Sunday, October 29, 2023

[Publications] Received. (1906)

From the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

La Vanguardia, Buenos Aires. The Gaelic American, New York. Weekly People, New York. Labor St Louis, Mo. The Hikari (The Light), Tokyo.

"The Social Revolution," by Karl Kautsky. (1906)

Advert from the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Social Revolution," by Karl Kautsky, author of "The Extinction of Petty Enterprise", will be sent post free to any address for 6½d. Orders should be addressed, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1a, Caledonian Road, London, N.

Our Sentiments Also. (1906)

From the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard
We never compromise the truth to make a friend, nor withhold a blow at error lest we make an enemy. In firm assurance of final victory, we pursue our course, unswerved by weak desire for temporary advantage. We are ever straightforward and outspoken, believing that in fearless independence of action, our integrity of purpose will, in the end, win the respect and confidence of those whom we aim to weld into a class-conscious, aggressive body. Our propaganda is not alone to educate, but also to organise the workers for the conquest of public power, for the complete overthrow of capitalism. Until that mission is accomplished we will stand like a rock, alert and watchful, yielding to nothing.Sanial.

Battersea. (1906)

Party News from the March 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Battersea will hold a Social at Sydney Hall to-morrow (Sunday) evening, at which all comrades and friends will be welcomed. On Sunday the 11th, an open discussion will take place on the contents of this issue of the Socialist Standard: on the 18th they will hold a Commune Celebration; and on the 24th H. J. Neumann will deliver a lecture on "The 2nd and 3rd Books of Karl Marx."

Voice From The Back: Yesterday’s enemy (2003)

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

Yesterday’s enemy

At the end of the second world war there was a scramble between the so-called “allies” to capture as many German rocket and atomic scientists as possible. The US eagerly sought information from Japanese medical teams who had carried out horrific experiments on captured Chinese children. The British government armed Japanese soldiers to protect British colonies from the threat of nationalists. War crimes were overlooked in the “national interest”. A similar situation is developing in Iraq. “While not confirming it, Mr Bremer (the US-appointed administrator in Iraq), failed to deny a report in the Washington Post that the United States was recruiting members of Saddam’s once-dreaded Mukhabarat, the former foreign intelligence service, to provide information on terrorist infiltration from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia”, Times (25 August). Murderers and torturers are eagerly recruited by the “alliance”. Surely there is something amiss here. Wasn’t the war supposed to be a heroic battle to rid Iraq of such villains?

Dying for profit

The whole purpose of production inside capitalism is to make a profit. This holds good whether it is landmines or medicine. As a recent report shows, if profit is poor then production will stop. “Specialists in tuberculosis treatment from Gartnavel General Hospital, Glasgow, expressed dismay at Merck, Sharp & Dohme pharmaceutical company’s decision to withdraw a key drug, Zinamide, despite figures showing rates of TB in black African children in England and Wales doubled between 1988 and 1993 and again between 1993 and 1998”, Times (25 August) So kids are suffering and in some cases dying because the directors of a profit driven company decided to stop production. Heartless bastards or shrewd business people? You decide. Perhaps both?

A mad, mad world

Devinder Sharma chairman of the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security has come up with some startling statistics that illustrate the nuttiness of the market system. “The richest man in the United Kingdom, the Duke of Westminster, who owns about 55,000 hectares of farm estates, receives an average subsidy of 300,000 pounds sterling as direct payments, and in addition gets 350,000 pounds a year for the 1,200 dairy cows he owns . . . It has now been worked out that the EU provides a daily subsidy of US $2.7 per cow, and Japan provides three times more at US $8, whereas half of India’s 1,000 million people live on less than $2 a day”, (2 September A society that values the welfare of a cow higher than that of a human being? Truly, capitalism is a mad house.

Flying high

You may have been alarmed at recent reports of airline passengers dying of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) caused by what they call “economy class syndrome” (ECS). No need to panic, help is at hand. You can be sure of plenty of leg room in the luxuriously transformed Boeing BBJ2 737 which is available for private charter for small parties “Range of 5,400 miles or 11 hours non-stop flight. Connolly leather, as used in the interior of Aston Martin cars, walnut tables and trim. Bathroom with shower, separate WC, twill cotton bathrobes and towels. Swivelling chairs, sleeping accommodation for 14. Full service catering, complimentary champagne and caviar”, Times, Business (13 September). One small snag though. It costs £8,500 per hour. So instead of the modified BBJ2 you might have to suffer ECS and risk DVT.


While half of India’s 1,000 million may be ”living” on less than $2 a day, one US billionaire is still coining it in. “Bill Gates yesterday became eligible for a $186 million (£116 million) dividend payout, adding to his estimated $32.5 billion fortune from his stake in Microsoft. Gates would earn $2.58 million a year in interest payments if he deposited the dividend in an instant access saving account at Wells Fargo bank. That is the equivalent of $7,000 a day, or $292 an hour, or $4.86 a minute”, Times (13 September). $7,000 a day instead of $2 a day! Who could defend such a system?

Capitalism, war and atrocity (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The various enquiries into the events leading up to the Iraq war keep showing up more of the dubious ways the government tried to get voters’ support for a war which was launched in defiance of their own international law and the United Nations. But however much Blair’s back is to the wall, he can (and does) always make the excuse that even if the actions of Britain and America are not justified in any other way, the regime of Saddam Hussein was so terrible that no one can be sorry that Bush and Blair sent their armies in and threw him out. Almost all wars can be justified by pointing out how bad the other side is. All capitalist governments do unpleasant things: that is the inescapable nature of capitalism. So whenever two capitalist powers go to war, each can make a strong case against the other, by alleging how shocked they are about all the repulsive things the enemy has done.

When hostility ripens into open warfare, each side’s ruling class does even more terrible things to the other side, destroying its towns and slaughtering its people. This gives both belligerent countries even more propaganda points to make. Before long, each side is claiming that it only started fighting in the first place because (in some miraculous way) it could see what barbarous actions its enemies were going to be guilty of in the war. In other words, the propaganda of each hostile country claims that it only went to war because of the atrocities committed during the war on the other side.

The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. It is not the atrocities which lead to war; it is the war which leads to the atrocities. What happens, over and over again, is that a government, reacting to the pressures inseparable from capitalist (and other private-property) societies, treats some of its citizens very badly. Then the government gets into a war against other states; only to realize that its previous ill-treatment of this or that minority has simply provided a ready-made fifth column for the enemy. In other words, if the enemy should make a successful attack on the home territory, there are many citizens of the home country who would almost certainly prefer the enemy to win, and therefore might well engage in sabotage or guerrilla attacks on the home forces. If the war begins to go badly, the government and its supporters become terrified that they will lose and will therefore be killed (either by the enemy or by knives in the back) or at least driven into poverty and exile: terrified of such an impending fate, they turn on those whom they have previously ill-treated, and murder them.

Armenian massacres
The massacre of the Armenians, in Turkey in 1915, came about in this way. The Armenians lived in eastern Anatolia, close to the Turkish centre of the Ottoman Empire, and often showed rebellious tendencies. There were demands for independence. In addition the Turks were Muslims, and the Armenians Christians, which gave an excuse for more villainy: nothing is so bad that religion will not make it worse. The Turks treated the “disloyal” Armenians very badly, to the extent of killing many thousands of them in the 1890s. Then in 1914 the first World War broke out, and Turkey joined in on the side of Germany.

The Russians advanced into eastern Anatolia, and were helped by many Armenians, wanting revenge against the Turks; and on top of that, numbers of British and Australian troops invaded Gallipoli, in north-western Turkey, in April 1915 (after a naval attack in February). With the country being invaded, the Armenians were obviously a danger to the Turkish authorities, and action was taken to nullify that danger. Many of the Armenian men were massacred, and the women and children were sent on forced marches to the deserts of what are now Syria and Iraq, robbed, raped, harassed and injured continuously, and most of them died. Estimates of the number who perished vary; the Armenians say 1,500,000 or more, the Turks say “only” 600,000. Many accounts of the massacre treat it in isolation, as if it was merely the result of Turkish (and Muslim) wickedness; in fact it started almost on the exact day in April 1915 that the Allies landed at Gallipoli. Presumably this separation of the two events is to maintain the fiction that the war was because of the atrocity, rather than that the atrocity was because of the war.

