Thursday, October 5, 2023

"Fiesta." — An essay in futility (1949)

From the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

A King was once injured in the loins, and as he lay in his bed, he watched his kingdom decline. It is upon this mythological theme that Ernest Hemingway based his recently republished novel, “Fiesta.” His king is an American journalist, his kingdom, vividly portrayed with neither comment nor condemnation, is the degenerate world of the reckless twenties.

Much has already been written about the political and industrial conditions of this decade. Black Friday and the general strike have been analysed and discussed, and with them the miserable failure, so far as the working class were concerned, of the first two Labour Governments; but so far as the social relativity to economic conditions is concerned, another aspect has been largely neglected.

The first world war had resounding effects upon the social set up of capitalist society. By compromise, or in many cases, by complete surrender, many members of the landed aristocracy had managed to retain a great deal of their wealth and power. Still was it largely their prerogative to send their sons to the universities and thence into the diplomatic corps, the army or the church. Still the sons of the bourgeoisie were found a place in the family business. In both cases the daughters were taught to sing or play, “ finished,” “ brought out ” and used as “ pawns ” or even “ queens ” on the social chessboard.

But the war, which introduced many scientific discoveries, with all accompanying horrors, brought a great step up in production. Thousands of pounds were made overnight. New powers rose in the land. The little fish were swallowed by the sharks. And the war had to be paid for. Taxes rose. The landed aristocracy, living upon ground rents and family fortunes, suffered at the hands of the industrial capitalists. Many of them were uprooted.

The post war world revealed social changes. School, the army, the family estate or business was a sequence broken. The school, alright—the army, too true—but then what? The family estate was now the business of the “nouveau rich” or even the National Trust, and where was the place of the “master’s” son in a vast industrial organisation?

And the position of the daughters had changed as well. This war, dwarfing its predecessors in intensity, had called for the participation to some degree of every human being. The sea barrier, crumbling all the time under capitalism, broke down almost completely. So far as the women of the working class were concerned it merely meant that they became more competition for their jobless menfolk, but for the women of the capitalist class it made them as independent as their parasitic brothers.

This collapse of tradition made their world seem hopeless. Those things that had previously existed to occupy their minds had vanished. Pleasure became their sole pursuit. The social columns were filled with details of extravagant parties. Hostesses were judged by the lavishness and originality of their balls. One achieved passing fame by ordaining that all her guests turn up in baby clothes. The rag-time band, the bottle party, the night club, the stunt, Paris, the Riviera, Eastern tours, was the fad of the layabouts. Drug addiction and immorality reached their highest peak. They dabbled in Freudian psychology and psycho-analysis. Fantastic behaviour was excused as “ self-expression,” perversion as reflexes. “The colonel’s lady and Rosy O’Grady,” as Hemingway parodies icily, “are lesbians under the skin.”

Such conditions and ideas are bound to reflect themselves in the art of the generation. New schools in literature and art portrayed the expensive futility of this generation. The harsh sexuality of D. H. Lawrence, the infathomability of James Joyce, the fatuous writings of unmourned contemporaries, the cubist, surrealistic and futuristic schools of art are all evidence of these trends. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas ”—these stark horrible words of T. S. Eliot, the era’s major poet, are typical. "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons"—again Eliot.

Forever seeking something new their hungry eyes turned to Russia. What was taking place there? Bolshevik propagandists spoke glibly of the intellectual, of the intelligentsia, of the new culture. Did these words not apply to them? Many of them thought so, and from this womb of jargon emerged one of the most pernicious creations of our time—the left wing intellectual who was going to lead the suffering workers by their noses to what they vaguely referred to as “emancipation.” To further this aim they founded little magazines, not to propagate understanding but to dangle cultural carrots, and under the heading of “reviews” to flatter their own authors’ uselessness.

These were the 1920’s—for the working class a period of unemployment, industrial dispute and lockout; to the capitalist class, especially its younger members, a period of re-organisation and re-settlement. The slump of 1931 put a brake on their activities. So ignorant are they of their own system of society that they were severely shaken and many of them even believed that the system which kept them idle was on the verge of collapse. Many workers, by the way, thought so too. The Socialist Party of Great Britain was not so optimistic. We pointed out that the system would not just collapse, that a force was operating within it that would not only bring about its downfall, but be ready with a new system of society to replace it; that as that force was not ready yet the system would eventually right itself. Time has proved us correct.

