Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Scottish Season (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amongst the publications which help to brighten the butterfly lives of the idle rich is “The Sketch.” This paper records, in bright and witty language, the activities of our noble masters. In the issue of October 5th, 1932, “Marigold” describes the doings of her society friends, who have just returned from their annual pilgrimage to the French Riviera and are now in Scotland for the Scottish season. Apparently all the notabilities are there just now, including the Duchess of Bedford, who keeps herself fit upon the Macrihanish golf course, “one of the most magnificent in Scotland,” and so inaccessible that many people cannot get there. For her ladyship, however, this is no drawback, as she is most “air-minded,” and flits to and fro in her aeroplane, which she also uses to add to her already extensive knowledge of bird life, by flying to other places of bird interest.

We also learn that the Strathconas, who are immensely rich, love the lovely island of Colonsay, where they spend a large part of every summer, and keep open house for their many friends. All the guests must come by Lady Strathcona’s yacht, which is most luxurious, and well fitted out.

The page containing all this tittle-tattle is enlivened by some illustrations of that hoary superstition, so dear to the minds of our masters, that workers, when transferred to the new bug hutches provided for them, inevitably use the bath as a receptacle for coal. This idea about the coal in the bath is a bit out of date just now, however, because the funds so generously provided by the Public Assistance Committees hardly provide for such a luxury as coal; the workers will now be able to use the bath for a cold bath at least—provided that they have sufficient cash to purchase the necessary carbohydrates to replace the warmth lost through their immersion in cold water !

It is perhaps unnecessary to point out the contrast between the comfortable lives of our masters and those of ourselves. We know that when in work we get a wage barely sufficient to house, feed, and clothe ourselves, and when we are out of work, that, our position is well-nigh hopeless. J. L. Hodson, who has been investigating the position in Lancashire for the News-Chronicle, quotes in the issue of October 18th, 1932, the statement of Mr. Luke Bates, Secretary of the Blackburn Weavers, viz. : —
“The Superintendent of the Weavers’ Convalescent Home at Poulton told me that the Medical Officer there has recently said that 90 per cent. of the weavers coming to the Home are suffering from malnutrition. Those you see knocking about may not look much different, but I think they are taking it out of their stomachs ; they must be living on a reduced diet.”
Capitalist apologists have urged that Socialism would break up the home. We workers know from our own experience that in many cases the wife has to go to work to support a husband out of work through no fault of his own. But, as a result of the administration of the Means Test, Capitalism has still further broken up the homes of hundreds of the unemployed, and sons and daughters have had to go into furnished rooms in order to ensure their getting the meagre pittance allowed them by the Government, which they have themselves voted into power.

The wealth which enables our masters to fly about to magnificent golf courses is the surplus value of which the workers are robbed in the course of their employment. This surplus value flows to the master class through their ownership of the means of production (land, mines, and factories, etc.). Therefore, in order to remedy their position, all that the workers have to do is to appropriate the means of production. They cannot do this by forming processions and getting their heads broken by the police. The road to our emancipation lies through Parliament, which controls the Army, Navy, and Police, and by voting our delegates there, we shall be in a position to control those forces and to establish Socialism. These delegates will enter Parliament as instruments of a working-class political party, whose instructions they will carry out. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is the only genuine Socialist party in this country, and we invite all those who agree with our Declaration of Principles to join with us and work for the establishment of a system of society where each shall do his share for the common good.

A “Marxist” with a Heart Attack (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a series of articles appearing in the New Leader, entitled “The Danger of Orthodoxy,” Mr. J. Middleton Murry is making desperate efforts to graft on to Marxian economics a brand of emotionalism which he seems to think will make it more attractive. He finds Socialism, based on exact definitions and scientific analysis, too logical and convincing in a mathematical sense, but lacking in appeal to the heart. With him the heart should come first. He says :
“Therefore it is far more important that a man should be a complete Socialist at heart than that he should be a Marxist in his head. (It is not possible to be a complete Marxist in one’s head alone). For there is no difficulty in converting to Marxism a man who is a genuine Socialist at heart—that is, ready to give up everything for the establishment of complete economic equality among men.”
Now, a man does not think with his heart, but with his head. True, his heart has something to do with the process, as do all the organs of the body. To become a Socialist, however, a man must think, and thinking is the special function of the brain. Mr. Murry would not, of course, deny this. Even his “Socialist at heart” must first have what Mr. Murry calls the idea of “complete economic equality among men” in his head. But why he must be ready to give up so much for it is a mystery, seeing that he has nothing to give up but his slavery.