Second World War
Another horror of the same kind was what is now called the Holocaust. The Germans were treated very badly after the first World War. For many years they were execrated as pariahs who were solely responsible for the war; a continuing blockade caused much suffering, and the demand for “reparations” caused runaway inflation, so people who had worked hard for years to make small savings saw them reduced to nothing. The Nazi party gained popularity by offering someone else to blame: the Jews, who were in a minority in many countries, not having their own state, and who therefore were ideal scapegoats. Hitler was in power from 1933, and began the regular and open ill-treatment of the Jews; in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws made the German Jews second-class citizens, e.g. closing the professions to them.

Anti-semitism was not particularly frowned on in Britain at the time, and two years after the infamous Nuremberg Laws, in 1937, Churchill said that “he hoped Great Britain would have a man like Hitler in times of peril” (quoted in the Times obituary of Leni Riefenstahl, 11 September) . Besides that, Poland at the same time, under the anti-semitic regime of the dictator Pilsudski and his successor Smigly-Rydz, treated the Jews even worse (and even joined in Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938); yet Britain actually declared war in 1939 in order (it claimed) to defend this totalitarian anti-semitic state. For some time Germany seemed to be winning the war, conquering much of Poland in 1939, then Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Greece and Yugoslavia in 1941; but in June 1941 Hitler invaded Russia, and after early successes, his armies became bogged down, at the same time as America entered the war in December 1941. It became clear that Germany was in for a long and potentially disastrous struggle against many powerful enemies, in which large numbers of Jews, not only in Germany but also in the conquered countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, would not surprisingly be hoping for a German defeat.

The next step could have been forecast: the Wannsee Conference (in Berlin) of leading Nazis, in January 1942, decided on the “Final Solution” – the murder of the entire Jewish people. Probably six million Jews perished, as well as the same number of other people whom the Nazis claimed to think were inferior. This monstrous crime, carried out in the years 1942-5, is now often given as the reason for Britain’s declaration of war in September 1939. In fact it was the other way round; the conflicting interests, arising inevitably out of capitalism, of a number of European and world powers, led to the war: and the war led to the atrocity.

The third case of this kind is of course Iraq. The various conflicts in which Iraq has been involved recently, arising from the inexorable conditions of capitalism, such as the desire of each particular country’s ruling class to make the most profits from oil, and its efforts to extend the territory over which it rules, have lasted for no less than twenty of the last twenty-three years. The war against Iran raged from 1980 to 1988. Then Saddam Hussein’s attempt to conquer Kuwait in 1991 led to the first Gulf War, which ended with the first President Bush leaving Saddam in power, for fear that his overthrow would lead to a much greater role in the Middle East for Iran, which the US regarded as a greater threat than Iraq. But the war and the deaths resumed in a slightly different form, by means of continuous air patrols over Iraq territory and by economic sanctions, which UNICEF thought had brought about the deaths of nearly half a million Iraqi children under five.

All these hostilities, including this second Gulf War of 1991 to 2003, however much they might be blamed on the then Iraqi leadership, resulted in those leaders having the same mindset which has been discussed above: the fear of disaster for their regime, and death for themselves. This frame of mind leads automatically to atrocious behaviour from rulers, and Saddam Hussein has been no exception: jailing opponents, a ubiquitous secret police, the torture and murder of suspects.

Saddam Hussein has been just as bad as many other rulers across the world (including many with whom Britain and America are allied). But for Blair now to claim that he went to war because of this behaviour is putting the cart before the horse with a vengeance. The horrendous regime of Saddam Hussein was a by-product of the two Gulf Wars of 1991-2003, not the other way round. If you want to have done with barbarous dictators like Saddam Hussein, it’s a waste of time to go to war: others will spring up everywhere. Get rid of capitalism, the fertile soil which produces endless numbers of dictators and atrocities.
Alwyn Edgar

Greasy Pole: Sexing it up (2003)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sexing it up
If it should turn out that Andrew Gilligan gets the sack from the BBC as a result of the Hutton Inquiry he need not be unduly worried about spending the rest of his life on the dole being harassed by Job Centre clerks into taking jobs like packing airline meals or cleaning offices at about five pounds an hour without any relief from a generous expense account. For he is given credit as the originator of the phrase “sexing up” and that alone should ensure he had no problem in finding a job with an advertising agency. “Sexing up” has gone down into history now, to take its place in the dictionaries of the future. Gruesome, punchy – and a bit thrilling – it exactly expressed the embellishment of the propaganda material being used by the Blair government to justify attacking Iraq. As a phrase it is a lot more effective and expressive than “over-egging” – the other one used at the Hutton enquiry. So well done Andrew; let us hope you will never have to use such an extravagant talent writing similar slogans to help sell cornflakes or washing powder or whatever.

But why did we have to wait so long for some creative genius to come up with the phrase? Sexing up is a long established, long discredited technique in the places where there is a need to excite us at the same time as we are deceived. And there are many, many examples of it being used. Take the case of the Bountiful Age of Nuclear Power. At the time when the world was still getting its breath back after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki there was encouragement to divert from the inevitable doubts and fear for the future by concentrating instead on the promised benefits of nuclear power. The motive was to replace the images of devastated cities and radiated people with those of modern, sanitary, fertile power stations. There was a need for some sexing up, to encourage the consolation that Britain had not been bled out of the top ranks of world capitalism by the war but was a vibrant, progressive power in the world.

Calder Hall
The first subject of this was the atomic power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria, which opened in 1956. It cost thirty five million pounds – at 1950s’ prices – to build and there had to be some justification for such a staggering amount of money. The first effort at sexing up came with the assurance that far from being a backwater Britain was entering the “new atomic age”. Then there was the claim that Calder Hall would produce electricity “too cheap to meter”. That was the time when the domestic appliance market was beginning to stir into life and manufacturers like Hoover would have found comfort in the prospect of workers being beguiled by the notion that if they bought a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine they could run it for next to nothing. But behind the sexing up there was a less entrancing reality for Calder Hall used most of the electricity it produced itself, with only about a quarter of it going out to the national grid. And far from the electricity being almost free, the new atomic station turned out to be the most expensive way of producing it. The real reason for building Calder Hall was to produce plutonium for weapons – for the Hiroshimas of the future. A fact which was rather more difficult to sex up.

But none of this was allowed to intrude on the hysteria about the supposed benefits of nuclear energy. By contemporary standards Calder Hall was primitive; newer developments were the Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor (a British design) and the Pressurised Water Reactor (an American design). By the time of the election of the 1964 Labour government under Harold Wilson there was no more talk about nuclear energy being cheaper than what was produced in conventional power stations. But Wilson had won an election on a promise that his government would swamp everyone with plenty in a new technological age – “moving forward in partnership and unity to a just society, to a dynamic, expanding, confident and above all, purposive Britain”. The government could hardly refuse to choose the British technology – the AGR. The Minister of Power Fred Lee was euphoric. By building the AGRs, he assured us, we had “really hit the jackpot”; it was “the greatest breakthrough of all time” and he would back his judgment by ordering a 60 percent increase in them. But after the sexing up came reality. The first AGR station, set down on the bleak cobbles of Dungeness, cost twice as much to build as the original promise and it was 20 years before it generated any power for the national grid.

At about the same time as Calder Hall began to grind into action a new Prime Minister was beginning to enjoy the sensation of having led his party into a historic election victory. Anthony Eden was an ideal English aristocrat – handsome, elegant, Old Etonian – not at all the type to be expected to get into anything as dishonourable as sexing up. Unhappily for him, however, Eden nurtured a few resentments about the decline of British capitalism as a world power, particularly in the Middle East. Eden was not your strong, silent type of English gentleman; an operation on him to remove gall stones had gone wrong, leaving him living on drugs and consequently inclined to be irascibly, blindly stubborn.

There was a new government too in Egypt, headed by ex-army officer Abdel Nasser who was sexed up by his supporters as “. . . a strong man . . . a practising Moslem and a proud nationalist”. This was not good news for British interests in the region, especially those centered on the Suez Canal, which carried 25 percent of all their exports and half the oil produced in the Middle East. In July 1956 the Egyptian government nationalised the Canal, declaring that the revenue from this would go towards financing the building of the Aswan Dam. After a certain amount of diplomatic skirmishing, which included a secret agreement to collude in an Israeli attack on Egypt so as to give them the excuse to intervene, the British and French governments sent their forces into Egypt.

