Tuesday, September 5, 2023

A Look Round. (1905)

From the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Councillor Hickmott is asking all who favour the establishment of an active Socialist organisation to write to him at St. John’s, Sevenoaks.

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Active Socialist work in any district is to be welcomed, when it is Socialist, but all who accept Mr. Hickmott’s invitation should have a clear understanding with him before they start work. I do not know whether he is still a member of any organisation claiming to be Socialist, but I do know that he secured his seat on the Sevenoaks District Council as an ”Independent” because “you cannot run as a Socialist down here, you know.” I also know that he was the only advertised speaker at an open-air meeting of the Bromley South Liberal Association held on June 28th, and I am informed that this meeting was one of a series held in support of Mr. Maurice, the Liberal candidate. So I think a warning is necessary.

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The S.P.G.B. is the only Socialist body in this country which does not support Liberal candidates. Socialists of Sevenoaks and other places please note.

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In my June notes I referred to the “Tactics” question in America. Victor Berger, who supported a capitalist nominee at the Milwaukee Spring elections, has been removed from the National Executive of the American Socialist Party. Verily, the way of the transgressor is harder in the States than in this country !

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The working-man is free to work when, where and for whom he likes, say our opponents. Is he ? Lord Claud Hamilton declared last month that in West Ham the Great Eastern Railway Company pay £30,000 a year in rates, and if the cost of establishing a town for 2,500 men were less, they would move them to some other part of the country. The capitalist-class consider the workers as so many goods and chattels, as they really are, to be shifted from place to place as it suits the employing class to shift them. And this is freedom !

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Another point often urged by our critics is that the capitalist is entitled to a greater reward than the worker because of what he risks. But the working-class risk every day that which the mere “investor of capital,” great or small, never jeopardises, and which, unlike that which the capitalist risks, “when, once destroyed can never be supplied”—his life. Such disasters as the recent explosion in the Wattstown colliery illustrates the fact.

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Throughout the United Kingdom about 25 miners lose their lives at work every week, whilst upon the railways last year, excluding passengers, 958 persons were killed and 4,220 injured, which average 18 and 81 per week respectively. All other departments of industry claim their toll of the workers’ lives. Each member of our class takes his life in his hands every time he enters the mine, factory or dock, and all for a few paltry shillings per week.

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A correspondent of a London financial journal, writing from Kalgoorlie under date June 17th, refers to the impending struggle between the Chamber of Mines and the workmen. He says that the prevailing impression is that an all-round reduction of wages will take place. So that, although “the representatives of capital and labour are marshalling their forces,” it is a foregone conclusion that victory will lie with the former, as it must as long as capitalism lasts.

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However, our friend has made a discovery. He concludes his report by saying, “At the same time living on the fields is fairly high, and you very rarely hear of anyone living on the gold-fields from choice.” Does the scribe suggest that men are driven, say by the ever present fear of starvation, to leave England, home, and beauty in order to work and live on the goldfields ?

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The Agricultural Returns for 1904 have just been issued and show that the area under corn crops has decreased from 8,517,000 acres in 1902 to 8,258,000 in 1904. This fact should be noted in view of our article on “Invasion or Starvation” in last month’s issue.

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Eureka ! A Mr. David Lubin has held a meeting in his rooms at Kensington Palace Mansions to fully explain a scheme “to kill corners” ! It is the King of Italy’s plan, but was suggested to him by Mr. Lubin. The agriculturist, they say, is practically at the mercy of such people as the “cotton kings” and “wheat kings” of the United States, and so they will establish an International Chamber of Agriculture which will aim at the world-wide circulation of reliable information, by which every grower, manufacturer, and consumer can know the exact state of the market.

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And this, according to Mr. Lubin, will “stop the ‘monkeyings’ of these new Mephistopheles who call themselves ‘kings’ ; there are to be no more corners.” I can imagine Leiter, Armour, Brown, Sully, and Co. trembling in their skins. Lubin, the new Jack-the-giant-killer, with the aid of a King-by-divine-right, who may be able to govern “his” people, but cannot prevent the real kings, thousands of miles away, from withholding their supplies of food and raw materials, has arisen, and by the aid of an information bureau, is going to lay them low. What do you say ? That the information will enable them to operate more successfully and will place the people move in their power than ever ? Perhaps so. But the real giant will one day awaken, will recognise that the only way to kill corners is to expropriate the possessors of the means of life, to assume the ownership and control, to organise production and distribution in the interests of the whole people.
J. Kay.

Doubts and Difficulties: Would Municipal Ownership be advantageous to the Realisation of Socialism? (1905)

The Doubts and Difficulties column from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Would Municipal Ownership be advantageous to the Realisation of Socialism?

A batch of letters lie before me. The popularity of my articles is obvious from their most casual perusal. One thing, however, requires some little protest, I am prepared to answer in due rotation any question affecting Socialism, but I am not an encyclopaedia—yellow imperialist or otherwise—and I am not called upon to answer questions relating to the existence of beings of human shape and human intelligence in Mars; neither will I be permitted to offer suggestions anent the proper cultivation of the garden. My forte is not in either of these directions. Doubts and difficulties in the way of the acceptance of Socialist principles or in the way of their enunciation are welcome and will be dealt with.

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From the batch before me I select one which bears the insistent blue pencil mark of the Editor of the Socialist Standard. And here I may say that any weakness that may at any time be found in any of my articles is the result of his handiwork. He is a gentle being—a sheep in wolf’s clothing—but he has his own methods of securing attention to his behests. The letter is from “Ignoramicus,” who writes :—

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“Dear Economicus, ‘Doubts and Difficulties’ are good business. They make the crooked path straight. Your column resembles the capitalist system in that it contains the germ of its own destruction. This is a dark saying. Being interpreted it is as if to say that some day it will destroy itself by banishing all doubts and all difficulties. But that day is not yet. Here is, for example, the question of the relation of municipalism to Socialism ; the extent to which municipalism may be regarded as the John the Baptist of Socialism. John, you may remember, prepared the way of the Lord. Does municipalism do the same for Socialism? If not, why not? I suggest a few observations upon the limits of municipalism would be helpful. There are many doubts and considerable difficulties existent upon the subject. Please dispel the one and remove the other so that we may rejoice in the fulness of knowledge where to-day we ponder in perplexity.”

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And the Editor, his voice insistent as a curtain lecture, punctuates upon your letter, most ignorant one, “Economicus not to exceed two columns !”

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The Socialist claims for his Socialism that its advent as the basis of Society means inter alia the reorganisation of all industrial operations. The application of collective and combined effort to every sphere of industrial life with, at the same time, the elimination of all useless labour and the greatest economy of man’s activity consistent with the satisfaction of the greatest measure of his needs, must follow upon the realisation of Socialism.

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Of those industries some are essentially local, some national, and some international, and the mode of organisation will probably depend upon the actual conditions obtaining in the industry. The railways and the steamships of the Socialist regime will be organised upon an international basis, whilst the bakeries and local food supply will be, at first, municipal concerns. When the methods of transit are revolutionised by the electrification, mono-railification, etc., of the railways, and Manchester is two hours journey from London, these things will be altered.

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So, too, we must leave out of consideration the suggested devolution of our large towns, and the transmission of force from various river and tidal centres to be applied locally. The powers of man in the future over the forces of nature are not only unknown, but inconceivable to us. And it is these powers which determine man’s methods of satisfying his wants, and through his methods of satisfying his wants, the form of the society for the time being.

