Monday, December 11, 2023

50 Years Ago: Vietnam – again? (2022)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

If one war can be more depraved and dehumanising than another, then only in these terms is there a winner in Vietnam. For more than thirty years, virtually non-stop, Vietnam has been ravaged by the modern military hardware of rival armies. Back in 1941 the Japanese; then the British, then the French, the Vietnamese themselves, and finally the Americans. The wholesale slaughter and destruction, and the indifference to human suffering has been common to them all. The lying and hypocrisy of the politicians on all sides has been outstripped only by their gory deeds.

In the name of peace, the war steadily escalated for eight years. In the name of freedom, brutal dictators were installed and people whose “freedom” was denied burned themselves alive in protest. In the name of democracy, elections were suspended. In the name of liberation, many hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been blown to pieces or burned alive with napalm. On the ideological pretence of stemming “communism” every conceivable horror and outrage has been practised. Regardless of how many Vietnamese were killed in the process, they had to be “saved”. The utter ruthlessness of governments purporting to be champions of the “free” world could hardly be surpassed by those of police-state dictatorships.

America has suffered the humiliation of having to bring members of her armed forces to trial, accused of atrocities against the people they were supposed to be defending, while those atrocities were condoned by the then deputy leader of the British Labour government. We have witnessed the spectacle of returning military personnel denouncing the war and their own brutal conduct. The American Army has had to face the desertion of tens of thousands of its men, while the scale of drug-taking was so vast among those who remained in the war, it had to be virtually ignored.

There have been massive demonstrations against the war, throughout America’s largest cities, with the added irony that the same coercive State apparatus which carried on the war was frequently used against the demonstrators. In Britain, as in other parts of the world, there were also demonstrations. The British “left” which organised the protests here were not opposed to the war as such, but were anti-America, and favoured a Northern victory. They dragged out all the anti-working-class arguments about national independence and home-rule to justify their support for the bloody butchers on the other side.

(Socialist Standard, December 1972)

Dear Old Pals. The Anglo-German line up (1954)

From the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well! Well! So the Germans are Britain’s Allies now! Dr. Adenauer himself has said “it is astonishing.”
“Britain and Germany have signed a treaty to defend one another instead of attacking each other "—(Sunday Express, 24/10/54.)
It must be a great comfort to the people. After two most frightful wars to smash Germany down, the capitalists of Britain and America are now intent on building Western Germany up.

Those past the half-century mark, with a moment to spare for introspection, may well recall the scenes of days gone by. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag!” “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” The Recruiting Office in Whitehall packed with jostling crowds fighting to get into the army first. The Derby Scheme with its armlet, German bakers' shops looted. “ Society ladies chasing about with white feathers. The Great Shell Shortages! Lloyd-George! Minister of Munitions.

The 1915 disasters, Lloyd-George, Prime Minister 

The same Sunday newspaper which reported the news of the Anglo-German Alliance is serialising a new biography of David Lloyd-George.
“To-day’s episode tells of a military disaster which caused grief and misery in nearly four hundred thousand British homes.”
It is the story of Passchendaele, the most stupid and disastrous blunder of the 1918 war.

Four hundred thousand men floundered through mud knee-deep to their doom, trying to capture a piece of land the size of Green Park, Piccadilly.

This was the area at which Haig’s Chief of Staff, Kiggel, visiting the scene after the battle, broke down and wept, sobbing “Good God! did we really send men to fight in that”

That same Passchendaele of which Siegfried Sassoon wrote:
“If I were bald, and fat, and short of breath 
I’d live with scarlet majors at the base 
And speed glum heroes up the line to death 
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face 
Gulping and guzzling in the best hotel 
Poor young chap. I’d say, I knew his father well.
Yes! we lost heavily in that last scrap 
And when war was o’er and youth stone-dead 
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed ”
Months afterwards, years afterwards, Lloyd-George was asked, if he knew how idiotic Haig and Robertson really were, why he did not sack them out of hand. In his Memoirs he said he dared not take the risk, when the Press were supporting the High Command, which might have required a General Election.

This explanation may satisfy Mr. Owen and some of his readers. It will not do for Socialists. The Socialist Party has a very vivid recollection of those war years.

It was during 1915 and '16 when Haig was “speeding glum heroes up the line to death" that our public meetings were smashed up by hysterically-patriotic members of the British working class.

The self-same violently nationalistic propaganda-drunk workers who cheered Haig’s ludicrous military blunders—booed the Socialist Party speakers who stood up to say that the war was for profits, and would bring workers nothing but disaster.

While nearly a million British soldiers staggered through a sea of mud in Belgium a tiny handful tried to fight through the sea of lies at home—the odds proved too great—the Socialist Party did the only thing possible, stood down until a few more workers came to their senses.

This is the real explanation of those harrowing events. Even two years afterwards, Lloyd-George could still win an election on “Homes for Heroes,” “Make Germany Pay,” and “ Hang the Kaiser,” though the victory was short lived. The political ignorance of the working-class was the ground upon which Haig could hound them to death.

It was this ignorance which blinded workers to their own interests. Understanding nothing of class society, the majority of workers thought they had something to gain from the defeat of Germany. They thought it their interest to prevent German capitalists acquiring British trade. Most of them thought their employers their benefactors—not their exploiters. In brief, knowing nothing of Socialism they supported Capitalism—and inevitably its wars.

Lloyd-George’s election stunts became notorious. The mere mention of “‘Homes for Heroes” got laughs for years, but, after many twists and turns, Baldwin, Ramsay Mac, Chamberlain and Co., the same old routine started all over again.

The same blunders were repeated in 1939/45 by military commanders who must not be mentioned because they have not yet “died in bed.” 1939, a change of labels—but basically the same—and a working class which still did not know that society is divided into two classes, with opposing interests, marched, or now, was rushed, to the shambles in fast trucks.

By now, science had “improved” war. No need to rush to the front, the aeroplane dropped it on you. Still, the workers support their masters, although 60,000 registered objection to the war.

And now, after two doses, Britain and Germany are Allies, “pledged to defend each other against a common aggressor.” What again? Yes! All over again.

And will all those who marched to smash Germany and “make her pay” rise up as one man in burning indignation at the futile squandering of life and wealth in two past wars, and cry aloud—"We will not fight for Germany, and mock our fallen comrades?”

They will not.

Until such time as a sizeable number of workers are Socialists, the people remain hydrogen-bomb dust for the modern Douglas Haigs.

The Economics of Capitalism - Part 4 (1954)

From the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from the November issue.)

Surplus value is the pivot of Capitalism and the theory of surplus value was Marx’s principal contribution to political economy. It solved the problem of the accumulation of wealth in a system in which value is exchanged for value, yet one portion of society gets enormously rich and the other pitifully poor.

