Friday, December 29, 2023

Free (2009)

Book Review from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Free. The Future of a Radical Price.  By Chris Anderson. Random House. 2009. £18.99.

“What happens when advances in technology allow many things to be produced for more or less nothing? And what happens when those things are then made available to the consumer for free?” asks the publicity for this (paying) book by the editor of Wired. His answer is not that this is the beginning of some sort of transition towards a system where eventually all goods and services will be available free of charge (which it isn’t anyway). It’s that profit-seeking enterprises involved in these things have to adopt, have adopted and will increasingly adopt, a different marketing strategy.

Thus, enterprises in that line of business can choose to give away free DVDs and charge for DVD-players or they can give away free DVD-players and charge for DVDs, in either case covering their costs and making a profit.

It is, as Anderson explains, a modern version of the strategy adopted by saloon owners in New Orleans in the 1880s. They offered customers free lunches banking on them buying drinks priced so as to cover the cost of the lunches. Hence the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Today – and it will be the case as long as capitalism lasts – there’s no such thing either as a free DVD or a free paper or a free mobile. Those giving them away will be recuperating the cost from something else that they are selling.

Still, it can’t be bad that there are books discussing things being free.
Adam Buick

End of work? (2009)

Book Review from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critical Social Theory and the End of Work. By Edward Granter. Ashgate, 2009. £55.

The main theme of this book (adapted from a PhD thesis) is that work is being eliminated through the use of advanced production technology. The Critical Social Theory in the title refers to the publications of the Frankfurt School (notably Adorno, Horkheimer, Lowenthal and Marcuse) but the views on work of other critical social theorists such as Marx and Gorz are also included.

Sensibly Granter devotes a few pages to definitions of work, but the results are disappointing. The author wastes space telling us that someone thinks work is “picking something up and putting it down somewhere else because you have to”. Gorz is more helpful in pointing out that “‘work’ nowadays refers almost exclusively to activities carried out for a wage”. Curiously Granter writes of work hundreds of times but hardly mentions employment. He doesn’t seem at all clear that although all employment involves work, not all work is employment.

The chapter on utopians and the end of work summarises what More, Fourier and the little-known Etzler had to say on the subject. Apparently Etzler though that the ‘powers in nature’ (wind, solar, tidal energy) could be developed to replace all human labour. The two pages devoted to William Morris correctly note that his News From Nowhere was a reaction to Bellamy’s Looking Backward, but fail to convey much of the richness of Morris’s imagination about what work will be like in socialist society.

Granter’s discussion of Marx quotes from no less than 14 of his works and the author believes there are “many Marxisms”. He confuses the issue by referring to “the erstwhile superpower that many saw as operating on Marxist principles…” It is also misleading to say that “The idea of the end of work is at the centre of Marx’s vision of a future society…” Granter is however on stronger ground when he writes that Marx was not in any way against work and did advocate its “radical transformation”.

Prior to a short concluding section, the final chapter is about globalisation and work. This is by far the most opinionated and forceful chapter, offering the most devastating critique of capitalism. Starting with Marx’s “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connection everywhere,” Granter goes on to show that the impetus for globalisation “comes primarily from the need of the expanding capitalist system to maximise profit”. The worst victims are Britain’s underpaid, easy to sack, second class workforce of migrant labour, ‘a world of gangmasters, zero hour contracts, the minimum wage [or less] and eventually no employment rights.”
Stan Parker

Workers’ education (2009)

Pamphlet Review from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Plebs. By Colin Waugh, Post-16 Educator. 221 Firth Park Road, Sheffield S5 6WW. £3

This large-size pamphlet is misleadingly subtitled ‘The lost legacy of independent working-class education’, giving the impression that it deals with a larger subject than it actually does. As an account of the Ruskin strike of 1909, it is a useful summary, giving extensive background to the decision of the highly politicised Ruskin students to boycott lectures in defence of Dennis Hird, the Principal dismissed in the struggle to extend University control over the college. There is a section on the influence of Daniel De Leon on some of the students and on the choice of the word “Plebs” (from his pamphlet Two Pages of Roman History).