The brain is an organ that develops by use and is a better organ the more it is developed. But even the cross-word enthusiast does not rack his brains for the mere sake of development. There must always be an incentive to thought; usually it springs from material interests in some shape or other.

To use Mr. Murry’s phrase, the man who got the idea of “economic equality” must first have got the idea of economic inequality from his everyday experience. Consequently, however crude the process, it is a process of reasoning. Crude reasoning is often forcible, but seldom comprehensive, and the man who has only the two aforementioned ideas in his head is more easily confused or misled than the man who is capable of reasoning correctly from a series of connected facts or factors. The student of Marxian economics is, therefore, not only a better Socialist; he is better equipped to resist the wiles and intrigues of the political adventurer. But Mr. Murry will not have it that way. He says:—
“The fact is that Marxism, genuine dynamic Marxism, itself rests on an ethical postulate. It rests on the ethical postulate that the man who understands the historical process, and approves of what he believes must be its eventual outcome, will make himself the willing instrument of the process. Without this ethical resolve in the individual, Marxism becomes a mere armchair theory of revolutions.”
The words “historical process” are, of course, an abbreviation for the “materialist conception of history” discovered by Marx and Engels. The latter expresses it as follows:—
“That the economic structure of society at a given time furnishes the real foundations upon which the entire superstructure of political and juristic institutions, as well as the religious, philosophical and other abstract notions of a given period, are to be explained in the last instance.”
Abstract notions based on sentimental ideas of justice, duty, patriotism, brotherly love, etc., are quite common to the period in which we are living. They are the result of economic relationships. The class that owns all the means of wealth-production exacts duty and patriotism from the dispossessed. And while exploiting them do actually obtain brotherly love—or is it money-bag worship?—in place of a natural resentment. The well-paid moralists of the capitalist class have built up quite a respectable doctrine around the idea of self-sacrifice, and large numbers of workers are quite incapable of seeing realities, so strongly are they affected by these and similar sentiments.

Now, while it may be true that men often act purely from sentimental motives, Mr. Murry says that when actions are dictated by reason alone, non-action invariably follows. Reason and the will to act are common sense, while Socialism of the heart and ethical postulates are quite obviously abstract notions with no foundations on the solid earth. True, the heart has always been spoken of as the organ of good intentions ; but then, orthodoxy, that continually prates about this quality of the heart, is flatly opposed to Socialism. Consequently, Mr. Murry is responsible for a contradiction in terms, i.e., an ethical Socialist.

Moreover, according to him, the difference between the ethical Socialist and the Socialist without adjectives is the difference between action and inaction. The question of useful or useless action does not arise with him. Apparently that is irrelevant. Although the people most loudly advertising themselves as Socialists—the I.L.P.—have been nosing up a blind alley throughout their political existence. Even now, when their failure as a working-class party has forced them to take stock of their ideas, they are still befuddled with reforms that are based on capitalist ideas of justice, fairness, etc. The obvious course being to determine the cause of working-class poverty and the action necessary to end it.

The will to act in the case of the Socialist is not ethical, but an impulse to act which arises from self-interest. Convinced Socialists quite rightly assume that every worker who recognises the soundness of Socialism will act in accordance with his reasoned conclusions. Whether the new-comer does little or much in the movement depends on circumstances, temperament, opportunity, physical and mental qualities, etc. The totality of these individual efforts at a given moment constitutes the Socialist Movement, with the growth of which, individual effort becomes more and more unnecessary and only the question of counting heads remains.