But in retrospect we can draw useful lessons from this age. The working class are slated by the bishops and told by the Bible bashers that their licentious habits and immoral practices are the root cause of their poverty. These people do not, or at least do not want, to recognise that it is the working class who are most obedient to the morality of this system of society. After earning or seeking to earn a living they have in the main neither the time nor the energy to do otherwise. It is only when a class is completely divorced, as were they also in ancient Rome, from all useful work that their minds turns to these excesses.

And it is the working class who by their lack of political understanding keep these people idle. Contrast this sterile opulence with your poverty and usefulness. They are linked. Ask yourselves why? The Socialist Party of Great Britain can provide the answer. This is capitalism wherein a small class own the means whereby you live. They neither toil, nor do they spin. You do that! They reap the benefits. The solution? A new system of society wherein these things are the property of all mankind. Under such a system not only would your material needs be satisfied but your culture would be a reflection of happiness instead of misery. It can come just when the working class desire it. So read, learn, realise and band with us.

Overthrow this sterile curse!

The Last Refuge (1949)

From the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The more prominent of the political parties that are trying to cajole the workers in preparation for the next General Election, have each published a pamphlet expounding the programme for which they ask support. These programmes offer “practical” solutions to the problems that confront different sections of the community. There are cures for unemployment to intrigue the workers; promises of houses to attract the homeless; encouraging plans for industrialists; offers of help to the farmers and various inducements to draw the vote of trade unionists. There are special chapters for each of these groups, whilst other chapters are addressed to rather vague social groupings such as “The Common Man,” “The Small Man,” and “ The Consumer.”

The cover titles of these pamphlets, before we open them to read the contents, betray the line of approach to the problems that are dealt with. The Conservative Party issues “The Right Road for Britain”; the Liberal Party, “Programme for Britain” and the Labour Party, “Labour Believes in Britain.” Each proposes to solve the problems of “Britain” without addressing itself to the working class. They make it appear that unemployment, poverty, restricted political freedom, ill housing, bad health, insecurity and war, are the problems of “Britain” and not of one section of the people. If only all goes well with “Britain” we are to assume that these problems will at least be reduced to lesser proportions if not abolished altogether.

We do not expect pro-capitalist parties to view social problems from a working-class angle, but, unfortunately, many workers are confused and misled by this national approach to the evils that they would like to remedy. They live in a competitive world and accept it as inevitable. They are persuaded into a belief that they have an identical interest with everyone who classifies himself as “British,” irrespective of all economic differences. The problems of trade, of imports and exports, of international currency and diplomatic relations are regarded as the urgent affair of all who live in Britain. The proposed cures and reforms must all be regarded from the standpoint of whether “Britain” can afford it, whether the present hour of need for “Britain” will allow of this or that, whether certain steps will conform to the “British way of life.” This national approach to social problems is essentially a capitalist one. The capitalist class of the world is mainly divided into national groups, each group having its state machinery to conserve its wealth and protect its interests against its class enemies at home and its fellow-capitalist competitors abroad. Without a national state the capitalist is lost. His legal claim to property is of little use if there is no means to enforce it. When he must struggle with foreign competitors for trade, for access to raw materials, for control of land, sea and air routes for the transport of his goods, he needs the armed force of his state in his struggle. When he is faced with recalcitrant workers at home, workers who strike and lessen his profits, workers who do not do his bidding with the required alacrity, he needs his police and his judges, his jails and his warders —and, quite often—his troops. This is all part of the state machinery and around it the capitalist weaves his interest. His fortunes become the fortunes of his state, the fortunes of his state become his. He is a patriot, in the sense that he would have us use the word. He symbolises his state with a flag, a Union Jack, a Stars and Stripes or a Tri-colour. He will talk with sentiment about his country, meaning his state, meaning his interests. All those who live under the authority of his state are his countrymen, his fellow citizens. He argues that they have a common interest with him, a national interest, to preserve the country. They all have an interest in the capture of markets from foreign competitors and if necessary, they should be prepared to go to war against the adherents of some other state when such others become aggressive and threaten trade and trade routes. This imagined identity of national interest enables people to be worked up into a condition of national patriotism wherein they will slay one another in their political blindness, “for the glory of their country ” or for the preservation of their “national way of life.” It can also be used to persuade them to suffer want and misery, to work harder and cheaper and to give support to quack, self-seeking politicians and to tolerate exploitation. “Steel—record output at lower prices—for Britain’s hour of need.” Thus shouts a new poster from the hoardings around the countryside. Whilst the workers approach their problems from this angle they will find no solution—they are disarmed. The capitalist will be the foremost patriot and lover of his country, and the workers will be shorn of more and more of the wealth that they produce. It was Dr. Johnson who is reputed to have said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

