Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Correspondence in brief. (1906)

Letters to the Editors from the October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

H.P. writes that he recently visited Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the former town he found that 16 members of the S.L.P. out of a branch of 24 had left owing to the Party’s support of the I.W.W., and half the members of the Edinburgh branch had left for the same reason.

o o o

An S.D.F. member wants proof that W. Thorne M.P. has accepted the position of J.P. conferred on him by the capitalist class. We suggest that our correspondent write direct to Mr. Thorne, asking (1) whether he consented that his name should be submitted to the proper authorities for a J.P’ship ; (2) whether he has taken the oaths of office ; (3) whether he is now endeavouring to get his name struck off the roll of J. P’s ; and (4) whether this last endeavour is due, wholly or partly, to our criticism of his conduct,

o o o

East Ham I.L.P’er can find Mr. J. R. MacDonald’s speeches, referring to the Labour Party’s arrangement with the Liberals of Leicester at the General Election in the Leicester daily papers for January 6th and 16th last, and Mr. J. Parker’s arrangement with the Liberals at Halifax is admitted by Mr. M. J. Blatchford in the Halifax Guardian for January 20th.

Party Notes. (1906)

Party News from the October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Party Outing, at Watford, on Sept. 9th, was a great success ; so also was the meeting, held in the evening, in the Market Place.


Several members of the Islington Branch having been expelled, the branch is being reorganised, and any person living in the Islington district who is prepared to accept our Declaration of Principles is invited to communicate with C. H. Wilcox, 25, Mountgrove-road, Highbury, N.


A fresh supply of Party Emblems has been obtained, and can be procured by members from their Branch Secretaries.


No. 2., of the “S.P.G.B. Library,” “From Handicraft to Capitalism,” is selling well. Branches should push this at all their meetings.


The Delegate Meeting will be held at the Communist Club, on Saturday, Oct. 27th., at 4.0 p.m. Branches should see that they are represented by their full quota of delegates.


Our Comrades at Battersea and Tooting are contesting the local elections in their respective districts. The Election Address on which the candidates will run is a fitting answer to those alleged Socialists who say that we must adopt a palliative programme when we contest municipal elections.


To-morrow (Sunday, Oct. 7th) a debate will take place, in Finsbury-Park, at 3.30 p.m., between Mr. .J. Davis (Liberal) and A. Anderson (S.P.G.B.) Meetings every Sunday at 3 p.m.


On Friday, Oct. 26th, at 8 p.m., the Peckham Branch will commence a series of meetings in the Public Hall, Rye-Lane.

On that evening J. Kent will speak on “The S.P.G.B. and Municipal Elections.”


Open-air meetings will be held during October at the usual stations if the weather permits.


During October the following meetings will be held in Manchester :—Sundays, 11.30, corner of Tib-street and Piccadilly; 7.30, Trafford Broadway ; Mondays, 8.15, corner of Russell-st. and Stretford-rd.; Tuesdays, 8.15, corner of Liverpool-st. and Trafford Bridge-rd.; Wednesdays, 8.15, corner of Medlock-street and Trafford-road ; corner of Russel-street and Fridays, 8.15., Trafford-Road.


Battersea branch will run a special series of out-door meetings this month. Every Tuesday and Friday evening at Prince’s Head ; every Wednesday evening at Battersea Square ; every Thursday evening at Plough Road. T. W. Allen, J. Fitzgerald, T. A. Jackson, J. Crump, F. E. Dawkins, H. Newman, and our municipal candidates will be among the speakers.


Tooting also will hold meetings in The Broadway every Sunday. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evening to advance the course of their municipal candidates.
W. G.

Blogger's Notes:
Gilbert McClatchie ('Gilmac'), who was not a member of the SPGB in 1906, (he joined in 1910) wrote a historical article in the August 1954 issue of Socialist Standard on the 'Islington Dispute' mentioned above in the Party Notes. It mentions at the bottom of that 1954 article that the article was "to be continued". It wasn't.

Some publications. (1906)

From the October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received the second of the two sixpenny parts in which Messrs. Watts are issuing Professor Haeckel’s “The Evolution of Man.” This is an even more remarkably cheap production than the first, as it covers 192 pages, contains 199 illustrations, and is furnished with an index and a new portrait of the author. The two parts can now be obtained in one well-bound cloth volume at 2/- net.

Also in “Cheap Reprint” form, Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man,” edited by Mrs. H. Bradlaugh Bonner, and “Religions Persecution : A Study in Political Psychology,” by E. S. P.

Messrs. Watts & Co.. the publishers, inform us they are issuing in the same form “The New Scientific System of Morality,” by G. Gore. F.R.S., and “The Cultivation of Man,” by C. A. Witchell.

A gem from Justice. (1906)

From the October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard
“The Trade Union Congress of 1906 will remain long in my memory having brought me in touch with a set of earnest comrades whose economic basis is absolutely sound” !
By which we are reminded of that little knowledge which is proverbially dangerous.

Voice From The Back: Coal, steel and blood (2002)

The Voice From The Back Column from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Coal, steel and blood

For generations apologists for capitalism have churned out the lie that modern war is caused by different ideologies. We have been told that the First World War was a war against militarism and the Second was a war for democracy against fascism. The socialist view is that war is the logical outcome of economic rivalry and now one of the pillars of capitalism confirms our view, inadvertently while he discourses on another subject. As Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, the Italian economist who is now a major influence at the European Central Bank, has written: “It can hardly be denied that establishing joint supra-national management of coal and steel – the two fundamental natural resources of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, over which France, Germany and the rest of Europe fought cruel wars was a highly political project.” Observer (9 December).

The cause of poverty

For almost a hundred years the Labour Party have argued that poverty can be abolished inside capitalism. Socialists have always argued that capitalism with its class divisions and production for profit is the cause of poverty. The latest figures on Labour’s failure to deal with poverty inside capitalism illustrate our point. “More families are classified as very poor now than under the last full year of Conservative government, according to new research. The number of people living in households with less than 40 per cent of the average income in 1999-2000 was 8.3 million, 100,000 more than in 1996-97, a study published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says.” Times (10 December).

Terror thugs and terrorist teachers

Under the heading “Terror thugs groom future suicide killers” The New York Post (11 December) reported that kids between 4 and 8 years of age were being taught how to be suicidal terrorists by the Palestine terrorist group Hamas. What they didn’t report is that the US government are also guilty of “robbing kids of their childhood”. “On another front, the Pentagon has succeeded in establishing its first Military Institute, as a public middle school in Oakland, CA. The school’s 1,200 cadets, whose average age is twelve, wear uniforms, perform military drills, and are instructed by military approved teachers.” (WWW.CITIZEN-SOLDIER.ORG).

Who needs the brain scan?

One of Labour’s election boasts was that it would improve the NHS, but what is the reality? “A medical scanner costing millions of pounds is being used to treat pets at an NHS hospital which does not have enough nurses to treat its patients . . . News of the animal treatment scheme comes as the Bedford Hospital Trust has warned it will have to close an operating theatre to avoid a £3 million deficit by the end of the financial year.” Observer (23 December). It is good news for well-heeled pet owners though. A London divorce lawyer was delighted that her 13-year-old poodle had a brain scan and prompt medical treatment at the hospital. This must be a great consolation to workers waiting for treatment on Labour’s new, “improved” NHS.