We have already seen that commodities exchange at their values, that is, according to the labour required to produce them. The worker also possesses a commodity, his labour-power or physical and mental energy, which he sells to the Capitalist in return for wages. The value of the worker’s labour-power, contained in his brain and muscles, is determined in the same way as the values of other commodities, by the labour time used up in producing it. This may sound strange as labour-power is not an article that can be seen, like a chair or a table. It is the stored-up energy in the human body, and it is only expressed when in action producing something like a chair or a table; it is represented by the finished chair or table. It is not paid for until it has been in operation producing something, and even then only for the time it has been in operation producing.

The worker’s labour-power comes from the food he eats, and he must have clothes to wear and somewhere to sleep in order that this labour-power may be conserved and capable of functioning productively. He must also be able to bring up children to replace him as a producer when he is worn out. The cost of production of labour-power is determined by the cost of the food, clothing, shelter, and so forth, that is necessary to enable the worker to do the particular kind of work required. The value of labour-power is therefore equal to the value of what the worker needs in order to live and bring up a family. The worker sells his labour-power by the week or the month for a sum of money that enables him to buy what he needs in order to live, and in getting these things he gets the full value of his labour-power; value has been exchanged for an equivalent value.

In working for the capitalist the worker produces commodities that, although sold at their values, yet realise a profit for the capitalist, in spite of the fact that the values of the commodities are determined by the quantity of labour required to produce them.

It may be wondered where the profit comes from when all commodities, including the workers labour- power, exchange at their values. The answer to the riddle is a simple one but it is concealed by the buying and selling system. The answer is that the labour-power the worker sells differs from all other commodities in that its “consumption” results in a greater value than itself. Labour-power in action produces more value than the value of the food, clothing, and other tilings upon which its own value is based. If it costs in money, say, £5 to purchase what will keep the worker for a week, then, in the course of that week, he will add value to products far in excess of £5, otherwise he would not be employed. The difference between the £5 the worker gets and the greater value he produces is the source of the capitalists’ profits.

Thus by employing workers the capitalist makes a profit, and, generally speaking, the more workers he employs the more profit he makes. Although the worker is able to get the value of his labour-power the worker is robbed in the course of the productive process because more value is produced by him than he receives in wages. While he is producing commodities the worker is also producing surplus-value for the capitalist.

We have seen that the worker sells his labour-power at its cost of production, the value of his means of subsistence; if half a day’s labour is sufficient to reproduce the value of this labour-power then the value, or price, of a full day’s labouring is equivalent to the value of the product of half a day’s labour. The other half of the day the labourer works for nothing, gives his labour free. Here Marx distinguishes the first half of the day’s work as necessary labour, labour necessary to reproduce the workers’ cost of subsistence, and the second half of the day’s work as surplus labour, or surplus-value. Out of this surplus-value comes rent, interest, profit, taxes, the means to replace worn out means of production, and the means to expand production. After rent, interest, taxes, and the personal needs of the capitalists have been met, as well as any other incidental expenses, the amount of surplus value (previously turned into money) left over is invested in fresh means of production, that is to say, it is converted into capital; it carries on, in ever growing volume, the process of producing value and surplus-value.

Although the term “capital” is applied to instruments of production of all kinds, these instruments only become capital under special conditions; these conditions are that they shall be employed for the purpose of producing commodities whose sale will realise a profit to their owners. A machine is not capital just because it is a machine; it only becomes capital under social conditions where it is used to extract surplus value from the worker. All modern productive processes commence with the investment of money; it has even become a general conviction, in spite of the contrary evidence of history, that there cannot be any production without money ; yet money is only a link between the production and consumption of articles and only exists in social systems where there is buying and selling, and even there, is limited to those articles that are bought and sold, commodities.

The capitalist buys buildings, machinery, raw materials and labour-power, and then the production of commodities commences. Thus originally all capital is money; it is money invested for the purpose of profit. In the finished commodity the value of the buildings, machinery, and raw materials is passed over intact, and for this reason Marx calls the capital invested in these things “constant capital.” Thus if the total value of these three items over a period amounts to say £20,000 then the finished articles during the period will only contain £20,000 worth of buildings, machinery, and raw material. Of course, in practice, buildings and machinery only give up their values piecemeal; for example, a machine that wears out in five years gives up, or passes over, to the yearly product one fifth of its value each year. With labour-power the position is entirely different. The worker carries over the value of the constant capital to the product and also adds fresh value, the quantity of which is determined by the amount of time he takes to produce the commodity; Marx defines capital invested in labour-power, wages, as “variable capital,” because the quantity of value it adds varies according to a number of conditions.

We have already shown that the wages the worker receives in return for his labouring are not the equivalent of the fresh value he adds to the commodity, but a much lower figure than this. The peculiarity of labour-power, and the secret of the accumulation of capital, is that labour-power in action produces a greater value than it itself possesses. The value of the finished commodity, then, is equal to the values of the buildings, machinery, raw materials, and labour-power plus the surplus above the value of labour-power.

This surplus-value is the portion out of which the capitalist gets his profit, and which enables him to go on expanding production; the greater the relative portion of surplus-value he extracts from the worker, the greater the capacity of capital to expand. It is the real reason for the existence of capital. The greater the expansion of production then, generally, the greater the number of workers the capitalist employs, and the larger grows the absolute quantity of surplus-value. It is only out of the workers’ labouring that the capitalist grows rich and capital accumulates. Hence between capitalist and worker there is an antagonism of interest; the capitalist tries to increase the relative quantity of surplus-value extracted from the labour of each worker, while the worker tries to diminish it by increasing the price he receives for his labour-power. The capitalist, owing to an increase in the productiveness of labour, may get more this year than last and yet pay the worker higher wages, still the relative portion of the total production taken by the worker, as represented by his wages, is smaller. The increase in the worker’s wages has not kept pace with his increasing productivity; he is more exploited now than he used to be.

The aim of the capitalist is to accumulate capital on an ever-increasing scale; for this purpose there must be a corresponding expansion of the market for commodities; the thirst for markets becomes unquenchable and a source of conflict between national groups. In their feverish and insane scramble to get rich, money is invested in productive undertakings that periodically glut the markets; masses of commodities remain unsold and crises develop that ruin investors and put workers out of work, progressively reducing the buyers and accentuating the crisis. Commodities, for which starving and ill-clad people are badly in need, deteriorate or are destroyed. The effects of crises eventually slow down production until the commodities that are stopping up the pores of circulation trickle away; then production is once more stepped up and the way is prepared for another crisis. Periodical crises and unemployment are two problems the capitalist has been trying to solve for over a hundred years but both problems continue to exist. They are not solvable under Capitalism; they are rooted in the system of private production for an unpredictable market. A considerable influence on the production of crises is the introduction of labour-saving machinery and methods. As we have already shown the source of profit is the exploitation of the worker and hence the capitalist aims at increasing this exploitation as much as possible by getting a larger product with a smaller expenditure in wages; mass production methods is an instance of this, demanding huge productive units employing a relatively small number of workers turning out commodities in bewildering quantities. But it must be remembered that profit only comes out of the worker’s unpaid labour, and therefore, there is a limit to how far the capitalist can go in dispensing with workers.