This was not an enterprise which commanded unanimous support, which meant that the case for it needed to be pushed with the customary disregard for the truth. First, there was Nasser himself, who had to be sexed up as a kind of Saddam Hussain of his day. Eden set his thoughts out to President Eisenhower:
“I have never thought of Nasser as a Hitler but the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost us before he was finally dealt with. Our people are grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time, because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy.”
And a few days later he was on television, trying to scare the viewers by sexing up the style of the regime in Egypt:
“The pattern is familiar to many of us, my friends. We all know this is how fascist governments behave, as we all remember, only too well, what the cost can be in giving in to fascism.”
It did not take long for the whole tawdry episode to be brought to an end, for Washington to force the British and French to withdraw, for the agreement between Britain, France and Israel to be exposed, for Eden to collapse under the strain so that he abruptly resigned and took himself off to the West Indies to recover. Sexing it up had not worked.

That was all a long time ago and the conspirators, the big players and the people who sexed it up to frighten or cajole or deceive us are an embarrassing memory. After them, the social system lives on, relentlessly adding to its history of human disasters, of which Iraq is only the latest. And still there are the feeble, transparent attempts through conspiracy, spin or sexing up, to conceal reality.

English Nursery Rhyme (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own,
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.

                                                 – circa 1764

Blogger's Note:
A fuller version of the poem can be viewed here

Obituary: Julius Merry (2003)

Obituary from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have report the death at the end of August of our comrade Julius Merry at the age of 80. The son of immigrants from Tsarist Russia and brought up in the East End of London, he joined the party in 1941 after listening, as a young medical student, to Party speakers in Hyde Park. Medical students were exempt from conscription until they qualified, so it was not until after the war that he was called up and became a conscientious objector to the process of being trained to fight and kill fellow workers from other parts of the world. At first this resulted in some difficulty for him in finding a job, but he eventually rose to the top of his profession as Professor of Psychiatry at St Thomas's Hospital in London and at the University of Surrey. He was one of the pioneers of group therapy in Britain and also argued for the legalisation rather than the prohibition of drugs.

Being an eminent professor did not alter his socialist views, and he continued to engage in the unprofessorial activity of handing out leaflets at meetings and leaving back copies of the Socialist Standard on trains or sending them to all his friends and acquaintances. Among these was the anglophile multi-millionaire Sir Paul Getty whose entry in the book of famous last words could apparently read "Julius, do please come and visit me again - just don't bring me another Socialist Standard". One of comrade Merry's last wishes was that copies of the Standard should be handed out to all those who attended his non-religious funeral, a wish which was respected.

Our sincere condolences go to his family.

Blogger's Note:
An obituary for Comrade Merry also appeared in the March 2004 issue of the Psychiatric Bulletin, which goes into greater detail about his life.

The Truth about Globalisation? (2003)

Book Review from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Open World: the Truth about Globalisation. By Philippe Legrain. (Abacus £7.99.)

This book has been touted as the definitive response to the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement and writers such as George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (author of No Logo). Essentially, Legrain argues that globalisation is A Good Thing, delivering jobs and a better standard of living to poor countries and cheaper goods to the developed world. Coupled with free trade, and appropriate government action to prevent any unwanted side effects, it can benefit everyone.

Legrain begins by arguing that globalisation has not proceeded as far as many people may feel. For instance, three-quarters of the goods in British shops are made in the UK, and most people work for British companies; in the US, the corresponding figures are around 90 percent in both cases. He also has a genuinely useful chapter on the history of globalisation, suggesting that it was already well under way when the Industrial Revolution started.

But he then goes on to claim that workers in poor countries benefit from globalisation. In Vietnam, for instance, foreign-run factories pay around double the average local wage, and technology and management skills are transferred inwards. Yet sometimes he is astonishingly naive: he visits a Nike contract factory there, and describes it as “bright, airy, clean and safe”, but says nothing about the many other reports of low wages and appalling working conditions in sweatshops. He justifies the vast difference between what the workers earn per shoe ($2) and what the shoes sell for ($72) by noting all the other costs and the need for Nike to make a profit. In fact, this is his general argument: though he hardly uses the word “capitalism”, he is really defending globalisation as part of capitalism, and on the same grounds that capitalist supporters defend the profit system.

Nor, he claims, do brands really rule the world, as Naomi Klein implies. Rather, consumers hold the whip hand, as the brands have to cater to their whims. We still have a choice: if we don’t like Nike, we can buy Adidas (some choice!). Klein is described as virtually fascist for suggesting that ordinary people are manipulated into buying things they don’t really want, while she of course is intelligent enough to see through it all. It is true that people cannot be manipulated in any simplistic way, but they can certainly be influenced, which is why the global brands spend millions on advertising. Legrain also blithely ignores advertising to children, who are clearly far more manipulable than adults.

Equally, companies are supposedly not all-powerful, being at the beck and call of those who buy their products and call the shots. Some of Legrain’s arguments here are just plain silly. For instance, he states that Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation programme was introduced because she thought it made economic sense, “not because she was taking handouts from big business”. But capitalist politicians do what seems to be good for capitalism, and to suggest that such actions would only be taken if they were corrupt is missing the point completely.

Basically, Legrain’s book is a hymn to capitalism and to profit-making. If you think that capitalism is basically a nice, friendly system—though it may need a bit of adjustment from time to time—then it may well be logical to support its globalising aspect. After all, it means more customers, more profits. But the anti-capitalist or anti-globalisation movement, for all its confusions, is a sign that increasing numbers of people are rejecting the idea that profit is good for everyone and that a small number of parasites should control the Earth’s resources. Open World may make the capitalists and their supporters happy about what their system is doing to the world, but in truth it is no more convincing than any other attempt to defend the profit system.
Paul Bennett

Clarification (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article “Animals for Profit” (August) we stated that the International Fund for Animal Welfare had made a donation of £1 million to the Labour Party. The IFAW have asked us to make clear that this donation was made not by them but by the Political Animal Lobby. In their email they explain the position as follows:
In 1997, our Chief Executive Officer, Mr Brian Davies, decided to leave IFAW to set up an alternative animal welfare organisation called the Political Animal Lobby (PAL). As a consequence Mr Fred O’Regan became the IFAW Chief Executive Officer.

In 1997 PAL made a donation of £1 million to the Labour Party, as well as to other political parties, and unfortunately this was reported in the Press as being a donation from IFAW.

We would like to take this opportunity to stress that IFAW and PAL are two separate organisations and therefore one does not have any influence or connection with the other.

As a matter of policy, IFAW UK does not donate to any political party. 
Nickie Mann (IFAW).

Letters: "We’ve got better things to do." (2003)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

"We’ve got better things to do."

Dear Editors

Regarding the recent dialogue (August Socialist Standard) between the journalist Will Hutton and “RD”, Hutton is clearly wrong to say that socialism has “palpable Christian roots”. Instead socialism and religious thought share (at a psychological level) similar roots – they are both responses to social conditions. Marx’s famous phrase, “the sigh of the oppressed creature” comes to mind.

However we should recognise that the desire for socialism arises not only from the immediate experience of living inside contemporary capitalism. Humans have over the centuries developed abstract ideas or models of justice, fairness and equality from their material experiences. These have been modified through different forms of society and culturally maintained through the years.

Sure, there is much more to socialism than vague ethical notions: socialists have a relatively specific view of society, social change and the alternative to capitalism. But does it really help our cause to go out of our way (as I feel SPGB members sometimes do) to try and deny any continuity – at any level – between our ideas and those of other traditions. We are the Socialist Party (and as such we are right to not permit membership to those with religious views), but we are not The Anti-Religion Party. We’ve got better things to do.

Attacking religion may not necessarily be a waste of time for socialists, but I am more concerned with the general mindset behind this. Of course it is easier to stay secure in a small, ideological (possibly psychological?) bunker. I think it would be healthier however if members more openly recognised that our ideas are sophisticated enough to still allow us to criticise religion at a political level, while at the same time not feel we need to continually begrudge common roots (even with traditions which are nowadays essentially conservative, like religion), without feeling we are somehow compromising our principles.
Brian Gardner, 
Edinburgh Branch

Pour milk down the sink?

Dear Editors

I write with regard to the suggestion in your August edition that Oxfam wants to pour milk down the sink, further to the publication in the Herald of a letter from myself.

