Thursday, February 29, 2024

Globalisation: the left on the coat-tails of liberalism (2003)

Book Review from the January 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two recent books, Globalization: Neoliberal Challenge, Radical Responses by Robert Went and The Twilight of Globalization: Property, State and Capitalism by Boris Kagarlitsky highlight the long-standing history of globalisation of trade, changing imperial relations and the failure of the modern left to come to any effective strategy to combat its renewed assertive neo-liberal ideology. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century the left was able to delineate a clear position between its own anti-imperialist stance and the pro-imperialist and apologist liberal positions. By the second half of the twentieth-century, however, after the experience of running capitalism (with its consequent disillusioning impact on principles) and the disorientating policies of supporting “progressive” struggles over “reactionary” ones, the left is in a muddle. For example, a significant section of the British left backed the NATO bombing of Serbia and the support of the Labour Party for the hegemonic ambitions of the US shows how much politics has seemingly changed in the course of a century.

Or does it? The tradition of leftism in Britain, rather than being an alternative to capitalism has, when negotiating for political power been liberal rather than anything approaching socialist. The 1945 “settlement” was not based on the ideas of the Labour movement but on a programme of social-security and nationalisation that had long been part of the liberal agenda, being synthesised in the 1942 Beveridge Report (which was also incidentally supported by the Communist Party). During the twenty years following the second world war the “social-compromise” of the welfare-state and Keynesianism become the accepted centre ground of British politics.

However, following the long-term decline in economic growth liberal opinion swung away from the Keynesian orthodoxy to a new one based in classical economic theory. The left, increasingly isolated from mainstream economics, first led a failed counter-attack in the early 1980s and then slowly surrendered on all fronts under Neil Kinnock and finally the right-wing bully Tony Blair. There is and always has been, it is true, a radical left aiming at arriving at state-capitalism through the Labour Party but the “socialising” impact of the post-war nationalisations was virtually non-existent. Such measures were not accepted by the political centre as necessary on the grounds of radical social and economic ambition but because it could be defended – to an extent – in terms of the overall efficiency of capitalism.

Privatisations, pursued ideologically against perceived excess government economic activity, have generally failed and sometimes cost business more than the old nationalised equivalents. The state remains, despite globalisation, a strong social, economic and political force, which is no doubt why transnational corporations spend billions of pounds globally in influencing their decisions. This despite the continuing ideological attack on the state even to the point of damaging the stability of the capitalist state itself. Privatisation has seen the domination of ideology over pragmatism for capitalist government. A European Commission report of 1992 (quoted by Kagarlitsky) failed to find any advantage and in fact an additional cost to be borne for capitalism. The reason given, to reduce the economic role of the state and thus to reduce state expenditure has singularly failed to occur; in Russia, for example, it was said that a reduction in the state economic sector of one-tenth required an increase of the state apparatus by one-third. States are not reducing in size or reducing their role but are merely changing with an increase of unaccountable quangos and so on. Similarly the increasing role of international organisations have not been met by a reduction in the role of national governments. The situation may be summed up with the phrase “freer markets and more rules”. Thus the use of the state is open to a different approach and is open to the left, which is currently unwilling to use it.

Further, the social inequalities engendered by neo-liberal capitalism can threaten to undermine the basis of capitalist government itself. A strong state involvement in the economy has historically been a boon for, rather than the bain of, capitalism. It is essential for the creation of a social consensus for capitalist relations:
“Because the capitalist market cannot get by without non-market institutions, the state as a non-commercial entity plays a key role, not only financing public bodies but also overseeing the interaction between the development of the economy and that of the various structures of the social sphere… Without a certain consent by the governed, the state could hardly perform its class function. But this means that the state system, as an instrument of the ruling class, cannot fail to take account of the interests of other social layers as well. When the institutions of power prove incapable of this, the state system enters into crisis” (Kagarlitsky, The Twilight, p.8).
Increasing inequalities are likely to lead, if not to outright conflict, then to tensions and an increasing political demand and therefore political will, where representative democracies exist, to a likely challenge to the unapologetic inegalitarian capitalism of recent decades. Robert Went reveals that the ratio of income between the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent of the world population was 60:1 in the early 1990s and predicted to decline to 50:1 by 2010 if all went well with the world economy; given the crises of the 1990s the ratio is far likely to increase rather than decrease. Went argues that the prospects for workers globally of the continuation of current trends is bleak indeed:
“there will be a greater and more dominant dictatorship of the markets, particularly over countries that wish to attract capital; greater social inequality as a result of a dual process of polarisation, within countries and on a world scale, among countries; progressive levelling down of wages, working conditions and social security; ecological destruction and deterioration; a greater role for unaccountable international institutions and blocs; and a further undermining of democracy” (Went, p.108).
The state has also tended to be a great source of innovation in the field of technology, which is not, as widely reported, the cause of globalisation but merely facilitates it. Not least of these developments was the internet, which originated in the 1960s in the US Defence Department but also includes space technology, infrastructure and education.

The confidence of global finance capital was somewhat shaken by the capital-flow and currency crises in Mexico in 1994 and Asia in 1997, which produced several calls for international regulation of global capital flows. Further crises are likely to induce regulation if severe enough. Current actions to solve financial crises are tied to austerity packages, which avoid the global impact of such incidences but create problems of development for those countries which are subject to them. While the share of world trade of developing countries has increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent in the post-war period, economic growth has in the main been restricted to the EU, US and Japan. The imposition of export-led growth on the resource rich developing countries means that to develop a break with neo-liberalism is needed. A degree of protectionism is needed for national capitalist economies to prioritise industrial development. Such a growth, of course, could well be a stimulus for the global economy were it not geared to the interests of finance capital in the developed world.

Successful development has generally taken place in countries or regions where the interventionist state is the norm and not under conditions of anything approaching free-trade. Selective intervention in the world economy has been the basis of most industrial growth, from the British cotton-trade to South Korea and Taiwan in the 1960s who, without government protection of the domestic market tied to export performances of amongst others the clothing industry, would still be exporting rice as its export mainstay. Protectionism then most probably must play a prominent part in any meaningful economic growth in the non-western world – the west of course being still well acquainted with it, despite its rhetoric.

In the light of the utter failure of the Kyoto agreement to result in meaningful regulation it is also clear that for any serious recognition of environmental sustainability there must be a proliferation of regulation and state-led implementation of clean-technologies and the innovation of new ones. If humans are to survive on the earth then this must be done. If ecological disaster is not to be averted by socialism then capitalism must clearly adopt such an approach.

What then is to be done? Went is clear that capitalist relations are flawed:
“It is not possible within the existing economic logic, in which profit maximization comes first, to solve the most important problems that humanity faces. Under capitalism, the individual interests of speculators, employers or investors determine what they do. The partial rationality of their actions clashes with the general social interest of present and future generations.