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We have then to take the capitalist society in which we live and the immediate trend of events in the direction of Socialism. We have then to recognise that the evolution of society from capitalism to Socialism affects every part of society, and that any municipal progress must have its influence upon national progress. But it follows that any causes obstructing national development must tend to obstruct municipal or local development.

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If we could dissociate the municipal from the national and collectivise all municipal concerns, we should have an entirely different set of circumstances to consider than we have existing in actuality. It might then be an interesting question whether such an extension of municipal enterprise would greatly benefit the working-class so long as the capitalist system obtained in factory, railroad, or mine. It is presumable that so long as the capitalist system obtained in those—the most staple industries in England—the wage of the worker would be determined by the average cost of his subsistence, and that his standard of subsistence would be kept at a very low level by the growing competition of his unemployed fellow workers.

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In the condition of things which obtains today the problem is different. Here we have the fact that municipal enterprise is limited to considerable extent, and that the conditions favourable in other directions to its extension are conditions not favourable to the working-class. In seeking for municipal control and ownership we find that it is not always the working-class who are most eager.

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The people who stand to benefit most by municipalism are usually the ground landlord and the capitalists who find in the economy brought into the public and other services a means of reducing their taxation, or of securing more than compensation for their taxation in a cheapening of transit of their goods. The municipalisation of the tramways has hastened the tendency of centralising the factories and warehouses in the centres of the cities and the creating of suburbs at the termini, with increased value of the land upon which the suburb is built.

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We see the landlords benefit not only in jerry-built suburbia, but in the creation of open spaces. Landlords have, indeed, been known to present the ground for a garden to the municipality to be laid out and maintained by the latter, while the house property facing this open space has gone up out of all proportion to the building-value of the gift. We have every admiration for the business capacity of the capitalist who makes profit even from his philanthropy.

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We find again that the Chambers of Commerce—the apotheosis of local capitalism—favour municipalism. The municipalising of the bakeries, or of the milk-shops, means a greater chance of pure bread and pure milk to those who are able to buy those commodities, and purer food means—the quantity remaining the same—increased efficiency. The worker becomes a more capable worker, a better wage-slave, a source of greater profit to the capitalist

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I am convinced then that the municipalisation of local services is desired more by capitalists and traders than it is by workers. That while perhaps ensuring purer food substances to the worker, it would not enhance his power of purchasing those substances, and would even do him harm, inasmuch as it made him a more efficient worker and enabled fewer of him to turn out the same quantiy of commodities, thus accentuating the unemployed evil.

Its educational value, upon which certain municipalists lay stress, is no greater than the educational value of the trust or the limited liability company. In each of the latter the worker by his co-operation turns out commodities for the market under the management of men of his own class, and the municipal worker would do nothing more. Such municipalised industry is as essentially capitalist as is the privately owned monopoly.

At the same time while municipalism is of no material advantage to the working-class in improving their position, the Socialist must needs point out the necessity of wresting all industries from the power of the capitalist. He must show that everywhere free competition developes into monopoly as its logical conclusion, and that monopoly can only cease when the whole of the powers of production belong to the whole of the people.

The men to whom an appeal to municipalise is made are the same men to whom an appeal is to be made to socialise. Any attempt to dissociate the industries which are local from those which are national is an attempt to divorce two parts of a question which are, so far as Socialist propaganda is concerned, necessarily united. Such attempts are reactionary. So also are the parties or organisations which make them.

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I trust that, so far as the space at my disposal would permit, I have made myself clear, and that the difficulties of my ignorant friend have flown. What is to be remembered is that Socialism must affect every phase of men’s lives, and every phase of methods whereby they maintain themselves in life. It is the frittering away of their powers in the advocacy of reforms which it is to the interest of opponents of Socialism to grant that we must attribute the comparative weakness of the forces of Socialism in this country. W. T. Stead in this month’s Review of Reviews complains of the scientist who displays more interest in the insects which infest the abdomen of a flea than in the vital interests which tell for the improvement of humanity. In the same way we have to complain of the men who, wishing to climb the four-feet wall which divides Socialism from Capitalism, commence by manufacturing a thirty-feet ladder.

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The best way to economise your efforts and make your work for Socialism most effective is to join THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN and work uncompromisingly towards the goal of the conscious and unconscious efforts of humanity. All desiring fuller information as to our Party should apply to our General Secretary, and any of my readers who may join it may expect a hearty welcome from that humblest (I had almost written ablest) of its members

Editorial: The Decay of Socialism. (1905)

Editorial from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Keir Hardie is reported as having said in the Berlin “Sozialistische Monats-Hefts” that “In England Socialism appears to be a decaying force. Even the working men can scarcely be said to believe in its doctrines.” This may or may not represent the view Mr. Keir Hardie intended to convey, but it is easily conceivable that the man who would render lip homage to the “obsolete Marxian dogma” of the class struggle which he repudiates at home—in order to secure admission to the councils of the international working-class assembled in Conference, would also endeavour to represent that Socialism as a decaying force through the Continental Press which here in England he is interested to hail as the exact opposite. Mr. Hardie seems to be either a much misunderstood person, or a person playing a double game.

Editorial: Heroism or Imbecility? (1905)

Editorial from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard
“To no section of the industrious working-class are we under deeper obligation than to the miners …. The Kingdom and Empire of which it is the heart, owe much to Welsh coal. … No deed of valour on the battlefield can surpass the splendid but quiet and unostentatious bravery which these rough workers display . . .” 
Yes, according to the capitalist press the whole world stands agog at the heroism of the miner in times of catastrophe similar to the recent explosion which took such a fearful toll of working-class life in a Welsh mine. But let these same heroes take a stand in order to secure a few of the comforts of life to set off against the dreadful hazards that they daily face; let them organize to fight the capitalist class for some improvement in the unmitigated hardships of their condition ; let them so much as hint a threat against the liberty of their masters to take the whole product of mine labour less that diminishing quantity necessary to the maintenance of the physical effectiveness of the miner, and this same Press will send such a howl of indignation up to high heaven at the unutterable selfishness that would reduce profits, and the crass stupidity whose insistent demands can only be satisfied at the risk of driving trade out of the country, that the workers in alarm cease their agitation or reduce their request by one half or (which amounts to the same thing) hasten to agree to the appointment of a conciliation Board, under the impression that they have done a wicked thing, or, with the idea generally fostered by their leaders, that they must do nothing to alienate public sympathy.

“Heroes” they are when they suffer suffocation without protest; endure hardships without complaint. “Bulwarks of the Empire” they, when they return to work without hesitation even while their comrades’ mutilated bodies are being brought out of the bowels of the earth. But let them organize for some amelioration in what is ironically designated their “lot” and they are scum to be flouted or children to be wheedled or dogs to be shot as at Featherstone—shot ruthlessly, unhesitatingly, with the calculated approval of capitalist hacks misnamed Labour Leaders who, having mounted to position upon working-class backs, betray the trust and sell the interest confided to their keeping. The line between working-class heroism and working-class imbecility is, in the eyes of capitalism, thin indeed. And seeing that, however small the demand, capitalist good opinion (the preservation of which to the unenlightened working-class mind is so important) is alienated; however feeble the protest capitalist love is turned into hate, capitalist bullets take the place of capitalist benevolence, it does seem to the casual observer that workers in the mine and factory stand to lose nothing by increasing their demand from the present absurdly ineffectual ha’penny or penny an hour advance in wages or the establishment of the status quo ante Farwell, to the demand for the full result of their labour and the abolition of an altogether useless and unnecessary capitalist class.

