Thursday, October 19, 2023

Material World: Hair is big money (2020)

The Material World Column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long luxuriant hair has long been associated with femininity and beauty in many cultures. It is described as a woman’s crowning glory. The rising demand for human hair means more and more suppliers and many from dubious sources. The lucrative extension industry is booming worth billions of dollars a year. Human hair is a commodity. Hair is big money. The global hair wigs and extension market is estimated to reach revenues of more than $10 billion by 2023. In 2016, imports to the US alone were a business of almost $700 million. Synthetic hair, although natural looking is not as versatile in that it cannot be heat-styled, curled or straightened. Perhaps the synthetic hair technology will eventually catch up and make fake hair indistinguishable from the real thing but for now a good quality wig made of human hair sells for thousands of dollars in the United States, and hair extensions made of real hair can sell for several hundred or thousand dollars.

It is not the intent of this article to shame anyone for wearing wigs and extensions; the ability to transform yourself through one’s hair can be positive and empowering. We all know a friend who suffers from alopecia or undergoing cancer treatment causing loss of hair and the psychological pain felt.

That being said, it is important to consider who is providing the product. Hair extensions and weaves have now become a must-have fashion accessory and stories of unethical practices abound in the developing and undeveloped countries. Much of the hair on sale comes from small agents who tour villages and small towns in Asia, South America, and eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair. It’s an unregulated industry built on exploitation. There are reports of husbands or partners coercing women into selling their hair. But one source is from Hindu temples, and those in institutions like orphanages or prisons. The human hair imported is not classed as a body part so it is exempt from regulations. It’s nearly impossible to determine whether it’s been willingly donated or not. Those who market the hair insist it is a consensual commercial transaction between hair gatherers and the females who want to sell their hair.

Hair harvested is disinfected, steamed, boiled, dyed and sewn. Each step further erases any traces of its original owner. Salon clients care about the price; they don’t care about the origin, they don’t want to think about the women who grew their hair and had it shorn that led to it landing on their head. Few customers wish to question the supply chain and the dealers are reluctant to reveal how they acquired the hair. It is the price that counts. Hair is now just another luxury item like make–up or expensive clothes. The desire for long, thick hair is a lot stronger than any sense of guilt.

One well-known source of hair is Indian women. At Hindu temples they will have their heads shaved as part of a sacred ritual called tonsuring, a sign of religious devotion and humility. The temples then sell the shorn to traders who will then process and ship it all over the world. Indian temples are said to make more than several millions a year in hair sales.

However, US Customs and Border Protection have seized consignments of tons of hair suspected to have come from interned Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China.

‘When companies are buying goods because they seem like they’re lower price, a really great deal, I would recommend that they really look into why the goods are such a great deal,’ said Ana Hinojosa with US Customs and Border Protection.

‘For a long time, the presumption about goods coming into the US, was that they weren’t made with forced labor,’ said Sophie Richardson with Human Rights Watch. Now the presumption about goods coming to us from Xinjiang is that they have been made with forced labor, and it’s up to the companies to prove that they weren’t’ (

To Tim Hazledine, a professor of economics at Auckland University, the hair trade is effectively ‘farming humans.’ It may be a renewable resource, but it grows slowly and to keep up with increasing demand ‘there must be a lot of people whose hair is getting cut out there’.

Women in developed nations aren’t as desperate to sell their hair for cash as poorer women in developing countries where women and girls can be ‘sheared’, one after the other, like sheep.

Proper Gander: Radio Ga-Ga (2020)

The Proper Gander column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Switch over from TV current affairs programmes to those on DAB radio, and you’ll notice quite a shift in tone. The telly’s news bulletins and shows like the BBC’s Question Time or Newsnight appear airbrushed and staid when compared with the more blunt discussions found on the commercial talk radio stations.

With nearly three million listeners each week, the heavyweight in the market is LBC, which as the London Broadcasting Company was the first licenced commercial radio station, back in 1973. It became more widely known after relaunching nationally on the DAB platform in 2014 with the self-aggrandising boast of ‘Leading Britain’s Conversation’. In 2017 the station gained further publicity from its interview with Diane Abbott MP when she made a hash of explaining Labour’s funding plans for the police, and also when it ditched Katie Hopkins as a presenter for advocating a ‘final solution’ following the Manchester Arena bombing. Not all of LBC’s hosts are poisonous rent-a-gobs like Hopkins or Nigel Farage, whose regular programme was dropped a few months ago. James O’Brien’s phone-in slot often shows up racists and xenophobes for what they are, and he wearily ran rings around Jacob Rees-Mogg when interviewing him about the practicalities of leaving the European Union. Frosty conversations are a hallmark of LBC.

Less popular, but more populist is TalkRADIO. This station, relaunched on DAB in 2016, follows a similar format of having phone-in discussion programmes helmed by opinionated hosts wearing headphones. While LBC presenters are more likely to try and catch out their interviewees, TalkRADIO hosts tend to bring in guests who reinforce their own opinions, which are invariably of the patriotic, right wing libertarian variety. This stance reflects who ultimately owns the station: along with Virgin Radio, Times Radio and Talksport, it’s part of Wireless Group, which is part of News Corp, owned by pro-Trump Rupert Murdoch.

Among TalkRADIO’s regular presenters is Mike Graham, who refers to the station as being ‘the home of common sense’ for the ‘silent majority’. He lays out his trade when he says on one show ‘we don’t need any lessons in history from the Guardian reading yoghurt knitting lentil munching morons who think that there’s something wrong with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. As well as presenting The Independent Republic of Mike Graham, he chairs Plank of the Week, where he sits with a couple of other pundits to slag off people recently in the public eye. One ‘plank of the week’ was Banksy for his efforts in arranging a boat to rescue migrants at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.

Another frequent target is ‘woke’ culture, which the station associates with transgender activists, Black Lives Matter (‘a ghastly, horrible organisation that would like to see the destruction of everything that is good about Britain’, according to Mike Graham) and Extinction Rebellion (‘pathetic’, so says another presenter, Mike Parry). The station particularly focuses on its rival the BBC’s emphasis on diversity. For instance, Ian Collins in his show called the BBC directive about training its staff in avoiding racial bias ‘absolute cast-iron bonkers’ and other presenter Dan Wootton slated the BBC for being obsessed with ‘vile, toxic, tribal identity politics’.

The ‘wokeness’ of the BBC is also criticised because having a ‘liberal London groupthink’ means that it isn’t as impartial as it is supposed to be. On one of Mike Graham’s shows, regular guest and TV presenter Neil Oliver says that news is expected to be neutral, ‘a magnolia paint colour version of events’, and that the BBC gives this impression to disguise its left-leaning bias. On one of his shows, Ian Collins adds that BBC presenters should leave their political opinions on subjects such as Black Lives Matter outside the studio. But he, and the other TalkRADIO presenters, aren’t shy to inflict their own views on us. They simultaneously berate the BBC for being biased while making the most of their own biased broadcasting.

Whether or not the BBC is partial in the way TalkRADIO accuses, it’s right to point out that the BBC isn’t impartial. And it can’t be impartial, because it is part of the establishment, and therefore reflects the ideology which maintains the status quo. It’s partial towards acceptance of the system overall. TalkRADIO is the same, just in a more extreme and in-your-face way.

While the BBC has to stick to stricter editorial rules than TalkRADIO or LBC, all news broadcasters have to follow Ofcom’s code of guidance about ‘due impartiality’, which means that alternative views should be considered. Earlier in the year, TalkRADIO was found not to have done this and was fined £75,000 after former presenter George Galloway discussed allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party and the role of the Russian state in the Salisbury poisonings. When the station’s presenters do cite different opinions or interview activists, it’s invariably with a dismissive, sneering tone.

