Friday, April 21, 2023

Capitalism and the Shopkeeper. (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist teaching of the truth that capital is becoming concentrated in the hands of a diminishing number of capitalists has been recently attacked, from two points of view, by the “illuminati” of the I.L.P. and by the Anarchists.

In both cases is the wish father to the thought. Both parties have a case to bolster up, and both have diligently sought for “facts” to support their tenets.

The Joint-Stock Company and the small shopkeeper are stock illustrations supposed to prove the theory of the division of capital among an increasing number of happy and deserving recipients. The “theory of increasing misery” has its converge in the theory of a slow but sure evolution into terrestrial paradise. No one will be able to say of any particular period: here ends capitalism and Socialism has its birth ; but the change will be gradual, peaceful, ethical—through the Joint Stock company and the small shopkeeper, and small reforms, vide Bernstein & Co. Let us look into the position of this small shopkeeper.

The English race have been reputed a nation of shopkeepers; the growth of multiple retail stores has suggested the remark that we are now a nation of managers. It is beyond dispute that the existence of thousands of company stores has limited the scope for individual success in the retail trade, and has driven the small retailer to accept the most casual and unremunerative portion of that trade. A huge business is carried on in multiple and chain shops, by mail-order businesses, departmental stores, and other massive concerns. They cause tradesmen great anxiety ; all along the line the small shopkeeper is exploited ; manufacturers are making attempts to deal direct with the consumer ; department stores are trying to filch suburban trade ; they are spoiling the retailer by well-organised mail-trading systems.

If the man with little capital can exist to day at all it is as a retailer; but even this small sphere of activity seems narrowing. Half a century ago little capital was required to become a retailer. In no branch of commerce is the personal factor, the knowledge of a customer’s wants and whims, of such value. The old tradesman was in personal contact with hundreds of his customers, and it was once thought that. here was a barrier to Joint Stock Company success in the retail trade. However, slower than in manufacture, but as surely, the big capitalist is gaining ground.

In the North of England the shopkeeper has two competitors—the multiple stores and the co-operative societies. These obtain the cream of the cash trade, and leave to the shopkeeper a hazardous credit trade, plus what he can catch when the stores are closed—for he works fifteen hours a day. Certainly, as one walks along and sees hundreds of small shops, it would seem as if the small trader throve in spite of powerful competitors. But even if we grant an increase in the number of small shops, it does not imply greater prosperity for their owners, nor that a certain number of proletarians have risen out of their class and become independent shopkeepers. In large towns hundreds of these “emporiums” are run by workingmen with the aim of adding a trifle to their petty wages, just as, as Kautsky has shown, in Belgium many of the belauded peasant proprietors work in contiguous mines and milk to help eke out a livelihood.

It is certainly the ideal of thousands of workingmen to “get out of the factory,” as the phrase goes, and live a life free from the factory buzzers, managers, and foremen ; alas, many are called but few chosen ! The majority of them have not even a sporting chance of obtaining a livelihood from their shop alone. Years ago such, small speculators had better opportunities of becoming successful retail merchants, but to-day they are snowed under by powerful enemies. The big fish, are swallowing the little fish even in a branch of commerce where so much is in favour of the small fry. The Marxian law surely stands unassailable everywhere if it is applicable to retail trading. The following figures relative to the number of shops in Prussia are taken from Bernstein’s “Evolutionary Socialism.”

Bernstein remarks : “It is not the large businesses that offer the most deadly opposition to the small ones; the latter provide it among themselves.” If he can obtain comfort from such statistics his position is surely in dire straits.

The better placed shopkeepers who manage to obtain a “living” are, too, getting more in the clutches of the big capitalists. Most retail tobacconists are merely agents for the Imperial Tobacco Company ; in the grocery line such firms as Lever Bros, are obtaining great power ; and in every department of retail trade we meet with combination and association. Competition is as dead as piety. Arrangements are made amongst manufacturers to keep up prices, and amongst retailers to do likewise. Small dealers attempt, through their associations, to buy collectively. A few weeks ago a Manchester ironmongers’ association actually discussed a proposal that they, as an association, commence a large store in the centre of the city, to enable them to fight the great firms with better prospect of success. These stores, it was stated, were stealing the most profitable portion of the trade ; and individually they could not compete with the splendid displays and powerful organisation of the stores.