The point I was trying to make was not that the EU should destroy excess agricultural produce, but that it should stop subsidising its farmers for overproduction? and therefore not produce excess agricultural produce in the first place! Through the Common Agricultural Policy the EU (and hence EU taxpayers) pay large subsidies (mainly to the richest farmers) for milk production. This results in overproduction and an excess of milk (amongst other produce) which would not arise if farmers were receiving the going market rate for their produce.

The resulting glut of milk results in very cheap exports from the EU to developing countries, undercutting the produce of local farmers and pushing them further into poverty. Three-quarters of those surviving on less than $1 a day live and work as small farmers. These farmers have to compete with the $1billion each day that rich countries spend protecting their own agriculture.

Oxfam don’t want milk poured down the sink, we want a system where the world’s poorest people are given the opportunity to help pull themselves out of poverty. Readers of the Socialist Standard can find out more about Oxfam’s campaigns for fair trade at
Angela O’Hagan, 
Campaigns and Communications Manager, 
Oxfam in Scotland, Glasgow.

It is not so much the reformist policies of politico-charities such as Oxfam that we criticise as the whole market system, under which people can only get access to the things they need if they have money and where most people can only get money by selling either their ability to work or the product of their work (the rest, a tiny minority, get it by owning property that yields them a non-work income in the form rent, interest or profit). Oxfam accepts this system and its logic which rules out giving away market surpluses to the needy as this only makes things worse, by undermining the market for the products in question even further. Hence their proposal, which we commented on in our January issue, to destroy “surplus” coffee. The obvious solution is to institute a system where production is geared to meeting people’s needs, not for sale on a market; that way, people’s needs would be met as a matter of right without needing to pay for them – and without organisations like Oxfam having to devise ways of trying to ensure a adequate monetary income for poor farmers in “developing countries” 

India (2003)

World Socialist Movement News from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

In April a 15-page circular emanating from the e-mail address of the World Socialist Party (India) was sent to various people including ourselves. It contained various allegations against the Socialist Party of Great Britain and other parties in the World Socialist Movement, all based on the conspiracy theory that, with the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s and the revolutionary possibilities this supposedly opened up, pro-capitalist elements had been infilitrated into the SPGB with the aim of diverting the working class, particularly in the non-European world, from learning about real socialism. The content and tone of the circular revealed that those who issued it did not have the same conception of internal party democracy as the other parties in the World Socialist Movement.

The SPGB Executive Committee sent a detailed and reasoned reply at the beginning of May, refuting the allegations and asking for them to be substantiated or withdrawn and for our reply to be put before the membership of the WSP (India). (For the full texts of the circular and our reply see, in particular, messages 2335 and 2441 at No reply was received, and those responsible for the circular indicated through third-parties that none would be forthcoming. In these circumstances, at its meeting in September, the EC concluded that the people using the name and address of the WSP (India) had put themselves outside the WSM and called upon socialists in India, Including in particular expelled members of the old WSP (India), to reorganise themselves on a sound, democratic basis.

Blogger's Note:
I don't have the date immediately to hand but the World Socialist Party of India eventually rejoined the World Socialist Movement.

Obituary: Cyril Oldfield (2003)

Obituary from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Manchester Branch were saddened recently to learn of the death of Comrade Cyril Oldfield at the age of 90.

Cyril Oldfield was living in Luton when he first joined the Socialist Party in 1942. He had previously been a member of the "Communist" Party but was expelled in 1938. According to his own account he toyed briefly with Trotskyism, but came across socialist ideas in 1939 through a member in the same workplace; he was a conscientious objector during the war. Unfortunately he had to leave the Party in 1952, when he went to live in Nigeria. But he remained a committed Socialist, spreading our ideas to fellow workers across Africa.

But then, after a gap of forty years, Cyril Oldfield contacted our Head Office again. He was now living in Horwich, and he re-joined at a meeting in Bolton in 1994. He was at first a member of Central Branch, but transferred a couple of years ago to Manchester Branch. During this period, he attended meetings in Bolton and Manchester. Prior to his death, he had begun to write again, and his review of William Blum's Rogue State appeared in the April Socialist Standard. The party was represented at his funeral and a member made a short contribution on Cyril's Socialist work, at his family's request.

We send our condolences to his wife and family. 
Manchester Branch

50 Years Ago: The Welsh Nationalist Party and the Workers (2003)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Welsh Nationalist Party claims to stand in the interest of the workers in Wales. It is not concerned with the fact that because of the international nature of Capitalism, workers are exploited everywhere and therefore the attack against exploitation must be on a broad front recognising no national barriers.

The W.N.P. naturally cannot possibly possess this world outlook being a parochial organisation not recognising exploitation as being synonymous with Capitalism.

Its members base their policy on the importance of the National State, demanding National Status for Wales arguing that with its achievement the workers’ troubles will end.

They conveniently forget (at least they never mention) that Wales was as much oppressed (i.e. the people) when she was governed by the Princes of Wales of “Welsh blood” as she has been ever since the statute of Ruddlian: that she has been oppressed in common with the workers of other parts of the British Isles from the inception of Capitalism is not so much history but a tale of yesterday and today. If the Nationalists get their way it will be the tale for tomorrow as well. [. . .]

From the point of view of the Welsh workers, the position would remain broadly the same – he would remain the vehicle creating surplus value. He could – if he has a mind to – stagger to the mine or steel mill in the grey dawn singing triumphantly the words of the Welsh National Anthem and consider himself as having achieved his emancipation. On the other hand he could get down to the fundamentals of Socialism and throw his exploiters out whether they scream Nationalism, Patriotism, or any other brand of moonshine – in Welsh or English.

The land of Wales could raise its voice in a mighty chorus which would reverbrate through the hills and valleys and beyond. “Workers of all lands, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to gain.”

This is the real message of freedom: these words spell freedom in any language.

(From article by W. Brain, Socialist Standard, October 1953)

The Extinction of Petty Enterprise. By Karl Kautsky (1906)

From the February 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Translated from the German by H.J. Neumann and revised by the Author.

1. Petty Enterprise and Private Ownership. 
Some think they are talking wisdom when they tell us ”There is nothing new under the Sun,” ”as it is to-day it has always been and will always remain.” Nothing is more erroneous and stupid than such assertions. The newer development of science shows us that there is nowhere a standing still, that in Society, as in Nature, continual development is perceptible. We know to-day that originally man lived animal-like by gathering whatever Nature offered him spontaneously. But he invented one weapon after another, one tool after another, each more perfect than the other. He became fisherman, hunter, cattle-raiser, finally settling down to agriculture and handicraft. Ever more rapid was the course of development until to-day, in the age of steam and electricity, it has become so rapid that we are able to follow it with our eyes without comparing it with past ages.

The manner in which men gain their livelihood, in which they produce those things necessary for their sustenance depends upon the character of their tools, their raw material—in one word, upon the means at their disposal for the production] of such things, upon their means of production. But men have never carried on production isolated from each other, but, on the contrary, always in larger or smaller communities, whose form for the time being depends upon the then prevailing mode of production.

From the development of production consequently follows the social development. The form of society and the relations of its members to each other are, however, closely connected with the forms of property recognised and maintained. Hand in hand with the development of production proceeds also the development of property. An example, one relating to peasant farming, will make this clear. A complete peasant farm comprises two branches of production, cattle-breeding and agriculture. Until the eighteenth century there prevailed with us universally and prevails frequently to-day, pasture farming. This necessitates, however, the common ownership of the soil. It would be folly were each peasant to have his separate piece of grazing-land, to fence it in, to keep a shepherd of his own, and so on. Consequently the peasant clings, where pasture farming is in vogue, with the greatest tenacity to the common pasture and the common shepherd.

It is different in agriculture, if the same is carried on with the simple implements of the peasant farm, without machines. Common cultivation of the agricultural land of the peasant community by all the members of the community is, under such circumstances, neither necessary nor conducive to successful production. The implements of peasant farming demand that a single individual by himself or together with a few others (in a group as represented by the peasant family) shall cultivate a small piece of land. This cultivation, however, will be carried on carefully and will yield greater results the more freedom of control the cultivator is able to exercise over his property, and the more fully he enjoys the results of cultivating and improving his farm. Agriculture in its beginning forces into existence petty industry and this necessitates the private ownership of the means of production if it is to be developed fully.

For instance, with the ancient Teutons the common ownership of the soil which prevailed so long as pasture-farming (and hunting) remained the principal means of gaining their sustenance, disappeared more and more and made way for private ownership of the soil, in the measure in which petty peasant agriculture came to the fore. The substitution of cattle-raising in stables for pasture-farming was the death-blow to the common ownership of land. Thus, under the influence of economic development, in consequence of the progress made in farming, the peasant has developed, from a communist to a fanatic in private ownership.

What applies to the petty peasant holds good with the handicraftsman. Handicraft requires no associated labour of a large number of workmen. Each handicraftsman toils either alone or together with one or two assistants, who belong to his family or his household. As in peasant farming, so also in handicraft, the single workman or workman’s family maintains a separate establishment and therefore handicraft, like petty peasant farming, necessitates private ownership of the means of production which it uses, and of the products which it creates, in order to fully developed its competency, its power of productivity. In petty industry this product of the workman depends upon his individuality, his skill, his industry, his perseverance. He consequently claims it for himself as his individual property. He is, however, unable to develop his individuality in the production if individually he is not free and does not freely control his means of production, that is to say, if these are not his private property. This has been realised by the Socialists and specifically expressed in their programme by the words “the private ownership of the means of production is the basis of petty industry.” But they hold at the same time that the economic development of bourgeois society leads of necessity to the extinction of petty industry. Let us follow up this development,

2. Commodities and Capital.
The starting points of bourgeois society were peasant farming and handicraft.

The peasant family originally satisfied all their requirements. They produced all the articles of food they needed, all tools, all garments, built their own house, etc. They produced as much as they required, but no more. Gradually, however, owing to the progress of Agriculture, they reached a stage when they produced a surplus of things, which they did not want for their immediate use. They were thus placed in a position to exchange this surplus for products which they themselves did not produce or not in sufficient quantities, products which they welcomed, as, for example, a weapon, a tool, or jewels. By the means of exchange these products became commodities, that is, products intended not for use or consumption within the establishment, in which they were produced, but for the purpose of exchange for products of another establishment. The wheat produced by the peasant for his own use was not a commodity; the wheat he sold, however, was. To sell means nothing else than to exchange a certain commodity for such a one as is welcome to everybody and in this way becomes money, for instance, gold.

As we have seen, the peasant became, in the course of economic development, a producer of commodities. The handicraftsman in his independent petty enterprise was from the first a producer of commodities. And it was not only a surplus of products that he sold, but with him production for sale was the primary feature.

But the exchange of commodities presupposed two conditions, firstly, that every single concern produced a different class of goods and that division of labour had entered Society, and secondly, that those who exchanged were free to dispose of their products, that the latter were their private property.

The more that, in the course of economic development, division of labour in various trades progressed, and private property increased in extent and significance, the more generally was production for own consumption superseded by production of commodities.

Division of labour finally resulted in buying and selling becoming a separate business, which was pursued exclusively by one class, the merchants. These derived their incomes from buying cheaply and selling dearly. This does not mean, however, that they were able to fix the price of commodities at their own discretion, for the price depends ultimately upon the exchange value. The value of a commodity is determined by the average amount of labour expended in its production. Its price scarcely ever coincides exactly with its value. The former is determined not only by the conditions of its production, as is its value, but also by the conditions of the market, primarily, by its supply and demand, in what quantity the commodity is placed on the market or is in demand. But the price is also subject to certain laws. It varies with different times and places. If then, the merchant wishes to obtain a margin between the buying and the selling prices of the commodity, as profit, he must, as a rule, buy his commodities when and where they are cheap and sell them when and where they are dear.

When the peasant or handicraftsman bought commodities he did so because he required them for himself or his family as means of production or subsistence. The merchant bought commodities, not for his own use, but to utilise them so that they might yield him a profit. Commodities and sums of money used for such a purpose are capital. It cannot always be said of a commodity or a sum of money that it is capital. Tobacco bought by a merchant for the purpose of being sold at a profit is to him capital. Tobacco bought for his own smoking is not capital.

The original form of capital was that of merchants’ capital. Nearly as old is the usurers’ capital, the profit of which consists of interest pocketed by the capitalist for commodities or sums of money lent.

Capital was produced at a certain stage in the production of commodities, of course upon the basis of private property, which, as we know, forms the basis of the entire production of commodities. But under the influence of capital private property assumed a new feature, in fact, an additional feature. Besides the petty bourgeois feature, which was in accord with the conditions of petty enterprise, it displayed also a capitalist ‘feature. The defenders of present private property point only to its’ petty bourgeois feature, and yet it would be blindness to overlook to-day the capitalist feature of private property.

At the stage of economic development with which we are now dealing, when capital was only merchants’ and usurers’ capital, there were but few features of that capitalist physiognomy visible, but these are worthy of remark.

The income of the peasant or petty handicraftsman under the reign of petty enterprise depended primarily upon his individuality and that of the other members of his family, upon his industry, skill, etc. On the other hand, the amount of the merchant’s profit depended upon the money he had for purchasing commodities and the commodities he possessed for sale. If one sells £10,000 worth of tobacco, one’s profit, other things being equal, will be 100 times larger than if one sells only £100 worth. The same applies to the usurer. Hence the income of the capitalist, as a capitalist, depends mainly upon the amount of capital he possesses.

The labour power and capacity of the individual are limited, as is also the amount of products a workman is able to create under certain circumstances. It cannot exceed to any degree a certain average. Money, however, can be accumulated to any amount, to that there is no measurable limit. The more money one has, the more accumulates when it is used as capital. Thus the possibility of acquiring immeasurable riches exists.

But private property produced yet another possibility. Private property in the means of production implies the lawful possibility for everybody to acquire such and also the possibility of losing it, that is to say, of losing the source of their existence, and thus sinking into abject poverty. Usurers’ capital already presupposes want. He who possesses what he requires will not borrow. By exploiting the helpless position of the necessitous, usurers’ capital becomes the means of precipitating want.

The acquisition of wealth in idleness, the immeasurable riches of some, the abject poverty of others, are features perceptible in the capitalist physiognomy of private property. But they were hidden as long as merchants’ and usurers’ capital were in the first stage of development. The worst feature—poverty—became apparent to but a small degree, the lack of property remaining the exception and not the condition of large numbers of the people.

There were other exploiters, besides the merchant and usurer, as for instance, the feudal lord in the middle ages with whom we cannot deal here without diverting too far from our subject. And all those exploiters, the merchant and usurer included, were dependent upon the existence and success of petty enterprise in town and country. The proverb, that if the peasant had money, everybody had money, still held good. Commerce did not destroy petty enterprise, but sometimes even extended it. The usurer whilst draining his debtor of his resources, had no interest in absolutely ruining him. Poverty—the loss of the means of production —did not appear as a regular social phenomenon, but as a particular misfortune caused by an exceptional calamity or exceptional incapacity. Poverty in such cases was regarded as a divine trial, or as the punishment for laziness, carelessness, and so on. This conception still prevails largely in petty bourgeois circles, though now dispossession has become an occurrence of an altogether different character to what it was formerly.

A Tory candidate on Socialism. (1906)

From the February 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Major Adams, late Tory candidate for Woolwich, has been at pains to explain his objections to Socialism to some of his electors. In the historical portion of his address he is reported to have said that the French Revolution was caused by the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau, and that its constructive “failure” was the failure of Socialism.

In point of fact the writings of these two individualists had little effect upon the revolutionary movement: their opinions, in common with the ideas dominating the French Revolution, were the outcome of their economic environment. The growth of commerce and industry in France rendered feudal restrictions increasingly unsuitable and unbearable, and Feudalism was abolished that “Freedom” should reign. The Revolution brought in the classic age of Laissez-Faire and devil take the hindmost; the tyranny of capitalism under the mask of freedom.

Free competition, not Socialism, was the objective of the French Revolution. To imply that such an inherently capitalist revolution was Socialist is a fine example of historical ignorance.

Next in the lecturer’s consideration of scientfic Socialism he fell foul of the theory of value. “Labour,” he said, “was to be measured by its scarcity or utility, not, as Marx said, by time.” Truly, the scarcity of labour would make a curious measure of it.

The Major, however, gave a concrete example of his meaning by saying that “if a man came across a diamond while mining, according to Marx the diamond would have no value because no labour had been expended upon it.” Presumably the man was mining for carrots, for if he was mining for diamonds some labour certainly was expended on the diamond.