TalkRADIO’s preoccupations are shown by how it repeatedly latches on to the same kind of subject in the same kind of way. Its recent fixations have included dance troupe Diversity’s Black Lives Matter routine on Britain’s Got Talent and the possibility of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ being removed from the Proms because of associations with colonialism. While these and any topic should be discussed, TalkRADIO doesn’t scrutinise, for example, Donald Trump or Sky News. Nor does it have programmes about poverty or exploitation or environmental threats or war. The subjects the channel doesn’t cover tell us as much about its stance as those which it does.

TalkRADIO’s critique (if it can be called that) of left-wing ideology would be of interest, but it’s based on a caricature, and it comes from a cynical, cold place. A distorted worldview. Listen to TalkRADIO for too long, and you’d think Britain is divided only into ‘lentil munching morons’ infatuated with diversity quotas, and the Union Jack-waving ‘silent majority’ fed up with ‘political correctness gone mad’.
Mike Foster

Capitalist cake (2020)

Book Review from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pandemic Capitalism. From Broken Systems to Basic Incomes by Chris Oestereich (Wicked Problems Collaborative. 2020)

While this short book insists that the post coronavirus world can and must be one of radical change (‘a new paradigm’ as one of its chapter titles says) and one that provides a decent means of life for everyone, it nails its colours to the mast in the opening pages by quoting approvingly the World Economic Forum’s words: ‘We seriously need to consider implementing a well designed Universal Basic Income (UBI), so shocks may hit, but they won’t destroy.’ So the new world will, in the author’s view, still be one ensconced in the existing system of ‘incomes’ and not one involving the real paradigm shift of abolition of wages and salaries, of buying and selling and of money and wages. It will be, in the author’s own words and imagination, ‘a cake made of socialism with a layer of capitalism’.

Having said that, it cannot be denied that this book has a laudable aim, that of ‘finding a way to share the bounty of our planet, while working within its limits’. Its description of the kind of society we live in (‘a society rooted in cut-throat economic competition’ with ‘spiralling inequality’, where ‘necessities go unfulfilled while the privileged indulge in perversities’) is impossible not to recognise and agree with. The author is right to say that we live ‘on a planet where much of the food that is grown goes to waste, we destroy unsold garments, and homes sit empty’. The question he asks about what the world could look like if people were able ‘to choose a collaborative orientation, rather than being forced into a competitive one’ is also entirely pertinent to the endeavours of socialists to open up people’s imagination to the possibility of a different kind of world, one of cooperative work at all levels and free access to all goods and services, where, in the words of one of this book’s chapter titles, we would all be ‘sharing the bounty’.

With regard to UBI, the author is right to say that it is an idea that has very much come to the fore in recent times, the idea being that the state would pay each of its citizens an unconditional basic income. But could such a reform solve the endemic problems of capitalist society? Would it rather not be just capitalism with a few tweaks? As articles which have appeared recently in the Socialist Standard (May and July, 2020) have shown, the likely effect of UBI, even if it could be made to work, would be to redistribute poverty. The chronically poor would be slightly better off (better than nothing admittedly), but the gulf between the vast majority who own little other than their energies and the minority who monopolise most of the world’s wealth would remain. Above all it would leave the market and commodity relations, the bulwarks of capitalism, intact. So, far from the idea of UBI being, as the author puts it, ‘a stretch of the imagination’ for many people, it is actually relatively easy to imagine as reforms of capitalism go. The real stretch of the imagination is the socialist society of from each according to ability to each according to needs. So one thing we would entirely agree with the author on is his approving reference to the words of the anarcho-socialist author, Ursula Le Guin: ‘We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.’
Howard Moss

Blogger's Note:
In the original review it was stated that the " . . . articles which have appeared recently in the Socialist Standard (May and June, 2020)." It was actually the May and July Socialist Standards.

Working hard (2020)

Book Review from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s Wrong With Work? by Lynne Pettinger (Policy Press £12.99.)

As the author says on the first page, a book with a title like this is an invitation to grumble or to comment that it’s going to be a long book. In fact it is of interest more for some of the points that are made than for any overall argument.

One important theme is the centrality of informal work, which is difficult to define but essentially applies to employment not covered by national legislation or entitlement to benefits such as paid annual leave or sick leave. According to the International Labour Organization, two billion people (just over sixty percent of global work activity) are in informal work, and this figure rises to ninety percent in developing countries, where a substantially greater percentage of women than men are informally employed. What might be called standard contracts of work are becoming rarer, with seasonal work, on-call work and zero-hours contracts being more common, even if they do not count as informal work.

The book pre-dates the move to working from home as a result of coronavirus, but still has quite a bit to say on homeworking, the ‘hidden workforce’ mainly consisting of women. Further, work can be not just hidden but invisible, as with cleaners who work when offices are otherwise closed. Cheap clothes are made by invisible workers, as nobody would supposedly buy goods made in such dire conditions if the workers were really visible.

Care work is also often hidden, taking place in people’s homes. It is usually seen as low-status and low-skilled, partly because it has generally been associated with women. Yet its importance is undeniable in terms of the health and wellbeing of those cared for. Working on and with human bodies emphasises the crucial role of connections and relations between people.

Green jobs can allegedly be supported by all sides, from government policy-makers and employers to unions and community groups. But in practice many ‘green jobs’ are dirty and dangerous, such as recycling. The manufacture of solar panels relies on processed metal ores and can be damaging to both the environment and the workers who make them.

Researchers often discuss the recent increase in informal work and the rise of the gig economy and of precarity. But Pettinger notes that ‘Informal work is globally and historically the most common form of work’. So-called full employment is really an exception, an ideal applying in western Europe from the 1950s to the 1970s, connected to the notion of a male breadwinner. Not that even then it meant there was no unemployment.
Paul Bennett

"Wearing badges is not enough in days li . . . ooh, that's nice" (2020)

Advert from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

This advert has pretty much appeared in every issue of the Socialist Standard over the last few years (how dare you think 'space filler') but I've never thought to mention it on the blog before now. It's a slight adaptation of an old Party badge which - I think - dates from the 1950s and, though it does look like an old London Underground badge, I rather like it. 

I had an original version of the badge a few years back which I bought via eBay but, sadly, it's long since gone. It was lost in a move we made. Not sure if you can purchase this version if you're living outside the UK.

"Wearing badges is not enough"? I know, you've heard that line before. From here. Enjoy.

SPGB Discord Meetings (2020)

Party News from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
The following SPGB Discord Meetings from October 2020 were recorded for posterity. Sound quality varies:
  • Why Socialism? The power and limits of speculation (Speaker: Richard Field) Part 1, Part 2.
  • George Orwell (Speaker: Richard Botterill) Part 1, Part 2. 
  • Populism (Speaker: Paul Bennett) Part 1, Part 2.