Inappropriate tears

After the horrendous events at the Twin Towers the outgoing Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani talked about the site being devoted to a memorial to those killed. The new mayor Mike Bloomberg would now like to distance himself from such foolish, unelectable sentiments. “Mr Bloomberg all but ruled out using the whole site for a memorial. He said that the value of the 16 acre property and the demands of the area for jobs and businesses meant that it would be inappropriate to devote the whole of the space to a single monument.” Times (5 January). Sympathy, condolences and sentiment are all very well, but inside capitalism profit is the driving force, so let us not have inappropriate tears. Although as human beings, they are the only ones we’ve got. Nearly 3,000 human beings died that morning. We still cry, inappropriately, of course, at the madness of capitalism.

Scandal? What scandal?

Under the headline “Scandal of NHS beds auction” (Observer, 6 January) reported that more than 10,000 private patients were treated last year in the UK’s NHS hospitals. That these patients jumped the queue for treatment and cited the case of NHS patients having to wait six months to a year for a heart by-pass operation while for a fee of £15,000 “they can be operated on almost immediately by a surgeon of their choice”. So where is the scandal? Inside capitalism if you are poor you can be homeless, if you are rich you can live in a beautiful house. If poor you will probably get a sub-standard education, if rich you can get the best that money can buy. That is the way capitalism operates – if you can afford it you can buy the best medical treatment, if not get to the back of the queue.

This is progress?

All the slaughter, maiming and terror of the recent Afghanistan conflict was justified according to the Western press by the wonderful improvements in human rights in that country. A report in the Brussels newspaper (Le Soir, 19 December) would seem to indicate that this is far from the truth. “Public executions, stonings and amputations are going to continue in Afghanistan in accordance with the Sharia law, a top Afghan magistrate has stated, while promising more fairness and clemency than during the time of the Taliban. “For example, the Taliban used to hang the bodies of victims in public for four days”, the judge Ullah Zarif explained, “we will only expose them for a short time, say 15 minutes”. As for those guilty of adultery, they will certainly be stoned ‘but we will use smaller stones’, judge Zarif said.”

What’s behind the current strike wave? (2002)

From the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
The media is desperate to discredit them, but what are the strikes by the railway and postal workers really about?
The media are trying to discredit the rail strikes by implying that it is just a cynical manoeuvre by rival pretenders to the crown of RMT general secretary. An internal TUC document was leaked to the London Evening Standard, in which one official opined that Bob Crow, the Leftist contender, “believes that strike action raises the class consciousness of the rank and file” (10 January), thus adding a “Red Scare” to their anti-striker arsenal. Unfortunately for the Evening Standard both they and “Red Bob” are wrong; workers do not go to the lengths of striking just to please machiavellian union bosses.

Sociologists studying unions have frequently commented upon how it is the type of industry that can determine the level of union organisation: the turnover in workers, the relations between workers in the workplace, the importance of an identifiable group of workers within the labour process.

Both the postal workers and the rail staff confirm this. They work in industries which involve mass co-operative human labour (relations in the workplace), which are technical enough to prevent them being easily casualised (turnover of staff), and which are social monopolies (key industries) which work stoppages are able to immediately shut down (being services, rather than commodity producing industries). Such factors put workers in a stronger bargaining position, which has itself caused the assaults on working conditions which have provoked the current wave of industrial struggles in reaction.

It is the essential nature of the services in these industries which has led to their being associated with state control. Arguments about state ownership and control over these areas can be traced back centuries (indeed, Adam Smith discusses this issue in his Wealth of Nations, and, indeed, favoured the “regulated market” approach which Blairites claim to be an innovation of the Third Way). These services have to be paid for somehow, but to allow them to be run on a totally free market basis would mean that their monopolistic power could lead to them charging at levels which would be detrimental to the interests of other capitalist firms. On the other hand, in order to attract investment they have to make sufficient return to make it worth investors’ while.

Failure of nationalisation
In 1945 the railways were nationalised, after twenty or thirty years of the capitalist class agonising over how to deal with the railways, and as a necessity of post-war reconstruction (See Socialist Standard, November 2000). This had the advantage of securing the existence of the railways, and bringing them within the system of “planning” that characterised immediate post-war capitalism. It also had the, unfortunate for the capitalist class, side-effect of concentrating the workforce into one huge unit. This effectively meant that the unions in those industries had the power to shut down the entire national system in support of their demands.

Along with two other factors, this led to “inefficiency” within the rail and postal industries. The first of these other factors was the nature of nationalised industries. Although they were in effect simply giant corporations in the usual mould, they had one significant difference. Unlike publicly quoted corporations, they were not subject to take-over. If a capitalist firm is run inefficiently, that is when the amount of profit it produces is low relative to its total capital, its share price falls, and other capitalists are able to buy its assets for a relative song. This spurs management on to keep the productivity of the workforce in line with its capital value and standard rates of industrial profit; and it also acts as a spur to investment in capital.

This lack of stimulus was linked to the nature of political control of the nationalised industries. Given that all parties were chasing working class votes, to hoodwink them into supporting capitalism, the political masters of these industries were reluctant to overtly lay-off workers from the nationalised industries. The tendency was, rather than increase the rates of exploitation, or attack workers conditions, to opt for the more politically expedient way and close down rails, coal mines, etc. when they became “uneconomic” (i.e. capitalistically inefficient).

What this meant was that, over time, whereas it had been expedient for capital to hand these industries to the state, eventually nationalised industry became a detriment to their interests. Firstly because inefficiencies due to inadequate investment in new capital in transport and mail were cutting into the profits of other sectors of the economy. Secondly, because the relative strength of the workers and their conditions had wider consequences of working conditions and labour discipline throughout the whole of the economy. Finally, these asset-rich industries were ripe for someone to make a profit from.

When privatisation did come, as a part of the Tories’ turning away from the “post-war consensus”, they moved to undo the disadvantages for capital of national pay bargaining. Part and parcel of the break-up of nationalised industries, was the introduction of trade union legislation banning support strikes in firms not directly involved in negotiations. This was necessary from the capitalist point of view, so that the huge unions which had amalgamated due to necessity faced with the concentrated power of national employers, could not strike across firms in order to protect their members. This was coupled with the deliberate breaking-up of national institutions (including the NHS) into smaller bargaining units, effectively paving the way for long term attacks on workers conditions.

Get rich quick
The other consequence of privatisation, especially in the rails, was the asset stripping of the industry. Since the amount of capital in the industry (especially land) had not been used “efficiently”, it proved to be a cheap source of profits for the new investors. Indeed, for the first few years, the amount given out in share dividends to the owners of Railtrack et al. were equal the amounts realised in sales of land and stock. Rather than realising profits from improved service provision and investment, the new owners sought profit in the easiest form they could (much in the same manner as the asset stripping of the former Soviet Union’s industries).

Alongside this, “overmanning” was attacked, that is, the new management tried to increase the rate of exploitation. Mostly, this involved laying off staff wholesale, leading to a big decrease in the number of signalling staff, as well as drivers. Many of the staff were transferred into subcontracting firms, which subsequently clouded the chain of command with regards to maintenance, but which in the short term allowed workers’ conditions to deteriorate.

These cutbacks have led to a desperate situation. Arriva trains in the Northeast have found themselves short of sufficient drivers to meet their commitments. As has been shown in Scotland, a simple overtime ban has been sufficient to cripple service there. Across the country, the rising wages of drivers relative to other rail staff has been the immediate cause of the South West Trains dispute (leaving aside the disciplinary grievances). It is hardly surprising, then, that the state is offering to come to the industry’s aid, by subsiding the training of drivers with a new academy, to take this cost of their labour off their shoulders, and restore the level of drivers needed.