The transition from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of managers is the transition from “small to big industry,” analogous to the transition from handicraftsman to factory hand in the sphere of production. The journals which circulate amongst the various retailers are not blind to this change, however much the I.L.P. official gang may deny it. The “Boot and Shoe Trade Journal” is a better judge of the havoc wrought by company shops amongst small retailers than is Ramsay MacDonald or the editor of the “Labour Leader.” And when the present chairman of the I.L.P., Mr. W. C. Anderson, was peripatetic organiser for the Shop Assistants Union, his stock speech was a lament at the small opportunities possessed by modern shop assistants, of budding into independent shopkeepers.

The Socialist must wish for a quick awakening, both in the ranks of the shop assistants and those of the shopkeeper. The former in permanently proletarian, the latter liable to drop into the proletarian ranks at any moment. The assistant, working in a shop, amongst thirty more of his class, that shop being but one of six hundred owned by his employers, is better able to appreciate the vast changes in the retail trade than are I.L.P. critics and Anarchist theorisers with creeds to defend at any cost.
John A. Dawson

Jottings. (1911)

The Jottings Column from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Will Thorne has introduced a Bill in the House for the Nationalisation of the Railways and Canals. What have the tripe shops done amiss ?

* * *

In a leading article describing the history of the Socialist Movement in France, which appeared in the “Labour Leader” (24.2.11), the writer, Mr. J. F. Mills, states:
“To Blanc must be accorded the credit for theoretically bringing Socialism down from the empyrean to the solid earth. The conquest of political power by the masses and the democratic State as the great instrument of social transformation, and the right to work, … all these principles reveal Blanc’s originality, and proclaim his right to be entitled ‘The Father of Modern Social-Democracy,’ or if Marxists dispute his right to the word ‘father,’ then let us say ‘grandfather.’ ”

* * *

As a Socialist, I am not in the least concerned about the principles of Louis Blanc, nor yet his right to the titles claimed for him by the writer quoted—except to suggest that “grandmother” would, perhaps, have been more appropriate. If by “originality” is meant Blanc’s experiment of the national workshops, then it is about on a par with the “originality” of the Labour Party in their schemes of social reform, and so on.

But to attribute to Blanc that which Marx really accomplished, is a piece of unblushing effrontery indeed. To Marx, and Marx alone, is to be attributed the placing of Socialism on a scientific basis. He it was who discovered and established the great law of economic determinism, which may be briefly stated thus : Morals, laws, and political conditions grow out of, and are determined by, economic conditions.

The application of this law spells revolution and the end of wage-slavery. But as the “Labour Leader’s” policy is anti-revolutionary, it must expect the opposition of Socialists.

* * *

The same writer in a further article (10.3.11), in the midst of a tirade against Marxists (whom he refers to as Ishmaelites, Irnpossibilists, etc.), says: “Revolutionary Socialism (Marxism) is becoming merely a catchword . . .” And he remarks further on upon the scanty following of Marx, which following, he alleges, is chiefly confined to the Continent. Yet on the front page of the same issue we find an advertisement of a biography of Marx (published by the people who issue the “Labour Leader”) eulogising him, and in which occurs this passage: “Karl Marx, founder of modern scientific Socialism, under whose banner ten million voters are enrolled.” No wonder the workers are misled !

It might interest our modern Rip Van Winkle to know that not only is Marxism not dead or dying, but that it is, on the contrary, very much alive indeed—though, perhaps, it is not apparent to those suffering from that aggravated form of mental myopia prevalent in the I.L.P.

* * *

Speaking of the forced labour in the Congo, and the necessity for its abolition, Sir Edward Grey said (27.7.07): “If it is to come to an end it is essential that without delay the natives should be put in possession of large tracts of territory, which will enable them to keep themselves. Otherwise they will have no means of livelihood.”

This must have preyed on the mind of Mr. W. H. Lever, for we learn from the Brussels correspondent of the “Standard” that “the Minister for the Colonies has just come to an agreement with Messrs. Lever Bros., Port Sunlight, for the formation of a limited company, with a capital of £1,000,000, for the planting of palm-oil trees, and the establishment of a factory for the manufacture of oil products in the Congo.”

Is Mr. Lever going to do for the poor natives what he has done for the Sunligliters—socialise and Christianise business relations ? Will he extend to them his noble scheme of co-partnership, with its five per cent. certificates and the “feeling of brotherhood and partnership” ? Or (as I strongly suspect) is he going out there in order to still further augment his already bloated income ? If the latter, then he will have an easy thing on, for the cruel treatment of the natives under the Belgian administration will have rendered them easy victims for the exploiting process upon which the success of the scheme will largely depend.