China: the Puzzle 
of the Past (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Marxist view of China’s history? Prior to modern developments and the establishment of the Communist régime, the scene was of vast tracts where millions of peasants eked out existence on strips of land, under the thumbs of landowners and at the mercy of warlords; manufacture and trade belonged to only three or four well-populated areas. The ready conclusion is of a feudalism going back to the earliest kings. In China's Three Thousand Years (1973) C.P. Fitzgerald writes:
The Chou kingdom [1025 BC] was designed on what is familiar to the western world as the feudal system: the country was divided into fiefs whose rulers, more or less closely related to the monarch, had the duty of raising forces to fight for him and were also required to pay ceremonial visits to court.
In a later chapter Brian Hook refers to the view “employed by Chinese Marxist historians” that China “passed through primitive, slave and feudal societies, the impact of the West occurring, however, before the onset of the capitalist stage of society” This is taken directly from Mao Tse-tung’s statements in the official edition of his Selected Works:
[Up to now] approximately 5,000 years have passed since the collapse of the primitive communist society, and the transition to class society, first slave society, and then feudalism.
It sounds too probable to question. Yet preceding it was a doctrinal change-over in Russia, in which Stalin altered Marx and eventually his officials announced that a part of Marx’s historical theory had been disposed-of completely. The Chinese Communists adopted Moscow’s teaching to help build their own régime. And the question remains: what is the Marxist view of China’s history?

The Meaning of History
The basic statement of Marxism is the materialist conception of history. The way in which men stand to one another in the production and distribution on which they must depend is the foundation of all social organization. Marx put it thus in the Preface to The Critique of Political Economy :
In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society — the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.
Since the passing of primitive society, the relations have been those of owning and non-owning classes. Class interests have centred on the ownership of the productive resources, and the changes from one historical epoch to another have been the triumphs of new owning classes. Marx’s economic theory is not distinct from but part of this understanding of history: the labour theory of value is the detailed working-out of the class struggle in present-day society.

In the same passage in The Critique of Political Economy, Marx states the forms society has taken:
In broad outlines we can designate the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois methods of production as so many epochs in the progress of the economic formation of society.
“Ancient” is the slave societies of the Mediterranean and the near-East, from whose break-up feudalism emerged. Marx identified “Asiatic” society principally with India and China. In Volume I of Capital (pages 350-352, Allen & Unwin edn.) he described the self-sufficiency of Indian villages, linked with a communal system of land tenure, as “the key to the secret of the unchangeableness of Asiatic societies”; and the handicraft paper-making of India and China as “two distinct antique Asiatic forms of the same industry” (p.377).

That Marx saw Asiatic production as a separate type of economic organization is made plainest in the Grundrisse. In the latter part of Notebook IV references to it occur repeatedly. For example:
In Asiatic societies, where the monarch appears as the exclusive proprietor of the agricultural surplus product, whole cities arise, which are at bottom nothing more than wandering encampments, from the exchange of his revenue with the ‘free hands’, as Steuart calls them. There is nothing of wage labour in this relation, but it can stand in opposition to slavery and serfdom though need not do so . . .

In the Asiatic form (at least, predominantly), the individual has no property but only possession; the real proprietor, proper, is the commune — hence property only as communal property in land.
Hydraulics and Hierarchy
The requirement on which Asiatic society was founded was that of large-scale irrigation. In Capital Volume I (p.523) Marx wrote:
It is the necessity of bringing a natural force under the control of society, of economising, of appropriating or subduing it on a large scale by the works of man’s hand, that first plays the decisive rôle in the history of industry.
He went on to name examples, all of irrigation works, in Egypt, Lombardy, Holland, India, Persia, Spain and Sicily. In some of these, of course, the economy was simply a farming one involving some irrigation. The social and political consequences when all depended on major irrigation were shown in two footnotes on the same page:
  1. The necessity for predicting the rise and fall of the Nile created Egyptian astronomy, and with it the dominion of the priests, as directors of agriculture.
  2. One of the material bases of the power of the state over the small disconnected producing organisms in India, was the regulation of the water supply
Because of its importance the management of water could not be left to diverse hands. The characteristic of Asiatic “hydraulic society” was large scale government-managed works of irrigation and flood control.

The amounts of private property varied in Asiatic societies, but had to be subject to the hydraulic regime. In Volume 3 of Capital Marx said that in the Asiatic system there existed “no private land- ownership, but both private and communal possession of the soil”; i.e. there was no universal system of land tenure as in feudalism. The rulers, priests and supervising bureaucrats had the surplus and the pickings from supreme autocratic leadership. Engels summarized Asiatic society thus in Anti-Duhring:
However great the number of despotic governments which rose and fell in India and Persia, each was fully aware that its first duty was the general maintenance of irrigation throughout the valleys, without which no agriculture was possible . . . The ancient communes, where they continued to exist, have for thousands of years formed the basis of the most barbarous forms of state, oriental despotism, from India to Russia.
(pp. 202-3, Lawrence & Wishart edn.)
In the hydraulic works continually in hand, the bulk of labourers remained peasant's without differentiation or division of labour. There had to be reservoirs, sluices, dykes, aqueducts, drainage and navigation canals. The armies of labour were transferable to non-hydraulic projects: huge defence structures, roads, capital cities — and tombs and temples for the rulers. The first Chinese emperor, Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, is said to have had 700,000 employed on building his palace and his tomb.

The Case is Altered
The question of Asiatic society as an inconvenience to the official doctrine-makers of Soviet Russia first came to the fore between 1925 and 1930. Ryazanov, the director of the Marx-Engels Institute, and the economist Varga published articles on the Asiatic mode of production depending on government-controlled water works, and declaring China to be a society of the Asiatic type. In 1926 Stalin began designating China as “feudal”, and the 1928 Programme of the Communist International spoke of “feudal mediaeval relationships". The assertion was that if Asiatic society was to be recognized it was only as an Oriental variant of feudalism.

Karl Wittfogel in his Oriental Despotism argues that the matter goes back to the original break between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1906. Lenin in his early days not only accepted Marx’s and Engel’s theory of Asiatic society but applied it strongly to Tsarist Russia. Planning land nationalization to win the support of the peasant masses for the seizure of power, he was — says Wittfogel — hoist with his own petard: the proposal closely resembled what he had condemned as Aziatchina. Thus, from 1906 he gradually dropped speaking of Asiatic society substituting “mediaeval”, “pre-capitalist”, and “feudal”.

The debate was sealed in 1938 with the publication of Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism. In it (pp.43-44, L. & W. edn.) he quoted Marx’s Preface to The Critique of Political Economy — short of the sentence referring to the Asiatic mode of production. Only three forms of class society were named: slavery, feudalism and capitalism. But in particular, Stalin laid down that geographical environment could not be a “determining cause” in social development: “for that which remains almost unchanged in the course of tens of thousands of years cannot be the chief cause of development of that which undergoes fundamental changes in the course of a few hundred years” (p.24).

Engels dealt with this question in 1894 when replying to H. Starkenburg about the materialist conception of history. He wrote differently:
Under economic conditions are further included the geographical basis on which they operate and those remnants of earlier stages of economic development which have actually been transmitted and have survived — often only through tradition or the force of inertia; also of course the external milieu which surrounds this form of society.
(Selected Correspondence, p.516)
Truth is a Class Affair
Because this adoption of a different view of history is recent, it is still possible to read books published before the “revision” that describe the Asiatic hydraulic societies. There are V. Gordon Childe’s Man Makes Himself and What Happened in History — and, as a curiosity, the British Communist Party’s Handbook of Marxism. In general, however, the 1939-45 war intervened conveniently to avoid critical arguments; western Communists were able to resume believing, or saying, history had always been so. The final act was an official Russian report in 1950 which announced the consummation of Soviet Oriental studies: “the rout of the notorious theory of the ‘Asiatic mode of production’.”