This short sighted increase in the rate of exploitation did not, for several reasons, lead to an immediate increase in profits. Firstly, the big bulk freight contracts declined along with the demise of the coal and steel industries, a situation not helped by the second factor, which is that successive governments have consciously followed a policy of preferring roads to rail (after all, the car industry needs propping up). Rails need more maintenance and manpower to keep running that do ordinary roads, so in competition between the two the latter comes out better (especially when its costs are disguised into general taxation).

Transporting labour-power
The most important commodity carried by rail at present is labour power, in the form of commuting workers. This aspect remains vital for many capitalists, particularly in London, since housing prices within the city prevent workers from dwelling near their workplaces. What this does mean, however, is that transport prices feed directly into the price of labour in many areas, and any rises in transport prices cut the profitability of the firms who rely on the rails for labour delivery. Hence why transport becomes such a key issue, and the capitalist class is so willing to countenance state intervention in the rail industry.

The fact remains, though, that the unions remain strong enough within these sectors to resist attacks to a certain extent. Despite being hampered by law and the break-up of the industry, the big unions can co-ordinate their campaigns, and exploit political embarrassment to try and get their way. The problems are such that the rail operators may soon decide it is worthwhile giving national bargaining another try as a way of keeping workers under control. Likewise, the Post Office, now ridiculously renamed “Consignia”, may have to think again about their proposed mass sackings of workers, in the face of a concerted union resistance.

Given, though, that the capitalists have used the issue of nationalisation or privatisation as the grounds for their alteration of policy over industrial relations and an attack on working conditions, it is understandable as to why many workers will see the debate in those terms, and their own interest lying with nationalisation. Hence they may be willing to believe that people calling for nationalisation represent their interests. The nationalisation debate, however, is simply one that occurs due to the incapacity of the market system to contain the contradiction between the need for ever more integrated social labour, with private property and market relations. Re-nationalisation will not remove the question of investment costs and running of the railways that have led it into such a parlous state, and will just lead to a repeat of the centuries old story.

Likewise, success through striking may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace more. A group of workers’ strength, however, will continue to be determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victory a partial one within the market system. Only by looking to the political situation, the reality of class ownership and power within capitalism, and organising to make themselves a party to the political battle in the name of common ownership for their mutual needs, will a general gain come to workers, and an end wrought to the need for these sectional battles. Otherwise, the ultimate result of the strikes will be the need to strike again in the future.
Pik Smeet

The Dublin lockout of 1913 (2002)

Book Review from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Dublin lockout is an important part of working class history, but there are few accessible sources of information. We review a new book which puts this right
Perhaps only those who have taken a particular interest in the history of the workers’ movement in Britain will have heard of the Dublin lockout of 1913 and then maybe will only know what happened in general terms, for instance that the workers’ leader was called Larkin and that mobs led by Catholic priests prevented workers sending their children to the rest of Britain for the duration of the dispute. Up to now the most accessible source of information about it has been James Plunkett’s 1969 novel Strumpet City but that was a novel. Now Irish Times journalist Padraig Yeates has produced a 600-page account, based on original contemporary sources, called simply Lockout: Dublin 1913 (Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 19.04 euro). It is an important contribution to working class history, especially as the events in Dublin in 1913 and 1914 raise general issues concerning trade unionism, nationalism, and the role of religion.

Ireland in 1913 was in the midst of yet another Home Rule crisis. A Liberal government was trying for a third time to bring in Home Rule for Ireland in the form of a parliament which would have certain powers within the United Kingdom and the British Empire. The Unionists in Ulster, supported and egged on by the Tory opposition, were mobilising to resist coming under the control of a Home Rule parliament in Dublin.

One revealing aspect of Yeates’s book is how the socialist analysis of the Irish Home Rule crises has now become the standard view. We have always attributed the conflict in Ireland between Nationalists and Unionists to a split between two sections of the capitalist class there whose vital interests differred: the developed industrial capitalists of the North who were an integral part of the overall British capitalist class and who wanted to remain a full part of the UK so as to have continued free access to the markets of Britain and its Empire, and the fledgling capitalists of the rest of Ireland who wanted protection from the competition of British products behind a tariff wall. To win popular support for their respective positions the Northern capitalists played the Orange card while the other side played the Catholic card. Hence what was essentially a split in the capitalist class in Ireland appeared as a religious conflict between protestants and catholics.

Yeates takes this for granted and accepts that Irish nationalism was essentially the nationalism of the rising Catholic “middle class” (in the 19th century sense of small business and professional people). One of these was the leading Irish businessman, William Martin Murphy, who was a central figure in the Dublin lockout. The chairman of the company that ran the Dublin trams and owner of the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Evening Herald, he had been an Irish Party MP on the anti-Parnellite wing, i.e., the wing that was particularly influenced by the Catholic Church which had enjoined the Irish Party MPs to disown Parnell because on his affair with a married woman.

Murphy, Yeates tells us, “saw home rule less as an opportunity to seize the levers of state power and patronage than as a chance to develop Irish industry. His increasing criticism of Redmond’s leadership of the Irish Party had less to do with the fact that Redmond had been a Parnellite than with his inability to gain greater fiscal powers from the Liberals for the proposed home rule parliament” (pp. 4-5).

However, it was not in his capacity as a Nationalist politician that Murphy has earned his notoriety in British and Irish working-class history. It was as the leader of the Dublin employers (most of the bigger ones in fact were not Nationalists but protestants and Unionists). But it did show that workers in Ireland could expect no charge in their condition from a Home Rule – or even an independent – government.

The whole affair started in July when James Larkin, leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (and he was a leader with followers, even if he could still be described as a working-class fighter), decided to organise the Dublin tramway workers. Murphy replied by sacking members of the union. The union then got its other members to black the Dublin tram company. It also organised a big protest demonstration in the centre of Dublin on 31 August, which the government banned and which turned into a police riot in which many passers-by were beaten up – yet another bloody Sunday. Murphy’s next move was to get the Dublin employers to agree to require their workers to sign a form stating that they would have nothing to do with the ITGWU; those who refused were sacked, in effect locked out.

Larkin was what was called at the time a “syndicalist”, which meant someone who believed that the way forward for workers was combined industrial action on the basis of “an injury to one is an injury to all”. In practice it meant that other workers – ideally, all other workers – should take action in support of any group of workers on strike by blacking goods produced by or supplied to their employers – the “sympathetic strike”.

People who call themselves syndicalists today tend to be doctrinaire anarcho-syndicalists who repudiate any form of political action and rely on strikes only, including one big final general strike to overthrow capitalism. Larkin and the others were not so doctrinaire; in fact Larkin himself had been elected as a Labour councillor to Dublin City Council in 1910 (but had been disqualified because of a previous criminal conviction). Their position was well summed up by Tom Mann, the most prominent English syndicalist of the time (and former member of the Socialist League and future member of the Communist Party) in a speech he gave to the locked-out workers in Dublin on 27 January 1914, as written up by Yeates quoting a contemporary report:
“‘trades unionism is syndicalism’. His object was ‘to combine all workers in each industry, to raise them all nationally and internationally, so as to take over control of the whole economic system.’ In that way the proletariat ‘could fix the number of working days, the abolition of employers, capitalists and government–which latter is only a functionary of the employers.’ The ‘ideal of the co-operative commonwealth will be realised'” (p. 531).
This was all very well in theory but to be effective it would require a very high degree of class consciousness, so high in fact that, if it existed, workers would be in a position to take direct political action to end capitalism. The syndicalists, however, advocated the use of this tactic by workers who were not fully class-conscious, i. e., not socialist-minded and who still thought in sectional rather than class terms, and while leaving the state in the hands of the representatives of the capitalist class. Another factor working against its success was that under capitalism the employers always have the whiphand. If they so choose they can, because they own so much wealth, always break any strike by starving the workers back to work. This was in fact the choice of the Dublin employers in 1913. Murphy had already insolently, but unfortunately pertinently, reminded his workers of this when he addressed them in July right at the beginning of the dispute:
“Murphy told the tramway men that the company’s shareholders ‘will have three meals a day’, whether the strike succeeded or not. ‘I don’t know if the men who go out can count on this'” (p. 7).
Faced with this tactic by the employers of trying to starve into submission the workers in the ITGWU and those in other unions that had taken action to support them, a sympathetic strike by British transport workers (seamen, railwaymen, dockers) was one option. This was what Larkin favoured. Another option was to enable the workers to hold out longer by providing them with food and/or money. This was the option the TUC chose, and unions and union members contributed considerable amounts of food (carried to Dublin in specially freighted ships) and money. Yeates estimates this at the equivalent today of 10 million Irish pounds (12.5 million euro or £8 million sterling), an impressive display of working-class solidarity, and it did allow the workers to hold out until the end of January 1914.

