Friday, December 8, 2023

Editorial: Christmas gifts to the old age pensioners (1954)

Editorial from the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The vote-catching of the professional politicians determined at all costs to get power for themselves and their party is an unseemly business at all times but the way the Government and the Opposition exploit the needs of the pensioners in the hope of catching their votes at the next election is more than usually indecent. Fifty or a hundred years ago when the aged poor were stowed away in workhouses or their gratitude cheaply bought with private and organised charity the votes of the men had a certain importance but as worn out workers then died much faster than they do now the vote-catching element was of less account. But now they live longer, the women have votes as well as the men, and the total voting strength of the Tory and Labour parties is so evenly matched that it matters very much which party captures most of the vote. So as each general election approaches we witness the parties parading the hardships of the poverty-stricken pensioners in the verbal and statistical battle to prove which government of skinflints holds the palm for callousness, the one now in office or its predecessor.

Of course to read the heart throbbing speeches of the combatants one might be led to believe that there really is something to choose between them, but the facts belie it. Neither the pre-war governments, nor the Labour Government after the war nor the present Government has provided or will provide more than a miserly sum barely sufficient to help keep the pensioners alive.

A special correspondent of The Times (22/10/54) reviewed the post-war history of pension and assistance rates and showed how cheeseparingly each government has behaved. The original rates of pension fixed in 1946 gave 42/- for a married couple. It was, says the correspondent, fixed as a “Spartan” standard “somewhat less generous than the standard provided by national assistance during the past six years.” The correspondent then measures the increases of the rates since 1946 against the rise in the cost of living, but austerely using as yardstick not the rise of the cost of living of workers in work because that includes the more-than-average increase in the price of alcohol and tobacco “and other ‘non-essentials'," but a more restricted measure based on “subsistence" costs. He finds that by 1948 the purchasing power of pensions was already eight per cent. below the level of 1946, by 1952, in spite of higher pension rates the rise in the cost of living had cut the value of pensions by 11 per cent. and today what they will buy is 15 per cent below the original level. “In terms of 1946 purchasing power benefits in 1954 should have been 64/- for a couple and 39/6 for a single person, against 54/- and 32/6 actually."

Of course the responsibility for this miserable state of affairs, which will not be materially improved by the present Government’s increases nor by those of any future Labour or other Government administering capitalism, rests on the pensioners themselves along with the rest of the working class. They vote for capitalism and their position is one of the consequences of the system they vote for. But even on the short-sighted view of making the best of the capitalism they vote for they should at least refrain from feeling grateful to the Labour and Tory Governments for the mean-spirited “improvements" grudgingly handed out. If the pensioners are content to sell their votes why sell them so cheaply?

An English general once coined the phrase, with reference to old soldiers, that a grateful county will never forget you. With some amendment this is true for the old-age pensioners. If they make themselves sufficient of a nuisance their Labour and Tory self-styled benefactors may be induced to raise pensions again up to or even beyond the insultingly low purchasing power calculated by Beveridge in 1946.

50 Years Ago: Socialist Unity (1954)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most important questions raised at the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam was that of Socialist Unity. This is by no means the first time that consideration has been given to this subject. It has often been felt by many of those who have taken part in Socialist propaganda and Socialist organisation that much harm was done by the existence in this and other countries of rival Socialist organisations. And those who have thus felt have been anxious to find some means of unifying the Socialist parties in each country. The International Congress has on the present occasion contented itself with passing a pious resolution recommending the various groups in any country to use their best endeavours to secure this end.

We confess that we are not sanguine that anything will be done. And we are by no means certain that if anything could be done that such thing would be desirable. We are all for unity. We believe that unity of party organisation based upon unity of purpose, unity of principle, and unity of method, is the one thing desirable. But today we are only too sure that such unity of party organisation, so far as the various groups of Socialists in any country are concerned, would be at the expense of unity of purpose, principle and method.

In the field of Socialist thought and Socialist action there are today two distinct tendencies to be found: the revolutionary and the revisionist. At one time the main trend of Socialist development was essentially revolutionary, but today the Socialist movement has been overtaken by a wave of revisionism.

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There are in England—in addition to The Socialist Party of Great Britain—three organisations closely identified with Socialism, viz., the Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation, and the Independent Labour Party. Of these four organisations the three latter are revisionists, the former is revolutionary. Hence while there exists no apparent reason—except the jealousy of the individual members—why the three revisionist bodies should not unite, the Socialist Party, taking its stand on the class struggle, which the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party in their writings, and the Social- Democratic Federation by their actions deny, is fundamentally opposed to these other parties.