The problems that are dealt with in the three pamphlets that we have mentioned, all arise from the way in which we live. When we need to make classifications in an effort to solve some problem, we do so on the basis of the problem’s cause. For a biological problem we should divide men into groups according to their biological differences. In a study of language we may have to divide into territorial groups. Economics is the study of how we produce and distribute wealth—how we live. To solve economic problems we must study and classify according to the manner in which we get our living, not according to the particular state under which we were born or which has adopted us. Classifying according to biological differences or variations of language will hinder and not help. If our livelihoods are insecure or if we are impoverished, if we are poor in a world of plenty, if we must go to war in order to be able to live in peace, then we must seek the causes in the manner in which we produce and distribute the things that we are short of or that we have to compete for. As soon as we do this we are faced with one very outstanding fact. Everyone, in any one country, does not get his livelihood in the same way, or have the same amount of the wealth produced. Some, the vast majority, in order to get a living, must seek an employer. They have no tools or instruments with which to till the soil, to weave cloth, to build houses, to get the million and one things that make up the necessities of modern life. They have only a measure of physical and mental energy and this they must sell to someone who is in a position to buy it. So, they become wage workers, or salary earners, it’s all the same. That is their way of getting a livelihood. What of the others? They, the minority, are the ones who can employ the workers. Not because they are biologically different, not because they are cleverer, not because they are of a different nationality, but simply because they are the owners of the means and instruments of production and distribution. They do not of necessity have to work. They certainly do not have to seek employment in order to live. They own the means of production and they own the wealth that is produced. AH that is surplus, when they have paid the working class, they can utilise for their own convenience. They must sell their goods in a world market in order to realise the surplus in a useful form. They must trade. They seek spheres of influence, colonies, trade agreements and all the other things that they hope will ensure them continued and favourable trade. Trade is so vital to them. If there is no trade, there are no profits. If there are no profits there is no purpose in producing. Production slows down or ceases and the workers are unemployed. To capture a market the capitalist must sell competitively. That means cheaply. It also means that goods must be produced cheaply and that means that the workers must work hard for low wages. So, it’s either unemployment or low wages. Both spell poverty. Most of the other social problems are subsidiary to the poverty one. Only a poor man will be ill-housed, under-nourished, worried about unemployment. There is no solution to the workers’ problems within the capitalist system. The only solution lies in its overthrow and the establishment of a system where wealth is produced solely for use instead of for profit.

Of course, to tell the workers to work harder, or take lower wages, or go to war in order to secure the capitalists profits, would have very poor results. But if they can be urged to accept the idea that they have a national interest with the capitalist and not a class interest against him, then their patriotism can be roused and they may be kidded to do all sorts of things that result to their detriment.

The two political champions of to-day, the Labour Party and the Tory Party, and one ex-champion, the Liberal Party, snarl at one another, but are all agreed on the maintenance of capitalism. All are prepared to focus the attention of the workers on the problems of the British capitalist class and to string the working class along behind its masters with bleatings about national unity, Britain’s hour of need, Britain’s future in the hands of the people, blah! blah! blah!

Note the following by Winston Churchill in the Conservative pamphlet (page 5): —
“We earnestly hope that what is written here may be a help to those who wish to make a right decision for the future of their country, and may strengthen their confidence that we have a glorious future and their resolve that we do not throw it away.”
From the Liberal pamphlet (page . 31): —
“If all those who care for Liberalism ‘in their hearts and not with their lips only’ will lend it their support, it can bring salvation to our country and to mankind.”
From “Labour Believes in Britain" (page 30):—
“The Labour Party does not seek place and power for its own sake. We seek the victory for great ends, not for our Party, but for our country and the world. In this document we have approached our task in the British spirit . . . unity in common purpose and of justified pride in our nation’s greatness.”
Yes, the Communist Party has also published a pamphlet, “ Communism and Labour,” being a report by Harry Pollitt. He spends a chapter on criticism of the Labour Government’s foreign trade policy, makes suggestions for improved trade, and talks about “Britain’s economic difficulties ” (page 20). Having had a good slam at the Labour Government he clarifies the issue on page 25 by stating “ . . . if no Communist is standing, we advise the people to vote Labour.”

