Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Reformism, old and new (2007)

Book Review from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Struggling for a Social Europe: Neoliberal Globalisation and the Birth of a European Social Movement. By Andy Mathers. Ashgate.

Mathers begins his book with the claim that “15 June 1997 may prove to be a significant date in the development of the labour movement in Europe”. What, you will be asking, happened that day? Some 50,000 people demonstrated in Amsterdam at the EU Summit that was being held there, including a few hundred who had marched from various parts of Europe to demand “the right to work or a guaranteed basic income”. Nothing very new — or very significant — then. Except for Mathers who had chosen to study these marches for this PhD thesis, but as a “researcher-activist”, i.e. someone who sympathised with their aims but was at the same time studying them like an ethnologist studying a primitive tribe.

He writes as some sort of Trotskyist, so his conclusions are predictable: there is still some mileage to be got from making reform demands on the nation-state (as opposed to the EU), that the trade union movement ought to have involved itself more, etc. He criticises as “the new reformism” those theorists who have written off the working class as an agent for social change and who look instead to some other groups such as students, employed and unemployed graduates, and marginalised youth who make up the bulk of those involved in the so-called “New Social Movements”  (NSMs).

This is in fact an interesting discussion since the “official” labour movement — trade unions and Labour and Social Democratic parties — have given up any idea of changing society, even gradually through a series of social reform measures voted by parliaments. They have abandoned this and now settle for getting the best they can out of the present social system, capitalism. This is a significant development that does need analysing.

The “Labour Movement” essentially only embraced a section of the working class properly so-called – only those who worked in industry and transport whereas the working class is comprised of all those who are forced by economic necessity to sell their ability to work in order to live, so including the so-called “middle class” too.

Mathers does in fact conclude that the non-industrial workers involved in the NSMs are workers, even if they don’t yet recognise it. But his criticism of the “new reformism” is not made from a revolutionary socialist standpoint, but from that of “old reformism”, as can be seen from his description and endorsement of the programme proposed by leading SWP theoretician, Alex Callinicos:
“In An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, Callinicos outlined a set of measures which he argued combined ‘immediate remedies’ to the consequences of neoliberal policies with a ‘different social logic’ (p. 132). These demands included those prominent in the European Marches such as the Tobin Tax, the universal basic income, the reduced working week, the defence of public services, and the redistribution of wealth and income. It also included those arising from the broader movement like the abolition of immigration controls and third world debt, the defence of civil liberties, and measures to ensure environmental protection (pp. 132-9).”
Some of these are not even palliatives led alone remedies, but they are all reforms to capitalism.

As it happens, I was myself present in Amsterdam on that 15 June (with my trade union) and witnessed one of the incidents mentioned by Mathers: the reception by the Dutch riot police of a group of masked demonstrators who had travelled from Italy by train (p. 62). Both groups were lined up outside the railway station facing each other, with ordinary passengers walking between then. Apparently, later there were some clashes as the police forced them back on to a train for Italy. What the point was I don’t know.
Adam Buick

Correction (2007)

From the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the last-but-one paragraph of the article on Northern Rock in the October issue, the words in italics below were unfortunately omitted resulting in nonsense. Our apologies.
“The underlying issue is more about its inability to continue borrowing money from the money market at a lowish rate of interest – since in many respects it is from the difference between this rate and the rate it charges house-buyers that it makes its profit. Already it is forecasting lower profits for the current year and because its share price has fallen – due to some of its shareholders bailing out too – it is liable to be taken over by some rival.”

50 Years Ago: Has Bevan Sold the Pass? (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot of people who have for years worshipped Aneurin Bevan have now turned against their hero because of his support for the H-Bomb at the Labour Party Conference. Bevan says that he is as strongly against the bomb as ever he was and that his speech and vote at Brighton (decided on “after a lot of agonising thinking”), were only designed to find “the most effective way of getting the damned thing destroyed” : but this is a bit too subtle for those who have passionately believed that Bevan was hundred per cent, against the bomb and now find that he isn’t.

But actually the disgruntled Bevanites have little ground for complaint for, as it happens, Bevan has changed his politics hardly at all. If any deception has been carried out it is their own self-deception; an obstinate refusal to take note of what Bevan has for years been saying and doing.

If a few of them are genuine pacifists who resolutely refuse to support armaments or war, they are fully entitled to be opposed to Bevan who supported World War II and the Korean War, and conscription and re-armament, but they cannot pretend that Bevan has deceived them about his record of war-supporting.

With others the revulsion of feeling may appear to be more soundly based, but again it will not stand examination. They take the view (like Bevan) that armaments are necessary and that war is sometimes unavoidable and must be supported no matter what the cost in death and destruction. They reject the Socialist view that war arises from capitalism and can only be got rid of by establishing Socialism. They can stomach it all, the millions of dead and maimed, the trench warfare, machine guns and artillery, the bombing raids, the napalm and even the A-Bomb— but the H-Bomb. No !

(Front page article by H, Socialist Standard, November 1957)

Greasy Pole: It’s A Date, Then? Or Not? (2007)

The Greasy Pole column from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

That was the month that was. In September Gordon Brown celebrated his first speech to a Labour Party conference as Prime Minister by dragging out a procession of exhausted platitudes about the glories of being British and having a Labour government to stop you forgetting it. Soon afterwards a majority of the people who can be bothered to answer the questions of opinion pollsters said that, if given the chance tomorrow, they would vote for another spell of Labour government provided it could be under Gordon Brown. Understandably encouraged by this, Labour’s propaganda machine planted a rumour that Brown would call a general election for 1 November. This was startling news; don’t these people who start rumours know that 1 November comes immediately after Halloween, so that election canvassers were in danger of being confused with kids dressed up as skeletal witches frightening old ladies on their doorsteps with demands for trick-or-treat under threat of having their front gardens vandalised?

