Sunday, September 10, 2023

“There’s nothing we could do” (1991)

From the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most nights, the Northern Ireland News on television has something to say about employment. If the news is good, if new jobs have been “created", the accompanying picture usually includes a group of people, sometimes with the Minister himself present. These are not the people for whom work has been created, of course; these are people drinking champagne because. the voice-over tells us, they have arranged for other people to work. The exercise is called “job creation".

But this “job creation" is a funny business. When the capitalists who have come to Northern Ireland to make a profit are being entertained by the Minister and an army of job creators, when the corks are popping and the actual number of millions of pounds being contributed by the government (to enable the new entrepreneurs to get going in a rent-free factory) is being announced, everybody present is happy. Well, two or three hundred jobs, in an area where there might be 60 or 70 percent of the local population unemployed, will be widely regarded as a joyful occasion.

Of course, the two or three hundred jobs will not be created overnight. Oh no, no. You see job creation doesn't work like that.The two or three hundred jobs are for the future . . . say in five years time. The Minister knows that, and so do the job creators. But there will, maybe, be twenty or thirty jobs immediately—if they can get people to come off the dole to work for that sort of money.

The reverse of this job creation business takes place too. If the economic climate is not too bad, we can have job creation and the redundancies and sackings on alternate nights—which is good for the television company's Industrial Correspondent. Unfortunately, the one doesn't balance the other; which probably explains why, despite all the job creation, the skillfully-adjusted unemployment figures continue to increase and are now a province-wide 20 percent.

Job losses
The other night the busy Industrial Correspondent told us that a local firm, in an area of chronic unemployment, was “getting rid" of 260 workers and that most of the remaining 300-odd workers would be going on to a three-day week.

The company, James Mackie and Sons Ltd. used to employ 9.000 in its hey-day. Its textile machinery was exported throughout the world. But the world has changed; the place of the intricate machinery and the highly-skilled craftsmen who produced this machinery has been taken by electronic chips and. somewhere else, in a contracting market, there are workers who take even less than the low pay paid by Mackie’s in Belfast.

It was a family business. But the family is OK. The millions they got from the American company which took over the firm a few years ago will be working for them and saving them the inconvenience of having to work for themselves. The workers whose labour created that for which the American company paid millions . . . well, they're just redundant.

When the take-over was announced a couple of years ago. there were about 900 in the Mackies' employ. The new owners entered negotiations with the unions; 300 jobs would have to go in order to secure the jobs of the remaining 600.

Nothing very unusual in the story, even if we mention that the Minister and the job creators were also deeply involved doing their best for the new owners. Nothing unusual, indeed. Men and women walking out through the heavy iron gates for the last time. Men and women, thirty years, forty years, fifty years and without hope or promise for the future.

In a sane society it would be a good story. A story showing us how progress had made it unnecessary for working men and women to go into what is still a dark. Satanic mill. A story depicting how. away from the priorities of the market and the profit system, human beings could use science to emancipate themselves from drudgery and dangerous tasks. Unfortunately we are not living in a sane society, and the thing that these workers feared more than their slavery was the poverty that would accompany their emancipation from drudgery.

A reporter spoke to five workers. All complained that the media had learnt about the sackings before they had. All complained that the Company had failed to advise the unions. All expressed their fears for the future. And all ended their comments by making the same point, each in a different way but covered in a short sentence: "there's nothing we could do".

Paradox
Of course, it is the people and the institutions of capitalism, who tell us that we live in a democracy, where we, the people, are the source of all power, who also manage to promote the notion that there is nothing we can do. It's a formula for all situations: there is nothing we can do about poverty; about war and violence; about slums. In a word, about capitalism.

It is the working class which not only produces the goods and services required by people in capitalism but also carries out all the utterly wasteful administrative and other functions made necessary only by the casino economics of capitalism itself. Yet we have this paradox of a class which runs society from top to bottom within a system where its majority status should give it political and, thus, ultimately, economic control, accepting the tyranny of democratic powerlessness.

The paradox is explained by the political success of capitalism's institutions: its educational system, its class system, its political system and its control over the means of communication. These are the means by which we are conditioned to accept the idea that there are those intended to be leaders, those entitled to position, to wealth and privilege, and those who, if they display the required aptitudes, will be allowed to work for a wage or salary. Properly processed through this machinery of acceptance, most workers—and, ironically, especially those who boast that they live in a free and democratic country—will accept the idea that "there is nothing we can do".

The belief that we, the working class, are powerless to change society in our interests is a fundamental bulwark of capitalism's wage-slavery. The more skilful of capitalism's defenders are conscious that there is nothing that can be said in favour of an economic system which, through a complex process primarily intended to enrich a minority, creates such terrible problems for the great majority in our world. Such apologists, rather than attempting to defend the indefensible, concentrate on attacking those who offer an alternative form of social organisation. Essential to their apologia is the promotion of the idea that the working class is incapable of changing society.

