Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Poland December 1970: A Clarification (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article that appeared in the Socialist Standard in May this year we stated that "hundreds” of workers were shot and killed by government troops during the unrest over price rises that took place in Poland’s Baltic sea ports in December 1970. A previous article in September 1976 had stated that “at least six workers” had been shot dead in Gdansk (Danzig). The discrepancy between these figures is to be explained by the former being based on the highest unofficial estimates while the latter refers to the number officially admitted as having been killed on December 14, the first day of the unrest in Danzig alone.

The precise number, in the other ports as well as Danzig — and even one death would prove the brutal anti-working class character of the Polish state capitalist regime — is unknown. Keesing's Contemporary Archives says:
No definitive figures of the total number of casualties were available at the time but official spokesmen in Warsaw said early in January 1971 that 27 people had been killed in. Gdansk. Gdynia and Elblag and 346 injured, including 265 policemen; no official figures were given for Szczecin and Slupsk. On January 20, however, Polish newspapers revealed that 44 people had died in the December riots — 18 in Gdynia, 16 in Szczecin, nine in Gdansk and one in Elblag. It was also stated that there had been 120 injured, many seriously in Gdansk, where about 100 people were under arrest charged with looting, arson or attacking police. Unofficial estimates put the total casualties as considerably higher than those officially given (January 16-23 1971. p.24391).

Obituary: Jim Garnham (1978)

Obituary from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with much regret that we record the death of Comrade Jim Garnham.

Jim first came into contact with ‘socialist’ ideas in the army (he was a conscript and knew nothing of socialism and the socialist opposition to war). In a NAFFI canteen he picked up Tressell's "Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”. Around 1947/8 he listened to Party-speakers in Hyde Park and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain some thirty years ago. During all that time he was an ever present activist in the cause of socialism. At indoor and outdoor meetings his support could always be relied upon. At places like Earls Court and Hyde Park he defended the platform on many occasions, not only in argument but against those whose purpose was physical disruption (he had been quite a good boxer in the army!) He was an energetic and enthusiastic literature seller and contributed to the success of countless meetings in this way.

Over the last five years he worked at our head office on a part-time basis, undertaking a wide variety of administrative jobs. He was always willing to help with whatever new demands came along. Three years ago when the Publicity Committee was re-organised, he worked with the committee to ensure prompt replies to enquiries. Comrade Garnham was also a member of the Executive Committee for several years.

Until the time of his retirement, Jim was an active member of the Electrical Trades Union (as it then was). He was a Union delegate to various Congresses and Conferences.

Though rather a quiet person, he was sustained by a thorough knowledge of Socialist theory, which he never tired of discussing with anybody who was interested. His patient down-to-earth approach to the class struggle was clear and effective.

Those of us who knew him feel the loss of a man who was the essence of a Socialist. Our warmest sympathies go to those of his family who survive him.
South West London Branch

Obituary: Ernie McKone (1978)

Obituary from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death struck Haringey Branch for the third time in recent months with the passing of Comrade E.L. (Ernie) McKone at the age of 79. Ernie first came in contact with the Party in 1918 through its outdoor meetings. He had been in the army during the First World War but deserted in France after stopping by a pond to take a drink and seeing a human arm floating in the water. At one point in the early forties there were four McKone’s in the Party — Ernie, his son and two brothers. Like a number of members, he had to drop out of Party activities during the 1939-45 War but rejoined in 1956.

