it “informs them of its decision”), give the excuse that the reductions are only reasonable adjustments to a lower cost of living, so that the real standard of salaries is not being impaired. Clerical workers, while far from satisfied that a reduced salary in 1931 will go as far as a larger salary in 1929, with the docility for which they are infamous, and with a fatalistic resignation, assume that perhaps there has to be a reduction in their pay it trade is to improve. Does it ever occur to them to consider whether the “reduction-to-meet-the-fall-in-prices” sauce that is served for the goose, salaries, is also served for the gander, dividends ? In the world of banking, at any rate, it is not.

Recently there has been much talk of the need to reduce the pay of bank clerks “in order to meet changed conditions.” The lead has been taken by the Midland Bank, Ltd., which has revised its scales of pay for new entrants. Formerly a clerk in London after ten years’ service received £240 a year if he was on the maximum scale. By the fifteenth year his pay had risen automatically to £370. Beyond that point further increases were at the discretion of the directors. Under the new scale a new entrant will receive, at the most, only £205 after ten years, and at this point automatic rises cease. Other banks are following suit.

Now what about dividends? Here directors and their Press are strangely silent about falling costs of living. All of the “Big Five” banks (except Lloyds, which reduced dividends from 16 ⅔ per cent. to 15 per cent.) paid the same dividend in 1930 as in 1929. But, according to Mr. McKenna, of the Midland Bank, the purchasing power of money in 1930 was 19 per cent. higher than in 1929, owing to the fall in prices. From which it follows that the shareholders received a 19 per cent. increase in real dividends in 1930, and even Lloyds’ shareholders were 2 per cent. better off than in the previous year. To this maintenance of dividends, side by side with a reduction in salaries to meet lower prices, the remark of Sir Frederick Lewis, Bt., when proposing a hearty vole of thanks to the staff of Barclays Bank, comes as a nicely ironic pendant. Sir Frederick, who, by the way, manages to direct the affairs of a mere 32 companies, was filled with love and admiration for the staff, but unfortunately “the only method they had of recording their appreciation was the passing of the resolution he had the honour to propose” (Times, January 21st, 1931). Needless to say, as votes of thanks, be they never so hearty, do not cut into profits, the shareholders passed the vote with enthusiasm.

On the face of it, the reduction in pay of clerical workers may look like an adjustment to lower price levels, as the employers say that it is. In fact, it is something much more important. It is an attack on standards of living and a revelation of a weakening in bargaining power of the workers. It is the first of the consequences of the mechanisation of office work that has been proceeding apace since the end of the war. Machines in offices are producing the same results as are produced by machines in industry. Unemployment, formerly of fairly small proportions so far as clerical workers were concerned, is increasing and wages are falling. Before the war the typewriter was the chief piece of office machinery. To-day it is only one of many. Calculating machines, ledger posting machines, addressographs, mechanical sorters, copying machines, automatic switchboards are but a few of the mechanical devices that are supplanting labour in offices and, by simplifying processes, increasing competition. Before the calculating machine was used, a certain proficiency in arithmetic was essential for a clerk ; now it is not at all necessary. Consequently, employers are able to recruit their staff from a lower educational grade, and to utilise women instead of men. In other words, the supply of clerical workers is being extended while the demand is diminishing. It is this that leads to increased unemployment and enables attacks on wage standards to be successfully launched. The talk of reducing pay in order to help trade recovery is a mere subterfuge. Clerical workers should not blind themselves to the real economic forces at work. As was stated by a writer in the Journal of the Institute of Bankers in Ireland (October, 19291, the changes resulting from the introduction of machines into offices are “analogous in some respects to the industrial revolution of a century ago.” According to this writer, office machines give three times the output possible by hand, with less and cheaper labour. Other conclusive evidence to this same effect is abundant. Mr. H. L. Rouse, Assistant Chief Accountant of the Midland Bank, Ltd., wrote in The Banker (November, 1930) : “Two ledger posting machines should enable two male clerks 10 be released (!) and should necessitate the engagement of one new female operator.” In a debate reported in the Journal of the Institute of Bankers (January, 1930), Mr. Rouse, discussing the installation of machinery at 73 branches of the Midland, said : “The net saving of salary to these branches is approximately £85,000 per annum against a capital outlay of £150,000; but as the life of these machines may be fairly regarded as ten years, it is obvious that the economy effected is a very substantial one.”