However, rather more information would have been appreciated as to the results of the strike – namely the establishment of the Central Labour College as a radical alternative to Ruskin and what became the National Council of Labour Colleges as a riposte to the Workers Education Association. The fate of these organisations, namely withdrawal of funds by the trade unions, is particularly important because the author asserts a need for ‘independent working class education’ in the present day. We in the Socialist Party agree that it is necessary to understand all aspects of capitalism in order to bring about social change but point out that such education cannot be the work of defensive organisations such as trade unions but must be part and parcel of the work of the offensive political organisation of the working class.

50 Years Ago: Second thoughts (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Yesterday’s Enemy is a recently-produced British film about the British army fighting the Japanese in Burma during the last war. A review in the Daily Herald (14.9.59) describes a sequence in it: —
“A British captain .   .   . has  captured an informer who, he believes, has vital knowledge of a forthcoming Japanese attack. He threatens the informer with death, but the informer thinks the captain is bluffing and refuses to talk. The captain picks two villagers at random and orders them to be shot. The informer still refuses to talk. The villagers are shot—and then the informer breaks down. The captain has his information.”
The captain follows up his murder of two innocent villagers by having the informer shot, as well.

Remembering the propaganda with which we were spoon-fed in the last war, about how we were fighting for decency and humanity against the brutality of the other side, you might think that nothing like this could ever have been done by anyone in the British army. But not a bit of it. Major-General A. J. H. Snelling, who was with the 14th Army in Burma said: “I believe incidents like this did happen during the grim retreat.” General Sir Douglas Gracey said: “I heard of similar incidents . . . These awkward situations did arise.” Major-General H. L. Davies said: “This film is absolutely real and authentic.” A fourth high-ranking officer, General Sir Robert Mansergh, was due to speak the film’s praises at its New York premiere.

Very honest of them, now, fourteen years after the war has ended. And no one alleges that war can be fought with clean hands. But why did the politicians and generals tell us throughout the war that all the brutality was on the other side?

(From “The Passing Show” by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, December 1959.)

Notes by the Way: “Financial Sacrifices from Both Sides” (1932)

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

“Financial Sacrifices from Both Sides”

United Dairies, Ltd., is a very prosperous concern. The Directors’ report for the year 1931-32 stated that “the business of the Company continues to expand.” Net profit rose from £518,000 in 1929-30 to £549,000 in 1930-31, and to £592,000 in 1931-32 ; which is not too bad in these hard times. The rate of dividend on ordinary shares rose from 10 per cent. in 1929-30 to 11 per cent. in 1930-31 and to 12½ per cent. in 1931-32. So much for the shareholders. What about the workers ? During the past year, after considering the matter for several years, the firm decided to extend to the milk distributing stall a six-day week, hitherto confined to the bottling stalls. Doubtless it was, as the Chairman said, of benefit to the “health and happiness” of the workers not to have to work seven days a week. He also stated (Times, October 29th, 1932) that. “the efficiency of the service has been maintained and increased,” but the change-over to a six-day week “involved certain financial sacrifices from both sides.”

Now we are able to see what is meant by “sacrifices on both sides.” The workers make financial sacrifices and get a six-day week, while the shareholders get increased efficiency, plus the “sacrifice” of seeing their dividend raised from 11 per cent. to 12½ per cent.

Death from the Air

Mr. Baldwin, in a speech on war, in the House of Commons on November 10th, reminded us of the way in which we shall be bombed to pieces in any future war. He said: —
“I think it is well, also, for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through. …. The only defence is in offence, which means that you have got to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves….. How have the nations tried to deal with this terror of the air ? I confess that the more I have studied this question the more depressed I have been at the perfectly futile attempts that have been made to deal with this problem. The amount of time that has been wasted at Geneva in discussing questions such as the reductions of the size of aeroplanes, the prohibition of bombardment of the civil population, the prohibition of bombing, has really reduced me lo despair.” (Times, November 11th, 1932.)
In the meantime, attention was drawn by the Daily Express to the fact that British armament manufacturers advertise in German and other newspapers their willingness to supply tanks, bombing ‘planes, etc., to foreign Governments. Mr. T. O. M. Sopwith, the aircraft designer and manufacturer of the Hawker “bomber,” defended this. He said (Daily Express, November 12th, 1932) that aeroplanes of recent design are not allowed to leave the country, but that he sells Hawker bombers both to the Air Ministry and to foreign Governments because “no foreign Government will buy British machines unless they are identical with those sold to the Air Ministry.”