Editorial: Why Pray? (1905)

Editorial from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard
“There is a lamentable increase in the number of those who are only casually employed and the difficulty is increasing every year for elderly and even middle-aged men to obtain work. God help the labouring man when he gets old.”
Thus Mr. Thomas Holmes, one of the best known of police court missionaries. But for that matter God help the labouring man when he is young. And God help the labouring man’s wife and the labouring man’s children whether the labouring man be young or old. If God can help he may as well help all who require it, and if abject want justifies helpful intervention, then many a million of the working-class of any and all ages of this and other countries have qualified.

So we might pray if prayers could avail. But Mr Holmes has been appealing to his God for 21 years. Before him countless multitudes raised their voices in supplicatory chorus to the same supposititious personage in the same nebulous region. “God help all poor folk” they cried but God was deaf, or God was dumb or God was impotent for no response came and has not to this day. So that the poor have tired of appealing and those only pray who desire a cheap salve for their souls and an easy road from a difficult position, or those who, sufficiently educated to be conscious of their helplessness, are not sufficiently educated to have severed themselves from beliefs of fetiches born in the childhood of the world.

We are concerned that all poor folk should know why they are poor so that they may apply the remedy for their poverty which collectively they have the power to do. And the first thing they will appreciate in the day when they understand is, that neither gods nor devils nor heavens nor hells can help them into their own ; that upon themselves and themselves alone must they rely for any change they may desire in the poverty that environs them, that eats into their lives and against which they protest and sometimes actively rebel. They will understand then that prayers will not prevail against the robbery of which they are the victims ; they will understand that they must work out their own salvation and achieve their own emancipation. Mr. Holmes must pray if he will. We know a more excellent way.

A useful letter. (1905)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter, typical of the confusion that unfortunately exists, we the more gladly publish in full since it provides the post whereon to nail a common misapprehension of our position.
Larkfield, Chilbolton,
Stockbridge, Hants.



Having read your party organ for months past I beg to state that except as a purely propagandist body I can see no reason for the existence of your party or for believing in its successful growth. Parliamentary action may as well be dropped by you, as I am sure none of your candidates would care to be elected except by a majority of class-conscious Socialists—and that means waiting until the revolution shall be accomplished. Should any of your party be elected to administrative bodies they would, in order to justify their election, be morally bound to sit upon committees and discuss questions and administer affairs of the present day—of capitalist society—and that would be helping to carry on the capitalist system.

Reforms, of any sort, I gather from your paper, are not to be touched. No reform can be initiated, no new principle or statute enacted under capitalism that will be of use for any but the capitalist-class or the capitalist system. Invention and mechanical progress should be deprecated upon the same ground.

Sections of the population are physically rotten and rotting. To make them sound and healthy would, you say, but make them fitter wage-slaves ; therefore let them die out ! That they might also become more intelligent, mentally and morally sturdy, and politically apt, matters not.

The whole of your teaching may, in fact, be summed up as “Preach economic considerations as the sole factor in social development, and wait until the crash comes !” As for your objurgations against the S.D.F. and its falling away from councils of perfection, however maddening and regrettable such things are I am sceptical myself of their ever being eliminated from political life.
Yours truly,
G. Foster.

With a most amusing assurance our correspondent tells us we may as well cease to exist as a political party because, forsooth, he can see no reason for our existence.

Let us help him.

Though he rightly apprehends that candidates of the S.P.G.B. would not care to be elected except by a majority of class-conscious votes, yet he couples with it the strange assertion that this “means waiting until the revolution shall be accomplished” ! Our friend evidently imagines that the revolution will be brought about by a class-unconscious proletariat ! that Socialism will come upon the workers unawares, “like a thief in the night” !

Such a position can only be honestly held by those ignorant of the meaning of the class-struggle; for if the workers are kept ignorant of their true aim, and of the fact that there is a class struggle, how can they be expected to fight for Socialism against the master class when the moment of decisive arid energetic action comes ?

A political party that begs votes and support for anything but Socialism, that neglects to organise the workers for the class-struggle, that fails to bring about the revolution in the minds of the working-class that must necessarily precede the political revolution, such a party at such a time, will be as a bubble burst.

Elected to administrative bodies the candidates of the Socialist Party would have to sit in permanent opposition to the capitalist party, for, novel as it may seem to our correspondent, the class-struggle cannot he abandoned because a few representatives get into Parliament. Genuine working-class representatives must carry on the fight for working-class interests and the abolition of capitalism, inside as well, as outside the administrative bodies.

Reforms, our correspondent gathers, we do not advocate, but he fails to see that reforms are no concern of ours, since, until the Socialists are in the majority, we shall only get what the capitalist-class care to give us ; whilst, when the Socialist working-class hold the political power, then we shall have Socialism. Nor this alone, for since no concession worthy the name was ever made to a subject class except through fear, the revolutionary method is also, all along the line, the most effective way to obtain even such reforms as are possible ; for they will be thrown to the workers by the ruling class through fear of the revolutionary movement, and in a vain attempt to attract support from the revolutionary party of the workers. The crumb-begging policy of the reform parties is both contemptible and hopeless.

Our friend, however, is strangely muddled, for while he says we do not advocate reforms, yet he says “Invention and mechanical progress should be deprecated on the same ground” ! That argument, surely, may only be applied to those parties organised for the patching up of capitalist society. We, however, decline to urge the working-class to undertake such Sisyphus-like labour, a labour doomed to be fruitless while the capitalist-class own and control the instruments of labour. Mechanical progress is not the enemy. The enemy is the class which controls and uses it against the workers.

Our correspondent fulminates because, in his ignorance, he imagines that we wish the growing physical deterioration of the working-class to continue. Not so, we are working for its end. Let us see who is going about it the better way.

The capitalist-class, ever cheapening production, dispense by the aid of machines with an increasing proportion of wage-workers, who, in turn, are compelled to intensify competition on the labour market, and so decrease the wages of those in work. Thus we get increased intensity of toil side by side with greater unemployment, and ever spreading poverty, resulting in an ever increasing deterioration of the working-class. The wages system is, then, the direct cause of the physical deterioration of the working-class. The capitalist being interested in cheap production will, so long as he controls administration, refuse to permit anything that cuts at his profits, whilst with international competition he could not if he would. Whatever measure is to the interests of the ruling class they may safely be left to obtain ; but they cannot arrest the physical deterioration of the workers without committing social suicide, for its cause lies in capitalist exploitation itself.

More or less hypocritical efforts to rescue handfuls of the workers from this degradation will no doubt be made as sops to Cerberus ; but the amount of degradation must inevitably increase much faster than it can be remedied, for, while capitalism endures, the cause still remains unchecked.

In a certain asylum it is one of the tests of sanity to give the patient a ladle and tell him to empty a tank into which water is running fiercely from a tap. If the patient has sense enough to turn off the tap he is judged sane; if, however, he endeavours to bail out the tank without doing so, his discharge is deferred. We are sadly afraid that our correspondent would not pass the test, for he would have us withdraw our energies from the abolition of the root cause of degeneration in order to make futile attempts to bail out effects while the tap of capitalist exploitation is still flooding us.

Our critic assures us that he has been a reader of the Socialist Standard for months past, yet a perusal of the Declaration of Principles appearing in each number must plainly show the nonsense of his pretended summary of our teaching.

