Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Passing Show: As such (1961)

The Passing Show Column from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

As such

The two American RB-47 airmen who were released by Russia recently after being shot down over the Barents Sea gave their own stories to reporters at an American air force base. They said that they had returned the fire of Russian fighter planes. One of the reporters recalled that previous American reports of the incident had claimed that the aircraft was unarmed. The airmen replied:
The aircraft, as such, was not armed with an offensive weapon of any sort. We carried two 20-millimetre automatic cannon which were mounted aft, pointing to the rear. This was a defensive weapon purely to protect us from attack from the rear. 
How automatic cannon, whether pointing up, down, forwards or sideways, can be anything else than offensive weapons was not made clear. And what exactly does “as such” mean in the first sentence? An aircraft carrying automatic cannon is armed as an aircraft, not as a submarine.

But merely to point out the absurdities of the airmen's statement would be to over-simplify the matter. For these airmen are only repeating what their masters, the American ruling class— along with every other ruling class—have always said. No country has a "Ministry of Attack”. No country produces "Offence Estimates". No country, to judge from its own propaganda machine, ever attacks another. In all wars, each country simply defends itself against the others: the enemy is always the aggressor. And if the hydrogen bomb is claimed as a "defensive" weapon, who can blame the two airmen for claiming that their automatic cannon were not offensive?

Jomo Kenyatta

Sir Patrick Renison. the Governor of Kenya, recently refused to release Jomo Kenyatta and gave two reasons for his decision. They were:
The political campaign for Kenyatta's release, “which has roused many emotions and which has not allowed divisions and personal fears a natural atmosphere in which to diminish. 

Kenyatta's refusal to “make any statement or reveal his thinking about the great issues which Kenya is facing." in spite of the fact that six Ministers, including three Africans, had visited him in August.
These reasons (given in the Times. 2-3-61) are remarkable. Leaving out the long words, the first one means simply that the Governor of Kenya isn’t going to release Kenyatta because the Kenya Africans have made it plain that they want him to be released. The Governor can hardly expect anyone to believe that he would have released Kenyatta if there hadn't been a campaign demanding it.

The second reason is even more extraordinary. Dictators have often put people in jail, or kept them in exile, because they have ”made statements” or "revealed their thinking" about public issues; this must be the first time a political leader has been kept in exile because he refused to take up a political stand

When thieves fall out

The Socialist position is straightforward. We are opposed to any attack on democratic freedoms, whether it is jailing for political reasons, restrictions on the right to vote, or any other weapon in the colonialists' armoury. But we are not blind to the real nature of the struggle in Kenya, it is the old struggle between land and capital. On the one side are in Kenya, it is the old struggle between capitalists, whether they are those who hope to establish full-scale industrial capitalism in Kenya, or those who have already established it in Great Britain. We welcome any extension of democracy in Kenya which this struggle between two rival propertied classes has produced or will produce. But we know that democracy is never safe in a capitalist society. That has been seen in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, in Czechoslovakia and the rest. Only in a Socialist society will democracy be safe from overthrow.

Out of my way

An irate letter-writer in the Sunday Express recently told how he had parked his car beside a parking meter in accordance with the instructions on the meter, went to the theatre, and returned to find his car vanished.
Eventually, after very considerable frustration annoyance, and expense, I found it at one of the police yards miles away. 1 was ordered to pay £2 to recover it—which I refused to do. The only explanation I could get from the police was that I had committed the offence of being on the royal route to the cinema— although how I was expected to know this is beyond my power of reasoning.
The removal of one’s car. however, is only one of the minor inconveniences that may follow if one gets in the way of a royal progress. It could be much worse. In Katmandu, for the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Nepal, a new road was built from the airport to the royal guest house. It took 14.000 men over a month. It wasn't a question here of simply removing cars to make room for royalty: whole houses were bulldozed down. Even churches were not sacrosanct. "One temple was shifted 30 yards and worshippers one morning found the principal idol hanging on the end of a crane " (The Observer, 26-2-61). So much for the respect paid to religion when it conflicts with the convenience of the ruling class. Religion, of course, is maintained by ruling classes because it helps to keep the rest of us in our places. Perhaps it is naive for us to expect a ruling class to take its own propaganda too seriously.
Alwyn Edgar

Finance and Industry: Rents and the Price Index (1961)

The Finance and Industry Column from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rents and the Price Index

As most rents have risen during the past three or four years, some of them by enormous amounts, it may be a matter for surprise that this does not seem to have shown itself in the Ministry of Labour’s Index of Retail Prices, which now stands at 12 per cent above the level of January 1956.

The fact is that the Ministry's separate Index figure for "housing" costs, which consist mostly of rent and rates but allows also for the cost of repairs etc., has risen continuously for 10 years and particularly since 1956. It is now a third higher than in January 1956 and two-thirds higher than it was in 1950.

This sharp rise has had comparatively little effect on the final Retail Price Index because people are assumed on average to spend over nine times as much on all other items of expenditure as they do on rent, rates, etc. So a rise of 66 per cent in the rent figure would raise the final Index by about 6 per cent only.

A movement of food prices would have four times as much effect on the Index because people are assumed to spend four times as much on food as on rent etc.