Wittfogel’s book has established itself as the standard detailed work on Asiatic society, and in 1962 he published two articles in The China Quarterly (nos. 11 and 12) on “The Marxist View of China”. Much more research needs to be done before reaching conclusions, of course. For instance, Wittfogel apparently did not have access to the Grundrisse, and in some observations about the “political myth” of the government’s rôle in various societies he is a long way from understanding either Marx or western history.

Nevertheless, here it is. Marx postulated an Asiatic form of society to which China almost certainly belonged. The Russian state, for its own ideological purpose, set out to erase that it had existed; and the theorists of the new Chinese state, following similar purposes, adopted the re-fashioned analysis of its history. Before crying out at such cynicism, it is as well to remember that every nation has misrepresented its own — and other countries’ — history. The point of the proper Marxist view of history is to see the class interests at work. Lying about the past is a necessary part of lying about the present.
Robert Barltrop

China in the 19th Century (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In communist theory the feudal era in China ended with the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 — preceded by a period of embryonic capitalism, and followed by the capitalist era. In reality, though this marked the end of Imperial and dynastic China, its economic effects were minimal. But for the 1914-18 war, it is quite probable that Yuan Shih-Kai’s bid to inaugurate a new dynasty with himself as emperor would have been successful; from the founding of the republic, he had the support of the western powers against the revolutionary Sun Yat sen.

The preoccupation with the war in Europe deprived Yuan of foreign support when he claimed imperial legitimacy, and also let in the Japanese as a new predator. After the war the western powers, expecting to return to the status quo, imagined they could buy off Japan by admitting her to the wolf-pack and allowing her to have the former German interests in Shantung province. This was China’s ultimate disillusionment with the west; it sparked off the May the Fourth movement from which Chinese Communism was to spring, nationalism and all. Confident that Japan had been appeased, the western powers went about their business of exploiting China. This was the period of warlordism, which was only a reflection of other rivalries. And when Japan wanted more, the western powers sank their differences and jointly supported Chiang Kai-shek as the best bet for defence against Japan.

During this period, though capitalism waxed fat in China, it was practically entirely western capitalism. Very little indigenous industrial enterprise started up. What did arise was a flourishing finance capitalism. Bankers, direct heirs of the usurious pawnshops of traditional China, were able to negotiate foreign loans and act as agents for raising Chinese capital to go into foreign enterprises. But agriculture continued to account for 90 per cent. of the population, and the torments of the peasants intensified as it was upon their backs that the burden of others’ money-making rested. To speak of this as China’s capitalist era is a delusion.

Before the 1911 pseudo-revolution China is supposed to have been undergoing the pangs of nascent capitalism. It is convenient to start the story of what was happening with the First Opium War of 1840, although it really opens with the Lord Macartney mission in 1793. The western mercantile nations were affronted and indignant at China’s refusal to enter into trading relations with them. China deliberately saw no benefit in foreign trade; to the rapacious young capitalist class this was an incomprehensible denial of the laws of political economy and of God. By 1840, they were prepared to force China at gun-point to accept their trade.

China’s subjugation followed as a matter of course, helped by the degeneracy of the ruling dynasty and civil strife. By 1860, after the sack of Pekin by the Anglo-French Expedition, both the Dragon Throne and the bureaucracy were in despair. The traditionalists interpreted these troubles as the consequence of the Emperor’s departure from Confucian virtue; but there was a more realistic school of thought which held that western force could only be met by Chinese force. They were agreed on the need to maintain traditional Chinese society, but advocated the introduction of western technology so that China could build the only weapons — both military and economic — which the intruders understood. They became known as the Self Strengthening Movement. Their practical problem was the declining revenue into the Treasury.

After the 1860 war the Maritime Customs was set up; it was for a long time administered wholly by western nations, mainly British, with Sir Robert Hart at the head. Its object was to collect payment of the various indemnities charged against China, and to fix low tariffs so that western goods could compete against Chinese products. Western goods were also exempt from internal taxation, so that the revenue crisis was very serious.

At the same time the Taiping Rebellion was raging. The first massive successes of the Taipings were due largely to the incompetence of the Manchu bannermen, who had become effete in a century of peace. The Taipings were eventually defeated with some help from the western nations, and this gave ground for military reorganization. The Manchu generals were replaced by Chinese commanders, some of whom introduced new tactics and were rewarded for their success with provincial governorships. A number of them were sympathetic to the Self Strengthening Movement.

The movement’s first obstacle was the raising of capital to set up modern industries. Generally, liquid capital was in the hands of merchants who were uninterested in the risks of industry; their favourite investment was in land as the means to entering the gentry class. A second obstacle was that no enterprise of any size could be set up without official approval. However, the Court’s own difficulties gave it no alternative but reluctantly to approve of some of the proposals of the Self Strengthened. The Maritime Customs returns seldom covered the indemnities, which increased with every minor incident of a European affronted by a Chinese, and there was the Court’s own extravagance. Something had to be done: industry of a sort came to China.

Despite the merchants’ general reluctance to invest in industry, a few with comprador experience saw that fortunes might be made. Sheng Hsuan-huai was at one time reputed to be the richest man in all China, and his rise to wealth is typical of the small number of merchants who turned to industry. Sheng came from a powerful merchant class with wide comprador associations, and his own family had taken the first step into the gentry class by becoming landowners. He had passed the local examinations for the civil service but failed in the provincial ones; when he became a rich man, he purchased several official positions.

China at an early stage began appointing to office by merit. This was Confucian doctrine, and even in Han times examinations were held; by the Tang dynasty they were firmly established. They produced the scholar élite , bringing a professionalism into the government service that assured continuity in the administration in whatever crisis. In the 15th century, during the Ming dynasty, office purchase was introduced. This was a device to dilute the bureaucracy so that it would not become too powerful, though it was justified on the score of introducing experience in practical affairs. When the Manchu dynasty was in full vigour office purchase fell into disuse, but was revived again during its degeneracy as a source of revenue. Eventually the purchase system so degraded office-holding that the abolition of the examinations, and the abrupt demise of the scholar class, passed by almost unnoticed.

Until Sheng was wealthy enough to purchase office he could claim only a lowly “official gentry” status. He saw the possibilities of enrichment through industry, and during his life controlled at one time and another steamships, posts and telegraphs, railways, ironworks, iron and coal mines, and interests in shipbuilding and cotton-mills. He began with steamships. After the Taiping Rebellion parts of the Grand Canal from Shanghai to Pekin were in disrepair, and there was a serious problem in transporting tribute rice from the south to feed Pekin and the north. Another route had to found. Some of the rice began to be carried by foreign steamships, and Sheng was unable to persuade members of his clan of the possibilities in buying steamships.

Success was assured when the approval of the clan head was given — this made investment by other clan members an obligation. Nobody expected a capitalist’s return on his investment. In fact none of Sheng’s companies ever paid much in the way of dividends, nor was there ever a policy of accumulation and growth (although quite large amounts of capital were required initially, except for posts and railways where the government invested for its own needs). But the investors, by applying traditional Chinese nepotism, could pack the higher offices with clan members and operating the peculation which also was taken for granted, cream off rich personal rewards — to be invested in even more lucrative pawnshops or in land to achieve status.

Sheng was eventually able to ingratiate himself with a provincial governor who was a Self Strengthener. Li Hungchang had been one of the successful generals in the Taiping defeat, and his reward was the metropolitan province of Chihili. He was also Controller of the Northern Ports; he and Sheng were made for each other. They were not unique. Other governors and high officials also tried to build up partnerships with merchants, and the struggles between factions were quite unscrupulous. Li’s patronage was Sheng's good fortune, enabling him to obtain a monopoly of the tribute rice shipments.

