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Debate on Industrial Unionism. (continued) (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from the October issue.)

Geis in his second speech said that up to a certain point he agreed with Fitzgerald—indeed, Fitzgerald with his wider and more intimate knowledge of Trade Unionism, would make a better Advocate of Industrial Unionism than he (Geis) himself. The adoption of the Preamble was not sufficient of itself; if the material to support it were not present in the working class it was useless. The passing of pious resolutions, of course, did not signify ; but they had to recognise what was vital in the principle laid down.

The effort being made was honest ; and though the organisiation he was representing might fail the principle would live—the principle that would establish Socialism. The working class had evolved to a certain stage, and different degrees of class-consciousness were observable everywhere in its members. The theory of the Industrial Unionist was that Socialism had so penetrated the working-class mind that the elements were now ready to organise on the lines he proposed. Fitzgerald had urged that the I.W.W. should call itself Socialist if it were Socialist; but the I.W.W. had to be considered not for what it called itself but for what it actually was—a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It had to be judged not by its name, but by its principles and action. With regard to the statements of Klemensic at the Chicago Convention, it was not at all unlikely that he was only in the position of a man who was for the time being rather puzzled by the clause under discussion. The I.W.W. included members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party and others of no political affiliation whatsoever. Affiliation with either of the parties mentioned would only result in the promotion of discord. They were doing their best under the circumstances to unite the working-class politically by first uniting them industrially, in the firm belief that political disunity was the outcome of economic disorganisation. The existing political divisions in the working-class were clearly the shadow of their conflicting economic organisations. [This argument Geis illustrated thus : If in the sunlight, he held out his hand and extended his fingers, the shadow would show divisions ; but by closing up his fingers the shadow would be an undivided one.] That was why the I.W.W. refrained from affiliation with any existing political organisation. There were those who had not yet emancipated their minds from the metaphysical method of reasoning. [Here Geis read a very long extract from Engels’ “Socialism : Utopian and Scientific,” with the object of proving that Fitzgerald was a metaphysical reasoner.] The working-class was always in fluid motion its activities could not be frozen ; so sure as organic bodies grow, the working class would attain its emancipation through Industrial Unionism.

Fitzgerald emphatically denied that, he in any sense, or up to any point, had advocated mere Industrial Unionism, in which he had no faith. He had advocated Socialist Unionism, and no other. And in doing so he had dealt with facts ; his arguments were entirely along dialectical lines : not a single example had been adduced to show that his reasoning was dialectically incorrect. He also would refer to Engels’ “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,” at p. 75 especially, where Engels indicates that the proletariat, will emancipate itself by seizing political power from the exploiting class and abolishing the class State. Although the I.W.W. was represented to be a single union it already showed a strong tendency to simulate the craft unions in its devolution into thirteen sub-divisions, quite regardless of the original seven-division “wheel” described by Hagerty. Thus the I.W.W. had obviously not themselves realised the class form of industrial organisation. He (Fitzgerald) was in favour of industrial organisation on a class basis, as opposed to the sectional basis, of the I.W.W. How was it possible to overthrow the Capitalist system, and “take and hold” the means of existence, merely by industrial organisation ? The seizure of land by the unemployed at West Ham afforded a miniature illustration of what would happen on a vast scale if the absurd attempt were made. In the one case the police and fire-hose sufficed to compel the unemployed to relinquish their hold on an acre of land : in the event of a greater attempt by Industrial Unionists they would be confronted by all the armed forces at the command of the dominant, class. The key to the position, as Engels had shown, was to obtain control of the fighting forces through the wresting of political authority from the possessing class. This was not a question of honesty, but of right and wrong; and the I.W.W., by its proposal to “take and hold” by economic action alone was simply misleading the working class. Political parties, moreover, were not a reflection of economic organisations, but the recognition and expression of economic interests. It was all very well to say in the Preamble that the I.W.W. did not countenance political affiliation ; it left political action out altogether. Why, if economic unity promoted political unity were such prominent advocates of Industrial Unionism as E. V. Debs and Daniel DeLeon still in political opposition ? why generally were its members at each other’s throats in the political field ? Only a clear understanding of their class position could bring about the political unity of the working class ; and so rapid was the development of economic conditions at the present time that all confusing and misleading proposals should be strenuously opposed, and the only way pointed out to the workers along the lines of Socialism and Socialism alone.

Geis observed that the members of The Socialist Party of Great Britain were obsessed with the idea of an armed Revolution ; they could not conceive the possibility of a peaceful revolution, and therefore they insisted on the necessity of the control by the workers of the armed forces of the nation. Their eyes were full of the blood of the French Revolution. Unless the workers were Industrially organised a bloody revolution would undoubtedly occur. He would point out that the soldiers engaged in the Featherstone shooting travelled by the aid of the craft unionists, who also supplied them with hats, boots, and clothes. If the workers were class-conscious the military would not be so supplied, nor with bayonets, bullets and “grub.” The armed force argument therefore fell to the ground. The whole working class would have to be industrially organised however, before it could complete its mission: but when that organisation was accomplished, the armed forces would not be able to move a hair’s breadth. The ballot-box method was a proved failure. The Russian revolutionaries were shot down notwithstanding the election of the Duma. With regard to the thirteen sub-divisions of the I.W.W., criticised by Fitzgerald, these did not constitute craft unions ; they were geographical divisions having local autonomy, but were subject to a central board. In this matter the I.W.W. submitted to circumstances they could not overcome, and Fitzgerald had elaborated no alternative scheme. Only by such industrial organisation as that he advocated would the workers accomplish the Social Revolution.

Fitzgerald replied that the emancipation of the working class was an impossibility until they were organised politically and economically. He had pointed out that although according to the Preamble of the I.W.W. the workers must come together on the political as on the economic field, two delegates at the Chicago convention of the I.W.W. had revealed the hopeless political confusion and class-unconsciousness of the members of that body, and the statements of those delegates were not repudiated. Neither had Geis made the least attempt to meet the question raised, which was essential. He (Fitzgerald) had every reason to desire a peaceful revolution, but the history of class-antagonisms and the circumstances of modern times provided him with but little hope in that direction. By repudiating the ballot-box method Geis had simply taken the Anarchist position ; and assuredly if the efforts of the I.W.W. were non-political they were also non-Socialist. Apparently Geis had never heard of soldiers being employed on railways, of the storage of seven years’ munitions of war and other such provisions. Finally he reasserted that a Socialist Preamble did not make a Socialist organisation, either in the case of a “pure and simple” craft union or the I.W.W. And his denial that that body was a Socialist Union implied also his opinion that it was not worthy the confidence and support, of the working class.

Mr Bryan and the Trusts. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

When, at. the end of August, Mr. Bryan, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States, returned from his tour of the world, he made a remarkable speech that should have been commented on in these columns before. He stated that “Landlordism was the curse of Europe, but it was an innocent institution compared with the trust system carried to its logical conclusion. . . . He hoped the trusts would be exterminated root and branch. . . He declared that the time was ripe for the overthrow of plutocracy, which, he asserted, was already sapping the strength of the nation, vulgarising social life, and making a mockery of morals.” But the most remarkable aspect of the matter is what is described by the Tribune as a “remarkably effective method of dealing with the monopolist trust.” The method as explained in the same organ is “that where a trust has achieved an internal monopoly in production the tariff wall should be broken down so as to admit of foreign competition. Free trade in trust articles is an adroit, a politic, and a just proposal. A capitalistic society is tolerable only when free competition protects the public interests. . . . When once the trust system has been formed, State ownership is indeed the only tolerable alternative to competition. Mr. Bryan’s scheme is ingenious and economically sound. Its failure would mean, we imagine, the growth of some third party, with a definitely socialistic aim.”