Of course many people will find that they spend far more than the assumed proportions on rent etc.; which would not of itself invalidate the Ministry's assumption because there are some rents etc. which represent a very much smaller percentage, and both extremes enter into the average. It was recently shown in an official publication that the average council house rent in Scotland is 9s 10d. a week (the lowest being Dumbarton, only 2s. 10d). Corresponding averages for say London would be about 35s. to 40s.

Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of housing costs in recent years it is probable that a larger proportion than the official 8.7 per cent of expenditure goes on rent, rates, water charges and repairs.

Yet despite the rapid rise in recent years the average increase of rents since 1938 has been far less than the percentage increase of food prices, clothing prices, or drink and tobacco.

American Depression

Politicians and Economists giving their views on the course of trade and business prospects are curiously like doctors telling the relatives how the patient is fairing—probably for the same reason, that they arc not sure.

If the doctor felt perfectly confident that his diagnosis is correct, and that he knows precisely what to do he would be able to say “ I have administered the remedy and by 9.30 a.m. exactly tomorrow morning the patient will start improving rapidly and will be out and about a week from today ".

And if the governments and their economic advisers could make exact diagnoses and prescribe specific and certain remedies, they could be equally confident. But as it is, they are never quite sure whether things are getting better or worse. If they fear the worst it is best not to say so because something may turn up, and in any event spreading gloom may itself help on a downward slide.

So it is not surprising that the reassuring statements of last autumn have slowly given place to admissions that American industry is in a rather bad way.

Last September Mr. Per Jacobson, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, at an interview in Washington was sure that the United States was not heading for a full-fledged recession, only a slackening in business activity, and on February 20, 1961 the Financial Times correspondent in New York could report, "U.S. business still optimistic. Belief that upturn is not far off". But only a week later the President's council of economic advisers was informing Congress that it would be unreasonable to expect recovery until after mid year and simultaneously the news of six million unemployed, the worst since before the war.

And the chairman of the council disclosed other reasons for not taking an optimistic view. He pointed out that even when the upturn in business docs lake place it will not be the solution to the longer term problem of a growing gap between production and productive capacity.
Since 1955 the economy’s "chronic slack"—a gap between what the country can produce and what it actually produces had shown a "distressing" upward trend. (Guardian, 7.3.61).

The Slum problem

The American President is going to do something about the slums, and the Times correspondent in Washington, writes, with unintended humour; "That something has to be done and done quickly has for years been evident to those driving through slum areas to the trim suburbs (Times 10/3/61).

What makes the Times correspondent think that because an evil has been obvious for years, that something has to be done about it quickly or at all? It is over a century since the British government and philanthropic agencies started to abolish the slums and they are still with us.

Anyway in America, according to President Kennedy there are "40 million families living in sub-standard houses". but at the same time “one out of every six construction workers is unemployed, and house building dropped by 18 per cent last year to the lowest level in the past decade".

Innocence of Journalists

If the Times correspondent in U.S.A. is naive in supposing that capitalism and slums are incompatible, his Daily Mail colleague Mr. Don Iddon is worse; he writes like a true innocent abroad. In the issue for 10 March he tells of having been stopped by beggars on Broadway. “shabby men asking not for 'a dime for a cup of cawfee’. but for a quarter (about 1s. 9d.) for food”. Because of this and other things Mr. Iddon says. “Kennedy's America is beginning to puzzle me". But why should he be puzzled because queues are lengthening at the employment exchanges, and the motor show rooms are almost deserted, or because 166.000 car workers are unemployed and there are a million brand-new unsold cars? Mr. Iddon has lived for quite a while and has had abundant opportunities to get around and see things in different parts of the world so why should he be puzzled because America shows the same kind of happenings as other countries and other times?

Mr. Iddon tells how stock exchange speculators can make fortunes with a few telephone calls (he himself made $1,500.) "Yet good men, not drifters or drunks, are panhandling in the streets and women and children are queuing up for food in the Bronx and Brooklyn at relief centres".

May we let Mr. Iddon into an open secret about this country? That about two million people a year, including unemployed and impoverished pensioners, go to the Assistance Board for help!

What Next ?

The big political parties and the Labour Party above all have long been stressing the need for more investment to expand and modernise factories, plant and equipment. The argument is that this will make production larger in the years ahead and that it is absolutely necessary in order to be able to sell at low prices and meet the competition of other countries, which are, they say going in for investment on a larger scale than does British industry.

When therefore the Treasury announced in February that investment in manufacture has been rising very fast and that the building of new factories this year is expected to be 40 per cent above last year, there was quite a lot of satisfaction, not to say pride among those who wanted this to happen.

Two elementary factors seem however, to have been overlooked. The first is that all countries are engaged in the same competitive rat race of hoping to be better off in the future but not now.

