Thursday, July 13, 2023

More news from Uxbridge (2023)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

The last 800 leaflets were distributed yesterday for the by-election a week on Thursday. Discarded leaflets from some of the candidates were found but nothing from the LibDems — seems they are giving Labour here a free run to garner anti-Tory votes. There is no socialist candidate. 

We talked to the owner of a house decked out with UKIP posters who turned out to be  a former Tory councillor who had defected to UKIP because they were replacing “white” local council candidates by Indians. True, as the three councillors for the ward are now all Indians, but so what? The Tories have in fact been cultivating the Hindu vote in north-west London, with some success.  

We met the Tory candidate himself, local councillor Steve Tuckwell. We had read in a Tory leaflet that the local Hindu temple handed out free fruit and vegetables at 2 o’clock on Tuesdays. Intrigued by this Tory support for free distribution we went along to see. It turned out to be just an ordinary food bank. 

But what we witnessed was a scene that bore some similarity to Dickens’s account of an election in his day. The Tory candidate and the Tory MP for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) forced the 20 or so destitute workers queuing for their bag of food to wait ten minutes to listen to their speeches which the workers dutifully applauded. What followed was even more obscene. The two suitably garlanded politicians were filmed, for an Asian TV channel, handing out food bags to the poor. This must come near to “treating” (giving gifts to voters to get them to vote for you) which since Dickens’s day has become illegal under electoral law. But professional politicians are known to have no shame when it comes to vote-catching. One reason why they are held in contempt, and rightly so.

One big issue in the election is ULEZ, the extension as from the end of August of the Ultra Low  Emission Zone from central London to the whole of Greater London. This will require owners of pre-2006 petrol vehicles and pre-2016 diesel vehicles to pay £12.50 a day to use their vehicles. As all vans are diesel, “white van man” is up in arms. One self-employed tradesman we met told us he had had to spend £10,000 of his own money to buy a new van and that all people like him who owned a pre-2016 van would have to do the same. Workers owning an old banger because they couldn’t afford anything better or a not that old diesel car will also be clobbered. There are two independent anti-ULEZ candidates and the Tories are playing it for all it’s worth (they can’t really play the anti-immigrant card here) saying “No to Labour’s £4,550 ULEZ expansion tax”.

No leaflets have been distributed in the Ruislip part of the constituency, so the workers there are going to have to work out for themselves that the problem is not  the Tories or Labour but Capitalism.

A Socialist Searchlight. (1931)

From the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Monthly and the S.P.G.B. 

It has for many years been the childish policy of the Communists to attack the S.P.G.B., but never to mention us by name. The Acting Editor of the Labour Monthly, in a letter to a reader, has now offered an explanation for this policy. The following is an extract from the letter, which is dated April 23rd :—
“We do not take notice of the Socialist Party of Great Britain as an organization, because as such it plays no part in the struggle of the working class. Individual members of it may be active in the movement, but the body itself is in the fullest sense a sect, which proclaims as its first principle that it is cut off from every other party. That is to say it is concerned only with a certain set of principles and not with taking part in a movement and taking part in the struggle which goes on outside it. 
The strength of the Communist movement lies not least in that it is part of the working class and merely represents the most advanced part of it. The very fact that the Marxism of the S.P.G.B. is divorced from application, and that it stands outside the Communist International, condemns it as a mere propaganda body, which does not reflect the immediate problems before workers or show in any way how they are being being tackled.”
The letter deserves some comment, although it has to be remembered that the Labour Monthly is not an official Communist organ, and represents nobody but the Editor. He is, however, a Communist and is, or was, on the Party Executive.

It is true that the S.P.G.B. stands by a certain set of principles which it tries to get the workers to accept and act upon. What is the alternative which the Communists and the Labour Party have both in their different ways followed? They say, in effect, “If we cannot get the workers to accept Socialism, then let us put up a programme which they will accept.” So they have both put forward their long and frequently changed programmes of capitalist reforms. So little did the two parties’ programmes differ, that for years the Communists and the Labour Party were found supporting the same candidates at elections, and the Communists will be voting Labour again just so soon as Moscow in its tricky stupidity orders them or permits them to do so.