The third party has already grown in anticipation of the failure of any scheme of the nature of Mr. Bryan’s. I wonder if the writer of the above quoted article has forgotten the Tobacco War, or whether he learned the lesson that had to teach ? The entry into British markets of the products of the American Tobacco Trust had its first effect in bringing British tobacco manufacturers together into the Imperial Tobacco Company. The two trusts did not compete long—they combined; and today the Imperial Tobacco Company and the American Tobacco Trust are a united body. May we not expect the same thing to happen in America. The only foreign competition the trust could feel would be that of an organisation sufficiently strong to bear the disadvantages of the extra cost of transit involved. It would have to be a case of the American trust v. a Foreign trust. Such a battle of the giants would not last long and would most certainly result in the achievement of the next step in economic progress after the National trust, viz. the International trust. The “only tolerable alternative” to which will be State ownership—when the State has been democratised. We seem indeed to be approaching the beginning of the end.
Dick Kent

The S.P.G.B. and the S.L.P. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

G. Geis writes at considerable length challenging the statement made by J. Fitzgerald in our last issue that he (Fitzgerald) asked Geis to stay away from the Cock & Hoop meeting. The matter is extraneous to the article we published in the August number, and in no way affects the position of the S.P.G.B. It was introduced by a correspondent whose letter appeared last month, and is at most a question of personal recollection with which we have nothing to do.

Editorial: Ten Millions Starving. (1906)

Editorial from the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten Millions Starving.
Mr. Lloyd-George spoke strongly at Penrhyndendraeth, Merioneth, last night.
“He said there were ten millions in this country enduring year after year the torture of living on, lacking a sufficiency of the bare necessaries of life ; and all this existed amid a splendid plenty which poured into a land so wealthy that it could afford to lend out of its spare riches thousands of millions to less well endowed lands in other parts of the world.

“There is plenty of wealth in this country to provide for all and to spare,” he continued. “What is wanted is a fairer distribution. There is a good deal of temporary depression in the slate industry in this part of the world, which I trust will soon pass away. But before it goes I am afraid there will be much distress from want of employment. Yet there are two men in the county of Carnarvon whose combined incomes are equal to the aggregated earnings of half the quarrymen of the country.

“The latter, working at a skilled trade, requiring years of apprenticeship to master it, risking life in its pursuit—thousands of them together can only earn just as much as two men who do not contribute a single slate to the common stock.

“I do not suggest that there should be a compulsory equal distribution of the wealth of this country between its inhabitants, but I do say that the law which protects these men in the enjoyment of their great possessions should first of all see that those whose labour alone produces their wealth are amply protected from actual need where they are unable owing to circumstances over which they have no control to earn enough to purchase the necessaries of life.”
Daily Express, 26/9/06.
A dangerous game.
So truth will out even from a Capitalist Cabinet minister. Ten millions starving—it is a greatly underestimated figure, but it will serve—ten millions of those whose labour alone produces the country’s wealth ! Yet George, like Burns and the rest of the kidney, offers no remedy. Why? Because they dare not. They know the remedy well enough—the only remedy that can be applied, but they fear to speak it. They will talk sympathetically enough to secure working-class support for the party to which they belong ; but they know as they talk that the Party on whose behalf they stand can do nothing to touch the fringe of the evil. Because their party is a Capitalist party, call it by what else they will, and unemployment and its consequent starvation are directly due to the fact that the working class whose labour alone—on the word of a Cabinet minister—produces wealth, depend for their bread to-day upon whether the capitalist class can make a profit out of the purchase of their labour power. The Capitalist class live upon profits nothing else. Without profits they must die. Because of profits the workers must live precarious lives and starve by the tens of millions. Very well. The cure rests solely in the extinction of the profit-monger, the abolition of the capitalist class; the expropriation of the expropriators, and the death of the political expression of capitalism, of which Lloyd George and Co. constitute themselves the fuglemen. Let Mr. Lloyd George tell the whole truth if he dare. As it is he is a sort of political Pied Piper—-a lure : a decoy. But he must be careful. The game he is playing is a dangerous one. If the workers produce all the wealth it may occur that a reminder of it from a cabinet minister will have the effect of inspiring in the minds of the wealth producers a dissatisfaction with anything less than the entire product of their labour. And what Lloyd George of all the hosts of capitalist apologists—highly paid or lowly—would venture to dispute the justice of the demand after such a ministerial pronouncement as was made in that Merioneth town of the unpronounceable name.

Editorial: Justice or Jaundice. (1906)

Editorial from the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Justice or Jaundice.
Our respected contemporary the organ of the S.D.F. has replied to a correspondent thus :— 
“We have neither the space nor the inclination to reply to the slanders of insignificant creatures who only maintain a temporary and parasitical vitality by venomous attacks on the S.D.F. Such attacks are usually absurd and always beneath notice. The statement in question is absolutely untrue. Lady Warwick has never been to a meeting in Battersea nor been invited to a meeting there, nor sent a telegram to any meeting there.”
Not being in the confidence of the Editor we cannot, of course, say definitely who these slanderers are who maintain a parasitic vitality upon the S.D.F., although there is good evidence for supposing that they are leading members of the I.L.P. who, we notice, are rather given to expressing themselves in terms intended to be hurtful to the feelings of leading S.D.F. men. But if this is to maintain a parasitic vitality on the S.D.F., the I.L.P. may fairly retort that the vitality of the S.D.F. (assuming its existence) has been derived parasitically from the I.L.P., seeing how readily S.D.F. leaders and the S.D.F. organ (which isn’t the S.D.F.’s) fall to giving forcible tongue to their detestation of the I.L.P. But however this may be, and whoever may be the slanderers in question, we suggest in all friendliness that the Justice writer should endeavour to prevent his anger (even the artificially stimulated variety) betraying him into venomous attacks—particularly upon insignificant creatures. Vulgar abuse is no argument, and the slandered one does not strengthen his position by reducing himself to the level of the slanderer. As it is, the language of the paragraph, common as we are afraid we must say it is in our contemporary, impels the idea that there is some peculiar quality in the literary atmosphere of Clerkenwell Green which prevents a man expressing himself—upon certain subjects at any rate in any other than cultured Billingsgate. We confess we know of no other spot in the British Isles so apparently provocative of adjectival splenetics excepting always, of course, Edinburgh !

On misrepresentation.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, however, we have considerable sympathy with Justice in its protest against misrepresentation and abuse the more because we are ourselves heavy sufferers from the same cause. Throughout the whole course of our short history we have been made the subject of as much vilification, misrepresentation, and all the other “ations” of contemptuous and vituperative reference, as any party ever was, or, probably ever will be, with results which must have been detrimental to our progress as a Party seeing that, we are in the nature of things, unable to overtake in order to effectively combat, as we can, every product of the tongue and pen of malice, envy, and uncharitableness. Nevertheless, we can say as Justice with honesty cannot, that we have within the limits of our opportunities, dealt with our slanderers and shown them to be such unmistakably. Justice, on the other hand, has preferred we have observed, to complain of slander without attempting to show wherein the slander consisted. This is, of course, by far the safer method when the alleged slander embodies the inconvenient truth ; but unless Justice can succeed in fooling all its readers all the time, it is a method that will, sooner or later bring the grey hairs of Justice in sorrow to the grave. However,
“While the lamp holds out to burn, 
The vilest sinner may return."
And there is still the chance that Justice will repent.

For the present, as it has been represented to us that the statement respecting Lady Warwick may be regarded as in the nature of a reply to the note on the same matter which appeared in the June number of this journal, we will content ourselves with pointing out,—
(1.) that we never said Lady Warwick was invited to attend a meeting at Battersea:
(2.) that we never said Lady Warwick attended a meeting there : but we did say that
(3.) Lady Warwick sent a telegram to John Burns’ meeting there regretting her inability to be present and we gave our evidence for the statement—evidence that Justice will have to meet if it wants to deal with the point at all.
So that (assuming that the reference was, as suggested, to our statement) Justice has missed three chances of stating the truth upon this particular matter and only escaped missing a fourth by the fact that a fourth was never presented to it !

Still we make no doubt that presently we shall have it laid to our charge that we did deliberately and of malice aforethought malign Our Lady of Warwick and other comrades “who have borne the heat and burden of the day”(!) by bearing false witness against them in this connection.