Being self-employed he was able to speak his mind freely and would often button-hole passers-by outside his house and put the Socialist case to them. Despite declining health in later years he was a regular attender at the Branch and was constantly urging it into activity. Our sympathies go to his wife and family
Julian Vein

Obituary: George Edkins (1978)

Obituary from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another old member has left our ranks with the death of Gearge Edkins, aged 78. He joined the West Ham Branch in 1928, and was active at outdoor and indoor meetings in the area until the 1940’s, when he and his wife went to Devon to run a guest house. Although out of the mainstream George continued as a Central Branch member and retained contact with many London members some of whom spent their holidays at George’s establishment. To the end of his life he remained a firm and committed Socialist and after his retirement often regretted that his location prevented more involvement in Party activity. We extend our sympathy to his wife Phyllis.
Alice Kerr

SPGB Meetings (1978)

Party News from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lives of the Left: Daniel De Leon (1990)

Book Review from the July-Aug 1990 issue of the Discussion Bulletin

Daniel De Leon by Stephen Coleman [Manchester University Press, "Lives of the Left" series] Manchester, England, 1990; cloth, 192 pp. U.S. readers see below for ordering information.

This volume differs from the two earlier De Leon biographies (Reeve 1972 and Seretan 1978) in that its author does not regard DeLeon's anti-reformist, anti-statist socialism as an aberration. Stephen Coleman'a political thinking derives from the same turn-of-the-century opposition to social democratic reformism from which De Leon and the post-1900 Socialist Labor Party sprang, and he can understand the political situation and the choices that faced the SLP and DeLeon.

Coleman has divided his book into eight chapters, which we can assume reflect his interests and concerns: The Enigma of Daniel De Leon, The Socialist Labor Party, Trade Unionism and the Abolition of the Wages System, the Battle against Reformism, De Leon and the Wobblies, The De Leon-Connolly Conflict, De Leon's Conception of Socialism, and the Last Years and Legacy of De Leon.

Part of the "enigma" Coleman sees is the irony that the man he characterizes as ". . . the most outstanding American thinker, writer, orator, and political organizer of the years from 1890 until the eve of the First World War" should be so hated by his contemporaries on the left and in the labor movement. In addition to a list of these historians of the Hilquit school of labor history, he points out what he calls ". . .  the legacy of contemporary vilification by the likes of Dubofsky et al., who have accepted without thought the prejudices of the Hilquitians."

In "The Socialist Labor Party" Coleman traces De Leon's influence on the SLP and the dynamics that brought about the 1899 split between the reformists and revolutionaries. As the European socialist parties of the Second International grew during the 1880s and 90s, the possibility of gaining political office and presumably bringing about socialism piecemeal through capitalisms political machinery became vary real. The success of "socialist' politicians in transforming the "immediate demands" of the socialist parties into their dominant programs caused splits in nearly all the parties of the Second International. In the U.S. the anti-De Leonists left to help form the Socialist Party identified with Hilquit, Debs, and Haywood. In Britain both the Socialist Party of Great Britain (to which Coleman belongs) and the British SLP left Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation. In Russia the situation produced the Menshevik-Bolshevik split and in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere splits and factional disputes that were often resolved by events precipitated by the Russian Revolution.

In Coleman's judgment "The 1899 split was not essentially about specific SLP policies, but was a final effort by approximately half of its members to assert the compatibility between a socialist party and a possibilist [reformist] strategy or, conversely, to remove what they saw as the theoretical shackles of De Leon's uncompromising impossibilism." While recognizing that De Leon's confidence in his own wisdom and eagerness to combat error sight easily give rise to accusations of authoritarianism, he disposes of the charges of bossism by citing the record: ". . . De Leon enjoyed no power within the SLP to which he was not elected, and made no decisions alone but as a result of winning a majority."

The evolution of the SLP's position on unionism, which culminated in the organization of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance in 1895 was not, in Coleman's view, a sectarian plot by De Leon but had already been initiated in 1889 before De Leon joined the SLP by socialist trades unionists in Now York City, who had called for "New Trades Unionism' and split from the Central Labor Union to form the Central Labor Federation. Coleman sees the lack of success of the STALA as well as the isolation impossibilism entailed for the SLP as the reason behind De Leon's eager embrace of the IWW in 1905.