And what has come of it ? For the Labour Party leaders the reward has been the plums of office. For the Communists there has been no reward whatever. They are more ineffective, more despised, more unpopular and. more ridiculous than at any time in their history.

As regards industrial disputes, the Communist Party, as a party, is just as much a mere propaganda body as we are. It controls no single Trade Union. There is no important Union in which its members are a majority or even influential. The chief difference between the Communists and ourselves is that the Communists pretend to believe that the issuing of a “call to action” to the few thousand readers of its daily paper, a call which they are completely impotent to respond to, is “action,” whereas it is in fact not only mere words, but words which are misleading and are intended to be misleading. The S.P.G.B., being an independent and democratic party, has no need or wish to carry on deception for the purpose of getting money from the Russian Government.

The Acting Editor of the Labour Monthly criticises us because we cut ourselves off from every other party. This refers, presumably, to the Communist Party’s former electoral allies, the Labour Party. Since when, we would like to know, has a willingness to co-operate with a party of capitalism been the hall-mark of a Socialist party?

* * *

Is this working-class education? 

In his “Portrait of Oxford,” Mr. J. G. Sinclair has the following sidelight on Ruskin College, where working-class students acquire “culture” and learn how to climb out of the ranks of their class :—
“A week or two after their arrival the working class students are indistinguishable in appearance from the conventional undergraduate. . . . 
As soon as a RUSKIN COLLEGE student “feels the atmosphere” he discards his colliery trousers, or, as the case may be, his porter’s cap. He is no longer a working man. He is “up at Oxford.” As quickly as possible he gets into a pair of flannel trousers ; walks the “Corn” bareheaded ; and shapes his tongue with all available speed to the twang of the ‘Varsity. He receives invitations from rich ladies, and influential hosts, to tea, to talk over “the condition of the working classes.” If he is clever, the dons know how to flatter him. His ambitions are greatly encouraged. And he soon learns how to balance the two sides of every question in Balfourian style ! 
The RUSKIN COLLEGE student sets the ‘eights which “Jimmy” Thomas and Frank Hodges have so successfully scaled. (Do not lives of Great Men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime !) No more colliery trousers ; no more porters’ caps. It is personal, rather than communal, uplift that RUSKIN COLLEGE student seeks now.”
* * *

The Land Workers' "Living Wage." 

Agricultural workers are supposed by law to be entitled to the minimum wage fixed by the Wages Committees. The Labour Government introduced the Act in 1924, and since coming into office for the second time has appointed more inspectors to enforce it and to inquire into cases of non-payment of the minimum. Like all such reforms, the Act cannot alter the conditions which determine the workers’ position in the capitalist system. Low as the minimum wages are, thousands of workers dare not ask for them, for fear of losing their jobs and their cottages. According to Reynolds’s Illustrated News (April 12th, 1931), in 1930, 4,523 farms were inspected, as a result of which there were 1,630 claims for arrears of wages. Reynolds’s Agricultural Correspondent estimates that “one farmer in four throughout the country is violating the law.” This estimate is based on official inspections over a number of years in every part of the country.

When it is remembered that the minimum rates are so low that a large number of agricultural workers would have received as much, or more, had there been no Wages Act, the small value of such reforms is obvious. In Scotland the land workers’ union refused the “benefits” of such regulation of wages. They preferred to depend upon ordinary Trade Union bargaining.

* * *

Sir Josiah Stamp on Wages. 

Sir Josiah Stampj who constantly advises lower wages as a means of improving trade (and, incidentally, the employers’ profits), and who is paid many thousands of pounds a year by his employers, the L.M.S. Railway, for so doing, says, in his book, “Criticism and Other Addresses” (Ernest Benn, 15s.) :—
“You cannot permanently have the unsheltered engineer, receiving 50s. per week from work in a tram-car, at the front of which his less skilled colleague, as driver, works less hard for £4.”
Sir Josiah Stamp does not explain how lowering tramwaymen’s wages will help the engineer, nor does he explain why you must permanently have an investing class living on its investments without the need to work at all. And what are his thoughts when he rides behind an engine-driver on the L.M.S. Railway who receives as wages perhaps one-twentieth of the amount paid to Stamp?