The rate of profit on capital invested does not indicate the extent of the surplus-value produced by the worker. The rate of profit and the rate of exploitation, that is, the rate of surplus-value, are quite distinct. If a capitalist invests say £20,000 in a year as constant capital (machinery, raw materials, etc.), and £5,000 as variable capital (wages) and the value of the year’s product is £30,000; then the profit on the total capital invested is £5,000, that is 20 per cent. The capital invested in wages, however, is only £5,000, for which a value of £10,000 has been freshly produced (the £20,000 constant capital has been incorporated in the product unchanged). The rate of exploitation is £5,000 beyond the £5,000 invested in wages, that is 100 per cent. Thus, if the enormous increase in the quantity of capital that has to be invested in buildings, machinery, and raw materials now-a-days caused a fall in the rate of profit, it would go hand in handed with an increase in the rate of exploitation. In other words the legalised robbery of the workers grows. In fact, the rate of profit does not fall.

What we have put forward in these articles is only an outline of some of the ideas contained in Marx’s Capital. Numerous professors of political economy have attacked these ideas, in spite of which the main propositions still hold the field, 80 years after the book was published.

The London Bus Strike (By A Busman) (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

On October 18th, London was in the grip of an ever spreading bus strike. As each issue of daily and evening newspapers reported more and more garages affected and more services withdrawn, so the streets of London became increasingly crowded with motor cars and other vehicles and extra police had to be detailed for traffic control.

The strike, which by October 18th embraced 43 out of 84 Central London bus garages was the boiling over of a feeling of resentment that has been simmering amongst busmen for a long time. An understanding of the position requires a review of bus worker's history over the past 15 years.

Before the 1939-1945 war London busmen received a wage above the average paid to workers in other industries throughout Great Britain. They attained this position by their ready willingness to struggle and the favourable position of their industry. A passenger transport strike represents a dead loss of income to the employers. A stock of passenger rides cannot be built up in preparation for a strike and travellers do not take two rides in the place of one after the strike in order to recoup the employers for the loss. Further, it has a damaging effect on other industries.

During the war busmen were urged to sacrifice some of their working conditions in favour of the war effort. They anticipated that, after the war, they would not only regain the things they had sacrificed but receive many improvements in addition. They formulated a programme of demands which became known as the “Post War Policy,” to be achieved when the time was opportune. The time has never been opportune. With other workers, they were told that the country had to be put back on its feet, export markets had to be captured, the dollar gap had to be closed and the London Transport undertaking was financially “in the red.” There were no end of reasons advanced in favour of wage freeze and wage restraint and why the time was not opportune. A number of minor concessions were gained, an extra quarter time for Sunday work, 9d. per hour for Saturday afternoon work (see Socialist Standard, February, 1949), plus a few pay increases of 7/- or 8/-, the last of which was awarded at the beginning of this year. With the ever increasing cost of living the busmen have found that, despite their pay increases, they have been getting poorer and poorer.

This has resulted in a heavy staff wastage which the employment of more women conductors has failed to reduce. The wastage has become accelerated during recent years. British Transport Commission reports show that during a four year period ending 1952, 25.485 drivers and conductors left their jobs and from January 1st, 1952, to January 1st, 1953, there was a net decline in staff 1,012. In a sellers' market the opportunity was present for busmen to gain a higher price for their labour power.

The gaps in the bus services caused by this staff shortage have been partially filled by busmen working excessive overtime, an opportunity which many of them seized to build up their meagre pay packets. Early this year the busmen began to realise that they were missing a favourable opportunity and that whilst they contented themselves with getting extra pay for working seven days a week plus other forms of overtime, they were solving the London Transport Executive's staff problem and missing the boat that could provide them with improved wages and working conditions.

A ban on rest day and extra duty work was imposed at a few garages and gradually spread throughout the London bus fleet until it embraced almost 90 per cent. of the 114 garages and trolley bus depots. A demand for a £10 10s. weekly wage for all sections (Country Service sections now get a much lower wage than Central London busmen), a five day 40 hour working week and payment during periods of sickness became a rallying point.

The London Transport Executive claimed that this demand was far in excess of anything that they could concede and, although they made certain proposals for a longer working day with increases in overtime pay, they would not negotiate whilst the overtime ban was in operation. Then, without consultation with the men's Trade Union representatives and in a most provocative manner, they introduced into a few garages, a set of schedules that made drastic cuts in a number of bus services. This put the spark to the tinder and garage after garage came out on strike, many without the new emergency schedules coming out in support of those which had them.

The busmen are now claiming that workers in other industries have forged ahead of them and that the inconveniences of their job are not compensated for by the wages they receive. For getting out of bed during the small hours of the morning one week and getting home during the small hours of the morning the following week, for having irregular meal reliefs and a disrupted home life a bus conductor receives a basic wage of £7 14s. 6d. for a 44 hour week—a driver gets 4s. extra. Only by working on Saturday afternoons, on Sundays and national holidays and by performing irksome spreadover duties, can a man get his wage over the £8 mark. A high physical standard is demanded of new recruits but sickness is not catered for—no work, no pay, is the principle. A new contributor pension scheme, recently introduced, is so meagre that it is a matter for ridicule. Annual holidays must frequently be taken during the least pleasant months of the year. The system of rest days makes it necessary to work seven consecutive days before a busman gets a day off except when he has a series of Sundays free from work.

That was the case the London busmen were making on October 18th. A conference was called that day and the delegates from the garages decided by a heavy majority vote to call for a resumption of work and the lifting of the overtime ban in order to have the emergency schedules withdrawn and to allow negotiations to commence with the submission of a claim for higher wages, regulated overtime, to level up the rates of pay between the Central and the Country Services (the Red and the Green) and a number of other items.

The overtime ban had been welded into a strong weapon and it gave the busmen the initiative in the struggle. The introduction of the emergency schedules, by precipitating a strike put the busmen on the defensive and gave the L.T.E. the initiative. Whether it was consciously devised by the L.T.E. or not, it was an astute move and the busmen were snared. Now they impatiently await the outcome of the negotiation.

As with every other commodity, the price of labour power fluctuates with variations in supply and demand, but the fluctuations are not automatic. They are brought about by the efforts of employers to obtain cheap labour power when the supply is plentiful and by the struggles of workers to get more when the demand exceeds the supply. London busmen are working on sound lines in using the present high demand for their particular brand of labour power to force up its price.

