Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Cuttings and comments. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Every man born on the soil of England had a right to claim work.” Thus the Lord Bishop of Ripon. But who disputes the right to claim ? Certainly not the Bishop’s friends of the capitalist-class. Why indeed should they ? The more men claiming the keener the competition and the lower the wages. Now if every man born on the soil of England put in a claim for the whole product of his toil and refused to allow the capitalist to non-suit the claim, there might, it is true, still be unemployment, but only because the worker would not require to work so hard nor so often. And as he would receive all the wealth he produced, there would be none left for my Lord Bishop, who would perforce have to work himself.


William Sotting, aged 74, shot himself, having been forced to the conclusion that “Old men are like old dogs, and ought to be shot when they are past work.” According to the dictum of American capitalism, when a man reaches the age of 40 he should be taken out and shot as useless for further profit-making. Here is a case in which the views of exploiter and exploited coincide. Ergo, there is no class war as Keir Hardie would say!


Referring to certain Trade Union amendments which he had heard were to be moved to the Government “Unemployed” Bill—that unqualified absurdity in which the S.D.F. have claimed their influence is apparent—the writer of the labour column in the Echo says: “It seems to be quite certain that Mr. Balfour will consent to none of these amendments, and, what is more, a Liberal Government would not assent to them either.” As the attitude of both Liberal and Tory Governments towards labour is the same, the Echo writer has doubtless spoken truly, although in speaking truly he is not following the precedent set by other Liberal scribes whose business it is to induce Trade Unionists to lend their support to Liberalism, on the ground that Liberalism is infinitely better than Toryism. If he gives the game away so inartistically, the Echo writer we fear, will not for long remain unacquainted with the order of the sack.


Mr. William Crooks, M.P., L.C.C, has been talking again, this time to a World interviewer. “There is no snobbish or social distinction when once you get inside the House of Commons” he says; only “wonderful and splendid kindness” for Labour members apparently. He did not add “so long as they do as their capitalist fellow members want them to do,”—the addendum necessary to make the statement entirely true.


Mr. Crooks also has a remedy for the overpopulation of cities and the misery resulting from unemployment. He unburdened himself of it to the World man thus :
“It is to be found on the land, the mother of us all. You go through England and see what vast stretches of beautiful and uncultivated soil there are. Why don’t some of these wealthy landowners say : ‘Hang it all, I will give up some acres or so to these poor under-fed devils, shove up some tin houses and train them in agriculture’ ? They are no good at first. They hardly know the difference between a brick and a lump of clay. But they can learn, and they can quickly pick up their strength, and turn into good farm labourers, worth their 2s. 6d. a day in England and their 6s. 6d. a day in Canada. The experiment has been tried on a small scale and has proved successful. But we leave it to the hobby of an American philanthropist, and our own wealthy classes won’t lend a hand.”
This “remedy,” though couched in unpolished and homely phraseology, hath an ancient and fishlike smell. We seem to have heard of the “shove ’em back on the land” cure, as Mr. Crooks would say, before. It is much the same as the reafforestation (or firewood manufacture) cure favoured by other ”Labour Leaders,” and pre-supposes capitalist production without a large army of unemployed. Which, as the youngest of economic fledglings would be able to show, is ridiculous. Mr. Crooks should read more and talk less.


” A Rose by any other name—

“A woman applied to Mr. Rose at the Tower Bridge Police Court for a pair of boots for her young daughter from the funds of the poor box. In refusing the application, Mr. Rose said he was averse to giving boots in the summer because he did not consider them as a necessity. Children could go to school without boots, especially this weather, or with canvas shoes, which could be bought for a shilling, or slippers.”


Mr. Rose is no doubt a most worthy person, and has spoken according to his lights. If his lights are not very bright or his sympathy with working-class want not over strong, the fault is not his. The brutality of his indifference simply reflects the training he has received, the atmosphere he has moved in from his youth up. It is a not unusual expression of the callous cult of capitalism.


Mr. Rose is not to blame, but his reply to the woman asking for boots is strongly reminiscent of the reply of Foullon, of unsavory memory, of whom it is recorded that, in the days which preceded the French Revolution, he replied to the people who cried aloud for bread that they should eat grass. Foulon was the product his time and was not to blame. But his latter end found Foullon hanging from a lamp-post his mouth stuffed full of his grass.