In fact, capitalism is becoming more and more irrational. The discrepancy between what is economically and socially possible and what is actually happening has never been greater than it is today” (Robert Went, Globalization, p.121).
Kagarlitsky is also clear that the old state driven approaches to the problems of capitalism are also little hope for the future:
“The old Big Brother is dead, meet the New Big Brother. Now Big Brother is global or multinational, but even more faceless and even less accountable than before. It is no surprise that after experiencing what globalization has in store, so many people world-wide are becoming nostalgic for the old Big Brother” (Boris Kagarlitsky, The Twilight, p.2).
It seems strange then that despite the attention that both Went and Kagarlitsky pay to the need for an adequate response to capitalism and its current ideology that both see the answer in progressive reforms, or what Kagarlitsky calls “revolutionary reforms”. Following the massive defeat of leftism across the world, it is clear that socialist revolution can well do without the pursuit of reforms. Such an attitude also ignores the extent to which any challenge to neo-liberalism will most likely be led by an ideological shift back to liberal social-pragmatism – in other words, a shift motivated not in the interests of labour but of capital.
Colin Skelly

Greasy Pole: Plain Words (2003)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nobody in their right mind – that is to say nobody who has an inkling of how this social system operates –would have been impressed by the assurances that the Bain enquiry into the firefighters’ pay claim was really “independent”. (There are a number of words in this article in inverted commas. This may irritate some readers, much as it does the writer. The purpose is to encourage scepticism about the use of such words.) As a start, let us assert that the whole concept of “independence” is false, just as the popular idea of a “fair” wage, a “deserved” pay rise are false. These are delusions resting on the assumption that wages are fixed by how useful the wage earners’ work is and that somewhere and somehow out there there is a wage which is “fair” because it exactly reflects that usefulness, or how strenuous someone’s work is and how it compares to other, similar, jobs. There is no way that any enquiry, no matter how “independent”, could make any sense of this, no way it could untangle such a mish-mash of delusions.

So they don’t try. Enquiries into wage claims have a number of other uses. Firstly they are often a ruse by which employers and governments representing the employing class to postpone the time for a decision, allowing them to strengthen their defences. When the firefighters called their first, two-day, strike they were denounced by ministers from Tony Blair downwards for acting with unreasonable haste when they should have waited for the Bain report in the confidence that it would be “fair” to them because it was “independent”. The firefighters were right to be sceptical because what Bain had been set to do was to lay down the case for a lower pay rise while the Fire Service was “modernised” – in other words while it co-operated in cutting its work force.

Firefighters and Bankers
There was much anger during the strike because of the feeling that the firefighters’ pay did not properly reflect their “worth”. In fact this anger, although it was supportive of the strikers, was misplaced. Wages do not rely on the worth of what a person does. If they were measured in that way firefighters and nurses and sewage workers, instead of bankers, currency dealers and royals, would be turning up for work in Rolls Royces. The only way to make sense of this apparent anomaly is to recognise that all wages are essentially determined, at any one time, by the relationship between the forces of supply of, and demand for, the labour power of the workers concerned. If the demand for nurses’ working ability outstrips the supply of it (always providing that the nurses assert their bargaining power) their wages will rise. If the opposite applies there will be a downward influence on their wages.

This reality is often used to justify companies offering big money to their higher management. “We have to do this,” runs the argument, “in order to attract people of the right calibre to run this great company of ours.” And it is used when MPs are debating whether to accept a proposal (from another, but rather different, “fair” and “independent” enquiry) to give themselves the kind of rise firefighters can only dream about, to attract highly qualified and capable people away from industry, commerce or the law or wherever to govern this great country of ours. This was how it was put by Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons, on 5 July 2002 when the Members were discussing (it was hardly a debate) the suggestion that they award themselves a 42 per cent rise:
“I do not think we impress the public if we set too low a value on our own worth . . . if we believe our work here is important we should not shrink from putting a proper value on it.”
This was not the kind of argument which the government would allow for the firefighters. And it was not how Bain saw the situation:
“Even allowing for the risks and dangers of the service, firefighters compare well with similar jobs in the public and private sectors . . .When holidays, pension arrangements and job security are taken into account, they are even better placed. This is borne out by the recruitment and retention figures, which show large numbers of applicants for each Fire service vacancy, even during a period of steady economic growth.”
In other words, the firefighters’ claim was undermined because the supply of their labour power outstrips the demand for it.

There is, however, a contradiction here, which goes some way to illustrate the implacable way in which the wage labour economy of capitalism works and the cynicism of the system’s rulers. Because if there is one job in which there is a surplus of supply over demand, it is that of an MP. To begin with there is the matter of the number of candidates standing for each seat; lots of competition there. In the 2001 general election it was a rare constituency which had less than five on the list. Seven or eight was not unusual. There is no record of any heckler suggesting that, as there was such competition in the matter of aspirant MPs, whoever won the seat should take a cut in wages. Then there is the fact that, at least in the bigger parties, there had often been a fierce struggle to get the nomination in the first place, with a large number of runners whittled down to a short list.

This process was illustrated in the case of Ted Heath, who after the 1945 election scratched around from one seat to another in Kent before he was adopted for Bexley. The Tories in Ashford rejected him because he would not agree to give up his command of a Territorial Army regiment and to refuse the offer of a ministerial job in a future government. (The successful candidate later told him that he lost the vote because he turned up for his crucial interview on a Saturday morning improperly dressed, in a dark blue suit and a stiff collar. Heath grumpily recalled that he did not then possess either article.) At Rochester and Chatham they said they wanted an MP who would make it into the Cabinet and “I am afraid,” said the Tory chairman, “that we do not think that you will ever hold an office of any kind.” At Sevenoaks it was rather simpler; Heath turned up late and made a bad speech.

Heseltine and Clark
Michael Heseltine had to show willing by contesting some safe Labour seats – Gower and Coventry North – before he got the chance of a safe seat at Tavistock. Even then the decision hung in the balance because he upset the straighter-laced Tavistock Tories when a men’s fashion magazine he owned – Town – featured that month an Ursula Andress lookalike on its cover. After he had won the nomination he heard from some women that they had voted for him because they liked his wife’s hat. When Tavistock disappeared under the knife of the Boundary Commission in 1970 he failed to get the nod at Mid Oxfordshire, where he was not even short–listed and then Mid Sussex before the Tories of Henley took him – and perhaps his wife’s hats – to their bosoms.

The odious Alan Clark tried to get himself selected from the late 1960s, trawling through what he called “a Litany of constituency names” in his notebook before he succeeded in Plymouth Sutton. This success required his attendance at a cocktail party with his wife – sorely tried, ever supportive as Tory wives are supposed to be. Let us hope they let him off lightly in the subsequent question-and-answer session for it must have been a grave affront to the conceit of that callous, arrogant man who seemed to despise and hate a considerable mass of the human race including – especially including – those in his own party. “That shower” was how he described the Tories at Ashchurch. “Imprisoned . . . by their own guilt” was how he saw the local party executive at Langstone. For the Tories in Plymouth Sutton he reserved some special venom: “Total shits . . . no purpose in life other than to bicker and back bite – degrade everything above a certain level of mediocrity.”

It is not only in the matter of failing to accept that their wages should be set by the forces of supply and demand that MPs fail to keep to the standards they try to set down for the rest of us. Nick Raynsford, the minister responsible for the Fire Service, is a man who has outraged some of his former admirers who never thought him capable of the breathtaking cynicism he displayed in his transformation into an ardent Blairite. He was notably brutal and overbearing in his verbal assaults on the firefighters. A recurring theme of his comments was what he saw as the FBU’s refusal to move to “more streamlined, focussed and flexible” working arrangements. Coming from an MP, that was a bit rich. The House of Commons cannot move to its business, which is supposed to be so vital to the interests of us all, without the security of a load of archaic symbolism and rituals – like bowing to the Speaker, going in procession to the House of Lords after someone in knee britches called Black Rod has knocked three times on the door of the chamber – or perhaps he is called Black Door and knocks on three rods – unable to do anything unless the Mace is in its place on the table, never using each other’s names because they must address people they know to be ruthless scoundrels as “Honourable Members”, never calling anyone a liar because they can only refer to “misleading the House”. For outdated practises the FBU has nothing on Parliament.