In fact in all Sheng’s undertakings the essential ingredient was an official monopoly. He had to reward his patrons lavishly, and the Throne also demanded recompense in “return for Imperial grace”. By employing Europeans almost exclusively as technicians, he showed no vision of a capitalist China. After the Boxer Rebellion, when the dying dynasty traded nominal survival for subservience to the west, he became little more than a super - comprador, though this still enabled him to increase his riches: he became probably the most hated man in China. His son’s biography of him says his aim was to amass a sufficient fortune to ensure the wellbeing of his family for many subsequent generations; this is a worthy Confucian aim but not a capitalist one.


The social status of the Chinese merchant was like that of the mediaeval Jew; he was despised as a usurer, yet tolerated because no-one could see how the services he performed could be dispensed with. Their wealth, like Jewish wealth in Europe, could always be sequestered. At the same time, the Chinese merchant had greater mobility for escape from his calling. If wealthy enough, he could become a landowner and his heirs qualify for entry into the scholar-gentry class. There was therefore no strong urge for a separate merchant class to struggle for political recognition.

As important as the combination of social mobility with rigid social stratification was the absence of truly free labour as it arose in the west. Although China’s expanding population in the 19th century brought great pressure on the land, there was relatively little urban drift. The family persisted with remarkable stability; every member from the toddler to the aged grandmother had their allotted tasks, with a total interdependence. In the cities handicrafts manufactures were carried on under a family basis. There were also small factories employing families from the same clan operating a joint enterprise.

To be a totally alienated individual was the most terrifying prospect facing any Chinese. It was common for the new arrival in the city, especially when he was alone, to carry an introduction to a secret society. These go back into ancient Chinese history, and some have histories which span centuries as friendly societies, dissident groups, political opposition and resistance bodies, bandits — in fact any cause either to affirm or to deny conformity. The large factory in the Chinese city recruited its labour from the labour boss of the appropriate secret society. The labour bosses had their own territories; in return for the wages he paid over to the society boss the labourer received enough rice just to keep alive, adulterated opium to make his misery just tolerable, and a minimum of rites for the comfort of his spirit when he died.

Inescapable despotism, abysmal living conditions and low capital investment made a strong propulsion for Chinese people to get out of China if they could. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was a capital offence for a Chinese to leave his homeland; many, nevertheless, took their heads in their hands and went to the Philippines. As early as 1855 Australia restricted Chinese immigration. Subsequently New Zealand and South Africa legislated for their exclusion, and the first restrictive immigration laws in the USA concerned them. Canada did the same. Chinese went to the East Indies, Malay, Burma and anywhere open to them. The greatest wave, however, was in this century, started about 1900 by the construction of the Russian railway across Manchuria and the large expenditure of the Russian army of occupation. When the Japanese took Manchuria in 1932 emigration was re-stimulated by Japanese recruitment and apparent “opportunities”; altogether, from 1900 to 1945 the Chinese population of Manchuria grew from 10 million to 40 million. It hardly needs saying that wherever they have gone the Chinese have found only what capitalism offers to the rest of the world’s population. Peasants went to the cities and became indentured coolies, and left — to become cheap labour all over the world.
Mary B.

The Mandarin (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The papers have had rather a lot to tell us about the wonderful welcome given by Maoist China to that well-known communist and faithful servant of the workers of the world, Comrade Ted Heath. One wonders what on earth the many thousands of workers who call themselves Marxists and Maoists can really think of the antics of the Chinese red-fascists who go out of their way to fête such an obvious and clumsy anti-worker as Heath. The same people who shouted “Heath Out” and “Long live Chairman Mao” can somehow bring themselves to swallow the spectacle of tens of thousands of workers being dragooned into turning out to stand by the wayside to cheer and march and dance in order to impress this capitalist buffoon.

What would the same people say if the workers here were called out to march like cheering automata to celebrate the arrival of “Former Prime Minister Heath”? It was hilarious, as well as tragic, that this was the only title they could greet him with because his present rôle, as distinct from his former one, is of course Leader of the Opposition. Somehow, it was regarded as unsuitable to use such a title in Maoist China. The workers may not have quite understood what a leader of the opposition could be in a land where there is no opposition, except in the cemetery. Or maybe it was feared that they would have understood too well; so even Heath’s title has to be twisted.

Of course, Heath was immensely bucked by this splendid reception which made him feel so much more important than he would be in England where he would be more likely to be greeted with a chorus of raspberries if he were to flaunt himself before the proletariat. And it goes without saying that when he returned he was full of praise for the rulers of China whose system he is supposed to hate. And did he say how abhorrent it was for workers to be drilled into clapping and waving flags and the rest of the disgusting charade? You must be joking. He enjoyed every minute of it. He and Mao are brothers under their skins. Like a couple of Orwell’s pigs.
L. E. Weidberg

Letters: Women's Lib (1974)

Letters to the Editors from the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Women's Lib

At your 70th Annual Conference a resolution was passed that membership of the Women’s Liberation movement is incompatible with membership of the Socialist Party. Is this due to the fact that Women’s Lib. strives for equality within the capitalist society, or is there more?
Catherine Spence, 
Cramlington, Northumberland.

The SPGB has as its sole objective the establishment of Socialism.

Membership of the SPGB is dependent on the acceptance of and compliance with our Declaration of Principles which declares:
That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interests of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
In pursuit of their objectives Women’s Liberation must put pressure on or come to some agreement with capitalist political parties. Reforms of capitalism rarely if ever benefit the working class and the outcome of workers struggles in this direction are not worth the time and effort spent on them. They leave the workers in precisely the same position as before — the dispossessed class in society.

The Socialist Party must therefore be hostile to all reformist political parties and pressure groups and membership of any of them (e.g. Women’s Liberation movement) must be incompatible with membership of the Socialist Party.

If all the reforms demanded by Women’s Liberation were implemented the vast majority of women would still be members of the propertyless class having to sell their ability to work to the capitalist class for a wage or a salary.

The political history of capitalism is littered with the remains of those reform movements which attempted the impossible task of establishing “equality within the capitalist society.” Having failed many reformists dropped their illusions and went on to administer capitalism in the only way it can be administered — in the interest of the capitalists.

Social equality is only possible in a classless society. Women’s Liberation by accepting the class basis of society. (whatever some of them may claim) help to confuse workers and thereby help to perpetuate capitalism with its mass of economic and social discriminations. Have you read Women’s Lib has got it Wrong in the July Socialist Standard ?

Workers and wages
"We . . .  do not . . . exhort workers to try to attain 4y wages where before they only had 3y wages. An above average wage in one industry necessarily implies a below-average wage in another”.
This seems to suggest that the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not urge workers to struggle for higher wages on the grounds that a wage increase for one group of workers necessarily involves a wage decrease for another.

The Socialist Party has always urged workers to try to get the highest possible price for the sale of their labour-power. And Marx long ago exposed, in Value Price and Profit, the "wages fund” theory accepted by the Owenite Weston that, as the amount that could be paid out in wages was limited, one group of workers could only obtain a wage increase at the expense of the rest of the working class, and that therefore trade union action was to be opposed. As Marx showed, it was sometimes possible for workers to take advantage of favourable labour market conditions to obtain a real wage increase, even if only a temporary one, at the expense of the profits of the capitalists and without harming other workers. For Marx Socialists had not to oppose the struggle for higher wages, but rather to point out its severe limitations and to urge the adoption of the revolutionary, socialist slogan “Abolish the wages system”. Marx also made the point that workers have to struggle for higher wages, even if they don’t obtain them, just in order to realise the value of their labour-power. Workers should struggle to get 4y wages in place of 3y because if they don’t they won’t even get paid 3y.
A. Buick

The interpretation placed on this extract by A. Buick appears to have been an over-reaction to what was stated. The term “above average wages” derives from the IPC statement itself and it should be remembered that this is a statistical concept. It should also be remembered that the statement relates to a specific company and those workers within it. This is not meant to imply that because it is a specific company, that we take no interest in the workers concerned, but more to mean that we do not approach these workers and their part both in the class struggle, and in their understanding of Socialism, exclusive of all others.