Philosophic dissertations upon individual responsibility—or lack of it—have no great weight with the ill-educated striking against oppressive conditions. They personify the causes of their misery, and the persons selected are generally those who have been most brutally indifferent to the unhappiness of their position, or who have in some other manner been associated with the maintenance of the system spelling oppression : at these they strike.


We do not pretend to view this method of striking with favour. We are in existence as a political party in order to educate the working-class so that they may strike effectively at the ballot box without having recourse to the lamppost. The lamp-post has had its day. But the representative of capitalism who speaks as Mr. Rose has spoken, is none the less in a dangerous position, because he emphasizes the existence of the gulf which yawns between his class and the oppressed and poverty-stricken working-class, and so helps to prepare the material out of which the Socialist Party will fashion the weapon that shall presently sweep capitalism out of existence altogether—the weapon of a class-conscious, well organised, working class. Mr. Rose is therefore in the dangerous position of contributing to the destruction of the form of society upon which his position depends.
A. J. M. Gray

Brothers in Arms. (1905)

Snippet from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Major Roper Caldbeck declares that the average soldier’s pension is 8s. 2d. per week, whilst that of the officers is £4 a week ! But of course. Capital and Labour are brothers, and the interests of the working-class soldier and exploiting-class officer are identical.

The Truth about Camborne. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much interest was manifested last month concerning the electoral activities of the Social-Democratic Federation, when it was publicly asserted, on oath, that the candidature of Cllr. Jack Jones, S.D.F., for the Mining Division of Cornwall, was being financed by “Tory gold.”

The allegation was made at a public meeting held at the Public Hall, Camborne, on Saturday, June 3rd, when Mr. James Lightwood read documents, which he and his wife had sworn to. The following are the essential extracts :
“I, James Lightwood, solemnly and sincerely declare as follows :—

“For several years past I was superintendent of a number of model dwellings situate in Seaward Street, East Finsbury, which Mr. Richards, K.C., represents in Parliament as a Conservative. I became very friendly with Mr. Richards, and on more than one occasion have I discussed with him and his friends the political aspect of the Housing question.

“I had an interview with Mr. Richards some days prior to the 23rd of January, 1904, at my house. He told me he had a friend who was coming up from Redruth. He said ‘He is a fine fellow, you will like him very much.’ As he was going he said to my wife,’ Mrs. Lightwood, how would you like to see your husband an M.P. ? ‘She replied ‘He is happier as he is.’

“On the 23rd of January, 1904, I received from, Mr. Richards a postcard in the following words :—

“Dear Mr. Lightwood,—I shall call on you on Saturday between 5 and 5.15 with a friend from Redruth, and if you are free I hope you will wait in for me or write when you will be free Saturday or Sunday after 6.

“On the evening of the same day I received the postcard, Mr. Richards called as appointed. He brought with him a gentleman whom he then introduced to me as the gentleman from Redruth. This gentleman was Mr. Cheux, the Unionist Agent for the Mining Division of Cornwall. On this introduction Mr. Richards left, as he said he had to be off to the House. Mr. Cheux said that he had been deputed by a wealthy gentleman in Cornwall, who was a great sympathiser with the Socialist movement, to find a man who would, stand as a candidate for the Mining Division. He said he wanted me to be the candidate, as Mr. Richards had spoken very highly of my qualifications. I declined to consider the matter. He pressed me as he said I was a Cornishman, a native of the Mining Division, and that I had worked in the mines as a boy (all of which was true). I told him that even if my qualifications were sufficient, I could not go down into the constituency without a local mandate. I suggested his applying to the Labour party for a man, but he demurred. I then suggested his applying to the Social Democratic Federation.

“On Thursday, January 28th, 1904, Mr. Lee, Secretary of the Social Democratic Federation, called on me. I knew Mr. Lee slightly. Mr. Lee said a gentleman from Redruth had asked him (Lee) to meet him at my house, and that they were anxious for me to become the candidate, and that a rich friend of the Redruth gentleman would find the money. Mr. Cheux did not, however, turn up while Mr. Lee was with me, .but a few minutes after Mr. Lee had gone he called. He apologised for being late and hurried off to catch Mr. Lee at the office of the Social Democratic Federation. On Feb. 5th, 1904, I received a letter from Mr. H. W. Lee; this letter was written on the ordinary note paper of the Social Democratic Federation, and was in words as follows :—

“Mr. J. Lightwood,
           4, Bartholomew Buildings, E.C.