As one might expect, Coleman's SPGBist differences with De Leonism become clear in the chapter, "De Leon's Conception of Socialism." While giving De Leon credit for attempting to answer the hard questions workers ask about the nature of the new society, he expresses serious doubts about De Leon's answers, finding the source of much of what he considers the less desirable elements in De Leon's and the SLP's vision of the future society in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. He sees not only the idea of labor vouchers and of the socialism-in-one-country concept as arising from De Leon's association with Nationalism in the 1880s but the roots of the whole concept of socialist industrial unionism, which he relates to Bellamy's work-oriented, militaristic view of the social organization of the future. Coleman's conclusions here will offend not only the most orthodox of De Leonists but revisionists of various degrees as well. Space doesn't allow this reviewer to combat Coleman's findings. But we will find space for readers of the book to refute him.

Also offensive to some readers will be the final chapter in which, among other things, he examines what he regards as De Leon's efforts to break out of the isolation that anti-reformism (impossiblism) imposed on the SLP. These included the embrace of the IWW and its reformist SP contingent and the 1905-8 unity effort, which culminated in his Unity address. Interestingly Coleman presents Reinstein as De Leon's ally in 1908, not his enemy as official history suggests. He rather decently finds De Leon not guilty of the official SLP's claim [charge?] that his writings influenced Lenin. The final chapter also contains an interesting section on the differences between the British and American SLPs. Part of De Leon's legacy is the SLP. Here is Coleman's verdict: "De Leon stamped his authority upon the SLP because he was the party's most able and active thinker. That De Leon’s comrades offered him such deferential respect . . .  respect created a tradition that was abused terribly by the less intellectually vivacious, sterile dogmatists who succeed the De Leon role."

Although there are a couple of flaws—De Leon was referring in Reform or Revolution to the future socialist society, not the party of socialism, with his illustration of the orchestra director—, Coleman has done his reading and his research. Indeed this is a political biography in the finest sense of the term. Coleman in not a De Leonist and his critical stance and political differences are apparent, as indeed they should be. But I think that De Leon would not have wished for a fairer, wittier, more sympathetic treatment from a political opponent. We can only assume that had Coleman been afforded more time and more pages, he would have modified his views on Socialist Industrial Unionism.

Like all books worth reading, the price is steep even for a clothbound book. U.S. readers can obtain the book directly from St. Martin's Press for $29.95 or send a 25-cent stamp to DB for a flier that offers a 20 percent discount making the price $23.95.
Frank Girard

Is Increased Production the Solution? (1944)

From the November 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the heading “Britain is Old-fashioned in Industry,” the Evening Standard (October 11th, 1944) reports speeches made at a Conference of the National Council of Women of Great Britain.
Miss Barbara Ward, assistant editor of The Economist, said Britain must produce more goods and means of production must be more efficient.

Increase in a nation’s wealth depends on the amount of machine power behind each pair of hands.

We have fallen behind in industrial development, she declared. ‘We are old-fashioned.’

Thorough inquiry should be made into each industry—for instance, the steel industry—to discover why our costs were higher than those of other nations.

We should use our utmost enterprise and labour to increase our standards of living, she said.”
Miss Ward has failed to draw the logical conclusion in regard to what would happen if her suggestion were followed. If all nations become more efficient, and competition will force them to do so. then we shall be where we were—before the war.
“Increase in a nation’s wealth depends on the amount of machine power behind each pair of hands.”
Is not this also the cause of a nation’s poverty ? The amount of machine power behind each pair of hands in the United States before the war was greater than in any other country, and so was the amount of relative unemployment and poverty.

The assistant editor of The Economist is apparently unaware of the fact that the aim and object of capitalist production is not the production of wealth, but the production of profit.

Profit is something for nothing.

It is impossible to make something out of nothing, but the capitalist class give nothing and obtain abundant wealth for themselves as a result of playing a flim-flam game.

Labour applied to the natural resources of the earth produces all exchange values. The capitalist class do not labour, therefore they do not produce any wealth. They live by ownership. They own what is essential to the existence of the rest of us.