Luckily the Tory conference, following hard on the heels of Labour’s event, went some way to putting things to rights because George Osborne, who threatens to be the next Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, did a trick-or-treat on Brown by declaring that when he was in charge at the Treasury only millionaires would be liable for inheritance tax. The dullards who are bothered to be so loyal to the Conservative Party that they turn up at their conferences were ecstatic about this promised financial tinkering to the extent that they failed to notice that Osborne had also put down a marker to be the next Tory leader if the party ever gets fed up with Cameron’s touchy-feely, hoodie-hugging, I-luv-u-babe style of deception. Cameron pitched in with a speech even heavier laden with platitudes than Brown had managed, on the excuse that his speech “may be muddled but it is me” – which, it must be hoped, will not pioneer endless hours of drivel by any leader who confesses to being me. A lot of easily impressed people who had once bothered to tell the pollsters that they would vote Labour changed their mind so that Brown decided it would be wise to abandon the idea of a post-Halloween election, leaving him free to take his kids out trick-or-treating. The Tories were incensed that a party leader could change the polling date to improve their chances of winning, spluttering that this was a diabolical plot, not only to disrupt the winter festivities but also to subvert the democratic process.

Even by the lax standards of political parties the assumed Tory indignation at the possibility that Brown would fix an election date to suit his party’s interests is suffocatingly audacious. Both parties have adopted the same stratagem; indeed it is rare for a government to run its full course of five years. For the  Conservatives, Anthony Eden succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, after a long, frustrating wait which did nothing to soothe his naturally impetuous temperament, in April 1955. In fact, although the succession had been widely assumed, it was not as smooth or as predictable; Lord Swinton, one of the grander of Tory grandees, told Churchill that Eden “would make the worst Prime Minister since Lord North” and Churchill morosely agreed that he thought it had been “a great mistake” to announce his successor so long ago. The Labour Party, exhausted and shattered by the stress of their participation in the wartime coalition and split by the controversy surrounding Aneurin Bevan, were a long way from offering a realistic option as a government while the Conservative benches were thick with young, thrusting, ambitious newcomers to the Westminster jungle. Political strategy demanded that Eden call a quick election, to exploit the contrast between the ailing, often absent, Churchill and himself as a dashing, handsome, charming ex-Guards officer. After some dithering, notable for the display of the most lurid of his tantrums, Eden decided for an election in May, a year before he had to. Against the Labour Party as it was then, it could hardly be called a gamble; the voters, perhaps in gratitude at having this scion of innate ruling class superiority ordering them about, returned Eden’s government with its unsafe majority of 16 increased to a relatively secure one of 58.

In fact Eden’s government was notable, not for its chivalry but for the chaos and deceptions of the Suez invasion. This episode in cynicism, although typical of capitalism’s politics, did not seem to inflict any long term damage on the Tory Party for Eden’s successor Macmillan constructed an increased majority for them at the 1959 election. It was an uncomfortable fact that, among their confusion, the working class showed no reluctance to pursue an outdated dream of the glory days of British imperialism during which deranged and treacherous foreigners like Colonel Nasser were unwaveringly taught to keep their place. These unhelpful, insupportable prejudices blossomed again in 1982, when the Thatcher government blanketed a number of inconvenient historical facts to justify their intention to eject the Argentinian forces from the Falklands. Satisfactory as this was at the time to the Iron Lady its full value was not revealed until she had to settle on the date of the next general election – the first test of her record since she came to power in 1979.

Had Thatcher’s government served its full term they would have gone to the polls in May 1984. But the prospects for that date were unpromising. The early 1980s were not favourable to the Tories, marked by economic problems – at one stage there were 3 million registered unemployed – showing up in a series of bad by-election results in constituencies like Croydon North West and Crosby, where the former Labour front bencher Shirley Williams won with nearly 50 per cent of the vote for the SDP. In some cases the Tories were left struggling in third place. Things did not look good if they waited for a 1984 election, in the hope that something would turn up. And something did turn up – apart, that is, from the Labour Party electing Michael Foot as their leader. But the crucial event was the Falklands; when, in June 1982 the British forces sailed triumphantly home, leaving behind their dead and their sunken ships, Thatcher was quick to put the war in the most favourable light for the Tories:
“We have ceased to be a nation in retreat. We have instead a newfound confidence – born in the economic battles at home and tested and found true 8000 miles away…we rejoice that Britain has rekindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which today has begun to burn as brightly as before.”
And after that it seemed absolutely unavoidable that she would apply the heat of that newfound spirit to roast the Labour Party in a general election. In June 1983, a year before the government’s full term was up, the Tories romped home with a record majority of 144. Michael Foot’s Labour Party hit its lowest point since the defeats of the 1930s. All things considered, for Thatcher and her party an example of skilful timing, helped by a bit of luck and some hundreds of dead people, who had not been so lucky.

A governing party is absorbed in the timing of an election on the assumption that if they get it right their vote will be significantly higher. But what does this say about the people who vote? Are they content to use their power to bring about the trivial, short-lived changes which concern parties like Labour and the Tories rather than to erect a fundamental, enduring social revolution to consign capitalism to its unhappy history? Are they happy to so misuse their power that they oppose the Tories when unemployment is high but support them after a victorious war? Are they satisfied to use their vote to repress themselves rather than for their freedom?

Editorial: The Steam and the Safety Valve. Limits of Unemployed Demonstrations (1932)

Editorial from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a saying that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy then as a farce. It might be added that once the farce has begun apparently nothing on earth will prevent some of the actors in it from repeating it indefinitely. Not all the experience of generations will teach the I.L.P. and Communist Party that unemployed riots and demonstrations, whatever else they may achieve, do not lead to Socialism. Still, they repeat their parrot piece that once the workers can be got to kick about any one grievance the conflict with the authorities will intensify until the whole working class is involved and capitalism overthrown. So the unemployed riots in Croydon and Belfast are hailed as the beginning of revolution. What is it to Mr. Maxton that the unemployed in Croydon flared up and rushed the Council Chamber exactly 30 years ago, and that troops were brought out on the streets of Belfast in 1907; that the authorities have never in the 50 years since that period been scared as they were at the unemployed riots in the ‘eighties; and that the miserable exploitation of unemployed hunger marchers was tried out with little result in the pre-War depressions and the panicky days of 1921 ? While it is desirable that the unemployed should be aggressive, yet if they get some concession (sometimes even if they get nothing but cracked heads) these movements, based on the uninstructed discontent of non-Socialists, simply peter out and leave nothing permanent behind. What happens is that if the discontent is sufficiently great the capitalist parties rush in and lead it into safe channels or buy the gratitude of the discontented with small concessions. As soon as conditions look more favourable to them, the capitalists—always seeking to keep down the burden of taxes—cut the concession to whatever limit they and their political agents consider safe.