As usual there are no end of well wishers and advisers who have cures for the case. Harry Pollitt and Arthur Deakin are for once in agreement in expounding a cure. They both accept that the financial position of the London Transport Executive precludes a satisfactory settlement to the busmen's claims. Some means must be found to improve this financial position and they both speak for a reduction in the fuel tax which would free the L.T.E. from a heavy burden of taxation and release a large sum of money which could be utilised to reduce bus fares and increase busmen's pay. This is an old, old, stinking red herring that dates back to the days of the agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws. One section of the capitalist class considers itself unjustly treated in relation to another section and enlists the aid of the workers to secure advantages for itself. In the early days of the 19th century it was the heavy tax on com that was supposed to weigh heavily on the workers by keeping up the price of bread. Repeal the Com Laws, they were told, and bread will be cheaper and your wages will buy more. They fell for it. The Com Laws were repealed after years of effort and the workers had to fight against the drive to reduce their wages as soon as there was a tendency for the cost of living to fall. The position will be no different for London busmen. If a reduction in the fuel tax was achieved they would still have to fight to get higher wages.

Incidentally, the London Transport Executive have indicated that they are not interested in a reduction in the fuel tax. When a proposal was made to them by the Transport and General Workers' Union to use the backs of bus tickets to publicise a campaign for fuel tax reduction, they replied that they were a section of the British Transport Commission which relied mainly on railways for its revenue. A fuel tax reduction would assist their competitors, the road haulage companies, to more successfully compete with the railways.

A reduction in the amount of interest paid to bondholders by the Government and collected by them from the British Transport Commission is another proposal to put money into the Commission's coffers and so make higher wages for its employees possible. It is not unknown for a Government in such a case to waive part of the interest charge payable by a nationalised industry, but this would mean higher taxation so that the Government could continue to meet its own legal obligations to the former shareholders now holding Government stock. It would, however, not in the least lessen the efforts of the Board and the Government to keep wages down as much as possible. The general body of capitalists paying the increased taxation would press for lower fares and freight charges not higher transport wages.

The Press has been mildly sympathetic to the busmen. There are many who say that the busmen have a good case, but . . and the “but” evolves into a variety of schemes to get more out of them. One scheme in the forefront is to introduce one-man-operated buses on a wider scale. They have already been introduced in places on the outskirts of London and in the provinces. One man only is required to drive the vehicle and to collect fares, attend to the safety and comfort of passengers and, in general, conduct the bus. Some development of this nature is to be expected for it has ever been a rule of capitalism that, when the employers are forced to pay higher wages they look around for ways and means to reduce their total wage-bill by the introduction of labour saving machinery. That ultimately means, not less labour for all workers, but more labour for some and enforced idleness for others popularly known as a slump.

It may seem to busmen and all other workers that the position is impossible of improvement. Not so. There may be improvements for some of the workers for a long time and for all the workers for a short time, but the range of all improvements is very limited within capitalist society. Not a reduction in the amount of interest paid on investments but the abolition of investment; not struggles for higher wages but the end of the wages system; not joint consultation between employers and employees, but the elimination of employment and unemployment, a world wherein everyone produces to his best ability and has access to the wealth produced, in a word—Socialism. That is the only alternative to an indefinite continuation of the struggle to get enough to live on for those millions who constitute the working class.

Busmen have always had one weakness in their struggles—inter-garage rivalries, inter-section suspicions, inter-service jealousies and a lack of close communication to allow of concerted action. The overtime ban did much to overcome those difficulties and give a common purpose. The strike, as it was not complete, has recreated the difficulties. To achieve Socialism there must be a breaking down of the rivalries and antagonisms between all workers in all industries and a unification, on the political field, on the basis of a clear understanding and awareness of their interests—AS A CLASS.
W. Waters.

Notes by the Way: What goes on in Abyssinia (1954)

The Notes by the Way Column from the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

What goes on in Abyssinia

Outwardly the visit to Britain of Haile Selassie, King of Kings and Emperor of Ethiopia, may have the appearance of a courtesy call between two of the few remaining monarchies of the world. But it is an open secret that there are matters of more serious interest than renewing old acquaintance and revisiting Bath, where the Emperor lived during his exile after the Italian conquest of his homeland. The Sunday Express (17/10/54) reports that behind the scenes “a new treaty of friendship and alliance” is being negotiated. More information is given by the Manchester Guardian (12/10/54). According to this report the economic and political situation in Abyssinia is critical and the visits to Washington and now London are designed to obtain financial aid for development of resources in return for which strategic advantages can be offered to the Western Powers.
“The future of Eritrea and the Somalilands is the most important question affecting Great Britain and Ethiopia. Eritrea, uneasily federated to Ethiopia for a temporary period, has Red Sea ports of strategic significance for the Western Powers, faced with a revolutionary Middle East and an unpredictable East Africa. French Somaliland remains the only rail outlet to the sea. Italian Somaliland is under United Nations trusteeship until 1959. For the Emperor these lands with their large Somali, Dankali and Tigrean populations are a source of danger, and their future is of great importance. In 1953 an American military mission arrived to replace the Swedish mission training the Ethiopian army.”

“There is oil in the northern provinces and the American Sinclair Oil Company is prospecting in the Somali desert in the east. The existence of uranium was confirmed in 1947. Ethiopia urgently needs loans, aid and capital investment. In return she can offer oil and mineral concessions.”
In the meantime the Emperor, who is “at once king, dictator and government,” has such problems to face in maintaining his rule that it was at first thought that he could not safely leave the country.

Where the other capitalist Powers are busy furthering their interests Russia is not missing and would have its opportunity if the present regime collapsed.
“Soviet Russia, with an Embassy, a very fine information service, the best-equipped hospital in Addis Ababa and the ear of some of the best-educated men in the country would not be slow to build a bridge to Africa. Poverty and ignorance are widespread and the Coptic Church, the official Church with great temporal power, has old ties with the orthodox Church in Russia.”
Those who have wondered why the allegedly anti-Christian Russian rulers have propped up the Church in Russia will see here one of the reasons. The religious link has already been useful to them as a means of approach and influence in the Balkans and may now prove to be useful for getting a foothold in Africa. For Russian capitalism as for the others trade and the gun may follow the Bible.

Are Strikes due to Communists ?

Scoffing at the idea that the bus and dock strikes are caused by Communist agitation, the Sunday Express, always pleased to turn the attack against the Transport and General Workers Union, lays responsibility on the latter.
“The fact is that Mr. Deakin’s huge union, nearly a million and a quarter strong, is totally unmanageable. Contact between its leadership and the rank and file seems almost non-existent even at local level.” (Sunday Express, 17/10/54.)
Be that as it may the Express have an unanswerable point when they ask: “does Mr. Deakin really believe that ordinary working-folk with family responsibilities will risk their whole livelihood simply because hot words are spilt by a handful of agitators?”