They allow us to produce exchange values for them in the shape of commodities under certain conditions. Before we are allowed to work we must agree to sell our wealth-producing material, our mental and physical energy, to them at its cost of production—that means, roughly, what we can live and work upon.

When we are working our energy is the property of those who have bought it, and what our energy produces the capitalist claims as his. Wages consist of the food, clothing and shelter the money will buy. The food, clothing and shelter the worker obtains as wages are all produced by those who labour, not by the capitalist class.

Consider the mighty effort of the working class during the war, and what they have lived upon, while doing it.

“Never in the history of human endeavour” has so much been produced on so little.

The working class have brought into being all the airplanes, guns, ships, etc., that were necessary to the carrying on of the war. What is to be their reward? The brutal truth is that capitalism cannot give them anything to compensate them for their efforts. The capitalist class will, however, continue to obtain their surplus values, rent, interest and profit.

The workers, however, expect to be placed in a better position after the war than they ever were before. The interesting point is how are Ihe ruling class going to devise ways and means of continuing the exploiting process. As a result of their experiences on the batlefleld in various parts of the world, many of the wage slaves are beginning to realise that there is something fundamentally wrong in capitalist society.

They will not be easily handled in the piping times of peace and will be harder to deceive.

Bevin says, “There will be unemployment but victory is worth it” (see Star, October 11th). The victory is the victory of the capitalist class, although the fighting, etc., has been done by the working class. If there is nothing for the workers after the war, what have the workers won? The capitalist class still remain in secure possession of the means of life; the land, railways, mines and tools of industry still remain in their possession.

The workers are where they were. Unemployment can be depended upon to keep wages down to that low level that is strictly in accord with capitalist interests, and then the same old grind.

Those who have acquired wealth during the war out of Army contracts, black markets, etc., will return when peace is proclaimed and disport themselves in the charmed circles of society. Many of the workers, however, who have endured the agonies of the struggle and lost their loved ones in the process, will line up at the Labour Exchange or apply for the sweet charity of the Public Assistance Committee. The means test will continue to be applied—to the working class. Homes are to be built—by whom? The landlord class are anticipating pickings when they receive compensation for the property that has been bombed. The financier will come into his own when deflation occurs—some time after the cessation of hostilities. The capitalist will have the wage slaves controlled for him by the Government, assisted by the labour leader. All sections of the ruling class will be compensated—at the expense of the wage slaves.

Everything in the garden will be lovely, as usual, for those who neither toil nor spin.

How long, fellow workers, how long? Can you not see that until the means of life are made common property there is no security for you ? Can you not see that you are doomed to the eternal treadmill of wage slavery and misery so long as the capitalist system shall last? We must do away with production for profit.

We must no longer allow the exploiter to continue to live by obtaining something for nothing. Production for use must be made to take the place of production for sale.
We are the vast majority.
      Let us stand together,
           All we have to do is to will it.
      And the world is ours.
Let us get hold of the State, the public power of coercion, and use it to make the ruling class let go their hold on our bread and life. Those only are Socialists who stand for Socialism; those who stand for less are the allies of our enemies.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands exclusively for Socialism; no other party in this country has the courage to do so—at election times.

We propose to run candidates for Parliament on the issue. Socialism or Capitalism—which?

We want you to help us. If you are with us, let us know of your existence. The fight is on.

The useful portion of human society have one common enemy—the exploiting system under which we live. Miss Barbara Ward suggests that by increasing the productive power of the slave-exploiting mechanism the slave would benefit. She fails to perceive that the worker is not paid for what he produces, but for what it costs to produce him. Her remarks enable us to realise, how weak the defenders of capital have become. Against the united advance of those who live by selling their labour power, the capitalist class are absolutely helpless. The interests of the workers are identical on the class field. The class issue is ownership.

The enemies of our class will discuss anything but the real issue. It is never raised in Parliament. It will never be prominent in the capitalist press. The very thought of a revolutionary Socialist Party fills the exploiter with fear and foreboding.

Although we hold the largest meeting in Hyde Park, we are rarely mentioned in the public press.