At the present moment, when the discontent of the unemployed has become manifest through sporadic rioting and demonstrations, the capitalist politicians are falling over themselves to gain or keep the support of these groups. So, suddenly half the London newspapers have taken up the grievances. Sir Herbert Samuel, the Liberal leader, having already collared the Communist slogan of “more trade with Russia,” now takes their other strong plank and demands that something be done about the means test. Then the Prime Minister promises that the Government will immediately look into the matter. All of which means that the 10 per cent. cut last autumn and the imposition of the Poor Law test may have gone just a little beyond the limit deemed safe for electoral purposes. Steam pressure is rising, and the safety valve must be eased a little.

An illustration of the way in which this has been done in the past is given by the changes in the amount of unemployment pay, sometimes going up when discontent is rife, then being reduced when the capitalists think that a reduction can be put over without disturbing the workers’ loyalty to capitalism and capitalist parties.

Before the War unemployment insurance applied to only a few workers, and the amount of benefit was 7s. a week. This was a contributory scheme.

At the end of the War, when the difficult problem of demobilisation had to be faced, the Government gave a “donation” to ex-soldiers of 24s. a week for 26 weeks (see Ministry of Labour Gazette, November, 1918, p. 436). Civil workers received the same amount, but for 13 weeks only. Dependent children under both scales were allowed 6s. for the first child and 3s. for others.

On December 12th, 1918, the rates were raised to 29s. for a man and 25s. for a woman (see Gazette, September, 1919).

After the 26 or 13 weeks’ period the pay was on a lower scale of 20s. for a man and 15s. for a woman.

Then, under the 1920 Act (with prices rising, but the Government less panicky) the amounts were reduced to 15s. and 12s., with no allowance for dependents, and the scheme was now put on a contributory basis.

In 1921, when unemployment had reached large dimensions and unrest was widespread, dependents were admitted to benefit (5s. for a wife and 1s. for each child).

In 1924 the man’s benefit was raised to 18s. And the woman’s to 15s., with 5s. for a wife and 2s. for each child.

In 1928 the man’s allowance was reduced to 17s., the woman’s was left unchanged at 15s., but the wife’s allowance was raised to 7s.

In March, 1930, the wife’s allowance was raised again to 9s. (All the above information is given in the 20th Abstract of Labour Statistics, pages 62-67).

Finally, under the influence of the crisis last autumn, the rates were cut by about 10 per cent., a man receiving 15s. 3d., a wife 8s., and a single woman 13s. 6d. The children’s allowances were left at 2s.

So the I.L.P. and the Communists who believe in the theory of leading discontented non-Socialists on and on to Socialism, are now fighting to get back the 1s. 9d. which was deducted last year. After which they will still have another 12s. to go before they progress back to the unemployed pay of the demobilised soldier in 1919.

A Letter from Mr. Walton Newbold (1932)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fulham, London, S. W. 6. 
3rd Sept., 1932.

The Editor, the Socialist Standard,

Tell the truth and riddle the opportunists. 
Dear Comrade,

In saying that I am now supporting the Maxtonites and implying that I have joined the I.L.P. once more, you are reading into the letter, headed, “The Puritan Strain” and appearing in The New Clarion recently, much more than you are entitled to do. Certainly, I admire Maxton and Brockway, Jennie Lee and Geo. Buchanan for having the courage of their convictions and taking the road into what may mean the abandonment of the flesh-pots, far away from which you will never find Laski, Brailsford, Wise or Dollan. For the courage of your convictions and the same disregard of advancement I have always admired the S.P.G.B., about whom I could equally well have said in that concluding sentence of my letter : “I do not agree with the (l.L.P.) in much, but they have the courage of their convictions.”

I was brought up, and have again become a Quaker. Twenty-five years I have been moving around the whole Labour and Socialist Movement and here and there and now and then I have found men and women who dared to say what they thought and damn the consequence to their careers. But for the most part the Movement lacks “guts.” Where there is no vision, it is quite true, the people perish. That is why the most appalling mess of all will be the Third Labour Government. But that is inevitable. That you and I know. Now, as to my going to Motherwell in 1918, and the means I took most deliberately to force the Catholic clergy, step by step, to reveal themselves as the enemies of Socialism and to bring them into antagonism to the interests of the Irish as a nation struggling to be free, and as workers needing either to limit their families or break away from the Catholic morality of private property on the basis of the patriarchal family. When I went there I was still a member of the Society of Friends. A priest charged me with being an atheist. The letters I produced caused him not only to apologise but, praising the society, practically to call Catholics to vote for me.

Well was I aware of the fact that the worst enemy the Socialist Movement has ever had in its ranks was the late John Wheatley. The Catholic Socialist Society we now know to have been “a contradiction in terms.” Pius XI tells us no Catholic can be any kind of a Socialist. John Wheatley substituted for Socialism his plans for Housing Reform. He turned the whole Socialist Movement of Scotland, including old Freethinkers like John Downie, of Wishaw, down that false scent. Motherwell and Wishaw were the worst-housed burghs in Scotland. With my eyes on John Wheatley I chose to fight in Motherwell.

The Catholic clergy dared not come out openly against the republican independence for Ireland. For that, if I was to stand, I had to break with the Labour Party. When the Clyde division came to Westminster I took good care that I spoke in the House of Commons ahead of John Wheatley. Always, John Wheatley was trailing behind me. Always, John MacLean was advising me. Together, we insulated John Wheatley. We did it as individuals and so committed no one but our two selves.

It was not John Wheatley who broke the discipline of the Labour Party, but myself, supported by an old garrison-soldier and pioneer of the Labour Colleges, George Barker, of Abertillery, when we divided the House on May Day, 1923, against Singapore Naval Base. Following up, I opposed other Navy Votes. John Wheatley, Geo. Buchanan and Tom Henderson joined me. Deliberately and in defiance of the Communist Party “polbureau ” (which had ordered me to demonstrate in Sheffield that day) did I force this split in Labour Party discipline on armaments. Deliberately and without consulting “the polbureau,” did I stage my suspension from the House in a debate on the danger of a war.