International Socialist Bureau. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

I. S. B.
Brussels, October, 1906.

Dear Comrade,—

The plenary assembly of the International Socialist Bureau will take place on Saturday, November 10th, at the Secretary’s Office of the I.S.B. (Brussels, People’s Palace, 17, Joseph Steven’s-street, 1st story, room 6), at 10 o’clock in the forenoon.)

1. The organisation and agenda of the International Socialist Congress of Stuttgart (August, 1907).
2. Second examination of Van Kol’s proposition concerning the International Congresses and the I.S.B.
3. The rules of the Parliamentary Socialist and Labour Commission.
The Executive Committee:

Karl Kautsky on Socialism and Trade Unionism. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Annual Congress of the German Socialists held during the last week of September, the most important questions discussed were the “Relations of the Socialist Party to the Trade Unions,” and “The Political General Strike.” The Executive and General Councils of the Party submitted a resolution (introduced by Bebel) which was drawn up so as to fully satisfy those elements in the Trade Unions and the Socialist Party that believed in the Trade Unions having a free hand in their actions, while being expected to co-operate with each other when mutually deemed practicable and advantageous.

Kantsky and 32 other comrades moved as an amendment the, following addition : —
“In order, however, to insure on the part of the Trade Unions together with the Party uniformity of thought and action, which is an indispensable condition for the victorious progress of the class-struggle of the Proletariat, it is absolutely necessary that the Trade-Unions be dominated by the spirit of Socialism. It is therefore the duty of every member of the Party to act in this sense within the Trade Unions, and to consider himself bound by the resolutions of the Party Congresses in his actions in Trade Unions as well as in all others of a public character. This is demanded in the interest of the Trade Union movement itself, as the Socialist movement is the highest and most far-reaching form of the class-struggle of the proletariat, and no working-class organisation, no working-class movement can completely accomplish its aims unless it is permeated by the spirit of Socialism.”
In support of the foregoing amendment Kautsky said :
“As to our proposed addendum, which the Executive decline to support, I must confess that their action has disappointed me very much. I thought that in that addition we said nothing that should not be self-understood by every comrade, and that one cannot reject what is self-understood. I believe that this resolution is necessarily as a consequence of the resolution justified by Bebel. I consider that resolution to be incomplete. If our addendum is not accepted what does Bebel’s resolution say ? It recognises that it is necessary to take, from time to time, action together with the Trade Unions. I am fully convinced that the joint action of the Party and the Trade Unions must he the future form of action. Bebel recognises that the form of future action must be that the functionaries of the Trade Unions in every case arrive at an understanding. But here the resolution ends. Yet here only begins the difficulty. Then the question arises, what happens if such understanding is not come to? The reply is very simple. If it does not come to an understanding, it does not come to action. How can we come to action ? Our own Party has, the larger it has grown, become in a certain sense an awkward apparatus. It is not easy to bring new ideas into that apparatus. And should the case arise that the Trade Unions are wanting a rest, what prospects would there open up before us by the Trade Unions hanging on as a brake to the already so awkward party organisation. And just because we recognise that we have in each case to co-operate with the ‘Trade Unions it becomes necessary for us to see to it that the Trade Unions should he composed of such elements as to ever make it impossible for these Unions to act as brakes upon the Party. And therefore it is the duty of the Party to deal with the Trade Unions in such a way as to prevent them from hampering the Party. That that should he done in the interest of the Party requires no explanation. The question, however, may be raised—and I believe that is the reason for opposing our addendum whether the Trade Unions would not suffer by this joint action : whether the Socialist propaganda would do harm to the Trade-Unions? I am of the opinion that, the Trade Unions would lose nothing but on the contrary that they would profit by such action, because they would thereby be enabled to accomplish their great task. And now only I come to the point I was really anxious to make clear. It is the question whether it would be detrimental to the Trade Unions if they acted in the spirit of Socialism, I deny its being detrimental. Upon what are based the powers of the Trade Unions to attract members ? Firstly, upon their system of mutual benefits and, secondly upon the character of a fighting organisation. Now the system of mutual benefits is such as to limit the power of the Trade Unions to attract members very considerably. By the offer of mutual benefits the Trade Unions reach but a small circle of the workers. That is proved by the position of Trade Unions in England. The benefits granted, the amount fixed for the same, and those for contributions, depend upon the wages of the contributors. The greater the amounts of benefit granted the more the Trade Unions get confined to such of the workers as may receive high wages. That is proved by the Trade Unions in England, which for the last ten years have been in a state of stagnation while the membership of the German Trade Unions has increased by leaps and bounds.

And why is that? The English workers themselves have recognised that. They have themselves said that the English Trade Unions are decaying because they have not the Socialists which should imbue them with the Socialist spirit. What is the difference between the English working-class movement and the German ? The English working-class movement has the benefit system much better organised than the German workers have, because there is no State Insurance in England, and in spite of the superior benefit system the English Trade Unions are in a state of stagnation. In England we have the neutrality of the Trade Unions, they are lacking Socialist principles and that proves that, it is Socialism which has caused the progress of the German Trade Unions. Socialists have founded the German Trade Unions, Socialists are its administrators, and it is the Socialists who have imparted to these Unions the vigour they possess. No party in Germany commands such respect as the Socialist Party. The German Socialist Party is the representative of all the exploited—of all men and women who are up in arms against the present system of exploitation. And the free Trade Unions may show themselves ever so free and neutral, yet they are regarded by the mass of the people to he Socialist. That is fortunate for the Free Trade Unions, for the entire confidence which the mass of the people bestow upon the Socialist Party they also place in the Trade Unions and that constitutes the main strength of the Trade Unions. If we push that more in the future we shall only increase the power of attraction of the Trade Unions. With the power of attraction is closely related the Party discipline. If we create a class of comrades for whom that discipline does not exist: we only weaken what is the strongest lever of the class-struggle of the proletariat, which is the greatest help to the Trade Unions themselves. We must under all conditions insist upon Party discipline. The Trade Unions will not fare badly upon observing it. The Socialist Party has never passed a Resolution which has injured the Trade Unions or hampered their agitation. After all only such affairs come here into question which enter the sphere of the Trade Unions as well as that of the Party ; but if once the case should arise that the Trade Unions should feel themselves injured in their own sphere by a Resolution of the Party, that could only be if the Trade Unions place the particular interests of their members higher than the common interest, and then we should so much more insist upon the common interest being placed higher and that it should prevail. I point to France where for a time a number of comrades were permitted to stand outside Party discipline. When Millerand became Cabinet Minister it was declared :— A Cabinet Minister acts under such peculiar conditions that he stands outside Party discipline. That created the category of a comrade on leave for whom the Party discipline does not exist. And soon, also, the members of Parliament took a fancy to that position. They, too, were averse to standing under Party discipline. Finally, also, their constituents declared that there was no need for themselves being obedient to discipline with the result that the solidarity of the Party was with the greatest difficulty sustained by various amputations and by the expulsion of 18 members of Parliament from the Party. This example should be a warning to us. We must under no circumstances permit that a special class of comrades be created who are given a discipline of their own. I admit that a comrade who is at the same time a Trade Unionist may experience a serious conflict of conscience ; but we want to make that impossible by seeing to it that Party and Trade Unions, Party Congress and Trade Union Congress may equally be possessed of the Socialist spirit. What my addendum demands is already being practised in Germany in a number of towns where the members of the Party are zealously active in the Trade Unions as for instance in Hamburg and just there the relations are most harmonious. There the Party as well as the Trade Unions thrive. The addendum contains by no means a declaration of war against the Trade Unions, on the contrary it aims at creating a basis upon which alone successful and uniform action of the Party and Trade Unions together could be made possible.”

Answers to Correspondents. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fred W. Tod.—Had hoped to print and deal with your letter in this issue but pressure prevents. Both letter and answer wait but for the psychological moment !