The second is that a sudden burst of 40 per cent more factories will be followed by a slackening off of factory building and by a burst of additional output when they are completed, and this in a situation in which the "sellers market” phase after the war has long since passed and been replaced by a phase of greater difficulty in selling, and keener competition.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Common-Ownership? (1961)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard


I thank you for the interesting reply you give to my letter. It is the more welcome because it does meet the principle points of difference between us. even if I am right in my submission that it promptly runs away from them again. For example.,"common-ownership" is accepted by both of us, but in whom is it to be vested, and how? The term covers a multitude of possibilities unless closely defined. President Nkrumah of Ghana lists four "sectors" of his country's proposed economy, “state-owned, joint state-private enterprise, co-operatives, and purely private." You would, of course, reject two of these, but what of the other alternatives, or have you one of your own? Again, you postulate "assessment of needs and the means to fulfil them," but who is to assess? I am not arguing, mark, that assessments cannot be made. They obviously can be made about many things. But I want to know about it and I feel that a means-test of any variety should be repugnant to both of us. Of course, you do not mention anything of the kind, but what do you mean?

These are not trivial points for they involve the tremendous issue of administrative tyranny against communal freedom, state-ism against decentralisation; indeed, syndicalism versus the commune. Where do you stand? Arc you for high-powered mass-production run by trades-unions on Fascist lines with Coventry and castor-oil complete for "deviationists," a vast factory system with "scientific" direction of labour in a monstrous mechanism under an ultimately totalitarian though differently labelled state, or for the comely life of production for use in free cooperative groups for the most part, and under only the most resilient form possible of overhead government? Arc you for mass-production of everything despite the fact that, as every good farmer knows, mass farming it bad farming, and the other fact that quality craftsmanship beats factory products in length of life four or five times over. Mass-production is for the masses; who but they would touch it? In food products and manufactures alike it is recognised (by the advertising world) that it costs six limes as much to sell an article at it does to make it. The difference is in transport costs, insurances, marketing charges, multifarious agency profits, wholesale and retail percentages—all arising from remote and competitive marketing, and all to be avoided, as Socialism would avoid them (or largely so), by leaving production and consumption to loosely articulated small units wherever possible.

There are hundred upon hundreds of successful co-operative groups in Britain today producing for use. sharing small machinery socially and employing expert advice. The point I wish to make here is that there is nothing to stop such development except the fact that the workers are in the main indifferent. There are the orthodox co-operative societies, of course, numbering in membership ten millions, a quarter of the population, owning the meant and instruments of production and distribution. They are run as capitalist concerns and the excuse of socially conscious members is that they have to meet capitalist competition! "We have to beat the band!". What rubbish! The business of any genuine co-operative group is not to beat anything or anybody, but to co-operate. Of course, big business can “beat" the workers on its own ground, but how shall it beat the co-operative will? Above all, how beat production for use?

As it stands, however, the co-operative societies, after a-century-and-a-half's dedicated (so it is alleged) membership rise to the giddy height of "save up for summer holidays" but fall lamentably short of any co-operative commonwealth whatever. Why? Not because there is anything at all in the way unless the competitive rat-race is still held sacred. It is because the workers neither understand Socialism nor want it.

The choice before us between freedom and slavery. The one is possible only where control of the means of production is direct and immediate, just as democracy is possible only where the people are in direct and effective touch with public affairs. The other cannot be more than an impersonal power process to be rendered quite ghastly by modern automation and atomic energy.

We who claim to be Socialists used to acclaim freedom. With the present drift towards a totalitarian economy, and in trades-union politics the one-party state, your own utopian belief in a miraculous “dawn ” upon the morrow of an equally miraculous release of pent-up proletarian virtue is as abstract and full of holes as a Henry Moore sculpture.
Belsize Park. N.W.3.

Lord Amwell wants to know in whom common ownership is vested, and how?

The definition we gave was that everything that is in and on the earth would be the common possession of all mankind. In our property and privilege ridden society it is not easy to give a helpful illustration of what we mean, but we will try.

Air is the common possession of all mankind. you can breathe as much of it as you like without anyone raising an objection. Similarly you can drink as much water as you like at a public fountain. In both instances each person determines what he or she needs. The same process will operate in the future with food, clothing, shelter and everything else. The people with the intelligence to build up the new society will also have the intelligence not to expect the impossible.

In the Socialist Party of Great Britain different members, and groups of members, are appointed to perform the necessary work in the organisation and propaganda of the Party. For example, the Literature Committee finds out from branches what literature they require—the local branches do the assessing. They make an estimate from experience of what further supplies are required. They then obtain from the printer the total amount they have arrived at and proceed to fulfil the needs of branches and individuals. There is no administrative tyranny in this, it is purely a technical problem. While it is true that the Socialist Party is small, and therefore the problem is not a great one, yet in the future a similar procedure will be adopted in harmony with the size and complexity of society's needs.

Production in each area will be based on what individuals in that area need—they will make their own assessment of what they need. Experience will enable the production assessors to have available sufficient in quantity and variety to fulfil these needs. The articles will be available in suitable places in the area and all that people will have to do is to go there and take what they want. We used the example of a self-service store in the limited sense that people can go there and take what they want of what is available. In that instance, of course, they nave to pay for what they take—in the future they will just take.

While the new society is getting on its feet there may be people who, still affected with the possessive inclinations of the past, may want to load themselves up with more than they need. Well, whal of it? They will soon get tired of their stupid and unnecessary efforts.

In our view each community will Ik as self-supporting as possible Some things, however, will need extra community arrangements: like raw material, travel, correspondence, and so forth. These arrangements are just technical questions which can be dealt with by groups of people at given centres who are interested in this kind of work. In the future society there will be no isolated communities, split off from the rest of the world. They will all be part of a world Socialist system, decentralised but each working in harmony with the rest, without statism or tyranny, to enable everyone to live a useful, interesting and satisfactory life. If there are occupations that are necessary but uninteresting then some method of sharing will be devised.