Deliberately, did I steal John Wheatley’s thunder in the debate on the Housing Bill, and cause him to come to me afterwards urging and telling me “Your business is to preach revolution ! Mine to preach reform ! Keep to your job !”

Deliberately, in the spring of 1926, did I make it possible for the advocates of Birth Control to go to the Clyde via Motherwell to start a campaign that I knew must split “the Left” so ingeniously got together by John Wheatley. The manoeuvre succeeded and the I.L.P. fell a-quarrelling, “Marxists” for birth-control propaganda, Catholics and all opportunists against it.

When the riot against me in Wishaw in June, 1926, occurred and I saw the chief Catholic town councillor inciting the crowd on because of my attack on the Rev. Barr and his opposition to birth control, I knew that I had lit a fire in Motherwell and Wishaw that will not finally go out till it has burned the Catholic church out of the West of Scotland.

Clericalism is the enemy on “the Right,” “Communism” of Moscow’s Comintern the enemy on “the Left.” I have used them both, and the taste on my tongue is very sweet.

Wishing you many years of good, hard hitting and fearless statement of what seems to you to be the truth.
Yours fraternally,
Walton Newbold.

We accept the correction about the I.L.P. but disagree with many of the views expressed in the letter.
Edgar Hardcastle

A Pamphlet which Misses its Mark (1932)

Pamphlet Review from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of the very large number of pamphlets claiming to be Socialist propaganda that are published month by month, only a small number are of even passing value. In the main they deal with capitalism’s problems from the standpoint of the reformer without any real grasp of Socialist principles. Occasionally something better is attempted. Among the latter is “From Slavery to Freedom,” published by the Socialist Propaganda League. It purports to be a Socialist survey of history from the earliest times, the object being to relate the Socialist future to the past development of mankind. It fails in its essential purpose for several reasons. The first is that the treatment of social development in the pamphlet is too sketchy and disjointed, due probably to the writer or writers having tackled the job without first deciding exactly what lessons were to be drawn. The value of a knowledge of history to the workers (even a much simplified and elementary knowledge) is a severely practical one. It is necessary that the workers should realise that the social system has changed in the past, that it has changed because of material forces which are still operating, that these forces work in a manner which can be expressed in laws of social development. Learning these lessons of history the worker can discover from the past how to organise for the capture of political power as a prelude to the establishment of Socialism. But to make this clear in the space of a small pamphlet is a very difficult task. The chief difficulty is to select just enough of the main features to illustrate the course of social development without making the description read like a bewildering catalogue of unrelated facts. The worker who approaches this pamphlet without previous acquaintance with the subject is likely to find it very hard to bring away the few outstanding ideas which it should have been the aim to provide.

The writer of the pamphlet has not the same excuse for certain careless and ambiguous passages in the historical section. For example, the treatment of the State is unsatisfactory and likely to mislead. Having said (p. 9) that the early Gens, Phratry, Tribe and Confederation each had its own “political organisation,” the pamphlet fails to explain the fundamental difference between that form of organisation and the later coercive political organisation—the State. On page 13 the capitalists are described as capturing “the political institutions” from the nobility, while on page 16 reference is made to the same capitalists depending upon “the centralised official and military State.” This would make it look as if the administrative organisation of the Tribes and Gens, etc., was like the political institutions controlled by the nobility, i.e., a “centralised official and military State.”

It is also very misleading to suggest, as is done on page 9, that cannibalism was an “occasional alternative” to slavery.

On page 10 is the grossly misleading assertion that under chattel slavery “wealth was overwhelmingly produced for use and not for profit.”

The inference to be drawn from the first three paragraphs on page 11 is that Feudalism originated through drought and famine in Asia and was not the offspring of conditions within the Roman Empire.

There is a slip on page 21, where it is said to be paradoxical that an employer should introduce a machine costing less than the wages of the displaced workers. “Less” should obviously be “more.”

On page 24, line 29, “creditors” should read “debtors.”

On page 16 we are told “The lands of the Monasteries and the Gilds had already been filched by the absolute monarchy,” and on the next page, “on their accession to power the merchants and manufacturing class proceeded to dispossess the Church of its lands and territories.” The suppression of the Monasteries occurred in the 16th century, before the “merchant and manufacturing class” came into possession of political power, although the movement was born of their needs.

Leaving the historical treatment and turning to the attempted exposition of Socialist principles, we find many serious defects, a few of which are briefly noted.

On page 2 we are told that the “threat of tariffs” will “still further depreciate their [workers] exiguous standard of comfort.” No further explanation is given of this statement, and the reader is left with the impression that tariffs are a cause of a lowered standard of living, and presumably, therefore, are something the worker should resist, although on page 26 free trade is called a “capitalist nostrum.”

On page 2 also we have the familiar I.L.P.-Communist nonsense, about the catastrophic collapse of capitalism in the assertion that the development of capitalism will lead “ultimately” to a condition where “production has been brought to a standstill.” A knowledge of the working of capitalism during crises would have prevented the writer from supporting this fallacy.

Again, on page 2, there is reference to the workers responding to the call for war with “a flat refusal.” This is just sentimental claptrap. A capitalist class placed in power by a non-Socialist electorate is not going to be greatly disturbed by attempts to organise a flat refusal. The curious part is that the next page contains the assertion “we cannot give support to any movements which have for their object the removal of some particular evil arising from the system itself.” Surely war is an evil arising from the system itself ?

The treatment of trade unions is muddled, apparently being the work of two persons with opposing views. One of them, on page 26, describes the evils of bureaucratic control of trade unions and asks rhetorically if the workers are not as competent as their officials “to control and manage their own organisation, not to please capital, but themselves?” This implies that trade unions can be made useful to the workers, and it is evidently the same writer who says on page 27 that the workers should “set about the task of building up more effective industrial organisations having for their motto the abolition, not the amelioration, of the wages system.” But the other writer will not have this. He says (p. 26) that “even the most perfect control over officials, and the most willing and efficient service from them could not make of trade unions an effective instrument for improving the conditions of the workers, or even retaining their hard-won present standards.” It is pertinent to ask how these “hard-won” standards were “won,” if not by trade union organisation and action. And if the workers ought to leave the present unions (as they are told on page 27) and build up “more effective industrial organisations,” having as their aim “the abolition, not the amelioration, of the wages system,” what would be the use of this if, as we are told on the next line, “industrial action can only be applied against effects of capitalism, and cannot dislodge the cause of the workers’ slavery and poverty” ?

la short, the pamphlet rejects the case made out by Marx for trade union action (see Value, Price and Profit for example), without making any serious attempt to answer his arguments.