We can stumble around this maze of apparent contradictions, blind alleys and deceit (which is what wage negotiations often do) for a long time when the matter is essentially simple. This social system depends on wage labour – on the exploitation of one class by the other. The “worth” of what we work at, what we produce or organise, is simply not in the equation of how much we are paid. Neither are “justice” or “fairness”. These are concepts introduced to cloud over the basic fact that capitalism exists in the interests of only the ruling class and that obscure language is too often used to that end.

50 Years Ago: Reaching for the Moon (2003)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fantastic as it may sound, a question has arisen regarding the ownership of the moon. Sooner or later it was bound to happen in a world dedicated to the idol of private ownership.

On 27th November 1952, Nancy Spain writing in the Daily Express brings to our notice an American book, written by various authors entitled “Across the Space Frontier” (Sidgwick and Jackson, 21/-). One of the authors is Dr Wernher von Braun, co-designer of the V2 Rocket and now technical director of the Army Ordnance Guided Missile Development Group, Alabama. We learn that a detailed plan has been drawn up for a Space Station and space travel. If the money were available and work put in hand at once it could be ready within 10 to 15 years. In fact, the American rocket engineers and scientists deem this project a number one priority. They say it is essential that the United States should be first in this field because a “less peaceably-minded” nation may beat them to it. (According to the Editor, Cornelius Ryan, the Russians have admitted that their engineers are also working along these lines.)
(. . .)
It is pointed out that great strides would be made in our knowledge of the stars, cosmic radiation and the structure of the earth, also that weather could be correctly predicted for months ahead. The emphasis, however, seems to be on the military value of the Space Station. It is said “In the hands of a ruthless power, no part of the earth would be safe from attack by guided missiles. No troop, air, or sea movements could be hidden from the all-seeing eye of the Station’s telescopes”.

[From an article by F.M.R., Socialist Standard, January 1953]

In Commemoration of the Communist Manifesto (1948)

From the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

A hundred years ago a small group of political refugees, mainly German, along with a few other radicals published to a world that hardly noticed it the most famous document in working class history, the Communist Manifesto. A few weeks later the adherents of the Manifesto had scattered to participate in the revolutions that shook Europe during 1848; revolutions upon which they had built hopes that were rapidly dissipated. The document they had produced, however, after remaining in obscurity for a time began to travel round the world, giving hope and inspiration to the exploited and laying the foundations of the scientific Socialist movement. The appeal of the Manifesto and its growing influence were based upon its clear and accurate analysis of the foundations and the trends of the Capitalist system, whose development was still in its early stages.

The face of the world then was vastly different from what it is today. A large part of Europe still fretted under relics of Feudalism, although in the West, and especially in England, Capitalism was making great industrial strides. The blind passion to accumulate wealth for its own sake had taken complete possession of sections of the privileged class and factory production was taking heavy toll of its victims, which included women and children. At the same period the growth of trading was invading and weakening the old State demarcations and urging the privileged sections of subject groups to acquire self-determination. Thus the fight of the monied class for power and the fight of subject nations for political freedom were the all absorbing questions of the day. Agriculture was still the dominating industry and the peasant and the small producer were the most active and vocal of the non-privileged groups. Even in England, the foremost industrial country, the working class proper was still a minority of the population. It was impossible for the writers of the Manifesto to entirely escape the influence of the conditions of their environment; it is amazing to reflect upon their clearness of vision and prophetic insight in the midst of contradictory currents that made the trends of Capitalism so difficult to follow.

The principles developed by the Manifesto and the way in which it characterises the capitalist method of production, as well as the materialist conception upon which it is based, are as fitting today as when it was written. The clearness, verve, and felicity of phrasing have never been surpassed. This is the more astonishing when one remembers that the writers, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, had neither of them yet reached the age of thirty.

The Manifesto contains four sections, the first of which is concerned with an analysis of society. This section opens with the sentence, “The history of all hitherto existing society [civilised society] is the history of class struggles,” and later follows with a description of Capitalism:
“The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruin of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

“Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature – it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers.

“The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitations distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”
How true, sweeping and trenchant is this description of Capitalism! Yet it was written a hundred years ago when the all-embracing ugliness of the system was only emerging. The position of the worker as a wage slave is clearly set forth, as is also the necessity of the capture of political power by the workers in order to achieve their emancipation. The first section concludes with a paragraph that makes clear the inevitability of the triumph of the working class:
“The essential condition for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between labourers. class is the formation and the augmentation of capital: the condition of capital The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers (due to competition) by their revolutionary combination (due to association). The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
The succeeding sections of the Manifesto are concerned with the practical means to achieve its object, but these are based upon the conditions of 1848; conditions that have long since passed away. These parts of the Manifesto are, therefore, now obsolete, but they are just the parts that have been most frequently used as guides by reformers and those whose impatience has made them blind to changing political conditions. The writers were pioneers mapping out new territory, and territory whose configuration was in process of change. That they should have been over-enthusiastic about the nearness of social change or the nature of the particular steps to be taken to accomplish the change at a time when Capitalism was still undeveloped is as understandable as it is remarkable that their outlook should have been so clear fundamentally. But the writers saw farther and clearer than their associates and the main body of their successors. Hence the weaknesses instead of the strength of the Manifesto have made the greatest appeal and have led the social democratic movement they started into the mire of futile reform programmes. The Manifesto was like a small craft on a stormy sea with its compass set in the right direction, but succeeding helmsmen were unable to read the compass properly.

The working class movement from the date of the Manifesto followed two divergent courses; the first, the scientific course, remained a thin small stream, while the second, the reformist course, grew in volume until it reached torrential power. This is explained in part by the two aspects of the Manifesto – the theoretical and the practical. It was upon the practical side, that is the temporary and weaker side, that the movement concentrated more and more, as it grew in volume, until the theoretical basis became completely submerged in the “practical” questions of the day or, in other words, reformist policies and programmes.

We are no worshippers of leaders or “great men” but we recognise the magnificent work done by Marx, Engels and other contributors to the scientific socialist movement which began with the publication of the Communist Manifesto. We stand on the shoulders of those past workers who have helped us up and we profit by what they have done to make our social vision clearer. We are members of the working class and hold, with the writers of the Manifesto, that “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” We hold further that this world can only be won by the workers prosecuting the class struggle unremittingly, spurning all attempts to seduce them into support of reform programmes, abandoning the worship of leaders and depending upon their own efforts alone.

The best tribute to Marx and Engels is to recognise what is permanent in their work and put aside that which was dictated by the confused and temporary circumstances of the time in which they wrote. It is in this spirit that we commemorate the publication of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 as one of the greatest events in working class history.

Blogger's Note:
In 1948 the SPGB published the pamphlet The Communist Manifesto and the Last 100 Years. I believe the text was written by Gilbert McClatchie ('Gilmac.').

Stanley Baldwin: Bluff Squire or Shrewd Politician (1948)

From the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perhaps no politician tried more than the late Earl Baldwin to seem all things to all men. Certainly no other politician more nearly succeeded. That Stanley Baldwin played a role in accordance with ruling-class political requirements is undoubted. That he played it so skilfully was not the least of the services he rendered to his class.

Honest Stan Baldwin was not merely a caption on a Tory election poster. It was a by-word in English politics. For millions he summed up in his stocky person “our traditional native qualities” of bluffness, forthrightness and sturdy independence. He became the idealised representative of that national piece of Action—“The Typical Englishman.” Perhaps in these “native qualities” a little more typical than most of his countrymen. Possibly just a little more “English.” 