The Catholic Church
Another initiative in this sense, not from the TUC but from individuals sympathetic to the Dublin workers, was to lodge Dublin workers’ children with sympathisers in England and Scotland while the dispute lasted. This seemed a reasonable tactic, but when they heard of it the Catholic Church went ape. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr William Walsh (who was an Irish Nationalist and had also been one of those who had instigated the campaign to topple Parnell) immediately issued a statement condemning this as a danger to the children’s souls. This was the green light for the most outrageous actions by his priests. Screaming mobs led by priests stopped the children going. The Irish Catholic wrote about protecting “the children whom degraded and dissolute parents would fain surrender to Socialism or to any other Satanic influence” (p. 321).

One of the few to denounce the Catholic Church’s stance on this issue was the poet W. B. Yeats who declared at a public meeting “some day we will have to reckon with those who have fomented fanaticism in Dublin to break up the organisation of the workers” (p. 297).

Both Larkin and James Connolly, the IGTWU’s Belfast organiser who had been called to Dublin to help, were practising Catholics who claimed, contrary to all the evidence, that Socialism and Catholicism were not incompatible. Yeates quotes from a sermon given on 12 September by Father John Condon, a leading Dublin theologian of the time, which raises the intriguing question of what Larkin and Connolly were told when they went to confession:
“I have to tell you, beloved brethren, that the word Socialism connotes a body of doctrine which no Catholic who values his faith can accept; and I say further, that the Catholic who, with his eyes open, gives his sympathy and support to the methods and aims of Socialism is a recreant to his creed” (p. 157).
Archbishop Walsh, addressing a meeting of the St Vincent de Paul Society on 27 October, took up an even worse position preaching that only faith in God providing a better life in heaven could make the poor happy (“pie in the sky when you die”), a reminder of one important reason why socialists oppose religion:
“he dismissed outright the belief of Larkin and his fellow-socialists that the poor could save themselves by some form of social revolution. He believed that happiness was possible in this urban hell only for those willing to accept their lot; ‘holidays’ in England would make the attainment of that spiritual goal far more difficult” (p. 313).
Larkin, to give him his due, told the priests not to interfere. Connolly, too, had replied, in his pamphlet Labour, Nationality and Religion, to an attack on socialism by a Jesuit priest, Father Kane, in his 1910 “Lenten Discourses”. Father Kane, incidentally, had evidently read some SPGB publication as Connolly quotes him as saying at one point: “Now, as to the Socialist system. In the official declaration of the English Socialists we read – the object of Socialism is ‘the establishment of a system of society, based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by, and in the interests of the whole community'”.

The Irish Nationalists
The Irish Nationalists and Home Rulers were no more favourable to the workers. Some denounced the aid given by the TUC as “English charity” and even hinted that it was intended to further disadvantage Irish industry by raising wages so as to make it less competitive with English industry. One of these was Arthur Griffith, the narrow-minded founding member and theoretician of Sinn Fein, who, records Yeates, felt that “British trade unionists were exploiting the lockout to undermine Irish business” (p. 353). He also attacked in article in Sinn Fein on 25 October the view that “Capitalism not England is the enemy” by claiming:
“Not Capitalism, but the abuse of Capitalism oppresses Labour . . . Not in the destruction of the Capitalist, but in his subjection to the law of the State, interpreting the conscience and the interests of the Nation, will Labour be delivered from its oppression and restored to all its rights. I affirm that the evils of the social system, as they exist in this country and in Great Britain, are wholly due to English policy and Government . . .” (p. 354).
Fellow narrow nationalist and later Irish Republican hero and martyr, Patrick Pearse, took up a similar position, stating that he believed that “the root of the matter [dire and desperate poverty] lies in foreign domination” (p. 221).

In fact, there weren’t many who were actually saying (correctly) that “Capitalism not England is the enemy”. Connolly, who by now was well on the way to becoming a physical force republican (and, like Pearse, a future republican hero and martyr), argued in effect that “Capitalism and England are the enemy”. Larkin wouldn’t have disagreed but his approach was more down-to-earth: “Home Rule does not put a loaf in anybody’s pocket” (p. 181); Redmond (leader of the Irish Party) and Carson (leader of the Ulster Unionists) were “both simply the mouthpieces of the capitalist class” (p. 254); “Home rule would ‘clear the decks for the workers'” (p. 272).

That’s about all it did. In 1921 Ireland – or 26 of its 32 counties – did get an independence of sorts but capitalism remained—and so, as predicted by socialists, did its problems. The facts themselves – the continuing dire and desperate poverty, unemployment, emigration, slums, and ill-health – were to confirm that it was indeed not “English rule” or “foreign domination”, but capitalism, that had been the cause of the problems the workers in Ireland had had to face in 1913, 1914 and before.

The sympathetic strike – or rather the resistance to the lockout – ended in failure at the end of January in face of the intransigence of the employers and after the TUC had decided it could no longer afford to continue sending food and money. Larkin advised his members to go back while still refusing to sign the anti-union form. The employers took most but by no means all of them back but didn’t insist they sign the form.

Larkin blamed the TUC for not having called a general sympathetic strike of transport workers in Britain. Maybe this would have made the employers bend a little, by perhaps getting them to offer a “no victimisation” clause, i. e., the restoration of the status quo before the dispute. Which could hardly be called a victory. Basically, however, the reason for the failure was that the “syndicalist” tactic wasn’t as effective as its advocates imagined.
Adam Buick

Sceptical about doomsday? (2002)

Book Review from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is capitalism on an unsustainable course in terms of natural resources? Is an environmental catastrophe looming? We review a book which suggests not

The politics of the environment raises many questions, not least of which is what the facts are about the state of the planet and how they should be interpreted. Is capitalism on an unsustainable course in terms of its use of natural resources? If so, will this inevitably continue?

Prominent in the current global debate on these issues is Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute. He offers a stark warning, published in his new book Eco-Economy:
“our economy is slowly destroying its support systems, consuming its endowment of natural capital. Demands of the expanding economy, as now structured, are surpassing the sustainable yield of ecosystems.”
Bjorn Lomborg, a former Greenpeace campaigner, in a controversial book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, takes on what he sees as the scare mongering by environmentalists like Brown. So how is it that two researchers can arrive at such different conclusions?

The first reason is to do with the use of factual research. There are many examples where Lomborg attempts to find holes in the factual assertions made by organisations such as Worldwatch. For example, he rejects the widely cited claim that 40,000 species per year become extinct. Similarly, he is dismissive of talk of the risk posed by pesticides, an issue which has gained a notable amount of coverage in the British media.