This brings us to the question of mass production. Whether or how far there will be mass production we cannot say now. A great deal that is mass produced nowadays will be unnecessary in the future—armament production is one example. The mass produced article is as a rule the cheap, the short-lived and the lacking in variety. Whether mass production saves a really appreciable amount of labour in the long run is questionable. But what is not questionable is that it is soul-destroying work. Obviously the aim will be to limit that kind of work as much as possible. The accent will be on craftsmanship. and if mass production still operates it will only be in operation in instances where it is essential for the benefit of tho community. More than this we cannot say.

We agree with Lord Amwell’s description of orthodox co-operative societies as just capitalist concerns in which petty investors have neither control nor influence, though they can make a lot of noise at times.

Finally, we do not believe in any miraculous dawn. We believe in the development of understanding, which will be transferred into action by the mass of the population who suffer the present system. Socialism can only be established when the majority of society understand it, want it, and take action to bring it about. There is no other way, but there are plenty of roads into the morass of confusion and disillusion.
Editorial Committee.

Blogger's Note:
I'm not 100% sure which previous letter Lord Amwell (Fred Montague) was following up on but it may have been this one from the October 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Mankind under Capitalism (1961)

From the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The constant endeavour that has marked man's life since his biological emergence to human status should have created a world befitting the dignity of manhood. But man, sociologically, lags far behind his biological advance. He has learned to observe, and, to a large degree, understand surrounding phenomena; to connect causes and effect; to make and use tools; to harness natural forces to his own ends. But the latter part of humanity's history has seen the arrival of class-divided orders of society where those who rule seek to confine education to what will do no more than preserve the existing order of rulers and ruled. This obtains in the present day when we live in a capitalist society.

On the whole, therefore, man under capitalism has not learned to study the economic foundation of his world to probe into its shams and anomalies, to devote his mind to establishing a society no less advanced than his biological development. And so. with the acquiescence of nearly everyone, a social system which has long outlived its justification as a phase of social evolution, hangs on with its spoliation of personalities, its unnatural relationships and its sordid purpose.

Nothing so determines the character of man as his manner of securing his means of living. Of legitimate ways of securing these means under capitalism there are only two—the employment of each of which is dependant upon the social class to which each man belongs. If one belongs to the master class the obtaining of the means of life—not to mention, in many cases, the luxuries, the riches, and the accumulated wealth to be used for further investment—will be contrived by exploiting working-class labour power and by securing profit through the sale of the surplus values derived from it. This is the sole function of the capitalist—imposed on him by the circumstance that he is a capitalist.

By his very position in capitalist society, therefore, this person becomes a parasite, an exploiter. No matter if his inclination be one of kindliness, his survival as a capitalist entails expropriation from his fellows. More, to remain a contending factor in the competition for markets he must offer the commodities produced by his workers at competitive prices. Wages must be kept as low as possible; output pushed to the highest reachable peak. He becomes the hard business man, a fevered participant in the capitalist rat-race, the ruthless strikebreaker. And, although as a man he may have repugnance towards the thought of war, as a capitalist he may quite well find justification in a conflict which has for its aim the preservation of markets and market accessories from the hands of foreign rivals, or even the capturing of further markets etc., for himself and his fellow capitalists.

This is the way in which the existing order forces the capitalist to behave. But he gets off lightly compared with the men and women of the working class. These are the people, overwhelmingly exceeding in numbers the members of the capitalist class, who daily are compelled. by the necessity of getting a living. to sell their energies to the capitalists. They range from factory managers —though such may like to claim inclusion in a mythical “middle class"— to general labourers; from chief buyers in gigantic emporiums to borough council road-sweepers; from conductors in theatre orchestras to bus conductors. But. however “posh ”, "respectable", or “degrading" the means of their getting a living, each and every one of these workers cannot escape the brush with which capitalism tars them.

Nor is that all. The better-paid workers smug with a fancied superiority and an imagined exclusiveness from working-class dependence on wages, are nonetheless just as reliant as other workers on their salaries. Struggling to maintain the appearances expected of their "good position" they lead lives, very often, of gilded poverty. Their concept of their position in society is, in many cases, an empty delusion, for refuting the reality of their working-class status, they have embraced the fiction of their oneness with their masters.

And so it goes on. The foreman— once “one of the men", and perhaps happier as such—has accepted promotion because of his inability to manage on his former wages. Expected by his employers to prevent slacking and to raise or maintain output, he must now either boldly show himself as committed solely to the interests of production, the overseer with the whip, or, to preserve continued popularity among his former bench-fellows, he must resort to the under-handedness of maintaining a "still one of you" demeanour whilst carrying tales of non-co-operation to his masters. He becomes either the workshop tyrant, or the two-faced spying informer.