To sustain the emotional significance of the "Dictator Myth” the elaborate symbolism of uniformed parades, massed bands, mass rallies, swastika signs and salutes is indispensable. The Baldwin Myth as the representative Englishman of his age was built up around such homely and conventional items as a pipe and pigs.

His propagandists liked to feature him as a simple country gentleman. Because greatness had been thrust upon him, he forsook the rural peace of his Worcestershire orchards and Bewdley pig-yards for the strife and hurly-burly of Westminster politics. His most arcadian setting found him y a rustic gate, pipe in mouth ready at any moment to proclaim glowingly on the rural charms of “This England.”

That the emergence of Industrialism had disinherited the majority of his countrymen from such rural charms he wryly admitted. That the historic emergence of Capitalism had also disinherited the forefathers of the modern working class, from certain immemorial land-rights to “This England” he never stressed. He liked to think that Englishmen had an innate love for “This England.” Tiny garden patches of withered green in grimy industrial towns, or even the desire of their working class dwellers to have such things was for him, equally with the pride and possession of broad acres, part of our imperishable English heritage. He might have regarded the contents of a flower-pot on the window ledge of some industrial tenement as being equally a part of its possessor's ”imperishable English heritage.”

Such was the popular image of this Tory Prime Minister. In our preoccupation with this genial country gentleman we were apt to overlook his industrial associations, his tie-up in iron works, mines, docks, railways; his banking connections. The highlights of the picture of the bluff Worcestershire squire rather faded him out as being also a typical representative of this society’s most advanced economic phase— Finance Capital, and his story of forsaken business interests in the service of the State soft-pedalled the fact that it was in the pursuit and furtherance of such "interests” that he had spent—"The best years of his life.”

At banquets attended by members of the Federation of British Industries, Earl Baldwin liked to add to the glow of the after-dinner port by wistful references to the rare vintage of the good old English past. Those more leisurely days before the coming of mass-production, conveyor belts, merciless speed-ups and consequent nervous breakdowns. Then work was done at a pace natural to man. He also spoke of the more humane industrial relationships in some of the old-established family businesses which had existed. He hoped that one day this more humane spirit would prevail throughout the land. His social perspective seemed, however, as limited as that of a Melbourne or a Peel. He appeared to be blithely unaware of the historic fact that for masses of the working population, his good old English past was but the dawn of a bad new industrial present.

His nostalgic partiality for the past never prevented him from ardently embracing some very modern instances. He was a firm believer in up-to-date productive efficiency. He even welcomed such "newfangled” notions as Industrial Psychology, with its minimising of unnecessary effort on the part of the worker and its maximising of productive output. His age-long and misty affinity with St. George never dimmed his harsh, realistic view of the nature of Capitalist Society. He accepted the development of Monopoly Capitalism. In his "Peace in Industry” plea he said: "The elimination of smaller firms and industries and the appearance of great Capital amalgamations were the driving force of necessity in the protection from competition.” "That was the tendency of industry and nothing could change it.” He also accepted the fact that "the increasing consolidations of Capital into fewer hands was the natural evolution of English industrial life.” "This fact,” he added, "must be accepted. ”

He also regarded an industrial reserve army as normal to Capitalism. To an audience of Birmingham business men in 1925, he repudiated the idea that any government could solve the unemployment problem. He even felt profoundly thankful that the experience of the Labour Government had taught them that they, no more than any other Government could cure this evil. He claimed that "there was no guaranteed remedy to cure this disease and at the same time maintain the international power and position of the British Empire.” Such was the perhaps naturally antithetical make up of the "English Squire” and the great industrial magnate.

Into the texture of the Baldwin Myth there was embroidered an obscure social philosophy. His speeches, vague, sententious, even commonplace, with their strong literary flavour, were masterpieces of a misty, beyond the mountains, idealism. This apotheosis of Baldwin as the true Englishman and his capacity for enshrining a nebulous faith in some eternal harmony and peaceful co-operation of all classes proved an enormous asset to him and his party. From such intangible resources he built up a personal fund of good-will perhaps unequalled by any other capitalist politician. It was this that enabled him to more easily withstand the stresses and strains of antagonistic class interests. Certain acts and political incidents associated with his reign which might have subsequently dislodged a Lloyd George or a Churchill from popularity and power Honest Stan Baldwin successfully rode.

It was once fashionable to depict him politically as a somewhat ingenuous soul. Nothing could have been further from the truth. No politician, not even Disraeli, was more astute in measuring up the political opposition, especially the Labour opposition. Where a Churchill seeks to slay the Labour Party by vituperation Baldwin killed them with "English” kindness. He referred to them constantly as "My Labour friends." Among certain elements there were on occasions “regrettable lapses.’’ He regarded most of them as being like himself, English to the core. Only Marxism was a gospel of hate. And it was not “English.’’ He believed, however, “ no gospel of hate would ever seize the hearts of our people.’’

He regarded the advent of a Labour Government as being no more than the inevitable swing of the political pendulum. He said in 1923, “When the Labour Party come to sit on the Government benches we shall all wish them well in their efforts to govern the country.”

He followed the Disraeli formula of adopting towards the working class an attitude of benevolent paternalism. He advised young Tories to study Disraeli Conservatism. “ With that you can always win,” he said. No less than the Labour Party he claimed to be the champion of the social “under-dog.” He also believed “we were slowly and gradually moving towards a better industrial system.” As the Labour Party also accept ”the inevitability of gradualism ” they would seem to have shared the same social ideal. In progressive social reforms he said his party yielded to none. So he stole the thunder of the “Left.”

He did more than steal the Labour Party’s thunder. He stole their leaders. In 1931, MacDonald, Snowden, Thomas, etc., left the Labour Party to help form the National Government. In the panic “crisis” election of 1931 the Labour Party were also deprived of their own national “heroes.” Bewildered and beaten they stayed in the political desert for many years.

True MacDonald remained Prime Minister. It would be truer to say he went through-the motions of being one. While he postured and jitterbugged in front of the political stage “simple Stan Baldwin” was the puppet-master who pulled the stringy. In 1934 Baldwin took over again. MacDonald became Lord President of the Council and went back stage.

The Labour Party themselves at one period fell heavily for the “Baldwin Myth.” Some even regarded him as a “Socialist.” His sentiments were sometimes as heartily applauded from Labour Party benches as from his own. When Baldwin spoke on the need for a better understanding between classes or Disarmament "even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forebear to cheer.” Some members of the Labour Party regarded him as acting as a kind of buffer between the workers and the hard-faced men of his party. That he was a shrewd and able representative of these hard-faced men, they never suspected.

In 1925 he intimated that wages must come down. In the same year he made his “Peace in Industry plea” ending with “give peace in our time, O Lord.” He, however, saw signs in the same speech of a coming industrial storm. At that time the coal owners were pressing for heavy wage reductions for the miners. Baldwin granted the mine-owners a subsidy to maintain temporarily the status quo and prepared for the coming industrial storm. It took the shape of the General Strike. Millions of workers answered the call in defence of the miners’ standard of living. After nine days the T.U.C. called the strike off. The T.U.C. had, during the strike, been in contact with the then Sir Herbert Samuel who was Chairman of the Baldwin Government’s Mining Commission, and arranged a “Gentleman’s agreement.” Their excuse was that they believed the Government would accept the terms. Sir Herbert Samuel, incidentally, disclaimed any contract with the Government on the matter and pointed out that the meeting with the T.U.C. was entirely on his own initiative. Baldwin himself repudiated any such suggestion and demanded complete surrender. The miners fought on alone. After seven months lock-out by the owners with the backing of the Baldwin Government the miners were beaten to their knees. They were compelled to go back on conditions which made their occupation a virtually sweated industry.