* * *

That Mr. Lever (like William the Little) fondly believes that he is endowed with a divine mission is evident from the following statement made by him in the first number of the “Anti-Socialist” (Feb., 1909) :
“We cannot wisely disregard the very basis on which human nature was founded by a Divine Creator, viz., self-interest. We can only direct self-interest, as its Creator in tended, into beneficent and utilitarian channels, and check and control it from becoming a curse and a clanger to society.”
No one, I am sure, will accuse Mr. Lever of disregarding the “Divine” authority. It has been left to Mr. Lever and his kind to “check and control” it from permeating the brains of the workers. When it does do so, and the workers begin to “check and control” for themselves, it will be a bad look out for the class to which Mr. Lever belongs.

* * *

Mr. J. C. Wedgwood, M.P., has resigned his membership of the Fabian Society because his opinions are no longer in accord with the aims of the society. He has not joined the S.P.G.B.
Tom Sala

Editorial: Why we oppose this “Peace Movement.” (1911)

Editorial from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The hypocrisy of the English race is proverbial. At intervals they rise to such a height in this direction, as to draw upon themselves the ridicule of the whole world—as when, drooling a sickening stream of sanctimony, they circumscribed the exploitation of the West Indian slaves, forbidding their masters to employ them more than eight hours a day, while children of tender years, of our own race, in our own country, toiled for sixteen hours a day in the mill-hells of the Midlands.

The recurring frenzy of nauseating pretence again sweeps over the land, and this time its infection spreads beyond our shores. They have caught it America ; they suspire the bacilus in Germany ; in Australia the complaint becomes epidemic. “Peace, sitting under her olive” is the subject of this amorous outbreak, and you might shout “mad dog !” in the streets and nobody would take any notice, because every eye is fixed on the beautiful form “sitting under her olive,” and every lip is outraging her name.

Peace, forsooth ! What has peace to do with you, workingmen of the world ? What horror has war that “peace” has not accustomed you to? “The red rain of death !” Ah ! go into the mine and you will see it. “The awful rending of strong men’s bodies !” The shunter sees it every day. “The fearful cost of human life !” The “Thunderer” was built in “peace” at the cost of a thousand accidents, from keel-laying to launch. Every plate in her great hull would sweat blood of those who mined it and smelted it and forged it, were the day when “the sea shall give up its dead” to come upon us tomorrow. Every great girder that gives strength to her stupendous form, and every rivet that holds them together, have been drenched with the blood of workingmen, at every stage of their winning and fashioning, before ever they come to crush and mangle workers’ bodies in the shipbuilder’s yard. And every gun which is to be put aboard her, and the engines and fittings and coal—all these are to be paid for with workers’ life and limb ; so that when she leaves port a complete thing, she may do so as an emblem of capitalist peace : for it is very unlikely that she will ever receive such libations of blood in battle has she has had poured over her on the stocks.

Peace ! The snuffling humbug of the word on capitalist lips ! At the very moment they are mouthing it most unctuously they are drafting police and military against the miners in South Wales, massing troops on the borders of Mexico, and raising an immense fund to fight the implement workers in Australia. And while the British Liberal Government are making the remote corners of the earth echo and re-echo with the empty nothing, “Peace !” they are voting the enormous sum of £75,000,000 for war—on the principle that they’ll have peace if they have to fight for it.

Strange, is it not, that in all this cry of “peace” but one incentive shows itself ? The burden of armaments. It is the treasure, not the blood, that causes the capitalist head to ache. No wonder—for treasure is the master’s while the blood is the workers. £75,000,000 in a year is a mighty drain, and the Government that is forced to exact it is in a precarious position. So they scream “peace” by way of a soft answer to turn away wrath—and also in the certain knowledge that the result will demonstrate that peace, even as the capitalist understands it, is possible only at the cost of crushing armaments—or national extinction. It is significant that no hope is held out of a “peace treaty” except with America—a country with whom all serious differences have already been composed, against whom, in addition, Britain would hurl her might in vain, and who could inflict damage, where they can inflict it all, with impunity. They could starve us out by stopping their own and Canadian wheat at the granaries. It is admitted that on the day when the States and Canada want join hands the “mother country” has got to submit. On that day the treaty becomes in all eyes what from the first it must be in reality—waste paper. It is easy for two nations who cannot fight, to make a treaty that they won’t.

But the case is different with, say Germany. No responsible person suggests a treaty with that country—yet it is Germany that has made a British Liberal Government increase its annual Naval Estimates £14,000,000 in five years. No, derision waits the Minister who dares suggest such a treaty, for the farce would be too apparent. Just as a treaty with America brings peace no nearer because the two could not fight, treaty or no treaty, so a treaty with Germany would bring peace no nearer because, in the face of conflicting interests (without which they would not fight in any event), the treaty would not be worth the cost of its inscripton. The humbug, therefore, of the cry of “Peace” and “Disarmament,” is apparent.