If another war comes, and, in Mr. Baldwin’s words, “European civilisation is wiped out,” it will be cheering to know that the bombers on both sides are of identical make and the product of a home industry !

Lenin and Trade Unionism: A Correction

In the November Socialist Standard, under the heading “Tall Stories from Russia,” the statement was made that Lenin advocated “lying and subterfuge” as a means of gaining control of the trade unions.

Although the words used by Lenin in this connection make it quite clear that he recommended using all kinds of deception, he did not actually use the word “lying.” His words (reproduced in the Australian Communist, (April 22nd, 1921) were:
“It is necessary to be able to withstand all this (i.e., expulsion) and to go the whole length of sacrifice if need be, to resort to strategy and adroitness, illegal proceedings, reticence and subterfuge, to anything in order to penetrate into Trade Unions, remain in them and carry out communist work within them at any cost.”
The utter failure of the Communists to gain tangible results by this policy shows how unsound it is.

The Inequalities of Pay in Russia

Nowadays the Soviet Government and the Communists pretend that their policy of increasing inequality of pay as between one individual and. another according to output at the same work, or according to the grading of the work, is in line with Marxian teaching and is compatible with Socialism. Socialists recognise that these inequalities are features of capitalism and can have no place under Socialism, which involves the abolition of the wages system altogether. It is interesting to recall that Lenin shared our view and did not put forward the arguments now used by the Communists. In “The Soviets at Work,” an address delivered in April, 1918, Lenin admitted that the need to attract specialists at high rate’s of pay was a sign of Russia’s backwardness and was accepted only under necessity. He said:—
“Furthermore, it is clear that such a measure is not merely a halt in a certain part and to a certain degree of the offensive against Capitalism …. but also a step backward by our Socialist Soviet State, which has from the very beginning proclaimed and carried on a policy of reducing high salaries to the standard of wages of the average worker. . . . Of course there is another side to this question. The corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute–both on the Soviets . . . and on the mass of the workers.”
He also said: –
“We were forced now to make use of the old bourgeois method and agreed to a very high remuneration for the services of the biggest of the bourgeois specialists. All those who are acquainted with the facts understand this, but not all give sufficient thought to the significance of such a measure on the part of the proletarian state. It is clear that such a measure is a compromise, that it is a deflection from the principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average worker—principles which demand that career-hunting; be fought by deeds not by words.”
(The quotations above are from pages 17, 18 and 19 of the edition published in 1919 by the Socialist Information and Research Bureau, Glasgow.)

Now, when the inequality is rapidly increasing, the Russian rulers pretend that it is a feature of Socialism. Lenin, however, said, “To pay unequal salaries is really a step backward; we will not cheat the people by pretending otherwise.”

Viscount Snowden on the Labour Programme

Rather late in the day, Viscount Snowden tells his former Labour Party associates something which the S.P.G.B. told them (and Snowden) many years ago. In an article in the Sunday Express (October 16th) he wrote as follows of the Labour Party:-—
“It gained its former political strength neither from its Socialist idealism nor its election programme. It was an electoral refuge for a vague discontent.

The old political parties had failed. Here was a new party which made the social condition of the people its claim to popular support.
. . . . . .

Millions of men and women who know nothing about Socialism, and who have never read the Labour programme, vote for Labour candidates because they believe that this is a party which is going to do something—they don’t know what-—to improve their condition.
. . . . . .

I have been in this programme-making business for forty years. I have always realised its futility. Every programme in which I have had a hand I have seen discarded and another put in its place, later to share the fate of its predecessor.”
He finished the article with a very cruel blow, he told the Labour Party, which has always rejected Socialism in favour of “something now,” that it ought, to drop its silly promises to establish the millennium by Acts of Parliament immediately, and find “a practical policy.”