And what of the workers who are thus openly sweated or surreptitiously coerced? Is it their reluctance to work hard and continuously that makes foremen necessary? Possibly so, but can conscientiousness and industry be expected from those who, under nearly all circumstances, are compelled to work for wages that will buy very little more than the basic needs of life? Very often, for the sake of a "bigger shilling", they take a job that nauseates by its unhealthy conditions, its tediousness, or its lifeless repetition. And, although the cause may be unknown to the sufferers, it is frequently felt that for all the day-to-day striving they never reach a condition more comfortable than that of just getting by. Small wonder that conscientious work becomes a rarity, that spending the minimum of effort becomes the rule, that many workers arc clock-watchers looking forward only to knocking-off time.

Capitalism's destruction of ready endeavour is most widely observed among those who work closely and frequently in contact with the general public. Indifferent clerks behind post-office counters, curt or officially “nice" shop assistants, unashamed "behind time" bus drivers and conductors— these are but a few of the human products of capitalist society. And ever commenting on the faults of these are the critics—mostly members of the working class themselves, and in all cases the creatures of capitalism. Not recognising that here is behaviour engendered by capitalist environment, they condemn what they call the basic nature of the offenders. These people, they complain, are utterly selfish. Instead of being helpful and courteous to the public they are disinterested and curt. "And then they have the nerve to want more money—if I had my way, they’d be given less".

The prize taunt, however, is that these people “want the money, but don’t want to work”. Ironically, this is true when one considers the universal compulsion upon the working class to go to work and in many cases perform the most nauseating of tasks in order to get the necessary wages to exist upon.

Of course it is nice to think of men doing well-loved work with happy heart, and with no thought of repayment. But it is an idea unrealisable within the present order of society. Of course, there arc many of us who feel the revulsion against the indignities, the incongeniality and the oppressiveness of our occupations, and the reasons we keep at these occupations (and a proof of our wage-slavery) is because, to keep alive we must have, and subsequently want, the money.

The salesman in whom smooth falsification has become so much a part that he cannot eradicate it from his behaviour outside business. The soldier deceived into believing that the training he receives is not to make him a killer, but to make him a man. The youngster who, in a world that takes the carnage of war for granted and. in the name of ”defence", devises and uses the most diabolically destructive weapons, becomes somehow attracted to the violence of the age and experiences a thrill in embarking upon a little violence himself. All these are products of the capitalist world.

Sometimes the clash between the workings of capitalism and the ideals of mankind produces ideas which contrast with those promoted by ruling class propagandists. For instance the existence of oppression, anomalies, inequalities, cutthroat practices and preparation for wars that threaten to imperil the whole of mankind, brings into being the rebels against these ills. Most of those express themselves through political or humanitarian organisations which lack the sound sociological knowledge which alone can promote action that will eradicate the anti-socialist behaviour objected to. Thus these rebels remain, ardently protesting against the horror of nuclear war, pleading that votes for particular individuals might serve beneficent ends, but missing altogether and failing to deal with the real cause of the trouble.

But within the womb of capitalism, as of all social orders, is the seed of its own destruction. Not all rebels are Utopian idealists. There are some who have sought to understand the world around them, and to base upon scientific fact their efforts towards a social reconstruction. We maintain that a sane, classless, warless, povertyless social order—Socialism—will remove the causes of anti-social behaviour.
F. W. Hawkins

Under the 
Hammer (1961)

From the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Few towns are without their local auction rooms. The writer can well remember as a child standing in a bare room in a house in New Brunswick as the collection of shabby goods and chattels representing his parents’ years of toil, quickly vanished ’’under the hammer”. Later, we set sail for new horizons, also to find the same old wage slavery elsewhere.

But, such auctions of working class “property" never hit the headlines. Why should they? They have no sensational news value for journalists to scoop. They prefer such stories as the recent Franz Hals write-up—the Cavalier painting with the £182,000 touch. So—ignoring the ”small fry” auctions—let us take a look at the “Big Boys". Messrs Christie. Manson and Woods, and Sotheby.

The 1958/1959 auction season turnover at Sotheby's was £5,756,742. In June 1959, the famous Rubens painting Adoration of the Magi from the late Duke of Westminster’s collection, realised £275,000. The following day’s sale saw bidding on the Westminster Diamond Tiara begin at £40,000 and close on the selling price of £110,000. Then early in December 1960, Messrs Sotheby’s hammer descended with a shower of golden sparks (in the form of commission) on the £182.000 sale of the Franz Hals.

The 1959 turnover at Messrs Christie's was £2,783.490. In June of that year a 23 carat diamond ring belonging to Mrs. Michael Wilding went for £56,000. A collection of porcelain belonging to the Marquess of Exeter, was sold in July for a total of £21,250, a 45 piece Swansea dessert service from the above collection, realizing 4,800 guineas. Again on November 6th a collection of paintings. 29 in all. including 15 by Constable belonging to the late Mr. H. L. Fison, fetched £85,900.

Christie's 1959/60 season turnover was £3,500,000. a substantial increase on the previous year. A Matisse oil painting sold for £21,000, and a diamond and sapphire necklet belonging to the Earl of Harcwood was knocked down for a mere £28,000. So here lies an opportunity for all those who "have never had it so good" to invest some of their surplus wages instead of frittering it away on the pools!

As Messrs Christie's have been providing opportunities since 1766, their records must show the handling of a sizeable proportion of the wealth of the ruling class. Amongst their "exclusive" clientele were Madame du Barry (1795), Queen Charlotte (1819), and the Empress Eugenie (1872). In 1927 they handled the Russian, and in 1931 the Bavarian, crown jewels.