There comes a time, of course, when it becomes cheaper to submit to a foreign rival than to arm against him. What course our ruling class will take when the cost of “keeping up the two-power standard” is dearer than exploiting native workers under foreign rule is foreshadowed by the course of the French master class at the time of the commune. Their patriotism will quickly enough then take the form of reduced annamants—the tacit confession that they would sooner “wear the yoke” in humilty than seriously suffer in pocket.

Meanwhile the Liberals, in their desire to cover themselves, have been loyally supported by the Labour Party. These have shouted “peace” with the best of them, and they lose no opportunity of implying that it is only the “burden of armaments” which prevents the Liberals “sweeping poverty from every hearth.” They thus kill a number of birds with one stone. First the Liberals are absolved directly it is discovered that their efforts for general disarmament are without avail ; secondly the Labour Members put themselves right with all those of their constituents who are, or who think they are, groaning under the burden of armaments, and thirdly they throw dust in the eyes of the rank and file of the Labour Party and Trade Unionists on whose backs they have climbed to place—and pelf.

Of course, a show of consistency had to be made in the House. The I.L.P. had organised 250 meetings on the question of armaments, so something was expected. And something happened.

Exactly one half of the Labour Members in Parliament came up to scratch to save the face of their party by voting against the Liberals’ immense Naval Estimates. The other half (save two who voted FOR them !) stood out of it oblige the Liberals !

Keir Hardie says the party were bribed, the Osborne Bill being the price of their defection, and he should know. But we wonder how many would have opposed the Estimates had they been really in danger. How many would dare have gone back to their Liberal constituencies with the confession on their lips that they had helped to defeat a Liberal Government? Not many, we venture to guess.

Did Jesus ever live? (1911)

Book Review from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Christ Myth, by Arthur Drews, Ph. D., Professor of Philosophy at Karlsruhe. Translated from the third revised German edition by C. Desmond Burns, M.A. 304 pp. 7s. 6d., net. T. Fisher Unwin, London and Leipzic.

To the Socialist the question whether there existed an historical Jesus of the Gospels is hardly a burning question. Whether the Christ legends had an historical nucleus or not does not affect the antagonism between religion, as such, and scientific knowledge. There is nothing inherently improbable in the collection of ancient myths round an historical personage and the attribution to him of the magic commonly believed in at the time. The Socialist, however, unlike the average professor, does not consider the work concluded when a belief has been traced to a myth! The myth clamours just as loudly for explanation.

Considerable work has been done, particularly on the Continent, in the direction of tracing ancient legends to their material basis, and showing their connection with definite phases of social life; but immensely more remains. The present book does not greatly increase our knowledge in this respect, and is to that extent unsatisfactory. A reference is, however, made to a rite which exists in the Vedic Agni cult, and which, according to the author, reaches back into the very origins of all human civilisation, and preserves the memory of the discovery of fire in the midst of the “horrors of the Stone Age”. And the author gets near to a recognition of the social basis of early Christianity in the following passage:
“Christianity is a syncretic religion. It belongs to those movements which at the commencement of our era were struggling with one another for the mastery. Setting out from the Apocalyptic idea and the expectation of the Messiah among the Jewish sects, it was borne on the tide of a mighty social agitation, which found its centre and its point of departure in the religious sects and Mystery communities. Its adherents conceived the Messiah not merely as the Saviour of souls, but as deliverer from slavery, from the lot of the poor and the oppressed, and as the bearer of a new justice.”
But it is, perhaps, hardly fair to condemn Professor Drews’ book on the score that it does not explain the beliefs and myths with which it deals, for, in view of the frantic attempts of professor of Protestant theology to base their religion on an “historic” Jesus, it is certainly useful to show how unsupported such a base is.

In spite of occasional emphasis, however, the negative, as might be expected, is far from being proved. The non-historicity of Christ remains in the realms of the “may have been”, the “probable” and the “perhaps”, the professor’s scholarship notwithstanding. The innumerable comparisons with pre-Christian religions of all sorts nevertheless demonstrate, at least, the great antiquity of practically the whole of the rites popularly connected with the name of Jesus.