The whole thing, however, is a travesty of the theory of value, for value does not depend upon the labour of one individual. Value is the amount of labour that is socially necessary to produce an article under the prevailing conditions of production. If one can produce a commodity in say two hours that it takes in general three hours to produce, its value will be three hours’ labour, nevertheless ; whilst if an article can usually be produced in two hours but a few men take four, two hours’ labour still represents the exchange-value of the article.

If a diamond exchanged according to its usefulness it would not be so highly prized as it is now. The search or mining, cutting, etc., of a diamond, call for the expenditure of a great deal of human labour, and this makes the diamond’s value. If diamonds, to take a classic illustration, could be made by mixing cheap chemicals in a glass of water, diamonds might be ten a penny.

A thing may have considerable use-value but yet have no exchange-value—air is a familiar example ; but the exchange-ratio or value of a given use-value is determined by the labour required to produce it. Price, of course, fluctuates around value according to supply and demand, but the labour cost of production mainly determines both supply and demand in the last resort.

Major Adams seems to have hardly a nodding acquaintance with his Marx, for he gave him as saying that laborious work should be paid most wages, whereas Maix contents himself with analysing and explaining the laws of wages. Neither does Marx speak only of manual labour, for there is no manual labour without some intellectual labour, and no intellectual labour without some degree of manual labour.

The different prices or wages of the various kinds of labour-power are mainly due, apart from historical standards of life, to the fact that they require differing amounts of labour to produce and perpetuate. Thus the more skilled worker required in the production of his power to labour, not only a more protracted period of training or education than his unskilled fellow, but also a higher grade of living to maintain his skill or fitness. The spread of machinery and automatic devices is, however, bringing labour nearer to one common level, sometimes, indeed, reversing the places on the labour market of “skilled” and “unskilled” labour power.

The Major’s objection to Socialism that it would be impossible to fix the different values of labour-power is, therefore, cut from under his feet in two ways; firstly, by the levelling influence of the systemization of industry, and secondly by the fact that under Socialism the category of wages is abolished. The remuneration of the workers ceases to be the cost of their subsistence and becomes the product of their labour. All having equal facilities of development and culture, the difference between the various workers becomes merely one of convenience, and though some occupations may, during the few hours that it may be necessary to toil, be less pleasant than others, the balance between the supply and demand of labour may be simply adjusted by shortening the hours of the least attractive, or lengthening those of the most sought after.

Our critic is concerned that the capitalist should obtain a reward for his “intellectual labour.” The intellectual labour of the modern capitalist would appear to be confined to a study of the Companies’ List and of the prices on ‘Change. The whole of the useful labour in his concern is being done by hired workers, from the manager to the shop boy.

“A comparison of the modern labourer with 100 years ago shows,” says Major Adams, “that the surplus value of labour did not altogether go into the pocket of the capitalist.” The fact of it being surplus value at all shows that it had already gone to the capitalist class. Further, according to an eminent statistician, the wealth of this country has increased eight times during the last century. Now with modern intensity of toil and insecurity of employment, will the Major assert that the working class has materially benefited by this increase ? The very increase in the wealth wrung from the workers enables the possessors to purchase wage-saving machinery that augments the poverty of the working class by depriving them of their livelihood.

“Under the Socialistic system,” we are told, “any accumulation of capital would be forbidden. There would be no pictures painted, no statues carved, no books written.”

Major Adams is either himself confused or tries to confuse his hearers ; for what is capital ? Capital is wealth used as a means of obtaining profit. With the abolition of the profit system, capital is abolished, but wealth remains; and the accumulation of social wealth for social use becomes the function of the community. Wealth, being no longer confined to a degenerate few, but being at the command of those who create it, the misery and degradation of the many which now prevents them appreciating and demanding the use and collective possession of fine pictures, statues, buildings and books, is abolished ; and art, instead of being the reflex of the unhealthy and irrational tastes of a few, becomes the beautiful expression of the healthy, vigorous, and well-balanced life of the people.

Socialism, we are also informed, will increase misery by removing the responsibility of parents for the bringing up of their offspring, thereby causing the population to unduly increase. The Major should have explained why it is that, in general, the easier it is for persons to bring up children ; the less forethought for children becomes necessary as we go from the poorest to the wealthiest in society—the smaller is the number of children to the family. Those upon whom, according to the Major’s theory, forethought is most strongly enjoined by the necessity and difficulty of bringing up their children, these, the poorest, have the largest families. Evidently the more wealth, health, and leisure are spread among the people, the more forethought and enlightenment should we find.

Our critic also stated that Socialism would destroy individual liberty and the rights of minorities, but the Major’s assertion is clearly comprehended in the light of the class struggle. Just as capitalist interests are opposed to those of the workers, so the capitalist idea of liberty is opposed to that of the working class. From Major Adams’ point of view Socialism does not mean individual liberty, because it would necessarily curtail the liberty of the capitalist to batten upon the misery of the many. When the capitalist professes such a tender regard for LIBERTY it is not usually because he is anxious about the freedom which the working class have not got, but rather about his own liberty to exploit and grow fat upon the toil and sweat of the people.

The tyranny under which the working class groans, the unending and hopeless drudgery that is their lot, these Socialism alone can end. It will abolish also, it is true, the liberty of the capitalist to grind the faces of the poor, but it will establish the basis of true freedom for mankind by abolishing class antagonisms and class tyranny, and uniting all in a bond of labour with common interests.

The hypocrisy of the assertion, from such a source, that Socialism would disregard the rights of minorities, becomes apparent when we reflect that an unscrupulous minority rule to-day by cunning and by force, and usurp to themselves all the good things of life created by the labour of the people. It is the cry of the capitalist brigands to the just power that is rising to end their crime.

Unity being found upon essentials by socialised production and distribution, government becomes, under Socialism, little more than the administration of things in the common weal. By the liberation of the mass of mankind from excessive toil and lack of leisure, each is enabled to develope to the full his individuality. Where all interests point one way coercion finds no place. Since at last the people rule, arid it is unprofitable to the vast majority to exploit a few, the best guarantee of liberty to each individual becomes the guaranteeing of the like liberty to every other individual.

The Major’s last objection is positively childish. In order to avoid work under Socialism, people would pretend to be sick and the hospitals “would very soon be full of idlers,” he said. This, too, in spite of the fact that by the more efficient organisation of industry by the elimination of the waste of competition and of the senseless luxury of “Society,” and by the utilisation of all capable of work in the community, the amount of toil would be enormously reduced, and its nature made pleasant and healthy. If there were a grain of truth in that objection to Socialism we should find to-day, with the tremendous provocation of exhausting toil and demoralising conditions, that not a single Sick Benefit Society could exist, because the greater part of its members would be malingering. That the very reverse of this is true even to-day shows the utter foolishness of such an objection to Socialism.

Indeed, the Major’s objections are so obviously feeble that, were they not so common, we must almost apologise for dealing with them. We know his real objection, it is that he is placed on the shoulders of toiling humanity and does not envy their lot. He finds it good to be alive in his place, and has no wish to change; for he might have to work. Besides, quoth he, a bird in the hand is better than a bird in the bush. The Major therefore makes it his duty in serving the class whose interests are his, to prove to the workers by Euclid and other means, that a bird in his hand is best for them.
F. C. Watts

Editorial: The parliamentary manoeuvres. (1906)

Editorial from the February 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The results of the elections call for little comment. With the assistance of a couple of most effective war-cries the Liberals have successfully played upon the credulity of ignorance and have been returned to power in rather greater numbers than was anticipated. The meaningless piffle of “Hands off the people’s food,” when so large a number have no food and the remainder barely sufficient to maintain their efficiency as profit-producing machines; the hypocritical indignation carefully simulated against Chinese Slavery in South Africa while the wage-slavery of old England passes unnoticed—these two, augmented by a few subsidiary cat-calls anent Education (having reference to the squabbles of rival religious bodies entirely), the Drink Traffic (treated not as a problem resulting from poverty but as the exact and absurd opposite), and the like, have inspired the working class to one more exhibition of well-nigh unmixed folly (a rather greater exhibition than usual), and have encompassed the overwhelming triumph of almost everything capable of standing on two legs and wearing a Liberal label. On the flood, a few dozen persons, mostly made up so as to resemble as nearly as possible the genuine Liberal article, have floated into political position, and will doubtless use their best endeavours to qualify for eulogy as men of “moderation of demeanour, decency of manner, free from swagger and assumption, and with respect for the audience they address in the House of Commons,” which, on the authority of Mr. John Morley, are the characteristics and qualities of the “Labour” representatives who, by the grace of capitalism and the stupidity of their working-class constituents, were able to affix “M.P.” to their names during the life-time of the last Tory administration.

The Liberals' blank cheque.
The Liberals have gone in absolutely programless and unpledged, and may be relied upon to abide by the conditions of their election. Certainly it will not be possible to fairly accuse them of violation of the solemn (!) undertakings of the hustings if, at the end of their tenure of office, they have no more than a small, clean sheet of working-class legislation (so-called) to show for their alleged labours. The working class, whether they were conscious of it or not, have, as a matter of sober fact, presented them with the blank cheque for which they appealed, and though it will doubtless occur that some of the “Labour” representatives, if they get the opportunity and can do so with becoming respect, will bring forward some of the reform propositions with which their election addresses were mildly besprinkled, and although the Liberal Party, being astute enough to understand when the moment may be considered opportune for a graceful concession, may be pleased to accept such measure (duly modified, of course) they may be relied upon, having the blank cheque, to spend it mainly in the maintenance of the status quo. And as the status quo means, on the showing of capitalist statisticians, abject poverty for at least a third of the entire working class population, and precious little more for the other two-thirds, and as the great bulk of the reform measures the most advanced candidate advocated when seeking election may find a place upon the statute book without appreciably disturbing the status quo, the wealth producers are unlikely to find, even in the most favourable circumstances, that their last state is better than their first was. Then perhaps they will in time-honoured fashion particularly if the Tory party have managed to find an attractive cry—return again the “Peace with Honour” gang, as distinguished from the “Peace, Retrenchment and Reform” crew. But that is on the knees of the gods. Meanwhile it will be our business to continue to combat by all the means at our disposal, the forces of stupidity and knavery which have operated to produce the confusion of working class thought manifested so unmistakably in the election results, confident in the knowledge that the pressure of economic circumstances must sooner or later, and sooner than many suppose, compel the consideration of the issue we alone of the political parties of England present, must effect the adoption of the attitude we alone take up.

The issue.
With characteristic honesty the principal organ of Nonconformity was at pains to delude a sufficiently deluded electorate into the belief that the issue of the elections was to be Social Reform versus Tariff Reform—Social reform being, as every perfect ignoramous in political history will be aware, a Liberal party speciality implying great happiness and prosperity for the working class ; Tariff Reform, spelling poverty and wretchedness for the working-class, being the sole objective of the Conservative Party. This issue the “Daily News” argued should impel every member of the working class to oust Toryism and all its apostles and instal Liberalism surely upon the Governmental benches.

Unfortunately for the “Daily News,” however, every student of political history knows that the Liberal Party’s record of reforms does not at all compare to the disadvantage of the Tory Party’s. Unfortunately too, the Liberal Party of to-day has no programme of Social Reform at all. The Pawky Bannerman in his much be-lauded pronouncement of policy at the Albert Hall, well maintained his reputation as the compleat shuffler (or if the term pleases better, political engineer) talking airily round a number of subjects without giving anything in the nature of a definite undertaking regarding any of them, preferring, statesman-like, to leave it to his enthusiastic followers in Press and on platform, to construe his remarks as they thought fit. Unfortunately still further, it would signify exactly nothing if the Liberal Party had a set programme of reform measures just as it signified nothing when the famous Newcastle programme was elaborated and upon which the Liberal Party last secured power. If anybody was in doubt before that election as to whether the programme was manufactured for the purpose of catching votes or not, the subsequent action of. the “Party of Progress” in deliberately breaking the promises they unquestionably had full power to redeem, must have entirely removed that doubt. And unfortunately once more, even if they had been honest enough to pass their reforms, the working class would not under the conditions then and now existing,—have benefited tuppence. All of these reforms have been passed in other capitalist countries without result and all of them will doubtless be passed, after many of the usual sham-fights between the two capitalist factions, in England.

Therefore, the “Daily News” in endeavouring to convey the impression (1) that the Liberal Party is the Party of reform. (2) That the Liberal Party’s programme is the programme that the “Daily News” in somewhat ambiguous terms set out. (3) That the Liberal Party’s alleged programme if carried would beneficially affect the working-class and that, therefore (4) the issue was Social Reform v. Tariff Reform was guilty of misrepresentation on all counts and flat lying on at least two of them. For the intelligent working-class the issue was and is poverty versus comfort, misery versus happiness, slavery versus freedom, Capitalism versus Socialism and the overthrow of the first and the realization of the second will involve the extinction of all political parties representative of capitalist interests including even the great Party of Progress, the Liberal Party itself.

Is the Materialist Conception of History sufficient? (1906)

From the February 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard
[The completion of a correspondence between two members of the S.P.G.B., the first portion of which appeared in the November issue.]
Dear Comrade.

I do not see why we should be concerned because your friend says it is utterly impossible to view Sociology as a picture, for if he means that, it is impossible to look at Sociology from an entirely detached point of view (that is, quite objectively), then I am not aware of its possibility having been maintained. But why is Sociology indicated in particular ? Why not Biology also ? If it is impossible in one case, it must be impossible in the other, or, indeed, in any branch of natural science. That the difficulties are greater in some cases than in others is obvious, but the difference is less than is usually supposed.

There is, however, this difference between Sociology and Biology : regarding the animals human interests are practically identical, hence there is comparative uniformity of human views respecting the animal world; but regarding society, with its parasites and workers ; class interests, (and consequently class views), are hopelessly in conflict. The modern social scientist must take his stand on the side of


if he is to be logical in his philosophy. In the domain of Sociology to pretend to face society in the interests of all its classes is idiotic, confusing, “ethical” and hypocritical, whilst logically it is an impossibility. To stand for the reconciliation of opposing class interests, except by the abolition of classes through the triumph of labour, is either to confusedly deliberate or to deliberately confuse.

If, then, it is impossible to really objectively view things which we can only know and judge by subjective means, must we therefore abandon all attempt to discount subjective interference and get as near to a detached view as our human limitations will permit? Obviously not, for the detached point of view remains the counsel of perfection, the ideal scientific viewpoint.

That few even attempt to attain to this, or that none can completely so view social, physical or biological phenomena, simply means that to err is human.

In getting at the truth of any matter the observer is hampered by his physical shortcomings, by the limited knowledge accumulated to his day, by his interests or by the phase of life most to the fore in his time. A few men rise to such a height in their perception of truth that their works are enduring and stand as landmarks of the different stages of human knowledge. Aristotle, Roger Bacon, Darwin, Spencer, Marx and Lewis Morgan, are some examples of this in the domain of science.

To know and discount personal disturbing influences, and to get a point of view as nearly detached as possible, must be the aim of every true scientist. What other plan has your friend to propose ? Does he propose that we should bury our heads in the sands of our narrowest environment because it is impossible to get a perfect view of the universe ? Or does he hold, as we hold, that


that while in Sociology (which, as I have said, is the most subjective of sciences) the difficulties of a scientific point of view are increased nevertheless, for a generalization to be even relatively true it, must be the result of, or in harmony with, an even and thorough view of each department of human knowledge at that epoch?

You say that the Socialist propaganda, which is necessary to the revolution, has little economic significance, and that the creation of a demand for Socialism is an intellectual rather than an economic process. We have here the shadow of our old friend—an uncaused effect: for if the intellectual process is not caused by the influence upon the individual of the conditions of existence, whence does it arise ? The fact that the Socialist propaganda (the demand for Socialism) arises in every country with the development of capitalism, is, in itself, a sufficient answer to our question. Further, to expect that Socialist propaganda can be the motive force changing economic conditions, is really to reject the materialist conception of history as explained by Marx in the extract I sent you.

Economic conditions (i.e., methods of wealth production and distribution) change gradually and independently of the will of man. They evolve by pressure on the means of existence and along the line of greatest economy, the line of least resistance, and thus form the real cause of intellectual and then political revolution. The Socialist propaganda and demand for Socialism is brought about by the decreasing harmony between the social (political) system and the economic mode of producing wealth (associated industry). The demand for Socialism is Nature’s preparation for the compulsory adaptation of the social organism to this economic change, a re-adaptation that must take place if humanity is to advance.