Dear Comrade,

Shortly after I reached the office after seeing you last Thursday the gentleman came up. From what he said he seemed inclined towards you yourself running for the Camborne Division. Have you seen him since, and has he said anything more to you about your coming forward ? Because if you thought of doing anything in that direction, we should be perfectly willing, I am sure, to leave it at that.

To-day another gentleman has been up. He says he comes from the one who saw me last Thursday. I gave him the decision of the Committee, which was to the effect that before we could actually decide that someone from the S.D.F. should go down to Camborne, and prepare the way, so to speak; that is to say, it would not be the best tactics, to put a candidate down upon the Division unless some preparations had been made beforehand. To this proposal he readily agreed, and stated that he had been authorised to place something of the same suggestion before us. He says he will come in and see me again before next Tuesday, when the matter again comes forward for consideration.

I thought I would let you know how the matter stands at present, and I think I will call and see you on Saturday morning at about 11, if that will be convenient for you.
Yours fraternally,
H. W. Lee.”

“A few days after the receipt of this letter Mr. Lee again called, accompanied by Mr. Green, the Treasurer of the Social Democratic Federation, and Mr. Cheux, and a fourth gentleman. They were with me over an hour ; my wife gave them tea. They all urged me to accept the position of Socialist candidate, and Mr. Lee explained that my candidature would be endorsed by the Social Democratic Federation, and Mr. Cheux urged that his Socialist friend would pay the Federation all the expenses incurred, and that the Federation would remunerate rne for my trouble. I persisted in my refusal, although they continued to urge me for a long time, but when they found I was obstinate they left, and I understood the Social Democratic Federation would find another person to undertake the job.

“I have in my possession a number of letters in addition to those to which I have referred in this my Declaration. Some from Mr. Richards, some from Mr. Lee, some from Mr. Cheux, and some from Mr. Hamilton. As these letters relate to a matter at present the subject of litigation, I am informed I should not be justified in setting them out here.
James Lightwood.

“Declared this 29th day of May, 1905. Before me,
“F. E. B. Crawley,
“A Commissioner for Oaths.”
The Executive of the S.D.F. have issued an official pronouncement, and state that:—
“It is not true that the secretary of the Social Democratic Federation, Mr. H. W. Lee, approached Mr. Lightwood about the running of a Socialist candidate at Camborne. It was Mr. Lightwood who first called at the offices of the Social Democratic Federation. It is not true that our secretary arranged to meet the “gentleman from Redruth” at Mr. Lightwood’s office. It was Mr. Lightwood who arranged the meeting, stating the time when our secretary was to call. Mr. H. W. Lee consented to call, after consulting the Organisation Committee, who agreed that he should go with a ‘watching brief’ and report afterwards. It is not true that when Mr. J. F. Green, our treasurer, and the secretary called subsequently at Mr. Lightwood’s office they found Mr. Cheux there. Mr. Cheux, they assure us, is absolutely unknown to them, and his name has never been mentioned in connection with any proposed Socialist candidature in the Mining Division. It is not true that at the interview in question Mr. Lightwood was pressed to become the candidate, or that the Social Democratic Federation offered to pay his expenses.

“Mr. Lightwood, when in London, though not a member we believe of the Independent Labour Party, and certainly not of the Social Democratic Federation, was, nevertheless, known to members of both bodies in Clerkenwell and Finsbury as a sympathiser with the Socialist movement. We were the more disposed, therefore, to consider a proposal of the character mentioned coming from him than we might have been from an entire stranger. Moreover, we were anxious to take advantage of any bona-fide offer, as for some years past members of the Social Democratic Federation who knew the Mining Division have declared that it could be won in time by a Social Democratic candidate. The Social Democratic Federation would do nothing in the way of putting forward a Social-Democratic candidate at Camborne until propaganda work had been carried on and literature distributed in order to make our principles known among the people, and until enquiries conducted by the secretary and treasurer convinced them that the offer to assist financially in running a Socialist candidate in Camborne came from a sympathetic private, arid not a political party source.