At election time or at any other time, the issue for the working class is never “Britain versus other countries of the world.” It is always “the Working Class versus the Capitalist class.” Anyone who hides that issue is an enemy of the workers. One can be reasonably assured that he who bleats loudly about “his country” is either a fool or a knave. He is probably taking what old Dr. Johnson called “the refuge of a scoundrel.”
W. Waters.

Suffer little children (1949)

From the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Monday, 15th August, at King’s Cross, a crowd of irate men and women roughly handled an eighteen year old girl who was alleged to have thrown scalding water into the face of a two-year old girl. One can well understand their indignation. No one in his right mind can see a helpless child misused —or can he?

A few years ago, between the years 1939 and 1945, children were being killed, maimed and wounded by the countless hundred. True, people were indignant. They threw up their hands in horror—cursed the men whose vile duty it was to release these missiles—and went home to knit comforts for their compatriots who were performing the same deeds upon children of another country.

And when the war was over, hundreds of children on the continent of Europe, orphaned or completely divorced from their families by the war, lived like wild animals in bombed cities. Their world was a jungle. They learned that scrounging and stealing, sharp practice and prostitution were their only means of livelihood. Italy supported many such misfits. Who can see the film SciusciĆ  or read Giussepe Berto’sThe Sky is Red”—of young boys locked in barrack-like prisons, or of girls, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen or even less, selling their immature bodies for a handful of food or a bar of soap—without wanting to weep or vomit?

Into these conditions come the mealy mouthed social workers. A recent “March of Time” film proudly announced that several hundred of these children had been reclaimed “ in the glory of God.” For what? To learn the virtues of hard work and honesty, of religion and cant: to be convinced that it is both righteous and correct that at some time in the future they shall be the instruments by which a further generation is pitched into the degradation from which they themselves have risen.

But is there really need to look to the exceptional circumstances of war? Take a stroll round the mean streets of any industrial area and view those grim three-storied buildings that masquerade as schools. Listen to the lessons imparted therein. How are kids to know that French workers are more than sub-humans living upon snails and filthy postcards; that the Germans (or are they Russians to-day ?) do other things besides rob, plunder and devour their young? How are kids to realise that when mother says “she can’t afford it” to their simplest demand, it is an indirect result of the humility and toleration that they themselves are taught? An ageing schoolmaster once told the writer that when he came down from college he too had high ideals, but “you’re beating your heads against a brick wall.” He did not recognise that just like a miner or a factory hand he is employed to train children as cheaply as possible.

Education! The word itself derives from the verb “educe,” which means to “draw out.” The teacher’s job is not to draw out potentialities but to cram in— to cram in the bare amount of facts and the abundance of fantasy that will keep the worker fit and happy in his position of slavery.

And when school is over for the day, what then? Football in a side street, a game of cricket in the park, or down the market with Mum learning how to save a penny here and there and how to ask for two separate pounds of potatoes to get a double “ turn of the scale.” Of course, there are some wonderful institutions for kids. They can join a youth club and learn “citizenship” or the Air and Army Cadets and learn how to kill. Yes, truly wonderful institutions!

Suffer little children! Whether it be individually at the hands of some poor warped mind or en masse as the children of a subjected class, suffer they must in this system of society, whether the conditions be boom, slump, war or peace—and the road of escape will not be found in the classroom. The experiences of the factory, the dole queue, the army, the battlefields provide your education. The world is your university. Wake up and use it!

Editorial: A black future for the miners (1949)

Editorial from the October 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the mines were nationalised there were widespread rejoicings among the miners. They had been told for 40 years that nationalisation would bring great benefits and in particular that it would end the wage-slave position of the workers. At the T.U.C. in 1946 Mr. Shinwell, who was at that time Minister of Fuel and Power, confessed that it was he who “had the privilege of preparing the Nationalisation of the Coal Industry Bill.” He claimed that the miners “through their elected representatives and, indeed, many of them in a direct fashion, will play a much larger part in the administration of the industry than ever they have done before. We are thus offered an opportunity of raising the status of those employed in the nationalised industries and setting an example which must have a profound bearing on the position of the workers in general.” (T.U.C. Report, 1946, Page 366.)