In essence, the author’s work in comparative religion (or, rather, in comparative mythology) simply carries the so-called Higher Criticism to its full conclusion, without seeking any sounder basis. He will have nothing to say to materialistic monism, and therefore never reaches bed rock; but his investigations within their idealistic limits have their value, and it may be useful to give Professor Drews’ chief conclusions.

At the birth of Christianity men not only longed for a new structure of society, for peace, justice, and happiness on earth, but they trembled at the expectation of the early occurrence of world-wide catastrophe which would put a terrible end to all existence. And, says the professor:
“Seldom in the history of mankind has the need for religion been so strongly felt as in the last century before and the first century after Christ. But it was not from the old hereditary national religions that deliverance was expected. It was from the unrestrained commingling and unification of all existing religions, a religious syncretism, which was specially further by acquaintance with the strange, but on that account more attractive, religions of the East. Already Rome had become a Pantheon of almost all religions in which one could believe”.
Christ is derived from a cult god of the Jewish sects, and etymological variations of the name Jesus are shown to be but older words for the Messiah, the mediator, the god of healing, and the redeemer; each with distinct characteristics. The supposed place-name, Nazareth, is a geographical fiction: the word really meant a guardian or protector. Further, the infliction of death upon a gibbet or cross as a human sacrifice was, as is, indeed, generally known, an extremely ancient religion practice. The crucifixion story had a direct connection with weather gods and the Roman Saturnalia.

Professor Drews, in common with most modern critics, attributes systematic Christianity to Paul, who possibly existed. “It is evident”, he says, “that in reality it was merely a new setting to the old conception of the representative self-sacrifice of God”. Moreover: “No historical personality who should, so to say, have lived as an example of the God-man, was in any way necessary to produce that Pauline development of the religion of Jesus . . . Christ is, for Paul, only a comprehensive expression for the totality of men, which is therein represented as an individual personal being”. In other words, according to our author, Paul did not actually conceive of an historical Jesus. “The Pauline religion was only one form of the many syncretising efforts to satisfy humanity’s need of redemption by a fusion of religious conceptions derived from different sources”. But the connection with ancient religion is even closer.
“The place of the bloody expiatory sacrifices of the believers in Attis, wherein they underwent ‘baptism by blood’ in their yearly March festival, and wherein they obtained the forgiveness of their sins and were ‘born again’ to a new life, was in Rome the Hill of the Vatican. In fact the very spot on which in Christian times the Church of St. Peter grew above the so-called grave of the Apostle. It was at bottom merely an alteration of the name, not of the matter, when the High Priest of Attis blended his rôle with that of the High Priest of Christ, and the Christ-cult spread itself from this new point far over the other parts of the Roman Empire”.
Apart from Professor Drews’ statements, however, we know that the Christian search for an historical Jesus is quite a modern thing, and is really a sign of the dissolution of Christianity, of the weakening of faith, and of the growing scientific habit.

It is the accompaniment, also, of personal individualist religion rather than of the communal faith of the original Church. As a god, Christ appeared to his worshippers to no more need historic support than did the Godhead. But to-day faith has gone, and the attempt to find an historical nucleus for the Christ of the Gospels is the last despairing effort of what once was faith to justify itself by the light of reason.

Moreover, as Kalthoff says: “In default of any historical certainty the name of Jesus has become for Protestant theology an empty vessel into which that theology pours the contents of its own meditations."

It is truly all things to all men. But behind all its many forms it retains one constant care. It is true that Christians are being compelled to abandon the supernatural and to attempt to take refuge in an unfindable Christ-man, but they only throw overboard their grosser superstitions in order to save the essential superstition of Idealism as a bulwark against Materialism.

Professor Drews sees farther than the Protestants. He wishes to save religion by abandoning Christ altogether. “There must be”, he says, “an idealistic monism in opposition to the naturalistic monism of Haeckel, which is prevalent even to-day. This monism must not exclude but include God’s existence; and its present unfruitful negation of all religion must deepen into a positive and religiously valuable view of the world”.

In practice an “idealistic monism” is not monism, but dualism; but that need not concern us here. At bottom the professor’s attitude is typically bourgeois in its unctuous sophistry. Rather jettison all the gods there be than risk being overwhelmed by materialistic monism. At all costs keep the gaze of the masses fixed upon the sky, the ideal world where they cannot see how they are robbed and oppressed; do not let them investigate the material world, where they would soon find the way to material salvation! Such is the useful rôle of all religion to every ruling class. And Professor Drews would help it make its last desperate stand, sans Christ, sans Bible, but not sans its essential pernicious superstition. Truly, one must say of religion in all its multifarious forms, what our French friends say of government: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!”
F. C. Watts