On page 19 an explanation of the class-struggle tells the reader that the class-struggle ensues from the conflict between employers and workers over the conditions of employment, instead of out of the private ownership of the means of life. This is unsound in theory and in practise has led to many unsound actions by those who have fallen into this error.

Lastly, the pamphlet makes some malicious assertions about the S.P.G.B., for example, that it is controlled by a “caucus” although “in form, the control … is, democratic.” Anyone who cares to look at our rules and to see our E.C. and other organs at work (all of them are open to the public) will see the silliness of this assertion, for which no kind of evidence is given, except the vague implication that “all forward movements initiated outside of their own circle” are blocked. By “forward movements” the writer doubtless means such policies as the anti-Marxian and anti-working-class attitude on trade unions expressed in the pamphlet. It does not seem to have dawned on the writer of the pamphlet that such retrograde ideas make no headway in the S.P.G.B., because the members have joined it on a basis which excludes them and, therefore, do not want any such innovation.

Without saying so explicitly the pamphlet manages to imply that members of the S.P.G.B. are allowed to belong to the Angliccan or Catholic Churches. This is utterly devoid of truth.

Reference is made to the S.P.G.B.’s attitude that a Socialist, elected to Parliament by a Socialist electorate on the Socialist platform, might be instructed by the Party to vote for certain measures that might come before Parliament, on their merits. The only argument given in the pamphlet against this sound Marxian attitude is that such votes might in certain circumstances save a capitalist Government from defeat. The attitude put in the pamphlet is that “a Socialist electorate would understand the need for opposition on each and every occasion to each and every capitalist Party.” This overlooks the point that a vote against a measure introduced by a capitalist opposition party in the House might have precisely the same effect as a vote for a measure introduced by the Government, i.e., it “might save a capitalist Government from defeat.”

Incidentally, we wonder if the writer holds that a Socialist in the House of Commons ought to vote against, say, a proposal by a capitalist party to stop a war, on the ground that the proposal emanated from a capitalist party.

Our policy of fighting elections for propaganda purposes is attacked by the pamphlet, by means of the dishonest device of implying (without saying so definitely) that our candidates run on a non-Socialist programme. The writer of the pamphlet knows this to be completely untrue.

The Socialist Propaganda League should stop and consider whether its claim to be an organisation for educating the workers and clearing away confusion does not place it under the obligation of making only those statements in support of its case for which evidence can be given. Malevolent, improvable and lying insinuations, levelled on the principle that some part of a wad of mud is sure to stick, do not help the working class movement, and it is doubtful whether in. the long run they even help those who fling them.
G. H. D.

Capital (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capital is money invested for the purpose of profit. A glance at any of the company prospectuses that figure so often in the papers is convincing evidence of this. Whenever a new company commences business, or an old one proposes extending its business, an appeal is made for capital—money from investors. To obtain this money the company issues a prospectus in which figures are given with the object of proving to the prospective investor that dividends will be good and dependable.

An illustration may make the position plainer.

In the Evening News one day there appeared a notice on behalf of Parkinson & Cowan, Ltd. According to it the company offered for subscription 150,000 ordinary shares of £l each at 25s. per share. Underneath this came the statement: “The company has in every year since its incorporation in 1900 paid a dividend on its ordinary share capital; these dividends have averaged over 8¾ per cent. per annum for the whole period of thirty years.” Then followed a list of profits and dividends, showing that from 1927 to 1930 dividends of 10 per cent. were paid each year. The last paragraph gave the reason for the issue: —
“There is a continued and growing demand for gas and electricity for heating, lighting, cooking and other domestic purposes, and the directors anticipate further expansion of the company’s business.”
It will be seen that the company proposed extending its business, and for this purpose called for further capital, assuring the investing people that the company was making good and regular profits, and consequently regular dividends were assured. Dividends, of course, come out of, and depend upon, profits. What profits come out of, we will see in a moment.

The bulk of the production and distribution of wealth to-day in this country is carried on by companies that obtained their capital for starting operations, and later, for extending their operations, by the method illustrated above.

The capital obtained is spent on plant, machinery, raw materials and labour, and the business begins to take shape.The capitalist who invests may be in England, France, Germany or Africa. American capitalists invest in England; English capitalists invest in America. When it suits them, American groups cry that “Capital is going abroad”; and groups in Japan, Germany and England do likewise, because capital is international—it knows no country as its own. It is always going abroad and coming home.

The capitalist who invests in a company receives his voucher entitling him to dividends on his investments and then he has nothing more to do but sit down or roam while he waits for the dividends to roll in. And now let us see why they roll in.

Among the things the company buys with the fresh capital obtained is one that gives a greater return than it costs—the labour power of the worker. A worker produces in a day’s work goods of far more value than his wages—the price of his labour power—will purchase. Year by year the difference between what the worker produces and what he gets grows greater and greater, owing to improved organisation and labour-saving devices. The difference between the value of the labourer’s work and the value he gets is surplus value. From this surplus values comes the profits the company dangles alluringly before the investor, and provides the latter with his dividends. Capital, then, is based upon the exploitation of the worker.

An Englishman’s Home! (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ministry of Health report of the census taken last year contains information of the abominable housing conditions suffered by numbers of London workers: —
“Despite a general improvement there were still 2,086 families of from six to ten persons occupying a single room when the census was taken.”—News Chronicle, June 24th

Pioneers, Oh Pioneers! (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Observer for June 26th gives an extract from their paper of a hundred years ago, which contains the following: —
“The expedition sent out by the American Government in 1820-21 to explore the Rocky Mountains has at length been heard of after an absence of eleven years.