Sir Josiah Stamp cannot even claim that as an economist he is efficient. As Mr. J. H. Thomas feelingly pointed out recently, Stamp failed to foresee the present depression. Had he done so, Mr. Thomas might not have so lightheartedly taken on the job of tackling unemployment, and might thus have saved his reputation.

* * *

Why the Railwaymen are apathetic. 

Mr. C. T. Cramp, General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, stated recently in the Railway Review (quoted in The Times, April 9th) that the railwaymen are apathetic about nationalisation of the railways. Why should they be otherwise than apathetic? Did not Mr. Cramp, when giving evidence in favour of nationalisation before the Royal Commission on Transport, reply to the question, Would nationalisation of the railways lead to higher wages? with “Certainly not”? (see Daily Telegraph, January 17th, 1929). Taking all things into consideration, the position of the workers is just as unfavourable in State concerns as in private ones. The pay of Government employees is consciously based on rates of pay outside, and Mr. Snowden recently told the Civil Service that they ought not to expect their pay to be kept up, in view of the low pay of miners and others. The pay of Underground railwaymen has, in fact, recently been quoted by Post Office workers, before the Civil Service Commission, as an instance of higher levels of pay in a comparable private company.

For the employers, nationalisation has certain attractions, especially at a time when the future course of railway profits is obscure owing to the competition of road transport. So we learn from the Parliamentary Correspondent of the Daily Express that “powerful support for nationalisation will come from the owners’ side, though two of the groups are said to be unconvinced and hostile” (Daily Express, May 20th).

Of course, the rigging up of nominal opposition to a scheme of nationalisation has often been used with great success as a means of getting better terms.

The Government are now considering the advisability of electrifying the main line railways, as recommended in the Report of the Weir Committee. Railwaymen will be interested to learn that the Committee estimate securing great savings, in running costs, including a saving of £10 millions a year on the wages of drivers and other train staffs.
Edgar Hardcastle

Emancipation or Palliation? (1931)

Pamphlet Review from the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

About five years ago the Socialist Party published a pamphlet entitled “Socialism,” which examined the position of the working class and indicated the only way to effect a change in that position. The Communist Party has recently issued a pamphlet, professing to cover similar ground, entitled “Capitalism or Socialism in Britain.”

An old tag has it that comparisons are odious. Let us be odious.

Our pamphlet contains forty-eight pages. Mr. Palme Dutt’s effort consists of only thirty-two similar pages. The Socialist Party’s pamphlet is sold for 2d. The Communist Party charge 3d. In spite of their superior financial resources, they want half as much again for two-thirds of the material. So much for quantity, Now for quality.

The Communist pamphlet contains no actual information that has not been given by the S.P.G.B., but it does contain statements which are false. Mr. Dutt repeats the long-ago exploded legend that Socialism has been established in Russia. We are told that the workers there own and control the means of production, in spite of the fact that the Soviet Government, like other capitalist Governments, has a large and growing national debt upon which it pays high rates of interest to the investors. It has just announced its intention of floating another £160,000,000 loan, upon which it will pay 10 per cent. (Manchester Guardian Weekly, June 12th). Although it is common knowledge that agricultural production in Russia is still largely in the hands of independent peasant concerns, and that the so-called collective and State farms are run on capitalist lines, Mr. Dutt glibly informs us that all production is organised according to a single plan (p. 16). “All production,” he goes on, “is directed solely to supplying the workers’ needs. It is for use, not profit.” Yet a few paragraphs further on he speaks of “the mighty Socialist productive machine flooding the world with cheap goods with which they (the capitalists) cannot compete.” Perhaps next time Mr. Dutt deals with this matter he will be kind enough to explain why British, American and German capitalists in particular are supplying Russia with the machinery upon which the success of its economic plans depends. Is it because they have conceived a laudable desire to assist in the “building-up of Socialism “?