Economic conditions form the basis of social development, and give rise to the class-struggle, a factor that our friend appears to ignore. It is inevitable that economic development will bring things to a crisis, but whether from out of this crisis will arise the Socialist Commonwealth depends upon whether sufficient of the working-class have been made Socialists and have been class-consciously organised. Obviously, then, to “wait until the crash comes” may be the policy of reform pedlars, but is decidedly not the policy of THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN. Our work is to assist economic pressure in making Socialists, and to organise these into the army of emancipation. The seed must be sown before the harvest can be reaped ; and propaganda of scientific Socialism is as essential to the existence of a powerful, class-conscious political party of the workers as the latter is to the establishment of Socialism.

We can understand our friend’s objection to criticism of the S.D.F., since his unscientific position is their position. The question, however, is not that the S.D.F. contains an amount of corruption that may or may not be common among political parties, but that that organisation has become a mere penny-wise and pound-foolish reform party, anxious to catch votes under any pretext, contributing materially to the confusion of issues on the political field, and no longer an instrument in the education and organisation of the working-class in their historic mission. It has become an obstacle to the growth of a revolutionary working-class party and therefore must go.

The paramount necessity for the existence of THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN should now be clear. It is to form the effective instrument for the emancipation of the workers from capitalist domination, and to educate and organise the class-conscious army that must aid in the birth of the society of to-morrow.

If our correspondent will ponder these facts carefully, and persist with his regular perusal of the Socialist Standard, we have little doubt that he will presently understand the position a little better than at present he appears to do.
The Editorial Committee.

The S.P.G.B. Lecture List August. (1905)

Party News from the August 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Right honourable gentlemen (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who spends an afternoon observing Members of Parliament, after prolonged and copious lunches, reeling about their business in the House of Commons, may be surprised to learn that those same Members are expected to conform to what are called Standards of Behaviour. It was a failure to keep to these standards which finished off John Profumo and John Stonehouse and which will, if he is convicted of conspiring to have Norman Scott murdered, also end the political career of Jeremy Thorpe.

It is necessary to exercise a great deal of caution in this matter because (although this will be no comfort to Thorpe) not all politicians who plan to kill people are automatically drummed out of that experience known as Public Life. In fact there are many — some of them hold down jobs in one or other branch of the Ministry of Defence — who are paid fairly high wages to do exactly that. But there are guidelines, outside of which it is not permissible for a politician to stray; within them he can lie and cheat and organise mass killings and, if he keeps it up long enough, expect to end his days in the House of Lords with a few directorships to buoy up his income. Outside them he may end up in the dock.

These are customary demands of a political career and some of the people subject to them adapt more easily than do others. Most governments include one or two ministers whose single-minded devotion to an odious duty, whose readiness to carry out any dirty work which their dogged loyalty to capitalism persuades them is necessary, marks them out as being of abnormal ambition. They usually accumulate a few honours at the end of their days and richly deserve every one of them.

One such was Selwyn Lloyd, who died recently. Lloyd, who looked everyone’s vision of a stiff-necked bank clerk, was so drab it was almost exciting — he had, in fact, been a barrister and we can only hope he was able to present a more optimistic image to his clients. Moshe Dayan, when he was the Israeli Commander-in-Chief, wrote of him that he
. . . may well have been a friendly man, pleasant, charming, amiable. If so, he showed near genius in concealing these virtues.
Beneath his pin stripes, Lloyd nurtured a steely fidelity to British capitalism, in whose cause he was always ready to conspire and to deceive and to organise enterprises likely to result in the death of a lot of other people. One of the historical episodes in his career, for which he will always be notorious, was the 1956 British and French invasion of the Suez Canal Zone. That invasion provoked a storm of opposition, some of which was fuelled by evidence that the British, French and Israeli governments had hatched a plot to provide justification for the attack. The plot, in the words of Anthony Nutting, who was Minister of State at the Foreign Office at the time,
. . . was that Israel should be invited to attack Egypt across the Sinai Peninsular and that France and Britain, having given the Israeli forces enough time to seize all or most of Sinai, should then order ‘both sides’ to withdraw their forces from the Suez Canal, in order to permit an Anglo-French force to intervene and occupy the Canal on the pretext of saving it from damage by fighting. Thus the two powers would be able to claim to be ‘separating the combatants 'and ‘extinguishing a danger- out fire’, while actually seizing control of the entire waterway and of its terminal ports, Port Said and Suez. (No End of a Lesson.)
At the time Selwyn Lloyd, and the British government, steadfastly denied the existence of any such arrangement. On October 30 1956, the day the Israeli forces started their attack, the then Prime Minister Anthony Eden told the House of Commons that it had come as a complete surprise to Whitehall. The next day Lloyd backed up this denial with the slippery answer to a question in the House of Commons about collusion:
It is quite wrong to state that Israel was incited to this action by Her Majesty’s Government. There was no prior agreement between us about it.
On November 2 1956 General Keightley, who was in command of the British forces in the Suez landings, told journalists that “There has never been any contact between Israel and the Allies". (Secrets of Suez — Merry and Serge Bromberger).

Well that was a long time ago and now that the dust of Suez has settled there is an abundance of admitted evidence that Eden, Lloyd, Keightley and the rest were simply lying when they denied any pre-knowledge of the Israeli attack. In fact Selwyn Lloyd himself later gave an account of the affair which, describing a secret meeting at Chequers when the French general Challe and the acting French Foreign Minister Gazier outlined a plan to invite Israel to invade the Sinai peninsular, exposed himself as a liar. According to Anthony Nutting, who was also at Chequers that day, Eden was at once in favour of the suggestion and Lloyd later backed him up in this. That meeting took place on October 14 1956 — over a fortnight before Eden, Lloyd and Keightley were denying, as honourable men should, any collusive encouragement of an Israeli military action against Egypt. A week after the Chequers meeting Selwyn Lloyd was sent incognito to France to discuss the plot with, among others, the Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion and General Dayan.

The subsequent invasion of the Suez Canal Zone broke no less than three agreements which the British government was signatory to. There was the United Nations Charter, of which so much nonsense was talked; there was the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 (in which Britain, France and the USA made themselves responsible for preventing either side starting another round in the Arab/Israeli conflict); and there was the 1954 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty which bound Britain to send troops to the Suez Canal only if asked to do so by the Egyptian government. When these kinds of agreements are signed they are presented to us as great peace-keeping measures; Suez showed again just how little such assurances are worth.

In spite of the evidence that the Suez invasion was a typically disreputable episode, Selwyn Lloyd stubbornly defended it all as necessary and honourable. He cheated, he lied and he conspired in something which he knew would end in the killing of a lot of members of the working class. That, of course, was his job as Foreign Secretary. His reward, after the collapse of the Eden government and the appointment of Harold MacMillan as Prime Minister, was first to keep his place as Foreign Secretary (when he might well have been expected to lose it, as one so closely associated with Suez) and later to get the equally important job of Chancellor of the Exchequer where, it may have been expected, his dreary cynicism was likely to have a depressing effect on workers’ wage demands. MacMillan seemed at first to admire him greatly:
Selwyn Lloyd . . . had both the experience and the intelligence, also, I believed, the political agility to undertake a new task. (Pointing the Way — Harold Macmillan.)
This admiration persisted through several crises (“. . . the Chancellor of the Exchequer in capital form . . “. . . Selwyn Lloyd has been splendid all through. He has been calm and confident.”).

But as the storm clouds over British capitalism refused to be dispersed by Lloyd’s stolidly uninspiring policies, MacMillan became abruptly disenchanted with his dog-like Chancellor. (“ He seemed in some distress about wage claims . . ‘‘Selwyn . . . seems to me to have lost his grip . . . Lately, he seems hardly to function in some vital matters — eg this Incomes Policy affair.”) (At the End of the Day — Harold Macmillan.).