Another point is overlooked when this charge is levelled at the Communists. They do not always support and encourage strikes. When the Russian Government’s policy requires no strikes the Communist parties all over the world fall into line. After 1941, when the Russian Government was forced into the second world war, the British Communists were at the forefront of the drive to get the workers to work harder, and to refrain from striking. Strikes were denounced by the Communists as sabotage “against the nation”—just the same sort of language that is now directed against the Communists. The interesting point to notice is, however, that the number of strikes and strikers in the years when the Communists were the loudest mouthed patriots and were telling the workers not to strike were just as high as when the Communists changed to the new line of encouraging strikes.

In 1951, 1952 and 1953, there were just over 1,700 strikes each year and the number of days work lost by strikers rose from 1,710,000 days in 1951 to 1,797,000 in 1952 and to 2,142,000 in 1953.

This was a period when Communists were supporting strikes. But in the years 1943-1946, when the Communists were denouncing strikers, the number of strikes each year was greater than in any of the years 1951-1953, as also was the number of days work lost each year through strikes.

From which it may be concluded, as we might expect, that the workers strike against the effects of capitalism and it does not make much difference to their actions whether the Communists are for or against.

Troops and Dock Strikes

The following is from an article in the Daily Mail (19/10/54) in which Mr. Roland Hurman explains why the Tory Government has been able to avoid the hasty use of troops in dock strikes.
“Three times during the reign of the Socialist Government, under Mr. Attlee, the Cabinet sent troops into the London docks. Now, for the first time in three years of Sir Winston Churchill’s Administration, the Government are pondering the problem of how long they can wait before ordering the men of the Armed Forces into action in defence of our peace-time front line.

“That Sir Winston has been able to wait for more than a fortnight before deciding on this drastic step is itself silent testimony to the growth of the country’s prosperity since he took office.

“In the immediate post-war period of shortages, controls, and rationing, most cargoes had to be moved quickly to keep the nation fed and occupied. To-day we are much belter off, but a trading country like Britain cannot continue indefinitely in the vacuum created by the dock strike.”

The Motive behind Capitalism

Economists and City editors have a double line of propaganda against Socialism. One is that you can’t do without the profit-motive because that is what makes the wheels go round. The other is that it is unfair to charge the capitalists with being money-grabbers for their real incentive is disinterested service in the community.

But last month the Chancellor of the Exchequer told business men that they should pay out less profit in dividends and devote more of it to developing their factories to meet foreign competition. This stung the City Editor of the Daily Express to the following:—
“Nonsense, Mr. Butler. Dividends are the life-blood of a free-enterprise economy.

“It was the promise of dividends that led the Adventurers of England to Trade Into Hudson’s Bay. To-day it is a national asset worth £29,000,000.

“It was the promise of dividends that brought Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce together. And it is the hope of dividends that encourages the investors of Britain to risk their money in industry.

"There is nothing wrong with high dividends provided they come from justifiable profits. Any more than higher wages are wrong if the workers deserve them.

"Both are high-degree marks on the barometer of a nation’s prosperity.” (Daily Express, 16/10/54.)

Mr. Morgan Phillips on Russia

Mr. Morgan Phillips, Secretary of the Labour Party, wrote for the Daily Telegraph about his impressions during the recent Labour Party delegation’s visit to Moscow on its way to China. From the article in the Daily Telegraph of August 21, 1954, we discover that Mr. Phillips still holds the view he has expressed in the past, that British Labourism and the Russian Government have a common objective but differ about methods. He writes:—
“It may provide food for thought that the apparently sterner Stalin said to us in 1946 that both Britain and the Soviet Union were moving in the direction of Socialism— the Russian road shorter and more difficult, the British longer and involving no bloodshed. It can hardly be said that under a Conservative Government Britain is still on the road to Socialism; yet Malenkov was at least no less friendly.”
Writing further of the difference between his talks with Malenkov and the talks in 1946 with Stalin, Mr. Phillips says of the earlier talks:—
“As I have said, we talked then of the two roads to Socialism—the Communist way and the Democratic way to which we in the British Labour Party are committed and irrevocably dedicated. Wc gained the impression that notwithstanding ideological and other differences, it might be possible for the Communist and non-Communist world to live peacefully and prosperously side by side."
Mr. Phillips gives us a fascinating example of the way one confusion of thought is bound to lead to others and make understanding impossible. He early imbibed two ideas, one true the other false; the first that the Socialist idea involves international co-operation and harmony, the second that Socialism means State control of industry or State capitalism.

Having taken this initial leap in the dark Mr. Phillips' further progress in error and confusion was as certain as the sunrise. As both the Russian and the British Labour Governments had leanings to State capitalism they must, thought Mr. Phillips, have a common goal; they must be fellow-travellers on the way to Socialism. They ought also to be able to live in mutual peace and harmony. Since, however, they were not in harmony but in a state of cold war the cause might be, perhaps, a difference about method, the long and the short, the bloody and the peaceful roads to Socialism. Happy in his explanation of the problem Mr. Phillips is now convinced "that there are grounds for a renewal of optimism" in the matter of Anglo-Russian relations.

The cold truth is that Russia and Britain are parts of the capitalist world, trying to survive and expand in the cut-throat scramble. They do indeed differ about method, Russia relying more, and Britain less, on State capitalist methods of organising industry.

The reasons for their rivalries and hostilities now have no more to do with controversies about Socialism than the Crimean War of 100 years ago had to do with Russian and British controversies about who were the proper guardians of Christians of the Greek Church under Turkish rule.

Mr. Morrison dissents

Mr. Herbert Morrison evidently does not share Mr. Phillips' illusions about mutual harmony between Britain and Russia and he wrote caustically in the June “Socialist Commentary" about those who think they can see Socialism in Russia :—
“We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that revolutions in other countries are deserving of our sympathy and support just because they are revolutions. . . . The idea still prevails that Russia has a Socialist economic system simply because so much is nationalised and planned; the existence of a dictatorship and the loss of individual freedom are regarded as unfortunate but irrelevant. As a result her every action—and the same now applies to China—is viewed with special indulgence.”


New Naval War

Nearly 50 years ago the growth of the German navy led to the campaign in Britain to build more battleships to counter the threat. It is different today. Germany is only just about to begin re-armament and this time, so the British Government hopes, Germany will be an ally. But the British Government is still building warships, and three new cruisers are to be completed. But against Russia not Germany!

Mr. Noel Monks writes in the Daily Mail (16/10/54):—
“They will be the navy's answer to Russia's Sverdlov-class cruiser. This was revealed last night by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. J. P. L. Thomas, in a speech at the R.N.V.R. club in London.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: The New Chinese Constitution (1954)

Editorial from the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new Constitution of the Chinese Republic, endorsed in Peking in September last by the delegates of the National People’s Congress, was published in full in the organ of the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers Parties (Bucharest, 24 September, 1954).