The Socialist is not prompted by ethical considerations in his work for Socialism. He works according to the strength of his convictions and his desire for Socialism. There is no question of sacrifice. He puts time and effort into the movement that brings nearer the thing he wants. Mr. Murry calls this an ethical resolve in the individual. The capitalist calls it by other names. Much depends on the point of view, but Mr. Murry’s point of view does not square with either. The explanation, no doubt, lies with the party to which he belongs—a party that runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds.
F. Foan

Will Politics Do Good? (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

In discussing Socialism with one’s fellow workers, whilst agreeing that the present system of society is rotten and that something else will have to take its place, the statement is frequently made that “politics will do no good.” Another objection frequently raised is that the members of the working class are often such traitors to each other that it is impossible to conceive that they should work together in a co-operative spirit for the establishment of Socialism. In support of the latter statement, instances were given to the writer where, in a ‘bus and tram combine, a so-called “red-hot trade union socialist” had given away three of his fellow workers to the bosses, resulting in their dismissal; another case, where after an attempt to form a trade union, the leaders had been bought off and been given better jobs in the office, and also at the time of the shop stewards’ movement, where the shop stewards themselves had been bought off and given jobs as inspectors. Such instances as this are common throughout industry.

They are, however, merely illustrations of the principle, long ago put forward by Marx and Engels, that it is the economic conditions which determine morality or conduct. Under capitalism, whilst the interests of the workers as a class are identical, yet each individual worker is striving against the others to get into a job, to hold it, or to get a better job than his fellow worker, and some workers, in an effort to curry favour with the bosses, will betray their own fellow workers, or allow themselves to be bought off by their masters. It is the dependence of the workers upon the capitalist class for a living which causes the subservience and betrayals complained of. In a society where no man, through his ownership of the means of production, was in a position to control the lives of his fellow men, such betrayals could not occur, because there would be no boss to whom to run and tell the tale, or who could play off one worker against another by bribery.

Be it further noted that all the above instances occur in the industrial field as distinct from the political field. Is it to be inferred that, because the workers may sometimes betray one another on the industrial field, they would not do so upon the political held ? The answer depends to a certain extent upon the type of the political association. In the case of the Liberal and Tory parties, we know that very few workers are actually members of these parties, and are, hence, powerless to control the parliamentary member. The Labour members, at the elections, are financed largely by the trade unions, and they secure support from all sections of the electors by making various promises. Once a member is elected, there is no means of controlling his actions. In general, however, the member elected does act more or less in accordance with the wishes of his electors, who have voted for the continuance of the present system, and if, whilst he is a Member of Parliament, he changes some of his views or his policy, he often feels compelled to undergo another election to test the feeling of his electorate. A confusion of thought often arises because the Labour Party is supposed to represent the workers, and there have been so many instances where members of this party have gone over to the other capitalist parties. The programme of the Labour Party has often been examined in this paper and shown to be not essentially different from that of any other capitalist party. Various reforms are advocated, but none of them are likely to ameliorate in any essential degree the conditions of the workers; in fact, the general effect is to worsen their conditions and to facilitate the smoother running of the capitalist machine. Therefore, when the leaders of the Labour Party go over to some other capitalist party, they are simply carrying on their career without changing their principles.

We, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, claim to be the only political party genuinely representing the interests of workers. We are an association of workers democratically organised with the object of gaining political power from the capitalist class. No member is in a position to control any other and, therefore, none can betray any other. If a member of the Party were elected to Parliament, he would go as a delegate of the socialists who had elected him, and they would see that he carried out their instructions.

It is only through politics, by the capture of political power from the capitalist class, who, at present, are in a position to control the army, navy, and police force, that Socialism can be achieved. It is therefore the duty of all those who agree with us to join with us and work for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
R. M.

Editorial: Shorter Hours No Cure for Unemployment (1932)

Editorial from the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Large numbers of people have been impressed with the suggestion that unemployment can be abolished or much reduced by shortening the hours of work while retaining capitalism. The argument takes the form that the overproduction of goods in relation to the demands of the market (with consequent falling prices and profits, and growing unemployment) can be met by reducing the hours of work. Now it is obvious that if wages were reduced along with hours (and assuming no intensification of work) the total volume of goods being produced would be smaller, but so would the total amount of wages. The problem would remain essentially the same as before, because the workers would have less money to spend, and this would off-set the smaller output.