His administration was also responsible for some of the harshest treatment ever meted out to the unemployed. Tightening up of Unemployed Regulations led to the wholesale transference of unemployed to Public Relief. When the numbers of able-bodied people receiving Outdoor Relief reached threatening proportions, heavy cuts were made in the scale of relief. Boards of Guardians who refused to zealously operate the “New Hunger Scales” as they were called, were replaced by Commissioners to see that these new scales were effectively carried out. Later came the notorious Means Test.

There came into being some time after the- first World War, gradually growing in size and intensity, the depressed and devastated areas. In some of the most industrial parts of England grass grew in the streets and men, women and children slowly starved in an atmosphere of decay and despair.

One of Earl Baldwin's favourite themes was the Englishman’s love of his native hearth mid “the sanctity of family life.” Nevertheless* under his administration a wholesale transference of unemployed persons from the distressed areas took place. They were sent to places like London and other parts of the South of England. These places themselves had more than their share of unemployment. Nevertheless the Baldwin Government referred to them as being “relatively prosperous areas.”

Earl Baldwin liked to talk about “Truth” and “ Honour ” in political life. On the need for candour on the part of politicians. He could, however, when necessary sit on the facts with the best of them. When the cynical “behind the scenes” carve up of Abyssinia in the Hoare-Laval pact came out, Hoare was sacrificed to the popular outcry against the secret terms. When Baldwin was pressed for information in Parliament on the matter he blandly remarked “My lips are sealed.”

He professed himself an admirer of the political ideals of Grotius. “ Honest Stan ” could, however, on occasions, indulge in the most Machiavellian expediency, In his successful 1935 General Election he assured the electors that there would be no great armaments. “ I give you my word,” he said, "that there has not been nor will there be any huge increases in armaments or materially increased forces..” Later he confessed that the election was a phoney. He admitted “that the necessity for rearmament existed but he kept his opinions to himself as the pacific temper of the country did not warrant such candour.” His statement that “Democracy must be humoured since it cannot always bear unpleasant truths,” has in the light of the foregoing, sardonic implications.

Another myth of Baldwin was that he stood for disarmament. The facts shatter it. In 1924 British expenditure on armaments was £113 million. In 1937 it was £278 million, nearly two and a half times as much. In the same year, Government plans were announced to spend £1,500 million during the next five years on armaments. His then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, said that such figures were approximations. Expenditure would be indefinitely increased if circumstances warranted it.

His statement in 1934 that “the nation must carry its defensive frontiers to the Rhine” can now be judged in all its ominous and sinister significance. In that year the plant was laid down for the construction of the four-engined Lancaster bombers. He had no illusions about the nature of the coming war. He knew that one of the forms this "British defence” would take would consist of bombing attacks on German towns.

In spite of certain superficial differences as to the best policy for defending British Imperial interests existing between Baldwin and people like Churchill and others, he was no less a ruthless defender of such "interests." As equally committed to re-armament and finally war as they. Such differences were adroitly exploited for purposes of war propaganda. The attack on the so-called appeasement policy served to rouse workers to “our desperate plight.” It became one of the means for emotionally conditioning them to become once again willing, even enthusiastic, victims of a new and greater Armageddon. Baldwin’s stock which had been already in decline, slumped catastrophically. The wheel came full circle. He became in many once-favoured quarters the subject of bitter criticism. even abuse. There were “none so poor to do him reverence.”

But Earl Baldwin is dead! As always on such occasions the atmosphere of the House was heavy with “the odour of sanctity.” Eloquent last tributes were paid by spokesmen of all parties. He became once again, "The great Englishman.”

Mr. Gallacher, M.P., also paid his last respects. As a piece of concentrated sycophancy it would take some beating. It appears that the "English” Baldwin once told him that he had a Welsh father and a Scotch mother. Mr. Gallacher can also claim a Scotch parent on the distaff side. "That,” said Mr. Gallacher, "seemed to create a human bond between us.” On such slender blood-ties was their common humanity finally established. True the Daily Worker (15/12/47) referred to Baldwin as being an enemy of the working class. But it seems that Scotch blood is thicker than working-class water. Mr. Gallacher said, "Nothing should be said that could disturb his peace . . . In the quiet countryside beside his Scotch mother and Welsh father let him sleep in everlasting peace.” While Baldwin may from the Daily Worker's point of view have been an enemy of the working class for Mr. Gallacher he was at least a working-class enemy with a Scotch mother. This would seem for Mr. Gallacher to imply a distinction of some importance.

A pale attempt has been made in certain sections of the Press to see in the demise of Earl Baldwin "The Death of an Hero.” The Daily Telegraph (15/12/47) believed that for him "the trumpets might sound on the other side.” Perhaps a plaque or a bust or even a statue might be a pathetic attempt to ensure his “English” immortality. For posterity however, history will record that his name was writ on water.
Ted Wilmott

Mitres and Miracles (1948)

From the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

On October 15th, 1947, at the Convocation of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Lang, mildly rebuked the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr. Barnes, for the views he expressed on miracles in his book “The Rise of Christianity.” The Sunday Pictorial published extracts from the book, and at the end of the series the archbishop appointed Dr. Blunt, Bishop of Bradford, to reply. Both bishops confined themselves to the authenticity of the gospels and the miracles.

This side of the religious question is of little interest to the Socialist, who ignores them for the same reason that he ignores so-called Lourdes cures and Mons angels. They are contrary to nature, and he cannot know all the circumstances of the happening and the telling. In particular the telling.

Nevertheless, miracles are of vital importance to the ecclesiastic. Dr. Lang admitted as much in his first protest.

While Dr. Garbett said “Acceptance of modern and scientific theories with regard to religion would leave the church only with the memory of a ‘good and courageous man,' who failed in his mission and whose body remained within the tomb.” Other bishops joined in the general condemnation, and Dr. Barnes was left in a minority of one. Needless to say they were all concerned, with or without miracles, in making religion acceptable to the credulous.

In spite of his objections to the literal acceptance of miracles, Dr. Barnes still believes in the greatest of all miracles: the creation of the world, universe or cosmos by a personal god. His explanation of the manner in which miracles came to be believed is probably true. But in retaining the creation miracle and a spiritual domain he gave away his case to Dr. Blunt. He says: “In the discussion of alleged miracles, much nonsense would be avoided by the ardent controversialists if they remembered the first rule of experimental religious psychology: spiritual truths must be spiritually discerned.” Which in plain English is a confession that religion is just a world of make-believe.

After Dr. Barnes’ concessions to spiritual power, miracles, like casting out devils, or turning water into wine, are only small fry, comparable with the spiritualist manifestations of today. And a god who could create the cosmos would take them in his stride. But Dr. Blunt said this in a round-about way. He says that man can modify the rigid working out of cause and effect, and then asks if God cannot do as much? He quotes Dr. Barnes’ statement, “That spiritual qualities do not use material media,” and then declares "This statement is falsified every time that a boy kisses his girl, or a friend grasps a friend’s hand.” 