“The one important point on which the whole of Mr. Lightwood’s statement centres is that the offer to assist financially the expenses of a Socialist candidate in the Mining Division came from, or was prompted by Mr. Reginald Cheux, acting as the election agent for Mr. Strauss, the Unionist candidate. That, if true, would undoubtedly suggest that the Unionist candidate believed that the presence of a Socialist candidate would be to his political advantage for which he was willing to pay. The Social Democratic Federation has always been willing to accept help from any quarter so long as no conditions are attached and no restrictions placed upon our speeches, and actions, providing always that the help comes from a private and sympathetic source, but not from a political party, centrally or locally, with a view to using Socialist work, organisation and influence for its own particular ends. We have been, and are still, convinced that the help for the Socialist candidature in the Mining Division is from a private and sympathetic source, and we see no reason, until Mr. Cheux’s connection with that assistance is established, to alter our opinion.”
Mr. R. F. Cheux has sent a communication to the Press in which he refers to Mr. Lightwood’s story as “preposterous” and “manifestly absurd ” but makes no denial of the statements excepting the following :—
“At present I need do no more than refer the public to the categorical denials of the officers of the Social Democratic Federation which have appeared in the columns of to-day’s Press, and to state that at the time of the select ‘tea party’ which Mr. Lightwood says took place at his house, and at which I was alleged to be present, I was as a matter of fact in Cornwall ”
The name of Mr. A. E. Fletcher having been mentioned in connection with the matter, that gentleman made the following statement to a representative of Reynold’s Newspaper:—
“My position is this. I was asked by the secretary of the S.D.F. if I would go down to Camborne as the Labour candidate, as they considered I was the one man who was acceptable to the miners of this division. A friend of the Socialist movement, who wished his name not to be mentioned, was prepared to pay the whole of the cost if a Labour candidate, acceptable to the miners, was adopted. He also said that the present Liberal candidate was a member of the Rosebery faction, who had offered to retire if a Labour candidate were adopted. I said, if these conditions were carried out, I would go and address a meeting, and that I had no ambition to go into Parliament, but my ambition was to further the Socialist cause; but if I were accepted as a Labour candidate I would stand. But I was not aware that Mr. Dunn’s promise to retire if a suitable Labour candidate was found was made two years ago, and I went down to Camborne. They listened to me, but the meeting was packed with Mr. Dunn’s men. They heckled me, and asked if Mr. Dunn’s promise was to be considered perpetual. I replied no, it could not be forever; but he was a Jingo and a member of the Rosebery faction, supported the Boer War, and so on. But his chief supporter said, ‘If you had been first in the field we should have adopted you.’ Finding I had been misinformed as to Mr. Dunn’s promise, and not being satisfied where the money was coming from, I retired. I am convinced that Mr. Lee, the secretary of the S.D.F., believed that the money was coming from a sympathetic source, and had no idea that it was to be supplied by the Tory party. In fact, he told me it was not coming from any political source.”
Mr. Lightwood’s promised further revelations will be awaited with interest, and in the meantime let us ask :—
  1. Why Mr. and Mrs. Lightwood should render themselves liable to a criminal prosecution for perjury if they have sworn to lies ?
  2. Whether Mr. H. W. Lee’s statement can be believed in view of the fact that at the Annual Conference of the S.D.F. At Shoreditch in 1903, he admitted that he had lied to the delegates at the previous Conference, and declared his intention of doing so again if he considered it necessary in the interests of the S.D.F. Is the present an occasion when it is necessary to lie “in the interests of the S.D.F.”?
It will be noticed :—
  1. That although the S.D.F. now declare that they knew Mr. Lightwood only “as a sympathiser with the Socialist movement,” Mr. H. W. Lee wrote him the remarkable letter which Mr. Lightwood received on Feb. 5th, 1904. If that incriminating document is a forgery why has not the S.D.F. instituted proceedings against the forger ?
  2. That although these negotiations with the mysterious unnamed gentlemen took place in Jan. and Feb., 1904, the members of the S.D.F., assembled in Annual Conferences at Easter, 1904 and Easter 1905, were told nothing of the circumstances. If the Executive of the S.D.F. cannot trust their own members, how can the members trust the Executive ?
  3. That although the S.D.F deny that they know Mr. Cheux, they do not give the names of either of the gentlemen who interviewed them, and who were admittedly acting only as agents;
  4. That the S.D.F. declare their willingness to accept help from any quarter, so long as no conditions are attached. But here there were conditions, viz., that the money should be used, not as the S.D.F. Executive thought best, but in making a three-cornered contest in a particular constituency,
  5. That, with the exception of the last paragraph, Mr. Cheux’s letter is an evasion. Mr. Lightwood has sworn that he holds letters from Mr. Cheux ;
  6. That the S.D.F. misled Mr. A. E. Fletcher concerning Mr. Dunn’s promise; 
  7. That although the S.D.F. were convinced that the money came from a sympathetic private source, they could not satisfy Mr. Fletcher, who visited the constituency, on that point;
  8. That the S.D.F. statement, which appeared in Justice, was preceded by an intimation that “another statement will be at once sent out to the branches.” In what respect will this differ from the public statement ?