So, as the vast majority of workers go about their daily routine in office. mine or factory, the habitu├ęs of Christie's tirelessly raise a linger or nod a head as the descending hammer of the auctioneer "raises the wind" for his "exclusive" clientele. One nod of the head at these sales can often equal 5 or 10 weeks' wages of a member of the working class. The assumption that those who collect, can afford to pay the piper, is never in doubt and runs through most of the sales literature of these firms. In Christie's Review of the Year 1957 we read the following: —
The jewel sales continue to show that there is a constant demand for fine diamonds and coloured stones and that early Victoriana and, above all, samples of 17th and 18th century jewellery are collected more than ever by those who appreciate design and craftsmanship as well as intrinsic values of stones.
But this does not apply to society as a whole, because of course there arc many human beings who appreciate design and craftsmanship "but certainly do not collect items from Christie's sales, simply because they could not even afford Christie's 10% commission.

Christie's literature is of course written for the "haves“ in society. The vast majority, the "have-nots," require a world in which auction sales and all other commercial paraphernalia will be thrown overboard and the means of life made accessible for all.
G. R. Russell

Bill (1961)

A Short Story from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bill was born a little before the turn of the century— "Same year as Charlie Chaplin ", he would claim, as though in some vague, sad way he wished to identify himself with that symbol of the universal underdog. Orphaned very young, he eventually entered a naval training school, then, as sailor and musician, travelled the wide world for the better part of twenty years.

All the so-called virtues were inherent in Bill. He was healthy, honest, kind, dutiful, diligent and humble. "Life” to him was a clear cut issue of service to one's betters, obedience to and unquestioning faith in "authority". Of such stuff is capitalism made, and Bill was the last to question the justice or sanity of the social system.

Having survived the first world war-to-end-wars he chose civilian life and by the early twenties had settled in a London suburb to raise a small family. Trained to worship at the shrine of service and security he became a post office worker. He had served his king and country; he would now serve his neighbours in the role of conscientious workman.

Not that Bill thought all this out. As a propertyless member of society he was a "natural" prole; the kind of prole that any Blimp would give his left arm for (almost). But I digress . . .  If, then, the social system has anything to offer its perfect proles one would assume Bill's rake-off worthy of attention—certainly worthy of Bill. He worked hard, pinched nothing, acknowledged his "station", doffed his hat to the vicar, was faithful to his wife and suffered children—his own and everyone els's—with immeasurable patience.

Who better deserved the milk and honey of a world that sets so much store upon the worthy life? Here. I'm afraid, is the point at which, dear reader, you are in for a shock.

You see, with all his merits Bill was, nevertheless, a wage slave. Briefly, it amounts to this; that all the nice things he said and thought and did had a strictly cash value which, though renewed from Friday to Friday, left him not one wit nearer security or luxury. He earned 30s.. £2, £2 10s., £3 10s. a week, the figure rising as the years rolled on, but only in relation to the comparable rise in his cost of living. The only permanent factor in Bill's economy was his inability to provide more than the minimum food, clothing and shelter for his family, an annual trip to the sea. with presents for the kids at Christmas and birthdays thrown in for good measure. True he squandered good money on ten fags a day. a weekly flutter on the Pools and a pint or two at the local on Sunday mornings. I leave it to you to judge of his extravagance.

Meanwhile his family grew up. H:s son came of age in a different generation with a different outlook. He did, in fact, challenge the status quo and put his findings to his father in no uncertain terms. Discussions played merry hell with the sanctuary of Bill’s apathy, but to no avail. Bill either wouldn't or couldn't see the point—or. more precisely, the pointlessness.

With typical humility Bill swallowed his pride when the second world war-to-end-wars blew up and his son contracted out of it. Discussions continued, mostly in letters or during their infrequent meetings when his son visited home while doing land work in various parts of the country.

Eventually a flying bomb blotted out a life’s work for Bill. His son. summoned by telegram, found him picking at the charred and shattered remains of his paltry goods and chattels. Between sobs he posed a question—not for himself nor merely for his family, but for his
kind . . .

"Why did this happen to us, son? Why, why, why?"

Bill began to die from the day the bomb fell. His hair changed colour overnight, humour drained from his personality. He was a man dedicated to his search for an answer to that anguished—Why? Three years later he was pensioned off as a worker. For five months more he "languished" on fifty bob a week, then died. The surgeon said he was riddled with cancer. His estate totalled £47.

Before the end he came very close lo his son's way of thinking. They talked—no longer frittering time in argument—about capitalism, war, poverty, ugliness. man's inhumanity to man and the way to resolve these social ills through Socialism. It could be said that Bill had to learn the hard way. but he learned in the end.

One might be tempted to dismiss Bill as a relic of the past, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of Bills in the world today, all destined to receive the same treatment until they challenge and overthrow the system that mocks their every virtue as "good" human beings.

And Bill was a good 'un. I ought to know—he was my father.
A. K.