While west of the mountains they fell in with a tribe called the Copper Indians, who receive their name from owning extensive copper mines ; 300 of them, armed with bows and copper darts, attacked the company in day time; a severe action ensued, and only about 30 of the Indians escaped ; the rest were killed or wounded, with a loss of two killed of the company.” (Italics ours.)

Snowden’s Goodbye (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

On September 28th, Philip Snowden (now a noble Lord) wrote a letter to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald (not yet a noble Lord) giving his reasons for resigning from the National Government. Whether he proposes staging a “come-back” as leader of the Liberal Party, we do not, of course, know, but the possible future appearance at a general election of Ramsay MacDonald leading the Tories and the noble Lord leading the Liberals would certainly add to the gaiety of elections.

Lord Snowden’s long letter contains only one reference to the workers, that since the National Government has been in existence “unemployment has greatly increased.”

The following extracts from his letter (taken from the News-Chronicle, September 29th) give the basis of his reasons for leaving, and are an illuminating expression of his outlook and where his sympathies lie.

He writes: —
“But I can no longer, without loss of all self-respect, remain a member of a Government which is pursuing a policy which I believe is disastrous to the welfare of the country, which will lead to the disruption of the Empire, and which is fraught with great danger to our international relations.” (Italics ours.)

The main purpose for which the National Government was formed has been achieved. . . . The acute national emergency which then existed no longer exists. The Budget has been balanced: stern economies have been enforced; borrowing for the dole has been stopped; a great conversion scheme has been successfully carried through; and the threat to our national credit has been removed. (Italics ours.)

The Agreements (Ottawa) have surrendered our fiscal autonomy, and handed over to the Dominions the control of British trade policy, reducing this country below the status of a Dominion.

You cannot expect Free Traders to acquiesce, even passively in such a policy of national humiliation and bondage.”
How sad. How very sad ! Like the sea waves that always keep returning and telling the same old tale. After helping to enforce stern economies and stopping borrowing for the dole, to be faced with the disruption of the Empire and national humiliation. It is really too harrowing. Will it move to tears the three million unemployed and the workers who have had their wages reduced ?

Anyhow, the News-Chronicle for October 17th informs us that Lady Snowden (with portrait, as usual) is supporting the proposal of Sir Landon Ronald for the broadcast of an appropriate prelude to the Two Minutes’ Silence on Armistice Day. On the same page is a reference to a broadcast on disarmament by five Fellows of Oxford Colleges. The reference commences : —
“The writers outline the present alarming state of Europe and the growth of a situation containing the seeds of war, . . .”
However, although he has, for the moment, said goodbye to the Government, Lord Snowden is not out of the “news.” In a message to the National Association of Building Societies he is reported as delivering himself of the following: —
“By the help which this institution offers, about one-fourth of the houses in this country are now owned by their occupiers. The social significance of this fact is tremendous. It has given to this large part of the population a feeling of security and independence.”
Has the noble Lord any conception of the existence of these people who have tied a millstone around their necks for years ? The number who, through illness or unemployment, have had to give up their “own” houses and seen the small savings they had used thrown away after stinting themselves and struggling fruitlessly to meet the demands of the building societies and the expenses of their jerry-built houses ?

The value of an Englishman’s home and the reward of “thrift” is shown up in a significant manner by the following extract from the News-Chronicle of October 13th: —
“CARDIFF, Wednesday.

The Ministry of Labour are likely to become the owners of considerable house property in the mining towns of South Wales in the near future as the result of instructions recently sent to local public assistance committees.

This instruction, which is issued under the powers of the Poor Law (Public Assistance) Act of last year, requires that any applicant for relief who is an owner of property in any shape or form must first of all lodge the deeds of such property with the Public Assistance Committee.

A member of the Pontypridd Public Assistance Committee to whom I spoke to-day said the order had caused much resentment, particularly in view of the fact that hundreds of aged ex-miners, who had bought their cottage homes with their life’s savings, had, owing to the depression, come to the end of their resources and were now compelled to part with the last remaining link with prosperity and happy days.

Doubtless, said the Member, the Ministry will compel us to hold these deeds until the loans from the Public Assistance Committee are repaid. As, however, there is little likelihood of many of the being ever in a position to do this the Government looks like acquiring a lot of cheap house property.”
From the above the “social significance of ownership” certainly does appear to be “tremendous” when it is a case of workers “owning” houses which they get if they live long enough, keep up the payments, and the houses are still standing at the end of the term.

Fellow workers, how much longer will you allow shallow self-seekers, like Snowden and his kind, to throw dust in your eyes and divert you from the only thing that matters—the control of your destinies by yourselves.

Notes by the Way: Tall Stories from Russia (1932)

The Notes by the Way Column from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tall Stories from Russia

Owing to technical deficiencies and the repercussions of the world crisis, the industrial development of Russia is failing to come up to expectations, and many exaggerated claims are now being written down. Information is not easy to obtain. For example, as soon as the monthly output figures in various branches of production began to fail below the figures for the preceding month and the corresponding month of the previous year, the monthly journal of the Soviet Bank in London conveniently ceased to publish the figures at all, although hitherto they had appeared regularly.

Much has been written of the enormous motor works built on “Ford” lines at Nijni Novgorod. It was declared open on November 1st, 1931, but it was soon apparent that it was beyond the present capacity of the Russian workers to operate this up-to-date mass production, plant. Mr. Emrys Hughes (Forward, September 17th) writes of these difficulties, and then says : —
“From nothing the output had reached 30 cars a day, and then 40. Order was slowly emerging from the chaos. Every day brought more experience: in 1933 Nijni would turn out 70,000 cars.”
Mr. Hughes is, we believe, mistaken, his figures refer to “trucks” not passenger cars, although the works are equipped for both. The claim for 30 or 40 a day is far below the promised 70,000 a year, and a very sorry output in comparison with what was promised in January, 1932.

The Moscow Daily News Weekly Edition, (August 15th) publishes an article by Victor Vacsov dealing with the car output of the Nijni Novgorod works. In it Vacsov admits that “the automobile industry of the U.S.S.R,, which is only one year old, has not as yet produced any passenger cars. The first cars of a Ford Model-A type are now being produced.”

He says that research is still going on to decide “What type of car is best suited to Soviet conditions.”