Blogger's Note:
What is funny about reading about all this is that the former Conservative MP for Camborne mentioned, Arthur Strauss, and the future Liberal MP for Camborne, Albert Dunn, who was also mentioned in the piece, both ended up members of the Labour Party. Strauss stood as an independent Labour candidate at the 1918 'Khaki' General Election in Paddington North and Dunn stood as an official Labour candidate in St Ives at the 1918 and 1923 General Elections.  

West Ham. (1905)

Party News from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

I am happy to be able to report on behalf of the comrades of the West Ham Branch, considerable progress during the month. Comrades will be glad to hear that, as the result of our activities (together with the valuable assistance of the Romford Division boys—who are so modest that they would never be heard of if I didn’t mention them) in the adjoining district of East Ham, an East Ham Branch of the Party is in process of formation, and will probably be going strong by the time these lines come before the eyes of the expectant multitudes of Britain. London (and Watford) contains somewhere about a sixth of the population of this land of the free, and it is of the utmost importance that London be captured. The West Ham comrades have set their minds on establishing two other branches before the propaganda season is through. Where are the Branch Reporters ? Branch Reports are the antidote to dry-rot.
A. E. Jacomb

Jenks on politics. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

By Politics we mean the business of Government, that is to say, the control and management of people living together in a Society. A Society, again, is a group or mass of people, bound together by a certain common principle or object. A mere chance crowd is not a Society; it has no definite object, it collects and disperses at the whim of the moment, its members recognise no duties towards one another. It has no history, no organisation.

Unemployment. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Board of Trade state that in May 271 Trade Unions, with an aggregate membership of 575,512 reported 29,487, or 5.1 per cent. unemployed, as compared with 5.6 in April and 6.3 in May 1904.

Illuminations. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

[By the flashlight man.]

John Burns has been the chief supporter of Mr. J. Allen Baker, L.C.C., the Liberal candidate at the East Finsbury election.
o o o

Upon the L.C.C. Mr. Baker is a “Progressive,” the descriptive name by which the Liberals try to hide their identity in municipal matters. It is the old tale of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

o o o

At Mr. Baker’s first public meeting the great J.B. said the candidate he was there to support had one great claim upon them, and it was enough—he was against the Government,

o o o

Whether a government of the capitalist faction of which Burns and Baker are such shining lights would be less capitalist than the present Burns did not state.

o o o

His reason for backing Baker is no better and no worse than the S.D.F. reason for backing Burns, Philip Stanhope, Lionel Holland, and other capitalist candidates at the last election—they were against the war.

o o o

Not the war which is being waged all over the world between the capitalist-class and the working-class, but the struggle for political supremacy between the dominant factions in South Africa.

o o o

It is true that, previous to urging the workers to vote for Burns, the S.D.F. had denounced him as “a self-seeker and a traitor to the cause of the people” ; had declared that he was “firmly caught in the nets of the Liberal party” ; that he covered his “recreancy and treachery with ambiguous and lying allegations of cowardice and knavery against those whom he had deserted” ; that they urged the workers of Battersea to shew their self-respect by treating him as the workers of New South Wales did Fitzgerald, Kelly and others— “kick out the traitors”—that they issued a cartoon depicting “Judas Burns betraying the Christ of Labour” to the Liberal Party, led by Asquith ; and declared that “such a creature should be hounded from out of the company of all decent folk.”

o o o

And after all this, my friends, they urged the workers of Battersea to vote for Burns, the Battersea S.D.F. supported him, and Councillor Jack Jones of West Ham canvassed for him!

o o o

One would think that the surest way to inspire confidence in the minds of the thinking working-class is to prove to them that you are reliable, that you mean what you say, that you are logical and consistent. But the S.D.F. thinks otherwise.
o o o

Philip Stanhope, for example, whom the S.D.F. supported at Burnley, H. M. Hyndman standing down, has been described by the S.D.F. as a “third-rate Liberal hack.” Most people understand this to mean a political prostitute. Did the S.D.F. mean this of Stanhope ? and if they did why did they withdraw Hyndman and urge the workers of Burnley to vote for such a person ?

o o o

Of course we know that statements have been made in Burnley and elsewhere concerning an alleged contribution to the funds of the S.D.F. which Stanhope made about the time of that election. But does anyone imagine that the political policy of the S.D.F. would be affected by contributions from outside sources to its funds ?
o o o