Kissing a girl and shaking a friend’s hand, according to Dr. Blunt, are spiritual impulses causing physical effects. They are actually physical attractions evoking emotional responses; something not confined to man, but common to the whole biological world. Dr. Barnes’ second point: “Spiritual causes do not produce material effects,” is, he says, "falsified whenever a cricketer catches a falling ball, and so interferes with the law of gravity.” But the law of gravity persists whether the ball rests on the player’s hand, his head, or the ground. The player himself stays on the ground in accordance with the law; and when he catches the ball its weight is added to his own, and player and ball remain under the earth’s power of attraction. Even in its flight the ball was subject to that power. Had the ball rendered the player unconscious by falling on his head, it would have been just as true to say that the law of gravity had interfered with the life force.

Next, Dr. Blunt appealed to science, in the person of Sir Oliver Lodge, who for some years had been engrossed with psychical research under the guidance of spiritualist mediums. He is introduced with a flourish: “So it was that so eminent a scientist as Sir Oliver Lodge, lecturing to a body of clergy warned them ’not to give up the idea of miracle, just when science is preparing to concede it ’.”

On the strength of this, Dr. Blunt makes a more general statement, for which he supplies no evidence: “For fifty years science has been more and more conceding the limited scope of merely physical causation, and has been more and more admitting the power of spiritual forces in the processes of the Universe. Indeed the scientific question nowadays is not whether matter is absolute, but whether there is such a thing as ‘matter’ at all.”

When scientists popularise their ideas, especially among the clergy, they should explain what they mean by matter. As it is stated above it may mean any one of three things: an essential matter underlying all phenomena—the philosophers’ bugbear; matter in the form of atoms in motion; or just matter.

Matter and force are merely two names for one and the same thing. And this, in spite of the claim by a scientist, that a recent experiment could only be explained on the assumption that a minute quantity of matter had been converted into energy and lost. Which, in the telling, proves nothing except that it is just as easy to lose things in a laboratory as anywhere else.

The older materialistic theory was that matter in the shape of atoms in motion was responsible for everything in nature. It held the field until some hundred years ago. Its adherents were unsatisfied, they wanted to know of what did the atom consist, if force or energy was only motion of the atoms. A question that has intrigued philosophers and even scientists, and still confuses the ecclesiastical mind; as instanced by all the bishops in this controversy who insist on the influence of mind over matter. So this alleged disappearance of matter from the scene is of no help to either side in the controversy.

Throughout the middle ages philosophers thought of matter as the substance of the universe: the reality behind its manifold appearances. But neither the modern philosopher, nor the scientist has yet discovered this supposed reality, because however deeply they penetrate they still find only phenomena.

The atom idea was put forward in Ancient Greece. It served as the basis for theories and experiments throughout the middle ages. And eventually all modern chemistry was based on it. Yet the modern scientist found that its hardness was not due to solidity. That it was in fact made up of electrons, which he described as mere points of force moving at incredible speeds. He tried to separate these points of force with a process called "splitting the atom.” The measure of success achieved was plainly revealed to the world at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What a tribute to the wages system ! It drags the best efforts out of men in the service of the ruling-class. The scientist will give of his utmost to get into the four-figure wage class. All his discoveries add wealth and power to the ruling-class on the one hand, and on the other, greater insecurity and more highly concentrated labour for the rest of his class. The clergy, too, are wage workers. Badly paid in the lower ranks, but always striving for one of the high-up jobs; where they can juggle with spiritual metaphysics like “experimental religious psychology ”; and get big money by means of dignified eulogies on the sacred rights of private property, the essence of capitalist ethics, and a vital necessity for himself and the class he serves.

In spite of all the recent discoveries on the nature and structure of the atom, industrial scientists carry on with their table of elements, with its relative atomic weights, and it still works. They are continually discovering laws of substance of which man can take advantage in the struggle for existence. Most scientists, however, turn away from investigations into the nature of existence. It doesn’t pay. While labour-saving processes and atom bombs do.

The tendency on the part of the clergy to merge what they call the spiritual into human thought and mental work is the result of their inability to show, even the probability of a separate spiritual existence, so they are driven back on the mind, and some day they will discover that the mind is merely the function of a physical organ. An instance of this tendency occurred during a broadcast debate on “Belief and Unbelief,” when a prominent churchman made the absurd contention that it was an "example of the influence of mind over matter whenever he took off his hat.” Quite forgetting, in his innocence, that it was material nature, in the shape of rain, cold, etc., that made him wear a hat at all; while over-exertion on a warm day would necessitate its removal to mop his perspiring brow.

Before the clergy talk of mind influencing matter, they must first establish it as a fact that mind is something different from matter, and secondly, that it is independent of matter. It needs no scientist to tell us that there is nothing in nature that is anything in and by itself. Everything within our knowledge is a combination of many things, each of them parts of the universe, and all interdependent, related, and subject to incessant change by that relationship. In that respect the mind is no different from anything else.

Some light on this subject of "mind versus matter” was reported in the Daily Worker (8/4/47). Bertrand Russell had said "that modern physics make materialism very unplausible.” In reply to him J. B. S. Haldane said: "To my mind modern physics makes materialism far more probable than it seemed a generation ago. If the smallest bits of matter are not mere inert particles, but buzzing with activity, it is much easier to suppose that life and mind could arise from what we call dead matter. Materialists think that the gap between non-living matter and human beings is not absolute, and has in fact been bridged by evolution.”

There are, of course, no gaps in evolution; only in our knowledge of it. But the closing of the gap in our knowledge of evolution has broken down one of the main defences of the Church: the mystery of the ego, or soul, has been solved by the discovery that this is nothing but the primary sense of feeling; a quality possessed by the lowest and simplest organisms. In man this primary sense is reinforced by the development of the other four senses, as a result of the hereditary genes, and emerges as a persistent awareness of self early in life.

Mind is merely a function of the brain, just as digestion is a function of the stomach. A condition appertaining to certain dispositions of a special kind of matter evolved in the universal processes of infinite change and, therefore, like everything else, short of the universe itself, limited in its duration. Moreover, it has been scientifically established that man, during his embryonic stage, passes through all forms that have characterised his own evolution from nature’s "culture” upwards.

If spiritual merely means love, friendship or the higher feelings between men in social life, the clergy have indeed abandoned all their defences. Doctors Lang and Blunt are the diehards of a fantastic belief that a spiritual god of infinite power, who created an infinite universe and a class-divided human society, expects men to stifle the greed, hatred and conflict that such a system breeds, in order that they may inherit a state of eternal spiritual bliss. Many people, besides socialists, have already jettisoned these absurd notions. The clergy, under the pressure of scientific knowledge, the indifference of the vast majority, and a growing sense of their weakness, are being steadily forced to abandon these superstitions. They may be well-intentioned, they certainly preach charitableness and brotherly love; but the evil results that flow naturally from the conflict of interests in a class-ridden social system overwhelm their ever weakening efforts.

Brotherly feelings are only possible among those who, having discarded all forms of superstition, realise and affirm that the means of life are the common inheritance of the human race as a whole. Real comradeship is only possible with those who organise consciously to abolish this class-dominated system of capitalism, and to establish a system in which the wellbeing of the people as a whole, is the chief concern of the whole of the people.
F. Foan

A Socialist's Reflections on Atomic Energy (1948)

From the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the fundamentals of Scientific Socialism is the theory that when productive forces have reached a certain stage in their development, they rebel against conditions of production. This culminates in social revolution; conditions of production are harmonised with the forces of production and a new social system comes into being. Application of this theory to contemporary capitalism shows productive forces rebelling against these obsolete conditions of production, i.e. capitalism. Atomic energy is an intensification of that rebellion, a rebellion which manifests itself in slumps and wars. Social production conflicts with private ownership. The solution of this conflict is social ownership. The need for this social ownership is becoming clearer daily.