The second reason is to do with the way conclusions are drawn from the facts. For example, in the issue of water resources, Brown’s discussion focusses upon particular areas where there are shortages, notably the Middle East and North Africa. Lomborg acknowledges these localised shortages but chooses to emphasise the potential global abundance of water, given improved cooperation and efficiency.

Selective references?
Since The Skeptical Environmentalist was published other environmentalists have hit back, accusing Lomborg of exactly the kind of selective references to scientific research of which he accuses them. The World Resources Institute (WRI) point out that his use of statistics such as for the global fish catch which masks the importance of the distinguishing between different species of fish, many of which have seen drastic falls in stocks(see The Union of Concerned Scientists say that he misleadingly refers to the rate of tropical deforestation as 0.46 percent per year, where as this statistic is the percentage of the total area of all types of forest. Lomborg is dismissive of the implications of tropical deforestation for the preservation of biodiversity and does not consider the ecological difference between recently grown forests for timber production and long established rainforests.

Even without reading the counter-charges of environmental organisations, The Skeptical Environmentalist is noticeably selective in the use of research. In discussing endangered species, Lomborg queries the statistics on the number of species that have become extinct in the recent past, providing what he claims is evidence of past exaggerations. His dismissal of other environmentalists’ concerns about possible future extinctions is inferred from this – implying that exaggeration about the past is evidence that we need not be concerned about the future.

The optimistic picture offered by Lomborg is bolstered by his discussion of pollution, where the advanced industrial nations of the North, have seen an improvement in the past fifty years. Lomborg stresses how these improvements have been achieved while economic activity has expanded. A more critical interpretation would, of course, question whether the air pollution they experience is yet acceptable and whether much of it is a consequence of the profit-first necessity of capitalism – a question that is not addressed.

Whilst Brown and Lomborg offer different pictures of the current state of the world there is some agreement between them about likely future developments. Both recognise the importance of the growth of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power – their expanding share of the world energy supply is central to the future vision offered by both authors. Both say that redirection of subsidies is needed to achieve the full potential. The likely extent and pace of such redirection is still far from clear, given the vested interests of oil companies who currently benefit greatly from government subsidies, in particular from the US government (see Solar power, in particular, offers much potential but the building of photovoltaic cells to capture the sun’s energy is still an expensive process and solar power currently accounts for just 0.009 percent of the world energy supply. Wind power is closer to becoming economically competitive but still only has a 0.04 percent share. Governments’ expenditure on renewable energy has been dwarfed (and still is) by research into fossil fuels and nuclear power over the past thirty years, even though the potential of wind and solar technology has been known throughout this time. For this reason, defenders of capitalism will hardly be able to claim the future expansion of renewables as a success for their system.

The Skeptical Environmentalist offers a less pessimistic account of the likely extent and implications of global warming, of which fossil fuel based energy is the main cause. Lomborg suggests that a 2 – 2.5C increase in temperature by the end of the century is most likely, whilst admitting that this is uncertain due to the limitations in our knowledge and the difficulties of predictive modelling. Again this has been contested by WRI who suggest that Lomborg ignores some well established research into global warming such as that by the US National Academy of Sciences. Lomborg points out that some of the consequences of higher temperatures, such as the various dangers to human health and increased flooding due to higher sea levels, will be preventable in those areas which have the resources to cope with them.

This brings us onto a final feature of the optimistic outlook of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg shifts subtly between trying to show that an environmental problem is not as bad as has been claimed by organisations such as Worldwatch and trying to show that a problem is not caused by the limitations of ecological resources themselves but the structure of society and how it allocates resources. This second form of argument means that the cause of the problem lies in the economic system rather than ecology alone. In some key areas, such as water supplies and agriculture, Lomborg’s argument is of this second type and the question of whether capitalism can achieve a better allocation of resources remains to be answered.

Beyond capitalism
For Brown, on the other hand, a profound cultural shift is necessary for achieving an ‘eco-economy’ – one where ecology takes precedence over economics. Socialists (in this journal and elsewhere) have rejected the suggestion that any goal can subsume the profit motive under capitalism. Still, socialists do take on board the concerns of the environmental movement and the material possibilities that they suggest for addressing them. Eco-Economy draws these suggestions together and offers the kind vision of sustainable production many aspects of which could be taken on board in a socialist society.

Suggestions such as improving public transport, expanding renewable energy supplies and recycling will not be news to anyone who is concerned about the state of the planet. The Skeptical Environmentalist also includes these possibilities and Lomborg actually places more of an emphasis upon the potential global abundance of key natural resources such as food, energy and water as part of his attempt to dispel what he describes as the “doom mongering” of organisations such as Worldwatch.

Brown calls for improved information and media coverage in order to encourage a redirection towards sustainable technologies. Yet Brown does not refer to the vested interests of capitalism that often stand in the way of achieving sustainability (and cause socialists to question the view that a cultural shift is enough to ensure sustainability while capitalism continues to exist).

Rather than seeing a cultural change as being necessary, Lomborg suggests that “business as usual” under capitalism already has (and will continue to) bring about improvements in environmental management. He simplistically points to the improvement in the average standard of living that capitalism has brought about as evidence that more resources will be available in future for managing the environment.

In spite of their different conclusions about the state of the planet, both Brown and Lomborg call for a redirection of resources within capitalism via subsidies and taxes. Indeed, their differing prescriptions for the future partly rest on their perceptions about how easy such a reduction would be to achieve. There may have been some problems which have been alleviated by these means, such as sulphur dioxide emissions and acid rain in the advanced industrial nations. In renewables, as we have seen, there will be some improvement, although this has been delayed, not facilitated, by capitalism. Other areas, where there is short term profit to be made at the expense of long term sustainability (fisheries, forests, agriculture), will continue to see problems. A solution (in the case of Brown) and a cause for optimism (in the case of Lomborg) is far from reassuring when it hinges upon a call for environmental subsidies at a time when global capitalism is seeking to reduce them in many areas, as can be seen from an analysis of proceedings of the World Trade Organisation and its institutional predecessors.

Even Lomborg acknowledges problems such as world hunger, over-exploitation of forests and oceans and future problems to be expected from global warming (although the argument about the scale of the problems will continue). Indeed there are issues which are not discussed by Lomborg such as nuclear waste and over-intensive farming. There are potential future environmental risks posed by fast developing, new technologies. These could arise from new means by which the genetic structures of the natural world might be altered (not to mention possible manipulation at the molecular level.) This further emphasises the need for democratic, social control of how the resources of our planet are managed. Brown is right to find cause for concern. It is telling that a such a lengthy attempt to counter warnings about the future direction of capitalism cannot convince us to think otherwise.
Dan Greenwood

Letter: Euro super-state? (2002)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Euro super-state?

Dear Editors,

Your article on the euro (January, Socialist Standard) presented, by valid economic assessment, how the euro is monetarily irrelevant for wage and salary earners. Yet the major issue involved requires deeper analysis. It is the determination of the capitalist class, in the main, for the political purposes behind the euro.

Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, boldly states that “the euro is for a purely political process!”. This “process” is for the creation of a single European Nation State. It must lead to a single supreme governing assembly, with the power to pass laws obligatory for Europe as a whole. These laws, passed by majority vote, would be political as well as economic and be binding and incontestable. The assembly would maintain central control of all military and police legions in the European State.