Mr. Cole Scores 30

The following is from the Star (October 18th, 1932) and refers to Mr. G. D. H. Cole:–
“A leading Socialist who has been busily counting up the number of organisations Mr. G. D. H. Cole has had a hand in starting tells me he has checked off thirty !

‘The latest he is connected with is the Socialist League,’ he said ‘and some of us are wondering how long it will hold Mr. Cole’s affection before another body is created’.”
Mr. Cole’s past loves have included the Fabian Society, the I.L.P., the National Guilds League, and, of course, the Labour Party. Recently he shared in the formation of the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda, which, after only 18 months, has been wound up alter a conference had failed to give a sufficient majority for merging with the Socialist League.

Mr. Cole is an example of the so-called “intellectuals” who have invaded the working-class movement in recent years, much to their own pecuniary benefit and to the detriment of the working-class movement. Surrounded by worshipping students and trade unionists, Mr. Cole reaps the double reward of adulation and large sales for his books, a new one appearing at frequent intervals each time he changes his mind and takes up another unsound theory.

Mr. Cole is a bad judge of political parties. It is interesting to recall what he wrote about the S.P.G.B. and about his own organisation, the National Guilds League, in the “Encyclopaedia Britanmca” (Twelfth Edition, 1922, Vol. XXXI, page 324, and Vol. XXXII, page 507).

Of the S.P.G.B. he wrote: —
“The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a very small and unimportant body of rigid Marxians of the extreme left wing.” (Vol. XXXII., p. 507.)
At that time he was full of the idea of Guild Capitalism (miscalled Guild Socialism), and recorded with gusto the growth of the Guild Movement and the formation of Guilds like the Building Guild.

Within a year or so, the Building Guild was hopelessly bankrupt, and the mushroom crop of Guilds which had sprung up in many other industries had completely disappeared. The National Guilds League, like many other of Mr. Cole’s enthusiasms, is now as dead as the Dodo, and even when it was alive its organ (The Guild Socialist) had a much smaller circulation than the organ of the S.P.G.B.

The Labour Leaders and the “Intellectuals”

Just at the moment, Mr. Cole, in his foreword to the new edition of his “British Working Class Movement,” is telling the trade unions that their policy and methods of organisation should be changed. We agree; but Mr. Cole is one of the least likely persons to have any sound ideas on the subject. Although never constant for long to any idea, he shows no sign of having learned from his past mistakes.

It is popularly believed that the workers gain through having the so-called intellectuals available to advise the Labour Leaders how to lead. What actually happens is rather like this. The trade union official, who is generally far better able to form sound opinions on trade union policy than are the academic Coles and Laskis, observes a stirring among his members in the form of interest in some new or resuscitated theory. Mistrusting his own judgment, he dashes off to seek the guidance of the “intellectuals.” The “intellectuals,” who are equally hesitant about putting forward definite suggestions, lest they should clash with the prevailing sentiment among the workers (and thus spoil their popularity and book sales), promptly set about discovering which way the wind is blowing and how strong it is likely to be. Having made up their minds on this, they then offer their advice, suitably tricked out in university jargon, the advice consisting of whatever theory they believe the workers are beginning to take up. The trade union official and the “intellectual” then feel mutually reinforced and comforted in their beliefs, and jointly offer their new wisdom to their members, the members being under the two-fold illusion that they are being given a lead and that the lead is the outcome of some solid thought by a reliable guide.

A Confusion of Parties

A few years ago the final argument of the Labour Party supporter who could not make headway against the case of the S.P.G.B. was a complaint that our separate existence confused the seeker after Socialist knowledge. “Why could we not all get together inside one big party?” The answer is that it would be fatal and absurd for a Socialist Party to lose its identity inside a conglomeration of reformists like the Labour Party. And it is curious to notice how loath are even the reformist groups to give up their separate existence in the great family party. In addition to the I.L.P. (Maxton), which left the Labour Party over the matter of Standing Orders, and the Communist Party, which wanted to get in the Labour Party but was rejected, there are now the following competing bodies all under the Labour umbrella: The Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society, the Socialist League (formerly the affiliationist wing of the I.L.P.), the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (now dissolved after a short life), the Scottish Socialist Party (the Scottish wing of the League), the Clarion Fellowship, and the Co-operative Party.

And in face of this medley the reformists still have the impudence to tell us that the way to unite the workers is on reform programmes !

Incidentally, how William Morris, of the old Socialist League, with its fierce opposition to reforms and to Parliamentary action, would snort if he could hear the new Leaguers claiming that they have inherited the spirit of Morris.
Edgar Hardcastle

Socialism and Industrial Unionism (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

I have been asked to reply to a criticism of the article, “Socialism and Industrial Organisation,” (see the May issue of the Socialist Standard, which appears in the July issue of the Revolutionary Socialist. Criticism, to be effective, must at least be accurate. My critic commences with the misstatement of the title of my article, which dealt with the general question of industrial organisation and not specially with “Industrial Unionism,” whether of the I.W. W. or the W.I.I.U. brand. The article did, it is true, refer to the failure of the S.L..P. to bring to birth in this country the body of which it was supposed to be the “political reflex”; but the main part of the article dealt with actual organisations, i.e., the factory committees. It showed, by quoting concrete detailed evidence, that attempts on the part of these bodies to supersede the Trade Unions had failed both in this and other countries.

The factory committees, elected in the main by non-Socialists, were as incapable as the Trade Unions of emancipating the workers from capitalist control. They were not based upon an understanding of the class struggle, and, like the Trade Unions, were found to be ready to assist the masters to carry on the existing system of exploitation once certain minor concessions had been granted.

Yet, in spite of this experience, the B.S.I.S.L.P. can think of nothing better to do than call upon workers to repeat the attempt to erect “shop committees . . . separate and apart from the Trade Unions” (see editorial article, p. 5). That they are merely camouflaged anarchists is made evident on p. 6, where their platform calls for “the abolition of the State” (para. 5). The present writer does not profess to be able to improve upon the masterly exposition of the scientific view of this aspect of the matter contained in Engels’ “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” (p. 87, Whitehead Library). There he shows that so far from being abolished the State must be used by the workers in order to accomplish the supreme revolutionary act, i.e., their emancipation. After that it will die out.
Eric Boden

Socialism and Industrial Organisation (1932)

From the May 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader asks : 
“What is the attitude of the S.P.G.B. to the industrial organisations of the workers. All the other parties claiming to represent the interests of the workers have always had some policy in this matter. The S.P.G.B. appears to lack one. The I.L.P. support the Trade Unions, the Communists back the Minority Movement, the S.L.P. advocated Industrial Unionism, and the B.S.P. favoured certain forms of syndicalism. Where does the S.P.G.B. Stand ?”
Towards the end of last century the work that had been done in placing the workers’ slave position in a clearer light and inducing them to organise on this basis was diverted by trade-union leaders into narrow trade-union channels, and the political parties that arose, such as the S.D.F. and I.L.P. felt compelled to pander to this side in order to attract membership.

When the Industrial Unionist movement first came into existence its appeal on the surface appeared to be so strong that the established parties anticipated that it would sweep the board. Consequently they modified their policy to prevent the feared landslide in membership and to attract more members by appealing directly on the ground of helping the workers in their immediate demands.

The ideas of syndicalists are a survival from conditions in the early days of the capitalist system before improved means of transport and communication and the extension of the franchise had made it possible for a class organisation of the workers to be established. Such ideas arose in countries where capitalism was still immature and where the ranks of the factory workers were still being recruited from among the small producers, i.e., peasants and handicraftsmen. These people carry their old ideas of property relations with them into the new conditions of life. They were accustomed to owning their instruments of production, small plots of land, small workshops and simple tools, either as individuals or as small groups, and when brought into contact with capitalist exploitation they readily adopted the idea that the factory should belong to the group working in it.

At the same time the State appears to these people as a power apart which must be overthrown, but which they cannot hope to control.