The Labour Party, of course, comes in for a good deal of Mr. Dutt’s criticism, but he keeps judiciously quiet concerning the electoral support which the Communist Party gave to the Labour Party for years. We have yet to hear what the working-class (or even the Communist Party) have gained by this activity. In passing, it is interesting to note that where, as at Pontypridd and St. Rollox, by-elections are fought minus a Communist candidate, the Communist Party have taken to recommending the workers to write “Communist” across their ballot papers. Communist champions have, in the past, been remarkably fond of sneering at this form of action when advocated by the S.P.G.B. Now that their support has been ruthlessly spurned by the Labour Party, they have no choice but “to add” (in their own words) “to the gaiety of returning officers.”

While the Communist Party was busily engaged in 1923 and 1924 in securing the return to Parliament of ex-Coalition. Government office-holders, such as Clynes and Henderson (thus proving false to the Third International’s slogan, “Remember the Imperialist War”), the Socialist Party was consistently opposing the Labour Party. Our withers are unwrung, therefore, by Mr. Dutt’s diatribe against “Socialist Imperialism.” Unlike his party, we have never had truck nor lot with any such monstrous hybrid. We can, therefore, criticise his support of Indian Nationalism with a clean record so far as working-class interests are concerned. The maintenance of the British Empire is no concern of ours, but neither is “the national liberation of the colonial peoples,” which Mr. Dutt describes as “the first duty of free workers of Britain.” Experience of Nationalist movements from Ireland to China convinces us that the workers in these respective countries have nothing to gain by giving them support. Mr. Dutt attempts to deny that national liberation “means the strengthening of the native exploiters against the masses.” “On the contrary,” he says, “it is just British imperialism that maintains, buttresses and builds its power on alliance with the most reactionary blood-sucking native elements in each country—the decaying Indian
princes, the priestly powers, the landlords (often created ariilicially by British rule), the middlemen traders, the moneylenders. Remove the sword of British Imperialism which maintains and protects these, and the working masses will soon deal with them and advance to Socialism” (p. 30). It is necessary to note that he leaves unmentioned the newer industrial capitalist element who are the strongest supporters of the Nationalists and have probably the most to gain from some form of independence in India, and confines himself to attacking the “reactionary,” i.e., the feudal and semi-feudal survivals among the Indian ruling class, and the actual agents of the British Government. He ignores, in other words, the fact that a more modern mode of exploitation is developing in India and giving rise to a demand for political changes in accordance therewith. The Indian capitalists want a place in the sun on an equality with the capitalists of the rest of the world. Mr. Dutt’s pretence that the “working masses of India” are ready to “advance to Socialism,” once the British are out of the way, is the most pitiful childishness.

Those of his readers who are inclined to fall for that sort of thing would do well to ponder upon the fate of the followers of the Chinese Communists in 1927. Having helped the Nationalist Kuo-Min-Tang Party in its struggle with the “reactionary elements,” thousands of workers were butchered in the streets of Shanghai and Canton when the Kuo-Min-Tang was in the saddle. Whether the Indian Nationalists will succeed in acquiring a similar measure of power remains to be seen. One thing, however, is certain : their power will not be that of the workers and peasants.

The rest of Mr. Dutt’s pamphlet betrays a similar conflict between his revolutionary pretensions and reformist proposals. Although he tells us in his preface “that no policy of patching up capitalism can avail,” he cannot resist the temptation to suggest a few patches. Hence (on p. 28) we get the usual “Communist” demands for “minimum wages, seven-hour day, fortnight’s holiday with pay, workers’ control in the factories.” All this, mind, as an immediate result of “workers’ rule,” the capitalists having been “expropriated” on page 24 !