The government’s difficulties with the economic crisis were aggravated by a series of bad by-election results and, in a panic to give the cabinet a facelift, Macmillan decided to sacrifice several ministers, including Selwyn Lloyd. Even at so crushing a moment, when he might have shown some anger, Lloyd remained as stiff-necked as ever; he refused a peerage because, he said, he wanted to stay in the Commons to defend his financial policies and he wrote to Macmillan:
Dear Prime Minister, You have told me that you would like me to resign and this I willingly do.
Lloyd’s dismissal caused some wrath in the Conservative Party, where it was obviously thought that anyone who could be so utterly relied upon to do any dirty work deserved better. His old boss, Anthony Eden (who was by then savouring his reward for the Suez bungle in the House of Lords) made a rare return to political matters to say that Selwyn Lloyd had been ‘harshly treated’.

Lloyd seemed to be the only one not to be complaining. He came back briefly, as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House, until the Tories were beaten in 1964. In 1970 he was elected Speaker, which to some extent took him out of the political battle and gave him a job in which he clearly upheld all the traditions of the House (which, when an MP says it, is taken as the highest compliment although it may not be clear which tradition he is referring to) until 1976 when he was made a Life Peer. At one time or another Selwyn Lloyd was a director of, among other companies, Sun Alliance and the Rank Organisation.

His was an iniquitous story, although unexceptional. The leaders of capitalism pose as people who are concerned about human interests and who, because they wield considerable power, are anxious to conform to the highest standards of honesty. On this image they ride in and out of power; each time a worker votes for them it is a demonstration of confidence in them to keep to their promises and to live up to their image.

Reality is a lot more sordid. Capitalism can only work against the interests of a majority of its people. At the same time it is a chaos of conflicting interests — of one firm against another, or one combine or international alliance against the rest. Harmony, cooperation, plenty — these are concepts utterly foreign to the priorities of this social system.

By the same token capitalism cannot work on freedom or honesty. Secrecy, deception, double-dealing are essential to its operation. Very few firms can be open about their production and marketing plans and it is common for them to keep secret important matters which it is in their customers’ interests to be aware of — for example the standard of testing of thalidomide. Then imagine a Prime Minister who openly admitted the truth — that his policies were designed to protect the interests of the ruling class minority against those of the majority, and that he intended to hood wink that majority into voting for their own robbery and humiliation.

The more customary, because less disruptive, way is that of Selwyn Lloyd, to maintain an image of bland respectability behind which to behave like a Sicilian bandit. At times the ruling class may lift the veil on the deception, to allow the workers to see a little of how they have been misled — but this only shows with what contempt the ruling class regard the people off whose backs they live.

It is not that capitalism would be better if its leaders were consistently honourable. The point is that we live under a social system in which cheating, lying and murder are a natural currency. Capitalism could not survive on any other terms. It is a measure of its boundless cynicism, that its Right Honourable Gentlemen are anything but that.

Democracy and the Silicon Chip (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx once said that the hand mill gives you feudalism and the steam mill gives you capitalism.  Had he lived for another hundred years, he might have added with a wry smile that the computer gives you Socialism.  The ways in which human society can be organised, is organised and ought to be organised depend on the techniques and resources which can be used in its running.  The idea of a society where no one goes hungry and all co-operate to control the conditions of their existence is no more than a pipe dream unless there is the wherewithal to translate idea into reality.

It is the case of the SPGB that the wherewithal is there.  The potential for providing for everyone’s needs has been created by capitalism.  Thanks to the development of machinery and automation, wealth can be produced in quantities which would have been unthinkable in earlier phases of human society.  However, one of our greatest difficulties in getting anyone to accept our view is to convince them on just this point.  For its truth is masked in capitalism.  The potential for plenty is there, but it cannot be made actual.  A profit system can only work with a labour force compelled to sell its energies.  If an abundance of the necessaries of life were freely available, the system would grind to a halt.  (Who would work at the kinds of jobs on offer in our society if they did not have to?)

We do not ask anyone to take our word for it that the problem of producing enough wealth has been solved.  Rather, we refer them whenever possible to the facts unearthed by non-Socialists who are particularly concerned with such issues. (See, for example, in our pamphlet Questions of the Day, the chapter on the myth of overpopulation, and our Canadian companion party’s pamphlet A World of Abundance).  In this way we hope to show that hackneyed prejudices about human greed are irrelevant and that, far from being a pipe-dream, a society based on common ownership is a practical necessity.

But this is only one aspect of our case.  Our aim is not just common ownership; it is democracy.  For us, democracy is not an optional extra or simply a means to an end.  It is part of our end, as anyone can discover by reading our Object on the inside back cover of this journal.  We define Socialism as “. . . common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth . . .”

What do we mean by democracy? Amongst other things, a world in which people are not bossed around by a government or told what to do by their “superiors”.  More positively, a world where everyone takes an equal and responsible part in making decisions which affect society, without the strife which is inevitable in a class-divided society.  That is one reason why we say there will be no socialist society until a majority desire it.  As long as most people are content to be told what to do by elected representatives there will be no democracy in the sense defined.  (Not that an electoral system is completely worthless.  More of that later).

At first sight, this suggestion of literally everyone taking part in social decisions may seem as unrealistic as the earlier one of common ownership.  Surely, it might be said, these matters have to be left to the experts, and surely modern populations are far too large for active participation by everyone?

Objections like these are meat and drink to political theorists and political philosophers.  They think the point so obvious that they state them far more often than actually arguing for them.  Yet they are not obvious.  In view of the demonstrated failure of legions of experts and government advisers to solve any of the major problems of civilisation, the less said about expertise the better.  On the other hand, numbers may seem a genuine problem.  How can millions of people all have a say in running society?

The answer, once again is that this would be a mere “good idea” unless the means were available to make it a reality.  And the means are available.  Here, too, it is a matter of pointing to existing resources and developments within capitalism.  It would be futile for us to offer a blueprint, of course.  The exact form the future democratic society takes will depend on the historical circumstances prevailing when it is established.  But there are aspects of the technology already available which show how large numbers of people could be drawn into the decision process.

Communication is the lifeblood of capitalism.  This is reflected in the facts that by 1975 over 95 per cent of households in Britain had TV sets, 53 per cent had telephones, and world traffic in telecommunications has continued to grow at a rate of 12-15 per cent per year (much higher than the rest of world trade).  If no vested interests were involved, and if there were a desire for it, imagine how much useful information could be disseminated and how far the ordinary citizen could participate in decisions, just by replacing one old American film every week with an information-and-decision programme.  People listen to proposals for some project (say, the building of a new playground or power station), discuss the issues by phone-in, and then ring in to some central point with their vote for or against.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Developments are now taking place which will put phones and TVs in the museum along with the stone-age axe.  The device which will be responsible is the microelectronic silicon circuit.  It is about one centimetre square and is made, incredibly, of grains of sand.  In effect, this “silicon chip” is a tiny computer, enormously efficient and dirt-cheap to produce, which has been responsible for bringing together computer and telecommunications technology in one all-embracing “information technology”.

The first fruits of the marriage will be available next year when the Viewdata system goes into public service.  This will make available to its select customers 100,000 pages of information, any part of which can be called up on a screen literally at the touch of a button.  Not only that, but the system will be fully “interactive”—which  means that as well as it giving you information, you can give it information, which it will then store.  Even the feeblest imagination should be able to grasp the implication for democracy.  Such technology gives the opportunity for the population to keep themselves better informed and to take a more active role in decisions than at any time since the small city-states of ancient Greece.