In England the developments of international commercial and financial relations have long ago shown such ideas to be obsolete. The mass of the workers have accepted the notion that they cannot do without capital, and that, therefore, the workers in any particular factory are dependent (through the capitalists) upon the rest of the workers in capitalist society. The wage contract hides from them the fact that the capitalists are a parasitical class.

The struggle between the industrial workers and their employers takes, therefore, the form of collective bargaining which requires organisation of a wider scope than that of a factory group. Hence we have Trade Unions accepting the capitalist system of production and trying to obtain for their members the full market price of their labour-power. Socialists organised in the S.P.G.B. recognise that these efforts are necessary under capitalism, but we also recognise that the establishment of adult suffrage provided the workers with a weapon with which they can end capitalism. We regard Trade Unions as insufficient in any case and, in so far as they are composed of non-Socialists, their actions are frequently found to be reactionary, both upon the industrial and the political fields. We do not, however, regard this as a reason for advocating and supporting policies which prove upon examination to be even more reactionary.

Policies which encourage the workers in different industries to entertain the idea that they have interests distinct from those of other sections of the workers, or that incite them to attempt to defy the forces of the State, only result in the weakening of their existing organisations and delay the time when they will organise as a class. Actual history demonstrates that the Trade Unions are superior to alleged alternative forms of organisation as a means of dealing with capitalist conditions, and that in spite of their weaknesses the former survive where the latter are either absorbed or entirely disappear.

Our critic mentions the S.L.P. Its attempts to found an industrial union in this country were a complete failure, and the same may be said of the syndicalist movement with which certain members of the B.S.P., such as Tom Mann, were associated. Towards the latter end of the War, however, leaders of these bodies acquired temporary prominence through their association with the shop stewards and factory committees movement. The comb-out for military needs placed a premium upon skilled workers, and as the employing concerns were making abnormal profits, minor concessions were made to keep the industries working smoothly. An illusory “Workers’ control” became the slogan of the day, misleading many into believing that their emancipation was at hand.

The termination of the War reversed these conditions. The return of millions of workers from the army coupled with the shutting down of munition works and other sources of military supplies, weighted the scale more heavily in favour of the employers in relation to their employees. Leaders of factory committees became leaders of the unemployed, and began to turn their attention from specifically industrial matters to political agitation.

The S.L.P. and B.S.P. went to pieces, and from the confusion arose the Communist Party. The tactics of this body have varied from support of men like A. J. Cook in 1928 (with his policy of nationalisation) to the support of breakaway leaders, such as Allan, of the United Mineworkers of Scotland. Futility has invariably been the outcome and the leaders of the Minority Movement have frequently confessed their failure. (See Daily Worker, Jan. 25th.)

It is instructive to turn to the history of similar movements in other countries. In his “Works Councils in Germany,” Mr. C. W. Guillebaud gives an interesting and detailed account of post-war industrial movements in that country. While the end of hostilities produced somewhat similar results there as in Britain, there was a difference which became more marked as time went on. The German industrial capitalists had to turn from the supply of war materials to the indemnifying of the Allied Powers, which involved a considerable maintenance of production. It was deemed expedient, therefore, to give to the factory committees or works councils a definite legal standing, which, combined with other minor concessions, secured what the masters wanted, i.e., a certain measure of industrial peace. As the author puts it :—
“In 1922 and, indeed, throughout the first four years after the War the councils were often able to extract concessions from the employers by virtue of their bargaining strength and that of organised labour in general. Prices were rising continuously, trade was brisk, and while a strike meant a considerable sacrifice of profits the inflationary process lessened the importance of elements of cost which would have bulked much larger in the eyes of the employers in a period of industrial depression.” (pp. 97-8.)
The boom collapsed towards the end of 1923. The number of those in receipt of unemployment benefit rose from a quarter of a million in September to a million and-a-half in February, 1921 (p. 108). The effect of this upon the position of the workers can be readily guessed.
“(It) placed the employers in a position of unqualified strength within the factory and business undertaking. The Works Councils found themselves forced to remain strictly on the defensive, and became, in fact, more concerned with the question whether they themselves would join the unemployed and have to subsist on the mere pittance given in the form of unemployment benefit, than with the stalwart upholding of their rights and privileges.” (pp. 109, 110.)
Thus the factory committees came up against the same economic forces which placed severe limits upon the activities of trades unions. So far from supplanting these bodies, the works councils were absorbed by degrees in the general movement. Still more striking is the evidence provided by Mr. Maurice Dobb concerning the fate of the factory committee movement in Russia. Describing the situation during the few months prior to the Bolshevik seizure of power, he says :—
“Already under Kerensky factory committees had been given certain powers, and in some cases had assumed or tried to assume more powers than they were actually given so that the industrialists were loudly clamouring for the suppression of the committees within reasonable bounds and the restoration of workshop discipline. Cases of actual seizure of factories were not unknown, though still exceptional ; but quite considerable interference with the management was more general and seems to have been prompted in most cases by the desire of the workers to prevent the closing down of the work and their own dismissal.” (Russian Economic Developments, p. 35.)
For tactical reasons the Bolsheviks supported this movement, but their assumption of power in 1917 led to a conflict between them and the factory committees, in which the latter eventually got the worst of it. As Dobb puts it :—
“After the taking of the political key positions in October, the question of factory committees and workers’ control was still regarded from a tactical standpoint. . . . Industry still remained predominantly under the command of the capitalist, and an extensive system of workers’ control, backed by the political influence of the new Bolshevik State, was regarded as the best way of ensuring that the continued rule of the capitalist in the industrial sphere should be no more than that of a limited monarch.” (p. 38.)
The Bolsheviks were in no position to dispossess the capitalists entirely and establish Socialism. Hence they soon found themselves under the necessity of supporting them against the factory committees.
“What the new government principally feared was that the owners of the factories would bring pressure to bear by closing the factories and locking out the workers. These fears considerably influenced the Decree on Workers’ Control of November 14th, 1917.”
Whilst this gave the committees the right to inspect accounts and maintain discipline,
“Article 7 reserved to the proprietor the sole executive right of giving orders as to the running of the concern, and expressly forbade the factory committees to interfere.” (p. 39.)
The development of the civil war made centralised control of immediate importance to the new State. Thus we read that :—
“In cases of essential industries Vesenha (Supreme Economic Council) elaborated plans of organisation and itself sent officials from the centre to cajole or override the factory committees, conciliate the technical staffs and start production again upon some more satisfactory basis. At the same time the anarchism of the factory committees themselves was curbed by merging them with the trades unions. . . . Trade union influence could now be exercised to secure a uniform policy and observance of government orders and decrees on the part of the factory committees.” (p. 46.)
So that in the very country where it reached the peak of its development, the movement for “workers’ control” eventually became merely a means for securing the survival and smoother running of capitalism. The productive forces cannot be permanently fettered anywhere by such utopian and reactionary conceptions.

Only the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production can emancipate the workers from capitalist control. The establishment of society upon this basis can be accomplished only by the conscious political action of the workers as a class. Workers who grasp these facts are not to be hypnotised by claims made on behalf of any so-called “revolutionary” industrial organisation.
Eric Boden

Blogger's Note:
See the article 'Socialism and Industrial Unionism' in the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Railway Rationalization and Profits (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten years ago the British Railway Companies were amalgamated into four large groups, with a view (so it was said at the time) to more efficient working, better services, abolition of competition, etc., and greater profits.

During that period we have seen a rationalising process take place which has been of equal intensity with that in many industrial concerns, and the effects of the grouping are now, after ten years, beginning to be only too manifest to the railman and to “the man in the street.”