According to the Preamble to the Constitution, the “People’s Republic of China” is “a people’s democratic dictatorship,” and the “system of people’s democracy—new democracy—of the People’s Republic of China can in a peaceful way eliminate exploitation and poverty and build a prosperous and happy Socialist society.”

It goes on to say that the Chinese Republic is now in a period of transition: —“The central task of the State during this transition period is to bring about, step by step, the Socialist industrialisation of the country and to accomplish, step by step, the Socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce.”

The claim is made that in the past few years the land system has been successfully reformed, counter-revolutionaries have been suppressed and the conditions have been created “for planned economic reconstruction and the steady transition to Socialism.”

After the double talk about “democratic-dictatorship” and the familiar Labour Party phrases about step by step transition to Socialism, it was only to be expected that the term Socialism would be found to be used in the Constitution to mean various forms of capitalist organisation. The following extracts bear this out:—
Article 5: "The ownership of the means of production in the People's Republic of China at present falls mainly into the following categories: State ownership, that is, ownership by the whole people; co-operative ownership, that is, collective ownership by die working masses; ownership by individual working people; and capitalist ownership.

Article 6: “State-owned economy is Socialist economy, owned by the whole people; it is the leading force in the national economy and the material basis on which the State carries out the Socialist transformation. The State ensures priority for the development of the State-owned economy.

“All mineral resources and waters, as well as forests, undeveloped land and other resources which the State owns by law, are the property of the whole people.”
We see from the above that the “Socialism” to which the Chinese Republic is said to be advancing, is a misapplication of the term Socialism to State Capitalism.

Article Seven tells us that co-operation, too, is “ Socialist economy.”

Article Eight reads:—“The State protects the right of the peasants to own land and other means of production according to law while Article Twelve gives the same protection to the right of citizens “to inherit personal and private property.”

Article Ten is especially interesting.
“The State protects the right of capitalists to the ownership of the means of production and other capital according to law.

“The policy of the State towards capitalist industry and commerce is: use, restrict and transform. Through control by administrative organs of the State, leadership by the State-owned economy and supervision by the workers, the State uses the positive qualities of capitalist industry and commerce which are beneficial to the national welfare and the people’s livelihood; encourages and guides the transformation of capitalist industry and commerce into various forms of State-capitalist economy, step by step replacing capitalist ownership with ownership by the whole people.

“The State forbids capitalists to endanger the public interest, disturb the social-economic order or undermine the national economic plan by any kind of illegal activity.” 
One piece of unintended humour is that according to Article Twenty “the armed forces . . . belong to the people.” Whenever the Chinese workers come into conflict with the armed forces of the emerging Chinese capitalism they should reflect on that grim jest.

Much of the Constitution is naturally taken up with constitutional and electoral organisation and with the usual high flown declarations of the “people’s rights.” All constitutions contain these latter trimmings and they mean nothing at all. The workers never get and retain elementary rights of trade union organisation, voting, forming political parties, and so on, without struggling for them.

The aims set by the Constitution contained in the articles quoted above have no relationship to Socialism, which is at present quite beyond the knowledge and acceptance of the vast majority of China’s largely peasant population.

Their promised land is much more like the Attlee- Bevanite dream (or nightmare) of a rigidly government controlled welfare capitalism.

Let us hope that the Chinese workers may be spared that fate.

The Economics of Capitalism - Part 3 (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from October issue)

Now for a few words on the question of money. To know the relative value of an article we must give that value an independent form; a form apart from the form of the article whose value we wish to indicate. This we do when we say that there is ten shillings worth of value in 20 loaves. The value concealed in the loaves is put into the form of ten shillings and we are then able to compare the value of the loaves with the values of other articles whose value is expressed in a similar form. It is like comparing the weights of given quantities of soap, iron, and lead, by expressing their weights in hundredweights, quarters, and pounds. The ten shillings is the price or monetary expression of the value of the loaves, or, in the language of economics, the value equivalent. As previously mentioned it represents a definite portion of gold.

Gold is the money commodity and the basis of all currencies to-day. Gold can only serve as the value equivalent because it is also a product of labour and has a value determined by the quantity of labour required to produce it. As the universal equivalent it gives a visible expression to the values of all other commodities, but to find out the relative value of gold you must reverse the relation and look upon all other commodities as the expression of the value of gold, an unending series.

Gold has only become the universal equivalent as the result of the action of custom. In early times cattle, silver, and many other things occupied the part of universal equivalent, but owing to its handiness, durability and malleability gold finally replaced all the others as the generally accepted substance of money. It is obvious that the money commodity must be subject to little variations in value through wear and tear, and comprise in a small compass as much value as possible; gold fufilled this better than anything else, and thus became the national and international medium of exchange.

Money has several functions and we have already indicated its function as a measure of value. As a medium of circulation it circulates commodities; commodities are transformed into money and the money received is transformed into other commodities, so the process goes on in an unending series in which commodities come into circulation and disappear; money remains in the sphere of circulation although it is occasionally hoarded for a time. Commodities drop out of circulation to be consumed but money is never consumed.

Another function of money is that of acting as standard of price—tons, pounds, and ounces of gold, a measure of the weight of gold, and as such it never varies. However prices may change, an ounce of gold is always an ounce of gold, in the same way as a yard measure is always a yard long.

For currency purposes money functions as money of account; coins of a certain weight, purity, and size are struck for the purpose of carrying about and making reckoning easier. Up to 1914 gold coins circulated in England as currency, and the following remarks apply to that period; the effect of the withdrawal of gold coins from circulation we will see later.

To continue then, on the pre-1914 basis. In those days the Mint price of gold, the amount per ounce which the Mint was always prepared to pay for gold, until England went off the Gold Standard (refused to pay in gold the face value of its bank notes), was £3 17s. 10½d. This was not really a price but a statement of the number of gold coins of the necessary weight and fineness which can be struck from a given weight of gold. 1869 sovereigns can be struck (or coined) from 40 pounds of gold, and, therefore, three sovereigns and a fraction (17/10½ in silver and copper) from one ounce. In practice people sold gold to the Bank for £3 17s. 9d. (the Bank price) and the Bank sold it to the Mint for £3 17s. 10½d. It is important to bear in mind that an ounce of gold is the standard, and is divided arbitrarily into £3 17s. 10½d. in a similar way to which a foot is divided into twelve inches and a circle into 360 degrees. Only the gold coin circulates at its value, its divisions are represented by silver and copper symbols. The latter have no direct relation to the value of silver and copper, and there was a strict limitation upon the amount of each that was legal tender. No matter how the value of gold might alter or prices change an ounce of gold always coined into £3 17s. 10½d., and the Mint would always pay this "price” for it. Gold sent abroad figured at this “price” less cost of transport and insurance.