The Lot of the Miner (1961)

From the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Deep down in the efficient modernised, mechanised and electrified mines men still grovel, sweat and inhale black dust. But they should not grumble; the wages are high, the hospitals that treat their special diseases are bigger and better. They have all the public's sympathy for any small inconveniences met with while extracting Our Coal. What more could a miner ask? The gentlemen of the Board have done everything. In their clean trim offices where the supporting beams never collapse, they think mining has reached the millenium.

The miners apparently do not. In spite of fantastic changes, pit head baths and the like; in the face of every improvement, free coal, and more pay, the fellows still complain. There are better jobs outside the pit they think—which only shows the extent of their ingratitude. For just who saw salvation in bureaucracy and clamoured for a Coal Board?

In an age that reaches for the moon, the mining of coal a mile under our feet, without turning men into moles, would seem rather a small order. But ours is a paradoxical society; aspiring to dizzy heights we plumb the depths of human exploitation. At the end of the last century after a life-time of study that saved untold millions, Louis Pasteur commented regretfully on this terrible and characteristic feature of our advanced civilization. Just as large numbers of medical workers all over the world are busy curing diseases and wiping out plagues and fevers while other men are devoting all their skills to designing bombs which can shrivel whole cities, so also in the field of commerce as one interested group tries to solve problems which may free men from degrading toil, another section of the industry sees profits threatened and resists progress. The complexity of the antagonisms and contradictions in any one trade would fill a book.

The miners' employer, anonymous shareholder though he is, views the goose as coldly and dispassionately as the former mine-owner did; he levels the machine against the worker as keenly as his nineteenth century counterpart did, when he secs the possibility of increasing profits. What! with this steel navvy at his beck and call surely the miner's life is easier? Surely the old. back-breaking toil is gone? But the machine, simply because it is a machine does not tire. To tend it the man must go at the machine’s speed and this proves a great strain, physically and mentally. He may work fewer hours but the pace during those hours has become fiercer. The man now works for the machine, he has become the appendage of a machine.

Delving in dark places, the miner has at last seen a glimmer of light; like the rabbit in the trap he longs to be free. And in these boom-times jobs are waiting for men. Here then is freedom. What strange freedom though! Freedom to work; freedom to work overtime: freedom to do exactly what the boss says; freedom to draw national assistance when job-less; freedom to send wives out to work to pay for things men's wages cannot buy. The miner is free to change his occupation and let us admit he is the best judge of whether the change is a good one. But it is a sad, as well as a safe thing to say, he has only thrown off some of his shackles. A sensitive ear can still detect above the din of the bright and busy factory, a rattle and clink of chains.
M. B.

T.U.C & the budget (1961)

From the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

As happens every year the T.U.C's pre-budget recommendations have been placed before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as in past recommendations platitudes abound. It would appear that this year's remedy is economic expansion with an export drive, which the T.U.C. say is based on a need for long term planning. One would have thought that economic expansion was a job for the capitalist class and that the defence of workers' interests should be the main occupation of the T.U.C.

The T.U.C. added that for the export drive to succeed not only physical controls limiting less essential industries may be necessary, but that if these measures affect Britain's balance of payments the Government should take a “calculated risk” by controlling non-essential imports. The T.U.C.’s further warning was that although the measures suggested may be unpopular the alternatives could be worse. It would appear from all this that the workers have very little choice either way.

We must point out that the T.U.C.'s suggested measures have all been tried many times before. Since however the nature of capitalist production compels all other capitalist nations to introduce the same measures the contradictions of the system with all its disastrous consequences is made more obvious. The spectacle of the T.U.C. leaders ably assisting British Capitalism in its world rat race is an object lesson.
W. G. C.

50 Years Ago: The Liberal Government's Peace Campaign of 1911 (1961)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is significant that no hope is held out of a “peace treaty” except with America—a country with whom all serious differences have already been composed, against whom, in addition. Britain would hurl her might in vain, and who could inflict damage, where they can inflict it all, with impunity. They could starve us out by stopping their own and Canadian wheat at the granaries. It is admitted that on the day when the States and Canada join hands the "mother country" has got to submit. On that day the treaty becomes in all eyes what from the first it must be in reality—waste paper. It is easy for two nations who cannot fight to make a treaty that they wont.

But the ease is different with, say, Germany. No responsible person suggests a treaty with that country— yet it is Germany that has made a British Liberal Government increase its annual Naval Estimates £14.000,000 in five years. No, derision waits the Minister who dares suggest such a treaty, for the farce would be too apparent. Just as a treaty with America brings peace no nearer because the two could not fight, treaty or no treaty, so a treaty with Germany would bring peace no nearer because, in the face of conflicting interests (without which they would not fight in any event), the treaty would not be worth the cost of its inscription. The humbug, therefore, of the cry of “Peace” and “Disarmament,” is apparent.

And while the British Liberal Government are making the remote corners of the earth echo and re-echo with the empty nothing. ”Peace !” they are voting the enormous sum of £75,000,000 for war—on the principle that they’ll have peace if they have to fight for it.

Strange, is it not, that in all this cry of “peace” but one incentive shows itself? “The burden of armaments. It is the treasure, not the blood, that causes the capitalist head to ache. No wonder—for treasure is the master’s, while the blood is the workers. £75,000,000 in a year is a mighty drain, and the Government that is forced to exact it is in a precarious position. So they scream '‘peace" by way of a soft answer to turn away wrath—and also in the certain knowledge that the result will demonstrate that peace, even as the capitalist understands it, is possible only at the cost of crushing armaments —or national extinction.