“Any Socialist who would compromise with capitalism, provided he can exact from the enemy some pennyworths of reform, is earning the scorn, not the gratitude, of his children’s children, who, like himself, will be born into slavery if no more heroic effort be made to break the chains of capitalism and wagedom. We do not want any opportunists in the S.D.F. We point out to them that there are organisations formed for the express purpose of getting pennyworths, and if not pennyworths then ‘ha’porths’ of Socialism, and we humbly give them leave to depart a body which calls upon its members to make unceasing, untiring efforts to prepare itself for the final struggle in the class war, which will not be a sham fight, followed by a march-past of Labour M.P.’s shouldering Blue Books, and the S.D.F. programme of palliatives embodied in Acts of Parliament.”

o o o

The above is an extract from a leading article in Justice. Of course, it is not of recent date. It is more than twelve years old, and was written by J. Hunter Watts.

o o o

It is an illumination showing the difference between then and now, between the S. D. F. was and what it is. And when we think of what it might have been we are sad.

Voice From The Back: Down the sink (2003)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Down the sink

Angela O’Hagen, the campaign and communications manager of Oxfam in Scotland was so incensed by the plight of the poor in Mali and the Dominican Republic that she wrote to the Herald (26 June) about it. “Encouraged by Europe’s Common Agriculture Policy, Europe’s farmers are producing mountains of milk that no-one has the appetite for. Instead of pouring the milk down the sink, we dump our left-overs on the developing world undermining local dairy farmers in the likes of Dominican Republic and Mali who cannot compete against our artificially cheaper milk.” No, your eyes don’t deceive you, here is a spokesperson for Oxfam regretting that milk isn’t poured down the sink! Truly, capitalism is a mad house.

Hobson’s Choice

“Digby Jones, the Director-General of the CBI, yesterday argued for businesses to keep an opt-out on the European Working Time Directive that restricts the working week to an average of 48 hours . . . Mr Jones said, “This is about choice. People should have the right to say ‘no’ to long hours and the directive rightly gives them that protection. But they don’t want unions and politicians telling them when they can work, or for how long.” Times (26 June) Why would anyone want to work more than 48 hours? Could it be because they need the overtime pay? Could it be because they don’t want to be overlooked for promotion or, more likely, to be sacked?

It’s not funny

Bernard Manning is a stand-up comedian who has been accused of being a “foul-mouthed racist bigot”, but, as a report in This Week (28 June) of his trip to India shows, he is not stupid. “It was effin’ awful . . . You’re either wealthy in India or you’ve got eff all. The hotel was absolutely wonderful, and people were living high on the hog, beautiful meals, swimming pools, but you get out the front door and . . . effin’ poverty. There’s no in-between. You’ve got women queuing up for water and they’ve got an atom bomb! The last effin’ thing they need in India is an atom bomb! They want reservoirs and plenty of water coming through the tap. Effin’ upset me I can tell you.”

A voice from America

In the New York Times Magazine (6 July) there is a photograph of a woman wearing a flimsy looking plastic bag on her head. Underneath her photograph are the words of Darline Stephens of Anniston, Alabama. “ I live about 5 or 10 miles from chemical weapons. We’re over there searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we have them here in our hometown. I didn’t know this stuff was at the Army Depot all these years. I just heard last year. It takes seven years to burn the chemicals to get rid of it all. We didn’t really believe they were going to burn something that could kill us until they told us to get our masks. My family lives payday to payday, so we sure can’t say, ‘Let’s quit our jobs and move.’ I wish we could. The government does some ignorant things – they just give us a plastic mask? If you could send our boys to war with real masks, I don’t understand why we can’t have the same masks. Everyone in the rescue squad and fire department has high-dollar masks. I just don’t understand why they think some people’s lives are worth more than ours. My son and I are Christians, so we’re saved. He knows where he’s going if he dies.”

Mind the gap

“Almost half the world’s population, or three billion people, live on little more than £1 a day and the gap between the world’s poorest 20 percent and its richest 20 percent has more than doubled since 1960, the International Labour organisation said.” Times (7 July) So where does that leave the notion that the market system would lead to prosperity for all?

Worse than Thatcher

The Labour MP Michael Meacher, formerly the environment minister, revealed in the Guardian (15 July) that the gap in income between the bottom 20 percent and the top 20 percent has increased under Labour. “The share of the bottom fifth has slipped back to 6 percent while the share of the top fifth has moved up to 46 percent. Therefore, the rich now have a bigger share of the nation’s post-tax income than at any time under Mrs Thatcher.”