As was pointed out in the article, Mr. Roberts (the Managing Director of IPC Newspapers Ltd.) refers his employees to their high standing in the “Pay relativities League Table.” The graph (re-printed from the Financial Times) represents the average rates of pay throughout many industries, and Roberts is telling IPC employees: Look how much higher up this scale are your wages compared to those of other workers. This is a blatant appeal to his men to be thankful, for what are in the end, extremely small mercies. It is relevant however, to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that if Roberts pays his workers wages which are above a norm, then those of other workers must be below it. Clearly not all workers can obtain “above average wages,” for an average is necessarily the mean between high and low.

This reference was made to point out the limitations of Robert’s own emphasis on above-average wages as an indication of “success” and to remind IPC workers that they should not consider being “above-average” as a satisfactory position. In short, “above average” as a class view. It was certainly not intended to endorse the theory that there is a given pool from which wages are drawn, and consequently one man’s wage increase, is another’s decrease. The clause A. Buick has omitted from the extract quoted in fact points to the source from which an increase in wages would come i.e. the capitalist’s profit.

As A. Buick says, it is quite possible for a group of workers to achieve a wage increase without affecting the amount of wages received by other workers Their relative positions on a statistical graph will of course change, but as was pointed out, these relative differences will not change the basic class position of workers, or their problems. It is worth bearing in mind that there have been a considerable number of strikes in post-war years over wage relativities. As such we cannot be expected to approve a claim by any group of workers that at all times they must have more than some other group of workers.

A. Buick’s letter states “For Marx Socialists had not to oppose the struggle for higher wages . . ." and so on. However it seems a somewhat large (and inaccurate) mental leap to conclude from the passage quoted, or the article as a whole, that we were advocating opposition to workers struggling for higher wages. The class struggle between worker and employer results from the capitalist system, and wage claims are manifestations of this struggle. It would indeed be contradictory to claim that the SPGB represents the political interests of the working class on one hand, while actually advocating opposition to intelligent efforts aimed at improving or maintaining standards under Capitalism by struggles in the industrial field. The article did not put forward this point of view, and Marx explains fully why this would be a contradictory position:

(Writing about the tendency for the average standard of wages to fall)
. . . is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation . . .  they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiation of any larger movement.
(Wages, Price & Profit. Chapter 14).
In practise, where gains are made by workers in industries, generally it is due to these “occasional chances” and not to the number of strikes they engage in.

Regarding A. Buick’s opinion of how our case should be expressed in relation to the struggle for higher wages, it would not be true to claim that the SPGB is better placed than the workers, or Trade Unions involved, to identify such "occasional chances” for improvement, or to usurp their particular functions in this respect. It would be a considerable and alien extension of our own function to assume that we should act either as some form of Advice Bureau, or Clearing House for various wage claims. Such a conclusion would be hard to avoid were we to blandly assert that all those IPC workers receiving (in the article’s terms) 3y wages, should be taking action to attain 4y wages.

Apart from elementary considerations such as the likelihood of such a claim being met or not, or to what extent and duration of industrial action can be taken, it should be remembered that workers (not the SPGB) advance wage claims in terms of £’s and pence. Apart from these other considerations it would be unrealistic to prescribe the numerical formula put forward by A. Buick to the IPC workers, and even more so, to all workers at all times. The extract complained about was expressly inserted to make clear to the reader that we are not able to give specific advice on the formation of particular wage claims. We certainly do not exhort workers to act in such a way, we exhort workers to achieve Socialism.

Although Mr. Roberts might view such a formula as an attempt to be “realistic”, if a little immoderately, the SPGB would take a view which he, and millions of workers at present regard as “un-realistic,” namely, if we are to talk in terms of figures, why just struggle for 4y, why not 5 or 6 or 10y ?

It is possible that A. Buick means his formula to be interpreted in a more general way to read that workers should continue to struggle for higher wages. If this is so, he is acknowledging what is occurring daily under capitalism. The SPGB has frequently put forward the view that workers generally (not just Trade Unions) should recognise the need to achieve not only the best wages, but also the best conditions that they can, although we have not always seen as beneficial some of the methods employed in this respect: For example, the use of industrial action to preserve the “Closed-shop,” inter-unions disputes, or racially motivated strikes etc., because their result has been to further divide and embitter sections of the working class. If A. Buick is concerned lest the IPC workers, or other workers, become unaware of increasing costs of daily necessaries, or of greater exploitation by the capitalist class, his reminder is timely.

While recognising that the capitalist class will constantly seek to lower wages to the minimum level required to ensure the maintenance and reproduction of a work force, and pointing out to the working class that this is a most undesirable tendency, which, if not resisted, will result in a fall of their standards, the SPGB’s task is to urge workers (employed or not) to recognise their class position, and, as Marx points out in his following paragraph from Wages, Price & Profit (Chap. 14).
not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the cause of those effects.
Our exhortation must be therefore for workers to adopt a class view and establish a system of society in which high, low or average wages will only be sought and found in history books.

Could do better?

There are some cases where workers have got out of the position of being workers and made a bit of a fortune by some means or the other — hook or by crook — and Socialists are the first to oppose them doing this! Namely because Socialists give no incentive to workers in getting out of the position of being workers.

What comments have you to make on this ? Don’t be aloof and good. What are your comments, in detail ?
F. S. Steele 
London N.4.

Have you confused us with someone else ? If we should hear of any working men or women making “a bit of a fortune” and escaping from wage-slavery, we don’t oppose it: we (individually) wish them luck

However, the belief that anyone can do it or have it happen to him is part of the mythology which sustains capitalism. Anyone cannot; very few can. If you were thinking of football pools the chances of a quarter - million - pound win are statistically about the same as those of being struck by lightning. If you were thinking of famous men who have “advanced by their own efforts”, such stories have practically never been true.

Our case is simply that workers who think on these lines are like the beast of burden following a carrot on a stick in front of it. Escaping from wage-slavery is a most desirable aim, and the only way for the great majority — with exceptions so rare that they don’t matter — to achieve it is by abolishing the wages system, i.e. establishing Socialism.

For the present

Until socialism is established, we have to live under the present capitalist system.

Features of this system are institutions such as Building Societies, Insurance Companies and banks, all of which many workers invest money into and unwittingly aid capitalism.

Seemingly they do not have a choice. There is not enough rented property in the private or public sector to meet the demand, despite years of government by the Labour Party. The Building Societies do offer a way out at a price

Insurance schemes are contributed to, understandably, by many workers who want to provide safeguards for their families should misfortune occur.

The banks use people’s money to finance their existence and keep the system rolling, for that, they provide the service of looking after our money.

All three institutions under the present system exist because of human needs. How do people at present obtain the necessities of life without contributing to a system that exploits them? The obvious need is for Socialism; until it arrives where does the Socialist Party stand on this problem ?
Kevin Parkin
London S.E. 1

Banks, Building Societies, and Insurance Companies do not exist to satisfy human need. They are features of capitalism — a system of commodity production based on the class ownership of the means of life. As such they only exist to make a profit and only too often stand between human beings and their means of subsistence. They are “necessary” only in a money-dominated society which has profit as the motive for production.

While capitalism lasts the working class will need to sell themselves on the labour market, use banks and take out mortgages and insurance. Because they own no property they must work for wages and in so doing they will be contributing to the profits of the capitalists. Socialists realise this only too well, that under these circumstances workers have no option but to be involved in the whole sordid business simply in order to live — after all, we are in the same position ourselves. It is Utopian to believe that workers can isolate themselves from or opt out of these and other oppressive features of capitalism.
What the Socialist Party continually points out, and urges working people to act on, is that the society we live in can be done away with. When the majority of the working class realise this they will need to take upon themselves the task of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism through democratic political action. This is the only real choice facing the working class. Why not join with us and help to bring the establishment of Socialism that much closer?

Religion & railings

A reading of your interesting 70th Anniversary issue has left me with the impression that the SPGB has no satisfactory explanation for the failure to get through to the working class. I ask you to consider the following hypothesis.

A more propitious ethos must be generated by capitalism, which has already demonstrated its ability to induce a more rational view of the social scene. Remember the blow it has dealt religion. Masses of workers who have never heard of the SPGB or read a secularist tract have involuntarily succumbed to a more materialist view of the world about them. This dynamic power, identified as the ethos, could ultimately produce the untutored, the spontaneous Socialist. The existence of the SPGB is evidence enough that some workers have understood the Socialist case. My belief is that these workers are of a special “type”.

An example of a social trend I see currently unfolding: Many of the restricting inner railings in a large park near here have been removed. The perimeter fence remains — soon this barrier will be seen as an affront. Down it will come (where traffic and safety hazards allow) permitting at last, free and unrestricted access. This changing attitude will widen and deepen until it embraces the whole economy. Workers will then be more readily aware of the restraints on their lives. I visualize conditions in which workers will leave your meetings convinced at a first hearing of the need for Socialism.

To summarize, I am saying the SPGB can’t achieve its aim without a riper ethos, itself a product of evolving capitalism. In the spin-off of an ever-accelerating technology I see many signs which encourage me in the belief that, although at the rather advanced age of 61, I shall yet witness the triumph of Socialism.
F. C. West, 
London E.2.

Your letter has had to be shortened for space reasons, but its chief point is that we have to wait upon capitalism itself creating certain trends.

Unfortunately, your examples do not lead us anywhere. In the absence of Socialist understanding people who give up religious beliefs have, generally, only exchanged them for other fruitless ones. You are right in suggesting that capitalism needs religion less now; but it is not short of opiates. And if railings being taken down creates ideas of freedom, that is depressing news because of the number of railings being put up now in the streets and therefore (on that argument) conditioning people to more restraint.

There are simpler, more prosaic reasons why we can “get through to the working class” to only a small extent. In the forthcoming General Election Wilson, Heath, Thorpe and their party programmes will fill the television screens and the newspapers all day every day for three weeks non-stop; our “coverage” will be a flash on TV, if we are lucky, and a sentence or two in the papers.

But do you mean that at 61 (not an advanced age at all) you are waiting to see Socialism brought about? We have active members old enough to be your parents; we are not waiting for Socialism, but working for it. Why don’t you ?

50 Years Ago: The Futile League of Nations (1974)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Garvin’s own summary may do him less than justice, but apparently there are but two things to be done to avert the threatened holocaust. First revise the Peace Treaties by peaceful means, and next enlarge the League of Nations by the inclusion of Germany and Russia, followed later by America. Is it possible that a man of education, and some width of outlook can fob his readers off with that stuff? Does he really believe it himself? Unfortunately there is no reason for doubting it. Mr. Garvin and those of his school look upon the present system of society as final, and for all useful purposes, eternal. Modification there may be, but fundamental change—no. Just as slavery was justified and defended in former times, even by men of culture and feeling, so wage-slavery under capitalism is justified and apologised for by those who profit by it. This attitude may result from a lack of imagination, but more probably from a comfortable feeling that the working class is a special dispensation of Providence, designed to do the necessary work of the world, in order that a smaller aristocratic class may cultivate the finer side of life.

With this view of human society it is not to be wondered at that the re-drawing of frontiers appears to them as epochal; that the stage-play of international leagues assumes a solemn profundity. When the working class realises its true position, it will view an arbitrary line drawn across a country as of equal validity with a chalk mark across the Atlantic. If Alsace were restored to Germany tomorrow, the Alsatian would still remain a peasant or a worker. If the Germans, Austrians, Poles, Rumanians, Czechs, Tyrolese, etc., were all re-shuffled tomorrow, the workers of those areas would still remain workers. Differences of comfort or amenity, custom and language there might be, but working men would remain working men, and that is the essence of the matter. The Irish workers are finding out that a difference in political bosses is not such a vital matter as they once thought. Where capitalism is, there is wage-slavery, and the colour of the flag that floats over the factory makes no real difference to the worker. The great nations of the world are capitalist nations. The League of Nations can be nought else but a league of capitalists. 

(From an article "The Great War and the Greater Wars that are Coming", by W. T. Hopley, in the Socialist Standard October 1924.)

Correction (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article Inflation in our September issue it was stated (p. 149, col. 1) that "the idea that increased spending increased production [is shown] to be true. if at all, only for a short period". In case this was taken as a complete generalization, which it is not, it refers in fact to the idea of increased spending resulting from inflation. Please note.

The General Election (1951)

From the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

After weeks of speculation and anticipation by newspaper political writers, Mr. Attlee announced the date for the general election, October 25th. It has been suggested that he might wait to make the announcement at the Labour Party Conference and thus stimulate some electioneering enthusiasm amongst the delegates, or that he might wail till after the Conservative Party Conference and so keep his political opponents guessing. All the time it was recognised that the Prime Minister would select a date for the election that would be as favourable to his party as possible.

One may well ask, “How can one date be more favourable than another?” There are many who give loyal and steadfast allegiance to one or the other of the main political parties and who can be relied upon to vote accordingly. There are many, many others who have no political tie-up and who will vote at the election according to the state of their liver, the personality of a candidate or the latest international scare. This is known as the floating vote and it is courted by all vote-catching parties.

To capture this floating vole strategy is employed. If through some action or some event, the stock of the political party that is in power rises and it is in favour with a large section of the community, then the time is favourable to invite re-election. Similarly, if for some reason the parties in opposition are temporarily in disgrace, the time is propitious to spring an election on them. If the opposing parties can be caught unawares or at a time when they are ill-prepared for an election campaign, so much the better for the Government party’s chances at the polls.

One thing is obvious from this, the whole business of an election, from the standpoint of the capitalist political parties, is a vote-catching affair. Policies are moulded to attract votes, candidates are selected with an eye on their vote-drawing abilities, and any manoeuvre that will entice or stampede working class voters to give support to one party or another, is considered legitimate.

In the past the Conservatives have scared votes away from the Labour Party by such devices as the “Zinovieff Letter incident” and the cry “They will take your savings.” At the last election the main tenor of the Labour Party’s campaign was a vague threat of the terrible things that the Conservatives would do if they were to get back into power. “Keep the Tories out," was the cry.