W. S. Jerman.—Your letter is largely a reiteration and contains no new point of importance. If you have any material criticism to offer we will be pleased to deal with it. But always remember that brevity is a sign of grace in a correspondent. You might easily have compressed your five pages into one and the matter would have benefited by the attention. Your desire to speak the truth only is laudable, but, unless you wish us to think it exceptional, hardly worth mentioning. We credit all our correspondents with the same desire. However, keep the desire alive and vigorous. It will help you to admit your error frankly (on points of journalistic method for example) when you know better.

Correspondence: Is Society an Organism? (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

[To the Editor, The Socialist Standard.]

Dear Comrade,—It is affirmed by Socialists and others that Society is an organism. If this be true it is evident to me that the reforming or evolutionary Socialist is right when he contends that Socialism can evolve from, and grow up side by side with, Capitalism. For, if human Society is an organism it must be governed by the same evolutionary laws that govern the human being and must be in itself at least as complex as man.

A child born of human parents grows up under their care, is tended by them, evolves to manhood or womanhood and eventually takes the place of its parents in the perpetuating process. Therefore, if society is an organism, we must look to Socialism, as the offspring of Capitalism, to follow the same lines as to both birth and development. That is to say, Socialism, born of its parent Capitalism, must evolve to maturity, side-by-side with, and under the care of, Capitalism, which it will finally supplant in the perpetuation of Society.

If Society is an organism, such a process appears to me not only possible, but inevitable, for an organism must act in accordance with the organic laws of its nature.

By the way, I do not know, when an infant society-organism is born, whether the old society stands merely as mother (in which case I wonder where the father may be found), or whether it serves in the dual capacity of both mother and father.

The analogy of the birth of a child as used by Kautsky, does not apply to the question under discussion. The birth of a child, which he terms a revolution, does not kill the parents (occasional exceptions in the case of the mother recognised) who, as we see, go on living and tending the child to maturity. The birth of Revolutionary Socialism, not as an idea, but as a living entity, would most certainly kill its parent Capitalism. Consequently were Socialism an organism the day of its birth by revolution would be the day of its death, for by analogy, and as an infant society organism, it would require a parent society to take care of it.

Though I have studied the question for some years, I have hitherto been unable to find an atom of evidence to prove that Society is any more of an organism than the Milky Way, a herd of cattle, or a field of cabbage. The word “man” suggests an organism; the words “a society of men” suggests to me a number of these organisms, all of similar organic structure, not an intangible organism arising from their association.

Again reminding you that human Society to be an organism must be as complex and contain the same organic parts as its individual members, I will ask, to where in Society can you point and say, “There are the brains of Society, there are the lungs of Society, there is the heart of Society,” and so on.

We know that in Society a deadly struggle has been waged for centuries. What would be the result to any organism that was continually at war with itself? Complete and utter destruction, and no other organism could arise from its ashes, for it would die long before it reached maturity. The fight that takes place in Society is between organism and organism, not between organic parts of the same organism.

In Society there are two chief parts, sections or classes warring against each other. By Socialists this conflict is termed the “class struggle.” But this is not all. These two sections known respectively as the capitalist and working classes, are again further divided and sub-divided until they practically come down to units, each unit fighting desperately against his fellow unit.

I do not know what part of the organism the capitalist represents, but he is fiercely fighting the rest of his own organic division in addition to the working-class section. The working-class part of the organism is engaged in precisely the same game, so that a raging, tearing cross action amongst the individual cells of the organism is ever in progress.

But, and here comes the funny part of the matter, when the class interests of the Capitalists are threatened by the attitude of the working-class section the capitalist units band themselves together for defensive purposes.

That an organism should be divisible into two classes, that it should possess class-interests, or that a fractional part of the organism should be able to maintain any interest whatever apart from the welfare of the rest of the organism, is to me extremely comical. But if in spite of this, Society is an organism, the fact that the capitalist part of it know how to defend their interests would appear to show where the brains of the organism are situated.

But where in the whole of nature may be found an organism the organic parts of which are all of similar structure ? Where is the organism that ruthlessly and unceasingly kills off its organic parts and still waxes stronger and stronger?

Where in nature may be found the animal organism in which, say, one third part doing no useful work in the economy of that organism, grows sleek and fat and is able to keep the other two-thirds, which do all the necessary work, unnourished and undeveloped ?

Where in nature is to be found the vegetable organism, a third part of which, doing nothing useful in that organism, receives the greater portion of the sap, and the other two-thirds, drawing all the sap from the roots, die for lack of nourishment ?

Such monstrosities are to be seen only in nightmares.

We all know that the part of an organism which does not take its proper share in the work of supporting the organism is the part that is undeveloped and uunourished. The reverse is the case in Society.

How then can Society be said to even resemble an organism in any particular.

If my reasoning is unsound, if Society is an organism, then I repeat, the position of the Socialist who asserts that Socialism may be and must be brought a bit at a time is logically unassailable, for that position is strictly in harmony with organic law. The complex animal organism, born of another complex animal organism must in its infancy be attended to, and for a longer or shorter period grow up beside its parents ; otherwise it will perish. Therefore, if Socialism is to be born in natural order from Capitalism, the child must live under the care of its parent, or some other similar organism ; which, of course, does not exist.

Socialists appear to be oblivious of the fact that the social revolution for which they are working will be something entirely unique in the world’s history ; though the revolutionary sections are conscious it will require unique efforts to bring it about. Thereby, from the point of view I have laid down, showing that their belief is not in harmony with their base.

Despite all beliefs to the contrary, a new Society has never been born in tlie whole of the recorded history of civilisation. The infant, Private Ownership, saw the light many centuries ago, and the effects of all revolutions so far have been to change his appearance : to win for him the right to wear a new suit of clothes : to wax his moustache or part his hair in the middle. That is absolutely all that previous revolutions social, and, political, have accomplished.

But though Private Ownership is dressed in a different fashion, though he has substituted the frock coat and the tool of industry for the armour and the sword, he is still the same individual in essence as he was on the day of his birth. The storm and stress of the centuries have left their mark upon him, but there’s life in the old boy yet, and the numbers of his loyal supporters are as the sands of the sea shore.

Putting metaphor aside, various forms of Society have evolved from their predecessors because they grew from the same base—individual ownership in the means of life. But I submit, it is as absurd to expect collective ownership to evolve directly from private ownership as it would be to expect an acorn to evolve directly into a beech tree. Both the oak and the beech are trees, but they evolve from different bases, and neither can evolve into the other, unless, it may be, by the passage of a long period of time. If the oak is to grow in the ground now occupied by the beech, then the beech must be uprooted before the oak can be planted.

Here we touch upon the essential difference between evolution and revolution, as the latter word is used and understood by Socialists; but as that is not the subject with which we are now dealing, it must be left to another occasion.

I trust I have now said sufficient to show how much depends upon the question as to whether Society is, or is not, an organism. Upon demonstrable proof, one way or the other, hinges the possibility of Socialist unity.

Not only that. If it is proved as I think it may be that the term is merely figurative, then it will be seen that such a base is not the right one upon which to build a scientific thesis, and in consequence, many concepts arising from its assumed truth will have to be reconsidered or abandoned. If the proposition is proved correct, then I, for one, will most readily accept the proof, even though in the process my reasoning faculties are twisted out of shape.

The vital importance I conceive to be attached to this question must be my excuse for the length of this epistle.
—Yours fraternally,
H. Philpott Wright

The “Clarion” and the S.P.G.B. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Clarion poses as an exceedingly fair paper. It will allow the other side a show. It will even appoint an editor from the other side to supervise the contributions of champions of that side. This is very fair play. It is magnanimity. It removes all suspicion of partial editing by an opponent of the other side. It encouraged me to write to the Clarion.

I did not ask for a special editor. I asked for a hearing. I trusted the Clarion to give me that—the Clarion being an exceedingly fair paper.

It arose in this way. The Clarion’s vanner, Bramley, had reported on his work at Tottenham, and had referred to the local S.P.G.B. as particularly vigorous. This did not appear to suit the humour of the Tottenham I.L.P. In the next issue a Mr. Pedley, of the Tottenham I.L.P., wrote disparagingly of the local S.P.G.B. Therefore I asked the Editor of the Clarion to allow me a word.