The failure of the Nijni Novgorod works up to the present, incidentally, shows up many visitors in Russia who came back and reported that all was well. For example, there is the dramatic critic, Mr. Herbert Griffiths, who, in his “Seeing Soviet Russia,” reported—on the strength of second hand accounts from expert eye witnesses–that it was a “star-turn” !

The Communists get very angry when doubt is cast on their figures and claims, but they should remember that they have themselves to blame. A Party which for years has preached the doctrine of “lying and subterfuge” (Lenin’s words) as a method of gaining control of the workers’ trade union organisations, can hardly complain if the world occasionally doubts their veracity.

The Means Test and the Labour Party

The agitation for the removal of the “Means Test” is instructive from several points of view. The unemployed man or woman ceases after 20 weeks in a year to be entitled to unemployment insurance pay on the ordinary conditions. He or she then has to apply for transitional benefit, which is granted in whole or in part according to the means of the applicant and his or her family. The decision is made by the Public Assistance Committee and is based on a minute inquiry into the savings, earnings, pension, etc., of all the members of the family. In short, it is the application of the years old Poor Law system to unemployment insurance pay—which has not prevented the Labour Party (which administered the system for Poor Law purposes when in office) from protesting indignantly at its use for unemployment insurance purposes.

One for the Currency Cranks

The sectional interests of manufacturing, land owning and financial capitalists have always puzzled and misled the Labour Party and its satellites making them easy victims for the quacks who believe that the ills of capitalism can be cured by land tax or by currency juggling. Yet the situation is not difficult to grasp. The workers produce the wealth, the capitalists own it. Out of the mass of wealth they produce the workers receive wages based on their cost of living. Out of the remainder the capitalists must meet all the expenses of production, and the costs of government, etc. Then they divide up the balance on terms which are the subject, of contract between themselves. In a time of expansion, when prices are rising, the capitalist who has goods to sell is improving his position. At such a time—for example, during the War—the Labourites howl loudly about the “profiteer” and the “hard-faced business man.” During the next phase of the normal cycle of capitalism, when prices are falling, it is the turn of the money-lending capitalist to prosper, the man who has contracted to receive a fixed money return on a certain sum lent or invested. Now it is he who is getting a larger and larger relative share of the total wealth of the capitalist class. Then the Labourite turns soft on his poor, dear friend, the manufacturing capitalist, and joins with him in denouncing the wicked bankers who “grow rich on adversity.” What is overlooked all the time is that the workers, as a class, do not alter their general position whatever happens. The ups and downs of prices and interest rates are only a matter between the groups of capitalists themselves, and the changes that take place are not the work of conspiring individuals but are governed by the forces inherent in the capitalist system itself. It is not the “greed of the profiteer” which sends prices up at times of expansion—for, obviously, if it were he would never permit them to fall again. Nor is it the plotting of the bankers which sends prices down during a depression—for if bankers had much control over prices they would never suffer them to rise again.

At the moment the currency cranks are gaining widespread acceptance for their claim that the bankers can and do control prices and interest rates, and that the bankers have it in their power (by increasing or decreasing the supply of credit) to increase or decrease the volume of trade and the amount of money on deposit in the banks, and, in short, to make “prosperity” or “depression” as they choose.

A glance at a few facts will show the absurdity of this. If the banks have such power, why have they allowed the bank rate to fall from five-and-a-half per cent. in 1926 and six per cent. in 1931 to two per cent. now? Why have they allowed the rate of interest paid by the Government on Treasury Bills to fall to the extraordinarily low level of three-quarters of one per cent. And why, after making a concerted move to force the rate up in the week ended October 15th, 1932, were they compelled to take actually less than the week before, i.e., 15s,. per £100 instead of 16s. l1d. (See Daily Telegraph, October 15th, 1932.) The fact is that bankers, just as much as any other section of the capitalist class, have to work within the limits set by the economic forces of capitalism. They can take advantage of, but cannot control, those forces. A glut of money seeking investment in gilt-edged securities (because of the declining profits and insecurity of industrial investments) will force the interest rates down in spite of all the bankers can do.

Similarly, with the stupid notion that bankers can “create credit” at will, and that bank deposits are the result of banks deciding to increase their loans to industry. This theory ignores the fact that banks want security for their loans and that money lent to produce more goods for an already glutted market would be money thrown away. The theory assumes that bank loans and bank deposits rise and fall simultaneously, the former being the cause of the latter. Actually, during the past year bank deposits have increased by over £100 million, while bank loans have not risen but have fallen by over £90 millions. (See Evening Standard, September 9th, 1932.) What has actually happened is what an understanding of capitalism leads us to expect. In times of depression, with production in excess of the demands of the market, the banks lend less because security is lacking; and investors seek safety in gilt-edged securities or by increasing their deposits with the banks. The theories of the currency cranks are in flat contradiction with the facts, but thousands of observers continue to be taken in by them, including many of the so-called labour leaders and representatives of labour colleges.
Edgar Hardcastle

SPGB Meetings (1932)

Party News from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Notes:
In all probability the Tory who debated Edgar Hardcastle in Stratford, a Mrs E. Tennant, was Eleonora Tennant

Eleonora Tennant stood as a Tory candidate in the East End of London (Silvertown) at the 1931 and 1935 General Elections and, let's be honest, women being so under-represented in politics in the 1930s, what are the chances of there being two Mrs E. Tennants' in the Tory Party active in the East End of London at this time? If you click on her wiki page you'll go down a rabbit hole of far right and anti-semitic politics which covers both Britain and Australia.

The January 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard carried a report of the debate between Edgar Hardcastle and N. Dunbar of the Independent Labour Party which took place in Bethnal Green.

The Dispute in the Textile Trades (1932)

From the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January, 1931, the Textile employers declared a lock-out over wages and the attempt to secure the introduction of the more-looms-to-a-weaver system. The workers put up a stronger resistance than the employers had anticipated (all the stronger because the trade union members resolutely refused to give their officials power to negotiate), and on February 16th the lock-out was withdrawn. The employers continued to press this year for wage reductions and more looms—and on July 25th a strike began at Burnley, followed on August 29th by a general stoppage of work by the weavers. After a dispute lasting for a month, work was resumed on September 28th, most of the strikers being taken on again. The terms were a heavy defeat for the workers; wages are reduced by about eight-and-a-half per cent. (1s. 8½d. in the £), the more-looms system is to be introduced as soon as a Conciliation Committee is appointed, which is expected to be within two months, and the provision for reinstating strikers is most unsatisfactory. The Employers’ central organisation is merely bound “to recommend its local associations strongly to persuade all their members to offer employment as speedily as possible to all operatives who have been displaced.” How unsatisfactory this is will be seen from the fact that one of the questions at issue in the general dispute was the employers’ refusal to reinstate strikers already out at Burnley.