In periods of serious political and economic crisis, mixed European forces would be used to crush any social unrest or revolutionary activity. With the inevitable chaos and turmoil of the capitalist system and the need to maintain “law and order” there is the distinct probability of a totalitarian regime emerging. Recent European history reveals how swiftly, in times of emergency, authoritarian rule develops and with the support of a misguided majority of workers seeking a “strong leadership”. These trends already exist in Europe.

Socialists should actively protest now against a European State. The euro is a reality and a further steeping stone towards these aims to strengthen capitalism. It is not just a question of more “sovereignty” for Britain but the practical ability to avoid the legal impositions by a European parliament. The dangers are neither irrelevant nor neutral.
Lionel Rich, 
London NW6

We are of course opposed to a European state but we are also opposed to a British state. In fact, we are opposed to all states since they exist, all of them, to uphold capitalist class rule and production for profit.

You construct a nightmare scenario to try to get us to support an independent state for the capitalist class of Britain as opposed to them merging into a European state. We don’t think even Prodi envisages as centralised a state as in your nightmare, but, even if he did, you give no reason why we should prefer repressive laws to be voted at Westminster rather than by a European Parliament. Nor why we should prefer British rather than European police to be used against strikes and pickets. Nor why we should want the government that presides over the operation of capitalism in Britain to be situated in London rather than Brussels. In short, we remain unconvinced that we should take sides in the debate about the best political structure for running capitalism today.

The socialist alternative to a European Super-State is not Little England but One World.

Letter: Jesus lived? (2002)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jesus lived?

Dear Editors,

Dear, oh dear! This journalistic rhetoric will not do. In the December Socialist Standard you say “Jesus, for whose historical existence there is no evidence”.

In the first place the Jews, who should know better than anyone, have never denied his existence. One of them, the historian Josephus (c.37 – c. 100), refers in his books to Jesus and James his brother as historical persons.

Secondly, we have the evidence of the New Testament, starting with Paul’s letters, written to established churches and dated from 50 onwards and followed by the Gospels beginning with Mark. This was written about 65-70 AD and based on earlier written and oral sources. The details of Jewish daily life given in the Gospels with regard to history, geography and religious practice agree with information supplied by contemporary non-Christian sources.

Thirdly, three Roman writers refer to Christians. They are Tacitus, describing in 64 AD the persecution of Christians by Nero, Suetonius writing in 52 and 64, and Pliny writing in c. 112. Did the first generation of Christians invent Jesus? If so, why?
Bryan Fair, 
Dorchester, Dorset

Saying that there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ is not the same as saying that no person called Jesus existed. For all we know – for all anybody knows – there may well have been at least one itinerant Jewish preacher in Galilee some two thousand years ago who called himself Jesus even though, in our reviewer’s opinion, there is no concrete evidence for this. In the end, of course, it is not a matter of great importance whether or not there was an “historical Jesus” since if there was he would not have been the “Son of God”. And he wouldn’t have walked on water, turned water into wine or raised the dead either.

Those who doubt the historical existence of Jesus – and this view was pioneered not by atheists but by Protestant theologians (who else would be interested in biblical studies and have the requisite knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic?) – would not find your evidence very convincing.

1. It is generally agreed the references in Josephus were inserted by later Christian scribes copying his work. Later Jews regarded the Christians’ Jesus as being the illegimate son of a Roman soldier.

2. Paul certainly existed and his writings are the earliest that mention the Christians’ Jesus. Which is why it is odd to say the least that they give very little detail about his life, presenting him rather as a shadowy spiritual being who sacrificed himself to save his followers.

3. Christians certainly existed but references to them by Roman historians is no more evidence that their “saviour” Jesus existed than similar references to the followers of Mithras or Dionysus is evidence that their respective “saviours” existed either.

4. Some early Christians did not regard their Jesus as having existed as a living human. See the recently published (1999) The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy for more details.

Letter: Is there life before death? (2002)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is there life before death?

Dear Editors,

I read “A Socialist reads the Koran” in the December issue and I endorse all you have to say on the matter of religion. I do, however, think that the adamant assertion that there is, and can be, no form of afterlife is open to question. Socialists may of course be absolutely right in saying this, but the fact is we really don’t know!

I am inclined to think that the religious hardline adopted by the Socialist Party regarding membership is not in their best interests, and that membership numbers would increase if this was not so. If an applicant for membership can satisfy on his, or her, understanding of socialism, does not adhere to any particular religious dogma, but, at the same time, has a personal faith in a God and an afterlife, then it seems to me to be short-sighted not to admit the candidate.
George Pearson, 
London SW20

We don’t recall saying that there can be no afterlife, only that those who make this claim have not produced any credible evidence to back it up. A Nobel Prize for biology awaits the scientist who does, but so far none has; in fact, in the light of repeated past failures very few think that it is a line of research worth continuing to pursue. So, for the time being, we can only conclude that when we die, we die and that’s that; our brains cease to function and so our minds disappear while our bodies decompose and are recycled in nature to push up daisies; apart from that all that remains is a memory of us in the minds of those who knew us. We suspect that most people accept this even if many are not prepared to admit this openly as it is not very comforting, but it is an added reason to concentrate on making the only life that we definitely know we’ve got as good as possible (by providing a socialist framework for it).

An applicant who said “I don’t really know” would not be treated the same as one who asserted that “there is an afterlife”. The former, though perhaps overcautious, has not crossed the line between a scientific materialist approach and an irrational belief, as the latter has.

Greasy Pole: In the Club – or Out? (2002)

The Greasy Pole Column from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everyone laughed when Groucho Marx said he would not want to join any club which would accept him as a member. Nobody laughed when Iain Duncan Smith said he would not want to join the Carlton Club because that traditional bastion of the Conservative Party does not accept women as full members. Well you can’t blame Duncan Smith for trying but he will have to do better than that if he is to dispel his image as a man who is most at ease on a chilly, early morning parade ground. Perhaps he thought that by apparently standing up to so stubborn an example of establishment tradition he would seem modern, unstuffy, a man of principle. This would have been likelier of he was not a member of another club – the Beefsteak – which also excludes women from membership. Perhaps he dreamed that the nation would be gripped with excitement at his courage so that they forgot about Osama Bin Laden and the euro and the current crisis in Coronation Street. But instead there was a paralysing apathy. There were no restless debates in supermarket check-outs, no rival groups pelting each other on football terraces. The nation ignored it and went about its business of being exploited and repressed, as the nation always does, leaving Duncan Smith to go about his business of being tedious and irrelevant as he always does.

In case anyone is thinking of applying, the Carlton restricts its membership to supporters of the Conservative Party and a lot of its activity is directed at raising money for the party (almost £1 million during the last Parliament). So it is only to be expected that the Club would invite each leader of the party to become a member ex-officio. Duncan Smith refused the offer on the grounds that the Tory Party does not have any no-go areas so it would be inconsistent of him as leader to be in a club which discriminates against women. (For his sake, let us hope he does not intend to act in this way over every example of inconsistency in his party). Officially the Club says “Ladies are welcome and may use the Club’s facilities with the exception of the public rooms on the ground floor designed for members and gentlemen guests”. There is some doubt about whether women would want to use at least one of these rooms, which a male visitor described as “the most vile room in the building, frequented almost exclusively by bores and drunks” and by a female ex-member as “swept by an unpleasant draught”. The chairman of the club’s political committee, Peter Emery (who is responsible for organising all that fund-raising) said he thinks many of the women members like the rules as they are although last year one prominent female member, Shadow Minister Theresa May, resigned because she objected at the way women were treated as “second class citizens” there.