Unity is an important factor in the growth of a party, but it is not the most important Better far to have a party, however small, with common principles and a common end, than a party, however large, which is bound by no tie save party interest. We, therefore, who differ from these other parties in essential principles—inasmuch as we accept the principle of the class struggle while they do not—cannot consent to unite our forces with theirs. It would weaken both parties—and the weakening would be more disastrous to the uncompromising section than to the revisionist

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We cannot see, therefore, how we can secure unity by joining hands with these organisations. They are carrying out a policy with which we cannot agree, and we, and with us the Socialist movement of this country, of which we claim to be the truest representatives, would be hardened for a space. We are all for unity, but it is for a unity firmly established on a common aim, and a common method. Any other unity is but a delusion.

[From the "Socialist Standard," December, 1904]

Down your way (1954)

From the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s happening down your way? What are you talking about in the office? Football Pools? T.V.? The cost of living? Marilyn Monroe? Probably. Workers are apathetic about most social questions; and the political parties are finding it increasingly difficult to attract audiences to their meetings.

But are the workers really satisfied with present-day conditions? Are you satisfied? Surely not. You’re fed-up with hydrogen bombs, the talk of war, the cost of living, the Labour Party—and the Tories. They both promised to solve your housing problems, rising prices. They promised you peace—whilst preparing for war. Is it surprising that you are cynical and apathetic? That you are fed-up with “politics?” Most people think there can be no solution to all these evils that beset us; and that the present order—or “ disorder ” of society will always be with us.

Yes, you are quite right “Politics,” that is the politics of running this present system, is a “dirty game.” And we, as Socialists, are not interested in playing the game. We know that the various political parties that promise to solve your problems for you are incapable of doing so. We know that the present system of society—capitalism—cannot be run in your interest. That is why we propose that you change it. That is why we want to get you interested, not so much in “politics,” but in society as it is; and in society as it could be, as it must be, in the future. We want you to desire and work for an entirely new way of life.

In the world today the means of producing the things we need and desire do not belong to society as a whole: they are owned by quite a small section of the community—the capitalist class. Most of us own none of these things. All that we as workers possess is our ability to work. And our employers only employ us in order that 'they make a profit. After all, that is why they are in business. Such is the nature of capitalism. Now, without going into a great deal of detail at the moment, we can say that it is this state of affairs—the private ownership of the means of living and production for profit—that is the basic cause of most of present-day problems. That is why we want you to get interested in our ideas; why we want you to cease being cynical and apathetic. Instead of putting your trust in politicians and leaders—until you get fed-up with them!—we suggest you do a little thinking for yourselves.

We Socialists are ordinary people. We have studied our society and have come to the conclusion that whilst the present profit-making system remains we will never get rid of the evils of war, insecurity and the rest. We think that only by changing the whole structure of society will we get rid of these problems. Only by making the means of life—the factories, offices, railways, etc.—the common possession of all people, and producing the things necessary to satisfy people’s needs and desires solely for use and not for profit will we eradicate these evils.

This, briefly, is our alternative to “ politics,” football pools, the  "dogs’’—and apathy.

Think it over.
Peter E. Newell

Party News Briefs (1954)

Party News from the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Autumn Delegate Meeting, held this year at Denison House, was, if uneventful, quite successful although the delegation was not as well attended as usual. The only Provincial Branches present were Manchester and Swansea.

The Social held on the Saturday at Head Office after the first day’s business was over, was a very happy one, the decorations were particularly attractive, mainly the work of members of South West London Branch.

“The Socialist Standard” sales are not as we would wish, despite the fact that members in several branches, Ealing and West Ham in particular, are making great efforts in their own districts. The subscription form in this issue is a reminder that members and sympathisers can ensure a regular copy of the Standard each month and the Literature Committee, would be happy to cope with the additional work of a record number of subscriptions ! If each reader can get an additional subscriber, it would be a good start for increased sales in the New Year.

Glasgow (City and Kelvingrove Branches) are continuing with success, their weekly indoor lectures, but 19th December is a special occasion, when they are arranging a debate with a representative from the Scottish National Congress. There will not be a meeting on January 1st as it is anticipated that the attendance would be poor owing to the fact that it is a Scottish holiday.

Treetops (Surrey) was the venue for another happy and successful week-end for a small group of Party Members. Several discussions and arguments took place between members and those of the International Friendship League—who claimed to be “non-political.” Members had excellent opportunities of putting forward the Party’s case to a gathering which represented 18 nations, including some from Yugo-Slavia who thought they had Socialism “ a la Tito.” More propaganda among such people should be done.

South-West London Brunch would like to draw the attention of members to the series of Sunday evening lectures being held at Head Office throughout the winter months. Several interesting topics will be dealt with and it is hoped that more members will bring along their friends to these lectures and so get them interested in the Socialist case.
Phyllis Howard

SPGB Meetings (1954)

Party News from the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
R. B. Wilkie of the Scottish National Congress was Robert Blair Wilkie. It's worthwhile checking out his obituary from the Glasgow Herald from 1998. He lived a full (political) life.