Part of the weakness of the textile workers is plainly due to disunity and faulty organisation. The Weavers’ Amalgamation consists at present of 36 district associations, each of which has complete autonomy and can act independently of the others. One of the results of the strike failure is a renewed move to form the 36 associations into one centralised union. On the other hand, the Nelson Weavers’ Association is balloting on s proposal to withdraw from the amalgamation because of dissatisfaction with the settlement, and at Burnley a new local union has been formed in opposition to the Burnley Weavers’ Association, which is also a local organisation. The new union is stressing the principles (embodied in its rules) that “no strike will be initiated or ended without members meeting” and “members’ decision in any dispute shall be final” (Manchester Guardian, October 17th). One of the provisional officials said that the members thought it would be easier to form a new body than to reform the old, and that considerable support is being given among the weavers.

A still further cause of weakness is the failure of the textile workers as a whole to act together. Emboldened by their victory over the weavers the employers then pressed their demand for reductions of pay of the spinners. At first the employers declared that on no consideration whatever would, they agree to a smaller reduction than 1s. 8½d. in the £ (the figure accepted by the weavers in their settlement).

The unions had already agreed (Manchester Guardian, October 19th) to accept a reduction of 9¾d. in the £, and when a lock-out was threatened for Monday, October 24th, a settlement was reached on the basis of a reduction of 1s. 6½d in the £.

One lesson of these disputes is obvious. The workers cannot hope to put up the maximum resistance that conditions will allow if they are hopelessly divided, giving the employers the opportunity of depleting their funds by sectional disputes and defeating them piecemeal.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Communist Party Shirks Debate (1932)

Party News from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

On several occasions the Communist Party have played the trick which the letter below illustrates. To impress an audience their speakers will issue a challenge to debate, but if the challenge is accepted the Communist Party subsequently repudiates it. The following letter was sent to the West Ham Branch of the S.P.G.B., in reply to a letter asking for the debate to be arranged : —
The Communist Party of Great Britain,
West Ham Local. 
Reply to 11, Carson Road, Plaistow, E.16.
Sept. 12th, 1932. 
Mr. P. Hallard. 
Dear Sir, 
Re your letter of the 4th inst., enquiries have been made into the authenticity of the challenge, and we are forced to the conclusion that the challenge emanated from an irresponsible source. 
Undoubtedly it was issued from our platform, but the speaker was not a member of the Communist Party, and was, no doubt, unaware that the Communist Party sees no useful purpose served in entering into debates with the S.P.G.B.
Yours faithfully,
(Organiser) S. Warren.

Letter: Socialists and “Doing Nothing” (1932)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sept. 10th, 1932.

Dear Sir,
I have been a reader of the Socialist Standard for the past year or so, and I find that the “letter to a young Socialist” in the current issue expresses very well indeed the point of view consistently put forward by you. As a worker who is in a regular job and not at present suffering the pangs of hunger, I can sit back in my chair (after reading this article) and say “very good, indeed.”

I quite agree that we must go on educating the workers until we have an intelligent class conscious democracy, but I wonder if I, and you, too, my dear sir, would be quite so satisfied to wait, if we happened to be out of job and well below the starvation line. Suffering is increasing rapidly among the workers, as we all know, and it is very easy for us to tell them to be patient, but quite a different matter when in their position. Do you think it is possible to make all the workers understand Marxism any more than it is possible to make them all understand the technicalities of wireless. Many of them have not the desire to do so, even if they had the intelligence.
J. G.

Our correspondent has only partly grasped the point of the article to which he refers (“The Time for Action” September Socialist Standard). We say that certain forms of activity which deal with effects are only of limited use and that certain other forms are useless and dangerous, but we certainly do not add, as our correspondent seems to imagine we do, that therefore the workers should do nothing. We do not say that they should be patient and passive, but that they should act intelligently. The only activities which will lead to emancipation, studying and teaching Socialist principles and organising to take the necessary action to get Socialism, are not jobs for those who are satisfied to sit back in their chairs and wait. Nor are they jobs beyond the capacity of the average worker. Our correspondent asserts that it is not possible to get all the workers to understand the technicalities of wireless. True, but then the majority of the workers do not need or desire to do so. But J.G., we notice, does not commit himself to the further assertion that the workers are incapable of doing so. Actually, the workers have to understand the technicalities of the productive and other processes at which they earn their living. Are they capable of running industry but incapable of understanding the running of society? When it is driven home to the workers that understanding the latter is at least as important to them as the former, they will grasp it without much difficulty.

Incidentally, we do not agree with the view of J.G., that the workers in work have no troubles and have reason to be satisfied. Neither do they, for millions of them show signs of active if misdirected dissatisfaction with the conditions of their lives.

It would have been helpful if J.G. had told us what he thinks the unemployed can usefully do, since he agrees with us that blind revolt is useless, but at the same time rejects intelligent revolutionary action.
Ed. Comm.

Answers to Correspondents (1932)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

H. A. Heddon, 1120, East Century Blvd., Los Angeles, California.—Thanks for your letter. The “Open Letter to Norman Thomas” is rather out of our line. Why not send it to Norman Thomas’s own paper? Our criticism of his position would be different from yours. We do not agree that capitalism is near total collapse. Nor do we agree that a socialist programme would at present attract as much support as a reformist programme. If Norman Thomas put the Socialist case he would lose the support he now gets from reformists, but his opposition to Socialism does not prevent you and other Socialists from lining up with the Workers’ Socialist Party of the U.S.A. and helping on the work of making Socialists.
Ed. Comm.

“One who was in Russia.“—If this correspondent will give his name and address, not necessarily for publication, we will reply to his letter.
Ed. Comm.