The Editor had been complaining that some Socialists didn’t preach Socialism ; that they wasted time on things that didn’t matter ; that they were not using their opportunities to dispel working-class ignorance. I thought the Editor would be glad to know of a party that preached Socialism only, that never wasted its time on things that didn’t matter ; that used all its opportunities to dispel working-class ignorance.

Besides, the Party had been attacked by a Tottenham I.L.P’er. That alone, I thought, would have given me a claim to a hearing the Clarion being a fair paper. So I wrote.

"The Editor replied, “Sorry, no room.”

Now if the Editor wanted to dispel working-class ignorance through the Clarion, and wanted to keep out as much as possible of that matter which would not dispel working-class ignorance, but rather increase it, the reply “no room” was not true. There was plenty of room, and it was filled with what the Editor himself would be obliged to confess was piffle from the point of view of one endeavouring to dispel working-class ignorance. From that point of view, I submit, my letter was of far more importance.

Why then was the letter not published ? I hope I am not unfair, but I can only conclude that the Clarion is more concerned with increasing its circulation than with increasing enlightenment. Its fairness is, therefore, only extended to those who can help sell the paper. Its magnanimity is for those who, in addition to helping sell the paper, haven’t got a case—those whose arguments the Clarion Editor boasts he can “smash like an egg.” All the evidence points that way, anyhow.

The S.P.G.B. is a small party. It wouldn’t sell many Clarions even if its spokesman did get a show. The I.L.P, is a large party. It can sell a lot of Clarions. Therefore I.L.P. must have a hearing.

Of course, the Clarion can do what it likes in such cases. Its staff have got to live. And they must sell Clarions therefore. But I hope the Clarion will not again parade its fairness.

My letter was headed :


and read as follows :

Sir,—Mr. Pedley, of the Tottenham I.L.P., has written to correct Vanner Bramley. I write to correct Mr. Pedley. The bone of contention is the S.P.G.B. I am a member of that party and know that in his references to us he is wrong. Perhaps he won’t believe it but he is.

The S.P.G.B, does not exist, to blackguard Mr. Pedley’s leading men. It exists to do precisely what Mr. Pedley says he desires it should do. It devotes itself entirely to preaching Socialism.

In your last issue Robert Blatchford writes : “Some years of more or less strenuous or casual thinking and observation have convinced me the great enemy is ignorance.”

That is our conclusion also. The question we have to consider is how best we may combat ignorance.

Mr. Pedley’s belief is that the I.L.P. is doing the work best. I conclude so from the fact that he belongs to it.

The S.D.F. member holds his organisation to be the best.

We think that both S.D.F. and I.L.P. are confusing elements whose work contributes to that working-class ignorance which we all profess to desire dispelled. Therefore we exist as a separate organisation.

Which of the parties mentioned is justified ?

We are all concerned with the realisation of Socialism. We all agree that Socialism is the only way for the workers. We all want Socialism as quickly as possible.

Therefore the question of the best method of dispelling working-class ignorance as the necessary preliminary to the realisation of Socialism is the question for first consideration.

We are prepared to vindicate our position as against S.D.F or I.L.P. in public discussion before the working class we seek to enlighten. If I.L.P. or S.D.F. can shew us we are wrong we are quite ready to vacate our platform and go over.

I know of no better way of proving our sincerity. Does Mr. Pedley ?

Let me in a few words outline the position. We want to dispel working-class ignorance. We want the working class to understand why Socialism is the only remedy for poverty and insecurity and misery. Therefore we prove the unalterable antagonism of interest between working class and capitalist class under present conditions and the futility of anything short of Socialism to materially affect working-class unhappiness.

If we prove to the working class the conflict of interest between them and the capitalist class, we make clear the uselessness of the appeal to capitalist representatives which so many professing Socialists encourage.

If we prove the futility of anything short of Socialism to affect the workers as a class, we prevent waste of working-class energy upon palliative programmes. We prevent the inevitable disappointment that comes when, palliatives realised, the position of the working class remains the same. We prevent the apathy bred of that disappointment.

We hold, therefore, that the duty of a Socialist party is to preach Socialism only. We hold that the only justification for the existence of a Socialist party is in its propaganda of the insufficieny of anything less than Socialism. We hold that it exists because the reform parties which preceded it, and which still exist, are not good enough.

And because Socialism only is sufficient we hold that any professing Socialist who enlists working-class energies in useless and wasteful and disappointing palliative movements, not only vacates his Socialist position, but is, unconsciously perhaps, working harm to the working class. The workers of harm to the working class are working-class enemies.

We hold and prove the S.D.F. and I.L.P. to be such parties. In producing our evidence it is inevitable that we make personal references. Mr. Pedley objects to these personal references because they embody adverse criticism of his leaders. He wouldn’t mind if they were criticisms of the Balfours and Chamberlains. Why ? Because the B’s and C’s are working-class enemies. But we hold that the men who, ostensibly engaged in the interests of the working class, confuse working-class thought by association with capitalist representatives in movements for the realisation of objects that don’t matter, are greater working-class enemies than the B’s and C’s.

The S.D.F. and I.L.P. agree as to this when the individual on the rack is a man like Burns. Yet their own leaders are doing precisely the same thing and doing it, moreover, with the sanction and approval of the members of their organisations. The arrangement between Liberalism and the I.L.P. at Leicester which resulted in Ramsay MacDonald’s return and Ramsay MacDonald’s association’ with Brunner in the House is one ease in point. The support of Masterman (Liberal) by Hunter Watts (S.D.F.), of Percy Alden (Liberal) by Will Thorne (S.D.F.), the relegation of Socialism to a secondary or even lower position or its obliteration altogether, by L.R.C. candidates, are others. Any number of further instances are set out in our Manifesto.

For taking a consistent line; for making our actions square with our propaganda, we are, if you please, dubbed by Mr. Pedley’s Gilbertian leaders “impossiblists,” placed without the pale !

I suggest it would be better for our objectors to listen to our “vigorous ” speakers at Tottenham and elsewhere. It would be fairer to read our literature and discuss debatable points with us. So, we may arrive at the truth, which I am quite sure will discover us to Mr. Pedley and his friends as not quite the “impossiblists” he seems to imagine we are. And it may be that he will find that, so far from our refusing to do “practical” work (a blessed word that “practical”) we are, in preaching Socialism only—which is quite as easy of understanding to the working class as the dubious benefits of the Second Ballot, Payment of Members, and the rest of the pottering futilities beloved of the one-step-at-a-time-and-the-smaller-the-better “Socialists”—doing the only thing we can do, the only thing that matters, the only thing that can produce satisfactory results.

If Mr. Pedley can suggest anything more “practical” from a Socialist’s point of view, he can let our “vigorous” Tottenham comrades know. They will be glad to hear from him.

And finally,—it is not a great point but as Mr. Pedley has inferentially introduced it, it may as well be referred to—if the membership of the Tottenham S.D.F. is lumped together wilt the Tottenham I.L.P., the result would still require multiplication before it would approximate to the strength of the Tottenham S.P.G.B. We are a small organisation, but unfortunately for Mr. Pedley’s irony, we happen to be strong at Tottenham. —Yours etc.,
A. J. M. Gray

Some publications. (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

Messrs. Watts inform us they are publishing as a sixpenny reprint Hume’sHuman Understanding” and “Principles of Morals.” Also in the R.P.A. Extra Series Mr. Chilperic Edwards’s version of the Hammurabi Code under the title of “The Oldest Laws in the World.” Another sixpenny deals with “Socialism: its Fallacies and Dangers,” and is contributed to by some of the ablest writers in the Individualist Movement. We do not know who these “ablest writers” will turn out to be, but we are sure their views of the “Fallacies and Dangers” of Socialism will be interesting. These latter seem to comprise one of the principal dishes in the literary menu of those who, we suppose, would fain secure recognition as able—if not the ablest—writers in the individualist movement, but we confess that the result of the effort to combat the arguments which the exponents of Socialism have at command have not perturbed us hitherto. We trust that they will not serve us up a rehash of the ancient mixture with which we are so familiar. Enough is as good as a feast.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The foreword to Karl Kautsky's 'From Handicraft to Capitalism' (1906)

Blogger's Note:
Reproduced below is the foreword to the SPGB's 1906 pamphlet, 'From Handicraft to Capitalism' by Karl Kautsky. This was the SPGB's second pamphlet, and it followed on from their June 1905 pamphlet,  Manifesto of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Kautsky's text was translated from the German by SPGB founder member H. J. Neumann and was approved by the Karl Kautsky himself. The full text of the pamphlet is available at the following link.