The last Tory Prime Minister to cause a few problems over membership of the Carlton was Margaret Thatcher. To be party leader was one thing; to be offered full membership of this exclusive, all male club was another. The solution was to accept her as an “honorary” member – some might say an honorary man, which brought to mind how the Nazis dealt with finding that they were allies of the racially inferior Japanese in 1941; they decided that the Japanese were “honorary Aryans” – at least for the duration of the war.

Admitting Thatcher to the Club caused quite a few of the crustier members to splutter into their port before they fell asleep again. But they were being unreasonable because this was not the first time the Carlton had displayed a convenient flexibility of principle. In 1967 the late Julian Critchley, who was then an MP, upset the members by giving lunch there to Jo Grimond, Leader of the Liberal Party. Critchley was quietly advised not to use the Carlton to entertain anyone whom he could not nominate for membership – in other words any political opponent. But a week or so later Ted Heath, who was Leader of the Opposition, had the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Alexei Kosygin, there to lunch. No effort was spared in making the Russian leader welcome; it was, according to Heath, a “sumptuous affair” at a “superb oval table” which introduced Kosygin to the gastronomic delights of oysters. It was rather different from the breakfast Kosygin had had earlier that day, with lorry drivers at a road side caff on the A1. It is not difficult to imagine which meal was given the more publicity in Kosygin’s home country. Whatever outrage club members may have felt about the head of a country they regarded as a deadly foe being entertained in their dining room was not publicised. Neither were we told what the long-suffering Russian people thought about their leader feasting so sumptuously among men who they were encouraged to believe were their class enemies—always supposing they were allowed to know about it.

As an integral part of the Conservative leadership, it was appropriate that the Carlton should be the venue for one of the most crucial decisions in the party’s history. In 1922 a significant wedge of the party had grown restless with the wartime coalition which, with Lloyd George at its head, had rumbled on into peace-time. There was some anxiety, to say the least, that if this situation continued it would destroy the party and that this would become evident at the general election looming on the horizon. The leadership were clear that the coalition should carry on; among the rebels was the little known, self-effacing, Stanley Baldwin, who would never have admitted to being concerned about his chances of eventually leading the party and how these would be stifled under a coalition led by the Welsh wizard, who was not little known or self-effacing but popularly supposed to have won the war and so saved the world for civilisation.

The party leaders thought to settle the issue in their favour by challenging their critics with a vote of confidence and where better to arrange this than at the Carlton, suffused as it was with the party’s traditions, expressed in all those overlooking portraits of past Prime Ministers. On the day all the big guns – Austen Chamberlain, Birkenhead, Balfour – were lined up against the rebels. Their victory was almost a foregone conclusion except that Baldwin had other plans; it was, he said, “time to ditch the goat” – an unkind reference to Lloyd George. And ditched he was. The Ministers had no choice but to leave the government and Lloyd George had no choice but to resign the Premiership. “He will be Prime Minister again” said George V. But he wasn’t. It was a crucial change for the Tories, in which they lost their parliamentary giants. A little more than a year later they also lost 107 seats in a general election which brought in the first, unpalatable, taste of Labour government.

Lloyd George, not amused by his defeat, snarled that the Coalition had been broken up by “a West End Club” – an opinion shared with quite a few others. In fact, however the manner of the decision and the reasons for it, the vote did seem to be in line with the majority wishes of the party. Out of the bitterness and confusion there emerged the 1922 Committee, designed to improve communication between backbenchers and the party leaders. Then there emerged Stanley Baldwin. Now, long after the times when the party leader was expected to materialise after what Harold Macmillan called “the customary processes of consultation”, the 1922 Committee is responsible for organising the election of the leader – an arrangement which is clearly not ideal for the Tories because it has thrown up people like William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.

In fact the Carllton’s policy of allowing women a limited access to membership is some way ahead of some of the other, traditional, posh London clubs. Whites is one example. It is the oldest and most exclusive of the clubs and has a grisly history of infestation by gambling addicts, where people who had grown fabulously rich on the pitiless exploitation of the workers spent money in betting on whatever took their fancy. In the 18th century a man dropped dead outside the club and was carried inside while members laid bets on whether he was actually dead. This was the ruling class at play, setting an example to the lower orders on how to behave. That the standards had not improved could have been judged when Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health in the post-war Attlee government, was kicked in the bottom by a member, who thought this was an effective argument against Bevan’s work in setting up the National Health Service. Other clubs who also exclude women are Pratts, Brooks and the Garrick.

But this is not to say that the Carlton leads the way to a more enlightened and hopeful age. Membership costs are £600 to join (free to women) and an annual subscription of £600 (£300 to women). And what you get for that is the right to share a rather splendid building with a clutch of political twisters or drunken, tedious supporters of a party which has consciously supervised a huge burden of human suffering. Beside that fact the issue of whether women can join on the same terms as men is seen in its true insignificance. The stand taken by Duncan Smith is motivated by nothing more than a characteristically feeble attempt to win a few votes and in the process to deny the importance of human relationships – including those between the sexes—to a sustainable society.

Is the working class still the agent of socialism? (2002)

Book Review from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? By G A Cohen. Harvard University Press, 2001.

In 1978 Cohen wrote a basically sound (if tedious) book called Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence. In this series of lectures given in 1997 but only published as a paperback last year he explains why he now thinks Marx was wrong after all.

He claims that Marx’s agency for the socialist revolution was the “industrial” working class which would form the majority of the population but that this has not come about because of the rise of modern technology which has resulted in the “industrial” working class forming a shrinking proportion of the working population. However, Marx was well aware that the development of the division of labour and specialisation would lead to the development of a section of the working class not involved in direct factory work.

When workers are trained to perform certain tasks for example, they have to be taught and instructed, and this involves teachers and instructors. The teacher or instructor can teach or instruct inside the factory or outside it in a school or college. It is absurd to regard the teacher as an industrial worker when employed inside the factory but a “middle class” professional when employed in a school or a college. The function they perform is exactly the same and so also is their relationship to the means of production – they are still teaching or training future workers and they are still reliant on a wage or salary in order to survive.

As industry becomes more complex and as technology develops there is a need for an increasing army of educators, organisers, researchers and the like. As a result the proportion of “front line”, factory workers shrinks. This change in the composition of the working population does not alter one iota their relationship to the productive wealth of society, nor does it alter the fact that it would be in their interest to overthrow capitalism. There is no justification for regarding factory workers as being exploited whilst teachers, lecturers, organisers, researchers, etc are able to escape this exploitation. It is true that most of these “white collar” workers would deny that they are being exploited but so also would most factory workers.

Cohen claims that workers in advanced industrial countries are no longer exploited (not that he defines what he means by exploitation). His claim is that exploitation now takes place in the factories and sweatshops of underdeveloped countries and that only these fit Marx’s description of the industrial proletariat. However, he goes on, these again cannot be regarded as the agents of revolutionary change as they do not constitute the majority of the population in these countries because they are swamped in a sea of peasants. He does not pay any attention to the fact that the “exploitation” of his workers in the underdeveloped world has led to the undermining of the incomes of factory workers in the advanced countries.

He concludes from this that there is no hope of a revolutionary transformation of capitalist society and that only a development of altruistic attitudes can usher in a better and different world. He can only come to this pathetic conclusion by either ignoring or not understanding the capitalist system.

Most liberal political philosophers who claim to strive for “a just and equal society” view modern society as being stratified from top to bottom into different income and status groups (“social classes”) and that it can only be a question of redistributing wealth more “fairly” within these groups. Other political philosophers see this as posing a potentially serious problem in that it could lead to a slacking of effort on the part of the top strata as this could affect their efficiency and effectiveness “in the pursuit of the general good”. In other words, that there is still a need for some inequality in order to provide an incentive for those able and willing to take on demanding, responsible positions in society.