This policy has been carried out with the usual plausible tales of company poverty and the necessity of working shoulder to shoulder with the employers, as witness Sir Josiah Stamp’s famous letter to the L.M.S. staff, two or three years ago, asking the men to conserve stores and to work hard in this trying time. Also it has been well boosted for some years that traffic was falling and that things were going from bad to worse. This was, of course, “owing to the depression” and to road transport. Many large works, like Newton Heath and Crewe Steel Works and others, have been permanently shut down. Men have been stood off, and reduced in grade, and trains are now made up to greater weights. Various appliances have been brought into use to make men superfluous, and many who have been discharged have given long years of service. Also, last year, a reduction of pay was forced on the wages staff “to help out in this hour of trial.” And now the Companies demand another cut, basing their claim on “the decline of dividends on the ordinary shares”: (Reynolds’, October 23rd, 1932).

It is true that in the last year ordinary stock dividends fell, and that profits are rather lower, but not to the extent the Companies would have us believe. During the last five years, in spite of the depression, the profits have been well maintained until 1931. The following tables, taken from Reynolds’ (October 16th, 23rd and 30th, 1932), show the total dividends paid by three Companies on the various classes of stock in the past five years.

Southern Railway Dividends
(Figures represent thousands of pounds)

1927 1928 1929 1930 1931
Loan & Deb. 1,754 1,754 1,754 1,753 1,753
Guar. & Pref. 2,501 2,601 2,601 2,676 2,751
Ordinary 2,009 2,009 2,167 1,773 1,103
Total 6,264 6,364 6,542 6,202 5,607

G.W.R. Dividends

1927 1928 1929 1930 1931
Loan & Deb. 1,549 1,550 1,550 1,550 1,550
Guar. & Pref. 3,348 3,348 3,348 3,348 3,348
Ordinary 2,972 2,123 3,220 2,351 1,288
Total 7,869 7,021 8,118 7,249 6,186

L.N.E.R. Dividends

1927 1928 1929 1930 1931
Loan & Deb. 3,910 3,985 4,033 4,083 4,255
Guar. & Pref. 7,203 7,203 7,203 7,203 5,129
Ordinary 159 106 1,271 106 0
Total 11,272 11,294 12,507 11,393 9,384

It will be seen that, up to 1929, the profits showed a tendency to increase, but since then, although the dividends on Ordinary shares have fallen, the total distribution of profits was not far short of what it was before that year, and is by no means a slump, and not a bad bill at all for a “period of depression” and “crisis.”

So much for the profits. Now what about the losses due to road competition? The “competition” shows signs of becoming more apparent than real, for all this time, quietly behind the scenes, the Companies have acquired controlling interests in many of the principal road companies, both passenger and goods, and in many cases openly run in alliance with them. Moreover, the rail companies have taken to the road themselves, under their own name and using their own stock in many places. There is obviously no danger of the Companies having to “sell up” just yet. All this propaganda of theirs is largely part of an attempt to force worse conditions on the railway workers.

Arising out of the redundancy of labour comes the cry of compensation for loss of employment and being “degraded.” An inquiry into this and other matters has recently taken place at the Law Courts, and the railway managers stated their attitude to this demand in no uncertain terms. It should be here stated that the companies have “guaranteed” that men who were “permanent” in July, 1931, would not be discharged as a result of the pooling. Sir Josiah Stamp, of the L.M.S., stated at the Law Courts inquiry that “if things improved on the railways, it could be reasonably supposed this guarantee would be enlarged” (Daily Herald, November 3rd, 1932).

But the companies’ advocate, Mr. Bruce Thomas, K.C., was frankly hostile to any further dabbling, and Sir R. Wedgwood, of the L.N.E.R., considered any such thing as “unnecessary and undesirable.” This was to the Union demand for an outside arbitrator re discharges owing to the pool, and Sir W. Jowitt, on behalf of the Unions, summed up the position by saying that the companies wished to be plaintiff and judge at the same time.

But if the Unions gain their point, what then? Have they not had enough of “independent chairmen” and “arbitrators” and “umpires” to know what to expect? Is it not a lot of useless tattle? The only thing certain seems to be 38s. per week for the railman’s basic rate. Why not set about looking for something better? Namely to organise for Socialism, and for society to run its own industries for its own benefit? It will take no more trouble than all this niggling and quibbling. And the result, not 38s. per week and still insecurity, but a system whereby all can lead a happy and care-free existence, surrounded by plenty.
C. V. R.