But back to reality.  Viewdata is being developed in capitalism, which means it is first and foremost a commercial venture.  It will be used not for the sake of participatory democracy but to store information for its customers—advertising agencies, financial institutions, mail order firms and the like.  Moreover, systems of this kind have already begun to cause headaches in America, producing the telephone equivalent of junk mail and the hard sell.  The micro-computer works its way methodically through a list of victims, automatically ringing them up to relay its recorded message to buy someone’s goods.  You may not want to buy them, but it’s no use putting the receiver down because the computer will automatically continue to ring you back until you have heard it out.

And that is the least of it.  This potential boon to mankind is not just proving to be a nuisance:  it threatens to produce a crisis.  Microelectronic technology is so flexible it will be throwing people out of skilled jobs such as making precision watches and cash registers.  In the UK telephone equipment industry alone the number of jobs is expected to fall by 30 per cent between 1976 and 1979.  How far the capitalist system can cope with these far-reaching consequences is a problem for those who continue to support it.

Not to labour the point, here as elsewhere capitalism is double-edged.  The system has itself called forth instruments which could, in a different framework, be of untold benefit.  But under capitalism their use is perverted and only means further trouble.  Once again, therefore, the implication is clear that we must change the framework.

The development of information technology is double-edged in a further way.  At the turn of the century most political organisations depended largely on outdoor meetings for getting their message across.  With the widespread introduction of radio and TV this ceased to be true for the larger and richer parties.  But the gap which thus opened up has begun to close again.  The SPGB has managed to snatch the odd few minutes of broadcasting, and no doubt if capitalism lasts long enough we shall also, like our companion party in America, come to have our own programmes.  For the technology developed by capitalism for its own needs eventually becomes available for those who wish to replace capitalism.  The computer will make the dissemination of Socialist propaganda an easier and more efficient affair.

That it is something for the future.  For the present all we can do is make the best use of our limited resources in what is at least a relatively open political climate.  In Britain we can publish a journal and make tapes of our meetings without the threat of immediate persecution.  In a one‑party state like Russia we could not.  We do not exaggerate the extent of this freedom: it costs a lot of money to exercise it fully, and we know that such political freedoms as we have now can be withdrawn.  But equally we do not underestimate its importance. (Only a person who had never imagined living under a totalitarian regime would do that).  A climate of tolerance is useful to Socialists.  It is also fragile, and constantly endangered by our opponents of left and right.  Their policies of confrontation and smashing this, that and the other serve only to make it easier to place further curbs on political activity.  We received tangible proof of this recently, when one of our London branches lost the use of its meeting room in a pub as a result of threats between other organisations which use the room.  The SPGB will have no part in such tactics, and the only force we shall continue to use is the force of rational argument.

A number of points have been made in this article to show that out aim of a democratic society is a practical possibility.  There is also another kind of evidence—that of example.  The structure of the SPGB is democratic, foreshadowing the future society we advocate.  We have no leaders or ruling groups.  Though we cannot afford a computer or even to become a customer of Viewdata, our affairs are run according to the decisions of the entire membership through instructed delegates at Annual Conference, and all our officials are elected annually, again by the entire membership.  Any organisation can claim to be in favour of democracy.  We ask to be judged not on what we claim but on what we do.  Having nothing to fear from the presence of non‑members (welcoming them, in fact), we have never held a closed meeting in our entire history.  That is completely in keeping with our conviction that the revolution to establish the Socialist democracy will not be ours; it will be a revolution itself decided upon by a majority of humanity.
Bill Valinas

The General Household Survey 1975
The Times 1st March 1978
The Times (Supplement) 4th April 1978

Letter: The Function of Trade Unions (1978)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain cannot affiliate itself to the trade union movement as this would be following in the footsteps of the Labour Party, and this must be avoided at all costs for the most obvious historic reasons. It therefore denies that the union movement provides the ground for the worker to express his or her disgust in living under the capitalist mode of production by stopping that mode of production.

Yet this is the movement that perfectly expresses working class ideology simply because it is the union of men and women involved in the labour process — the actual men and women that make up the class and do the working.

It is pointless trying to reduce the whole movement to a negotiating body for the purpose of extracting better deals for its members — this is incorrect — the movement is alive, human. Or to quote yourselves — ‘. . . it is living, feeling and thinking workers who run society.’

So it must be the working class that's making the mistake, confusing a union with a community. It must accept socialism — embrace the doctrines of the SPGB which best expresses their needs and are best equipped to show that community the way out of capitalism. Isn't that the wrong way round?
M. Webb 
London NW5

One important point of correction is that it is the trade union movement — or most of it — which affiliates itself to the Labour Party, not the other way round.

Trade unions can carry out that act [of] class struggle on the industrial field, to protect and improve the wages and working conditions of the working class. For this, their membership does not need to be socialist, although of course the more socialists there are in a trade union the more effective it is. The Socialist Party of Great Britain insists that “stopping that (capitalist) mode of production” — ending capitalism and establishing Socialism — must be a political act by a conscious working class. Trade unions cannot carry out that act — their usefulness is limited to struggling within capitalism. It is not clear what is meant by the assertion that this movement "perfectly expresses working class ideology” or is "alive, human”. Because trade unions are made up of a majority of non-socialists, they have often carried out policies very much against working class interests. They have co-operated in holding back wage rises, have supported their native capitalist class in wars, have provided financial and other support for Labour Party candidates in elections.

The working class are confused over many issues, including the functions, power and uses of the trade union movement. When that confusion clears up, they will have taken a big step towards the one action which is fundamentally in their interests — the replacement of capitalism by Socialism.

Blogger's Note:
In the hard copy issue of this Standard, the reply to this letter is a bit garbled in the second paragraph, and I cannot find an editorial committee correction in a subsequent issue of the Socialist Standard

In the original Standard, the first sentence in the second paragraph read:
"Trade unions cannot carry out that act class struggle on the industrial field, to protect and improve the wages and working conditions of the working class."

 I'm right in thinking that's a misprint, right? Help a blogger out here.

But what is 5,000 in two million (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a bloke called Albert Booth in the Labour Government with a very baffling job. He is the Minister for Employment and gets about £200 a week for trying to find people jobs. At least, that is what they said. Picture then the comical Mr. Booth, who actually appeared on TV to announce his great progress in his job. Somebody in his department suddenly thought up a scheme to have the unemployed sign the book once a fortnight — instead of once a week. “This will save about 5,000 jobs” said Mr. Booth!

The anarchist way (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anarchists derive their ideals of justice, liberty and equality from the eighteenth century, since when they and their followers have wandered up one blind alley after another in their search for the right road to their utopia.

In the early nineteenth century, there was “the immortal Proudhon” with his “mutualism”. He held that capitalism could be persuaded to wither away by the simple yet so practical expedient of reducing interest rates to zero, and allowing anyone to print money and operate as a banker. As he told Marx in a letter of 1846:
we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform . . . But I believe that I know the means of solving this problem with only a short delay.
Instead of Socialism, Proudhon’s goal was “social liquidation”. Indeed, liquidation and bankruptcy could be the only possible consequences of such a policy! But mutualism was an idea already in the air when Proudhon wrote What is Property? in 1840: an Equity Store, or Time Store, and similar ventures, were operating in the USA from about 1827. Capitalism, however, survived.