Has word gone round that attention must not be drawn to our existence? Capitalist politicians read the Socialist Standard and listen to our speakers, but all are faithful members of the conspiracy of silence.

The Labour Party is now always referred to as The Socialist Party, although not one of its members stands for Socialism or has been elected on the Socialist ticket.

Why the silence and deception?

The reason is that the ruling class know what we are out for, and they do not want the bulk of the workers to become interested in the issue.

Working class emancipation is, however, on the order of the day.
Line up and do your bit—
The freedom of humanity is at stake.
When the wage slaves free themselves from capitalist bondage, they free mankind for ever from economic servitude and the fear of war.

Society can then assume a higher form. There can be no such thing as freedom for the individual so long as some people own that upon which all people depend.

Socialism will give man the opportunity to express the noblest and best that is in him.

In capitalist society the bias is on the wrong side. The worst man has the best chance.

To change capitalist society into a newer and better social order is the job of the common people; it is a working class proposition.

Moving circumstance is slowly but surely removing the web of lies which the henchmen of our masters have been spinning for generations. Take your place, comrade. You should know by now what you are called upon to do. Demand Socialism now. Support only those who do the same.
Charles Lestor

Political Ideas and Class Interests: A Glance at Argentina (1944)

From the November 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx wrote a century ago that all history, since the rise of class divided society, has been a history of class struggles. Constitutions have been made and unmade, kings dethroned and executed, treaties and alliances have been sworn (and broken), wars and civil wars have been fought, all involving the interests of rival classes; though the class interest at stake has always been half-hidden under the slogans phrased in terms of supposedly universal truths and philosophies.

Though modern capitalist writers are constantly having the real nature of the struggles forced on their attention, they usually abhor admitting it. When Liberals and Tories fight elections they are ready enough to accuse each other of having sinister designs against the workers, but neither—for obvious reasons—will admit that it fights to further the interest of its own section of the propertied class. So with wars, each of which has its appropriate collection of abstract aims and justifications—democracy, freedom of the seas, national independence, self-determination, rule of law, the just rights of superior races, etc., etc. On the Allied side in this war pride of place has been given to the idea of overthrowing dictatorship, and to suit this view politicians and the Press have studiously refrained from harping on the fact that a large number of the Allied countries are themselves dictatorships.

This expedient lack of candour has not, of course, been applied so rigorously to neutral countries. So when Russia made its treaty with Germany in August, 1939, it was permissible to refer to Russia as a dictatorship. “If war comes,” said the Daily Express (August 26th, 1939), “the issue will be clearer. The democracies will be ranged against totalitarian States.” Naturally that candour lapsed again when Russia became an Ally and is now customarily described as a democracy.

Later in the war most of the South American Republics, many of them dictatorships, gave support to the Allied side, with, however, the notable exception of Argentina, which has been much criticised for showing no enthusiasm. Criticism has been levelled against the near-Fascist dictatorship in that country, and the unilluminating explanation that has contented the capitalist press has been that the Argentine Government is anti-Ally because its own ideas are against democracy, and it therefore “sympathises” with Nazi Germany. Such an “explanation” is obviously inadequate. If sympathies and abstract ideals were a real guide to international alignments, half the history of all the Powers would be utterly incomprehensible, since they have all of them waged wars in the past in alliances which contained Christian Powers on opposite sides, Christian and non-Christian Powers on the same side, democratic powers and dictatorships, kingdoms and republics, white and yellow peoples all in seemingly inexplicable groupings. Let us, however, look further at Argentina.

The first curious fact to notice is that democratic U.S.A. and democratic Great Britain are at loggerheads over the attitude to be adopted towards Argentina. Roosevelt’s Government—in the name of democracy—wants stronger action against this South American Republic which is out of step, but the British Government holds aloof and wants to continue its existing trading relationships. The Economist (August 5th, 1944), putting the British capitalist point of view, admits that something else enters into the question besides abstract ideals, that something else being “British long-term trading interests.” “For decades,” says the Economist, “Argentina has been one of the main suppliers of cheap food for Britain’s industrial population. In return, it has been a valuable market for British goods, and a fertile ground for British capital—to the great benefit of both Countries.”