Under capitalism the purpose of production is for sale on the market in order to secure a profit for the capitalist class, which owns the means of production. When goods cannot be sold at a profit, production ceases. Wealth is produced solely by the working class, the vast majority of the population of advanced capitalist countries. This class is divorced from the means of life and therefore has to sell its labour power to the capitalists, who own the means of life. The working class does not merely produce the equivalent of its wages. It produces a surplus value, from which the capitalist class derives its income in the form of rent, interest and profit. Thus the working class, comprising most of society, produces more than it is able to buy.

When goods cannot be sold at a profit production ceases. Millions become unemployed and suffer from lack of food, clothing and shelter, not because of shortage but owing to a glut. The capitalist classes of various countries consequently scramble for new markets, this scramble culminating in war.

Production increases in face of a market shrinking owing to industrialisation everywhere, thus making slumps and wars more catastrophic. Atomic energy will naturally intensify these problems, if capitalism will exist when it is applied. It may lead to the extinction of mankind.

The appearance of the atomic bomb on the scene makes the obsolete nature of existing conditions of production obvious. The mouthpieces of the ruling class are in despair. Their attempts to prevent wars or even the use of atom bombs are miserable failures.

It is clear that the application of atomic energy to industry will intensify the rebellion of productive forces against obsolete conditions. Socialism, involving the harmonising of social production with social ownership, forces of production with conditions of production, will not merely solve the problem presented by increased forces of production, but will make these forces, such as atomic energy, an asset to mankind.

Under Socialism production will be solely for use and when sufficient will have been produced, society will enjoy the products of its labour. Any devices enabling society to produce more wealth more easily in a shorter time will obviously be welcomed.

The choice lies in the hands of every worker. Increasing misery under capitalism or employment of the control over Nature, which man has obtained for the benefit of mankind, under Socialism. Socialism is not merely possible—its establishment is vital if mankind is to survive.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Editorial: The Daily Worker and Lenin on Equal Pay (1948)

Editorial from the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a recent broadcast Mr. Attlee referred to the great and growing gulf between rich and poor in Russia. Commenting on this statement the Daily Worker (5/1/48) made the following assertion. “To give a responsible manager the same salary as an unskilled worker is no part of socialist policy, as Attlee knows.” Of course both the Daily Worker and Mr. Attlee could agree on this as they are both responsible for the delusion that state capitalism is Socialism. However, Lenin expressed different views, and as the Daily Worker claims to support Lenin’s views its writers should at least remember what they were, even if it was impossible to realise them under the bureaucratic despotism that Lenin advocated.

In August, 1917, a few months before the Bolsheviks obtained power, Lenin published “The State and Revolution” (Allen and Unwin). A few extracts from this little book will make clear his views on the point under discussion. After making copious quotations from Marx’s “Civil War in France” concerning equal pay, the abolition of bureaucracy and the importance of universal suffrage, Lenin makes the following comments (all italics are Lenin’s):-
“The control of all officials, without exception, by the unreserved application of the principle of election and, at any time, recall; and the approximation of their salaries to the ‘ordinary pay of the workers’ – these are simple and ‘self-evident’ democratic measures, which harmonise completely the interests of the workers and the majority of peasants; and, at the same time, serve as bridge, leading from Capitalism to Socialism.” (p.46).

"Without representative institutions we cannot imagine a Democracy, even a proletarian Democracy;: (p.50).

“But there must be submission to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and labouring classes – to the proletariat. The specific ‘bossing‘ methods of the State Officials can and must begin to be replaced – immediately, within twenty-four hours – by the simple functions of managers and clerks – functions which are now already quite within the capacity of the average townsman and well be performed for a working man’s wage.

“We must organise production on a large scale, starting from what has already been done by Capitalism. By ourselves, we workers, relying on our own experience as workers, must create an unshakable and iron discipline supported by the power of the armed workers; we must reduce the role of the State officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions; they must be responsible, revocable, moderately paid ‘managers and clerks’ (of course, with technical knowledge of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task. With this we can and must begin when we have accomplished the proletarian revolution.”

.     .     .     .

“But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. We have but to overthrow the capitalists, to crush with the iron hands of the armed workers the resistance of these exploiters, to break the bureaucratic machine of the modern State – and we have before a highly technically-fashioned machine freed of its parasites, which can quite well be set going by the united workers themselves, hiring their own technical advisers, their own inspectors, their own clerks, and paying them all, as indeed, every ‘State’ official, with the usual workers’ wage. Here is a concrete task immediately practicable and realisable as regards all trusts, which would the workers of exploitation and which would make practical use of the experience (especially in the task of the reconstruction of the State) which the Commune has given us. To organise our whole national economy like the postal system, but in such a way that the technical experts, inspectors, clerks and indeed, all persons employed, should receive no higher than the working man, and the whole under the management of the armed proletariat – this is our immediate aim. This is the kind of State and economic basis we need. This is what will produce the destruction of Parliamentarian, while retaining representative institutions.” (Pages 51 to 53.)
So wrote Lenin, but thirty years later his disciples glorify unequal payment as the principle of Socialism. This was the inescapable result of Lenin’s ingrained distrust of the workers and Blanquist belief the value of bureaucratic, authoritarian centralism that placed complete power in the hands of a small central committee.

SPGB Meetings (1948)

Party News from the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Sonnet No. 137: Rochdale Cowboys (2024)

From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

Rochdale Cowboys

(Apologies to Mike Harding)


It’s not hard being a cowboy in Rochdale,

Despite what a song once suggested. Just

Look at those canvassing for the trust

Of voters, with policies bound to fail.

Labour have disowned their own candidate

For claiming the murderous Hamas attack

Israel green-lighted, so it could strike back,

Condemning Gaza to its dreadful state.

There’s an exMP who’s making a play

As representative of Old Labour,

Standing against the ‘woke’ present Labour

On behalf of UKIP, Reform UK.

With the Green off colour, the choice is sparse,

Voters might consider ending this farce.


Saturday, February 24, 2024

A Look Round. (1906)

From the October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist propaganda in Bulgaria is not quite such easy work as here, if one may judge from a letter, written in Esperanto, received from a comrade there.

* * *

The Socialists held a Congress at Varna in August. Previous to the opening they organised a public meeting. One of the speakers condemned the persecution of the Greeks by the Bulgarians. Naturally, this displeased the “Nationalists.” They dubbed the Socialists “pro-Greeks” and threatened to kill the speaker (Harlakov). On August 10th, during the afternoon sitting of the Congress, a band of about 30 hired assassins entered the hall and commenced to shoot with revolvers. About 100 shots in all were exchanged. One Socialist was killed and several wounded, but three of their opponents bit the dust and about a score were wounded. From which it is apparent that the Socialists of Bulgaria are not only prepared to move resolutions, but know how to shoot straight. Harlokov was slightly wounded in the shoulder. The delegates then considered it advisable to change the venue of their Congress and accordingly continued their labours at Shumeri.

* * *

The balance sheet of the London District Board of the Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers and Confectioners for June quarter contains some interesting figures. £154 18s. 7d. was paid into the Sick Fund and £227 1s. 6d. paid out. The Management Fund received £128 16s. l1d. and £133 1s. l1d. was expended. Out-of-work contributions amounted to £127 18s. 9d. and payments to members £145 14s. 6d.