In the mid-nineteenth century, socialists and anarchists worked together in an uneasy alliance. The split came in 1872 when the anarchists, led by Bakunin, were finally expelled from the First International. Bakunin denied that there was any need for the workers to form a party in order to gain political power. In place of the Marxist policy of developing working-class political organisations to take over the powers of government, the anarchists argued for industrial organisation and the use of the general strike to destroy the state.

The Syndicalist Fallacy
In ABC of Anarchism (1929), Alexander Berkman devoted a whole chapter to the organisation of labour, and the use of the general strike, the work-in and workers’ control as the means of social revolution. Nowhere in the book, however, does he give any hint of what the police and armed forces would be doing while the workers were busily occupying factories, mines and railways. Perhaps they were to be away on holiday during the social revolution.

Yet Berkman was perfectly aware that, when necessary, governments are ruthless in their use of force and coercion against the working class:
There is no record of any government or authority, of any group or class in power having given up its mastery voluntarily. In every instance it required the use of force, or at least the threat of it.
It follows that a government faced with an attempt to expropriate the means of production would use all powers at its disposal to protect the "rights of property”, not stopping short of massacre (remember the Commune).

While Berkman followed Bakunin in arguing against political action and for the syndicalist folly of using the unions and the general strike against the state, the Italian Malatesta argued in Amsterdam in 1907 that working class unity is a myth, that the rĂ´le of union officials is as “corrupting” as parliamentarism, and that a general strike without armed insurrection must fail, as workers would starve faster than the rich and could easily be crushed by the state’s armed forces. He concluded that workers should seize political power by armed insurrection, a policy as suicidal as syndicalism, and for the same reasons.

The Propaganda of Deed
The last quarter of the nineteenth century was a period when some anarchists, in America as well as Europe, pursued yet another policy. It was named the “propaganda of deed”. Various spectacular assassinations and bomb outrages took place, much publicised by the bourgeois press.

It was the failure of the tactics of riot, especially in Italy after the attempted insurrection of 1877, which led Bakunin’s followers to support terrorism. As Louise Michel said:
We have already seen numerous revolts by people who wished to obtain urgent reforms. What was the result? The people were shot down. Well, we think the people has been sufficiently bled; it is better large-hearted people should sacrifice themselves, and, at their own risk, commit acts of violence whose object is to terrorise the government and the bourgeois.
To this day, we hear of individuals and groups who practise this policy. The Angry Brigade in this country, and in Italy the Red Brigade, who describe their actions as “striking at one man to educate a hundred”: propaganda by deed is exactly what they mean.

The consequences of such acts are entirely negative. They give the state popular support for reactionary and draconian measures. To reject the need to gain political power, to gain control of the state machine, to organise the working class politically, is all too often to accept defiant but pointless gestures— demonstrations, squatting, assassination, armed insurrection, kidnapping.

For those anarchists who follow Bakunin, it is the State that has to be abolished. For George Woodcock, as for Berkman, it is the “principle of government”. Kropotkin dreamt of making bonfires of laws, edicts and all sorts of rules and regulations, while Faure's basic definition of the anarchist viewpoint was:
the negation of the principle of authority in social organizations and the hatred of all constraints that originate in institutions founded on this principle. Thus, whoever denies Authority and fights against it is an Anarchist.
But if laws are destroyed, there is still a government to fight. If the entire government is murdered (something of this sort did happen in Russia, remember) there will still be no change in the economic basis of society. It will not have tackled the root cause of most of society’s problems—the class ownership of the means of production and distribution. The working class would still be wage-slaves since they do not own the means of life.

The anarchist demand to “smash the state” is based on a lack of understanding of the role of the state and of the whole reason for its existence. This is that in a property-based society the owners of capital need to defend their class interests as against those of the workers. But merely to “smash the state”, without first abolishing capital, is a wasted effort. It would be like trying to get rid of nettles in one’s garden without digging up the roots.

“Pure and Simple Destruction”
Nechayev — a friend of Bakunin, and a man whose Revolutionary Catechism influenced Lenin — wrote naively:
The only form of revolution beneficial to the people is one which destroys the entire state to the roots . . . Our task is terrible, total, universal and merciless destruction.
Berkman was consistent to the destructive streak in anarchism when he wrote:
when government is abolished, wage slavery and capitalism must also go with it, because they cannot exist without the support and protection of government.
(ABC of Anarchism)
Yet, neither explains just how the state and the government can be abolished while the workers remain mere wage-slaves, dependent for next week’s meals on this week’s pay-packets. Go on strike? The workers and their families would starve a lot sooner than the rich. Try to occupy the factories, shops, mines, farms and so forth? Not a chance if they are defended by government-paid mercenaries, imported if necessary, armed to the teeth.

Unless and until the working class organizes itself politically so that the state’s coercive forces may be used for rather than against the revolution, we cannot expect to change society. As Engels wrote (letter to Cuno, 1872):
Do away with capital, the concentration of all means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall of itself . . . Without a previous social revolution, the abolition of the state is nonsense; the abolition of capital is precisely the social revolution, and involves a change in the whole mode of production.
As long as capitalism lasts, workers will be plagued with well-meaning idealists who rebel against the double standards, and violence of the system. But the social revolution must be built on more solid foundations. The best basis for the creation of a new world is a community of class-conscious working people who realize that it is in their interests as a class to end capitalism and who understand that they can never end commodity-bondage unless they organize, democratically and politically.
Charmian Skelton

Blogger's Note:
The following correction appeared in the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard:
In “The Anarchist Way”, an article which appeared in our September issue, it was stated that Malatesta held the view “that workers should seize political power by armed insurrection”. This is incorrect. What Malatesta advocated was that workers should destroy political power by armed insurrection. We apologise for this mistake.
Editorial Committee

Tanks for the memory (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
"In the World Cup, Hungary were grouped with their bogey-team, the Soviet Union." 
From the programme for the recent England v. Hungary soccer international at Wembley.

SPGB Meetings (1978)

Party News from the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bookshops which stock the Socialist Standard (1978)

Party News from the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life and Times: Small change in the small claims (2023)

The Life and Times column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

A friend recently asked me to assist her in taking a roofer she’d employed to the Small Claims Court. The work he’d done, she said, was so poor that she needed to employ someone else to put it right and she felt justified in taking out a case against him to claim the extra money it was going to cost her. That was around £3,000 and she didn’t have it.

A speedy resolution?
I’d been told that the Small Claims Court was a place where, for a small fee, you could go to an informal hearing in front of a judge for a speedy resolution of your case. In the event what I discovered was entirely different. You could indeed go to this Court to claim any amount under £10,000 by filling in a relatively simple form and paying a sum of around 10% of the money you were claiming, which you hoped would be added to the amount you were awarded at the end. But any simplicity ended there and what came next was unbounded complication.

First of all, the defendant, the roofer, on receiving notice of the claim against him, denied all responsibility and issued a counter-claim arguing that my friend actually owed him money since he’d miscalculated the cost of the materials he’d used, even though he’d not told her about that at the time. Manifestly absurd of course, but the Court then ordered her to respond to his claim and send that response both to him and the Court. Then, when, after several weeks she received the roofer’s response to her own claim, she was instructed to respond to that as well.