Alternatively, the employers might pay the reduced wages to a larger number of workers, giving work to some unemployed. But in that case the total amount of wages would be the same as before (but spread over more workers) and the total output of goods would be the same as before (i.e., the shortening of hours would be off-set by the larger number of workers).

So that if wages are reduced along with hours the problem, of “overproduction” is not solved and unemployment is only reduced by reducing the wages of the workers generally.

Various labour leaders, having therefore rejected the idea of shorter hours with reduced wages, have stood firmly by the notion that the problem can be solved if hours are reduced and wages left unchanged. The Transport and General Workers’ Union have made much of an agreement fixed up with Mander Brothers, paint manufacturers, of Wolverhampton, under which hours are reduced from 47 to 40 without reduction of the minimum rates of pay. The agreement may or may not be a satisfactory one in other respects, but it certainly does not show a way of remedying unemployment, for the change is accompanied by a reorganisation of the works and the introduction of a new system of piece-rates winch will increase the output per head of the workers and will result in eventual dismissal of redundant staff. The only guarantee is that no dismissals shall take place for six months and that the dismissed men will then receive some “compensation.” (See Record, published by Transport Workers’ Union, October.)

In the meantime, the increased output at smaller costs will enable Manders to undersell their competitors and throw their workers into the ranks of the unemployed.

While the means of production and distribution remain in the ownership and control of a class instead of being the property of society, there is no solution of the poverty problem.

Editorial: Mussolini: The Reality behind the Shadow (1932)

Editorial from the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The industrial city of Turin has hitherto been known as an area where a large number of workers have maintained unbroken hostility to Mussolini and the programmes of the Fascist Party. Recently, under the heading, “Mussolini Conquers Turin,” the Italian Correspondent of the Daily Express (October 22nd and 24th) described how Mussolini had ventured into this stronghold of his working-class opponents and had won them over by his display of courage. The enthusiasm, according to the correspondent, was immense, stupendous ! The Duce was greeted by thousands of cheering, yelling admirers. Turin lay willingly at his feet.

But the gilt on the gingerbread of Mussolini’s popularity is somewhat spoiled by the same correspondent’s account of the precautions taken by the hero to dissuade his opponents from giving expression to their opposition. Mussolini took no chances. First, there was an army of plain clothes detectives, 5,000 strong, rushed to Turin from all over Italy. Italian Air Force machines circled over Turin with orders to open fire on sight of any foreign aeroplanes heading for the city. (This was because, on a former occasion, Italian exiles showered anti-Fascist leaflets over some Italian towns.) Six hundred “suspects” (i.e., people suspected of not admiring Mussolini) were arrested prior to the visit. The route of the triumphal procession was kept a secret until the last moment. All doors facing on to the streets on the route were locked by police order, and on the night of Mussolini’s arrival all the windows in the streets which he traversed had to be illuminated. Lastly, every Fascist in Turin was fetched out to mount guard.

After all this, it is not surprising that the applause was not broken by one jarring note.

SPGB Meetings (1932)

Party News from the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Roosevelt and the American Workers (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The faith which the American workers have in the new President, Mr. Roosevelt, shows that, like the workers of England, they cherish the belief that somebody, someday, will rescue them from their poverty.

They have been told that the Roosevelt Government will be a business Government. In other words, the Cabinet will not consist of politicians, but of business men—men who will have the trade of the country at heart—men who will understand what is needed to put the U.S.A. on a good business footing.

And, blinding their eyes to the fact that business Governments have held sway in the past without bettering their lot at all, the workers of America are congratulating themselves and expecting Roosevelt and his Cabinet to give them better conditions. The possible passing of Prohibition has played a great part in winning votes in this well-boosted Presidential Election. Superficialities have, as usual, drawn the attentions of the working class away from the things that matter. What should prohibition or its abolition matter to them, when, in many cases they find it difficult to secure the bare necessities of life?

What should it matter to them which set of individuals composes their Government? The means of production, and the wealth the workers produce with these means, will still be in the hands of the capitalist class, and the workers will consequently remain poor.

There will still be a Secretary of Finance to keep an eye on the property interests of the American master class, whilst a Secretary of the Navy will perform his function of maintaining a fleet to protect American territory against other sections of capitalists.