The myth of the permanent arms economy (2003)

From the August 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March this year Michael Kidron, a former editor of International Socialism, the theoretical magazine of the group of the same name that later became the Socialist Workers Party, died. In an obituary published in Socialist Review in April, Tony Cliff’s successor as leader of the SWP, Chris Harman, described Kidron as “probably the most important Marxist economist of his generation”. This is a gross exaggeration, even if Kidron does have a minor place in the history of the ideas discussed amongst Marxists for the explanation he offered for the period of capitalist expansion that followed the Second World War as being due to government spending on arms.

Kidron first expounded his ideas in an article in 1967, then incorporated them into his most widely read book Western Capitalism Since the War, published the following year. Although he can’t really have thought that this period of expansion would go on for ever, he still chose to call his theory “the permanent arms economy”. We in the Socialist Party never accepted this as an explanation for the post-war boom and, as the columns of the Socialist Standard in the 1960s bear witness, were severely critical of it. As it happened, within five years of the publication of his book, events were to prove Kidron wrong and us right. The post-war boom came to an end in 1973, despite arms spending continuing at previous levels, thus ruling it out as an explanation both for the boom and its eventual end.

Our main opposition to Kidron’s theory was that it set out to explain a non-existent problem: why capitalism’s supposed built-in tendency to collapse into permanent slump and stagnation did not manifest itself after the war. In 1932—in the middle of the great depression of the Thirties—the Socialist Party published a pamphlet Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse  which we regard as one of our contributions to Marxian economic theory. The argument put forward in this pamphlet was that, while capitalism was an unstable system in the sense that economic activity under it proceeded in fits and starts, constantly swinging between booms and slumps, there was no reason to conclude that it had some economic flaw that would cause it to some day break down permanently. No slump would be permanent, because a slump itself sooner or later created the economic conditions for a subsequent recovery. Capitalism would not collapse of its own accord; it would have to be done to death, by the conscious political action of the working class.

At the time there were others who took a different view: either that capitalism was in the process of collapsing because productive capacity had come to permanently outstrip paying demand (underconsumptionism) or because the rate of profit had irreversibly fallen to too low a level.

The Thirties depression was followed by the Second World War, which both schools of collapsists saw, for different reasons, as a direct consequence of the slump and the only way out of it under capitalism. Most of those placing themselves in the Marxist tradition (including, if the truth be told, ourselves) thought that the war would be followed by another slump, just as the First World War had been. It wasn’t. In fact, it was followed by a long period of expansion punctuated only by relatively minor recessions. How was this to be explained?

We tended to explain it in terms of the specific facts of the period, such as post-war reconstruction and the expansion of the world market through the lowering of trade barriers. The Keynesians claimed that it was due to government intervention to manage the economy on the lines their founder had advocated. The collapsists had to think up a reason why the tendency to collapse into permanent slump and stagnation that they felt was built-in to capitalism had failed to operate. One such explanation was the “permanent war economy”. The underconsumptionists argued that it was government spending on “defence” that had made up for the supposed chronic lack of purchasing power. But arms spending was also offered, strangely, as an explanation by the fallen-rate-of-profit school.

It fell to Kidron to explain, on behalf of the Trotskyoid group to which he belonged (Tony Cliff’s), precisely how state spending on arms offset and even overcame the supposed tendency for capitalism to collapse due to the rate of profit falling to too low a level. Since the state had to obtain the money to spend on arms through taxes which ultimately fell on capitalist profits and other property incomes this theory was counter-intuitive, and so Kidron’s arguments had to be pretty tortuous.

In his article, “A Permanent Arms Economy”, which appeared in International Socialism 28 (Spring 1967), and which is trumpeted by the SWP to this day, Kidron started from a collapsist position:
“Common to most explanations of western capitalism’s stability and growth since the war is the assumption that the system would collapse into over-production and unemployment were it not for some special offsetting factor… This article shares the assumption”.
He went on to argue that the special offsetting mechanism was “a permanent arms budget”. His basic thesis was that, in government arms spending, capitalism had found a way of engineering growth without this leading to the drastic fall in the rate of profit that he believed, on a misreading of Marx, should normally have occurred. Government spending on arms constituted “a net addition to the market for consumer or ‘end’ goods” while, on the supply side, arms production, as non-productive consumption, was “the key, and seemingly permanent, offset to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”.