* * *

It is poor consolation for the members to be informed that the out-of-work payments show a diminution as compared with the previous quarter, in view of the secretary’s statement that the decrease is chiefly due to unemployed members having reached the end of the benefit period.

* * *

During 1902 this Union made 1,211 new members and lost 1,583. 1,066 were enrolled in 1903 and 1,061 were lost. In 1904 730 joined and 870 were lost, and in 1905 899 joined and 960 fell out. The London District has now commenced to enrol “Trade” members at 2d. per week.

* * *

The fact of the matter is that the condition of the working class is becoming so precarious that increasing numbers of them are unable to pay the sums demanded by the Unions and the latter are compelled to pay sick and unemployed benefit at an ever increasing ratio.

* * *

The Bakers’ Union is concentrating its efforts upon a Forty-eight Hours Bill. “We have determined” says Mr. L. A. Hill in the August issue of the official organ “to re-introduce our Forty-eight Hour Bill into Parliament and to continue if necessary to re-introduce it until victory crowns our efforts and our banners wave upon the ramparts of freedom for the operative baker.”

* * *

“Freedom” via a Forty-eight Hours Bill is good, especially when the same writer in the same column says “The eight hours day is after all a temporary palliative, which, while it would undoubtedly have the effect for the time being of absorbing the bulk of our unemployed, would not be lasting in its effects.”

* * *

In the September issue of the Journeymen Bakers’ Magazine Mr. Hill returns to the subject and says “if by Trade Union or legislative action your hours are reduced, your employer, and other employers also, will need more men, and it is not too much to say that every unemployed baker in London will obtain work.”

* * *

Of course this is sheer nonsense. Already the eight hours day is in operation in several bakeries, and instead of more men being employed there are fewer. And not only so, men who have worked for the “smart yankee” who is running one of the largest bakeries in London and the suburbs aver that they would sooner work 12 hours in the ordinary shop that does not possess machinery than 8 hours in the machine bakeries.

* * *

Without machinery, a skilled baker turns about 10 sacks of flour into bread in a week of sixty hours. In an up-to-date bakery, such as exists in London and Glasgow, 22 sacks is the normal output per man per week. But under exceptional circumstances (say in the event of a strike or lockout) one skilled operative, with the aid of a fireman and unskilled labour, could turn from 400 to 500 sacks of flour into bread in a week. The public would get bread whilst the Trade Union bakers starved. An Eight-Hours Act would not affect the machine bakeries. It is already in vogue there and they can successfully compete against the small shop. The small man could not stand the increase in his wages bill which Mr. Hill claims would follow the passing of the Bill, as the competition of such firms as Price & Co., the V.V., and the Co-operative Societies would prevent him raising the price. He would therefore “go under” and the trade would pass into the hands of the machine bakeries.

* * *

The Bishop of Birmingham in dedicating a new chapel at the Aston Workhouse said the problem of the unemployed was complicated by the fact that so many parents were content that their boys earned a little money by selling newspapers, running errands, and such like casual employment. At the time when they wanted to be engaged in a self-respecting industry which would be really useful to the community they found themselves out of employment at the age of 18 or 20 without any trade behind them.

* * *

What a heap of money some people get for talking nonsense. Are there no unemployed with a “trade behind them,” none who have passed through the various stages and mastered the difficult processes of “a self-respecting industry” ? Why even the Trade Unions that made returns to the Board of Trade during August shewed that out of a membership of 596,010, 22,528 were unemployed. This is equal to 3.8 per cent.

* * *

These would be men “with a trade behind them” and as they represent only a fraction of the Trade Unionists, the extent of unemployment at a period when, according to Reynold’s Newspaper, we are experiencing the beneficial results of ousting a Tory Government and electing a Radical one can be imagined. If the country contains only five millions of workers with a “trade behind them,” there would be, on the basis of the returns made to the Board of Trade, 190,000 unemployed. There’s prosperity for you !

* * *

Sir J. Crichton Browne was nearer the mark at the Congress of the Sanitary Inspectors’ Association at Blackpool when he said “The struggle to acquire property, to win applause, to earn bread was fiercer than ever; the pressure of labour had been transferred from the muscles to the nervous system, for physical energy was supplied by steam and electricity, and it was nerve energy that was needed to control machinery, and the indications were that the nerve tissue that supplied the energy was more easily exhausted than it used to be.”

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In commenting on the Report of the Inland Revenue Commissioners, which has just been issued, the Daily News says : “The income reviewed by the department is estimated at over nine hundred and twelve millions. That is the share of the national income which passes almost entirely to the upper and middle classes in the form of rent, salaries, and profit on businesses. It is a figure continuously leaping upwards. In the changes of ten years the value of English land and houses has advanced by 21 per cent.; the profits of business concerns have increased by 41 per cent.; the salaries of Government, Corporation, and other public company officials increased by the enormous proportion of 67 per cent.”

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And it is during this ten years that the unemployed problem has reached an intensity never known before; that Trade Unions and Friendly Societies have been faced with an enormous strain upon their Funds owing to the increasing inability of even the “thrifty” members of the working class to find employment and to keep in good health ; that the average amount per depositor in the Post Office and Trustee Savings Bank has, since 1899, fallen every year. Truly, the master class is getting richer and the working class is getting poorer.

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There were 121,979 persons in England and Wales certified as insane and under care on January 1st, 1906, being 2,150 in excess of the figures recorded on the corresponding day of 1905.

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On January 1st, 1906, according to a Parliamentary paper issued by the Local Government Board, there were 926,741 paupers in England and Wales, equal to one in 37 of the population. The proportion in London was 1 in 32. The insane paupers have increased from 49,986 in 1872 to 108,629 in 1906.

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It is claimed that the rate of able-bodied paupers per thousand of the population has decreased, their place having been taken by those described as “not able-bodied.” This probably means that the working class, in increasing numbers, are being physically and mentally incapacitated.

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At a meeting of South Wales steel makers at Swansea on September 2nd it was decided to form an association to be known as the South Wales Siemens Steel Association, having for its object the protection of makers’ interests and regulation of trade. Arrangements were made whereby funds will be deposited to place the new association on a proper basis. The chairman is Mr. H. Eccles (Britton Ferry), the vice-chairman Mr. F. Gilbertson (Pontardawe), and the secretary Mr. R. W. Evans (Llanelly).

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According to a return recently issued from the Department of Labour and Commerce, Washington, the United States Consul at Lille (Mr. C. J. King) describes a new invention for spinning flax and flax waste. Mr. King says the process, which is one recently patented by Mr. Arthur Guillemaud, tends to simplify the present method by applying the system of spinning cotton to flax. It consists in replacing the high cumbersome machinery now necessary in flax spinning by low self-acting reels, such as are employed in cotton spinning. The machinery differs little in appearance from the cotton frames, being simply adapted to the exigencies of the flax fibre. The bobbins are set at the back, the yarn running off through the watering tank (for wet spinning) placed between the bobbins and cylinders. As the yarn, passes through the cylinder the water is pressed out into a canal directly under the lower cylinders. The yarn then runs off perfectly dry to the reels, and, owing to the long self-revolutions, a better and smoother yarn is the result. The new method decreases the general expenses and saves labour, and the air of the rooms is less infected, and the floors are changed from stagnant pools into dry and sanitary places. Mr. King adds that the new method should prove of considerable value in the development of the linen industry.
J. Kay