Pompous judge
Eventually, some weeks later, a date was set for a ‘preliminary hearing’. The day came and I accompanied my friend. To say what happened at the hearing was – what’s the word, farcical? overblown? – I don’t know. I imagined we would have a chance to put our case to the Court directly. Instead, the judge, who really was the proverbial pompous ass, told us that the point of the hearing was not for him to hear what we had to say but to inform us how the case would progress henceforth. He then took 45 minutes to impart much largely irrelevant information, only at the end of which did he lay down instructions – of an incredibly complicated nature -about what we now needed to do. Though the roofer was clearly a hostile opponent, we should get together with him to seek and agree on an independent assessor who would draw up a report on the work done, for which we should expect to pay around £1,500, the cost to be shared by both parties. There would then be another £300+ to pay towards the cost of the final hearing, which amount would fall upon my friend. The hearing itself, referred to by the judge as ‘the trial’ would, he decided, last a whole day sometime in the future.

We were discouraged to say the least, and even more so a couple of weeks later when we received the judge’s formal written instructions confirming what he had said but adding a few additional hurdles. One of these was to supply both the Court and the defendant with all relevant documentation (contracts, bills, plans, photos, valuations, etc.) within a very limited timescale. Another was to send to everyone involved, ahead of the ‘trial, a ‘hearing bundle’ containing all items of evidence from both sides ‘with an index at the front and with each page numbered’ and ‘contained in a suitable ring binder’. All this for a hearing where £3,000 might or might not be granted on an undetermined day in the future.

What would most people do in the circumstances? My friend, understandably bemused by all this, asked me what I thought. My advice to her was that, despite the blatant injustice of it, she needed to drop the case on the grounds that it just wasn’t worth the time, energy and stress of it all. She agreed readily and said she realised that the ‘Civil Justice Centre’, which was responsible for processing the claim, had at best a tenuous connection with justice, its main concern being the discharge of bureaucratic procedures. So we put together a letter stating that the absurdly heavy-handed way in which our simple claim was being handled left us with no choice but to discontinue it. As for paying for the extra work that needed to be done, she told me she would try and get an additional loan on her mortgage from the bank she held it with. Not ideal of course, but anything seemed better for her than staying in the bureaucratic maze she’s entered.

Human energy wasted
What to conclude? Well, first of all, the very existence of the Small Claims Court (also known as the ‘Money Claims Court’) is a prime example of how the system we live in is ruled by money, with workers having to spend much of their time seeking to make sure they have enough of it to keep their heads above water. Even a small overspend or unexpected expense can put someone on the wrong side of solvency and make them have to scramble around, via such routes as the Small Claims Court, to try and put that right. Secondly that Court is just one of the many examples of the enormous waste of human energy and resources inherent in a system that spawns vast amounts of socially unproductive activities resulting in huge complex bureaucracies and large numbers of what have rightly been called ‘bullshit jobs’.

Anyway, there’s no doubt about what I’ll say the next time I hear someone talk about going to the Small Claims Court. ‘Just forget it.’
Howard Moss

Pathfinders: Russian roulette (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the September 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism would, in a certain sense, be quite boring. Gone would be the constant drama of economic crises, production gluts or shortfalls, and inflating and exploding speculator bubbles (to say nothing of wars, muggings, organised crime, and other sources of popular excitement). Instead it would a comparatively sedate affair, with the practical business of living being mostly a matter of known and predictable factors, managed in a steady and sustainable way. The requirements of society, measured through consumption figures, would be known. Production levels would also be known. The two would never become misaligned by much, and fairly easily recoupled.

But where’s the fun in knowing what we’re doing, when we can use wild stab-in-the-dark guesswork instead? Capitalism moves in mysterious ways, its balls-ups to perform. Instead of a transparent, steady-state production system that reliably delivers what’s required, it’s a secretive casino where almost anything can happen at any moment. The one percent play the tables to make a fast buck, with no regard for what damage they’re doing, or what disasters befall the rest of us as a result.

There’s no need to play roulette over global production, when we could understand and control the process simply by closing the casino and using democratic common ownership instead. What’s worse is that capitalism is gambling with large-scale processes that we don’t understand, namely the world’s climate. This is not just roulette, it’s Russian roulette, with the muzzle pointed at the planet.

The reason scientists don’t understand climate science is that it’s hard, and the reason it’s hard is two-fold. Firstly, it is not part of the mechanistic world of Newtonian dynamics, where everything is theoretically predictable if you know the initial states, trajectories and velocities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes the climate as a ‘coupled non-linear chaotic system’, meaning that long-term predictions will never be possible, and probabilities are as good as it gets.

Secondly, there is a critical shortage of data from which to derive models. Accurate measurements don’t exist before recent times, making extrapolations from past historical periods nearly impossible, and consistent and coherent data still don’t exist in many parts of the world, particularly at the poles. Moreover, the IPCC has noted that ‘a serious concern is the decline of observational networks’ (tinyurl.com/3yxwa937).

These difficulties, combined with strong political inertia as well as heavy industry lobbying, have tended to make IPPC forecasts err towards the conservative, in turn attracting criticism from climate scientists themselves, who argue that the IPCC is playing too safe and not putting a strong enough case.

Anecdotally at least, news stories seem to be making the case for them. July was the hottest month ever recorded, though the record was only set in 2019. In August, Morocco broke the heat record with temperatures of 50 degrees. Wild fires also raged in Hawaii last month, killing hundreds, and the military were drafted in to fight fires in Canada. Meanwhile Australia could be facing another ‘Black Summer’ with this year’s bushfire season, which last year emitted the equivalent of 80 percent of the coal-exporting country’s typical annual greenhouse emissions (tinyurl.com/5bb7rscs).

Nevertheless, uncertainty remains at the core of the climate problem, as two recent examples illustrate. A new study has warned that the system of heat and density-driven ocean currents known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is in danger of collapse by the 2050s and possibly even as early as 2025. Not to be confused with the Gulf Stream, which can’t shut down as it is driven by winds and the Earth’s rotation, AMOC is highly vulnerable to changes in ocean temperature as a result of global warming. It is known to be at its slowest in 1,600 years, and its collapse could mean temperature drops of 5-10 degrees in Europe, with Britain’s climate becoming like that of northern Canada. Meanwhile equatorial regions, unable to dissipate their acquired heat northwards, would become virtually uninhabitable ovens for around 3 billion people. Where previous populations would have coped by migrating, property and nation-obsessed capitalism will of course do its best to fence them in and make migration impossible.

The researchers did not expect their report to be received favourably, even by the IPCC: ‘Obviously, I would have preferred the outcome of our study was less controversial because we are of course being attacked from all sides now. But that’s how science works’ (tinyurl.com/4kcf9dva).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Americas, a huge area of the eastern equatorial Pacific that according to climate models should be warming, has in fact been cooling for 30 years, and nobody knows why, or what it will do next. If this ‘cold tongue’ carries on cooling, it could conceivably reduce global warming by up to 30 percent, which would be a big win. But it could also increase the risk of droughts in the Horn of Africa and the southwest US, already suffering from a twenty-year megadrought. If, conversely, the cold tongue flips and starts to warm, it will desiccate the Amazon, Australia, Indonesia and India, while places like Peru and Ecuador could be inundated by floods and landslides.

Nobody knows which scenario to plan for, even supposing governments can make plans that won’t be foiled by the capitalist market. Scientists call the cold tongue ‘the most important unanswered question in climate science’. But from a socialist perspective, there’s an even bigger unanswered question, which is why we are letting the wealthy capitalist class and their pet governments gamble recklessly with forces nobody understands, with potentially devastating consequences for life on Earth.

There are people who believe that no real revolutionary change can happen unless there is first a global catastrophe and a general collapse of civilisation. Indeed, some even wish it. We think that’s a prescription for barbarism, not socialism. But workers of the world need to get together to put a stop to this capitalist game of hazard, and soon, otherwise the doom-lovers may get their wish.
Paddy Shannon