Exactly one-half of the Labour Members in Parliament came up to scratch to save the face of their party by voting against the Liberals' immense Naval Estimates. The other half (save two who voted FOR them!) stood out of it to oblige the Liberals!

Keir Hardie says the party were bribed, the Osborne Bill being the price of their defection, and he should know. But we wonder how many would have opposed the Estimates had they been really in danger. How many would dare have gone back to their Liberal constituencies with the confession on their lips that they had helped to defeat a Liberal Government ? Not many, we venture to guess.

From the editorial, 'Why we oppose this “Peace Movement.” ', from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Editorial Committee note from the April 1961 Socialist Standard.

[The “Osborne Bill,” which Keir Hardie says was the Liberal Government’s bribe to get Labour M.P.s to vote for increased armaments, became the Trade Union Act, 1913, legalising the political activities of trade unions.]

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

St. Pancras, April 19th

Most members will already know of the demonstration for Socialism meeting held at St. Pancras Town Hall on Wednesday, April 19th. This is a very special occasion and calls for the enthusiasm and practical assistance of all London comrades. From Monday, April 10th, until the meeting date, a programme has been arranged for advertising the event by distributing handbills. The urgency and necessity for the work cannot be too strongly stressed. So please take up the challenge and rally to the distribution centres at 7.45 p.m. on the following dates: —
Monday, April 10th—Camden Town Underground Station.
Tuesday and Wednesday, April 11th and 12th—Mornington Crescent Underground Station.
Thursday and Friday, April 13th and 14th—Century Cinema, Kings Cross.
Monday, April 17th—Angel Underground Station, Islington.
Tuesday, April 18th—Russell Square Underground Station.

Wednesday, April 19th, at 7.30 p.m. — DEMONSTRATION FOR SOCIALISM, St. Pancras Town Hall, Euston Road, N. W. 1.


The attention of members is drawn to two film shows being held this month. The first, on Friday, April 7th, deals with post-war Germany, and the second, on Friday, April 28th, subject—the eventful year of 1848.

Events last month were a film show, the first of the monthly canvasses in the Acton area, and on the social side a visit to the Toulouse Lautrec Exhibition at the Tate Gallery, followed by the usual get-together at a member’s home in the evening.

The next canvass in the Acton area will be held on April 9th—time and meeting place to be announced. Attendance of members at Branch meetings has been remarkably high of late. Please do your utmost to keep this up.


Islington Branch continues to hold successful lunch hour meetings every Thursday at Tower Hill. Attentive audiences of two to three hundred are becoming a regular feature. Literature sales could be improved if comrades would attend regularly to assist Comrade McGuinness. This is useful and enjoyable work for the Party. Please join Comrades Ambridge and McGuinness on Thursdays, 12.30 p.m. at Tower Hill.


Wembley Branch members were agreeably surprised when over a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses turned up to Comrade Law’s talk on the J.W. Movement, held on February 13th. There was lively discussion which lasted until the end of the meeting. A report was published later in the local press. The branch view seems to have been justified that members need to brush up their knowledge of contemporary religious theories. So further lectures will be arranged later, covering Modern Non-conformism, Spiritualism. The Mormons, etc.

At the end of February, Comrade Bryant (S.P. of A.) talked to the branch about Automation. Other discussions have been fixed for April, and there will be a film show early in May. All welcome, and for those interested, full details from the branch secretary.

The branch is slowly but surely increasing its sales of the Socialist Standard—mainly by canvassing—and current figures arc reaching the twenty dozen mark. They may well have passed this by the time these notes appear. Parts of Wood Green Area were successfully canvassed on February 26th, and a member living locally will follow up. This part of London is due for another visit shortly. At the beginning of the outdoor season in May, we shall try a canvass in Portsmouth and follow this with a meeting on the sea front in the afternoon. All branches will be informed of precise arrangements.

During the winter, we have had the benefit of writers classes held in Wembley on alternate Friday evenings. Emphasis has been laid here on improving our style of writing by applying the general principles of journalism—forceful presentation and economy of words. We hope that the results will show themselves shortly in better articles for the Socialist Standard.


Two former members of Ealing Branch went abroad to Toronto at the beginning of 1957. They were Comrades G. and S. Catt. For some time, fairly regular letters have passed between them and London. Now comes the splendid news that they have both joined the Socialist Party of Canada and have managed to start a local discussion group, with nine or ten persons regularly attending. There have been some very lively meetings to all accounts, and these comrades are hopeful that a Toronto branch of the S.P. of C. can be formed in the not too distant future. Address for those interested is 184, Beach Avenue, Toronto.

But it is an uphill struggle against tremendous odds, particularly since the Socialist movement over there is small and scattered. At the same time, it is a challenge which the Comrades Catt have gladly accepted, and we send them our very best wishes.

A Donation

The Party acknowledges with sincere thanks a donation of £500 received on March 14th from Ethel Lee Haing, an Australian Party member. She had saved to buy a car, but felt that the sacrifice was worth making to help in our work for Socialism.
Phyllis Howard

SPGB Meetings (1961)

Party News from the April 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard