Wednesday, April 5, 2023

On Working Yourself Out of
 Your Job (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the companies that put its workers on short-time is the Standard Motor Co. at its Coventry factories; where, out of 11,000 men, 250 a day were stood off on a rota system. The men did not like this and Mr. W, Warman, chairman of the Joint Shop Stewards' Committee suggested a different solution:
“We do not accept short-time working. Production should be cut by a shorter working week and reduced efficiency for the same pay. We increased production by working harder and now we should just not work so hard. We have been advocating a 36-hour week at Standards." (Manchester Guardian 5/3/56).
Mr. Warman’s few, well-chosen words, had quite a lively reception, as doubtless he knew they would. For he not only suggested unreduced pay for reduced hours but, what was far more provocative, he spoke against efficiency and in favour of not working so hard. And that simply isn't done.

As the immediate cause of short-time working is that there are tens of thousands of motor cars that have been made to be sold but are unsold, the idea of making fewer of them would seem to be sensible. And if the world were organised in a rational sort of way, who could quarrel with Mr. Warman's idea of the workers working fewer hours? And in such a world the last thing that could possibly occur would be a lowered standard of living. It is only in the world of today, this complicated bedlam, that people think it quite natural that workers who have produced more should be punished by consuming less.

But as we do live in this mad world of Capitalism Mr. Warman's proposal was not accepted. As a matter of fact it was not really timely advice.

For obviously the time to act on such lines would be before output bad been pushed up, not after the employers had found that they could not sell cars and wanted to stand men off. As a correspondent in the Daily Herald, Mr. Maurice Fagence, pointed out, with more than 80,000 unsold cars in the stockpiles (of the manufacturers as a whole) “a strike at the present time cannot help the workers.” (Daily Herald, 5/3/56.)

But during recent years too many workers have been thinking more about getting overtime pay for excess hours of work than of trying to get higher pay for the normal hours of work. It is true that since 1939 there has been a fairly general reduction of normal hours from 47 or 48 hours a week to 44 hours. But instead of putting in fewer hours the average time actually worked each week is longer now than it was before the war. For men workers the average has gone up from 47.7 hours in 1938 to 48.9 hours in 1955. This chasing after overtime cannot be regarded as a sound policy for workers to adopt. But even if policy had been more far-sighted it would not have kept the workers out of trouble. Whatever the workers do under Capitalism difficulties face them and troubles arise. If they back productivity schemes, work hard and produce more they may find themselves sooner or later on short-time or out of work. But if they reduce efficiency and work less hard they may find themselves in the same fix because the firm they work for will dismiss them or may find itself bankrupt if other, more efficient, firms have been able to capture the market

And' if they choose the middle way and work at a moderate pace, neither too fast nor too slow, they may still find themselves out of work. In 1952, when a textile slump hit producers in most parts of the world, over 150,000 textile workers in this country suddenly found themselves out-of-work and forced to live on unemployment pay. Many had to find jobs in other industries. Nobody suggested that they had increased their productivity unduly, in fact they were still being preached at for not having done so. And the wave of unemployment that hit them likewise hit textile industries of varying degrees of efficiency in U.S.A., Japan, and elsewhere.

By real working class unity, of all workers, in all trades, in all countries, some effective restraint could be imposed on the efforts of employers everywhere to increase the intensity of work. But with the outlook of the workers as it is at present this is not going to happen either. Unfortunately what most workers in most countries are now doing is backing up their employers and their governments to capture trade from the Capitalists in other countries. This short-sighted policy is encouraged by most of the workers’ industrial and political leaders, though it should be obvious that the workers of all countries would be in a stronger position against their employers if they all stood together and refused to be drawn into work harder campaigns designed to capture markets from other countries.

When all is said and done, even if all the workers stood unitedly together to get as much as they can out of Capitalism, what a very foolish thing they would still be doing. The only sensible thing for workers to do is to get together for something much more worth while, the establishment of Socialism. Then there would be no problem of working yourself out of a job, only the problem of producing as much of everything as people wanted.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Fabians, Bernstein and Revisionism — Part 3 (1956)

From the April 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The controversy between Askew and Bax over Bernstein's membership of the German Social Democratic Party, was concluded in the July and August numbers of the Social Democrat.

Askew’s contribution to the July number contended that Bax had not shown that Bernstein had defended “almost every abuse of Capitalism,” and, to offset this charge, he pointed out that Bernstein was actually at that time advocating “the use of that extremely conservative weapon known as the general strike” in opposition to the great bulk of the German party. He then goes on:
 “Of course, I may point out, what Kautsky has already pointed out in his book against Bernstein, what was the distinguishing feature of Bernstein’s standpoint was the absence of any definite standpoint. You had criticism of the party programme, etc., but what Bernstein’s own standpoint was it was impossible to say. Now. we may think what we may of Bernstein for having published his ideas in this way; we may think he was inconsistent in staying in the party; but owing to the very indefiniteness of his ideas, we cannot condemn them without at the same time condemning criticism itself.”
This is a strange argument of Askew’s. The German Party claimed to be Marxist and organised for the establishment of Socialism. Bernstein was opposed to the basic Marxian outlook and supported anti-Socialist proposals, some of which we have already referred to. Yet because his views were “indefinite” (they were certainly definitely anti-Socialist) Askew holds that he should not be excluded from the German party. However, there is this much to be said for Askew’s views. The German Party supported such a hotch-potch of reformism that they had difficulty in making a case against Bernstein that would not react against the bulk of their own members.

Askew then argues that as nobody took the trouble to go through Bernstein’s articles and draw attention to the nature of his actions, it was no use “talking at random in the English party Press when what was required was an explanation in the German party Press.” Then Askew twits Bax with himself being guilty of the mendacity with which he charges Bernstein. In support of this he charges Bax with having misquoted Bebel’s statements in his book on the Woman question. Bax had quoted Bebel in support of his own view that Feminism, as such is not and never has been, a necessary part of Socialism. Askew makes a long quotation from p. 7 of the 30th edition of Bebel’s “Woman.” In the extract Bebel states that the Democratic Parties agree that women should have equal treatment, and their emancipation from all dependence and oppression, on account of Socialist principles. But this agreement cannot be said for the manner in which the aim is to be achieved. As soon as one “enters on the description of the institutions of the future, a wide field is opened out for speculation.” He then goes on that what is laid down in this book are the personal views of the author for which he alone is responsible.

There is then an attack on Bax’s attitude to the M.C of H. and Askew says that Bax’s views on the subject are difficult to distinguish from Bernstein’s, and, in fact, he was told by a member of the Swiss party that: 
 “Large numbers of the comrades were firmly convinced that Bax was a Bernsteinianer . . . now, as Kautsky explained, no one has dreamed of making acceptance of the materialist conception of history a condition of party membership; then, neither, so far as 1 know, has anyone hitherto seriously proposed to make a limitation of the right of free criticism in the sense proposed by Bax, but, if we are to accept Bax’s test that criticism of fundamentals is to be forbidden, the case is altered. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
Askew takes up Bax’s contention that criticism of the party programme was permissible but criticism of the ultimate foundation on which the party rests, its basal object, was not permissible. Askew then argued that “ultimate foundation” and “basal object ” were not the same thing; that the “Socialisation of the means of production’’ was the basal object, and the ultimate foundation consisted of the theory of surplus value and the materialist conception of history. He then quotes Kautsky as writing that of the two the materialist conception of history “is become the more fundamental. With it stands or falls Marxism, i.e.. the highest point at which the Socialist theory has yet arrived.” Askew adds that, while this is a personal opinion, a very large majority of the members of the party would agree with it. and if a rule is made that fundamentals must not be criticised it would have unfortunate results.

There is a footnote to one of the pages of Askew’s contribution in which he twits Bax with his membership of a Liberal Club, remarking that he “finds it inconsistent with his (Bax’s) hatred of Liberalism to remain a member of a Club which makes it a condition of membership that a member should recognise the principles of the Liberal Party—a Club recognised, almost more than the Reform, as the headquarters of the party.”

We will give Askew’s concluding paragraph in full as it summarises his outlook, and what he expects.
"Finally, the German party has better things to do than to consider if, when members declare their agreement with the main principles of the party programme, they do so with their tongue in their cheek or not. As long as any individual member proves loyal in the practice, the German party are not prepared to limit the right of free criticism, which they consider is the very breath of life to the party, because they do not agree to all that he says. ‘Idealist' Marxists or synthetic historians may attach great importance to rigidity of doctrine; we materialists know that the facts of life decide. Thus we do not get into a fuss every time the class war is called in question; we know that the class war, being inherent in the present order of society, will soon assert itself again, even where it seems to be temporarily eclipsed. And the same applies to the ‘final aim' of Socialism. The proletariat as a whole must, in its own interests, demand the socialisation of the means of production, etc. Of course you get backwaters in this as in all progress, and you find the English trade unions, having got to a certain pitch, stopping there. But even this seems to me to confirm the materialist conception of history. As long as the Continental workers were in the eyes of the British workmen in a much inferior position to themselves, the latter could hardly believe in the possibility of their own emancipation. They would, no doubt, say to themselves, ‘Beyond a certain extent we cannot at present improve our position.’ That may be right or wrong, but I cannot help feeling, and this feeling was strengthened by the arguments of the British delegation at the recent Textile Workers’ Congress, that it had its influence on the English trade unionists. Taken with the fact that English employers, owing to their position in the world, were able, and not unnaturally willing, to make concessions in the interests of peace from time to time, that the ‘suffrage' was practically a gift at a time when no urgent demand had arisen for it, I think we have ground to assume that the peculiar historical conditions of the British trade unionist explains the weakness of his class consciousness. But the loss of a favoured position, or what he imagines is a favoured position, compared with his Continental brothers, will do more than all the preaching in the world to make the British working man Socialist. When that comes, we need not fear the heresy of a Bernstein any more than that of a Bax. We can be tolerant of them just as we should be tolerant of those who deny the theory of gravity."
It will be noticed that there are no doubts here about whether "Final Truth” has been attained. Askew makes positive statements about the accuracy of the materialist conception of history, the class war and class-consciousness, as well as his satisfaction with the eventual outcome of trade union agitation, in spite of set-backs. He also takes for granted that Bernstein and his like will be proved wrong. But he skates over the confusion that would come to a party honeycombed with people like Bernstein.

(To be continued)

Blogger's Note:
"To be continued?"  'fraid not. I can't find any further articles in the series. And, trust me, I looked.

The Fabians, Bernstein and Revisionism — Part 2 (1956)

From the February 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The action of the German Social Democratic Party in deciding to overlook the theoretical and practical delinquencies of Bernstein raised a heated controversy in the columns of the English social democratic journal, the Social Democrat.

The controversy opened with a somewhat vitriolic article by Belfort Bax entitled Factitious Unity, which appeared in the Social Democrat of February, 1902. The article opens with some general remarks about unity. He claimed that there was a strong tendency in advanced parties to make a fetish of party unity and that “The integrity of principles is quite a secondary consideration provided that the unity of the party be maintained. Anything to avoid a split—that is the motto of the practical politician in the dawning 20th century.” He then suggests that it would be well for the advocates of unity at any price to ask themselves for what their party exists. If it for money, office, or power for its own sake, then unity may be justified in its day and generation. But, “If, on the contrary, party organisation itself is subservient to certain definite ideals, and has no object or significance apart from such, then equally clearly, whenever those ideals are threatened by the unity of the party, that unity must go by the board.”

Coming indirectly to the question of Bernstein, Bax examines the claim for unity by those who argue that it is better to patch up differences of opinion that may exist and “unite on a basis of some vague and general formula on which all can agree,” and who claim “that a party cannot afford to lose an able man of men merely because they happen to be shaky on some vital point of principle.” 

To the first point Bax replies “the realisation of the ideals of a party is less likely to be effectuated by the attenuation of those ideals for the sake of mere numerical strength than by the surrender of a certain amount of such strength on behalf of the vigorous maintenance intact of the principles for the sake of which the party avowedly exists.” Against the second point he contends that “the ability of doubtful members cuts both ways. It may be of more danger to party principles when inside the party organisation than it is of advantage to the enemy when working against it outside. A party having any regard for its principles should surely look to it that its able men . . . should be straight even more than the rank and file—and, hence, if they go wrong, should be the more inexorably expelled. A party that is worth its salt can always afford to lose a man or two without collapsing, but if cannot always afford to have a powerful leader inside incessantly pulling the wrong way.”

After some references to the Liberal and Radical parties of the time Bax then comes to the attitude of the German Social Democratic Party towards Bernstein, at which his article was really aimed. We will have to quote nearly the whole of his final paragraph in order that what follows will be understandable.

After stating that the glorification of unity is not confined to Liberalism he continues:
“We see much the same thing at the present time among our comrades of the German Social Democratic Party. It has been of late crucially manifested in the Bernstein controversy. Mr. Bernstein repudiated almost every principle hitherto regarded as ’of faith’ in Social Democracy. He champions every form and well-nigh every abuse of capitalism. . . . He has systematically attacked every Social Democratic doctrine in turn, to the delight of reactionary readers and hearers. In a word, Mr. Bernstein is incomparably less friendly to Socialism, if any meaning is to be attached to the word at all, than the mildest English Radical. To judge from his expressed opinions, in fact, Mr. Bernstein has no more sympathy with the recognised principles of Social Democracy, and perhaps rather less, than Count von Bulow himself. And yet, wonderful to relate, for fear of causing a split in the party, for fear of jeopardising party unity, the German Social Democrats could not muster up sufficient courage to exclude Mr. Bernstein from their ranks. In this case /the mere desire of preserving a formal unity must be alone in question, since it can hardly be alleged that there is any extraordinary ability at stake.”
In the March, 1902. number of the Social Democrat, J. B. Askew replied to Bax, defending the attitude of the German Social Democratic Party, contending that the German party had considered the whole circumstances of the case and not merely the points raised by Bax. He then gives a lengthy outline of the matters in dispute, largely in accordance with the summary we gave in our last month's contribution; but he omitted Bernstein’s support for war and his claim that the “higher” civilisation had a greater right to the territory of native people than the natives themselves.

After his statement of matters in dispute, he writes;
"Now it is fairly obvious that this theory or theories are open to dispute, and, indeed, I think that Kautzky has completely proved the worthlessness of most of Bernstein's speculations, but that is a very different thing from thinking with Bax that it was advisable to expel him from the party on the strength of them.”
He then argues that if Bernstein were expelled for his criticisms,
"We tie the party down to a formula, which nobody is allowed to criticise under penalty of expulsion, a proceeding which is consistent from those who consider that Final Truth has been achieved in this direction, but very stupid for those who do not. After all what is a political party, or, rather, what is the Social Democratic Party, and what are the conditions of membership? The answer is. surely, we are a body of men and women who have come together to work for the achievement of ideas which we have embodied in a common programme, the most important item of which is that of die socialisation of the means of production and exchange. Membership of the party is conditional on acceptance of this, programme and the agreement to work for the common end Bernstein accepts both these conditions. . . . There is a difference. I may remind Bax. between saying that Bernstein is inconsistent in remaining in the Party and thinking that the party would do well to turn him out.”
Finally, after having a dig at Bax’s criticism of the Materialist Conception, and suggesting that he is in the same position as Bernstein. Askew winds up as follows:
“I am against expulsion—as I believe the German Party is—in cases where the theory of the Party alone is concerned, and there is no question of Party discipline or character at stake, because I believe that if we are to progress as a Party, if we are to meet the difficulties, which will confront us, our members must enjoy a full, free, and unlimited right of criticism in respect of the Party programme. To deny this is to imply that we have attained Final Truth, and that new circumstances can never arise to alter it, or render a new tactic and programme necessary.” 
Before we go on to Bax's reply to Askew’s contribution we must interpolate a few remarks of our own on the above.

The argument about Final Truth in connection with the matters in dispute seems plausible until it is examined, then it becomes comical. For example. If a naked man stands upright in the path of a modern express train he will be killed; likewise, if a thousand tons of rock drops on a naked man he will also be killed. These are final truths within the conditions of the statements; there can be no doubts about them, either now or in a thousand years.

Now let us come to the question of Socialist principles.

Present society is based upon the ownership of the means of living by the Capitalist class; there is an antagonism of interests between the owning class and the producing class: this antagonism of interests must continue as long as there is buying and selling. Capitalist ownership and capital investment, and a class that lives by selling its physical and mental energies to an owning class. These conditions can only be removed by a social revolution accomplished by the subject, or producing class. These are statements of fact and final truths for the conditions specified as far as Socialists are concerned. Further, reforms cannot alter the conditions because they do not aim at abolishing the present basis of society. This is also a final truth for the conditions specified. Again, wars, insecurity, crime, and a host of other evils, will continue whilst the present social basis remains. This, again, is a final truth for the condition specified.

Askew’s Final Truth argument would therefore appear to have no bearing upon the matters in dispute. In fact, however, it has for the disputants. What hipped all of Bernstein's opponents in the dispute was the lengthy reform programmes and compromising of the Social Democratic Parties. Here there was no final truth, because no sooner was one reform adopted than another was required to meet the effects of the previous one. Many of the reforms advocated by the Social Democratic Parties during the eighties and nineties have been adopted, yet still the fundamental social position remains unchanged —Capitalists and workers, domination and class-struggle, wars, insecurity, crime, and the rest of the social evils. Yet still the reformers pursue their will-o-the-wisps. This reformism is what Askew means when he refers to “a common programme" in the above quotation. To him Socialism consists of two antagonistic parts—the accomplishment of common ownership and a policy of reformism. Reforms, however well intended, are designed to enable the exploiting machine to ran more smoothly; not to remove the machine, but to take some of the sand out of it. To bemuse the discontented and induce them to work harder and complain less.

Now to return to the controversy.

Bax's reply to Askew appeared in the Social Democrat for June 1902. His answer to Askew's Final Truth argument was as follows:
"I answer, it is a party, at all events, possessing certain principles, political, economical, and ethical, based on the known facts of historic evolution. Any one who sets himself up by sophistry, or otherwise, to upset these principles, though he may be an excellent man, has no right within a party whose raison d'etre is the realisation of an ideal based on the assumed truth of these principles. The cackle of toleration, of ‘self-criticism,’ and what-not, is the veriest balderdash. We want no ‘self-criticism’ within the party in the matter of fundamentals. We have a right to assume that a man has done his 'criticism ’ of principles before joining the party, for no party can afford to have persons within its ranks who call in question its very bases. And hence I say the moment a member begins publicly to whittle away doctrines at the foundation of the very existence of the party, he should be expelled.”
Bax then goes on to distinguish between the party programme and fundamentals:
"When Askew asks me whether I think it advisable to allow members the right of free criticism of the party programme, I say Yes. But if by party programme he means the ultimate foundation on which the party rests the basal object for which the party is constituted, I say No.

No man has a right to expect to be allowed to remain a member of a party whose principles, whether rightly or wrongly, he has publicly called in question. On the other hand, no party has a right to use the State, the secular arm, to crush opposition to its views.

The utmost that has been suggested is that he [Bernstein] should be politely, but firmly, told to clear out of the German Social Democratic organisation, and take his criticism with him There is nothing to prevent him from demolishing Marx or anybody else outside the organisation. What more than this can he want?”
The rest of Bax's reply consists of some sarcastic references to Askew's contribution, some instances of Berntein's perfidious conduct, and a misunderstanding of Askew’s reference to views held by Bax which, he alleged put Bax in the position he claimed Bernstein was in. Bax took this to mean his attitude to feminism, whereas it really referred to his attitude to the Materialist Conception of History, Bax held views at variance with the Materialist Conception of History,  and had debated his view with Kautsky in the German party journal a few years earlier. He called his view “The Synthetic Doctrine of History." We will discuss his outlook at the end of the controversy over Bernstein’s membership of the German Social Democratic Party,