By the courtesy of our Comrade Karl Kautsky—to whom we are indebted, not only for his readily accorded permission to reproduce in English, but also for his personal correction of the proofs of our translation— we are able to publish as our second contribution to the Socialist library which we are anxious to build up, the first section of Kautsky’s famous book, Das Erfurter Programme, a section which has already appeared through the columns of the Party Organ, The Socialist Standard.

From so eminent a member of the International Socialist movement, this examination of the existing (capitalist) mode of production will doubtless have an exceedingly high value to those who have made some ordered study of the underlying causes of the many social problems which press upon the attention of the student to-day, the more so because Kautsky’s name will be familiar to them as one whose intimate knowledge of the subject dealt with is probably unsurpassed by any living writer.

But however desirable or necessary it may be to bring this work under the notice of such, the real object which we have in view in reproducing it is to help the working class of this country, or that portion of the working class we can reach, to an understanding of the origin, the growth, the structure, the trend and the ultimate end of the system of Society in which they find themselves to-day, and to an appreciation of the reasons why that Society has, even in its most favourable aspect, so much of insecurity, hardship and unhappiness for them.

At a time when the increasing pressure of economic circumstance is forcing the working class to cast about for some means of escape from the miseries they are either experiencing or fear to experience ; at a time when they are clutching desperately at every straw within reach in an endeavour to avert the doom that daily threatens to engulf them, it is more than ever incumbent upon those who have been enabled to set their feet upon the rock of truth to do all that men may to assist their fellows on to as firm a foundation, so that without the waste of energy, the disappointment and the despair which their present aimless or ill-directed efforts have engendered, they may (effectually point their energies toward the eradication of the real causes of their condition, to the end that their physical and mental wants may find a satisfaction at present almost entirely denied them, and so that they may attain to that measure of security and comfort and joy in living to which, as the indisputable producers of all the wealth of the world, they may justly lay claim.

As it is, their lack of knowledge has made of them easy prey to political charlatans dishonestly concerned with personal aggrandisement, or economic quacks honestly anxious to administer their paltry pill for the cure of the social earthquake. Under such leadership it is not surprising that the working class are largely engaged to-day in ploughing the sands of impotence or beating the air of despair.

It is our purpose, as members of the working class, to combat the evil effects of the work of these black-hearted or muddle-headed mis-leaders by assisting our fellows, through our Press and from our platforms, to strike off the shackles of ignorance so that they may seriously consider with us the problem of their poverty; to induce them to give ear while we show cause why the solution of that problem can only lie in the common, collective ownership by the whole of the wealth producers, of the land and the machinery they operate in the process of producing and distributing wealth, seeing that it is clearly demonstrable that the cause of the trouble lies in the present private ownership of that land and machinery by the capitalist class. We approach them as a Socialist Party concerned, therefore, with both their industrial and their political organisation, but emphasising the fact that the great barrier between the workers even consciously organised as such, and the machinery of production which they operate but do not own, is a political barrier, behind which a small capitalist class exist securely and luxuriously because they are able, while they can maintain that barrier, to control the various national fighting forces against the possible revolt of the workers. At present, in their class-unconscious condition, any revolt, because it is always attempted sectionally, can of course, be easily dealt with, generally without the intervention of armed force; but even with an educated and well organised working class taking action upon class lines, control of the armed forces by the capitalist class directed against working-class efforts, would still effectually prevent the triumph of those efforts. Therefore we point out that having acquired the information which will enable them to understand their present position, and having organised their forces upon a class basis, the working class must proceed directly to the overthrow of the political barrier and the capture of political power, in order that they may pursue their avocation as wealth producers at leisure and in peace freed from the domination of an exploiting capitalist class and assured of the full results of their labours.

Our work therefore consists in educating the working class to the best of our ability. In this work it impresses us as of the highest importance that we should keep the class position of the workers as against the capitalists, clear, not only in our preachings but in our actions. Precepts which do not square with examples are potent causes of working-class confusion as we in England have very good cause to know. It was because of the confusion wrought by the conflict of the actions with the professions of parties claiming to be Socialist that we determined to form an organisation which should express the class antagonism clearly and consistently. Hence The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Recognising then the paramount importance of educating the workers, we seize with avidity upon a book such as this of Kautsky’s because of its masterly presentation of the rise of capitalism and the course of its ruthless and crushing advance. The section of the work reproduced here deals with that phase of capitalist development which had as its principal and certainly its most striking feature, the gradual extinction of the handicraft system in production and the elimination of the small capitalist. Its perusal will enable the worker to understand something of the mighty growth which has reduced him to-day to a merchandise offered for sale on the market. It will help him to see how the gulf between his class and the class of his employer has widened until to-day it is passable only to that remnant of small capitalists still in course of being picked clean of all they possess, thereafter to be flung across the chasm into the outer darkness of the propertyless. It will enable him perhaps to understand why it is that man born of the proletariat remains, with barely an exception, in their ranks for the term of his natural life, and even then must sleep his I long sleep in the company of his class in the cheap places of burial. And so, because he will then have understood how the present methods of production broadly determine his relationship to the remainder of Society and circumscribe his own mental and physical development, may come to him a dawning appreciation of that basal fact in the growth of human Society, which the genius of Karl Marx established—the fact that all the manifestations of human activity expressed in social institutions, in literature, art and the sciences, are in the final analysis but the superstructure of which the prevailing method of production and distribution is the base. It is knowledge of this fact which enables the scientific sociological student to steer a straight course clear of the pitfalls that beset the devious ways of the ill-instructed reformer and enables him to weave out of the tangled skein of the present the fabric of the Society of the future.

It is our present intention to reproduce the remaining sections of the book in pamphlet form as early as possible, and finally to issue the whole of the work in book form.

The Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Socialist Sonnet No. 141: By Royal (Dis)Appointment (2024)

 From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

By Royal (Dis)Appointment
The palace has issued a press release:

There is nothing to concern the nation,

Indeed the general public oblation

Has no need to hesitate, wane or cease.

Hand shaking will continue, walkabouts

Likewise, behind firmly fixed barriers

Of course. Because, no matter what occurs,

Our subjects must not begin to have doubts.

Any uncertainty about the state

Has to be ameliorated,

If fallibility’s demonstrated,

People might want to control their own fate.

Should there be any dissatisfaction,

A royal headline’s a great distraction.

 D. A

Sting in the Tail: Another Dud Czech (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Dud Czech

It Is difficult to run capitalism, whether the free-enterprise or the state model. The latest politician to learn this harsh truth is Tomáš Ježek, privatisation minister in the Czechoslavakian government.

Part of Mr Ježek's scheme was the issuing of books of vouchers that can be exchanged for shares in the privatised companies. This scheme is the subject of the usual speculation and sharp practices that can be expected in a market system. According to The Guardian (21 January 1992):
The Czech privatisation minister Tomáš Ježek has threatened to take away the license of any firm shown to be speculating. . . . But the public has been shocked by reports of agents tempting little old ladies with food hampers if they sign over their vouchers.
This Tomáš Ježek is the same out and out defender of capitalism with its wonderful "speculation" who wrote to the Socialist Standard in June 1991 accusing us of "calculated drivel" and "utter self-deception".

Mr Ježek has yet to learn the bitter lesson of capitalism. It is not politicians who control the market system — it is the market system that controls the politicians.

Labour of Sisyphus

The futility of dealing with effects rather than causes has been proved once again by the re-launch of the Anti-Nazi League.

The League was first formed in 1977 to combat the rising National Front. Street battles duly took place and the League was wound up in 1980 when the NF went into decline for reasons which, incidentally, had little to do with the League.

What has brought the League back again is the growth of another bunch of would-be Nazis, the British National Party, and punch-ups between the two are likely.

So the League which thought it could "drive the Nazis off the streets” has it all to do again! That's the fate of all those who think they can deal with capitalism's evils in isolation.

Of Bikes & Bangs
I am fed up with politicians who say "you can't disinvent nuclear weapons". You can't disinvent penny-farthing bicycles either, but I haven't seen many just lately.
(Letter in The Guardian 1 February1992) 
Obviously the penny-farthing didn’t have to be disinvented for it to disappear: it was simply replaced by more effective means of transport as society's technical knowledge advanced.

The same thing happened to the cannonball when high explosives and then nuclear weapons came along, and the latter is still the most devastating means of waging war that society knows.

That letter writer probably wants to see nuclear weapons banned, but this is impossible when the profit-driven capitalist system churns out the conflicts which make weapons, nuclear or otherwise, so necessary and therefore so inevitable.

The Front-Man

The demise of Gorbachev had politicians, journalists, etc., rushing to endorse the Great Man theory of history.

According to this theory, significant changes in science, art or political direction are down to an outstanding individual, and John Major expressed It very well:
It is given to very few people to change the course of history, but that is what Gorbachev has done.
(The Guardian 27 December 1991) 
This shallow thinking ignores the social forces which shape history and which brought down the "communist" dictatorship. Look at how America's economic might bled-white the USSR economy through the arms race and how this in turn produced massive discontent among workers in the USSR with their living standards.

The reform of the USSR economy and political system had to be attempted sometime, and if Gorbachev hadn't started it then another front man would have. To paraphrase Henry Ford, the Great Man theory of history is bunk.

Tough at the Top

The plight of Lloyds’ "names"who find themselves a little strapped for cash has moved the nation to tears and the journalists and TV commentators to indignation and pleas that "something must be done".

At the risk of appearing a little unfeeling about the plight of our "betters" we would just like to point out what kind of wealth you need to become one of these "names".
To be a name you have to show that you have £250,000 in readily realisable assets, a total over and above the value of your first home.
(The Independent 20 February 1992)
An interesting side issue to the "names" affair is that 40 Tory MPs, Including some cabinet ministers, have suffered in this insurance crisis. We suppose that they will all be very philosophic about it — after all they never tire of telling us how we all live in a classless society now.

And of course in this classless society we all have £250,000 in readily realisable assets, don't we?

Easing the Pain

In 1990 the Marquess of Cholmondeley was left £118 million in his father's will — we assume that his dad reckoned that even in Mr Major's classless society the money might come in handy.

Unfortunately the Marquess has three sisters and dear old dad didn't leave 'em a bean. Anxious to see that his sisters don't starve the Marquess has decided to sell a Holbein painting that was part of the estate. This painting is estimated to fetch about £15 to £20 million — so even divided three ways this should ensure that the three sisters will be able to afford the occasional knees-up.

Heartwarming stories like these from the national press are the sort of thing that must cheer those other citizens of the classless society who are huddled In the doorways of shops, shivering in cardboard boxes and wondering where tomorrow's breakfast is coming from.

Let’s talk politics (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Once every four or five years the great thinkers of our time are given ample opportunity to explain to us where their ideas went wrong. For surely the ideas of such great intellects as John Major, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown et al must have gone badly wrong, or we wouldn't be living in a society where there are more homeless yet more empty houses and more unemployed builders than ever before; more starving people, yet more food destroyed or prevented from being grown than ever before; more understanding of the needs of our planet, yet greater destruction of its resources than ever before. The list is endless, but we shouldn't really expect any apologies from the self-appointed gurus, because according to their doctrine—the doctrine of capitalism—it has always been like this and always will be.
Socialists would be forced to agree with this depressing outlook if we still lived in a society that could only provide comforts and necessities for a certain proportion of the population. However, the technological advances in production which could only have been achieved under a competitive system such as capitalism have left that system as an obstruction preventing the majority from enjoying the fruits of those advances. Capitalism has outlived its historical usefulness and needs to be replaced by a more efficient system, socialism, if the potential it has created is to be realised.

This is very different, though, from what we are going to hear emanating from the party platforms which are projected into our living rooms. We will be asked to believe that the problems facing society today are the fault of certain individuals, parties, policies, workers, or anything other than the system itself. Their arguments will be backed up by millions of pounds-worth of advertising and airplay to help convince us. They will talk about such impersonal phenomena as “the market”, "the stock exchange”, “inflation”, “the unemployment problem”, and “the economy”, and put forward sophisticated formulae for the eradication of the many facets of poverty most of us encounter in our daily lives.

Limiting the debate
In putting forward these formulae, the professional conmen and women of these political parties seek to obscure the definition of politics behind a screen of rhetoric designed to confuse or bemuse the voter. They aim either to make the political arena seem so complicated that the ordinary person could not possibly hope to understand it, or else to alienate the working class from political thought and action by making it seem irrelevant to the problems of daily life. By confining and designing political debate within the limits of the existing system, these representatives of the ruling class leave workers little option but to become baffled or bemused by the “pass the parcel" policies of the left and the right.

Socialists, in complete contrast to all the apologists for capitalism, refuse to confine the political agenda within the straightjacket of the present system, but seek instead to replace that system altogether. Socialists therefore enter the political field with one simple aim—to end capitalism and replace it with the superior system of socialism.

Socialists claim that in order to change society people must first understand the fundamental principles of the system they wish to change. Otherwise they risk making purely cosmetic changes, leaving the system intact. The present system we live under is called "capitalism”. One of the principal characteristics of capitalism, socialists contend, is the separation of society into two main classes. Firstly, there is the ruling class who own the means of production and the vast majority of the material wealth of the planet, even though they make up only a small minority of the population. Secondly, there is the working class, who constitute the vast majority of the population, but who are forced by economic necessity to sell their physical and mental energies to the ruling class in return for a wage or salary. Therefore, socialists argue, any progress from capitalism to socialism must involve the dismantling of this class system.

Socialists contend that capitalism is by its nature a political system. It affects everybody all of the time. It is not confined within national borders or dependent upon the existence of particular electoral systems. However, capitalism has not always existed. The political systems of feudalism and slave-based societies preceded it and flourished for many hundreds of years. Since capitalism has not always been with us, there is no reason to believe that it will always exist in the future. It is merely a passing phase of human development and as such is no more "natural" or “eternal” than any of its predecessors.

Just as all of us are affected constantly by the political system of capitalism, so each of us is forced to act politically innumerable times each day. Contrary to what our leaders would have us believe, political action is not confined to the election booth or to a small elite group. Every time we go to the newsagents to buy a newspaper, we are performing a political act, no matter which paper we buy. Each time we buy an item of fruit we are acting in a political way, no matter from which country that fruit originates. The procuring of any commodity, be it food, shelter, labour power, in exchange for a sum of money, is a political act, since the very existence of money depends on political acquiescence to a system that supports its use.

Money is political
But these self-proclaimed prophets of what amounts to utopian capitalism never tell us about the political nature of money. Instead, they offer a society where employers and workers, rich and poor, takers and givers, can live in harmony. This wonderful state of affairs is to be reached through a redistribution of money amongst the aforementioned groups without changing the nature of those groups or abandoning the need for money. How is it possible to have workers, who give, and employers, who take, in a society of equals? Even the political illusionists cannot come up with the mysterious formula for this magic trick. Instead, they tell us that money is a natural part of “society", that the one cannot exist without the other, and therefore conclude that money is essential

From within capitalism this may appear to be true. However, if you look at the Earth from the ground it appears to be flat. Looks can be deceptive. Money, like capitalism, has not always existed, but is a human social invention. For thousands of years societies flourished without the use of money. Even until quite recently, prior to the development of capitalism as a world-wide system, most populations lived their whole lives where money played little or no part in the social relationships. This is hard for us to comprehend now, living as we do under the world-wide grip of capitalism, but even a quick glance at social history shows it to be true.