He went on to point out that at these branches 311 men were withdrawn consequent on the introduction of the machines, and 86 women engaged, and that new entrants to the bank had been considerably curtailed, so that juniors already in the service would have to mark time for a period until the process of mechanisation had reached its economic limit. Mr. F. Hyde, General Manager of the Midland Bank, told the Civil Service Royal Commission, on Monday, February 23rd, 1931, that the machines had enabled his bank to cut down their intake of young male clerks from between 400 and 500 a year to about 200 a year.

It is interesting, in passing, to notice that the same problem arose in the Post Office Saving’s Bank before it arose in the non-Government banks. It is claimed by high Savings Bank officials that the Post Office led the way in introducing machines and is already saving £40,000 a year by employing lower-paid women machine operators in place of men clerks. One witness at the Civil Service Commission, Sir Alfred Woodgate, went so far as to suggest the replacement of the great bulk of men clerks in the Civil Service by women at lower pay.

This general tendency to employ women on machine operating intensifies the downward tendency of wages. The male clerical worker hopes to rise to a certain salary, say, in 15 years, and to receive at least that salary for the rest of his working life, say for 30 years. But women workers’ salaries do not rise to the same levels, and as women retire earlier than men, they receive the highest rates of pay in fewer instances and for a shorter period. On this point Mr. Rouse, in the debate already referred to, was quite definite, his evidence being to the effect that “the female staff are more subject to change than the male staff; in fact, 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the females resign every year and are replaced by new entrants at the lowest salary.”

This is sufficient to show how machinery causes workers to be dismissed, the substitution of cheaper labour, and a contraction in the demand for labour.

The introduction of mechanical appliances has already gone far, but the process is only in its infancy. As the City Editor of The Times states : “The mechanisation of banking is likely to increase considerably during the next few years in order to reduce labour costs” (Times, December 22nd, 1930). This remark can safely be extended to apply to all other branches of clerical employment.

So far as Socialists are concerned, we have dealt with this mechanisation of clerical work because it bears out two points we have always made.

Firstly, it shows that, under capitalism, machines arc additional weapons in the hands of the employers, creating unemployment and lowering wages. Secondly, clerical workers must ultimately realise that they are not a class apart in society, a “middle class,” but that, economically considered, their position is identical with that of the so-called manual workers. They are, like navvies, dependent for their living on being able to sell their labour-power. They are propertyless individuals working for wages for the benefit of the property-owning-class. They are members of the working class. Until they act politically in the light of that fact, they will continue to find that machinery is of no benefit to them.

Is Russia to blame? (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is responsible for unemployment and all the other evils from which the members of the working class suffer as such. The politicians who exist to defend the system, however, cannot afford to admit this. To do so would put an end to their job. Hence we find them seeking refuge in various excuses. The Labour Party attributes unemployment to “world causes.” The more blatant section of the Conservatives ascribe it to a Labour Government plus Russian “dumping.” Their recent campaign against exports from Russia, on the ground of the slavish conditions under which they are produced, presents features which are both interesting and amusing.

Russia is a Protectionist country, like Germany and the U.S.A., and if all that the Tories have told us about conditions of employment there were true, it would only prove that Protection is of no value to the workers of Russia.

In the endeavour to industrialise Russia, its Communist rulers are imposing considerable hardships upon their wage-slaves. The Communists do not deny this. Nay, they boast about it. They proclaim that this is the inevitable method of “building up Socialism,” and that the Russian workers are only too pleased to suffer for “their” country. All of which proves, if true, that the workers of Russia are as gullible as their fellows elsewhere. They see in the steady accumulation of capital the growth of a god before whom they must bow and worship.

The Conservatives of Britain, however, attribute the sufferings of the Russian workers, not to the development of capitalism (which is their actual cause), but to the Communist mask worn for the nonce by the Russian ruling class, which will be dropped when it ceases to serve its purpose of deceiving the workers. It is evident to anyone who looks back over the history of the last thirty years, that Russia has simply taken the place of Germany in the minds of the rabid “patriots.”

They are not concerned with the evils endured by the Russian workers for whose blood they will howl, if and when occasion arises, just as vigorously as they did for that of the Germans. They are concerned merely to provide in advance an excuse for the fact that when they eventually unseat the Labour Party they will be as unable to prevent unemployment as they have proved hitherto. The relief they may offer the starving workless will be another hectic time in the shambles, possibly with the Russian workers for company.
Eric Boden