Volumes and volumes are written on this theme and writers like Cohen demonstrate their learning and cleverness by finding loopholes in each others’ theories and developing their own irrelevant versions of the same. What they have to say and write has no bearing on what is happening in the real world. For the real world is not merely made up of a population stratified into different income groups. It is true that the working class can be divided into different income groups. But between these groups there is no direct opposition, tension and conflict – they are just groups of people having different characteristics in terms of income, education and status.

The real world is a world in which the population is divided into two main groups obtaining their incomes in distinct and completely different ways. One group obtains its income from the ownership of the productive wealth of the world and the other group obtains its income from the sale of its labour power to the owners of productive wealth. The first group has to attempt to continually increase the productive wealth its owns by continually revolutionising their productive techniques and by attempting to reduce or limit the income of the non-owners. To do this they have to accumulate as much wealth as possible under given market conditions. The whole system depends upon, and is defined by, this compulsive need of capitalists to accumulate wealth. To think that it is possible to intervene or halt this process through any system of redistribution of incomes – either through taxation or “rich” egalitarian political philosophers foregoing part of their incomes – is unrealistic nonsense. The social system such philosophers wish to reform bears no resemblance to the social system they conjure up in their analyses.

Nowhere is Cohen’s pathetic position more clearly demonstrated than in his belief that he and his fellow philosophers are “rich”. They are not rich even by comparison with other salary earners; when compared with the incomes of the capitalist class their incomes are pitiful. What is more, like most workers they have to consume their incomes in order to survive at the prevailing standards of comfort of their peers. The individual consumption of the capitalists, on the other hand, although often colossal when compared to the individual consumption of workers, is normally only a small proportion of their income as they are compelled to accumulate most of it in order to survive as capitalists.
Lewis Hopkin

Blogger's Note:
Karl Marx’s Theory of History by G. A. Cohen was reviewed in the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Lenin the man (2002)

Book Review from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin: A Biography By Robert Service, Macmillan, London, 2001.

A good, single volume on Lenin is difficult to find; forgive the truism, but the man has tended to be portrayed either as a secular saint or as a vicious, evil psychopath, a sort of left-wing Prince of Darkness. Ten years on from the disintegration of the Soviet bloc through popular revolution and economic stagnation perhaps a cooler assessment of Lenin can be undertaken. The historiography of the Revolutionary and Soviet periods during these ten years – at least in the West and in English, with which the current reviewer is most familiar – have been dominated by right-wing reactionaries, American cold warriors and the descendants of those Russian social classes who were dispossessed by the March and November revolutions. Robert Service, by no means sympathetic to revolutionary socialism, sets himself the task of striking a balance. He is one of the first Western historians to have access to newly opened personal archives of the Ulianov family held in Moscow, and the book deserves attention because of this. The resulting biography is interesting and useful, but at the same time demonstrates the inherent weakness of the form.

Indeed, both the reader with little prior knowledge of Lenin’s life and thought, as well as the historical trivia junkie, will find much to please them. Service vividly recreates Lenin’s childhood, early life and pre-1917 exile, demonstrating well the factors that influenced his social and intellectual development. Vladimir Illich was from a comfortable family of bourgeois outsiders with Tartar and Jewish as well as Russian origins. He grew up in Simbirsk on the Volga, and the Ulianov family were on the social and geographical periphery of the European Russian empire. Elder brother Alexander, a Revolutionary Populist, was executed after his role in actively supporting the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. This gave a personal ingredient to the burgeoning intellectual and political revolt of the precocious Vladimir. On the death of his father Illya in 1886 he became de facto head of the family. His mother, two sisters and younger brother remained close throughout their lives, all three siblings becoming dedicated Bolsheviks themselves. Service develops a fascinating profile of Lenin through his years of exile in Siberia and Western Europe, then later through the October Revolution and into power. He was prolific, intelligent, strong willed, totally dedicated to his cause – the model of the “Professional Revolutionary” he demanded of others. He was also prone to nervous exhaustion and stress, and his massive, self-imposed workload contributed to his lifelong ill health and early death at fifty four.

And so on. Perhaps more interesting, on a deeper level, is the formation of Lenin’s ideas and politics. Here Service correctly identifies Lenin’s enduring fascination with the tradition of Russian populist terrorism, and its influence on his praxis. In particular, Lenin was influenced by Peter Tkachev, the populist who in turn was influenced by the Jacobinism of the French Revolution. Tkachev called for an elite vanguard of revolutionaries, organised centrally, to violently seize power and create an authoritarian regime. As Service points out, in his own writings Lenin was fairly coy in admitting this, citing instead Marx, Engels and Plekhanov. Nevertheless, the influence is apparent in Lenin’s conception of how a revolutionary party should be organised, and what its relationship to the working class ought to be.

Service maintains a good balance between describing Lenin’s thought and preserving the overall chronological structure of the book. His accounts of polemics with other Russian (and foreign) Social Democrats, such as Plekhanov, Trotsky and Kautsky are useful and instructive. Perhaps one of the best instances of this is Service’s description of the disputations within the Bolshevik party over their actual task once they had come to power: that of building state capitalism. Lenin had been clear about this even before the October Revolution. Service points out how Lenin saw the essence of “socialism” as “account keeping and supervision”. One could also add the utter suppression of the working class and peasantry.

The major limitation of this volume, as with the vast majority of historical biography, is that it can fall into the “Great Man” theory of history. The importance of one person is inflated, thereby simplifying and sometimes distorting a description of the historical process. This is occasionally a problem with the present volume. Unlike Services earlier, 1979 classic study The Bolshevik Party in Revolution, 1917-23: A Study In Organisational Change, the Lenin biography tends to focus on the major personalities within the Russian Social Democratic movement. As a result, the description of pre-revolutionary feuds and disputes are superb, but the portions of the book describing events after Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917 are flat, not putting the thoughts of individuals into any wider context. A working knowledge of the general background is therefore advantageous for the reader to glean the most from the book.

Having said that, such a wider context probably wasn’t in Service’s remit. This biography sets itself the tasks of humanising Lenin and freeing the story of his life from demonisers and sycophants. There can be no doubt it succeeds in this brilliantly. The best one-volume account of Lenin’s life the present reviewer has ever come across, and well worth any reader investigating further.
Robert Worden

50 Years Ago: Nationalist deception (2002)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is one of the inherent deceptions of nationalist movements to proclaim the ideal of nationality as the basis of the independent capitalist state, i. e., that each country should contain citizens of one “nationality” only – Britain for the British, India for the Indians, Palestine for the Jews, Egypt for the Egyptians, etc.

But capitalism is by nature expansionist, and the capitalist lusts for more workers to exploit just as (and because) he lusts for more profit. Because of this, and because under capitalism war is always “in the air”, each state seeks to acquire more territory and to hold strategically defencible frontiers. Consequently, except in cases where the capitalist group concerned is too weak to expand (in which case it is likely to have its territories encroached upon by other groups), all countries acquire outright, or acquire “spheres of influence” in, territories occupied by inhabitants belonging to other national groups. What for example is “British” or “Russian” or “American”? Each is a name covering widely divergent groupings of religion, language and place of origin, the common factor being merely citizenship of the same capitalist nation, and the governments in each groups are much involved with colonies or other financially and militarily dependant countries, as well as with military bases in various parts of the world.

(From “The African Workers – A Letter from a Reader”, Socialist Standard, February 1952)