Strictly speaking, Socialism is not a revolution in economic conditions, but is a


which the ruling class has created in harmony with its material interests; the ruling class itself being the creature of economic necessity. Socialism changes (or rather abolishes) the class which controls, and the manner of profiting by, associated industry ; destroys attempted barriers to the further development of this, and places the social organism in a position of healthy reaction with its economic environment. The demand for Socialism is, then, in the main, the direct effect of the pressure of economic conditions on the individual organism. Just as a writer is great, and is understood, when he sees more fully and shows more clearly what others are being forced to (inarticulately) feel and believe, so the Socialist propagandist, more deeply impressed by economic conditions and social contradictions, voices more fully and clearly what others are economically being led to think, and so brings their aspirations to a focus. Thus the demand made by economic and social conditions on the individual organism is voiced again in the class struggle which can only end with the destruction of the social system that is growing more and more out of harmony with the economic basis of society.

In your first letter you said : “The point is, then, to demonstrate that the all important, the dominating factor in society is its economic conditions.” I endeavoured, briefly, to demonstrate that economic conditions (the how, where, and quantity of the necessaries of life) undoubtedly do form the dominant, and root factor in all life. In your second letter you say : “It is undoubtedly true that the ultimate explanation of any force or condition in society is to be found in the means adopted by men to satisfy their material wants.” But you add: “When you have explained the origin of man’s ideas as arising through economic and material channels, that does not explain the possible reaction of these intellectual forces on the economic and material conditions.” The problem, though essentially the same, is restated. Let us examine it.

If it is admitted that the origin and ultimate explanation of man’s ideas, social relationships, and intellect itself, lie in material conditions: if, in fact, the evolution of the human family from


(which differed from the substance around it only in that it could absorb fresh substance and broke in two when its size became too great for the cohesion of its material) is due to, and is explicable only on the ground of the varying nature of the struggle for existence, then the rest follows as a logical consequence, for it is evident that the “ego” (or whatever fanciful name one may give the individual), is but the result of past conditions of the struggle to obtain the necessaries of existence. Obviously, therefore, the intellect can only reflect or redistribute under the pressure and through the channels of present economic conditions the influence of past conditions. The reflex or secondary action of the “ego” must, then, ever remain inferior in intensity and effect, but tend to be similar in direction, to the material conditions of life which cause and modify it. Intellectual, like all other forces, tend to run in worn channel’s ; and this fact of the “inertia of the mind” would cause mankind to continue always in the same rut were it not that changing conditions compel mankind to readapt itself to them. Intellect in itself would perpetuate, but not innovate, if changing material conditions did not compel it to change the direction of its activities.

This is important, let us insist upon it. Given the individual organism and the laws of its economic environment, it is obvious that the organism (which, with its experience, has been moulded by past conditions of life) will endeavour to play out its course along the line of least resistance and will continue into present conditions, in so far as they are similar to the past, the action forced on the individual by past environment. And since by pressure on the means of life, natural selection of the most economic methods, and the consequent


(individual and social) the line of least resistance continually changes its direction, the organism (social and individual) must adapt itself (be adapted) to the changing economic conditions or lose its place in the economy of nature.

Now it will be seen that although with growing complexity of structure the individual grows more powerful and his influence on surrounding conditions appears to grow in importance; yet the individual can never become greater in power than the material conditions of which he is but the creature and reflection, for the secret of his growing power is the growth of his power to adapt himself to, and become more pliable before, these same material conditions.

You object to my analogy of the clay balls because it leaves out the reaction of the individual on his environment. But the analogy was not made to illustrate that. It simply illustrated the fallacy of the “identical environment” idea, and showed how some may be Conservatives and some Socialists in a given society. A purpose that I hope the illustration has served. An analogy is, of course, a comparison between different things which have nevertheless some features in common. Hence no analogy can be perfect, and argument by analogy is dangerous. It is enough for the purpose if the analogy illustrates (for it cannot prove) the working of some general law. In my example it was only the formation of individuality, or the cause of individual differences, that was illustrated.

You ask for an illustration of the reaction of the individual on his environment, and you suggest an excellent example the colonies. Let us take, in the first place, the animals transferred by the white man to the “colonies” during historical times. We find


(or I should say, organisms) developed by conditions in the broader and more differentiated area of the old world, running feral in the new. The horse, the result of continuous natural selection in the old world, transplanted in its developed form to the new world, found itself more adaptable (intelligent) and better fitted to obtain the necessaries of life than the native animals whose economy and distribution were consequently considerably altered. The rabbit, developed by the keener old world struggle for existence, transferred to Australia, found itself more fitted to exist than many of the natural inhabitants because the latter were the creatures of a less diverse or more restricted environment. Thus the animal and vegetable economy of Australia became modified by the reaction of the rabbit’s inherited nature upon it. So the human inhabitants of parts of the old world, their individual and social organisms the results of a keener and more varied struggle for existence, were economically forced to introduce themselves and their superior naturally selected methods of production into America and Australia, where their greater adaptability and more efficient means of obtaining food and shelter caused them to oust the less adaptable native populations, and to develop afresh on lines determined by their newer material conditions.

We see, then, that at bottom it is the methods of wealth production and distribution which determine the existence or extermination of races, the development of their intellect and the societies they form. Any known more profitable method of production will inevitably, in the long run, take the place of the old.

In grasping the reaction of the individual on his environment,


may help us. A man, let us say, living under conditions inducive of typhoid fever, catches that disease and communicates it to others, thus spreading the effects of his own environment. If many live in typhoid-giving circumstances there will be a severe epidemic: indeed the disease will probably break out at several independent centres. But if very few live under conditions inducive of typhoid fever, there will be no epidemic and the disease will rapidly disappear. Hence individuality only gives a little longer life to an effect produced by external causes, for if the same causes are not operative elsewhere, the disease finds no food to live upon and is starved out.

The spread of Capitalism to Japan is another illustration to hand. In Japan, development from a kind of Feudalism to Capitalism has been very rapid. The visits of merchants, the settlement of Europeans bringing their methods of production, with them to Japan and starting factories with the cheap labour available, combined with the existence of the requisite degree of energy and adaptability on the part of the Japanese, and the favourable natural resources and geographical position of the country, enabled the more efficient methods of production to rapidly oust the old and brought about a change (a feature of which was a revolution) in Japanese society that placed it in harmony with the changed economic basis, and with the interests of the new class thereby given power.

The Socialist propagandist also propagates a policy, a class interest, created by circumstances. If the same circumstances are acting around, the ideas propagated spread in milder or more acute form. If the same causes do not operate around the propagandist, his efforts will make but an eddy that will rapidly die away. Our propaganda is, then, simply the means of giving definiteness, cohesion, and conscious expressions to the direct effects of economic and social pressure.


now begins to assume truer proportions. For just as the social organism in a more or less embryo stage may be seen in the lower social animals, and in higher and higher forms as we go from the most primitive folk to the most civilised nation: so man’s well developed consciousness may be seen in lower degrees of development among the less developed organic beings. Man’s intellect can only put together things he has seen or known, but he can put them together in new order and form fresh patterns. By the process of reasoning (that is to say, by mental comparison) man can, to some extent foretell the results of certain actions if he has known similar results to occur (even though separately or partially) in the past. Growing to grasp the essential oneness of Nature and her inviolable order, and finding that he cannot alter her course to suit his phantasies, but that he is Nature’s plaything and his sane wishes are Nature’s wishes, man realizes that his salvation lies in knowing Nature and in more completely adapting himself to her in all her moods, for, if the forces within him fail to respond to the forces without, he is annihilated.

Thus the pressure of economic necessity, acting on the individual and on society, brings man’s consciousness into line with the new conditions of the struggle for life. The seeking of self interest, necessarily common to all sentient beings either individually or socially, brings humanity into contact with the obstacles that bar its path. An increasing number of the class economically necessary, by contact with the obstacle in the line of their interests and helped by the teaching of those who have explored it more fully, become conscious of the existence of the barrier and of the necessity for its removal. Economic pressure continually swells their ranks till a sufficient number of the rising class have become conscious of their mission, and aided by the ripeness of material conditions, throw down the obstacle to their progress with a crash.

Taking human society we can then say in view of the organic unity of the human family, that changing conditions of wealth production compel human beings to change the form of society in adaptation to the economic change, and therefore that all over the world and in every historical epoch, varied by climatic and racial conditions, “the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange and the social organization necessarily following from it form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch.”
F. C.Watts