The article goes on to remark rather acidly that “In British eyes, American policy in Argentina is suspected of being moved less by the desire to defeat Hitler than by the desire to extend the influence of Washington from the northern half of South America to Cape Horn—in short, by a doubtless beneficent but none the less real imperialism.”

Then the writer quotes the President of the American Import-Export Bank, who admitted that when U.S.A. interests lend money to South American borrowers, the U.S.A. insists “that all machinery and materials not available in the country of the borrower shall be purchased or leased in the United States, and that such machinery and materials shall be transported in American ships.”

This is a usual procedure when capitalism lends abroad, and has its counterpart in a British-Argentine agreement of 1935, which forced Argentina “to discriminate against American goods.”

In short, Britain and U.S.A. are both moved by the capitalist necessity of finding markets and favourable areas for investment of capital.

Further light is thrown on the situation by a candid letter from an American correspondent, Isobel Fisk, in the Economist for September 23rd, 1944.

She largely admits the charge of imperialism against the U.S. Government, but urges that on a long view Britain and U.S.A. should act together because if they don’t it will be worse for both of them. Her case, in brief, is this : Argentina has been almost entirely an agrarian country producing wheat, meat, etc., for export, and importing machinery and other manufactured goods from Britain. This has suited both the British industrialists and investors and the Argentine landowning class, the latter having fought “tooth and nail” against efforts by rival Argentine interests to build up manufacturing industry in that country. (According to the Statesmen’s Year Book, 1940, there were in the whole country only 36 factories employing more than l,000 workers, in a population which totals 13,000,000.)

The rival Argentine interests are those behind the present dictatorship of President Farrell. They want to build up industry and end Argentina’s dependency on the British market. Their argument, in the words of Colonel Labarca, a member of the Argentine Government, is that “in the twentieth century all countries are trying to process their own raw materials; they know, that they can obtain very low prices by direct sale; they know that, on the other hand, when industrialised they will manufacture a wide variety of products and will utilise by-products, which will give work to their labourers. . . . Everybody now knows that a country has either the economy of a colony or of a world power, and that only the countries which are capable of elaborating what nature places within their reach are worthy of preserving their independence. . …”

The issue, then, in Argentina is not just one of democracy and dictatorship, but whether the landowners or the growing industrialists shall dominate, and the latter are prepared to use dictatorship and armed force to impose their will.

Miss Fisk, though the words she uses are that British and American interests should join together to try “to put down this American brand of Fascism which has sprung up in Buenos Aires,” makes no attempt to conceal the real issue. If Colonel Farrell and his fellow-Fascists succeed, “British investments,” she says, are “in mortal danger.” and “the system by which Britain bought Argentine meat and sold manufactures is doomed to go.”

The Economist, however, doubts whether an attempt to coerce Argentina now would be practicable, and is not prepared to support such a policy if the outcome is to be that of enabling American capital to get control there. Rather the Economist would prefer to wait till the end of the war in the evident hope that the changed situation then will put back the state of affairs that existed in 1939, with the landowners in power and British investments and exports safeguarded not only against Farrell’s group but also against U.S.A. interests. So much for the proclaimed concern of the British and American Governments with the establishment of democracy and overthrow of dictatorship.

There is another class interest that neither the Economist nor Miss Fisk takes into account, the world-wide interest of the working class. We are not concerned to prop up one or the other propertied class in Argentina, nor to try to safeguard British investments, or to make an open door for the products and investments of U.S.A. capitalists. The paramount interest of the working class inside and outside Argentina is to destroy the capitalist system and institute Socialism. Then there will be no problems of markets and investments to solve, and no country will have to face the choice between being a colony or a world power — all will be Socialist.
Edgar Hardcastle