These demands, of course, do not present anything essentially different from the programme of the I.L.P. or the Liberal Yellow Book. Scientific exploitation is quite consistent with minimum rates, shorter hours, regular holidays, and factory committees. In Russia and Germany, where the works councils have statutory rights, they have long ago been subordinated to the Trade Unions and used by the State in capitalist interests. Shop stewards prove as helpless against these interests as do Trade Union leaders. Yet Mr. Dutt, like the Communists generally, goes on chanting the stale old “industrialist” tags about building up the workers’ power in the factories. Ex-shop-stewards who had to join the Communist Party because, with the post-war slump, they lost their industrial jobs, talk with their tongue in their cheeks about “workers’ control” ; not forgetting to mention, however, the necessity for the “leadership” of the Communist Party. That leadership has cost the workers dear wherever it has been accepted. Instead of “the capitalist State” being smashed, it has been the workers” heads, if nothing worse. The way to power is through organisation based upon knowledge. The Socialist Party through its literature assists in supplying’ that knowledge free from the confusing mixture of obsolete and unscientific Radicalism. Emancipation, not palliation, is our watchword.
Eric Boden

Socialist Forum: Socialism and Distribution. (1931)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent (N. T. T.) asks us the following questions about the organisation of society on a Socialist basis :—
“(1) There are always people, in any stage of civilization, who do not like and do not tone with their surroundings. People live to-day who would be much more happy lying in the sun all day, and picking their food from the trees. I wonder what would be considered the fair share of work for such people? Would they, desiring none of the absurd luxuries of mechanised and artificial civilization, be yet forced to do as much to maintain such a state as any lover of cigars, motorcars, and epicurean meals.

(2) All valuable (not in a monetary sense) works of art, will not be able to be kept in public museums. It is barely possible to consider all our paintings and sculptures thus placed—but for whom are our few Stradivarius violins, to mention but one type of art which cannot be left to rot in a museum ? There are, as I have said, but a few ; but there is a multitude of people who ache to possess them. And this is not greed. It is the very natural desire of the artist to express himself through as fine a medium as possible.

We cannot call those things details, and pass them over. They touch very vital chords of human nature, and must be considered.

Our correspondent’s first question is phrased in such a way that it tends to obscure the real issue. We are asked to consider the case of the man who will desire “none of the absurd luxuries of mechanised and artificial civilisation,” and who, therefore, will wish to avoid working to make them possible. He wants, instead, to lie in the sun all day and feed himself from the trees ! If the illustration is to be taken literally, it is itself absurd and impossible. Anyone who tried to live like this in England would have a very strenuous, brief and painful existence. He would be compelled to avoid all cultivated plants, because these are the products of our “mechanised and artificial civilisation,” and would be so busy trying to secure a sufficiency of uncultivated but edible articles, that he would have no time for sunning. He would doubtless soon fall ill. Moreover, not the social organisation, but the climate would effectively prohibit his mode of life for 90 per cent. of the time. But if he then decides to seek sunnier climes, he will again have to fall back on those — to him — detestable mechanical devices, the steamship or the aeroplane.

The real problem is that of the persons whose tastes do not fully coincide with those of their neighbours—but that includes everybody. Everybody would want some but not others of the articles produced by society’s co-operative effort, and would therefore appreciate the need for give and take. It is a problem implicit in every form of human society. The adjustments will be easier when the luxuries of some are not obtained at the cost of the necessities of others. Now the poverty of the poor is forcibly imposed on them in order to safeguard the privileges of the propertied class.

Our correspondent’s second question has nothing to do with Socialism. We are not advocating Socialism on the ground that we have discovered a perfect method of dividing half-a-dozen Strads among a multitude of people. In the nature of the case there is no method of satisfying the desire of the multitude (if, indeed, they exist) who ache to possess a Strad. What Socialism will do will be to remove, society’s means of production and distribution from the ownership and control of a small minority. Having done that, we do not think that the foundations of Socialist society will rock on account of the unsolved problem of the Strads and first editions and other unique relics of this, that, or the other dead hero. Capitalism gives the Strads to its most successful exploiters who can afford to pay monopoly prices—but nobody seems to mind very much. Artist-craftsmen will again find an opening for the production of masterpieces under the new social conditions.