With the advent of property, and the greater variety of production, a universal means of valuation was required to regulate exchange. Money performed this function. However it did so in societies that were far from able to provide for peoples needs. As well as defining value, in the form of price, money also acted as a means of rationing. Today money retains these two functions, of valuation, converted by the pressures of supply and demand into a price, and of rationing, where we are limited in our access to the commodities produced by society, by the amount of money we possess. So, if there are two glasses in front of me, one filled with beer, the other empty, and I have no money, under the present system I will not be able to drink from either. The second glass denies me access to beer for the physical reason that it doesn't contain any, the first for a purely political reason: I have no money. In socialism this barrier would not exist.

Socialists believe that, in common with capitalism, money has outlived its usefulness, since technology has now produced the means of providing all humanity with all their material needs. If money lost its value altogether, the value of all socially manufactured products could only be measured in terms of their usefulness. The collecting of worthless paper currency would be merely a pastime of museum curators or sentimental ex-capitalists. With production geared to satisfying human needs, and with the means of providing for such needs being available, as they already are, the idea of anything being bought or sold would become ridiculous. Distribution would be based on need rather than ability to pay.

So, as the election approaches, workers have the choice of being taken in by the hollow' promises and impossible dreams of these small-screen egomaniacs, or else of keeping them on video-tape for later viewing as an historical comedy once the insane Comedy of Terrors known as capitalism has been replaced by the sane and humane alternative of socialism. The workers of this country—of the world—have the choice, but they may not have that choice for too much longer.

Capitalism may provide a bleaker alternative in the form of a nuclear holocaust or some "natural" environmental disaster. Either way the days of capitalism’s reign are numbered, and it is only the human race as a whole who can decide who shall be the beneficiaries of its demise. The fate of young and old, male and female, the yet unborn of all races, hangs upon that decision.
J. C.

Faith, hope and superstition (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

It can’t be much fun being God these days. The trouble with being a figment of someone's imagination, is that you have to take on all the oddities and personality problems that they dream up for you. You get no say in the matter, even if you are omnipotent.

When humans first made the gods in their own image it was different. There were deities for every occasion and the task of running the universe was shared out. When disease or famine came and threatened the whole community, the merciful god could point an accusing finger at the god responsible for sickness, or for the harvest, and everyone was satisfied, if not entirely happy, with the situation. Times have changed, however, and gods who find themselves surplus to requirement face redundancy just like the rest of us. Today it’s a one-man job (and God is male, of course) and he has to accept the fact that he himself sent the AIDS virus, floods, famine, earthquakes and so on—for the benefit of humanity. Still, to help out and clear up any confusion, he has dozens of different sects of believers and worshippers to spread “the truth"—dozens of different truths in fact, each one being the real truth.

The further back into the history of god-worshippers you look, the better the logic seems to have been in their approach.The early believers decided that if suitably bribed, the gods could be useful in all sorts of ways. Today, when acts of God don’t work out in everyone's best interest, all kinds of excuses are made for him. He gets away with murder. Presumably because of this reverse progress in humanity’s long quest for God. many of the ancient ideas have survived through to today’s rituals. Saturnalia, for example, in honour of Saturn, a Roman agricultural god, was celebrated on 17 December. This was followed by several days of feasting and jollification with candles being lit, slaves allowed certain liberties, and a good time being had by all.

Ancient beliefs
Anthesteria (or caster as it is now known) was originally a Greek 3-day festival held when the first signs of new life in nature appeared. Lots of wine was consumed. and on the third day pots of vegetables were boiled for the spirits of the dead who were believed to be roaming at large. The day ended with the spirits being chased out and sent back to their spiritual home. On the third day they “rose again", you might say.

As far back as we know in the history of religion, grain or fruit had been offered to the gods to make sure they understood exactly what was required of them. Modern Christians do the same in their harvest festival. Many of the born-again variety, especially in America, have a similar approach except that it is considered preferable for the offering to be made in hard cash.

The very idea of being born again, which is only a modern recruiting version of the more conventional Christian baptizing, has a history which goes back, at the very least, as far as ancient Greece. Anyone who had been mistakenly supposed to be dead and had turned up, perhaps after a battle, and after the ritual handing them over to the god of the underworld had been performed, had to go through a play-acting form of re-birth before being re-accepted into society in order to convince the gods of their revived mortal status. In an equivalent ancient Indian ritual, performed for the same reason, the person being born again had to spend a night crouched in a tub of fat and water. Over this, the rituals normally performed for pregnant women were carried out. John the Baptist, who went in for ducking people in the river in order to cleanse them of their sins and give them new life, was only reviving an already old custom.

Another early idea was that of making human sacrifices, often with the victim being given the name of the deity to whom they were to be sent. The eagerly awaiting audience would swallow the flesh and drink the blood of the victim in an attempt to be at one with the god. Catholics today do the same or. at least, they claim to.

Childish absurdities
Every advance in humanity’s knowledge of their surroundings leads to a change in the ideas of "God”. This change, however, is obviously not one of greater understanding, but less. As "God" becomes more distant and obscure, the efforts to reach him are ever more bizarre. The “development” of religious ideas is backwards. They made more sense in the day when everyone knew that the Earth was the centre of the universe, was supported on pillars, and was flat. These were the kind of ideas held by the writers of the books of "God’s holy word”, and the absurdities contained in these are clear today to anyone who can read and is capable of doing so without a totally closed mind.

Believers however, whose hope of doing well in life (this one and the next), rest on the acceptance of these as "gospel", or. at least, on an ability to find a self-deluding interpretation of the nonsense, are put in an ever-increasingly ridiculous position. With faith, however, they rise to the challenge. For example: What is sin?. Answer (from a leaflet handed to the present writer by a Hyde Park evangelist, in response to the observation that the small baby she was carrying was not a sinner): "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever”.

What is God? The nearest we ever get to an answer is that he is the creator of all things. This task took six days followed by one of rest—what did God do on the 8th day?, the 9th and 10th and so on until today? In what sense did he exist in a state of complete nothingness? How long was he in this state? When did he start the project? We do have an exact answer for the last question thanks to a certain Bishop Usher and a Dr Lightfoot. Usher computed the date to 4004 BC and Lightfoot, not to be outdone, worked it out to 23rd October, at 9 o’clock in the morning. What day of the week did God start on? Not a matter of great importance unless you happen to be a Seventh-Day Adventist and you, therefore, know that it was a Sunday, which makes the sabbath fall on Saturday and the rest of the Christian world one day out.

Some believers, who think that the idea of God creating the universe in just six days, and out of nothing, might sound a little far-fetched, concede that there may have been an error in translation and that a “day”, in fact, could mean a period of perhaps 1000 years. This, no doubt, would have made the task much easier, but presumably we cannot apply this multiplication of time (by 365,000) to the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. This trip, which ought not to have taken more than a few days (24-hour days, that is), took— with God's guidance—40 years. Even more miraculously, the clothes and the shoes they were wearing never wore out—‘And I have led you 40 years in the wilderness your clothes are not waxen old upon you. and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy feet". The robes and the sandals worn by a 10-year-old at the outset must still have been in good condition and supposedly still a reasonable fit, when the wearer at the age of 50 finished the trip.

Why bother with such absurdities, you may ask? Why not treat them with the same amusement that you would treat a 6-year-old who believes in fairies and Father Christmas? The answer is that if civilisation is to reach the stage where poverty is not tolerated, where the best that can be produced is produced—to satisfy human need, not the profit motive, and where all humans have equal access to the best possible standard of living and human dignity, the childish and primitive ideas that we are all inherently sinners, and therefore incapable of acting humanely, and that an invisible tyrant in the sky has a paradise where “only a few will be chosen”, must pass into obsolescence first. Such ideas have no place in the 20th century.
Nick White