Moreover, there will still be a Secretary of War who will not hesitate to send the youth of America on a mission of killing and mutilating if this is necessary in securing new markets and territorial advantages. And both Army and Navy will be used against the workers when capitalist interests require this.

In short, working class conditions will not be altered in the least. Unemployment and poverty will still exist, and there will still be present the dread of a future war. There is only one remedy. The overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a new social system—a system with the common ownership of the means of production and distribution as its basis. That, and that alone, will bring about the emancipation of the working class, not only of America, but of all countries.
F. Hawkins

Letter: Machinery and Socialism (1932)

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

A correspondent asks us what is our attitude towards those who condemn machine production and want to go back to handicraft methods.
“Some time ago, within the past year, I read an issue of the Saturday Evening Post, one of the most widely circulated weekly magazines in America, and a correspondent, Marcossan it was, gave an account of the character, aims and objects of the Nazi, or National Socialists in Germany in that issue of the Post.

Among the points he listed and described as features of that movement, was one that struck me as having a lot in common with the Socialist philosophy, and it was this : —

The Nazi’s organisation deplore the predominant role that the machine occupies, in this day and age, in the lives of the masses living within those countries that are for the most part industrialised.

They go in for rites and ceremonial functions that are reminiscent of Mediaevalism, as a reaction to the machine age, and they would revive the colourful picturesqueness of the people lived back in the period of the Holy Roman Empire.

However fallacious all this may seem to us, is there not something wholesome and worthy in a resentment against the necessity for being dominated by the machine, both in economic and social phases of life ? Many authorities agree in this; that the machine age has all but done away with a desire in the present generation for the acquisition of culture, i.e., literature, music and art, and the tendency on the part of the younger generation, so far as the development of their mental capabilities go, are all too one-sided, in the direction of motor mechanics and the repair of engines, etc. The types of people who can carve wonderful designs in wood-work, plaster or clay are only to be found in remote districts like the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest, Sicily, and other places where the spirit of the Middle Ages still lingers on.”

It may be as well to start off by explaining that the name used by the Hitler Party in Germany—”National Socialists”—does not justify the assumption that they have something in common with Socialists. Hitler, in the attempt to build up a large working class following, has found it useful to talk in the phrases of his opponents, the Social Democrats. But neither in his mouth nor in their mouths do these phrases betoken knowledge or acceptance of socialist principles.

Nor do we share Hitler’s alleged longing for medievalism and hatred of machine production. That such a hatred should exist is natural enough among workers who knew or have heard from their parents of the easier conditions under which handicraft production was carried on before the craftman’s products were swept off the market by the cheaper products of the capitalist factory. But it is not correct to describe the workers’ subjection to the capitalist as being simply a condition of “being dominated by the machine,” and it is also fallacious to assume that the course of industrial development can be reversed. If it were possible to reproduce the greatly overpraised conditions of the Middle Ages the same developments which undermined feudalism and led to its replacement by capitalism and machine production would be at work, leading on to the same results.

The chief objection, however, to our correspondent’s argument is the belief that the disabilities under which the workers now suffer are due to their subjection to machines. It is true that machine production, like every other form of production, imposes certain restrictions on the producers. It is true, for example, that it is necessary for all the crew of a boat or a train to be ready for work at a stated time, although this may involve considerable discomfort for those who would prefer to stay in bed for another hour. But what of the discomfort of having to get up early to milk the cows ? What of the inconvenience of having to make hay while the sun was shining, instead of at some other time more pleasing to the mediaeval peasant ? Some machine work is monotonous under capitalist conditions (perhaps some monotony is unavoidable under any conditions), but what of the deadly monotony and brutal exhaustion of primitive agriculture, and of housework ?

Machinery possesses two associated possibilities. It will, when socially owned, act as a saver of much unpleasant and exhausting labour, and it will make it possible so to increase the production of articles needed by the population as a whole that the necessary hours of labour will be greatly reduced. When this happens the majority will have opportunities of recreation and self-development now denied to them. It is not the machine which prevents the workers from living full lives, but the private ownership of the machines, along with the remainder of the means of production and distribution.
Editorial Committee.