In another function of money, as means of payment, it was found that gold could be conveniently replaced by paper symbols, bank notes. This symbolic money turned out to be a source of considerable trouble. Banknotes were printed in various denominations and engraved with a statement to the effect that the issuers would always pay their face value in gold on demand. A separate department of the Bank of England was set up for the sole purpose of dealing with notes, the Issue Department. This department kept in its vaults a quantity of gold, plus a small percentage of government securities, that covered every note issued; the notes were referred to as “gold backed.” Thus a £5 note was backed by gold, exchangeable into gold at any time, and therefore as good as five golden sovereigns. Anyone, could present a note at the Bank and had to be paid in gold if he demanded it. As long as gold circulates freely in currency, or, to put it another way, as long as there is a free market for gold, the gold-backed paper symbols played their allotted parts adequately.

The sum total of money current (or in currency) during a period is equal to the sum of the prices to be realised plus the sum of the payments falling due, minus the payments that balance each other and minus the number of times in which the same coins pass from hand to hand, in turn as means of circulation and means of payment. Money is current that represents commodities long since sold, and commodities circulate whose equivalent in money will not appear till some future date; debts contracted each day, and payments falling due on the same day, are not quantities that can be measured in order to foretell the exact amount of currency that will be required on a given day.

As long as gold coin circulates a surplus of currency will find its way back to the bank and can be melted down for export or for other purposes. When part of the currency consists of the gold-backed notes we have described the surplus notes can be withdrawn and their gold backing subjected to the same process as gold coin.

After 1914 inconvertible bank notes (bank notes that would not be exchanged-for gold at face value on demand) were issued, the celebrated "Bradburies,” and then notes began to get out of touch with the sum of gold they were supposed to represent; currency became overstocked with a paper that could not be drained away. When crises came gold was demanded as the only form of wealth whose value remained dependable (hard cash) and higher paper prices were paid for gold. The decline in the value of paper money, as it was losing direct touch with gold, meant that more paper money was required for currency purposes and so, once inflation had commenced, the situation got worse until the time arrived when the curious position arose of an ounce of gold, equal to about £4 in gold coins, costing £8 in paper notes. We will conclude these remarks on money with a quotation from “Capital” relating to bank notes:—
“The State puts in circulation bits of paper on which their various denominations, say, £1, £5, etc., are printed. In so far as they actually take the place of gold to the same amount, their movement is subject to the laws that regulate the currency of money itself. A law peculiar to the circulation of paper money can spring up only from the proportion in which that paper money represents gold. Such a law exists; stated simply, it is as follows: the issue of paper money must not exceed in amount the gold , (or silver as the case may be) which would actually circulate if not replaced by symbols. Now the quantity or gold which the circulation can absorb, constantly fluctuates about a given level. Still, the mass of the circulating medium in a given country never sinks below a certain minimum easily ascertained by actual experience. The fact that this minimum mass continually undergoes changes in its constituent parts, or that pieces of gold of which it consists are being constantly replaced by fresh ones, causes of course no change either in its amount or in the continuity of its circulation. It can therefore be replaced by paper symbols. If, on the other hand, all the conduits of circulation were to-day filled with paper money to the full extent of their capacity for absorbing money, they might to-morrow be overflowing in consequence of a fluctuation in the circulation of commodities. There would no longer be any standard. If the paper money exceed its proper limit, which is the amount in gold coins of the like denomination that can actually be current, it would, apart from the danger of falling into general disrepute, represent only that quantity of gold, which, in accordance with the laws of the circulation of commodities, is required, and is alone capable of being represented by paper. If the quantity of paper money issued be double what it ought to be, then, as a matter of fact £1 would be the money-name not of ¼ of an ounce, but of ⅛ of an ounce of gold. The effect would be the same as if an alteration had taken place in the function of gold as a standard of prices. Those values that were previously expressed by the price of £1 would now be expressed by the price of £2” (page 103-4, Glaisher edn., 1909).


(To be continued)

The rich also have their burdens . . . (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we mention the miseries of the poor we are assured that the rich also have their burdens. If this is so why do the rich object so fiercely to the prospect of being relieved of their burdens? There must be a catch somewhere!

* * * *

The trouble with the rich is to find occupation; the same trouble afflicts the poor. But the rich only want easy and pleasant occupation, something to help them to pass their idle lives away; the poor must find occupation, usually arduous and unpleasant, in order to keep their lives from passing away.

The same old story in Nigeria (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is taken from the Daily Times, published in Onitsha, Nigeria (25 June, 1954). It is a revealing comment on the problem of building up capitalism in Nigeria now that that country has been “freed” from direct British rule. The workers are to work harder in order to attract foreign investors, but are promised that they will not be “slaves.” They are in short to be wage-slaves like the workers in Britain.
“Generally the output of a Nigerian worker and that of his counterpart in a similar job in Britain are in the ratio of 1—4 that of a Nigerian miner is about a third of that of his British counterpart. This statement was made here by Mr. R. A. Njoku, Central Minister of Commerce and Industries, in the course of a lecture which he delivered under the auspices of the local branch of the N.C.N.C. If industrialisation was to be successfully carried out wages, cost of transport, and other recurrent expenses, he stated, should not be too high, otherwise there might be inflation of prices. The Minister regretted that the productivity of Nigerian workers was so low and appealed to everyone to be more productive. It was not easy, he said, to get foreign capital. We have to persuade investors to come. They are not anxious to come. Mr. Njoku said industrialisation could be run on a partnership basis with adequate safeguards for aliens with capital and for the country and that a stable form of government was essential: he said that any venture which would make Nigerians slaves would never be allowed in the country.”
H. G. B.

The Challenge of Socialism (1954)

Book Review from the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Out of Oxford, home of lost causes, comes “The Challenge of Socialism,” by Henry Pelling, tutor and don of Queen’s College, Oxford, in “The British and Political Series.”

It gives a summary of Anarchist and Socialist (also economic writers), speakers and writers from 1700 onwards down to Our Herbie, and, while treating carefully Marx and Engels, does not stress Materialism and quite carefully ignores S.P.G.B., although giving a good record of S.D.F. and Labour politicians during this last half century.

It is quite a good book of reference and worth a glimpse. 300 pages.
J. M.B.