Working class votes can only be juggled around in this manner whilst the workers themselves are ignorant of the manner in which they can use the political machine to serve their own interests. Whilst they can see no alternative to capitalism they will allow their votes to be shunted backwards and forwards at each general election. Many will treat the election just as they treat the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, taking sides according to their fancy, and others, hoping to gain something from the process, will support the party that makes the fairest promises.

Whether Mr. Attlee, by his selection of a date for this general election, has rung the changes on the Conservatives, we are not aware. One thing is certain though, he has outmanoeuvred his own party critics, Mr. Bevan and his supporters. Mr. Bevan, who has claimed that the Labour Party would do well to be out of office for a while, will now have to pull his weight to make the election campaign a success, unless he is prepared to retire from the contest. He has been rocking the Labour Party boat for a month or so past, now he will have to take a turn at the oars. If the Labour Party is defeated at the polls, then Mr. Bevan’s eloquent criticism will be diverted from his own party and he will thunder his condemnations from the opposition benches—at the Conservatives. From all angles he will be brought to heel.

This general election will be a contest between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Nobody seriously considers a victory for smaller parties. The two giants have much in common. They are both parties of capitalism. They both adhere to the wages system, capital and property institutions. Faced with the problems born of capitalism, they work out a series of futile solutions and present them as a policy programme. In a world where masses of wealth are in the hands of a few, whilst the many have only just enough to live on, both parties are prompted to seek a remedy. They both claim to be in favour of some slight redistribution of property and oppose one another bitterly over their respective schemes. But see them join hands and bare their teeth when socialists suggest that it is not this slight redistribution of property that is required, but common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

The Conservative proposal is for what is termed a “Property owning democracy." This boils down to a vague plan for helping more workers to buy their own houses. The implications are wider.
“A true property-owning democracy must be based upon the wide distribution of private property not upon its absorption into the State machine.” ("This is the Road” p. 14, Conservative Party, 1950.)
The Conservatives think that if everybody owns a little private property, if everyone has a stake in the property institution, then it is more likely that nearly everyone will continue to support a system based upon property ownership. Those who own the millions will feel that their system is safe if those who own the ha’pennies and pennies can be kidded that they are property owners too, and have a stake in the system.

The Labour Party would preserve the system of property by different means. Property would to some extent be taken out of the hands of private individuals and placed under the control of the State. The main difference being that the State manipulates the property on behalf of the private owners. The idea that this makes for a more equitable distribution of property arises from the mistaken notion that the State is an institution which represents society as a whole, whereas, in fact, it is an institution that has grown out of property society to serve the interests of the property owners and to maintain “law and order” in a society of class antagonisms. All property that is taken out of the hands of private capitalists and vested in the State is really placed in the hands of the capitalist class as a whole.

Even the Liberal Party, or what is left of it, although nobody is likely to take it seriously, has its solution to the “property problem.” Co-partnership in industry is the plan. Every worker has his little tiny bit of property and. of course, becomes a staunch defender of the private property system to the delight of those who own enough property to make it worth owning.

None of these schemes solves the workers’ problems. The process of development in capitalist society is for property to concentrate into fewer hands. Any crumbs that may be thrown to the workers will be to save them from getting so hungry that they threaten to take over the feast for themselves, and to encourage them to produce more of the good things for their masters.

The process of bringing certain industries under State control is not an original Labour Party idea. Governments composed of Conservatives, Liberals and Communists have instituted State control. Certain industries are essential to the operation of all others. All industries must use transport, must have coal, gas or electricity, need telephone and telegraph systems and a postal system. To have varying rates of charges in any one of these basic industries and to have the wastefulness and chaos of capitalists' competition in them, is detrimental to all other industry. Centralised State control can eliminate most of the troubles. Conservatives will use it as well as Labourites, just as the Labour Party will adopt the Conservative “property-owning democracy” idea, under a different name, if it is considered a good vote catching stunt.

Now, as in 1950, you are asked to vote for one or the other of these parties. The details of their respective programmes differ but little from the programmes that they presented two years ago, and they differ but little from each other. The question of property is fundamental to all their other proposals and promises. Only those with no property are bothered by the housing shortage. Only those with no means of living except by finding employment are worried about unemployment. Only the wives of the propertyless are harassed by rapidly rising prices. Those with property do not fret over health services, sick pay and pensions. The problems of capitalist society are the worries of the propertyless workers. War, that outstanding problem of this century, arises directly from the property basis of present society. Wars are the result of the continuous struggle between groups of capitalists in their endeavours to accumulate more and more property.

At this election time the workers have nothing to gain by supporting either of the two main parties. They should oppose them both. All the items that fill the pages of their election pamphlets, housing, high prices, industrial disputes, food shortages, pensions, armaments, health service cuts, foreign policies, etc., all these have a common solution—the ending of the system that gives rise to them. Socialism is the only political creed worthy of working-class interest.

Property means ownership. Individuals, companies, cartels, trusts and-states own the means of producing the needs and comforts of life and dispose of these means to suit their own interests. They make them into capital, they invest them with a view to making profit and in the profit-making process the workers go to the wall, are kept poor and are called upon every so often to sacrifice life or limb in a war to make the property of one group of capitalists safe from the grasp of its rivals. Election time is the opportunity for the workers to show that they have had enough of their propertyless status and that they are determined to take the property away from its present owners, the capitalist class, and to transfer it to society as a whole.

With the means of production in the hands of society it can be used to produce the necessities, comforts and luxuries of life for all to enjoy, not for a privileged few. Wealth can then be produced for use and not for profit. That will put an end to all the pettyfogging vote-catching schemes of political parties because the problems they promise to cure will no longer exist. There will be no poverty, hence no housing problem, no unemployment, no overwork, no prices, high or low, no strikes. There will be people working to produce things and having the use of them when produced. There will be no wars as there will be no private property to fight over.

To the workers at this election we say. Do not be bamboozled into voting for the Conservatives because you think that with a Conservative Government the Labour Party will be more militant and that Trade Union officials will work better on your behalf. Do not be tricked into voting for the Labour Party because you think that it will be the lesser of two evils. Both parties support Capitalism and that is the evil. Do not think that Socialism is unattainable at present and so you are bound to vote for one of these capitalist parties. Socialism is only unattainable whilst you think that way. Pay attention to the Socialist Party of Great Britain which does not ask for your vote but for your understanding.

Capitalism will last just as long as you support it. The sooner you manifest your opposition to it the sooner will it be abolished.

We cannot hope to tell you enough about Socialism in this limited space but we will do everything in our power to help you to an understanding of your position in capitalist society and how to achieve a new society in which you can lead a secure and pleasurable life.

Capitalist politicians of all shades have been telling you for generations how their “practical” policies will solve your problems. You know whether they are solved or not. They will go on soliciting your votes at election after election with further “practical” policies. They will make you think that you are a most important person for a week or two before election day and promptly move the troops in on your job the day after if you strike for a little “practical” increase in your pay. That goes for Labour and Conservative, not to mention Liberal and Communist. The fact is that their policies are most unpractical as far as solving your problems js concerned. Time has shown that. The only practical solution is in the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. To that end we say, Do not vote for capitalist parties on October 25th but work with us for the overthrow of this system and the building of a new one that will be in keeping with our interest. As there is no socialist candidate in the field, abstain from voting. If you fear that your voting paper may be mis-used or if you want to give some expression to your zeal for Socialism, go to the poll and write “ Socialism ” across your ballot paper. It will at least indicate to our opponents that there is a rising tide of revolutionary feeling which will in time sweep away their rotten system with all its parasites and hangers-on. What have you to lose? Go to it.
W. Waters.