If it was true, it would be the epitaph of freedom.
Richard Montague

Do we have democracy? (1991)

From the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is hardly necessary to stress the virtues of democracy, when we have the example before us of what goes on around the world in countries with Mafia-type set-ups. An absence of democracy tells us more than just that a particular country is ruled by despots. It indicates the absence of a stable class structure, with all the necessary institutions for running a modern industrial state. The system of democracy, or rather of democratic institutions (the right to form trade unions, of assembly and free speech), is essential to working class politics. It would, however, be wrong to assume that the democracy we have is in any sense complete, that the potential of democracy has been realised.

The question has to be considered within the context of capitalist society which, while it needs a certain level of democracy to function, places limits upon democracy. Within capitalist society there are many conflicting interests and, to arbitrate and regulate these, various democratic decision-making institutions have to be created. But because property has more power than people, and the demands of the economic system more power than either, the effectiveness of any popular or majority will is diluted, so that on balance it is the will or demands of capitalism that prevail, while keeping up a pretence of majority rule.

Pretence of majority rule
In terms of political power, our democratic freedom is limited to deciding who shall constitute the executive bodies of local and central government.These bodies make decisions that affect our lives but, once they are elected, we have little or no control over them.There are occasions when determined action does have an effect, but if we do not like these decisions, in the main the only recourse we have is to vote in another lot the next time we are given permission; who will eventually turn out to be as unsatisfactory as the others. The vital thing to remember, though, is that it is through this system that we may achieve socialism.

Although the means of selecting governing bodies by majority vote is democratic as far as it goes, the way these bodies function is not. This is because they are subject to pressures which have nothing to do with the reasons for their election and which force them into actions contrary to the interests and wishes of the electors.

These pressures which restrict democracy are those that allow commercial and industrial enterprises to compete freely with each other for profits. Because this adversely affects working class interests, workers in turn exert pressure upon the government. The government cannot resolve this conflict. so to absorb the mounting pressure of dissatisfaction the political system has a safety valve of ins and outs which temporarily allays the problem. The governing party goes to the country, as the saying has it. Another party assumes power. Society breathes again. Old men with new faces and old ideas in new suits appear on the scene; only to soon look shabby and familiar.

The inability of limited democracy within the framework of capitalism to solve problems sometimes goads people into taking matters into their own hands. This too has been foreseen. The law is there to counter such action, to protect the institutions of the elected from the depredations of the electorate. It is important, however, to remember that any action that could ultimately weaken or destroy democratic rights is not in the interest of the working class. For the limited democracy we have is not only necessary for us here and now, but essential for the creation of the socialist commonwealth and, with it, true democracy.

True democracy
Democracy under capitalism is not there to enable us to decide how our lives should be run. but to enable our rulers to escape responsibility for their actions and to put the blame on us for their inevitable failure to run capitalism in our interests. This, as will now be realised, is not the fault of democracy as a sound principle for running affairs, but the fraudulent way it is organised and the nefarious purposes to which it is put under capitalism.

Governments frequently claim to be omnipotent, to be able to do what they want to do. and as frequently are forced to find excuses for why they are not and can not. How often have we been given phrases to explain why the elected have reneged on the electors: “necessary unpopular measures", "in the national interest”? The commonly accepted definition of democracy as the will of the majority is used to limit its scope to what is convenient to the ruling class, to what is required to maintain workable executive powers on a stable political foundation in its interests.

Democracy today is certainly not there to enable us to decide how our lives should be run, but it could be if we used its present institutions to vote out capitalism. With the abolition of the institution of property and of class power, with its overriding commercial and financial interests, all the potential of democracy would be realised.

Socialism is a society in which the interests of people as such are the only criteria. Not people divided by irreconcilable class interests, with workers always coming off worst; not people driven by what is called “economic necessity", the obligation to make profits rather than to satisfy needs; but people who would make real democratic decisions and partake in those decisions from a position of equality, secure in the knowledge that they were their own masters, in control of their own destiny.
Ian Jones

Between the Lines: Heart of a Heartless World (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Heart of a Heartless World

Marx saw religion as "the sigh of the oppressed". As oppression imposes itself upon people in ever new ways, from the crushing weight of the credit card to the mind-numbing sterility of Madonna, the religious cries in the wilderness become more pathetic, more ridiculous, more religious than orthodox religion. Everyman (BBC1, 10.30pm, 4 August) offered a glimpse into the crazy world of the Kensington Temple, an evangelical church for born-again inmates. They screamed that Jesus is Alive in much the way that born-again Stalinists used to stand on street comers yelling that inflation had been abolished in Albania. The spectacle is highly amusing, until you think that these are potentially intelligent beings throwing themselves before the mercy of an all-powerful invisibility above the clouds.

The documentary showed how one woman had turned from stealing and drug-dealing to running aerobic classes for nifty Christians and reading the Bible with her boyfriend instead of sleeping with him. Clearly, for her the religious hallucinations offered by faith gave a better escape route than the buzz from cocaine. Members of the Kensington Temple wander round street markets offering salvation to wage slaves looking for cheap goods. Fortunately, most of the people approached by them in the documentary told them that whatever else they needed, they did not want to find the Lord. If Christianity is to have a future in places like Britain where most workers are not interested in falling to their knees as a strategy for escape, it is the loud-mouthed, emotionally-crippling, morally-obnoxious evangelicals who will carry the torch. By and large, though, the workers of the more developed capitalist countries will have little time for religion. Secular capitalism creates new gods, one of the oddest of whom is the man who died fourteen years ago as a drugged-exit, drunk-out obese clone who was too incapacitated to even wipe his own backside: he spent his last months wearing nappies, apparently.

The cult of Elvis is a minor form of secular worship in the USA, as it is in Britain. Viva Elvis (C4, 10pm, 12 August) was a journey to the outer reaches of human absurdity. There was a woman who has an Elvis museum in her house, including such exhibits as the Great One’s toenail clippings and a wart which he once had removed by a surgeon. Another crank had a shrine to Elvis in his living room which was constantly attended by himself and his son — Elvis, of course. An Elvis look-alike competition was shown in which grown men performed before screaming women who looked like recent escapees from the Kensington Temple. In Mexico a man called El Vez translates Elvis's profound lyrics into Spanish so that those hitherto stuck with the limited offerings of an Aztec past can now sing and sigh to their heart's content about hound dogs and other pressing questions of the day. Why all of this searching for gods? People who are made to feel small and powerless look for something which is big and powerful. They look and are offered a menu of Jesus, Elvis, not to mention Ron Hubbard and Lenin. Shut your eyes and believe in religion; open them wide and you might just catch sight of how big and powerful we all are if only we decide to be.


A Vindication

The newspaper, Stage and Television Today (1 August) interviewed Michael Ferguson who has been executive editor of the awful EastEnders since 1989. Jane Gamer, the interviewer, reports that "He has delved deep into soap psyche and seen battles of good versus evil, the foundation stone of Passion Plays, plus myriad struggles of Common Man and an ability to tap a deep-rooted need in millions of viewers". In this column we have repeatedly stated how soap operas are moralising mouthpieces appealing to alienated workers. EastEnders, in particular, offers its viewers simplistic caricatures of Good and Evil to be followed or avoided in line with the consequences depicted in the drama. We were criticised in the tabloid rag, The People, for making such observations, but now we have it from the horse's mouth; says Ferguson, ". . . there is a strong tie in it for me with the morality plays, there is good and evil. Nick Cotton is the personification of evil . . . Dot Cotton is a good character, she has a high sense of moral duty." Wage slaves used to go to Churches to be told what their moral duties were. These days, those who are not having evangelical orgasms in the Kensington Temple or paying pilgrimage to Elvis's left toenail are watching Saint Dot fight the twice-weekly holy struggle against Wicked Nick to see how the good life must be led.


Cat Sense

There is an irritating ad for Whiskas which says that if cats could do so they would buy Whiskas. Cats have more sense than to buy anything. Cats take what they need. Cats do not go shopping or carry credit cards or have overdrafts or make adverts selling horrible, cheap rubbish. My cat runs a mile every time he smells Whiskas. Come to that, he never goes to Church, worships no gods and has never been seen near the hi-fi when Elvis is on. And he has no sophisticated consciousness like humans do. Come to think of it, humans would not buy Whiskas, or any other commodity for sale, if they thought about it for more than five minutes.
Steve Coleman

SPGB Meetings (1991)

Party News from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard




50 Years Ago: “Two Years" (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

September, 1939, to September, 1941: two years of warfare on an unpreedented scale. Death and devastation rained from the sky on countless cities, with appalling consequences for the working class of this and other lands.

Looking back to the early days of this vast and terrible conflict, few of us in the Socialist Party then dared hope that conditions, even for a few months ahead, would permit us to continue propaganda for Socialism. But. here we are. after two years of war, still proclaiming that Socialism is the only way by which the working class can achieve a genuine "New Order” out of the present chaos of Capitalism.

It is true that in this period our meetings are not as numerous or as widespread as they were just prior to the war. but we can record that wherever they are held larger and more appreciative audiences are the result. Further, our literature sales are being effected in every party of the country.

Our difficulties, though, have been many and hard to overcome. The majority of branches were seriously dislocated as a consequence of the air raids. Many of the most active of our comrades were, through force of circumstances, compelled to leave the main centres of Party activity in order to follow their employment in distant parts of Britain.

Our Headquarters were bombed and demolished. causing us much extra work and not a little anxiety about meeting the inevitable expenses of transferring to new premises and the replacement of ruined equipment. 

(From an Appeal by the Party Funds Organiser. Socialist Standard, September 1941.)

Trade Unionism, Wherin it Fails, and How it can be Rendered Effective. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many are the discussions that have taken place on this subject between Socialists and non-Soeialists alike. The question is, does Trade Unionism as we know it in Great Britain, help or hinder the development of the workers into class-conscious Socialists ?

The answer undoubtedly is that it materially hinders it. It does not necessarily follow that because any Trade Union or body of Trade Unionists elect a supposed Socialist to an official position that Union has progressed in a Socialist direction. On the contrary, it is generally because this particular individual has swallowed those Socialist principles he may have understood, or because it is hoped his election to office may close his mouth and cause him to refrain from the fearless advocacy of Socialism within the Union and the exposure of the unsound position in which Unionism stands today that he is elected. It is then, not the capacity for securing jobs that is the test of Socialist activity, but the number of Union members who understand the root principles— economic, political, and historical—of Socialism, and are prepared to take action consistent with that knowledge.

Let us briefly examine what has come to be known as

“PURE AND SIMPLE” TRADE UNIONISM

with the object of seeing whether Socialists can honestly support it.

Socialism implies a knowledge of the class war which is being waged between the working-class on the one hand and the capitalist-class on the other, a war which can only be fought out by labour organised in a proper manner.The “pure and simple” Unions do not organise workers for that struggle.

Paradoxical as this may seem, it is nevertheless the fact. In evidence let us take what is generally considered the wealthiest and most powerful union in the country the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

In the Annual Report of this Union for 1904 we find an increase of 703 members. This is the smallest increase since the days of the eight hours strike, a significant fact in view of the development in recent years of the motor industry. Mr. Geo. Barnes, the general secretary of the A.S.E.—fairly well known to readers of this journal as one of the many “labour leaders” who delight in rendering assistance to the capitalist-class wherever possible emphasises this significance and urges upon existing members the importance of securing fresh members. But as the report shows, 4,517 have been excluded from membership ! These are men who, by the aid of improved machinery, continually being introduced, can do work that previously only highly trained men could do. They can work for less money, and the A.S.E. excludes them therefore. All over London this spectacle of a Union working its own destruction by the

MANUFACTURE OF POTENTIAL BLACKLEGS

can be observed, while at the same time in the shops of Harland and Wolff of Belfast, A.S.E. members themselves act as blacklegs to the electrical workers by working under price, and this after having refused to undertake the organisation of the electrical workers, who are really engaged in a branch of the engineering industry !

In the slate club (or coffin club) side of this Union impending disaster is again apparent. It returns a monthly average of 5,427 unemployed members, 2,444 in sick benefit, while 4,696 are superannuated. Altogether a total of 12,567 members drawing upon the financial resources of the Society. On the year’s working the average income per member is shown to be £3 15s. 9½d. against an average expenditure of £3 16s. 1d. !

The case of the Operative Bricklayers’ Society is not more inspiring. During last year they lost 2,333 members, and the returns of the preceding three years show decreases also. The amount expended in strikes and lockouts for 1904 was £5,105 5s. 11½d. in excess of the previous year, while sick, funeral, and superannuation funds all have increases on the expenditure side. The jealous eye with which the bricklayers regard the masons, plasterers, and even the labourers, and the disputes which the Unions of these trades have engaged in, do not compel the conclusion that the O.B.S. is desirous that all workers in the trade should be in their Union, but even if it could secure the additional membership for which it is asking, on its present base it could not escape bankruptcy unless subscriptions were raised considerably. An appreciable increase of subscription, however, would inevitably result in the withdrawal of many existing members through sheer inability to pay, and the last condition of the Union, therefore, would be as bad as the first.

A further instance of how

PRESENT TRADE UNIONISM DISORGANISES

the workers can be found in the six organisations which the builders’ labourers consider necessary in London. These, together with the three other unskilled workers organisations also existing, necessitate the payment in the London district alone, in salaries, rent, etc., of eight times the amount that would otherwise be sufficient. In addition, of course, an enormous quantity of quite unnecessary work is caused, and much jealousy and strife engendered. Attempts at amalgamation have, it is true, been made, but without result, the officials of existing Unions being in the nature of things opposed to alterations that would affect them detrimentally, although Mr. Davenport, the general secretary of the United Order of General Labourers—the Union that opposed federation about three years ago—has fathered a scheme of his own. However, as the principle plank in his platform seemed to be the appointment of himself to the post of secretary at £3 10s. per week, the idea was not taken up with enthusiasm.

All the evidence, therefore, points to the fact that the existence of the Unions grows more and more precarious owing to the inability of Trade Unionists to appreciate the requirements of industrial warfare. Assailed on the one hand by capitalism, and on the other by the competition of the ever increasing number of men whom the Unions will not admit, they cannot in their present form survive. The question therefore arises:—

CAN THE UNIONS BE OF SERVICE

to the working-class ?

The answer is undoubtedly yes. But their object must be the organisation of the working-class, not a select two millions out of an adult working-class population of sixteen millions as at present. All the members of the trade, whether they can pay dues or not, whether they be unemployed or not, must be taken in. Otherwise the Union will, as previously pointed out, be creating its own blacklegs. Moreover, organisation must involve the closest of associations between members of allied trades, otherwise, as happened in the case of the Operative Bricklayers’ Society—which records 67 disputes to maintain trade customs, and four actions against reductions in wages during last year—we have the effect of any action nullified by the workers in allied trades remaining at work while the strike is in progress. The workers must be organised on a class war basis, that is, on the principle that there is and can only be, hostility between labour and capital. They must be organised to fight, not to form committees after the manner of the Bricklayers’ Society for “closer union” with the employers—surely as absurd a proceeding in view of the fact that this Society expended about £6,000 last year in struggles against the encroachments of these same employers, as it is possible to conceive.

The position of Socialist Trade Unionists is clear. They should, it seems to me, endeavour to effect the

SOUND ECONOMIC ORGANISATION

of the workers by systematic propaganda of Socialism inside existing Unions—a work which, it must be remembered, has, hitherto, never been seriously undertaken, in the result should it be found that the “pure and simple” element, aided and abetted by Trade Union leaders, many of whom are interested in maintaining the present sectionalism among the workers, and are, as can easily be demonstrated, consciously playing the capitalists’ game, are too recalcitrant for satisfactory progress to be made, there will be no other alternative left than that of forming separate Socialist Trade Unions and crushing the existing Unions from the outside.

Trade Unions will play an important part, perhaps the most important, in the overthrow of the capitalist-class and system. The political party of the workers,—the S.P.G.B—while building up the political side, bears in mind the fact that both are essential. As we get nearer and nearer to the time when there will be a Socialist majority on the administrative bodies, particularly the executive of the nation, the capitalist-class will not sit quietly and watch themselves legislated out of existence. When we

REMEMBER FEATHERSTONE

Hull, Michelstown and Grimsby it stands to reason that they will oppose by all the means in their power the attempt of the class-conscious workers to capture the State machinery in working-class interests, and undoubtedly if the Trade Unions have not achieved their highest purpose—capacity and readiness for the organisation of production and the carrying on of industry—they will, when the Socialist working-class have secured their majority, endeavour to effect a counter revolution by closing down all works of importance.

Therefore it is all important that the economic organisations of the working-class should be as sound as their political organisations. Neither can be sound unless founded upon a clear recognition of the causes underlying and

THE REMEDY FOR PRESENT CONDITIONS.

Well grounded upon knowledge and thoroughly organised, the working-class, in the day when they have attained to the position of the dominant class in the legislature, need have no fear of any measures the capitalist-class may take in their endeavours to secure themselves a longer lease of life. They will be able to take over and work the industries of the country which the capitalist system itself is even now rapidly ripening for the change in face of any difficulties capitalism may attempt to thrown in the way, and so usher in the Socialist Republic.
E. J. B. Allen

The Value of Principle. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is curious to note how large a number of ordinarily lucid thinkers go wool-gathering upon the question of the value of the State recognition of principle. So long as the State admits the correctness of the principle involved in any agitation, although it may cover years, although it may necessitate the expenditure of tremendous effort and demand no inconsiderable sacrifice, although it may occur that all the work has not beneficially affected a single individual of the many thousands they probably set out to benefit, these good people are satisfied that their participation in such agitation was entirely justified.

In connection with the recent unemployed agitation (which has culminated in the unusually useless Act already referred to in these columns) for example, the participants, undoubtedly comprising many honest and earnest men, profess to find occasion for congratulation in that the State has recognised that it has a responsibility to the unemployed—meaning that the State, through its Parliamentary mouthpiece, has admitted that its duty is to provide work for the workless. As a matter of fact the mouthpiece specifically repudiated any such responsibility, but assuming that the State had just as specifically accepted the responsibility, would that be a good and satisfactory thing in itself ? Our friends say, yes, without hesitation, and argue that having admitted the principle it is practically impossible for the State to refuse to translate its acceptance thereof into action.

Those who take this line are probably unaware that it involves the admission that the capitalist-class—who, because they are the dominant class in the State are dominant in the legislature—are unconscious of the fact that they are rioting through life upon wealth they have never produced. Because if the capitalist-class are aware that they live by the proceeds of the robbery of labour, they know themselves as frauds. And if they know themselves as frauds they concede the principle that Labour is poor because it is robbed, and that they are the robbers. They are in the uncomfortable position, that is to say, which our friends seem to think will preclude their continuance in the robber role.

This, although the logical deduction from the proposition advanced, will probably not be accepted for the very sufficient reason that the capitalist-class have not abdicated. The only other alternative, therefore, is that they do not understand that they are robbers.

It is questionable indeed whether many of our principle-mongers (to coin a phrase) will acquiesce in that alternative. It is admitted, of course, that some members of the capitalist-class will not be aware of their position. It is also admitted that most of the members of the capitalist-class will not think the term “robbery” as applied to their method of getting a living, justified. But speaking of the capitalist-class as such, and having regard to the fact that they are generally possessed of good educations, it is a fair assumption, and moreover in strict accord with the evidence, that they know the wealth they live upon is wealth they have never produced. And how else can the individual who does not produce find the wherewithal to exist—and exist luxuriously at that except by—robbery ?

If this is so we may take it that the capitalist-class have already recognised the principle that they live at the expense of others, and every indication available goes to show that they will only vacate their position as a result of forcible ejection. Now why is this if the recognition of the principle is the important thing that the principle-mongers would have us believe ? What is the use of the recognition of principle if it does not effect a betterment in the condition of those on whose behalf the recognition is contended for ? Is it not the fact that the right of every needy person to sustenance has been recognised in the British Constitution for several hundred years ? Is it not true that the principle of equity before the law has been admitted for any length of time ? Then why is it that needy persons cry aloud for sustenance and cry in vain ? Why is it that we have palpable administration of law in the interests of the dominant class ? The fact is that there is as wide a gulf between the State recognition of a principle and its application as there is between recognition and non-recognition. Any principle can be admitted without danger to the dominant class—indeed, this class stands to gain by their concession, because they are thereby enabled to lull unrest by an affectation of concern for the triumph of Right—unless the power that enforces the admission is sufficiently strong to compel its practical application. And what power is it that can enforce the application of the principle of the right of every man to work and to the full result of his labour, except an educated, class-conscious, thoroughly organised working-class ?

To this power and to this power alone will the capitalist-class finally submit, and not then until they have exhausted all the resources of force and fraud by the exercise of which they have hitherto been enabled to maintain their ascendancy. In the last resort it is not ethical considerations that will weigh as our friends seem to suppose. These have failed as they must always fail before the fundamental and all prevailing motive of material well-being. If it were otherwise the capitalist-class, already convicted of sin, already well knowing that their position is built up upon the exploitation and misery of the many, would have abdicated long ago. It is force, organised and intelligently directed, that will achieve the victory, and it is The Socialist Party of Great Britain that in this country is educating and organising the working-class to that end.

Therefore it is not the State recognition of a principle that matters when that State is capitalist. It is the recognition of principle by the working-class, and the intelligent organisation of that class into a power that can enforce the principle’s application that matters.

Let our friends consider themselves. They are wasting a lot of time.
A. J. M. Gray

Doubts and Difficulties. The Poverty of the Capitalist. (1905)

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

A correspondent forwards me an extract from a recent book of Sir Robert Giffen’s for explanation. The distinguished capitalist statistician contends that the advantages derived from science and invention during the last 50 years have in the main gone to the working-class.

o o o

“Now,” says my correspondent, “I wish you to show how this statement made by the highest living statistical authority in England squares with the position of the Socialist. You contend, as I understand, that the economic position of the worker is with every advance in science and invention becoming relatively if not absolutely worse. Who am I to believe—the highest of our statistical anthorties, Sir Robert Giffen, or the unknown, tin-pot, little Socialist “Economicus?”

o o o

Before proceeding to deal with the main economic question raised in the preceding paragraph I wish to protest against the last sentence with its appeal to authority. Far be it from me to place myself against Sir Robert Giffen as a statistical authority. At the same time it may well happen that he is entirely wrong on this question and the Socialist entirely right. The whole history of both the inductive and deductive sciences is the relation of the mistakes of authorities. In no field of human knowledge has the authority always been infallible.

o o o

Not only is it the case that in physics and in metaphysics, in medicine and in art, the authority has been fallible but it is he who has been the most bitter opponent of new ideas and of new truths. Foremost among the revilers of those who put forward the Copernican theory as against the Ptolemaic in astronomy, the undulatory theory as opposed to the atomic theory in optics were the so-called leaders of opinion in those sciences.

o o o

It may well be then that in economics the statistician of recognised repute may be as little justified in his contentions as his fellows in other directions. The appeal in all discussions must be less to authority than to fact. Is Giffen justified by existing conditions in saying that the greatest share of the advantages of the science and invention of the last fifty years has gone to the working-class ?

o o o

In modern society the greatest advantage that one can secure is the ownership of material wealth. It is around this ownership that the whole of our present-day life revolves. Wealth is the motor which sets in motion the industries, the pleasures, the pastimes, of the nation. Invention pertains more largely to industry than to any other feature of our lives. If Giffen’s contention is correct we should find the worker owning a larger proportion of the national wealth than heretofore. The industries modified or revolutionised by invention—by improvements in machinery or in the application of electricity as a motor—should yield for the worker an ever increasing share.

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On what grounds does Sir Robert Giffen contend that the worker receives such an increasing proportion of the wealth he creates ? On the grounds of improving Income Tax returns and of improving figures from the Savings Banks ! He contends that the higher savings in Savings Banks and Friendly Societies and the larger revenue derived from Income Tax show a continued improvement in the prosperity of the people of whom the working-class form the majority.

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This contention would be unanswerable if (a) the accumulations in Savings Banks and Friendly Societies were the savings of the working-class ; (b) any material proportion of the income tax was paid by the worker; or (c) the prosperity of the country meant the same thing as the prosperity of the working-class.

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As to (a) I pointed out in the June number of the Socialist Standard that the Savings Banks contained in the main the savings of the petty shopkeeper and of the children of the middle class. When we find, for instance, as many as 50,000 depositors in the Post Office Savings Bank putting in £50 in one lump sum in one year we know that not one of them is a member of the wage earning class.

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Similarly with (b). The worker does not as a rule receive a wage enabling him to pay income tax. Incomes of less than £160 per annum are exempt from the payment of income tax, and we know that wage-workers getting so high a remuneration are difficult to find. We have the evidence of Sir Robert Giffen himself, given before the Labour Commission a few years ago, that the average wage of the working-class was 24s. 7d. a week or (say) £64 a year. Our experience tells us and this opinion is somewhat strengthened by the investigations, among others, of Messrs. Booth and Rowntree, that even this sum is exaggerated.

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The statistician studying rates of wages in his library is too apt to mistake nominal for actual wages and forgets to make due allowance for periods of sickness, short time, or out of work. When these modifications have been made, and every day they become of greater importance, it, is found that the actual money wage differs very considerably from the nominal money wage.

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With (c) I cannot now deal but on a further occasion I may he permitted to show that periods of trade prosperity and periods of national prosperity are not necessarily synonymous with periods of well-being for the working-class.

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We see then that the grounds upon which our statistician bases his contentions are not relevant. The income tax returns will increase the more rapidly as the workers’ wage goes down and the savings in the Savings Banks are not appreciably affected when the working-class is at its lowest level of unemployment,

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The reverse of the contention we are criticising is that the least benefit from our increasing powers of production go to the property owning class. The poor capitalist we are often told is not doing nearly so well as is the man who works for him, but we never see any haste on the part of the capitalist to exchange.

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We are told by Sir Robert Giffen and other “authorities” that the capitalised value of the wealth of this country has increased in the last 40 years from £6,000,000,000 to £14,000,000,000. According to this statement the capital of the country has increased during the last 40 years at an average rate of £200,000,000 a year.

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Here we have a spectacle of capitalist poverty ! The capitalist draws his revenues from industry—in essence, from the unpaid labour of the working-class. With it he satisfies his every whim, luxury, vice, necessity, and comfort. And even then he has an immense sum amounting to two hundred millions of pounds sterling to apply in further investment.

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The worker, on the other hand, is enjoying with the progress of science and invention a speeding up of the machinery he minds, an intensification of his labour, a dwelling in the slums, polluted air in the streets, vitiated air in the factories. Clad in shoddy clothing manufactured for his sole use, fed on the poorest of food, he is told that the income tax returns show his growing prosperity.

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The worker has a grim sense of humour but this must be too much even for him. Not always will he be content to produce the whole of the wealth and get for himself a beggarly pittance. He will one day awake to the fact that a parasitic class of rich idlers is fattening upon the results of his labours and he will then show the stuff that’s in him.

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When that time comes woe betide the capitalist class who have robbed him and woe betide the apologists of that capitalist class—the economists and the statisticians unable to rise above their own class interests. The day is rapidly nearing when those who produce the wealth will control its production and its distribution and may one of those who lives to see that day be—
Economicus.

Evolution and Revolution. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the certain knowledge that his Socialism is in entire accord with the teaching of Science, the Scientific Socialist can afford to smile at the vain efforts of the “Socialism-by-the-farthing’s-worth” reformers to twist facts to suit their interests.

Not only is the conception of history of Marx and Engels in complete harmony with all social-history, but it finds numerous parallels in-natural science. Thus Professor Darwin, son of the illustrious Charles Darwin, emphasised this fact in his Presidential Address to the British Association this year. He said :—
“His point of view was illustrated by a reference to political history. The degree of persistence or permanence of a species, of a configuration of matter, or of a State depended on the perfection of its adaptation to its surrounding conditions. If they traced the history of a State they found the degree of its stability gradually changing, slowly rising to a maximum, and then slowly declining. When it fell to nothing a revolution ensued, and a new form of government was established. The physicist, like the biologist and the historian, watched the effect of slowly varying external conditions ; he saw the quality of persistence or stability gradually decaying until it vanished, when there ensued what was called in politics a revolution.

These considerations led him to doubt whether biologists had been correct in looking for continuous transformation of species. Judging by analogy, they should rather expect to find slight continuous changes occurring during a long period of time, followed by a somewhat sudden transformation into a new species, or by rapid extinction.”

The Evolution of Society. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

One single fact dominates the whole history of civilization. The different stages of this history (slavery, serfdom, wage-system) are marked by a division of mankind into distinct classes; masters and slaves in antiquity; lords and serfs in the middle ages; capitalists and wage-workers in our present epoch. The forms, aspects and degrees of this division change from country to country and from generation to generation, but at bottom the same fundamental fact remains – the exploitation of human labour.

The Primordial and Permanent Necessity.
A primordial and permanent necessity rests upon mankind, and dominates all manifestations of their existence: the necessity of labour, the necessity of production.

As long as the processes of labour (breeding, cultivation, handicrafts) are in such a low state of development as to barely permit the production of that which is absolutely necessary to the existence of each individual worker, there can be no question of the exploitation of the labour of others. The men go frequently into battle; but no one cares for the vanquished, they are killed on the spot. Their flesh furnishes a banquet for the victors. Cannibalism reigns without cant or hypocrisy.

But the productive forces are ever growing, and this growth forms the principle dynamic of history. As soon as man becomes able to produce a surplus beyond his absolute necessities, this surplus is taken by other men. The vanquished foe ceases to become the direct prey of the victor. He becomes instead his slave.

At this moment one class begins to work for another class as a horse is trained to go under the bridle and spur of the rider.

At this moment the great battle began between exploiters and exploited. It is not our purpose to tell the long story of this battle nor to picture its dramatic scenes. We are not here concerned with the heroic deeds, eloquent words, striking attitudes, or rallying cries of the principal religious, political and judicial actors.

Let us remember, however, that as long as possible the struggle was carried on outside the domain of actuality, outside the field of labour, in order to as long as possible keep within the “ideal”world of religion and politics – the realm of mysticism.

The Philosophies of Antiquity.
By this ultra-economic transposition the fact of the crime (fait du crime) did not change, but it remained concealed. The philosophies of antiquity sanctified slavery. The Bible deified surplus labour when it declared, “In the sweat of his brow shall man eat bread.” Religion legalized terrestrial suffering by the intangible promise of celestial joys. Only yesterday Guizot has dared to say “Labour is a bridle”, to-day Tolstoi intones with the mujik Bondareff: “In the sweat of the brow shalt thou knead bread.” If all this be true, to what purpose was the invention of mechanical mixers?

If mankind takes all these detours, and strays into all these vague and illusory roads, it will arrive but slowly or not at all at the actual problem, it is because the material conditions of the solution (the immense increase of productive forces and powerful concentration of all the means of communication) are realized but very slowly with the progress of history.

But the solution grows nearer, economic facts develop prodigiously and the view of the contradictions born of the capitalist regime grows clearer every day. The exploitation concealed beneath the veil of wages becomes every day more evident to an increasing number of workers. The material basis of the revolution of the workers is now in advance of the individual ideas, and it is utopian to seek to delay the hour of deliverance. This hour will sound whenever the proletariat demands it.

Matter and energy.
When one considers all the things consumed, utilized or put in reserve each year by the totality of any country, when these things are reduced to their constituent elements, they will be found in the last analysis to consist only of matter and energy supplied by nature and labour-power supplied by man, and nothing more. No one can lay any particular individual claim to the work of nature. It is human labour alone which gives social value to things. These things ought then to return exclusively to the world of the workers. But the most ignorant knows that the fruits of labour are not thus divided. The blindest can see that the most savoury of these fruits are consumed by an idle and privileged class. In modern society, as in the society of antiquity, and in the days of feudalism, the pain and toil of one class afford freedom and pleasure to another.

Labour manifests itself by an expenditure of energy – of muscles, of nerves. To consume the labour of a human being is to consume this energy – these muscles, these nerves; it is to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It is the perpetuation in a new form – a final and disguised form – of primitive Cannibalism.

The bourgeois, the high-flyers and the gluttons of the Bourse, are then exactly and without metaphor, but living vampires. Their profligacy, pleasures and voluptuousness are woven from the deep sorrows and afflictions of the oppressed class.

Under a regime of exploitation there are only three possible positions—either one receives more, less, or just as much as his labour creates. The excess of production, due to social co-operation, which properly belongs to no individual but should return equally to all, in no way alters this fact. There are three distinct classes: the great capitalist, the small capitalist and the wage worker. The first and last are alone radical. Any midway position is virtually theoretical: its equilibrium is as unstable as that of Blondin crossing the Niagara gorge; for one expert who passes, a multitude of inferior balancers fall into the depth of the foaming river.

The Doom of the Middle Class.
Everyone knows that the intermediate class—the middle class—(the little manufacturers, property owners, merchants, etc.), which once constituted a buffer between these two extremes, is to-day buffeted to and fro until it is being pulverized by the competition of the great capitalist. The small capitalists are constantly being scattered to the four winds of heaven by failures and bankruptcies; no sooner do they rise in fortune than they fall again and roll hopelessly into the proletarian host of the damned. Soon there will remain but the two classes: capitalists and workers.

To each economic class there is a corresponding political party.

On top is the conservative governmental party, with all its factions gathered into one capitalist mass. At the bottom is the revolutionizing Socialist Party. Between these is the wavering, disappearing party of the small capitalist, a party whose economic basis is continually crumbling away, and which, in spite of the names it may call itself, is incapable of playing any radical rĂ´le.

Just as the middle class falls away with each recurring day, just so does every day see the radical party grow smaller and weaker. The most far-seeing of the radicals are moving towards the Socialists; the more cynical, such as Yves Guyot, like clowns in the circus, leap towards the capitalist party, bursting the stretched paper of their old programs as they bound through the hoop.

The undecided ones, the sheep, continue to stammer forth the old formulae in an indistinct murmur. The leader, the vigorous man of the party in France, Clemenceau, stalks on alone, in spite of the prestige of his double talent as writer and speaker, because he pretends to judge the movements of the social struggle from the super-human heights of the natural struggle.

Only two real Parties.
There remains, taking all in all, only two real parties: the party of exploitation and the party of the emancipation of labour.

Our existence gravitates around labour as the earth gravitates around the sun. No sun, no planetary life. No labour, no human life. No equal labour for all healthy men, no justice, no solidarity, no happiness.

The capitalist world and its partisans would perpetuate, universalise, increase the exploitation of human labour.

The Socialist world and its partisans would abolish the whole system of exploitation of human labour.

The first considers labour as a punishment, a muzzle, a disgrace. They do not wish to be punished, muzzled or disgraced. Their glory, their freedom, their honour rests upon the labour of others.

The second considers labour as the normal manifestation of life, as the indispensable condition of human existence, as the “medium of the material circulation between nature and man”(Marx), as the foundation for a harmonious development of body and mind, as a spice to enjoyment. They desire this work in an equal amount for all, and continually diminishing in accordance with the progress of technology and its practical applications.

There is no possible conciliation between these two worlds and the parties they represent. Choose between them! Join the ranks of one or the other of these two armies that are now confronting each other—the army of Capital or the army of Labour.

The battle will never cease until there is no more exploitation of labour.

Then there will be no more classes nor class antagonisms. “The government of men will give place to the administration of things”. in freeing itself the proletariat will have freed the whole of society.

(from the French of Edouard Fortin)