50 Years Ago: Labour Parties (1954)

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

To a Socialist the spectacle of the Labour Parties at home and in the Colonies affords a very interesting study of the relations of Labour politics to Socialism. To one who, in forming opinions on the tendencies manifested in society today, is accustomed to look merely on the surface of things, the formation of these Labour parties in various parts of the British Empire may appear to be the forerunner of a great revolutionary movement on the part of organised labour. This view will be all the more strongly held if he should belong to one or the other of the alleged Socialist bodies whose business meetings consist of talking about the Labour Representation Committee, the “Labour” movement, the “Labour” party and, more important than all, the “Labour” leaders. To a member of The Socialist Party, however, that is to a person drilled in the methods of scientific analysis, the innocent economics and puerile politics which form the foundation and super-structure of “Labour parties” at home and abroad, are more often sources of regret than satisfaction.  . . .

* * *

With regard to the Labour Representation Committee at home, it may seem unnecessary to criticise this, the most recent indication of the hopelessness of those who, in the name of labour, try to square the interests of the workers with those of their masters and secure justice for the working-class under capitalism. The programme, or what stands for a programme of this body, is of such a character that a good many loyal Liberals, without giving up in the slightest degree their faith in capitalism, would readily accept it. But in the eyes of the horny-handed sons of toil who run the L.R.C., a party is more important than a programme, and if a “big” party can only be got together by a small programme, then the less of the latter the better for the needy politician.  . . .

* * *

The Labour Representation Committee was called into existence by the Trade Union Congress, and, as the child, inherits some of the characteristics of the parent, the proceedings at the last meeting of the latter body will enlighten the workers as to what they may expect from the “Labour” Party of this country. At the Congress some of the delegates expressed the opinion that it would be a good thing if all the trade unionists were called off the L.R.C. They have issued a manifesto in favour of free trade, asked for old age pensions and an extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act. At the same time some of their leaders tell us that this very “Compensation” Act is responsible for the older men being flung out of employment by the master-class, who are unwilling to take risks attendant upon the employment of workers over a certain age. One delegate pleaded earnestly for “fair” rents. How wise! Fair robbery! . . .

* * *

The work of the Socialist here at home or in the Colonies is to build up a Socialist Party, clear in the knowledge of the irreconcilability of the interests of the wage worker and the master, ever warning the working-class of the pitfalls in the shape of “labour” parties strewing the path which leads to emancipation from wagedom, ever teaching the slaves of capitalism that only by the overthrow of the present system of society and the establishment of the Socialist Republic can the various evils confronting the working-class be removed.

In the country The Socialist Party of Great Britain alone stands for the Revolution.
E. J. B. Allen.

(From the “Socialist Standard,” November, 1904)

Back to Basics (1954)

From the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following the tragic deaths of a father and five children unable to escape from a house fire in Birmingham the News Chronicle (13/8/54) reported that experiments will begin to fit asbestos hatches in the attics of the 11,000 Council-owned back-to-back houses and that the Council hopes that private landlords will fit them in the city’s 26,000 “back-to-backs.”

Disraeli is supposed to have said that in England there are two completely distinct nations, the one knowing nothing about the other; and another "wag” put it rather better by saying: “One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives and if they do, don’t care.” Many Provincial visitors see London, and many Londoners see Margate and Brighton, and even see France, but the relative number of people who see round English industrial towns are few. When talking about travel who would ever think of saying: “I have explored Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Bradford?”

First of all it would be best to explain what back-to-back houses really are, as many Londoners and small town inhabitants may never have seen one. They do not exist in London now, and never in country districts.

Following the industrial revolution of the last century, the need for cheap compact houses around big industry was solved by building small four-roomed dwellings, two rooms up and two down, with a similar structure attached to its rear, but its front door facing the opposite direction. There is no back exit, no front or back yard or garden. Many of these back-to-backs have no sanitary arrangements (some no water), and at the end of each street there are two or four toilets, to be used by the whole street community. On a nice warm Sunday morning a small queue will be seen sitting on the curb, in their shirt sleeves, awaiting their turn.

Standing on a hill outside Leeds you can see row after row of such houses, and the News Chronicle states that there are 26,000 in Birmingham alone. It would be interesting to find out numbers for many other English industrial towns.

Here again, to quote from the News Chronicle (13/8/54): 
“The hatches will probably be made from asbestos sheeting, which could easily be broken in an emergency. They will cost £2.

The only real solution is the demolition of all back-to-back houses, but that is impossible in the near future because of the housing situation.”
Does this need any further comment, a country—the home of the Mother of Parliaments, and one of the “forward peoples,” as distinct from the so-called “backward peoples,” a county that is at present spending £2,500 million on rearmament, is unable to cure the back-to-back houses question?

The real tragedy is Capitalism—the cause of slum houses and all the rest of our troubles.
David Boyd

SPGB Meetings (1954)

Party News from the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Party News Briefs (1954)

Party News from the November 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Delegate Meeting is being held at Denison House, Vauxhall Bridge Road (Near Victoria Station) on Saturday and Sunday, November 6th and 7th, commencing each day at 10.30 a.m. Social at Head Office on the Saturday evening from 7.30 p.m.

Hampstead Branch have changed the day and time of their outdoor meetings at the Whitestone Pond, Hampstead Heath. During the winter months the day will be Sunday and the time 11 a.m. Their previous meeting time—Friday evening—has been discontinued until next summer.

Glasgow. The City and Kelvingrove Branches are jointly running a series of meetings on Sunday evenings at the Central Hall, Bath Street, at 7.30. (Doors open at 7 p.m.) The first meeting is to be held on November 7th. Full details of this and other meetings appear under “Meeting Notices” in this issue.

Islington Branch are holding a Social and Dance at the Winchester Hotel, Archway Road, Highgate, on Saturday, 27th November. Admission Free. Members are assured of a happy evening.

Nottingham Branch has arranged a series of lectures by London speakers. Full details of current dates under “Meeting Notices.” Good work is being done in the comparatively new branch and the meetings will no doubt meet with success.

Camberwell Branch has consistently held meetings at two outdoor stations, East St., Southwark, and Rushcroft Road, Brixton. The results at East St. (our all the year round meeting place) have varied taken over a long period, owing to opposition meetings ranging from good meetings with Lit. Sales around 8/- and collections of 4/- to small meetings with only three or four Standards sold. Recently signs of a revival were shown when Comrade Gloss, of America, spoke. The audience was large and 8/6 worth of literature was sold. From then on and with the arrival of the Anniversary S.S. things have moved upwards. Our main set-back at this station has been the pre-occupation of the workers with the current problems of British Capitalism.

Our Rushcroft Rd. meeting has maintained a fairly high level of interest, although this is only a summer season station, literature sales average 2/4.

Largely arising from a visit of an Ealing Comrade we started a canvassing drive in June, this year, and we have found this also very worthwhile. It has the advantage of personal contact. Since we began about 20 new readers a month have been found and with fluctuations our present increased readership stands at 85.

The address of the Branch and time of meetings is on the back of this journal. We extend the usual Socialist welcome to all non-members and are always eager to hold discussions on matters of interest to them.
Phyllis Howard