Of course nothing of the kind has happened and the miners are now sadly disappointed. This year the T.U.C. asked the unions for their views on the working of the boards of nationalised industries. Here are two comments from the National Union of Mineworkers: — 
“Complaints from various areas include the fact that no functional change has taken place between management and workers from sitting together on consultative committees; advice by the workers' side is insufficiently regarded; the work of committees is impeded by lack of vital information ” (Manchester Guardian, August 22nd, 1949.)

“After more than two years of nationalisation, while relationships have to some extent improved, there still remains a good deal of dissatisfaction. The goodwill that has been built up so laboriously since vesting day is being replaced by cynicism." (Daily Telegraph, August, 22nd, 1949.)
Mr. Arthur Horner, Communist General Secretary of the Miners’ Union, in a speech at the T.U.C. went further still towards a recognition of the fact that nationalisation leaves the workers’ position unchanged. The Daily Worker reported him as follows: —
“ Nationalisation still presents us with the factor that the Boards of nationalised industries in relation to the workers are the buyers of what we sell.

“The nationalised Boards, in negotiating wages and conditions, are in fact buying labour as a commodity and we, as trade unions, are seeking to sell it under the best possible conditions.

“So although the basic relationship as between the workers and the nationalised Boards may have been modified, the fundamental difference between buyer and seller still remains after an industry has been nationalised.

“The Coal Boards must function as employers.

“We have had experience of three distinguished persons connected with this Congress— Lord Citrine, Mr. Ebby Edwards, and Sir Joseph Hallsworth.

“We have no complaint against the manner in which they have endeavoured to interpret their trade union principles, as functioning members of the National Coal Board.

“But, in spite of their desire to be of service to the miners, they, in the last analysis, are the employers, and, in relation to us, have an entirely different function from what we are called upon to perform.

“Nationalised industry in a country such as ours is not a free agent.

“You cannot place the nationalised industries in isolation. They are surrounded by a world of privately-owned industries.

“We find to a large extent that the nationalised industry is conditioned and circumscribed by limitations set upon it by reason of what takes place in the 80 per cent. of privately-owned industries.” (Daily Worker, September 8th, 1949.) 
When the mines were nationalised there was much talk by Ministers and miners’ leaders of plans to expand the industry, get more men into the pits, instal more efficient machinery and boost up output. At that time, with many continental mines out of action, the planners were able to forget that sooner or later the problem to be faced would not be that of producing more millions of tons of coal for export, but of finding buyers for it. Now the world situation has changed and the prospect no longer looks the same. Speaking at the British Association on September 5th, Dr. A. Beacham, Professor of Industrial Relations at University College, Cardiff, outlined the future as it looks to him. He pointed out that it was planned to increase output to 230 million tons in 1951 and to an even higher figure in later years. With each miner giving a larger output he estimates that this could be done with only a trifling increase of the number of men employed. But what happens then?—
“All the emphasis now was on increased output, but when the output became available adjustment might be severe. If the Board’s reorganisation scheme successfully raised production per man then labour would be redundant. . . . The Board must trim its sails before the storm, he advised, and press the Government for lower targets, quicken the elimination of uneconomic mines, and steadily reduce the labour force. (Manchester Guardian, September 6th, 1949.)
And to give point to the problem, the Miners’ Union got the delegates to pass a resolution demanding the calling of a conference of all the coal-producing countries to draw up an international coal plan. The Industrial Correspondent of the News Chronicle (September 7th, 1949) reported this as follows: —
“This means, in effect, an international governmental coal cartel, with power to regulate production, exports, prices and selling conditions all over the world. Moving the resolution, Mr. Ernest Jones, secretary of the Yorkshire miners, said Poland was seeking to re-establish itself in export markets and create a monopoly in Scandinavian countries. This, he said, would have a serious effect on the Durham, Northumberland and South Wales coalfields.”
Thus does Capitalism make nonsense of planning, for after the British, Polish and other planners have planned to increase coal production, the only way the British miners can see of avoiding the consequences of “over-production” is to establish an international body to regulate (that is, to restrict) production and exports once more.