Marx’s argument on the rate of profit had been different: that, since living labour is the sole source of profit, if it falls as a proportion of total capital, then, mathematically, the ratio of profit to total capital, i.e. the rate of profit, will also fall, unless offset by other factors. Marx was in fact aware that there would always be such ‘other factors’, so that for him any tendency for the rate of profit to fall for this reason would only be a very long-run and by no means continuous tendency.

That the capitalist market had expanded since the end of the war was an undeniable fact. The question was whether or not this was due to government spending on arms. The Keynesians argued that it was due to government spending as such, whether on arms or anything else. On the other hand, some economists were beginning to realise that the Keynesian argument that the post-war expansion had been caused by government spending was not true: the world market was expanding anyway due to other factors. Thus the Socialist Standard noted in November 1971, in an article “The End of Full Employment”:
“An examination of the causes of low post-war unemployment in Britain was made by Professor R. C. O. Matthews, himself broadly a supporter of Keynes, and published in the Economic Journal (September 1968). His conclusion was that, starting with the stimulus given by making good war damage of all kinds, a major cause was a prolonged investment boom and that ‘the decline of unemployment as compared with 1914 is to a large extent not a Keynesian phenomenon at all’”.
In seeing a species of government spending as having saved capitalism from its supposed tendency to collapse, Kidron had placed himself within the Keynesian framework. Which is why the theory of the “permanent arms economy” is better seen as a Leftwing Keynesian rather than a Marxist theory, as in fact Kidron himself was later to recognise (this theory has been revived today under the more accurate name of “military Keynesianism”). Kidron therefore had to face fellow Labour Party reformists (he, along with Cliff, was a paid-up member of the Labour Party at this time) who, basing themselves on Keynes, argued that a “permanent social reform budget”, with government spending on housing, education, hospitals, pensions, etc., would have the same effect.

Cartoon by Phil Evans from ‘More years of the Locust’
Kidron conceded that this was theoretically possible, but argued that this was not going to happen since any state that did this would put itself at a competitive disadvantage, as it would be diverting profits from being reinvested in the more efficient and up-to-date machinery and methods of production that would allow production costs to be reduced. This was true, and is in fact one reason why reformism within the framework of a single national state is never going to work. But it equally applies to state arms spending. This, too, is a diversion from productive investment that places states which spend more than average on it at a competitive disadvantage.

Kidron tried to get round this by arguing that arms spending was different from spending on social reforms in that, if one state spent more on arms, other states were forced to follow suit, so that none of them would be at a particular disadvantage. But he never could explain satisfactorily why this should be. While it was clear that America and Russia, struggling for world domination, were involved in an arms race, and that states like Britain and France that had pretensions about playing a world role had made a political decision to spend more on arms, there was no reason why all states should get into an arms race with each other. In fact, Germany and Japan did not spend the same proportion on arms as America, Britain and France, which gave them a competitive advantage and led to them being the “economic miracles” of that period; a fact we employed at the time to help us expose the fallacious theory of “the permanent arms economy”.

Today, the SWP likes to claim that the theory of the “permanent arms economy” did not imply that capitalism had found a permanent way of avoiding big slumps, but there was nothing Kidron wrote in the 1960s that suggested that the post-war boom he then believed had been caused by arms spending was going to come to an end in the 1970s. This was something added after the post-war boom had finally come to an end in 1973 (thus proving the theory wrong)—and it was added by Cliff and Harman not Kidron himself. By 1977 Kidron had come to recognise that he had been wrong to attribute the post-war boom to government arms spending; he now attributed it to the emergence in the West of “state capitalism”, by which he meant the state acting as a single national capital. And he concluded by admitting what we had always argued, that state spending on arms was a burden on capitalist expansion not a stimulant to it:
“ . . . it is hard to sustain the view that it was the permanent arms economy that fuelled the long boom. On the contrary, such expenditure must have worked towards stagnation. And if in reality heavy spending on arms coincided with an unprecedented expansion of capital, it can only be because the effects of arms spending were overpowered by the effects of something much more fundamental.” (“Two Insights Don’t Make a Theory”) .
So, in the end, Kidron did redeem himself from going down in history as a simple Leftwing Keynesian. The same cannot be said of IS and its successor, the SWP, which still clings to this discredited theory.
Adam Buick

Blogger's Note:
Kidron's Western Capitalism Since the War was reviewed in the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard.